Year to year.

This is me at the Shamrock Shuffle in 2013:

Shamrock Shuffle 2013 selfie.
Shamrock Shuffle 2013 selfie.

This is me at the Shamrock Shuffle in 2014:

2014 Shamrock Shuffle selfie
2014 Shamrock Shuffle selfie

See a difference? No? What if I add this picture from the finish line of the 2014 event:

Me finishing the 2014 Shamrock shuffle. Photo by Nancy Dunbar, UVRC member.
Me finishing the 2014 Shamrock shuffle. Photo by Nancy Dunbar, UVRC member.

Do you see it now?

Although there are a lot of things that are really uncertain in my life, I’m a lot happier than I was a year ago. Truly, a lot less depressed. Progress! Yes, in both years, I took a selfie of me with a beer. The 2014 version just looks a lot better, sure, but the photo that a fellow UVRC member took with her phone of me at the finish line speaks volumes. In 2013, I largely kept to myself, didn’t really interact with anyone much and I don’t think I look particularly happy. This year, I felt much more like part of a team or community. I even did a cool down run with many of the members who ran. I even got up and did several more miles with the UVRC the following day. So if I may be so bold, one way of treating depression is to join a running club. Exercise + people, two of the best ways of getting through a depressive episode. I’ll toast to that,

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Dream on.

I was having a conversation with @Doctor_PMS (Great twitter handle, great tweets and a great profile picture— and that’s pretty much all I know about her) on twitter last night about a tweet I put out saying that I choose life over a tenure track position. While I was partly joking, I really am leaning against going down the tenure track— playing the Tenure Track Games or Tenure Track Wars, insert other movie parody title here.

She was saying how she felt like giving up on going for a tenure track job would basically be giving up on her dream. Of course, everyone has their own path. And I’ve made peace with the fact that I don’t think I want that tenure track job any more (am I open to it if I think I have a shot at one— yes, I think so). She asked if this was just a temporary feeling that could go away, which is a good question and one reason I’ve kept going and not jumped off sooner, but the feeling hasn’t gone away. But where do I go from here? What’s next? I still don’t have a good answer. One of my favorite bloggers @sarahkpeck has this picture on her blog, itstartswith.com :

SwimOutToYourShip That tenure track job was the obvious ship to swim out to. Or it’s one that’s moored to the pier and is right there to jump on if it weren’t for the captain of the ship denying me permission to board (probably with good reason). It’s what I have been working towards for a long time and letting that go is hard. Very hard. Like I’m a complete failure. I’ve been listening back to the Brenè Brown’s interview on On Being that was re-run this weekend. One idea she brings up is the idea of shame vs. guilt. It’s the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad’. I know I’ve written a lot about her work before, but I find it really hits me in my core; to the point where I tear up about something nearly every time I go back to it. So I’m trying to strongly distinguish between wrapping my complete self-worth up in my work (what I’ve basically done my whole scientific career) to just feeling like I have value no matter what I do. And jumping from the tenure track path would certainly help me prove that.

@Doctor_PMS also asked me if I was scared of the tenure track. And yes, but nervous in the sense that it would be new and different and an adjustment; all things I think I could get past. But my number one fear is that if I were to keep pursuing the tenure track job— or get one— that I wouldn’t be able to have a life outside of work. I know that there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary; PIs have lives. Many have kids, hobbies, spend time on Twitter, etc. But I need time to date someone, spend time getting to know my significant other, stuff like that. If I’m putting in 80 hours/week (more?) as a pre-tenured professor, I just don’t see that happening. And that really does scare me to the bone about a tenure-track position.

So if I’m not going to board the tenure track ship, where’s my ship that I do want to swim out to? I don’t have a good idea. @eperlste is taking the start-up path which I admire a lot but don’t think I’m in the position to do that. He’s the guy who crowd sourced a meth-lab for science! Wow. And small scale plant science…I’m not sure how that would work. I am trying some new things though, which I’m not sure where they’ll go. I do need to engage more and not stay in my own little brain bubble that I occupy a lot of the time (hazards of introversion?).

