Different highs

A few weeks ago, I worked my first paediatric acute shift in a while.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I am by no means a full time academic.  I work 50% clinical.  But because of the way that training and things have worked out, I haven’t done a general paeds shift for a year.
And I loved it.
(Apart from being terrified, because, it’s my first shift in a year; I’m a reg now *gulp*; I have a reputation as a sh*tmagnet…)
I remembered how much I love my job (I know I always say that I love my job, because I do.  But there’s a difference between knowing that in an objective way, and subjectively feeling amazingly lucky to be trusted enough to look after someone else’s child.  I don’t even get to have my own to look after, but I take care of other people’s. That’s pretty amazing).
I came out of the first shift back, and thought “that was great”. (Getting home-cooked dinner delivered to work definitely helped 🙂  but honestly, I love my job.) I love the units I work on; I love my nurses (even if the standard welcome is “hello trouble!”).  I love being part of a team that cares.
And compared to research, the effects of that team caring are immediate.  It’s the salbutamol effect (remember giving salbutamol for the first time, and watching the breathless child haring around the playroom 30 minutes later?).  Usually in medicine, we’re around to see the effect of what we do.  It might happen on your shift, or it might take a few phone calls. But you will get feedback on what you’ve done.  (And maybe I do go home and think about what happened that day. Maybe I do ring the ward on my “I’m turning the mobile off and leaving my laptop at home” weekend.  At least that way, I know.)
Research isn’t like that.
It’s what makes it difficult, and hard, and tiring, and sometimes just dull.  It’s when you spend days and weeks and months working on an idea without realising that you are working on it anymore.  It’s the days when you tell yourself to write something, anything, because at least then you’ve done some work, something worthwhile.  It’s when I sit with piles of data trying to sort them into categories that make sense.
It’s looking at results and thinking, this might not ever make a difference.  It might not make a difference for years and years.  Why am I not doing something useful? Why am I not giving a child salbutamol?
The answer is that occasionally, rarely, there’s that “yes” moment.  A recognition that this is right.  It might be the way I sort my data; or finding I’ve written the perfect sentence.  It’s looking back and suddenly understanding that all those people were trying to tell you something important, and now you understand what that is.
I’m not a psychologist, but I often wonder if the reason that I find it so hard to engage with things like e-portfolio is that my medical brain is externally motivated.  It’s much easier to stay an extra hour or two if you can see that you’re explaining something properly.  It’s harder if the only person listening is the e-portfolio portal.
That just doesn’t work for research.  Anyone seeking external motivators in academia is bound to be disappointed.  There is recognition for your work, but it is so removed from the process of creating that work that it seems as though it happened in another lifetime.  By the time a paper is published, you’ve moved onto another project, another lifetime seems to stand between you and your work.  You may not even recognise this neatly compressed, multi-authored paper as your work in the way that your scribbled notes and frantic arrows belonged to you.
But that “yes” feeling; the click in your head when the words flow, and you understand what your data mean…
That endures, and that is yours alone.

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