Life With Toast

On the move

Out the window, beyond my faint imposed reflection a grey sky looms above a mossy green chapel. An extensive graveyard of stones ranging from white to black headstones litters the field making lines like that of newly planted trees. The fence of the yard boarders a community garden, and I can’t help but see the full cycle of life on display. Stockton, UK, where the city’s main attraction - so far as I can see it - is a hat museum which rises above the red brick buildings and same-sky-grey streets below. Most buildings here are brick, and most shops are closed. It’s Tuesday at 1pm. This is not the part of the UK you see on a sightseeing tour, it’s not a part of the UK you see unless you have a reason to be there. Today I did, making a 5 hour trip from Cambridge to meet with a potential school for my study. With MyCognition, a software company in London, I’ve helped develop a cognitive training game that I hope will improve students cognitive and more novel, their maths skills. I was told that 90% of the students at the school come from homes in the bottom 10% of income and SES status. I’ll never know that feeling. In a sense my trip embodies the other side of the coin; a graduate student from Cambridge doing thesis work funded by a private company in London.

When I applied to graduate schools, I only sent in applications to university’s that had research labs concentrating in neuroscience in education. Growing up I had experienced that one size does not fit all in the classroom, and my interested brain led to being an interested kid. Paired with my wonder of the brain, I was naturally led to the convergence of educational reform with scientific backing as a potential career. Quickly, however, I learned that science may provide sparks for change, but politicians carry the kindling, and the buckets of water. I am not a politician, it’s not in my blood. In seeing this, I axed by future self, ashed in the reality check. I do, however, have a chance to bring that optimistic benefit in my PhD, an application of knowledge for something beyond the pursuit of knowledge. Self-rightenousness aside, I hope for my own sanity, for my PhD, and most of all for the students, that this software will improve their cognitive and maths skills. But, as is the leading rule in the handbook of the universe, entropy continues. Most research studies across the sciences fail. Discoveries come at the hand of a errand mistake; a open window led to penicillin, random ‘background noise’ started the trail to the big bang, and gunpowder was discovered while Chinese alchemists were searching for the elixir for eternal life. Thus, it is not insignificant that we consider our intentions when we set out to complete a goal. Being vigilant allows serendipity to take place, for the mysterious to guide us, for change to find our hand in the darkness.

But how do we – 20 something masters of none – find a job that holds our attention? Filtering answers by pay rate, perceived status or sense of obligation to a parent or loved one is sure to treat the symptoms of unease, but leave the cause to fester. I don’t have the answer, but I know one piece of the puzzle is simple motivation. Go at something long enough and find a crack to fit in, find a niche to sink into. If you are lucky enough to have a job you are authentically excited by then you are motivated by the love it and not the fear of being poor, disappointment, and so on. I can’t be a testimonial as I am leaving academia and a lifelong pursuit of educational institutions to end up, well, I cannot say. I do know that making that decision was a relief. Possibility in the mists of the unknown take shape and color, feeding my imagination and wonder. I know beyond my rose-colored glasses that between now and my deathbed, I’ll do things I don’t want to do, work on projects not central to my essential self, and find frustrations in my work. But beneath, driving me, is the pursuit of what I want to pursue. To be yourself is fucking hard, it takes saying yes to things you know will be difficult and no to things of comfort and assurance over and over again. But to find that dream job, a dream must be tested, broken, and built from what remains.