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.

 

 

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.

 

Boxes

The man box.

The depression box.

The academic box (aka The Ivory Tower)

And the related postdoc box  (feel particularly stuck in this one).

The perfectionist box.

The impostor box.

The introvert box.

The anxiety box.

The shy box.

The ‘I’m not and never have been good enough’ box.

 

That’s the list of boxes I can think that I’ve put myself into. Somehow, the human brain is capable of occupying several boxes at one time; each containing their own universe. Like the episode of “Futurama”, ‘The Farnsworth Parabox’, where the professor creates a series of boxes each containing different versions of the universe trying to replicate ‘Universe A’ (not to be confused with ‘Universe 1/Universe B’/‘The Mongooses’).

One of Walt Whitman’s lines is “I am large, I contain multitudes”.

Minds are like the TARDIS in “Doctor Who”: bigger on the inside. Plus, the TARDIS is not limited by much- it can travel in time and space. So can minds. “Reading Rainbow” taught several generations that idea.

These three cultural references evoke cosmoses, not isolated boxes that we often occupy; boxes are isolating and limiting (even when they might contain something as large as Universe A).

I’ve been thinking a lot about boxes, limits and other things that seem to have limited my life. Not least of which is my own brain putting the breaks on actually getting out and doing things.

A discussion on Twitter about the leaky pipeline metaphor being problematic and preventing women particularly from moving onto careers they want; in other words, keep the pipeline intact, we need women to stay in STEM! Leaving is betraying the cause. Of course there need to be more women in STEM fields, but if the ones who end up there don’t want to be there, that’s a problem for inspiring yet more women to enter a STEM discipline.

If a woman with a STEM background decides the traditional academic/research route isn’t for her & moves onto something she does want to do, I imagine she makes a much better case for it to someone else who’s considering the traditional academic STEM career track (that might be just right for that person). Not that there’s even a standard track anymore. Everyone in STEM has to hustle even more to just stay put it seems.

Smash the pipe and rip up the tracks. Pursue what you want because you want it, not because someone else is putting pressure on you to do it (pressure isn’t always a bad thing, just has to be applied in the right place/time/manner). I need to be reminded constantly to not feel like I’m constrained where I am. I’d like to be a good ambassador for science, but have had a hard time doing that from my current career vantage point.

I’ve mentioned Carol Dweck’s growth mindset idea before, that is a lot more flexible and allows people to learn things and grow into them rather than getting frustrated when something doesn’t just click and giving up because of it. I grew up and spent most of my adult life with that fixed mindset. Through a lot of hard work, I’m flipping my thinking to adopt a growth mindset to learn new things. It’s not just healthier in education, I think it’s healthier in life too; you are encouraging yourself to try new things more often. If you fall on your face, well, maybe that’s bad, but you tried and if you got some thrill out of it and you liked it, you’ll try again and do better the next time.

The education we get in the US too often rewards the fixed mindset it seems to me. As a result, people who tend to be perfectionist, high strung and otherwise obsessive (me!) don’t try too many new things, or give up easily when they do. Not a very resilient way being.

That can lead to boxes. So can outside cultural forces. If you were used to giving up when something is difficult, I would argue you’re more susceptible to cultural forces as opposed to standing up and being your own person more of the time. Some cultural identity is good, for sure, but if it’s put you into a restrictive box, that’s definitely a problem. After all, to be noticed is to be distinct in some way. There’s a reason we’re not all the same person.

It can be hard to let other people know that you’re unique and just how you’re unique- every geek/nerd (terms I use interchangeably) probably has experienced this first hand. We tend to be the ones who get teased for our interests, whatever those are (even from fellow geeks/nerds- it can be fine if it’s done lovingly, but often it’s not).

The last few years, I’ve been slowly unpacking the boxes I occupy and I suppose in a way, re-integrating myself into a whole person. At my most depressed- in that box- I felt like a shadow, invisible a lot of the time, barely there when I was visible and just a shift in the light away from disappearing into the dark. I felt like a lot of me was missing. It was probably there, but wasn’t visible to me because I was inside the very dark box.

