Beyond the Dock

One day, about 6 years ago, I got really overwhelmed preparing for my qualifying exam (oral exam and written proposal to advance to be a candidate for a PhD) so I went for a walk. I didn’t really have a plan for where I was going, but I knew I needed to be moving and I knew trees and water usually made me feel better. There aren’t many trees near UCSF Mission Bay, but there is a lot of water. So I wandered toward the bay hoping I wouldn’t be blocked by buildings and fences. I found this path running along the bay so I wandered down it and I saw this old dock hanging out in the water. I sat and looked at it for a bit and then I decided to draw it. Focusing on the shapes and angles of the dock instead of worrying about the exam somehow made all of the stress easier to deal with and passing the exam no longer seemed impossible. It also became one of the first drawings I'd done that I was really proud of.

broken dock

I've walked passed this spot over the years since becoming a PhD candidate and have seen the dock sink farther and farther into the water. The week of my graduate exit talk I came back out and took a picture of where the dock was and by that time it had completely fallen apart and most of it had sunk below the surface of the water.


It wasn’t terribly surprising, grad school is long and things change. I watched an entire hospital being built while struggling to convince some proteins that they wanted to do what I wanted them to do—that is much more demoralizing than a broken dock falling into the water.

I am however, incredibly grateful to this dock. I’m glad it was there when I needed it and that it compelled me to draw it. I’m glad I went out to try to deal with my stress and I am so glad that I started drawing. I suppose my science and drawing both started with this one dock. One broken section of un-maintained dock got me through passing my qualifying exams and pushed me along the path to art.