Reaction.

I had this interaction on Twitter and am going to write my internal reaction to it- for a short conversation, there’s a lot here:

New Twitter follower! (always exciting!).
New Twitter follower! (always exciting!).

Stay small.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is my tendency to stay small. Not be bold and out and daring and dare I say it, extroverted (I’ll never join the dark side!). And this interaction with Summer demonstrates that conflict in my head. I’m self-deprecating in a lot of contexts (nearly all contexts), but almost never talk myself up or market myself. And it’s pretty clear that I’m excited to have a new reader and also really uncomfortable that I have a new reader. I want to stay in my own little (probably delusional) world. At the same time, I’m working on pushing my comfort zone as I write about so often here.

Tension.

As Summer points out, postdocing exacerbates things. She’s not the only one to think that. This was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week talking about the recent era of stress, depression, anxiety, etc. that Americans seem prone to these days. There are definitely proximate causes to this; the recession particularly comes to mind- and the huge gap in income inequality that’s arisen the last few years. However, I do think the current climate in academia, especially those who are in a transition state- postdocs- have it particularly bad in terms of anxiety just now (no, we don’t work in mines and we’re not slaves, and yes we could all be a lot worse off). However, there is something hard about being a postdoc in 2013 that lends itself to mental torture (anxiety and depression, particularly).

Let me state at the outset of this that I think competition in science is a good thing- ideas competing works. However, I think in the present time, the competition is too intense- for faculty positions, industry jobs, grants. When grants come back with excellent scores and are not funded, it’s a sign that the competition is too intense. While I’d love to see a bump in funding for research, I don’t think that will happen, nor does it solve some of the structural problems of how science is done in the US (possibly the world- I can only speak to where I know).

Scientists at all levels feel the tension as funding cuts occur, pressure to publish increases, biology- and science- get bigger making many of us who do ‘small science’ feel obsolete even if big biology can’t address specific questions that we can (not to mention that small science is still needed to confirm the broad conclusions of big science). Current postdocs are caught in the middle of all of this. Pressure to publish is a immense (quite possibly the reason for the uptick in publications that don’t hold up well, or are simply wrong).

I think most of us got into science when we were young- very young….something about the world fascinated us or we had encouraging parents or maybe it’s partly genetic- I don’t think it’s an accident that many of us aren’t good with the socials because we focus so much our areas of interest- we’re nerds; even prominent scientists/science communicators have their awkwardness about them (I’m looking at you Neil deGrasse Tyson). And now that we’ve pursued the path to professional scientist, we can’t see the next step and seeing the scientific enterprise up close has made some of us pretty disillusioned. We also grew up with the message that ‘learning science and math will lead to success! That’s where all the jobs are!’….only now, not so much. A lot of smart people have written about why this is and problems of the wrong incentives in the system .

The view of science that we had (SCIENCE IS AWESOME!!! and always will be) is running up against the reality that science is expensive, there are few jobs and little money in going into a science career unless you happen to make the next big discovery or are otherwise super-human.

Hours.

We all work long hours- no scientist I know is familiar with the 40 hour work week- that doesn’t exist in science as far as I can tell (even those with families!). 50 hours or more…be in lab as much as possible doing experiments that of course will all work on the first try (ha!) because they might satisfy some curiosity we have- and scientists are curious- but more and more, it’s really not clear why we do what we do; will it lead to a satisfying career/life? Many women in science say no, it isn’t and so there’s a gender imbalance, particularly at the faculty level, because women choose to have a life beyond the lab (there should be no question that women can do science & math- they can, and do). More men I know are increasingly feeling the same way (I’ll raise my hand here). Going into science is a stupid, stupid idea (and to think we’re considered ‘smart’). We want to contribute to the world and make it a better, more knowledgable place- most of us would do this even if we didn’t get paid (we’re passionate).

This is where I’ll insert that scientists and many other creative types are often introverted. Introverts often aren’t nearly as motivated by money- in the case of scientists, we just need to know answers to things.

Sticking to it.

It’s hard to encourage younger scientists to stay in the field- why teach a young person science…we don’t need more scientists. My own answer is that I want to teach people to be scientifically literate and critically think about the world, but not encourage them to go into science. And it is worse now that it was before. PIs who say it’s always been hard are right. It has. But it’s worse now. More postdocs, fewer faculty jobs, fewer industry jobs, less funding. None of us are perfect and we haven’t been trained to do much else but solve scientific problems (OK, that’s pretty cool, but still a hard sales pitch to anyone in any other field I think).

