Today at the ripe age of 26, I learnt how to ride a bike. It was an embarrassing process. Let me first say that I can’t blame my parents for my lack of cycling skills: When I was 5, I got my first bike. I had fairy wheels and a steep hill to kill myself on but my riding days ended right there. I was far more interested in science and the world of Roald Dahl than anything that mobile death trap could offer me.
So, how many degrees does it take to learn to ride a bike? Nearly 4, it seems.
Today’s lesson started out with a valiant effort from my boyfriend holding on to the back of the bike. He tried giving me tons of useful information but naturally I ignored him. I kept insisting that, “I know how a gyroscope works thank you very much.” But maybe for the first time in my life, I just didn’t trust the science. I insisted that if those wheels managed to keep me up it was sorcery and all the billions of people who had learnt to ride a bike previously were aliens.
I was surprised at how quickly I turned on physics just because I was failing. Was I one of one of those people that only believed in science when it was convenient? After giving myself a pep talk, I tackled the problem head on. Quite literally actually – I headed straight for a wall, followed by colliding with my long-suffering significant other. This experience has taught me several important lessons:
1) Sometimes it’s embarrassing to learn new things, but what’s worse is never learning them.
2) There is nothing wrong with being a well – rounded human AND scientist; in fact it’s the only way to live. I used to think that if I did anything other than science I would be a bad researcher. But embracing the world around you is the reason we are here- to live life and be fascinated by it.
3) Trust in science. It is, in its purest form, un-opinionated and unassuming. I was wrong to doubt you, Physics.
4) Be kind to your loved ones. You never know when you might seriously maim them when you are unable to operate a break on a mountain bike.
5) Let go of the labels that define you. I was the nerdy, sarcastic, smart person who was incompetent at any physical activity. Except I’m not – I can ride a bike well(ish). I used to be a disaster in the kitchen but it was only because I told myself I was. Now I cook all the time and do it pretty darn well. Who knows, maybe I’ll be Tour de Francing one day.
6) Be kind to yourself. That spills over into your PhD too. Don’t kill yourself trying to reinvent the wheel. Stand on the shoulders of giants, then get a little taller and let others stand on yours.
7) Life is for the living. Being a scientist means always seeking out new things and interrogating them. While many scientists do this in their work life they don’t always do it away from the pipette. Try to be the kind of person who fully embraces their life, even when it’s hard and little children mock you. Remember that you can drive a car and don’t rely on mom to chaperone.
Ultimately it didn’t matter how many degrees I had. It didn’t matter that I’m accomplished in many areas of my life. Don’t judge a fish by its ability to ride a bicycle. This is the proverbial fish signing off.