My mom tells me before I leave home, “Don’t let people make you do their emotional labor for them. You can be a good friend without taking on all of their problems. Let them use real resources.”
So of course, that’s the first thing I do. I learn, over the span of just a few days, to keep my ears open for my friends even while my brain is still running like mad in the background. I hear their pains, their concerns about the semester, respond with carefully plotted words of assurance—but I keep a selfish part of my mind to myself, running routines and recording coding sessions, going over heuristic concepts in preparation for the math and computation to come. There’s no time to waste. The tutorials for the programming language we’re learning are designed for researchers at the graduate level, and they’re meant to be done over the course of four weeks. We get four days.
I am living in a world that used to seem so far away: the world of discovery, the world of “being first.” But that comes at a cost. I’ve had only two days of class this calendar year and I already have more on my plate than I had in any given week last semester. My friends try to hide their concern about the odd hours I’m keeping, the 12-hour days doing homework and IDL exercises in our research group’s dedicated computer lab. In the past week, I’ve trod the path between my dormitory and the science center more times than I can count.
It’s hard, it’s annoying, I fear that it’ll be impossible to meet my professor’s standards, that we’ll all be spending the semester playing catch-up. But I also have my moments of joy. An exercise asks me to predict the results of a line of code and I cast my memory back to last semester’s linear algebra class and manage to wrangle the answer. I sit in on my professor’s introduction to astronomy class and when it’s my turn to introduce myself, he skips me, only to come back at the end and call me his “success story,” one of the dedicated students who aced the first semester and declared an academic major in his field. I hit “submit” on a summer internship application and it’s a bone-chilling moment, the realization that I’m doing it, I’m putting myself out there. I’m not just living in this world, I’m engaging in it.
I will be busy this semester. I will be busy in 2017. I might be busy for the rest of my life. Somehow, even when it’s this difficult, this intimidating, I find myself more in love with it than ever. And if my intuition fails, it’s my love for the subject that will lead me to swallow my pride and ask for help. I am learning. I am growing up. ♦