I am rooting for @Doctor_PMS to get herself a tenure track job. I will celebrate if I hear she gets one. My heart, may brain want something different for me though. I’m not very satisified with the bench work that I do; despite trying to spice it up and make it exciting with the things I’ve been working on and learning to do. I like to write (why I started a blog). I like education still even though there doesn’t seem to be money in it. I like technology/computers even though I don’t know how to code really— but am trying to learn some of it. I want to help improve the mental health of people in the world— especially scientists. We don’t do our best work in a cloud of perfectionism, despression and anxiety. Is there a career in those series of interests? Those things that seem to drive me? I don’t know. I hope so. I have to make it so.

Going back to Brene Brown, in the ‘On Being’ interview she says that hope comes out of adversity. I don’t know if I’ve faced real adversity in my life yet or not (certainly not in a lot of ways— always had shelter, food, water). It’s one reason I think I’ve become a Whovian— The Doctor faces adversity all the time and never gives up hope even when it seems like there’s no way out (it helps that he’s the smartest being in the universe I suppose— and yes, I also know it’s a TV show and writers can hand wave and get The Doctor and friends out of anything— but I still get engaged and emotional about a lot of the episodes). Or to use another movie analogy I think I’ve used before. Academia is somewhat like Shawshank prison and the Andy Dufresne character represents hope to those who want to get out but some are held back with reason— like Red being afraid of being ‘institutionalized’ and not able to function on the outside. Where’s my Zihuatanejo?

For any of us postdocs who have been seeking the tenure track and don’t see a way that it could possibly work I have some hopeful words to part with. I told @Doctor_PMS about Conan O’Brien’s 2011 Dartmouth commencement address (that I’m sure I’ve talked about before in this space too) where he talks about going for his dream job of hosting ‘The Tonight Show’— which he did—until NBC basically took it away from him. He’s landed on his feet though and has had what I think is a good career over on TBS doing some very funny things in his format. He talks about how it’s OK to adjust your dreams when life happens to you. Because it will— and for many postdocs I think it’s coming up on the now (I hope) widely known fact that 80% of us will not end up in tenure track jobs. And I have no interest in becoming a permanent adjunct faculty person. Try something new. Tenure or bust is fine if that’s really what you want, but I’ve come to think that that singular focus did more harm than good for me personally.

2013 has been a year of me trying a lot of new things. To most, I think most of what I’ve done will seem tame and my comfort zone exceedingly small. I hope I’ve laid some decent groundwork to leap into 2014 and try even more new things. And my hope for every postdoc is that you try something different and new in the next year if only to glimpse what else might be possible.

Ever on and on.

 

 

Publish or perish.

Update/Note: This isn’t my most sunny post- trigger warnings may apply. In fact, if you’re thinking along these lines (especially if it’s more than just a temporary low that everyone goes through) and haven’t spoken to someone about it- a family member, close friend or counselor- you might want to. Despite doing better, I can still get in this depressive mindset and feel like giving up on life at times- and it does sound like this in my own head. I recover more quickly from these moods than I used to- in fact, this was a near permanent state for several years in a row. As a friend of mine said, “I won’t let anyone talk about you like this, including you”. Exactly. I still don’t have all the answers to what to do other than work hard and become the best I can at what I’m working on now and being open to opportunity. Stay well, friends/readers. This blog is supposed to help people- through telling my own story of getting to a healthier place in my brain.

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Publish or perish. The words every academic has spoken, knows by heart and uses as a sort of oath. Publications are the currency of the academic world. You can never have too few. The acceptable number does vary by field but the only not acceptable number is 0.