Opening that box, as well as working on opening others I’ve felt myself trapped in has helped. The thing that needs to happen more now is opening the final big box of who I am and showing it to the world. I’ll do this in part by asking– still a hard thing for me to do. Talking more about those weird things I’m interested in. Letting people know that I exist and have needs, desires, ambitions, and wants, and just being fine with that.

In many ways, I’m just becoming aware of those things myself and identifying what they are.

Some boxes I’m OK being in; and they’re open ones- I’m a Whovian that still needs to try and watch the original run series episodes pre-2005, but I don’t have a strong desire to, for instance.

Have you put yourself into boxes? Have others? Has the broader culture?

Sunshine is required for life on Earth as we know it; that’s why open boxes are important- they’ll help you live more authentically and confidently.

Ever on and on.

 

Fantasy.

Things I fantasize about.

Sometimes I imagine things. Probably silly things. Mostly.

  • A job. That I like. That doesn’t feel too dead ended.
  • Being a professional wrestler. There’s something about imagining you’re facing your problems in the Steel cage and suplexing them into submission. 
  • Swinging like Spiderman through the buildings of NYC.
  • Getting a job interview.
  • Never having to switch off so I can get more done.
  • Performing the Jedi mind trick to get free coffee. 
  • Being as smart as The Doctor.
  • Moving.
  • Being normal.
  • Building a better world.
  • Giving a great talk. Or lecture. 
  • Introverting to inspiration. To my bliss.
  • Run a half marathon.
  • Traveling in the TARDIS
  • Publishing. (Maybe my research project will actually succeed or I’ll write a great novel).
  • Vacationing someplace new I’ve never been before and not freaking out b/c of it.
  • Sleeping enough.
  • Becoming a beer brewing internet guru. 
  • Repeating my (mostly non-roaring) 20’s.
  • Becoming a speed reader.
  • Falling in love.
  • Getting a hug. Every day. 


Write Right. Write. Right.

It is early in 2013 and I’m thinking about resolutions. 

One of them is to get things written down. In digital or hand written form. I’d like to do a post a week. I want to get a good work flow going on one of my projects at work. Though I still don’t see what’s interesting about it. One problem I have is feeling disconnected. Not just from my work, but from people too. I’m re-reading the section in ‘Daring Greatly’ (now one of my favorite books) about how people become disconnected. The amount of times I tear up in reading passages and seeing just how many layers of shielding and armor I’ve wrapped myself in is astounding. No wonder I feel so stuck. 


I was reminded of this line from ‘Doctor Who’ recently: 

“The Doctor said the universe was huge and ridiculous and, sometimes, there were miracles.”

I’m kind of hoping for a miracle this year. Not that I’m a literal believer in such things per se, but there are things I find miraculous. Like yesterday, I got a message from a friend telling me exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. 

As the title of this post suggests, I want to write more this year (and do it right!). In this space, but also in my work, writing cover letters and formatting resumes and sending them to whoever I can; a real miracle would be getting hired. While I do believe in myself more & feel like I can make meaningful contributions to a lab/company, it’s still hard to see the change happening. All I can do is make a real effort to get it done.  

I’m still in my own way too much. A mantra I’m trying to internalize is “Do More. Think less.”

Two blog posts have caught my attention this week:

Penelope Trunk suggests banning the word ‘busy’

and 

The always good suggestions of Sarah Peck, in this case a list of 52 suggestions for good life habits (#16. Do something that terrifies you. Every Day.)

Publishing a post here terrifies me. So I’ve done that for the day. 

At the beginning of 2013, I can tell I have some better habits that I’ve slowly formed over the last year. And I feel like I am slowly chugging forward, as opposed to being a train that had stopped (seemingly permanently) at a depot. 

I don’t know where in the huge and ridiculous universe the train will take me, but mostly, the thing I want to do is feel connected again. Be connected. Probably fall flat on my face and fail more often than not, but the main point is to not think about things so much. Just do them and trust myself enough that my first instincts are correct. That I do have a decent brain that can solve problems, interpret, note, observe and explore. All while continuing to serve as an example to others of previous bad habits as a postdoc and my development of much better ones. 

I know none of this sounds specific, but that’s the part I’m not going to share with the world. 

Good luck and best wishes in 2013,