The French version of “Let It Go” is “Libérée, délivrée” which more or less translates to “I’ve been freed/become free” rather than “let it go” and I am currently singing that song in my head. Actually, I shall put it on Spotify because I am not a good singer, even in my head.
I am currently singing that song because I submitted two abstracts to two conferences a few minutes ago – a whole day and a bit before the deadline! One is about innovation pathways based on a systems approach applied to the Finnish bioeconomy and the other about taking into account consumer behaviour in the development of bioeconomy products. I have good hope to have the first one accepted but the second one is a bit of a long shot – more popular conference, not my main field of study, but let’s see!
In any case, I am quite glad to have that off my plate as I agonised hours, if not full days, over those short texts. Even on days when I was not working on them, they still sat at the back of my head. Now I am that little bit lighter and I hope to carry that feeling of accomplishment that I am feeling right now till at least this weekend (we’re only Wednesday though). I am not even freaking out about the fact that the whole work email system is down and has been down since this morning! I am not feeling that impostor syndrome all that much! I shall sleep so well tonight!
Personally, I consider that just finishing my PhD was a rather big accomplishment because it represents four years of work, some of those spent really wondering if I had what it took to finish it. Obviously the more I work on other projects, the more it all becomes just two pieces of paper (hooray for a double diploma, two pieces of paper instead of one) that are just sat there in a folder on the shelf.
From the point of view of what’s the one thing I’ve done that has contributed most to bettering the world (that’s kind of like an accomplishment, right?) – maybe those legislative texts we wrote and did background research for. They have an influence on a very specific subset of products (different kinds products falling under a certain ISO Type I ecolabel) but all tiny bits add up to bigger bits and add up to even bigger bits. Eventually, in a couple of years, someone will rework those legislative texts to make them better but they’ll build up on the work we did.
I think that in research, especially sustainability research, it’s important to remember that most of the biggest achievements you hear about come after years and years of tiny incremental steps and are the result of work by tons of individuals. There are many stories of people inventing seemingly identical things at seemingly the same time in different parts of the world (and often only one getting the credit for it) and that’s due to the fact that radical changes and inventions are built on top of mundane work that eventually adds to something that’s thought to be radically new. So while I haven’t accomplished anything yet that’s life changing, I hope that somehow, somewhere along the line, I’ve contributed to something that one day will turn out to be important.
For me, one of the best part of working in research is that no two days are alike, I get to spend my time on subjects that interest me and I get to work with equally passionate people from whom I can learn a lot. As we, as a species, are always making new discoveries and finding new techniques for doing things, being a scientist requires you to be very interested in anything and everything – always reading up on the latest results, following what’s happening in the world, trying to figure out if this or that can be used in one’s own work. It’s can be a daunting task but always being ready to learn new things is also very rewarding!
Of course, having all this freedom does come with some down sides – I currently don’t have a permanent position so I’m always looking for new sources of funding and I am in charge of setting my own deadlines and making sure I meet them. Sometimes it can also happen that you’ll spend months on a research project that leads to nothing and that can be quite upsetting, it’s important to see that as a learning opportunity rather than a complete failure.