After the “Principle of least action”, Markov chains are one of my favorite things in Physics. Oddly enough they help me get out of bed in the morning without snoozing fifty times.
During the second year of my postdoc I applied to give a talk at a particle physics conference in Lake Louise (Canada). I made it there after one hour flight from Geneva to Amsterdam, nine hours to Cagliary, followed by a few hours of bus and a debit card which was not working. The venue was beautiful, a five star hotel, which unfortunately reminded me a bit too much of the Shining.
The talk I gave was 15 or 20 minutes, I vividly remember being grumpy because I was not showing the cool results that I knew were in the pipeline, nor could I talk about them.
My short postdoc life and I had a strange relationship. I was silently battling my insecurities and overly entitled colleagues. I did work “hard” and “a lot” - with retrospect I am painfully aware that my energy was not optimised nor spent intelligently - but hey it’s a learning process. At that time I didn't have the bandwidth to try to understand what I was going through, I was too much in it. The words poor mental health were not in my dictionary then.
Looking back my interpretation was that there was a constant misalignment between where I was and where I wanted to be. Both intellectually and physically. As it were in Canada this feeling was even more exasperated, given that I was not properly dressed for -38 degrees Celsius.
Yet in that state of strangeness I met a person, whose kindness and intelligence changed my life. Forever.
They treated me like a peer and were curious about my thoughts and my path.
It’s been twelve years now and I am still grateful and enjoying every minute of our interactions, as well as the projects we are doing together.
This is the beauty of travelling and leaving your place. I know for some of us "Home" means good Wifi, tea/coffee, warm socks and no annoying colleagues. All of this is true.
However, in the big outside world, we never know who we are going to interact with and how this might impact us. We can’t predict for a fact that cool things will happen. The only thing we can do is put ourselves in a position to give the unknown a chance.