Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster…Er, Scientist
I took some time off this week as a combined mental health holiday and sort of working vacation. Tuesday I spent at home doing laundry and packing, with a brief break to go to the gym, before doing my practice talk and getting on the road. Side note: the practice talk went really well! I was able to officially downgrade from “terrified” to “so nervous I might spontaneously wet myself”.
It was great to be back at Fermi this week. Driving onto the site on Wednesday, I got a giddy sort of “I’m home again” feeling. I got registered, picked up my handy-dandy badge with my name and “Massachusetts Institute of Technology” on it (which also makes me giddy), and collected the customary conference trinket. In this case, it was actually sort of cool. Well, cool by nerd standards.
I floated in and out of talks, in between trying to catch up with some of my old cohorts. I did my best to let people know I was going to be around, but obviously couldn’t get to everyone, which led to some interesting interactions when I would run into people who were not expecting to see me. It was sort of fun!
The big moment of course was giving a talk of my own for the first time this morning. I had convinced myself come breakfast time that I was ready. I was totally fine, I had it down, and even the last-minute addition to the presentation was worked in just fine. I was set…until I decided to run through it one more time. And it was perfect. So perfect I was now convinced I used up my one good run and was doomed from there on out.
Then the first session of talks finished, and we had our coffee break, and my session started. Less than 2 hours to go until I was going to be standing in front of 50 physicists and trying to convince them I’m not an idiot. Or at the very least convince them it was not a waste of grant money to pay me to do things. To add to the panic, I was going to be the last talk of the session and every one leading up to it had at least one point that completely contradicted what we had found in our paper, and anyone who’s ever been in one of these things knows the first question that is going to be asked is “why are your results different?” and I honestly didn’t have a clue.
To explain the panic that was happening in my head while I was talking is impossible. I figured there was about a 50:50 chance that the words I was supposed to be saying would come out versus the screaming “OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH”, and the only reason I know the right stuff came out is the professor was smiling.
I didn’t stumble too bad, and even managed to field questions relatively well. At the end of it, I got great feedback from the rest of my group as I made my way back to my seat, but the best part was easily checking my phone when I sat down. While I had about 40 or 50 scientists in front of me, I apparently had quite a crowd of people who had called in to listen and follow along. I had texts and emails from my parents, my sister, Geoff, and even my friend Potassium who had all logged in remotely to check it out. It was so cool to have that support from everyone!
Tomorrow is the last day of the conference, and I’m sad it’s already over. I’ve loved being back here and having R&D discussions about abstract ideas. I’ve loved being back in the sort of atmosphere where bosses are solely there for organizational and budget-tracking purposes and you’re really all sort of on equal ground and talk to each other as colleagues. It’s really been a wonderful experience, but it’s definitely going to be difficult to go back to work on Monday.