I’ll admit it. I have 0 publications as a postdoc. I feel worthless. I’m working on one now that is not exciting, not groundbreaking and in my opinion not even worth the server space or the publisher. What have I been doing in my postdoc? Mostly failing. Being perfectionist, which is a real problem. Perfectionism is good fuel for depression, which is also a problem. I’ve been working on a lot of things that just don’t seem to work out as stories- and because I’m a perfectionist, I don’t want to contribute something that’s just plain wrong because I made a stupid mistake. That’s probably my fault too. Make your own luck. Chance favors the prepared mind- all that good stuff- perfectionism and depression are not good for making your own luck or preparing your mind or opening up to anyone for that matter.

Would I dwell on this so much if I had a lot more going on in life otherwise? Probably not. But I work so much because I want to get something real done and haven’t been able to- at the expense of everything else I might spend my time doing. Maybe some time off would make me more productive- or taking time to develop other interests. Mono-focus on work isn’t healthy, even in science. As others have pointed out, science is a job- knowledge worker- and not a religious calling; even if it seems that way sometimes (and the marketing hype of becoming a scientist says so too).

0 publications. I’m worthless. I might as well perish. Tragically, I imagine some scientists take that literally (even ones who have published and don’t feel their record is good enough)- seeing no path to success- since not publishing means you’re worthless not just in academia, but anywhere else too (how do you show you were productive otherwise?). Nothing else matters as much. Teaching & bringing molecular bio to where it hasn’t been before by developing a whole new class? Who the F cares? Science outreach? Nobody cares. Writing a blog? Nope. Brewing your own (mediocre) beer? Running a half marathon? Ha! And ha! Being a (mostly) decent human and trying to support/celebrate your friends’ successes in life? So ridiculous. Your friends have other friends, they’d get on fine without you. Getting your professional society to advertise a conference hash tag? Ha! No one noticed. 0 publications = worthless human, period.

Guess I should quit whining and get back to the lab and forget a life. Because until I publish something I’m completely worthless as a human and may as well perish*.

Ever on and on.

*No, I won’t do anything to actively make this happen. This reflects how I feel on my worst days- in my worst moments. I do really worry about myself sometimes- but a lot of what I do is in service of surviving- exercise, taking a day off work (on a weekend- not a weekday) and yes, trying to finally do good science, which is hard when you’re not depressed, harder when you are.

Subclone.

Subclone.

In molecular biology, when we cut and paste DNA together and then let the bacterium E. coli replicate and propagate that piece of DNA. The goal is to isolate a single colony that contains the DNA construct of interest, usually a plasmid containing an insert with your favorite gene. This is a case of isolation being a good thing. In science, isolating the thing that’s causing the other thing is often the goal. Get rid of the noise and find the signal. The opposite is true for humans.

I wrote a few weeks ago about feeling isolated. I have been thinking more and more about why that’s a problem for me, specifically (it might seem quite obvious, I realize).

Here’s a list of why I find it problematic:

  • Dealing with stress: I found this TED talk from Kelly McGonigal interesting. Stress can be good for you in part if you think it is and also in part because it can cause outreach to others. The problem for me is that having those immediate people to reach out to don’t exist (yes, I can and do email and talk to my friends who live far away). This keeps my stress mostly bottled up.
  • Energy: I find that even for me, the introvert who needs time alone to recharge, being with people I like and am close to is in fact energizing. If I’m by myself, I find that I get run down more easily, I won’t push myself as much.
  • Determination/Inspiration: If you’re a runner, you may know the phenomenon that running in a group seems to improve performance. It’s simply being around other people that helps.
  • Serendipity: Interesting and sometimes messy things happen when people get together. In my overly isolated life, those things don’t happen as often. Be it business opportunity, dating, whatever, it just doesn’t come along as often. And again, some of this can be done over the Internet. Twitter is full of this kind of interaction, but again, it doesn’t substitute fully for real-life interaction.
  • Lack of feedback: Again, something the internet can help with, but isolation means that I feel like I’m in my head too much and can second guess myself like a champ. And it’s not just feedback that ‘you’re becoming reclusive and weird’, it could be positive feedback as well.

I’m not saying that being alone is a problem all the time, but humans aren’t meant to be isolated. I think ‘Doctor Who’ explores this with The Doctor quite a bit; he’s better off with a companion and can go off the rails without them.

