March 3   Changing Tack

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I spent my birthday at postgrad orientation day. I was intending my birthday to be really low key but it ended up being one of my favourite ones so far. I met Helen at the train station and headed into uni with her where we had a long good catchup chat over breakfast before she escorted me to the lecture theatre where I would be spending the morning.

I was determined to sit by myself, engage with noone, and focus on getting the information I need. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t there to make friends or slide into “university life” – I’ve done all that before, the first time round, and am well aware of how much that gets in the way. So what happens? Someone sits next to me, and we get talking, and the next thing I’m doing is sending him to a TED talk that I think will be useful for his PhD topic. And some other people sit down near us. And we have to do that forced group interaction thing and I find out all three of them are doing PhDs in sustainability and planning and I realise that I have not run very far away from where I was at all!

But the day was super useful. I’m not sure how long it’d been since I’d been so intellectually stimulated – I had that complete drained exhaustion when I came home at the end of the day, like after a really hard exam. And I’d gotten a really good idea of what is required for the candidacy proposal I now have 6 months to write. And where to start on that. And some more thoughts on troubleshooting my topic and guiding where I might want that to go. All that stuff.

Sitting there in the workshop, I realised how excited I felt – I had that feeling you get, you know, when you fall in love or you win at something you’ve been working really hard at – elation, excitement … HAPPINESS. What an awesome birthday present to get – Helen spent quite some time lobbying me to even consider a PhD and helped me so intensely with my application. And there were moments where tears threatened at the back of my eyes, I was so overwhelmed at how lucky and excited I am to be able to spend the next 3-4 years on something I love so much. And how much I don’t want to waste any opportunities.

It’s a very strange feeling to be changing career tracks. And something I’ve been wrestling with for a while. I’ve been passionate about the environment since I was 14 or 15. When I first learned about global warming, and the large mammals under threat of extinction (elephants, cats and rhinos) and then the Biodiversity Act in Rio, I knew I wanted to work towards conservation. To making a *difference*. I was driven to act. I didn’t want to be on the sidelines watching the deterioration of the environment without at least trying to do something. And then my physics teacher found me a new degree at UWA – environmental engineering – which seemed to fit the bill. And that’s been my thing, what defined me, for a very long time.

It’s not that I feel like I’m betraying that. Well not necessarily. But I have been thinking about whether it feels like I’m giving in, or turning my back or … maybe it’s just that I’m sad to be moving on? Like, there’s nothing wrong with one door opening when one closes, but it’s still sad to be closing the room behind that door.

It’s not like I can’t still be active in conservation – there’s lots of other ways to work for a good cause.

And it’s also not unheard of to get burned out when your day job is something you’re passionate about but you very rarely get to win. And sure, part of my job was to fight the fight, if only for public record. I did have some small wins and worked towards one or two larger ones, and I have left some legacies by way of tiny tweaks to larger policies. But in all, I’m pretty jaded and cynical and some other stuff that’s mostly political and not for this medium. I shouldn’t really be there any more.

When I sat in that lecture theatre and later in the morning tea break talking to the other students about their PhDs in sustainability and I listened to their enthusiasm and passion to change the way things are, I wondered if I was doing the right thing? I wondered if this was some kind of cosmic sign about what I should be doing? I felt guilty, I guess.

I actually mulled it over for a while, until I realised that it *was* a sign, it was very *pointed* sign. That it was ok to hand over the baton to someone else, someone with the energy and enthusiasm to carry it the next round. And that in what I am doing now, I feel like I make a difference.









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  • By significance on 4 March 2013 at 7:26 am

    I’m so glad you are excited and happy to be starting the PhD! You will do well.

    In many ways, I think it’s easier to work for the environmental cause when you are outside rather than working in the field: there are so many times I have to bite my tongue, when I would have spoken up before I was in this field.

  • By Alisa on 4 March 2013 at 11:20 am

    Thanks! I’m worried that it will be like last time but I think my excitement probably says that it won’t be.

    I spoke up wherever and whenever I could/can for the environment. I always saw that as my role and I took it seriously. I’m just not convinced it made that much of a difference.

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