Nigel Chapman is the singer of Canadian band Nap Eyes, who have just released their fourth album on Jagjagwuar records. Before pursuing music full time, Nigel worked as a Nova Scotia Laboratory Technician & Biochemistry Researcher. He tells Hook about it below.
This job, which was for a long time my main work, was really more like one half of a dual-hustle than a side-hustle—since for the duration of my time doing this work, I was trying to balance and do justice to both creative music projects for Nap Eyes and research projects for my lab. The context in my life was that after completing my BSc. degree (many years ago now), I had been naively confident that I wouldn’t have much trouble finding success as a songwriter, in a more or less direct, straightforward way. This turned out to be more illusion than reality, and after a year or so of growing existential fear and financial pressure, I realized I would have to do something differently, in order to adapt to the stressors I was facing—that is, other than just sit in my room writing songs, and waiting for the world to recognize my talent. It was at this point that I decided to go back to school. It was a daunting decision, and one that led me to face some challenging experiences, but the consequences of it went on to change my life in some fundamental, and in my estimation, very positive ways.
My supervisor at my new lab gave me a chance and welcomed me, despite my total lack of hands-on laboratory experience. I started working on a project, and learning the ropes of basic molecular biology techniques. I was very bad at the outset, it’s funny to remember now. I had no confidence in my abilities—and, it seemed, neither did the universe, because even my simplest experiments would fail so reliably. Often I felt like such a big imposter. Especially in cases with so many expert and talented people around who really seem to know what they’re doing, it’s pretty natural to start telling yourself things like: “Oh, trust me, you really don’t belong here my friend.” A good joke of the imposter-mind is that it will extrapolate from there: “In fact, since you don’t belong here, you probably don’t belong anywhere.” As one more alternative, another good joke my imposter-mind would tell me was, “Actually, Nigel, it’s possible you really do belong somewhere else, but unfortunately they definitely won’t want you there either. . .”
Fortunately, though, time and persistence can cure many doubts and fears. And as I practised, and continued with my reading, I began to identify more deeply with my role as a grad student and researcher. My confidence grew through failure, and occasional success, and I learned a great deal—about myself, the natural world, and how to adjust my expectations in order to look patiently into it. Although from day to day I was usually focused on troubleshooting one minute technical problem or another, over time, working in a scientific framework—so different from my musical work—gradually widened the scope of my sense of wonder and appreciation of the “miraculous non-miracles” of this universe and life.
Some years have passed now since I left my lab in Nova Scotia, in order to pursue music and opportunities with Nap Eyes full-time. Though I’m very happy with my work these days, and grateful for the opportunity to make music for a (very modest) living—I still do miss my days in the biochemistry lab. But it’s by no means a sad remembrance. I’ve brought with me many of the teachings and lessons learned in those days—as well as my friends, colleagues, and teachers, who together have had such a profound positive impact on my life and the person I have now started, and continue, to become.