Ever on and on.

 

Uncertainty.

I know I’ve been quiet lately. Research and other writing as well as job applications have got me quite occupied as well as attempting to learn to do several new things around the lab has kept me occupied. I’m also thinking a lot about new directions for what I’d like to do in this space. That’s why things have been slow around here. I hope to pick it up more again at the end of the month.

Uncertainty.

Susan Cain (@susaincain) put this passage from Ecclesiastes on her site the other week and it did jar me out of my micromanaging, trying to control every little thing, build the exact life I want. And holding on tightly to things. This passage kind of says to just stop all that. And rejoice in the small day-to-day things that life offers. Just being alive is pretty remarkable and each day should be viewed as a gift.

Lately, I am uncertain that each day is a gift. I’ve talked in the past about depression and just how depressed, basically it ground me to a halt. While I’ve felt a lot better this last few years, I’m still walking along a dangerous cliff. Each morning for the last few weeks, it’s been extremely hard for me to get out of bed. I greet the day grudgingly and don’t leap enthusiastically into my same old life I’ve had for the last 6 years as a postdoc. And I think it’s not worth trying. What else to do? Neil Tyson (@NeilTyson) in this video talks about longevity or having a short time and feeling urgency to get things done- and how that’s better than living for a long time without that sense of limited time. Sarah K. Peck (@sarahkpeck) has a similar refrain to get out and do something in this life. Something you want to do and not to hesitate.

The Drug Monkey Blog (@drugmonkeyblog) had this post reacting to something from the NIH director’s office. There’s a real problem with Ph.D.’s and postdocs in this country and some of it does come down to different training. I have hope that those at the beginning of the pipeline will be OK. But I am not so sure that there’s a good mechanism for dealing with those that are presently postdocs and frustrated by not being able to get out into a real career/life (I am frustrated, at least); and actually feel like you have more agency over your career than a postdoc typically feels. There’s a very good point that there’s been an uptick in scientific fraud in recent years and part of that rise I’m pretty certain is due to fierce competition and rushing to publish work that turns out to be flawed. Pam Ronald (@pcronald) wrote about her recent retractions and is handling the whole situation appropriately. While it’s not necessarily a case of haste making waste, it might well have been a contributing factor as time is limited and the pressure is there to make your career as a postdoc/Ph.D. student quickly. It doesn’t pay to do good work, it pays to do fast work that gets published quickly. Of course, good work does get rewarded and the vast majority of scientists strive to do a good job and be careful in their work; but as pressure/competition increase, marketing hype will trump good science more often. The faster a scientific discovery is applied, a lot of times, problems crop up because of cut corners or an important aspect of the story was never investigated. It’s the reason why basic research takes so long to move into economic innovation. Lots of work has to be done.

Eventually the crushing sense I alluded to above that it’s pointless to try and we shouldn’t even bother with doing anything because whatever we try and do won’t make a difference anyway seems to set in. Feeling like there are options is a key for confidence and success. Anyone who has none might well shut down and not do their best work any more. Which is simply tragic when you’re talking about the future generation of scientists who are supposed to be inspired by the current one. It’s possible to convey the wonder that is science, but currently quite difficult to recommend it as a career. It’s not just the overwhelmingly crushing odds, but there is a tendency in academic culture to hide any sort of vulnerability, which, as Brene Brown’s work has pretty definitively shown is the starting point of change, creativity and innovation. And to get ourselves out of the mess we’re in as postdocs and academics generally, we’ll need creative and new ideas to be tested for doing actual science.

I am trying more things and putting myself out there a little more often. I had an essay I wrote about work/life balance for Science’s Next-Gen Voices series published online recently. That’s pretty exciting. A few other good things have happened too; partly through my own hard work. Getting a job application out the door, networking to a potentially new opportunity, trying to take the time to learn R as well as write more skillfully (falling down on those counts, sadly). I managed to raise $400 for the half marathon I’m running in a week (and it’ll be my first half-marathon).

