On last days

Today’s the day. My last day of work at my current job.

I’ve had a lot of last days, each of them different and odd in their own respect. There was my last day as Apple Valley City’s Tree Inspector. That one was fairly easy to leave–I’d been hired seasonally for a three month position, and then my job was extended by another three months. But by the time my last day rolled around, my beloved boss, Jeff the city forester, had already retired and I hadn’t worked nearly as closely with any of my other colleagues.

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Trees were my thang at Apple Valley

I still think about Jeff though, and the job. I enjoyed the freedom of driving Apple Valley’s streets, looking for diseased trees. I relished the challenge of telling people they had to spend thousands of dollars to remove a beloved tree and still leave them smiling. And I loved following Jeff to house visits.

He spoke in a thick Minnesotan accent, but not slowly, like you’d expect. The words tripped off his tongue rapid fire. For the first few days, I couldn’t understand a word he said, except for “Come with?”

I was always eager to “come with,” because we got to look at all manner of exciting things–trees that had been struck by lightening. New examples of disease. Insect invasions. I loved watching how Jeff handled the citizens he worked with–he was incredibly kind. Incredibly patient. He had a way of making people feel taken care of.

And then there was my last day with Mississippi State University. That was a much more subtle, gradual ending. My job had always been flexible, so even after I started my position at the local animal shelter, I still was able to squeeze in the occasional article over the weekend.

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A photo I took of Dr. Demarais during a deer work up.

But now that the position is long past, I miss it deeply. My days writing for Mississippi State and working for Dr. Demarais, a deer biologist in the wildlife department were some of my sunniest.

I enjoyed honing my photography abilities, long conversations with Doc in his office, taking on new projects that were totally outside of my initial skillset and mastering them. I loved interviewing researchers about their work, learning about their passions and translating them into articles for the public to understand and enjoy. I loved seeing all manner of places I’d never have visited otherwise–food factories, logging operations, a farm that grew corn grits, a feral swine enclosure. I loved the flexibility of working from home.

Even though it slipped away quietly, it’s a loss I feel greatly now. Thankfully Doc is still in our lives; he’s become a beloved family friend. We text and call, and even get a visit from him at the end of this month. And I’m still in touch with my other boss, Karen, who I also adore.

And then the Oktibbeha County Humane Society. That was a separation rife with relief and sadness. Being their communications person and foster coordinator was intensive. Most of my weeks were 50+ hours, and required around the clock work. A lot of the time, the lives of animals were at stake–a tiny kitten who had been brought in, and needed me to find a foster. A puppy who had stopped eating. My mental health has never been worse–that winter, I had trouble finding light in anything. I jumped whenever I got a text message, afraid that another catastrophe had struck. I don’t know that I would’ve lasted for more than a year.

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A puppy I fostered while acting as the foster coordinator for OCHS.

But through the hard work, I formed a family–I had superb, supportive bosses. Coworkers I adored. And I got to spend a lot of my day photographing adoptable animals and trying to get them adopted–something that I’ve spent my entire life informally doing (if you know me, you’ve probably had me try to pawn off a pet in need of a home on you).

I really mourned, leaving that position. My early days in Starkville had been marked by loneliness, but since working at the shelter, I had found a community. And after one short year, I was leaving it. But I was leaving it to start our new life in Georgia, where we’d just bought our first house. Where we’d have our first child. That was a hard and happy last day.

And then now, leaving the University of Georgia’s Housing department. This is hard one, too. It was a great job. I enjoyed the daily work–enjoyed the chance to use my creativity on a daily basis, to hone my design skills, and to grow into my role as a supervisor. And while it took time for me to feel a sense of community within our giant department (I spent the first half year in a perpetual state of confusion over who was who and who did what), once I did find that community, I felt enveloped by it.

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A photo I snapped as the PR Specialist for housing.

I made genuine new friends, people that I’d like to stay in touch with for the rest of my life. My boss was fair and funny. Things were hunky dory, other than a bit of angst over leaving Linden during the day (which is a given with any job).

I hadn’t planned to look for a new job. But then a job posting got blasted out, and I happened to open it. And read it. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I love my job now, but it didn’t necessarily align with the things I’m specifically passionate about, and I sometimes had trouble understanding how the daily tasks I did related to the big picture of making the world a better place (not always, but sometimes).

Before I knew it, I was applying to that job posting. And then interviewing. When I received a call offering me the job, I was over the moon.

At my new position, with the River Basin Center and IRIS (Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems), I’ll be doing science communications. This may not seem like vitally important job to some people (one of my current colleagues laughed when he heard and said “You’re going to be writing about water? Why do we pay people to write about water?!”) to me, it is at the heart of what our world needs right now.

We have this deep divide in our country–politically, but also scientifically. Scientists are deeply mistrusted. Many people don’t believe that issues like climate change are real. They don’t believe in the scientific process. They’re scared of vaccines and GMOs. They’re suspicious of the ivory tower.

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Excited to have a chance to write about this glorious, life-giving substance! Photo by Jordan, from a trip to the Adirondacks

And those gaps in understanding are not going to heal naturally, especially when most scientific literature is written purposefully to cloud meaning, and most news coverage of science is distorted beyond recognition.

The country needs honest, balanced science communication. They need coverage of the research happening on a daily basis to solve the world’s problems, in an interesting, accurate manner. Further, scientists need publicity to help draw funding, so that they can keep doing what they do.

And I’m really excited for the opportunity to tackle that problem. I loved what I did at Mississippi State. I was proud to call myself a science communicator. And I’m so excited for the opportunity to do it again.

Another last day has arrived. And again, I face it with excitement for the future and sadness about leaving the people I met along the way.

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