JOIN MICELLA PHOENIX DeWHYSE--GRAD STUDENT EXTRAORDINAIRE--AS SHE MAKES HER WAY THROUGH GRAD SCHOOL IN MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING

After 1 year and eight chapters about my life as a graduate student, I wonder about my place in the world. One would have thought that staying on top of my research would have barred from my mind all thoughts beyond my current scope of employ. But alas, I cannot be that myopic.

There is an inextricable link between the beginning of my graduate school career and ?the events? of September 2001. Last fall was full of new beginnings for me: my graduate career, my search for self, my heightened awareness of international politics and events, and my role as a citizen of the United States in those affairs. With all that has happened in the last year (and I?m not even talking about all the random dramas that unfolded in Chapters 1 to 8), I find myself asking where, if anywhere, does my current path fit in the scheme of things?

On the morning of 11 September 2001, I was in class when the world crumbled around me. It wasn?t until after the second class of the morning that we learned what had happened. In the computer lab, my classmates and I pointed and clicked our way through the movie-like images and bore witness to the flaming and smoking infernos over and over again.

I thought about how lucky I was--I could have been on any of those planes. I used to live in both Washington, D.C., and west of Boston; I?ve flown out of Logan many times, caught the bus at the Pentagon daily, and connected in Newark more frequently than I care to remember. My heart went out to all of the children that lost parents, and the parents that lost children. We all know the shock we registered.

Now, a year later, it?s amazing how little those events have affected my daily life. I often feel removed from everything going on around me. The insulating bubble of graduate school keeps me involved only in the immediate problems facing me--the day-to-day struggle for results to keep Jeff at bay. That whole ?return to normalcy? thing people kept talking about seems to really have happened for those of us not personally touched by the loss of a life. Our projects keep moving on and the world keeps turning. Sometimes, I feel awkward for not feeling as affected as I think I should be (or as deeply as the media tells me I should be).

Playing The Game: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

This month, I ask one thing of you: Become more aware of all that is around you.

We can?t just accept what we see on the 11 p.m. news as the only thing happening in the world. Wake up! Realize how blessed you are. You are not bombed on a regular basis. Your city is not under siege. You do not live under a dictator who could have you killed for your actions or even for your thoughts. And although you may be broke, you know where your next meal is coming from. Think long and hard about what you have and be grateful.

In addition, as a grad student you have a wonderful opportunity to meet people of many different cultures. This is one of the most culturally and internationally imbued times of your life. So, why not take the opportunity to get to learn about the people around you? Talk to the people in your lab group. Find out where they?re from, what they?re about, what their hopes and dreams are, why they came to graduate school; and if they aren?t from the United States, what brought them halfway around the world. Ask them what waits for them when they go back to their home countries. When else will we have the opportunity to work with people of such diverse backgrounds? Cherish these differences; broaden your horizons; and as the saying goes, ?think globally, act locally.?

But I have changed. I am much more aware of the world around me. I have always been generally aware, but these days I find myself gravitating towards talk radio and news Web sites (both mainstream and alternative) to find out what?s happening in the world. While the Bush Administration pursues a war on terrorism with minimal opposition, I find myself more afraid of my government than random acts of terrorism.

But my immediate world remains markedly unchanged. Economically graduate school is the best job security I could get, although the pay isn?t phenomenal. Some of my friends from undergrad have experienced layoffs as the economy sinks further and further into the toilet, but I often feel unfazed and safe, and this bothers me.

My mind is full of questions, the greatest of which is, how have science and technology contributed to all of this international drama? Did the people who invented pesticides know that changes in manufacturing processes could convert them to chemical warfare weapons? What were the inventors of the atomic bomb or the people that ?weaponized? anthrax thinking? Hello?

It amazes and frightens me how much good and evil has been brought about through the advancement of science and technology. It also stuns me that the bad stuff is made, bought, sold, and traded by countries around the world, including the United States. Does anyone ever wonder how Saddam has come to possess some of the things he does? I do.

Conversing with my fellow graduate students, I find some of them are completely unconcerned. Others want only to destroy any enemies of the United States. I often find a lot of ignorance and apathy. Some don?t understand why the people who don?t like the United States can?t just get over it. They don?t understand why unilateral action probably isn?t the best course of action. They don?t understand why stability in the Middle East is important. They don?t understand the Israel-Palestine situation. They don?t get how colonialism wreaked havoc on developing nations. And I don't have time to explain it all. I have work to do; a degree to earn.

I have also spoken with individuals who are concerned that the technology they are working on will be used for defense contracts and that doesn?t sit well with them. Don?t get me wrong; I?m all for technological advancement. But at what cost? Who or what will be hurt because of something one of us made?

And it leads me back to three questions: What is my role in all of this? What is a socially responsible scientist? And, how do I become that socially responsible scientist, one that can think beyond the next grant or the next project and see how what we do today affects what happens tomorrow?

If anyone has any answers for any of these questions, I?m all ears!

You can send e-mail to Micella at Micella_Phoenix_deWhyse@hotmail.com

Former science graduate student and postdoc Micella Phoenix DeWhyse wrote a column for Science Careers from 2002 through 2008. Micella Phoenix DeWhyse is still a pseudonym. Discussions on the forum, Facebook, Twitter, or e-mails to the editor at snweditor@aaas.org or to micella.phoenix.dewhyse@gmail.com are welcome, as she is considering turning her columns into a book.