And yet I feel isolated and alone- and not temporarily as I know everyone goes through those periods, but chronically. I am not taking a lot of time to take care of my personal needs in some ways. The desperation to get work done is still present; that that is paramount somehow. I don’t think I want to live this isolated ‘work is all’ life. I still need connection in my life and despite how great mediums like Twitter are, it’s no substitute for human interaction, and yet I feel that when I’m around other people, I’m an inert noble gas, incapable of reacting/interacting with people. My brain says not to open up or get involved with the uncertainty that is other people- or doing anything. Of course, life is about doing things and other people are a huge component of anyone’s well being.

I was thinking about the scene from ‘Star Wars: episode IV’ where the imperial generals are meeting on the Death Star with Darth Vader. And one of them starts giving Vader guff about his ‘ancient religion not conjuring up the stolen data tapes or given him clairvoyance enough to find the rebel’s hidden fort…..’. He doesn’t say any more because Darth Vader cuts him off by choking him with The Force and says ‘I find your lack of faith disturbing’. The voice in my head saying I’m not _________ enough is like the commander admonishing Vader, but I don’t seem to have the ability to choke that voice out of my mind, as Vader does. Darth Vader is basically saying ‘Commander, I don’t see you in the arena, you don’t get to speak to me that way’.

I will keep trying to leap into the unknown- or doing (to quote another Jedi- there is no try). What else is there to do but try to head into the undiscovered country? 

The End (of 2012).

 

Jobs.

Jobs. This is a post about the new academic job application season. Is it even worth bothering? I don’t even know any more. Every job application expects an active research program when that is very hard to get started and do these days and it may even get worse. So why should I bother? I still don’t think I’m the best candidate, but I’m working on it. This blog is about my journey to get my brain tuned into a active, thinking, creative, world-interacting machine (coming from a place of anxiety, depression, and all the life-stalling thought patterns that arise because of those things. Or as I’ve called it before, this is a blog about how not to be a postdoc and I hope I can help others as well as myself through my writing). 

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What are the features of my ideal career? What areas does it involve? Here’s my list of features, in no particular order:

  • Education– particularly around science as well as figuring out how people effectively learn
  • Improving mental health/preventing problems before they arise– whether minor tweaks to life or major interventions. While you can live with depression, I don’t recommend it- you always risk being a shell of the person you are.
  • Science– This seems like an obvious one. I do love science and what it can do to transform the future, solve problems and generally stimulate the mind and spur someone on to learning new things. What question do I have that you’re passionate about? What does it take to answer them? I seem to gravitate towards environmental/sustainability/resiliency issues, so maybe there’s something there; after all, a lot of those things are plant dependent.
  • Quiet– I’m an introvert, without question and would need an environment where I could think, read, process, and then spit something out when I’m ready. I’ve always been deliberate about things I do- painfully so in many cases- but I hope in some ways that’s a good trait that is advantageous in some jobs somewhere. I do like people; I just need my alone time to recharge so I can be fully present when I do socialize. I can literally ‘break’ and freeze when over-stimulated (thank goodness for the internet- it’s a game changer for us introverts to be heard).
  • Entrepreneur- This is a new one for me and I’m not sure what it means to me yet, but I do feel like someone who wants to build things and put them into the world to help other people. What is it I’ll be creating? My science? Some fancy software app? A piece of art? In many ways, I’m not even equipped to carry these things out, but I am willing to learn. The first thing is getting an idea for something that doesn’t exist now that I wish did because it solves a problem the world needs solved. Resilient/sustainable coffee farms are one thing on my list because I work on plants and I love my morning coffee. And of course, I do like to write, but I’m not convinced that that’s a real job (for me just now, anyway).
  • Reforming the (science funding) system– I’ll almost surely be science adjacent in my work. The current system is failing in many ways it seems to me. Or a bubble is bursting and in the US, there might be a whole generation of lost scientists who would do great work that won’t because they look at the mess of the science enterprise and say ‘F#$k no’. It’s bleak out there. Any shred of good news comes from new discoveries and breakthroughs that still get made. It’s never good news about careers in STEM or good funding news. How do we prepare current postdocs and Ph.D.’s to go on to have good careers? Both training and cultural changes will be necessary. And more money isn’t the exact solution; competitive funding works well, though my feeling is that it’s too competitive now; so much great science gets left unfunded. So funding would help with that. But the closed, isolationist (both from society & other disciplines), single-track career culture that exists now has to change. Anything a STEM trained person goes on to do ultimately is a boon to the science enterprise and should be treated that way.
  • A personal life- I don’t have much of a life outside my work. I want one. So any job I have will have to have room for me to carve out a life to meet new people (maybe even a significant other), spend time with friends, possibly travel & learn new things not related to my work that I just want to learn. I know that no employer actually cares that their employees have this in their life, but I imagine it does make for happier employees.

