They, the dispensers of well-meaning knowledge. Attendants of my college graduation party: family, friends, and neighbors. People I’ve come to associate with Home and the places where I grew up. The people that, by virtue of our history together, I trust most.

At said graduation party, I announced that I had made a decision on my first real-world job. I would move down to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to begin work as a research technician and start a new life in a place where I had not one friend, relative, or connection. Yes, I was afraid, but I believed it was the best decision for me and my career path, and I wanted to go.

Chapel Hill is one of those places that everyone has a connection to and an opinion about. Everyone besides me and my immediate family. The rest of my particular They, on the other hand, all loved it. Being the experts that they were, they spared no time in defining what I should expect. First, the fact that I was moving to a completely new area completely alone was declared unimportant. Chapel Hill is, after all, the South. People are friendly, warm, welcoming. I would have no problem making friends, finding a niche, joining the community.


Almost a year later, I still know few people other than my coworkers, who groan when I listen to country music on the lab speakers. The misconception that upon my arrival to Chapel Hill I would be immersed in a pool of southern accents is largely my fault. First, I should have expected that I wouldn’t find many of the locals in academia. An academic career requires travel to wherever vacancies lie. Few faculty and graduate positions are filled by locals; it’s an effort against what my boss calls “intellectual inbreeding” that those pursuing academic paths get their training from many different leaders in the field, and thus in many different places. Other than the fact that it hit ninety degrees in April, and that the air smells of honeysuckle and wisteria as I walk back to my apartment in the late afternoon, I may as well be in any other state, in any other part of the country.

Click to read photo caption. Elke Dennis

My second mistake was listening to Them. While my personal life was supposed to be rife with good times and noodle salad, They had told me not to expect too much of my professional life. Research technicians are supposed to be the busboys of academia, the ones given the tedious, messy maintenance work that no self-respecting graduate student would do. In return for application-enhancing experience as well as invaluable insight into the fields I may want to pursue my next degree in, I would be required to work long, hard hours, and not to have much contact with my busy, important boss. Personally, I didn’t think I would take to the fruit flies either—nasty, buzzy things.

Almost a year later, I still look forward to going in to work every morning. My boss, whom I speak with every day, promotes my development as a scientist. I work independently and make decisions on how to carry out my own projects. I am challenged, engaged, and appreciated. I work in a setting where the thrill of the quest for knowledge runs in the drinking water. And the flies? If my brain were capable, I would give each and every one a name (there are thousands).

So apparently you really can’t trust anyone nowadays, especially those who want the best for you. Luckily for my sanity and the relationships I have with Them, I made the decision before that party to pack up and head south. And the only things that I could really have expected to find, I have—independence, a fresh start, and a new horizon.

Noor White is a research technician in biology at UNC.

A version of this essay appeared on The Bucknell Afterword, a blog for alumni of the creative writing program at Bucknell University.