The simplest way of saying it is that even though I’ve already been in graduate school for the better part of the last four years, I was not prepared for the intensity of work that I have found myself undertaking over the last sixteen weeks. It has now been four months since I left Kansas City for the crown jewel of the State University of New York’s system, Binghamton University. I started on the back foot, as my intended research project became unviable a full two weeks before my departure. Yet I have taken that setback as a good reason to move forward, with resolve, to stay on track and on schedule, and to find another topic to focus my research on.
As most teenagers do, I felt ashamed about the things I had been passionate about as a young child. So many things that I looked back on with joy were simply not “cool enough,” not something that I would want to share with my friends. Yet after starting my undergraduate degree at Rockhurst in 2011, I began to allow myself to open up to those same passions and interests from my earliest years. That said, until now I did not allow topics like zoology, or travel, or natural history to become my primary professional focus; I stayed in the same areas that I fell into in high school and as an undergrad, in politics, theology, and philosophy, and ran with those, completing one bachelor’s and two master’s degrees in that same purely anthropocentric and theocentric vein.
Yet in August, as I found myself without a research topic, the most fundamental part of a Ph.D. in History, I decided to take the initiative and try and incorporate some of those childhood interests into my research. Today, I am beginning what hopefully will be a career-launching research project looking into how Renaissance travel narratives served as vehicles for the transmission of new scientific information, specifically about zoology, from the Americas to the reading public in Europe. I decided to incorporate those old topics that I have always loved to learn about, whether from books or in museums or at zoos, and frame the history that I am writing around them.
The greatest lesson so far since arriving in Binghamton has been in patience. Having landed in a town that frankly I would never choose to live in if not for the university, I have begun to learn how to be patient with my surroundings, to bide my time and work so that I can eventually move on to greener pastures, ideally in a metropolitan city of at least 1.5 to 2 million people. I have also had to shed off the last trappings of my childhood and teenage fear of criticism, which has certainly limited my success in the past. Having a good 400 pages to read per week, I have struggled to properly prepare myself in such a way that I feel confident to discuss the topics at hand, many of which, such as Hippocratic medicine, I have little background in.
I believe that all bad things that happen in our lives eventually boil down to fear, our fear of the unknown, our fear of others, our fear of ourselves even. By beginning to learn how to be patient, how to deal with criticism, I am confronting many of those deepest fears that held me back in the past. I know for a fact that I’m not nearly over many of them, after all some fear is a good thing, otherwise I might try to pet the mountain lion at the Binghamton Zoo, and frankly I’d rather keep both of my hands. Still, a little wise individual, in one of the greatest sagas to be produced in our time, once said that “the greatest teacher fear is.” I certainly believe it.