How do I achieve those things in my life, in my career? And does obtaining an academic job make any of these features more or less likely?

One step at a time. Breaking things down into smaller steps.

Here, I’m assuming I get my dream job at JKL University and what I envision that looking like- I am completely aware of how unlikely it is to actually happen. But this is my space, so I’m going to dream out loud a bit.

I will be putting together at least a few applications for academic jobs this time around. And I think I would still love working at a small liberal arts university. My ambitions beyond research and teaching (yes, even at liberal arts schools, they’re in that order no matter what they say) would be to work with as many of that school’s learning center and other faculty to develop excellent learning environments that work for both students and professors. I feel like that’s where entrepreneurship comes in. Building something beyond the department. Perhaps this goes on already, though I don’t observe a lot of it at the universities I have visited. The other big challenge is integrating my research program and my teaching into one as much as possible. I’m not sure exactly how that’s achieved, but it is a synergistic interaction; both research and teaching get better. As would my own- and hopefully the student’s communication skills, since writing/talking about work in language everyone can understand would be necessary.

I know a lot of campuses have focused more on mental health lately. That is a good thing. As a professor, I am uncertain as to what my role in that framework is; perhaps just referrals to counseling or actively listening and paying attention, though any student asking me about anxiety, depression or impostor syndrome would get an email containing some resources/voices that have helped me get out from under those particular clouds. The thing about getting help is that you have to find the exact voices that work for you- that resonate and they may not be the same ones that worked for me. Medication can help in some cases, but isn’t the only thing. Exercise is greatly therapeutic too. A social support network is key. Developing one of those can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort; and that will ultimately help with almost everything else in life; and ideally having a diverse social circle.

I’ve noticed that successful entertainers often come in clusters. Each individual does distinct things, but a group comes up together and they keep helping each other, cheering each other on. Their sensibilities are similar enough that you’ll like a whole raft of them. It doesn’t have to be a strong tie either, it can be a weak tie and it still works. But that social network is always important. If I can successfully conflate my work and personal life in that way, I think I’d be happy with that; loving what I do and being around people I like who do similarish (yes, I made up a word) type things as I do. I don’t know if it’s too late, but I am trying to develop a stronger network of people to enable my work and my life generally. I think scientists and entertainers share a lot of DNA as both are creative endeavors and so I think there’s a lot that can be learned from each other.

Finally, at JKL U., I’d likely have my own office. I could shut the door and work for a few hours and schedule times my door would be open for visitors.

Something else?

 I get hung up on this still. What else to do if not academia? What’s my dream outside of the academy? What else is out there? I don’t even know. My academic labs haven’t prepared me to even consider looking for things that aren’t Tenure track. The river of academic culture all sweeps downstream towards that one goal. And anything else is considered failure- even if individual PIs in academia don’t think that, that is the overwhelming culture. On one level, to work in an academic lab, it takes that level of focus/ambition. However, these days, students and postdocs are ill served by that system as almost none of us will end up in faculty positions. Again, competition is a good thing, though I think there’s something that can be said that it’s too fierce; and you’ll lose people who are great, but just aren’t comfortable staying in that environment.

