by Nicole Carlozo -- April 13th, 2011
Sometimes, life’s obstacles are like a sea of poison ivy – messy, annoying, and impossible to avoid despite your best efforts.
The sun beat down on us as we scoured the chapel woods, GPS unit in tow. My lab partner and I swept through the undergrowth as quickly as the unit allowed, waiting not-so-patiently as it connected to satellite after satellite. Our mission: collect coordinates and diameter readings of the larger pine, oak, and maple trees in the nearby woods (along with a plethora of other tree species we failed to identify…where are the foresters when you need them?).
The woods were in their initial stages of green, courtesy of the warm NC weather and rainy afternoons. I met the sunny day with gratitude, especially as we began the two-day process of data collection. What can I say? Field work definitely trumps the computer lab.
But as we moved into the second section of woods, I yearned for the safety of the lab. I looked down and noticed the sea of poison ivy standing between us and the trees we were meant to sample. To my right a shiny three-leaf plant brushed against my jeans, taunting me with its presence. I froze, unsure of my next move. Yes, I was definitely out of my element. As a coastal student, I could easily maneuver around jellyfish, deal with wriggling white perch, or wrestle a feisty blue crab. But poison Ivy? What could I do to retaliate against its presence? In one word, nothing. We pushed forward. Whether the ivy won or not (it’s still too soon to tell), it only served as a temporary obstacle.
And that brings me to the meat of this blog post: maneuvering around (or directly through) the obstacles ahead. Although sometimes the papers, presentations, and projects of graduate school feel like a sea of poison ivy, I know deep down that they’re not.
As piles of work surround me and I mentally tally what lies unfinished or (dare I say it) untouched, I can’t help thinking about the next thing, the next project, the next experience. And that “next,” whatever it may be, is only made possible by the obstacles of today.
In a recent visit to Duke, author Barbara Kingsolver (writer of one of my favorite books, The Poisonwood Bible) spoke about her own academic obstacles. Although she came to accept the LEAF Award, she also spoke at length on what it’s like to be a “scientific artist.” She eloquently shared her passion for ecology and evolutionary biology and her graduate studies in kin selection. The obstacle? Apparently, her target species (the golden termite) was a very misunderstood creature. The maintenance crew exterminated her data – not once, not twice, but three times.
Even as finals week threatens to engulf us all (take a deep breath guys!), I strive to remember that every obstacle represents one baby step towards a Master’s Degree, a new skill set, or maybe even that extra resume builder that will make all the difference. No matter what I’m up against, though, I guess I should be thankful that I’m not combating a maintenance crew set on destroying my Masters Project.
A little extra:
My immediate concerns? Keeping my pet cockatiel from “eating” my homework…