I’ve been feeling a remarkable lack of personal devastation at being laid off. While I was calmly packing up my desk and even humming while doing so, my co-worker — former co-worker, now — was obviously much more distressed about my lay off than I was. True, my salary is now gone, but since Jennifer and I will be fine, financially, for several months, the extreme stress that I felt the last time I was unemployed isn’t really there. Of course, I’m looking for work, but I’m also taking the opportunity to read, to write, to learn PHP and Java, and to get muddy.

Yes, today I went and got myself muddy.

I’ve decided that now would be a good time to take part in some field research related to ecological systems engineering. So I contacted one of the professors that I’d been put in touch with back in September, and he arranged for me to meet with one of his graduate students who was having trouble finding enough people to help her collect the samples that she needed. She’d just had some knee surgery done and was having trouble getting down to the riverbanks to get the water samples that she needed. Since I’m pretty mobile and agile myself, I volunteered. We headed out to Sacramento to the three sampling sites along the creek that she’s been studying and started sampling away.

She let me read the current chapter of the doctoral thesis that she’s been working on. I found out about how she is conducting this research in order to learn how the levels of a particular pesticide vary over time and throughout the different areas of Sacramento. And because last night was a "storm event" — technically, because it rained, though it certainly wouldn’t count as a storm in my estimation — we also went to one of the storm drains off of the river and set up an automated sampling machine to take samples of the river water every hour for the next twenty-four hours.

You know, it was an incredible experience. Okay, sure, I slipped and fell in the mud twice at the third sampling site, but I didn’t manage to injure myself; I only succeeded in coating my jeans and my jacket with mud. I didn’t even break the sample jar, for which I was very pleased with myself. When we went back to the aquatic toxicology lab on the UC Davis campus, I found myself deluged with familiar smells from my college days: reagents and chemicals that I’d been exposed to regularly during my days in college chemistry. Although I didn’t do very well in my chemistry classes, I discovered that I actually miss them. I have the feeling now, though, that if I went back to those classes, I’d find that I’ve matured enough to actually work at those classes; similar to the feelings I’ve been having when I’ve been reviewing pre-calculus.

I also talked to the woman I worked with today about her life as a graduate student who also has a full-time job. She loves it, but admits that she’s looking forward to getting her actual PhD next week and having a life for a change. We talked about how her lifestyle resembled the lifestyle I had when I was first working for my former employer, traveling up to the Pacific Northwest every week and putting in 15 to 16 hour days while I was up there. For both, there was a sense of being "on", 24/7. But we had opposite feelings about it: while I thought it would be exciting to do that when involved in research, in something that has potential benefits not only for the ecosystem but also for the people living in the area, she thought it would be exciting to do it while actually producing something of immediate use. On the other hand, she wouldn’t have given up her research; her pursuit of knowledge was too important to her.

But I enjoyed it. My determination to go back to school and study ecological systems engineering has strengthened, though it may be hampered by the fact that I do have to find a job that will help us pay the bills. I suppose that right now my dream job is something that will let me continue as a web developer for a company involved with ecological research for the pay that I was receiving before. Unfortunately, all of the opportunities that I’ve found like that have been volunteer opportunities.

Still, though… I suppose there’s just a part of me that never grew up from the little boy who liked to play in the mud and splash water everywhere.

Oh, and I went to a job fair today in Sacramento. I dropped off fifteen resumes and talked to a few people, but the pickings were slim for a web developer. If I’d been in the market for a minimum wage cashiering position, or a position in sales or marketing, I’d be set. I’m not ready to pursue one of those quite yet.

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