This morning I overheard someone — another graduate student, though one I don’t know personally — talking about how people who don’t worship her god must think that they are the supreme authority on everything and must not recognize their own shortcomings. It was an interesting synchronicity, as I have been thinking about my new school year resolutions. (The changing of the calendar year doesn’t mean much for me, but the academic calendar tracks my life’s progress in much more immediate terms. I always find myself reflecting on my habits and planning ways in which I will improve right around the time that I am buying fresh new notebooks and restocking my supply of pens.) In the spirit of correcting this kind of misconception, and of increasing my feeling of accountability by making public promises, I thought I’d go through a few of the ways that this atheist clearly does not consider herself to be the embodiment of perfection.
I’ve been in graduate school for a couple years now, and it’s about that time when I start running out of steam. (To be honest, it’s a little past that time when I started. I’m getting quite low on steam.) It’s an interesting beast, this dissertation research … having to set your own deadlines to get projects finished, papers written, and new projects planned. I am determined to finish my degree, though, so as the semester begins I am rededicating myself to my research work. I’m reminding myself of the obligations I have to my supervisors and labmates, and of what made me excited about this work in the first place. I’m going to keep an eye on that light at the end of the tunnel and make sure that I get there. This means being more disciplined about my work schedule, particularly my alarm clock settings, and being more focused on work while I am supposed to be doing it. It means reading papers with the goal of understanding the broader implications for my area of science, rather than just for extracting a particular detail or two in answer to specific questions. It also means being more attentive in seminars and colloquia, and asking more questions to be sure that I am synthesizing the information. I don’t expect to feel like I know everything about my subfield by the time I finish — far from it — but I definitely know I need to pick up a lot more. So this is one easy area in which I can say I am not a supreme authority.
I’m also rededicating myself to a handful of other projects which have been floating out in my periphery for some time. There are a couple student groups I’m involved in and which I want very much to continue to exist. There’s some work for a nonprofit I volunteered for a while back and which is going to ramp up in commitment level soon. Somewhat counterintuitively, I think that all these things will fuel each other rather than get in each other’s way. It’s a matter of building up momentum and then letting it carry me. I want to be involved in efforts that are meaningful and valuable to me, but there’s — if you’ll permit me yet another science analogy — a sort of activation energy that I need to get over in order to reach my full potential. That’s something I hope to achieve, or at least get closer to achieving, this year.
In the style of new year’s resolutions, I plan on making improvements to my eating habits and to my exercise schedule. In somewhat typical grad student fashion, I could do with a lot less crappy processed food and more wholesome, vegetabley-type things. I could stand to replace some of this sitting around at computers with some more physical activity. I’m intending to work from a pretty straightforward calories-in versus calories-out model, but I’m also open to (evidence-based) tips from out there in readerland and elsewhere on the internet.
I also have some resolutions for this blog that are particularly pertinent to the idea of not knowing everything out there. I have a ton of blog post ideas that I keep putting off writing because they involve a fair amount of research into history or into belief systems I am unfamiliar with. I don’t want to write them with the pretension of knowing all the relevant facts, but at the same time I’ve been putting off actually learning those facts. I do find this whole enterprise very interesting, and I think we could have some great conversations here about the topics I have on tap, so I hope to set aside some regular time to do that research and write those posts — to think of it more as a part of my weekly schedule rather than as something I throw in there whenever it occurs to me.
As an atheist, I am comfortable recognizing that there are some things I don’t have answers to, and some ways in which things in my life won’t always run perfectly and smoothly. I prefer to live in reality, rather than inventing some mystical being that does have all the answers and will make sure things go according to plan. I don’t have to believe in original sin and the possibility of eternal damnation in order to recognize that as a human being I am a work in progress, and to put in that work to make that progress. If anything, it seems to me that devotion to an omni-whatever deity (and its supposed revelations and proclamations) is a much more arrogantly certain outlook on life than mine is.