It is hard to work those long hours, and for me, who’s single, delaying getting a life…again and again because I feel like I have a brain disease that makes me insatiably want to stay at the bench trying to get that one thing to work. To even have a shot, we work long hours for low pay- and try to be smart about what we work on and when, but there are no guarantees- we’re all forging new territory. On his Star Talk Radio show, Neil Tyson paraphrased ‘Academia is loving something more than you love sex’. There might be something to that. There is only so much time we can work though (at a minimum, we need to eat and sleep).

It’s been hard to force myself out of the lab to do things that are fun- or have nothing to do with work at all. Hobbies! Being well rounded helps. And I’m just now rounding things out after learning the hard way that burn out is a very real thing.

Om.

To sum up, it’s no wonder that postdocs are depressed and anxious these days. A temporary job that is on soft money makes it hard to put down roots. Increasingly, it seems that no matter how much we do, it’s not enough. The ‘War Games’ conclusion comes to mind here- ‘The only way to win is not to play’. I think a lot of postdocs feel this way- that no matter what we do, how hard we work, how stellar we are, we won’t be among the 3 tenure track faculty that will be hired in 2013.

Now maybe it’s not as grim as all that, but it appears that way. All my friends who aren’t scientists are married, seem to have good lives and actually have time for their significant other. I know some scientists who have that too- though like the theme in most spy shows, work-life balance is a constant issue. Scientists have to fight hard against the pressure to work all the time in a way that my non-scientists friends seem to not have to do (or not have to do as often).

I think I’m done. Going to go meditate and get to bed. I can at least do oen good thing for myself tonight.

Ever on and on.

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Thanks.

Thank you.

Two words I am trying to say a lot now. To express gratitude as much as possible. 

This appeared in the NYT ecosystem this week. 

I have been reflecting on gratitude lately and how much I try to express it- even for small things that happen in my day. The customer service rep that I don’t have to be nice to- they probably don’t expect to be thanked for their help (or even their lack thereof).  

This has gotten me to think about how I communicate with colleagues and other scientists and my own digital habits. I’m not sure I communicate that well with anyone, let alone colleagues. I’m the strong silent type (also introverted). 

Introversion is a trait a lot of scientists share, but science also rewards extroverted tendencies a lot more. I am using my more introverted self to write more and speak up when I can, but I still prefer to be quiet and by myself a lot of the time.

I don’t tend to talk on the phone. I’ve started tweeting a lot- I like twitter. I write. I don’t tend to leave voicemails. My big fear is actually getting through to someone on the phone and having to talk to them. Of course, if it’s a good friend, I’m happy to talk. But strangers is hard. For job interviews, etc. something I ought to get over, ASAP. Exposure therapy perhaps.

I was out at the pub last night after doing a trial run of this weekend’s Shamrock Shuffle  with the running club I’m a part of last night. I talked a little bit on the run and a bit after at the pub with a beer. But I had to force myself to smile and when I did, I relaxed and had an OK time, even though I still felt out of place and awkward.

I’m not going to stop what I’m doing as far as my nettiquette. I’d like to talk on the phone more, but it’s a thing I am not really able to conquer easily in my head. I don’t know why, but I’d better get over it.

Expressing gratitude is one of the things that has helped get me out of major depression. i’d hate to stop now.



Light.

Light.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”- Leonard Cohen

I haven’t done the best job about letting light in. Or showing my cracks. 

I continue to feel isolated in my own world.


Pushing my comfort zone with calculated risk doesn’t seem to be my thing. And it needs to become a habit of mine.




Light..

Where does the smile go? It doesn’t come out often enough. I don’t go out often enough. 

It’s an indicator that I might still be fairly depressed about things in my life. 

The easy distractions still get to me. 

I ruminate.

Don’t laugh.

I numb my emotions. 

I don’t always have a lot of energy. Or feel like being out in the world.

I want to feel more light more of the time. Laugh more. 





Light…

Maybe there is some light at the end of my tunnel, even if it appears millions of miles away.

Can you see venus through the rings of Saturn? 

That’s how far the light at the end of my tunnel feels a lot of the time. 

At least it’s visible now. I truly didn’t think it was before. 

I must keep writing. Doing. Asking. Talking. Deciding. Finishing. Learning. Lightening.




Present.

Present.

I had to present the department seminar today, the journal club of the plant labs, but postdocs present our current work. 

I have a lot of pain associated with the last few years as a postdoc. I’m trying not to dwell and I put together what I could in the time I had. But didn’t have much time to rehearse, which is really a problem for me. 

