Kamal is happy, trotting around academia with a laptop in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, and a faint grin on his face as he contemplates how to tackle the next big questions in geodynamics. Amazed that others do not consider academia as a radiant beacon on the horizon of potential career pathways, he is curious:
If you were not a scientist, what would you be?
I suppose I would be the day-to-day manager of a petting zoo. An aspiration for many I hope. Spending most of your time outside, taking care of lovely and mostly docile living creatures, bringing joy to others (most of whom would be children); how can you not feel a warm glow dawning upon your soul? I’ve also figured out that I cannot even name one favorite in my roaming pack. There’s two: the miniature donkey and the alpaca. Have you ever come across any animal more cuddly than those? I don’t think so.
Before you consider that you read this, whilst I’m in the middle of a mental breakdown, I urge you to consider this; there are ever so many parallels with academia. The first and foremost being the need for money as one continuously has to apply for money (a.k.a. donations) to run the zoo, get food and keep the staff on. Entrance fees are a joke, honestly. Most of the open hours are blessed with teaching moments to educate people (mostly children) about the things an employee does. Of course, health and safety has gone mad, so unfortunately there are some restrictions to the potential activities. Everyone’s constantly learning about the animals running around, especially when a new species arrives. Surely, there are some difficult team members, but that’s unavoidable in every work environment, right? The other petting zoos put on a crazy competition to create a concourse of traffic, and that’s true for the funding too; the community money can only be spent on one zoo per district. That’s got to be me though. Many a late night is par for the course. I’ve got to make sure everything is in order continuously. This includes an owner who puts their name on the business without doing the work. Luckily, I cut a deal with the espresso bar around the corner, to make sure my mind does not stray during most of the day. Whereas most of the working hours are marked by shuffling shit around (literally), there are some possibilities to avoid such inspiring tasks as mandatory courses are a regular thing. I remember the latest NCPZ conference (i.e., the National Committee on Petting Zoo’s) with the outstanding keynote lecture entitled “10 ways to turn around your petting zoo from Accidents wool happen to Neigh, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks“. Schools often take the opportunity to get some outreach, but I guess that’s mostly an excuse for not having to prepare class themselves. The media is oftentimes present, and no, this has nothing to do with that incident a couple years back with the enthusiastic rabbits. The media simply likes cuddly animals, especially in case it’s a slow summer. Public speaking is therefore a necessary evil. At least I’m not stuck behind a computer for the majority of the day, that would really be mind-guttering. Basically, a petting zoo means there’s happy faces all around.
When really thinking it through, I have to say running a petting zoo is suspiciously close to commanding a cohort of (under- and post-) grad students. Even with the best of preparations, one always finds a way to stray from the flock. Even putting up signs and shouting out warnings doesn’t help. You must remember that there’s one, outstanding piece of advice I can render; cuddle the flock as much as possible. They need it. I assume you can really use one. I know I can. Surely a win-win for everyone.
The Sassy Scientist
PS: The post was written in spite of a stringent career path in the musky corridors of academia.
PS2: If you feel inspired by this report of a career path in an alternative reality, why don’t you open up one close to my offices? I could really unclench throughout the day. And do keep that idea of an espresso bar close to heart.