I enjoyed mountain biking in the hills above Santa Barbara, and going wine tasting in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley. It was a comfortable life but the call of the road was still out there. I was able to indulge my wanderlust somewhat with trips to Burma over Christmas of 2001, to Peru to hike the Inca trail in spring 2003, and to Egypt in the spring of 2004. Another way to indulge my love of travel while furthering my progress toward a degree and save me money as well was to attend conferences and visit collaborators in interesting places. I managed a couple trips to Germany, and trips to Japan, India, and Canada in this way in addition to domestic destinations.
As I progressed though graduate school I continued to enjoy my research and work in the lab but I became less certain of what I wanted to do after I graduated. The typical choices for someone with a Ph.D. in semiconductor materials are to either get a job in industry, or pursue the academia route, most often initially though a post doc with the aim of eventually becoming a professor. The people I knew who got jobs in industry made good money in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year, but invariably within 6 months disliked their jobs. However they were hooked on the money to support their cars, new condo or house, and comforts of the professional world, working long hours and eagerly awaiting weekends, at least those who did not have to work on Saturday as well, and their two weeks of vacation a year. I had a vision of myself in that life and choked with disgust as I saw the years fly by, the next the same as the previous, dull and ordinary. Above all I wanted an interesting and adventurous life. I didn’t need much money; I just needed to live, to experience, to grow.
There are of course many ways to do this and having an interesting and engaging life does not necessitate travel, but for me at this particular time I knew my route to this goal would be through seeing and experiencing the world. As for academia, as I neared my graduation date, I was not ready for it. I enjoy working in the lab and doing research well enough, but at this point what excited me, made me feel alive, is the rush I get hopping on a bus not knowing what awaits me at the other end, not completing an experiment with a great result. As I became closer to finishing, I became more and more certain that the time for me to take the long trip I had wanted was now. I had the money having lived frugally during grad school and, again riding a stock market bubble, having pumped money into the market after 9/11. I was free of attachments, not much in the way of possessions, no relationship; certainly if ever there was a time, the time was now. I cashed in the frequent flier miles I had racked up on all those conference trips throughout graduate school, and booked a flight to Hong Kong. Five days after I had filed my thesis I was flying high over the Pacific and so my journey Across Asia began.
Across Asia | Micah Hanson