by Matthew Millman-Pilon
Compared to many of the other interns, I would imagine that the challenges associated with my acclimatization were negligible. Colorado’s infrastructure is highly developed, and I definitely find transportation here easier to manage than in Montreal. Otherwise, things are pretty similar. More fitness, better beer, worse coffee. Overall, it evens out. Still, I have a knack for complicating the simplest of tasks.
For example, you can attach your bicycle to racks on the front of buses here. If the rack is full, then the bikes go into side compartments. On my second day here, I took off my backpack so that it would be easier for me to crouch down and slide my bike in, then forgot it at the station as I enjoyed the scenic ride, which I realized only upon getting out. It contained my laptop, wallet, passport, and keys. Luckily, I still had my sunglasses. The last thing I needed at that point was to be squinting uncomfortably. I ran to catch the bus headed in the opposite direction, using a convenient tunnel, pictured below, to cross the highway. When I reached my original point of departure some forty minutes later, my bag was right where I left it, along with all its contents. A wave of relief flooded over me, tainted only slightly by the imagined insult. Were they too good for my stuff? But on the whole, I felt great. Boulder is known to be a very safe and friendly city, and empirical evidence of that was immediately apparent to me. Upwards of fifty people must have had the opportunity to avail themselves of my belongings during my absence, but none of them had. At that point, I remembered that my bike was still in the first bus’ side compartment.
So minor variations like bike racks on buses are capable of throwing me entirely off my rhythm. This is not only a danger in adapting to a new city, but also in adapting to a new work environment. When I was unable to locate the latch to open the dishwasher in the communal kitchen at work, I hand-washed my utensils and place settings, hiding them in my desk drawers because I was too embarrassed to ask for help. It turns out you just have to yank it open.
I’m doing research, so in theory, the same skill set that I’ve been applying in school should carry over. My main challenge is adapting my unhealthy and idiosyncratic study habits into the channeled focus that is required to thrive in a 9-5 office setting. In future blog posts, I’ll talk more about the specifics of my research, but for now I’d like to write about my transition. This is my first career-oriented job, so the topic is of some significance to me.
The current iteration of my research here at One Earth Future is to report on the legal framework surrounding the international extractives industry as pertains to how the revenues it generates go towards exacerbating or mitigating the “resource curse”. The curse, also known as the paradox of plenty, is the phenomenon whereby countries that discover oil or mineral riches beneath their soil actually suffer more than they benefit from these resources if they have weak governance and institutional capacity (which is often the case, with the notable exceptions of Norway and Botswana in the 1960s). There are a combination of factors underlying this phenomenon. Royalties can be funneled into the coffers of the elite, or spent on frivolous projects that do little to improve a country’s standard of living. The sudden influx of income can stoke inflation, rendering basic goods unaffordable and traditional economies such as agriculture and manufacturing uncompetitive. Of course, civil wars can erupt over control of the resources, often fought across ethnic divides and funded by “booty futures”.
Research into the legislative responses to this problem can get really broad, really quick. Keeping it coherently ordered requires an objective perspective of what I’m trying to accomplish. I can lose perspective when I follow an interesting lead too far, past the point of its relevance to my report. In order to stay on track, I’ve altered my approach. Now, I rotate through a daily research cycle in order to keep me from straying too far. It goes like this: summarize yesterday’s findings in a structured manner, do background reading, choose a specific article from the background reading and read it in detail, and cherry-pick relevant elements from the specific reading that I will summarize tomorrow. If I do it that way, then I can keep a relatively steady pace throughout the day and meet my deadline. I started developing this rotation when I noticed a recurrent post-lunch lethargy in my productivity. It still needs some fine-tuning, so I’m open to suggestions.
With this method, my weekends are free to enjoy the great outdoors. I’m not really into nature, but I figure I might as well give it a shot. A couple of weekends ago, I went camping in Rocky Mountain National Park with my fellow interns. Here’s the view from what I briefly thought was the top of some mountain but actually was not really even close. Our collective goal this Summer is to summit a fourteener, a peak that’s over 14000 feet in elevation. In comparison to the internal transitions outlined above, adjusting to the altitude has been a walk in the park.