I probably woke up from the wrong side of the bed this morning. For some reason, I woke up with an intense feeling of homesickness. It was something I haven’t felt in years.
I felt homesick – but not for Japan, the place I have called home for twelve years now. Instead, I felt homesick for the country of my birth. I woke up and felt rather odd that I was buried beneath layers of clothing and a duvet, instead of roasting in the sweltering heat and waking up to the sound of mosquitoes buzzing near my head. I woke up and felt rather puzzled that the sun was nowhere in sight. And, instead of shouts from early vendors hawking their pan de sal in the wee hours of the morning and the familiar hum of tricycles on the street, I woke up to the noise of cars passing by on the road. I looked out the window and saw the barren trees around and remembered how trees in my country never shed their leaves, ever. How one never has to undergo the cruel, harsh cold of the winter season. How the place is always teeming with life.
I suddenly felt out of place.
Life used to be so simple. That simple life was what I had enjoyed when I was in the Philippines. Yes, life was hard because there was never enough money. But we survived, didn’t we? We barely had enough to eat in those days, but we bonded together as a family. We prayed together and endured together the worst of times. The goal for me then was straightforward: get an education, get a job, and at least try to get my family out of poverty. I didn’t think that I would devote a life to science – for how can someone think of such lofty goals when one’s tummy is rumbling?
Still, the allure of the intellectual world was too strong to resist. I had to do science – or bust. It didn’t matter that I was in a third-world country. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t entirely assured of a high-paying job when I graduated. It didn’t matter that the best I could hope for was a job that gave more than enough in terms of personal gratification but never enough in monetary terms. I wanted to contribute to the ever-growing repository of knowledge – it may not be Nobel-prize winning, but at least it was mine. My own bit, my own part, my own stake in the great world of knowledge.
It should have been as simple as that.
In an ideal world, that would have worked just fine. But in the real world, sadly it is not so simple.
I didn’t know that I have to deal with gender issues. I didn’t know that women have long been fighting for equal representation in science. The numbers now are perhaps better than before, but there are long-standing traditions that will need to be revamped or completely abolished in order for women to get their fair representation. In reality there are men who feel uncomfortable working with women, who feel superior and haughty whenever women ask them for help (i.e., helping "damsels in distress"), and who never want to work under a woman. In reality there are those who are seemingly supportive of their wives’ scientific careers but still expect them to go home and cook dinner for them, and keep their houses and clothes clean – all of these on top of the work that they already do in the laboratory. And oh, lest I forget, there’s the equally sensitive issue of childcare as well. Who’s going to take care of the children?
I didn’t know that despite the best of your intentions, the best of your goals, and the best of your ideas, nothing will ever happen in your scientific work if nobody’s interested in funding your project. Money is the lubricant that turns the gears of science. Sad, but true. I didn’t know that scientific work not only encompasses the actual work being done inside the laboratory, but also that of writing and submitting proposals to get funding. (Incidentally, here’s Baggy’s idea: If you don’t want to beg for money, then try to get rich first. When you’re rich enough, then you could do whatever science you want. Even hire more intelligent people to work for you. I think it’s a nice concept. 😉 )
I didn’t know that there will come a time when impact factors (the measure of a scientific journal’s "impact" or significance) would set the standards for measuring one’s scientific contribution. I didn’t know that it is simply not enough to just publish papers, but more importantly, to publish as many as possible within one’s lifetime. This person has published five hundred papers! She must be really good! That person has published five papers in Nature and five papers in Science! He must be a good scientist!
Well, who gives a damn.
Surely not the immigration officer who gives me the same suspicious look upon being handed my green Philippine passport. Surely not the immigration officials who scrutinize my financial and employment status every time before issuing an entry visa. All that routine, it’s just so damn tiring:
What are you here for?
I’m here to attend a conference.
What’s that thing you’re holding?
It’s a holder for my poster.
So do you have any food products with you? Do you have bagoong with you?
When I die, please NEVER, EVER, mention the number of papers I’d published, nor the greatest scientific accomplishment I’d ever done in my life. Because I truly think that I’m more worth than some silly publications. If there’s anything worth mentioning, then let it be how I had made the world a better place, how I had impacted other people’s lives, and how my life could serve as an inspiration to others.
Now how did I get to that line of thought just because I got homesick?
Just ramblings on a Monday, my dear. Just ramblings.