lichenMy uncle is friends with a couple who are both scientists. He invites them to my cousins’ birthday parties, so we get to chat a few times a year. The couple met during their school days, fell in love over textbooks and microscopes, got married, and support themselves by teaching and researching. Best of all, they get to travel. They travel all over the world to interesting places like the Gunib plateau in the Caucasus, the rainforests of Borneo, and the deserts of the high Arctic in pursuit of their science. What do they study? Lichen. Lichen – like in those weird, mossy splotches that grow on rocks. When they told me this over cake and hamburgers on my uncle’s back porch, my jaw dropped. I was incredulous and envious, and immediately stopped listening in order to re-evaluate all of my life choices. Where did I go astray? Should I have studied lichen? I guess so. Or hydrogeology, definitely. I could have been scampering through the hills and valleys, pressing my ear to the ground to listen for water (or whatever they do). And did you know that there are people who study tidal marks to determine how the revolution of the moon has changed over the course of millions of years? These scientists bounce from beach cliff to beach, rocky island to lagoon, tracing the moon’s shifting signature along the coastline. Of course I know these representations are fantasies – the “what-other-people-think-I’m-doing” version of careers that have their fair share of bureaucratic frustrations and computer-staring. I also suspect that I probably wasn’t cut out for any of these pursuits because I seem to be more excited about the places they would take me than the work they entail. (Travel writer? Photographer? Or a combination: National Geographic photographer. Boom. I’m waiting for the call.) There was in fact a time when I claimed the descriptor “scientist.” I studied astronomy when I was an undergraduate, and I remember many long summer nights at the observatory followed by many long days of data crunching. I learned valuable lessons during that time, not the least of which being that in order to be a scientist, you have to have a passion for your science. Until recently, people have been slow to associate the words passion and science. But let me tell you, only the greatest of passions (or a complete lack of it) would get a person through the mountains of error analysis that are necessary to put forth a hypothesis. In the end, I re-purposed these experiences into communications. My lack of commitment to a single scientific subject is a boon in this career, where I get to write about research that runs the gamut, from microscopic black holes to beneficial insects. But during these cold winter days, I have moments of weakness where I huddle in my office, muttering bitterly about the adventures I’m only writing about. For instance IPM Innovation Lab Director Muni Muniappan is currently on a two-week trip to Kenya and Ethiopia, where he is making connections, touring farms, and working very hard to lay the groundwork for the next phase of our program. It’s 70 degrees in Kenya. Should have been an entomologist.