Is it just me?

I’m beginning to think I’m a bit weird. Not in a running-around-thinking-people-want-to-eat-me kind of way but in the sense that I’m not sure I quite fit in with my peers.

I like to plan. I spend an inordinate amount of time by myself, planning things in my head. I don’t just mean I plan next weekend’s night out, I plan for things 5+ years down the line. Now these plans are obviously quite likely to change, so I don’t just make one 5 year plan, I make about 4, all at the same time and they evolve and develop with me. Planning my life in this way has been a feature of my personality for as long as I can remember, but especially from around GCSE’s when we first started having to think about careers. My planning-centric brain decided that this meant I had to decide NOW what I wanted to do as a career in 20 years time and lay down a precise set of steps to get there.

I admit, this is not normal. It might even be unhealthy. It sometimes means I don’t like to do things spontaneously and if I’m not careful, the plans I’ve made put pressure on me to not change my mind. Its sometimes easier to go with a plan than have to adapt and change to new circumstances or feelings. On the other hand, so long as my plans are flexible enough to mould with me as I get older, its meant that I’m a step ahead of the future competition. I already know what I want to do (I think) and I’ve exhaustively researched exactly what I need to do to get there.

This character trait also means that I’m determined to grab as many opportunities as I get a sight of. This isn’t a bad thing and its reflected by the sense of gratitude and genuine love that I now have towards University life. In less than a year, University has already presented me with more opportunities and experiences than I could have dreamed for and I imagine that these chances will only increase as I progress. I’ve had opportunities to gain skills that may be important to my future career/life in general…but what I’m most grateful for is the opportunity to feel totally enthused by and enthralled with a subject.

Studying Zoology is the best decision I’ve ever made. Studying Zoology at the University of Exeter is the 2nd best decision I’ve ever made.

Whilst I’d had a minimal interest in Darwin and Evolution prior to University, I wouldn’t profess to being all that bothered. I’d flicked through the Origin of Species without thinking too deeply about it. So its somewhat to my surprise that I find myself absolutely fascinated by it now.

English: Edible Frog, Pelophylax esculentus (s...

The Edible Frog, or Rana esculenta, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It came about in a rather subtle way. It snuck up on me whilst I was least expecting it. Lecture 2 of my Introduction to Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology module. My lecturer mentioned in passing how Rana esculenta comes about as a result of hybridization between two parental species and how the paternal genome is excluded from the female gametes during oogenesis. I found this bizarrely fascinating. It presented me with so many questions…How? Why? Is this common? So I promptly spent the next day reading every paper on hemiclonal reproduction, pre-meiotic genome exclusion and frogs I could. This though led me on further into social hybridogenesis and facultative mate choice. Yet more unanswered questions to explore. What joy!! Now, hemiclonal reproduction is interesting, but I’ve no idea why it caught my attention in such an intense way.

The best bit about this little crusade of mine though, was the way my lecturer responded to my new found interest. I had questions, which he patiently answered and encouraged. This meant that rather than getting stuck and feeling stupid, my new found interest (not just in Frog reproduction, but more generally) was nurtured rather than stunted before it had begun. I’ve had ‘teachers’ in the past tell me in a roundabout way that I was being annoying and they’d prefer it if I just stopped asking them questions. Believe me, that knocks your confidence. At one point, it becomes easier to not be interested than to risk having to ask a question.

Luckily, this didn’t happen in this instance. Instead, the response I received meant I felt comfortable to continue asking questions throughout the course and fueled an ever burgeoning interest. I can now say my main interest lies not in frog reproduction per se, but more broadly across sexual selection, evolutionary conflict and co-evolution. At one point in the course, I even managed to ask a question about the evolution of anisogamy that no-one had seemingly asked before (either in class or in research). That was pretty cool. My lecturer, by the way, remained patient to the end. Even when my end-of-lecture questioning became somewhat of a tradition, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Getting back to the title of this post though. Part of the reason I asked my lecturer so many questions during the course was because I couldn’t find anyone else to talk to about it! I tried my coursemates – they were totally nonplussed. I tried my family – they were glad I’d found an interest, but they didn’t care what it was. Eventually I did manage to find one coursemate who shared my interest to some degree, and we’d grab a coffee after the lectures and spend a good extra hour discussing the various details of what we’d been taught, or (sometimes more interestingly) what we’d looked up ourselves. It was GREAT to have someone on the same wavelength, and through our discussions we managed to build a more rounded friendship too.

What I’m getting at here though (and sorry its taken me 1000 words to get here) is..Why did I struggle so much to find someone who shared a vague interest in what we were being taught? Where is the enthusiasm amongst the rest of my coursemates? My specific interest in the Evolution module hasn’t meant I’m not interested in the others. I’ve at some point or another put in a few hours of extra research on every module I’ve done so far, because something I’ve seen has caught my attention. I do realise that some of my coursemates may be feeling the same way as I have in Evolution about a different module and I hope they’ve found an equally enthusiastic buddy to bounce ideas off.

What really narks me though is the seemingly high proportion of people who are on my course, or at university in general, without really knowing why they’re there. They seem to have taken the degree because they had no better options. They’re happy to pass 1st year with 40%. How can you sit through a year of education and not make the most of it? How can you not try to do your best (whether it counts towards your degree or not)?! I just cannot understand how someone could lack that motivation. You could quite happily sit through 3 years of University, without ever speaking to a lecturer face to face…but why would you? You’re paying money and expending effort in gaining a degree which presumably is part of some sort of longer term plan. Why then would you ignore opportunities that stare you in the face, or seek out those who might be hiding from you?

This is where I think I’m different. My desire to plan means that I predict the consequences of my immediate actions in relation to things that might or might not happen years down the line. A small missed opportunity here means that I might miss a bigger opportunity in 3 years time. Perhaps my desire to make the most of my time at university also stems from the fact that I missed out on my original offer of a place by just 1 mark. I then put in a year of 40+ hours in two low-paid, unskilled jobs to earn the money that might go some way to countering the fact that I stupidly missed the last boat of £3000 fees!  It means I feel I’ve put the hard graft in and I deserve to be here. It also gives me extra motivation to avoid having to go back to those unskilled jobs in the future!

Who knows what the reasons are. All I do know is that I’ve started to ask ‘Is it just me?’ and I’d quite like an answer!


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