It might be slightly confusing to receive a letter from your future self, but time is made of wibbly wobbly timy wimy stuff. A thing which in time you will come to understand in a few years, after watching a year’s worth of Doctor Who episodes – at a moment when in fact you should be working on that 300 page manuscript. But here we are then, four years apart. Not a lifetime. Merely a PhD.
But are we so different, you and I? Both at crossroads in our life. Both marked by what we have been through in these past few years. Both ready for a new challenge. I remember you, on that first day of your PhD, excited and scared at the same time, scared of the plunge into the unknown. Like a first day at a new school. New people, new rules, a new rythm. I feel very much the same now. With a new, unknown path in my life – new colleagues, new rules. And just like you, I know everything will be fine in the end.
But then again, we are different. You are colder, more analytical, unforgiving. You have been trained to be a logical mind, excluding the unexpected, the impulsive, the human aspect. And this has made you hurt people along the road, has led you to make decisions which, with hindsight, you will learn to regret. You are more reckless than I am, unbound by the limits which you will discover and which will impose themselves on your work quite soon. Factors which you will have to take into account. People to reckon with. Yes, people. Those others in the world around you. People with expectations, feelings and emotions. They too, will be part of the quest onto which you embark.
But there will be love too. There too, you are well on the road to discovery. You have just spent your first journey on a different continent with the person you hold most dear in this world. For the first time, really, you have seen what it means to share the road, to share memories. Keep her close, for she will show you how to become the person I am now. To see the world beyond science. There is nothing more fulfilling than to share your daily experiences with the person you love. Without that person, those moments would exist in your memories alone
Your research path will be littered with moments of both joy and dissapointment. Some will drive you to despair. Some will push you forward. There is no advice i can give you other than this: remember why you embarked upon this journey. Remember why you love what you do. Why you chose to spend hours in the lab, to repeat failed experiments time and time again. Because you are a scientist. Because whatever happens, you learn from what you do, what you cause, what you mess up.
There will be tough decisions too. Decisions which will change everything that follows in a radical way. Decisions which will separate you from what you held most dear. Those choices won’t be easy, and they will break you to pieces at first. But after a while you will see that the choices you made were not a spur of the moment but had been there for a while, waiting for you to see them.
You are about to embark on the most exciting journey of your life so far. Four years of research among people who in time will become dear friends. You will forge new friendships. You will travel. A lot. You will see the world through the window of your plane, train or bus. You will see frangrant harbours at the end of the world, smell the spices and the urban chaos of cities near and far. You will see jungles of bamboo, small notes handwritten by Darwin, famous giraffes, cities rebuilt and forgotten. Cherish those moments, for they will change you forever.
And now, i must leave you and embark upon my own voyage. Where it will lead me I do not know. I know i will make mistakes. But i’ll let you know. I’ll write you again.
At the next crossroads.