The (bitter)sweet spot

I’m a sucker for millennial bullshit. Like many muppets of my generation, I’d love to live the vagabond life, travelling around the globe, while doing what I love, what I excel at, and what the world needs most. My generation seems to be on a quest to find this awesome state of being. From what I read and hear, it is simply the best thing in the world. Oh, how I would love to find that sweet spot.

Maybe my Fckyea! spot is in making amazing figures like this one

“But Robin,” I can almost hear you think, “Aren’t you in that sweet spot already?”

Maybe. Somewhat… But it doesn’t feel as they describe it in the books, you know. I mean, where are the pineapple pancakes and the watermelon fruit shakes? Let’s tear apart that stupid diagram.

I love this shit – Yes, I love ecology. I love working on interactions between plants and their associates or their enemies, or often, both. This circle should be all me, right? Wrong! For some reason, the system keeps abusing us into doing all kinds of stuff that has little to no relationship to doing what we love. Yet, it takes up 50% of our time. As a reward, we are allowed to still work 100% of our time on what we love. And we do it, because we love it so much. We really are a bunch of silly bastards. “What?! Is there something you do not love about your job?” There’s heaps. I somewhat love teaching (although it still scares the shit out of me, and this I hate). However, I absolutely hate it that I have a fixed quotum per week, and that preparation work does not count. I hate anything administrative, I’m just not made for it. I also hate unnecessary meetings. Or too many meetings. Especially meetings for planning new meetings. There’s plenty of shit that I do not love. Trust me. However, overall, I would still draw the conclusion that I love my work. I try to be a positive guy.

I own this shit – Yes and no. But let’s just say yes for the sake of argument. I am not sure I will ever feel like I completely ‘own’ this shit. Working in academia means that you are often working on the frontiers of knowledge. Arguably, if not, you are doing something wrong… Needless to say, this often adds a touch of uncertainty to what you do. In addition, I feel stupid beyond imagination every time I listen to people talking about modelling approaches. I am just not smart enough to understand most equations. It hurts my self-esteem every time. However, I believe that I’m quite skilled at what I do myself. I’m very good with plants and insects. I also take pride in being a somewhat skilled field ecologist. However, there are limits to my skills. Every time I walk through a field, I find plant species that I don’t recognize (and I cannot express how dumb this makes me feel). Don’t get me started on insects. If you wonder why, Google a bit about the numbers of insect species on the planet (or whatever, try Germany, as it is astonishing enough), and the number that has not yet been described. I will never be done learning and/or owning this shit. However, generally, I think I own my model systems and am pretty familiar with them. Conclusion? I own some of the shit. I try to be a positive guy.

The world needs this shit – Although I would give a full YES! response to this aspect, it still feels somewhat off. I think it is important that we generate a proper understanding of the world, in order to enable us to protect it. However, I don’t think there’s any intention to protect it much. Nothing too serious is being done by those that govern to protect our planet against ourselves. Climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, you name it. Very few things are being done to stop any of them. Economic gains always are valued over planetary gains. Sure, there are plenty of initiatives to mitigate our impact on the planet, driven by those that do care. Luckily there still are people that care, but let’s face it, we’re a small minority. In reality, politicians mostly don’t give a damn. To me it often feels like they are throwing some scraps at us in the form of tiny research budgets, in order to shut us up. And, as we are a bunch of silly bastards, and love what we do, we mostly just quietly take the bait and continue owning our shit, one piece of knowledge at a time. However much I believe the world needs this shit, I’m just not convinced that it will protect the world. I try, but perhaps I’m not such a positive guy after all.

I don’t know. I think it may just be some silly publicity stunt. That sweet spot of loving and owning the shit that also happens to be desperately needed in the world. I should be close to the center of that stupid diagram, but it has a bitter taste to it.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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