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.