Wednesday, March 17, 2010


A bit of introspection this morning. Today is my anniversary arriving in North America. I touched down at Dulles at about four in the afternoon, just me, a J1 visa, a couple of suitcases and a bike in a box.

My new boss picked me up from the airport and my crash-course into all things North American began at once. I remember feeling decidedly uncomfortable as we drove onto the highway on what felt to be on the wrong side of the road, and sitting in the right hand seat with no steering wheel.

I started a post-doc at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Gloucester Point, Virginia, the next day.

I think I learned just as much, if not more, at VIMS than I did during my PhD. Strangely, the specific sub-discipline I was working on there didn't have a name in '98, it was just doing such-and-such a technique on such-and-such a species. It did have a name when I left, because by then every biological discipline had jumped on the genomics bandwagon and suffixed itself with "-omics" to get more grant-funding (and there have been some pretty pathetic -omics!. "Diseasome" tops many lists, but museome; the 'omics of museums, tops mine. How can a museum have an -ome?). Yup, the genomics era really was that fast. Indeed as we tell students (and in fact anyone who'll listen) the genomics era was so fast that despite what you might read on the BBC, you've actually missed it. We've been firmly in the post-genomics era for a decade now; you really felt the difference, right?

Anyway, back at VIMS I stayed at a house on campus the College owned and almost immediately started to "acquire". An nth-hand 10 year old Nissan Sentra with a dodgy fuel-gauge that towards the end was burning more oil than gas. A sofa. Plates. A couple of pans. A TV. A rented townhouse in nearby Newport News to put it all in. Funny that, my boss didn't think I would ride the 40 km round-trip to work and back every day for two years. I did.

Seeing as there were 300 million of them and only one of me, in the interests of easy communication I realised that I had to relinquish some innate part of me and alter the way I speak; gas not petrol, intersection not junction, grocery store not supermarket as I learned to navigate around Food Lion not Asda and what do do in lieu of Jaffa Cakes. I managed to keep my accent though. It seems to have been the one thing that has defined me for thirteen years now, and it seems churlish to lose it now.

As with all expats before me (insert gratuitous references to Quintin Crisp and Englishman in New York here) I found that the UK and the states really are divided by a common language. I learned to order coffee in Dunkin Donuts and get what I want. How to pronounce NeHi. Pavement means two very different things over here and over there. As do pants. It took a decade to get over the word fanny pack. A mundane and functional item for you guys here to be sure, over in Blighty, it's something unmentionable.

I'm not triskaidekaphobic; I'd fly today, run with scissors, talk back at the Department Head. I once did a PB with dossard 13 when by all rights if the doomsayers were correct I should have ended up in a hedge with my top-tube wrapped around a tree instead. So I'm not too concerned that today marks the start of Year 13. Life has had it's share of ups and downs since '98; personal and professional. It would be unfair to ascribe year 13 as being "the one" when other years have had their decidedly shitty moments and they weren't defined as anni horribilis (horribili? I'm dreadful with tenses) just because they were numbered with an integer between 0 and 12.

I think I'm going to enjoy Year 13, dammit, even if it kills me!


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