I wanted to type this up fast, so please excuse syntax and other silly typos. The thoughts have been floating around, and I wanted to type them up quick without too much editing and tweaking.
Well, here I am. Approximately 1,400 posts. I never thought I'd get this high, especially since I only posted, what, 100 times during my first four years? I was never part of the original Hatrack group. I don't know any of you personally. I think the only person I've chatted with outside of Hatrack is Lyrhawn, and that was once and about Al Gore.
It's been a little strange to watch Hatrack for the last...jeeze...6 years. When I joined, there were plenty of discussions to keep a lurker busy. I read and followed the discussions, was intimidated by the sophistication of some of the arguments and discussions (e.g. Dagonee really stuck out, for me). So I lurked for most of my undergraduate life. You guys were a familiarity during that time. I was familiar with a lot of you, so returning to this site was somewhat comforting. Now, in graduate school, most of you are still here. I've been part of this community for longer than I've been part of any community for the last 6 years. I realized how important that was just recently.
So, I feel like I should describe myself a little better. For those who are interested.
I was born in a small suburb in upstate New York. My father was a law student, and I was a surprise baby that made my presence known while he was studying for the bar exam. I don't know if that was good or bad pressure, but either way he passed, got a job and we became a family. My mother was a teacher, who stopped teaching to raise me (and now my two other brothers). This decision of hers, probably not surprisingly, changed my life.
When I was in third grade, my mother started to really notice that I was ahead of my classmates. The topics that I was being taught were boring, and well below what I was capable of learning. She recognized this and had me tested, and I performed very well on these tests. I don't know what they were, and hardly remember them. She began talking to other parents of similar students and they began to speak out in the PTA meetings. They began (with my mother as the default 'leader') to demand gifted education. The school did a pretty good job with bottom-of-the-the-curve students, but completely neglected the top-of-the-curve students. My mother changed this, and I am forever thankful for that. Love you, Mom.
We'll skip my adolescence and go straight to graduation. I was in the top 10 of my class (only 78 students), but the top 10 were all my closest friends, and we were all within 0.05 points of one another. The rankings were stupid and silly. My little group had traveled together since fourth grade, through some advanced classes, gifted education programs, specialized AP classes, almost every extracurricular education program our tiny school offered, and had emerged as a very close-knit group. I still keep in touch with more of them than I do with my undergraduate friends. My senior year was one of the best years of my life: my little group excelled academically across the board. We knew the teachers, the teachers knew and liked us, and we had virtual free reign on school grounds. We could schedule instrument lessons when we wanted, and neither the teachers nor the band director cared what we did or where we went. We had special access to the back room of the library, could get access to the auditorium at night after everyone had left. I remember vividly walking down the hallway before classes started (strictly forbidden) when the Principle walked up. He put his arm around my shoulder and walked with me to the library. On the way, he scolded other students for being in the hallways before the bell rang. Another time, me and two friends snuck out to celebrate a birthday at Starbucks. We returned through a back-door, and the Vice-Principle let us in, not inquiring as to our whereabouts, but rather asking how our day was and acting like a best friend.
So I end up going to a small Engineering University in northern New York as a Civil Engineer in the Honors Program. These details are somewhat boring as well, so I'll skip most of them. Ultimately, I moved from Civil to Civil and Environmental to completely Environmental Engineering. I did great in the classes, never really having to work too hard. I became close with many of the professors, wrote weekly for the school paper (a beer column, a stargazing column, and a movie column) and had a small taste of celebrity. It felt great to have people I didn't know recognize my name and talk to me about beer.
All of this time, I was on auto-pilot. Opportunities developed, I grabbed them. I worked hard, but not too hard. I had plenty of time to read, hike, stargaze, watch movies, play, and have fun. The biggest decision I had to make (up to that point) was when I needed to pick a thesis topic. I didn't really have a preference; I didn't really know what I wanted to be, and ended up choosing to look at biofuels in New York State. Up until then, this project was the hardest I had ever worked. Late nights, declining social events, etc. But I finished, handed it in, got praise from my two reviewers and the Honors director.
During my junior year, I worked as a Civil Engineering intern back in my home town. I hated it. I calculated sidewalk areas, watched engineers chop down trees to please the clients, and met people who had been doing the exact same thing for 30 years. After I got back to campus, I talked to my advisor and she laughed at me when I said I had previously thought that I'd be happy in industry. She told me that I was "an academic, 100%" So I began applying to graduate schools. Mostly in New York State, and mostly in their biofuels programs. I still didn't know what I wanted to do, so I thought I'd stick with biofuels.
