Since I started my degree 15 months ago, I have several times had conversations with people about how lucky I am to have found my passion, my drive, my goal in life. I can’t help but agree. There’s a song that I like to tunelessly sing at James called “Anyone Else But You”, with the line “I don’t see what anyone can see in anyone else but you” — and I feel like that about my studies too. I feel so incredibly lucky to be doing this course, and it’s like the best kept secret in the world.
Of course, I complain about it. A lot. Especially how badly organised the actual classes are; I find it very frustrating to be paying so much and to not get the perfect workshops I feel I deserve. However, in all honesty, it is a Masters degree, not an undergrad or technical certificate, and the fact of the matter remains we have to do much of this course through independent study and research.
Last year was nearly entirely theoretical, and I enjoyed myself tremendously. In the first semester I learned about professional conservation ethics, and the materials and techniques of various cultural practices; it was all new and quite fun. The second semester was about preventative approaches and more complex issues in the ethics and psychology of conservation and I LOVED it — and it started to build my plans for the future and what I want to do with my degree. My interest in practical, preventative conservation for developing countries and in areas of conflict was sparked, and I was rewarded with an incredible 95 on my very last essay of the year.
This year was always going to be much tougher. I’m almost finishing up my first two chemistry subjects: technical examination, and cultural materials chemistry. I was anxious coming into the year, as I also undertook to complete the conservation chemistry bridging course independently, which required a lot of perseverance and google as I was studying by myself (with the advantage of it being free and done in my own time).
It’s safe to say I started 2014 with a less than basic understanding of chemistry. I was never much of a science person at school — I did a Baccalauréat Litéraire, which by the last year of secondary school requires a SINGLE weekly hour of science, alternating between physics, maths and biology depending on the year you are graduating (in 2000, it was maths, not that I was any good at it). I last studied chemistry age 14 and I loathed it.
And yet here I am, age 30, and I have to say — I have LOVED studying chemistry these past 6 months. It’s fascinating because I would probably have given up once upon a time, saying “I don’t get it…”. Now, that’s not an option. Firstly because I need to understand to pass this subject. And secondly, because I have discovered that if you keep coming back, and keep coming back, eventually it starts to sink in. I spent a week reading the chapter on hydrocarbons every single night, trying to stop my cumbersome edition of Zumdahl & Zumdahl from crushing me under its weight in bed. On the fifth night — it clicked! And each piece of the puzzle leads to another, even more complicated section, but I just keep on at it… corrosion and redox chemistry, polymerisation and free radicals, solubility and solvent polarity… radioactive dating and electron scanning… It’s just so rewarding and interesting!
And once you start to understand chemistry, the world is so different. I look at every single object, every single action and reaction, and see it completely differently, on a molecular level. It’s like being in the Matrix…
I can’t say I am particularly good at chemistry, even now. I will never be a chemistry whizz. But I am so very happy to have taken this path. It’s so interesting to be challenged and to learn new things, whether it’s debating ethics, discovering technology that borders on magic, or unpacking everything I see down to a molecular level. I have always enjoyed learning, and it’s such a privilege to be in this field. I just don’t see what anyone can see in anything else but conservation!