So when I went up to talk, I was nervous. I talked too quickly, I felt incoherent and on auto pilot. I felt completely disconnected from the audience, who were more than kind enough to listen to me.

Part of this is content related- I am not engaged with it, but I’m trying again, with all aspects of my life. I’m just not connecting well.

I wasn’t present in the moment. Something I struggle with even when I’m not speaking in front of ostensibly friendly audiences (I always feel on trial- even if that’s not the case). 

I felt like a stand up comedian bombing on stage. Comedians like to talk about their bombs once they get to a certain point. I guess I just haven’t reached it with presenting my work, or presenting at all. I do need to do it more often.

Present..

I still feel too often like I’m a mistake- an embarrassment of a human being. So whenever I’m in front of people or talking to them,  I have a high level of self-consciousness. I’ve felt that way for so long, I’m not sure how to change it even though I’m really trying to move past that mentality.

I am trying to show up. Be present. Do my work. And working on being compassionate to myself. 

That last part is probably the key to unlocking a lot of good things in life; passion for work, better relationships all stemming from actually liking myself. Which is a feeling I haven’t had for a long time. Be a presence.

Present…

Will I ever put things together and figure out how to get the true presents of life? Not stuff, but normal relationships, a meaningful job, a significant other, etc. Will I declare my presence here and do things because I want to, live in my own authentic way and not worry what others think. Not try to be invisible. Not have to be perfect.

Declaring that it’s OK for me to assert myself is a big step for me. Not feeling guilty. Blogging about things that matter. Learning something new every day. Being mindful. 




Be present.


High School Self.

High School Self

I was made aware of this article on why we never leave high school and why that’s actually not good news for many of us. It mentions one of my current favorite books ‘Daring Greatly’ and Dr. Brown’s research. 
That thought terrifies me. I think that it might well be true. If I think back to my high school self, it is much like I am now. If High School was where I was supposed to learn how to interact with people, I dont’ think I did very well. It’s something I struggle with daily. I did my best to stay invisible- for fear (somewhat legitimate) that being noticed would lead to bad things- something I still tend to think too often. This blog is supposed to help with that. Stick my neck out…

I suppose there is one good thing: I survived. 

Which brings me to this…

Buffy

I have been watching ‘Buffy, The Vampire Slayer’ lately, which got me thinking about high school even more. For those who aren’t familiar, Joss Whedon took the concept of the motion picture and turned it into a great television series. It supposes a world where magic, vampires and demons invade Sunnydale, CA and they often serve as metaphors for surviving high school. The show is funny, smart, awesome and a lot of fun. Most of the characters are well developed too. And of course, it takes me back to the 90’s…when I was youngish.

In a quite literal way, the characters (especially Buffy) slays demons. Even the demons have demons at times. 

The first few seasons deal with the high school years. There’s a plot where a girl literally becomes invisible- a lot like I felt. It is a show very good at portraying all kinds of outsiders- as well as the impostor syndrome, depression, and anxiety…and of course fighting through all of these things. 

Breaking Bio

Because of Twitter, I discovered The Breaking Bio Podcast, and apparently video blog. Episode 13 is with @JacquelynGill, a paleoecologist and blogger and short term postdoc who has a faculty position nearly straight away- the hosts of the podcast are all youngish postdocs…compared to me who feels like an ancient in postdoc years. It was a good discussion a large group of internationally located people had about her research, impostor syndrome (which clearly many of the hosts have dealt with and at least gotten past to some extent), and women in science- and how they might be more prone to feeling like impostors. While I can’t speak to that part, I know that I have never really felt comfortable in academia. I’m getting slightly more comfortable, but don’t feel that connected- in any aspect of my life. 

One of the things they talked about was the fact that being desperate in any avenue of life won’t help you get anything. It’s an odd thing…the more relaxed you can be, and yet engaged and caring at the same time, the more successful you’ll be in dating or in job interviewing. I know I’ve been way too high strung for way too long; I’ve been trying to be more relaxed and am, but of course, it doesn’t seem like it’s enough. 

I’m introverted, high anxiety and perfectionist. And feel rather desperate too often…recipe for success, it’s not. To be clear, that first trait doesn’t make me less qualified, just viewed as less desirable in the United States at least…where the focus is on interacting with as many people as possible. 

Forward

I’m trying to stay positive even though that’s difficult..it’s not exactly like a world ending apocalypse on ‘Buffy’, but feels that way a little bit. I’m currently not all that successful professionally or personally. I’d like that to change of course, but my own brain seems to have some very strong walls against that notion. 

