If you can't, teach (or yammer on interminably on the internet)

Probably no surprise to anyone who knows anything about starting an NGO (or any sort of corporation not-for-profit or for-), my (our) new project has stagnated, probably not to be revived. I still feel mostly convinced that it was based on a good idea, it was supposed to operate in communities that have a lot of potential and energy that could otherwise be wasted, and was addressing actual needs with programs that were highly appropriate to the context. If anyone out there has a few thousand dollars and a lot of organizing energy laying around, and wants to invest it in slum communities in India, please let me know. Thoughts about that organization, and the one before it that I left in the spring, still hurt—a lot—but I can mostly avoid thinking of them. Lucky me.

Me, I’ve mostly retreated from the whole “program” thing, into a world of research and theories and proposals. Doing social science (of the RCT variety) in one of the biggest cities in India, it’s a relief to mostly write grants, write surveys, clean data, run do-files, and still go out at night with a group of friends (who are not my co-workers). Might be less of a relief in the next months as I’m managing survey and fieldwork teams 7am-9pm, 7 days a week, but honestly, and I’m a terrible person to both my current and previous job for saying this, it’s really great to be doing something I don’t actually care about.

It’s not that I don’t care at all. Intellectually, I really couldn’t be that much more engaged (at least, without someone forcing me to read 400 pages of theory each week in addition to my other work). I work with people who are pretty much universally agreed to be the biggest geniuses/rockstars/“experts” in their field, all of my coworkers (who, blessedly, each have their own projects so there is no toe-stepping) are mini-geniuses destined for great things, and our regular meets and drinking are deliciously nerdy. My project is full of interesting challenges, and I’ve found out I really like writing surveys (or, at least the first draft. The 8th draft after two months and one day before the launch is a little less fun), asking interesting questions, teasing out relationships and pathways and connections.

I got a motorcycle. I have friends, a stable place to live, time to myself, plenty to do with friends and visitors, I live in one of the world’s great cities, and I even have some time to travel (and a salary which is below the poverty line, but way more than I really need to get by). I’m content, maybe even happy.

Probably time to move on. I’ve gotten my applications for grad school (MPH) done, and this year I’m promising myself not to freak out a month before school starts, and actually attend (yeah I’ve got and will have even more loans, but who doesn’t). I do fantasize about my job literally being to sit and read and think and talk and write all day, and I’m going to really enjoy this degree. I’ve even made tentative plans to get a PhD afterwards, and hopefully never again need to leave school, but we’ll see how much I like it in two years. No need to rush into these kinds of things.

I’m in a very different place than I was three years ago, but at least I’m still in the same field. I think I’ve made more than my share of mistakes for a 25-year-old (thank god I don’t have kids, or I probably would have seriously fucked up. better to get it out of my system now), but I’m figuring out where I’m happy, and where I’m useful. The world probably doesn’t need another American fieldworker drinking in hotels in tropical cities, but hopefully there’s some room for one more clueless academic.


1 Response to "If you can't, teach (or yammer on interminably on the internet)"

Alanna said... 4:06 AM

I am only nine years older than you, so take this for what it's worth, but I think it's important to remember how much our lives change. No career decision is ever as permanent as you expect it to be. That being said, I think you're really well suited for academia.