I have now reached the halfway point of the Fun and Necessary Research Blog Challenge (TM)!
The fifth question is: What got you into research/your field? Lifelong calling, sudden epiphany or chance?
An unholy mixture of all three, really.
I'd like to think I was born with a researcher's personality: I've always taken great joy in problem-solving, and I've been blessed with such large dosages of imagination and curiosity they would probably be lethal had I not grown up with them. If I'm in a new place, you can be sure I peek into every dim corner, and take a long, long look at the bookshelf. If I see something I've never seen before, I'm sure to poke at it. (Apparently, the day this habit gets me blown up to bits has not come yet!) I'll try every new vegetarian food, no matter how unappetizing it sounds. I don't take things at face value but automatically come up with several (far-fetched and highly improbable) causes for effects, and effects of causes. I've been accused of being manipulative, because I sometimes like to push people's buttons just to see what happens... You get the idea. I love to explore, speculate, experiment and invent! Early on, perhaps around the age of 10, this gave me the fleeting idea that I might make a good researcher, or an investigative journalist.
I'm not from a very academic family, however, which is why this seemed like an abstract and implausible plan. Not like a real job; not like something anyone would pay me for. It wasn't until I was working on my Master's thesis that it really dawned on me that my department actually, concretely, hired people to do what I was doing - and that I could definitely do some more of that!
Fortunately, my advisor agreed that I could, and that led me to this glorious road to PhD I'm crawling along right now! It's unlikely I'm going to stop at the next town. Or even the next from the next... No matter how many blisters my toes and fingers accumulate. My mom claims to have predicted a long time ago that if I ever entered a university I would never come out again, and I want to believe her.
Choosing literature, however, was a sudden epiphany if I've ever had one.
It was my last year of high school and the deadlines for applying to universities were less than a week away. I had scoured through about half a dozen study program catalogs and had no idea what I wanted from life. I only knew for sure that I needed to study something, as in-depth as possible, and that I could only remain sane in a creative profession. That meant a.) applying to art or drama school, to become a designer or director of some kind (I had taken art classes for 11 years but didn't fancy myself as a particular talent) - or b.) picking a field I might (perhaps, maybe, possibly) want to research.
I had dropped most science classes at some point, in favor of some new and exciting humanist subjects, like philosophy, psychology, communication and German. Thus, as fun as zoology, astronomy or chemistry may have been, I decided to be practical and narrow my options to the fields I was more familiar with. But that still was an awful lot - much too much - for a curious person to choose from: Psychology? (Too social.) Philosophy? (Too wishy-washy.) Journalism? (Too pedestrian.) Archeology? (Probably nothing like Indy and Lara have made it out to be.) Languages? (Boring.) Some obscure languages, perhaps? Or folklore, or anthropology? (Might get to travel... But did I have the passion?)
Of course, as these things tend to go, the answer I was looking for was hanging from the tip of my nose, sitting on my shoulders, gurgling inside me - too close to be detected. Finally, in the nick of time, I did see it, though: that one thing I had always loved and appreciated above everything else and could never, ever get tired of; what I could not shut up about, or live without; the topic that always hiked my pulse up just that tiniest, intoxicating bit: Stories! Literature. Writing...
I'd had this ridiculous, romantic dream of becoming an author since before I even knew how to write. And if I do have a special propensity or talent for anything, it's verbality. Many of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me were uttered by my Finnish and literature teachers, for crying out loud!
And so, I sent out my applications with contented certainty and expectancy. I had no idea if my choice would ever make me a writer or a researcher. But one way or another, I would get to work with books and fiction. And I was a 100 % sure, as only an 18-year-old can be, that, one way or another, it would make me happy.
That must have been the only thing the 18-year-old me was a 100 % correct about.