I visited Cornell once and talked to some of their biofuel researchers, but nothing seemed to click. I came back again and on a whim talked with a new professor. Him and his wife had just moved in. He did some biofuels research, but mostly worked on atmospheric chemistry and climate modeling. We clicked and he offered my a 5-year stipend to get a Ph.D. I was thrilled and accepted immediately. I realize now how lucky that was: I wasn't looking for climate science, even though I had always been some-what interested. I was blindly interviewing biofuels people, and this wonderful opportunity again just materialized. That was two years ago. I now call my self a scientist, rather than an engineer, although the truth is that I'm some undefined hybrid. A lot of people around me are equally undefinable.
Since then, I've thrived at Cornell. I became more social, more talkative, more engaging. I loved the classes, the science and the complexity of the atmosphere and the Earth's climate. I met wonderful people, found a strange equilibrium straddling several departments. Cornell doesn't quite have a climate center, more of a hodge-podge of researchers here and there. I'm working on a paper to submit this summer, and am enjoying every minute of it. I've taken on more of a leadership role, in my department and among some graduate students. I like to organize events, and realized that often people just need a spark of an idea to have a good time. So I'm sparking ideas all over the place: hikes, movies, happy hours, dinners and get-togethers. I was recently elected president of the departments graduate program (well, really volunteered to run unopposed, but there were no objections and people seemed to welcome me). So now I have even more control over events, and have a budget to spend as well. It's fun.
I love thinking about the Earth and humanity as a whole. I love imagining the future, and am somewhat scared when picture the next 100 years. I want to wrap my mind around the science, and then help communicate the beauty and wonder of it to people who don't spend their lives thinking about it. I want to help people who have trouble helping themselves, and feel the best way for me to do this is by bridging the scientific knowledge / public understanding gap. The problems I think about are the large-scale problems, that will take decades to solve. But I feel like it's good work, exiting work, and engaging work.
And through all of this, you guys have been here. Even though I didn't always agree, I enjoyed hearing your opinions. I realized that when I read a news story, I wondered what you guys thought. The opinions of TomDavidson, Dagonee, King of Men, rivka, fugu13, The Rabbit, Claudia Theresa, Kwea, Lyrhawn, Lisa, Strider, Samprimary, and Chris Bridges mattered to me. I knew that I often disagreed with Lisa, and thought King of Men was often too forceful. I looked to Dagonee, rivka, fugu13, the Rabbit, Claudia Theresa, and TomDavidson for well-thought out posts from points-of-view that were foreign to me. Blayne was all over the place, there were quibbles and harsh words, but they tended to pass. Some trolls (or the same troll) appeared and caused some chaos before leaving or mellowing out.
I enjoy chatting with you guys. I like discussing books and television and movies with you. I learned a lot about my atheism and others religious beliefs through these discussions. For a long time, I would pop on to see what Lisa or malanthrop were saying so I could scoff and maybe post a jab here or there. I'm sorry, Lisa. I often jabbed at you when I didn't need to. I'll often come here for recent news, although most recently the discussions have died down. So I tried to step up a little and post topics, start discussions, and participate more. I have 10 topics (including this one) in the top four pages, which isn't necessarily a lot, but it seems like a lot to me.
I have a more spiritual/religious post lolling around in my mind. I plan on writing it up soon. But until then, thank you guys for being a community which I am proud to participate. Thanks for the discussions, laughs, links, arguments, and ideas. Thanks for proving that the internet isn't a complete waste of time.
Great thread. I enjoyed learning more about you, and thought this landmark post was a good one.
I love this place too, and have been a member for about 10 years, including the time I spent reading it before I was a member. It has had a profound impact of my beliefs and my life. I have met some of the best friends I have ever had here, and learned a lot about myself and my own thoughts and beliefs due to some of the discussions here.
Best of luck with your PhD and your future in climate research!
Posts: 15002 | Registered: Jul 2001
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Very cool story. My hope is that one day I'll be able to repay everyone here for the perspective they've given me over the years. I rarely have anything substantial to add, and I wish I did.
Posts: 1314 | Registered: Jan 2006
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