“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” —Confucius
Passengers here either currently worked in engaging careers, were in the process of pursuing one, or added a fresh perspective to one that most people probably already know about. One worked as a traveling psychologist and conducted appointments inside the clients’ homes, which “allowed a glimpse into their worlds that you wouldn’t have been able to get just by seeing them at the office” (**along Zoom came a few years later, making this common practice across all professions).
A male college student at Berkeley talked about how he wants to help reform the police system. Still another explained aerial restocking to me (it’s when you drop fish down from a helicopter to re-populate scarcely bodies of water).
Therapist Talks Healthy Detachment
“The key is to not get sucked in and conform to their way of thinking while you’re there with them. You’ve got to stay in the authority role. You can’t unravel. What help will you be if you do? Helpful empathy requires some boundaries, some slight detachment. Otherwise you’re just down there in the muck with them, and you’re both hurting, and you’re both useless to one another.”
–Young woman passenger studying to be a therapist.
Aspiring Police System Reformer
That the police system is in need of reform would be an understatement for our current times. Racial profiling and gratuitous traffic stops (particularly when a person of color is driving) are among the many gaping problems that currently plague it, leading countless people of color to feel unsafe and targeted. Shows like Orange is the New Black have also shown the dangers of inflated egos paired with hunger for power, improper training, and the largest culprit of all: unchecked racism.
Passenger John*, who plans to become a cop one day, acknowledges and is aware of these problems. He wants to play a role in reshaping the system (“from the inside out,” he says).
I’d picked him up in the hills of El Cerrito, and we’re now headed to a fraternity house in Berkeley, where he’d parked his car the previous night before celebrating his 21st birthday with some of his brothers. After a quick chat about his first legal drink (a “blow job” at Kips, followed by a whiskey sour), conversation turns to careers.
John tells me, as we coil up and down the winding green hills of El C and Berkeley, that he’s studying police psychology—a major he created himself through choosing interdisciplinary studies. Though he’d originally planned to join the FBI, ultimately he decided there were too many steps involved (“You’re put on a waiting list for two years, then there’s all this other stuff”). He also didn’t like how the FBI could station you anywhere in the country.
“That’s not the vision I have for myself,” he explains. “It’s not what I see for my future. I want to raise a family in the Bay Area. Berkeley, specifically. The Bay’s home for me.”
Among the changes he’d like to see within the police force are a better understanding of mental health issues, implementation of emotional intelligence training, and required psychology courses.
“I want us to be able to identify criminals and sociopaths and send these people to rehabilitation,” he says. “Instead of locking them up.”
We talk about how on shows like Orange is the New Black, characters are punished in ways that don’t remedy the underlying issues that led them to break the law. One example is the character Crazy Eyes, whose crime involved a misreading of social cues but whose jail time gave her no insight whatsoever into her condition, therefore little hope for improving or healing it.
According to treatmentadvocacycenter.org, “Serious mental illness affects jail inmates at rates ‘four to six times higher than in the general population.’ Yet 83 percent of jail inmates with mental illnesses did not receive mental health care after admission.”
While John doesn’t believe in abolishing all prisons, he does support taking a critical look at the prison system as it exists today.
“I’m not in the everyone who committed a crime belongs in school not jail camp—but we do really need to take a hard look at the prison system as it exists now.”
Exotic Test Subjects
“They look like little ants when they’re babies. The males are skinnier and more pink. The females are fatter because they carry the eggs.”
Joaquin, whom I’d picked up outside of his work lab (he immediately reminded me of Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything), is telling me about the zebra fish that his team uses as test subjects. It’s nine pm, and for four hours he’d been in a flow with his work before emerging to come meet me.
“I was down in the wet lab,” he specifies, “the place that has all the beakers and aquatic stuff. Whereas the dry lab is where people make phone calls.”
I learn from Joaquin that zebra fish have been an important subject of research since the 1960s, helping to shine light on the development of diseases like cancer.
“They’re easier to study than mice, because if mice are missing a part of the gene it can delay the process a few years,” he explains.
Reign it in, dreamers
“We have a lot of dreamers on the team. All these ideas floating around, but not as many concrete plans to execute them. I try to come up with those plans. I’m the guy who [tries to] channel their dreams into something actionable.
—Guy who works for Twitch
When Fish Fly—A Future Aerial Restocker
Back in the day, when fish populations in a lake ran low, people waded into the water carrying new ones swimming around inside milk cans in order to repopulate them. This practice could take a significant amount of time.
Nowadays, aerial restocking does the job much more quickly. Work that once took months can now be completed in just a few hours.
“A helicopter goes up into the sky. Once it’s 150 feet above the lake, it opens it doors. Out come 2,000 fish, falling through the air before they eventually hit the water,” passenger Ernesto* explains.
Only certain states practice aerial restocking. Utah, New Hampshire, and West Virginia are among them.
Ernesto is in the process of pursuing this career, which has been around since 1956 but is only now gaining in popularity. As someone who wanted to work in a non-traditional job that few had heard of before, aerial restocking was a fortuitous find for him.
“I wanna do something where I can be self-directed and kind of pave the way on my own. And there’s very few people in that field, aerial redistribution is a career no one really knows about yet. So I think it’d be easier to get a job in it. And it’d be something unique, a little outside the box,” he says.
Ernesto had studied marine biology in college, had lived in Australia for a few years, and had thought about getting his pilot license for a while. Aerial redistribution seemed the perfect way to combine his interests.
“Some people think the fish don’t like it,” he acknowledges, “Like, it’s not pleasant for them to be out of the water for so long because they can’t breathe. It’d be like if someone held you underwater for a few minutes against your will.”
He shrugs and shakes his head. “My response to that is I mean, it’s just for a little while. And then they go back to swimming, and then our lakes go back to being populated for future generations. The majority of the fish reach the water safely.”
Fittingly, my car smells like fish as we talk about this— I’d picked Ernesto up outside the Whole Foods in Roseville, where he’d just gotten off work at the seafood department. When I drop him off he is trying to decide, out loud, how he will cook it– “Baked? Barbecued? Asian-style? Sauted?”
You can watch a video of aerial restocking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8bwZPIzuug
How to get more meaningful results as a psych researcher
“It’s really important that your sample be representative of the overall population. And there are a lot of things that can get in the way of that.”
Paige works as a psych researcher. She shares with me some of the barriers to conducting sound research, which include accounting for many variables (ranging from cultural to design flaws to response bias) that could affect the results of the study.
She points out an example from a few months ago when she and her colleague ran a study on depression: “If we just randomly distributed surveys, it’s not likely that people with depression would voluntarily respond—because lacking motivation is one of the hallmarks of the condition. So we have to account for that.”
Cultural barriers can also get in the way. “How honest a subject chooses to be can depend on whether they identify with their interviewer. If they don’t see themselves reflected in them they might not feel comfortable disclosing certain things.
If you felt like an interviewer had never been through a particular experience and didn’t know what it was like, would you open up as much? So we have to account for that in our studies. If most interviewers are white, minorities might give more guarded answers.”
Additionally, admitting or describing a mental health condition in person may be more difficult for some races or cultures than it is for others. This is among the many reasons that having multi-racial staff is important.
Like many careers, psych research right now is undergoing shifts that include staff diversification. Paige’s hope is that these shifts will broaden the results acquired— providing a deeper understanding of a wider range of experiences beyond the default of white male.
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