However, making the leap out of the academic bubble is difficult; maybe it’s not a bubble and is more like a glass wall?

On top of the academic jobs apply for- with my newly minted Ian2.9 brain that is healthier, more upbeat, more interconnected, more whole, I want to explore other things that might meet my ideal career characteristics.

Jobs aren’t easy to apply for these days. It requires a multi-media, fully integrated package that really wow’s a key decision maker/committee of decision makers. Time to continue the work of finding my ideal life. With coffee.

Ever on and on.

 

Hiding.

I hid for a long time. Growing up, I pretty much refused to wear anything with graphics/brand names that were visible. The point was to be invisible from constant teasing/bullying. And I was for the most part- I got very good at it. I’m still pretty good at it (though the internet does make it harder to hide, but I’m speaking of being in a room with people).

I’ve slowly been showing more and more of my personality, wearing geeky/clever t-shirts, trying to connect more. Connection is essential (Susan Cain shared a post about an update of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; connection is essential in any iteration of the pyramid).

A point I keep trying to reiterate to myself over and over and over again is that networking is something I need to do more of. It comes up again (Dating = networking, the only thing online dating has is volume) and again (Finding mentors beyond your advisor- essential when they’re toxic, important for everyone else= networking).

I’ll link a second time to the Tenure, she wrote (great name for a blog, btw) post, as it brought up something that I hadn’t really thought of before. No, I don’t have a toxic advisor (thank goodness), but her list of academic bullying:

Threats to professional status – including belittling opinions, public professional humiliation, accusations regarding lack of effort, intimidating use of discipline or competence procedures

Threats to personal standing – including undermining personal integrity, destructive innuendo and sarcasm, persistent teasing, name calling, insults, intimidation

Isolation – including preventing access to opportunities, physical or social isolation, withholding necessary information, keeping the target out of the loop

Overwork – including undue pressure, impossible deadlines, unnecessary disruptions.

Destabilisation – including failure to acknowledge good work, allocation of meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, repeated reminders of blunders, setting target up to fail, shifting goal posts without telling the target.

She’s talking about one of her postdoc mentors doing some of these things to her (kind of unbelievable- my grandmother showed me the movie “Harvey” when I was a kid, and one thing Jimmy Stewart relates about what his Mom told him: .. “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.). I try to be pleasant too. Though I don’t mind being smart too.

What struck me is this: I have done all of these to myself.

Let me write that again: I did every single one of those things on that list to myself within the last 5 years.

I’ve written before that this is a blog about what not to do in a postdoc. In case it’s not obvious, don’t do any of the above to yourself; or to anyone else for that matter. I know it’s not my place to tell you what to do, but this is a case where I’d highly recommend it.

The good news is that bullying myself (perhaps the result of being bullied as a kid? That seems like a long time to be affected by something, but I’d posit it’s a possibility) is something I realized wasn’t working for me and so I’ve largely stopped, though old habits don’t just go away in a day.

Bullying myself has negatively impacted my career, I’m sure; and my life too. Hard to make progress when you constantly tell yourself you’re nothing.

My post last week was about feeling too ______ to ______. Bullying yourself is at least one factor that that idea comes from.

The worst part is missing out on connecting with others. Asking is where a lot of good things begin (“Would you look at my CV?” “Want to go out with me sometime?”, for instance). And it’s efficient a lot of times too. I don’t tend to ask for things because I’m too _________ to do so. ‘Ask’ is one of my words for this year and I’ve done a little better with it, though I would say that I haven’t really asked for what I would call a big favor from anyone. Isolation is not a good place to be.

So message to myself (and I hope to you too): Be kind to yourself. Ask. Don’t be so isolated (This is different from being introverted, FYI).

It is scary to put your mind and ideas out into the world, but I can say with a lot of certainty you don’t get anywhere by standing still and not experiencing what’s out there in the world.

 

Ever on and on.