I can feel cracks forming in my walls, but they certainly aren’t anywhere close to structural failure. 

And with that, I am going to bed. 


Impostor.

Impostor syndrome (IS, happen to be my initials)

I was looking at Twitter and saw a post about the Science Online 2013 where they had a session about impostor syndrome. 

This is something I still feel strongly even today. In graduate school and the first few years of my postdoc, I always saw it as a negative thing. It certainly can be devastating if it gets to the point of ‘I am an impostor, I am a mistake’ (which is something that I thought for years; still do sometimes). This form of the impostor syndrome prevents people from trying new things and even tinkering around to find things that might work. It prevents action. 

The healthier form of IS

However, there is a healthier form of impostor syndrome that I’m trying to keep in mind more. It’s the ‘I’m new at this and don’t feel like I belong, but that’s OK. I’m learning. I’m trying something new. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. Stepping out from the cave. Feeling awkward doing it.  But you’re Daring greatly. Like with this blog. It’s not as if I’m setting the blogoshpere on fire with my amazing posts. I do this because it’s fun for me. And maybe I’ll learn a thing or two through doing it. 

The challenge

One of my challenges I set for myself this month is to be more extroverted. Which means talking to more people I just see when i’m out and about (just saying an audible ‘hi’, with eye contact counts). I feel very awkward about this. And I’ve done OK with it so far (no Earth shattering moments of having a long conversation yet). I am pushing myself to do things in the lab that are new to me and I don’t know if they will work or not. While these are all good things, it is hard to implement. It goes against my nature. 

Tomorrow’s another day to work on being, not simply trying. And another day to practice getting to a healthier mindset with the impostor syndrome.


Drive.

Motivation and drive to get things done has been on my mind lately. As well as the things that still get in my way. Several things I have run across have spoken to this lately:

  • Biochem Belle (@BiochemBelle) had this  fantastic post about creating ideas, silencing your inner critic for a time, giving yourself space to generate ideas before nixing things in the bud outright (a tendency I certainly have).
  • I also recently subscribed to Annie Murphy Paul’s ‘Brilliant Blog’ and her post about a sense of community being important for learning.
  • Kerry Ann Roquemore‘s series on academic perfectionism. I mentioned this series before even though I’d only read the first of the posts. I read the rest and it speaks to my struggles with perfectionism and how I’ve at least started to take some positive steps towards addressing it.
  • I also just watched ‘I’m Fine, Thanks’, a documentary I was introduced to via itstartswith.com, @sarahkpeck’s blog about getting things done and living life well. I had tears in my eyes in recognition during the whole thing. 


All four of these things really resonated with me strongly. Here’s why:

  • Perfectionism also takes on the guise of my inner critic that shoots down dieas before they even fully form and have time to breathe. Or before I even try.
  • Perfectionism is isolating. One thing I’ve been taught again and again is that learning happens best with other people. For feedback, for support, for new ideas and for getting used to a new environment. Perfectionism keeps you on the sidelines. “It’s not the critic who counts….” comes to mind. Perfectionism keeps you out of the arena.
  • One things I’ve lacked as a postdoc is drive. Perfectionism is truly devastating. It’s one reason for my disconnection. It’s also the reason I procrastinate on things; if they’re not going to be perfect, why start? It really is a self-defeating way of thinking. My tendency is to avoid people as an introvert, but they are essential to an effective learning environment.
  • When I watched ‘I’m Fine, Thanks’, it has made me see that I have been defined by a vision that has been defined by others. Namely, grad school, postdoc, then faculty position, then tenure, etc. Oh and a significant other, possibly a family along the way. The straight line to success that doesn’t really exist. I feel stuck & disconnected in my current position. I don’t have a good history with relationships. And I don’t quite have a good idea of what my vision is. I’m starting to question and push that direction, but my feeling right now is that I’m not sure bench research is what I want to be doing forever. The director of the movie decided to make his dream of making a film come true; I like asking and finding answers to questions, but my current setting is not conducive to that.
With this blog, I’m trying to address perfectionism by just writing it pretty loosely and not worrying too much about ‘tight’ writing. And then putting it out into the world and realizing that it’s not fatal. I do strive to be good enough. And coherent. And sometimes clever. 

Perfectionism is deadly. Don’t participate. Get past it. Address the underlying insecurity that drives it. Academics do seem very prone to perfectionism. It will lead into depression and other bad places. If you’re a perfectionist, join me on the road to recovery.