The Gap and Answering Why.

I’m officially in career transition mode. Looking for what’s next. Trying not to say yes too quickly or chase things that don’t suit me very well. Ideally something that will lead to making more money than one does as an academic.

I was out for a walk the other day and an elderly woman was walking the opposite way down the street looking lost. She asked me if I knew where Mascoma Street was. It’s the street I live on, and only two blocks across the town green from where we were talking. The town I live in is not large either. It seemed remarkable anyone could be lost. But there we were. I talked with her as we walked over to the street and she told me how she was recently retired living here after being a nurse around the country, and in England.

It’s made me think about what I’ve done with my time, and whether I’d get easily lost in 25 more years. Some how there’s still more I feel I want to do. To persist in making a living and hopefully thriving.

There’s no more academia– at least no more planned bench science in my immediate future. There’s continuing to build my skills as a writer and editor (doing some freelance gigs just now to do just that as well as continuing to blog and guest posting wherever I can).

Of course there are questions. Do I have something great to say? Eh. Maybe. Do I just like sharing knowledge. That is certainly true. If I got to spend my career taking in knowledge and communicating it back out to audiences I still haven’t defined very well, then great.

I’ve spent my career as a plant scientist. That’s where I’ve started. Science is amazing and talking about the natural world and how we learn about it is inspiring. I express my enthusiasm for science writing that really resonates with me and hope one day I can produce that for others.

I’m not exactly young anymore and am technically in mid-career. A lot of things that would make sense for anyone younger, going back to school, applying for internships, and fellowships just don’t fit that well, especially as I’m not eligible for many of them.

I’m left with a lot of self-training and still worried I’m a person that falls into the gap where no real career exists. I’m still too much of a scientist to be a popular science writer, but too much of a popular science writer to appeal to a scientific audience. And I haven’t been the most organized about finding an audience— or many other things either. Asking and connecting are still challenging.

I have a PhD and lots of postdoc/lab experience and yet do feel like I don’t have experience in anything else (OK, writing, editing, some basic graphic design, and can research like a pro). Another gap. Despite the online writing and engagement I’ve done. Or is it half-engagement, me just talking at the void?

I’ve networked better than I have ever in my life and don’t have a grand strategy that will get everything to work out perfectly. Despite focusing on better connecting, it’s something that’s still a work in progress. I still didn’t get this advice from Ideas on Fire soon enough.

I let go in some ways and hold on tight in others and the result is…confused.

I’ve written probably hundreds of thousands of words, if not millions the last seven years. Do they add up to anything? I don’t know.

Several years ago, I was so depressed I didn’t want to go on. I did. Why?

I. Don’t. Know. I’m stubborn and like to work? Maybe?

It was in many ways more about other people than myself— I didn’t want to let them down. Why do I want to go on now? I have a cat to take care of. Still have friends and family and colleagues I like working with (currently all through the interwebs). There’s still a sense I want to get really good at something– I don’t think that it was bench science for me. What it is exactly, I’m really not sure. The best at knowing all the things? Is that it? Working at becoming a great writer (that feels further off than ever lately)?

I find writing satisfying even though it is also hard. I’m not one to insert myself in lightning rod topics, but do advocate for the quieter way of being. Basically, few things are as great or as bad as they seem— and so my message is often “yes, it’s complicated and less interesting than you may have first thought”.

I  like brining the obscure slightly more to light, as most research isn’t widely reported on and is somewhat inaccessible either due to paywalls or jargon. I love diving into the archives of journals and digging out past papers and seeing where their work has led, even if it’s a small contribution. Those matter too.

However, none of this is a real career plan. Other than the idea of the world I’d like to occupy of words, letters, and communication, it’s hard to make a solid plan. I want to live someplace new. I want a personal life. I want to work.

I guess I’ll keep on taking steps, making lots of missteps, and hopefully falling forward in a somewhat mindful way.



Sarah Peck is inviting writers to reflect on the theme of discernment in the month of January.

From her post: 

Discernment: What is it? What does it mean to be discerning?

How do you decide? How do you know?

Discernment is “the ability to judge well.”

It is, to me, about our own internal ways of knowing.

How do you know?

Discernment is going to be important for me in 2017 as I make at least one big transition: to a new career, one in writing or editing, or perhaps it will be something else.

I need to create better and new content this year, for my blog. I hope, to paraphrase what This American Life host Ira Glass, that I’m maturing into a phase of knowing what’s good and being able to produce good things now that I’ve gotten a lot of terrible things created behind me. Though being discerning, I’d say I can write a decent story, but still feel I have a ways to go.

I am learning to edit better, to know what reads well, at least online. There’s always more to learn, of course, and there is more experience heading my way in 2017.

For most of my life, I’ve discerned things based on scientific evidence. And for things where science can’t test or hasn’t yet, discerning is a lot harder. Relying on science as a scientist makes sense (and the knowledge science has provided us, that gives us our modern world as well as the complexity and deepness of nature.

Science tells us that humans have a lot of cognitive biases that do make sense in some ways, but aren’t always suited to the modern world where critical thinking and taking in evidence to inform beliefs is important (homeopathy is BS, climate change is happening, and vaccines do work – denying these things costs money, public health, and makes the planet less livable and simply goes against a long track record of scientific evidence). The evidence-based discernments are relatively easy assuming there’s time to consider the evidence or have trusted sources putting out the case (science requires openness and trust).

However, science can’t inform everything. Making decisions every day requires discernment absent the time to carefully consider a lot of the time. Emotions come into play. Why do I feel attracted to someone? How do I spend/invest money? Will going to that conference benefit my career?

Discerning those things is harder, and often simply goes by what ‘feels’ right after a few days of deliberation. I often feel my snap decisions aren’t the good ones, especially if they’re big. There may be a hit to taking a decision after deliberation in that it will be less satisfying once made. However, there is something to be said for having an initial feeling one way or another and then spending some time challenging that initial feeling to ask where it might be wrong, or to ask friends where our own discernment might be off.

Discerning is hard for me. Making decisions often not easy, even the small ones. I like to say I have a high activation energy to reach a discerning point. These internal ways of knowing for me are fraught. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve denied how I feel a lot less and think that I am generally happier for it while also living in my means (part of discernment: not spending tons of money on things).

Last, I am trying more and more to discern things from a standpoint of abundance, not scarcity. The Scarcity mindset (even if there are real reasons to have it) is limiting. Basically making decisions for you. I am in a relatively privileged position that I can, really, make decisions from abundance, though in my life as a PhD student and postdoc has felt like one of scarcity. As I’m exiting academia, as I’ve done more entrepreneurial things like getting involved in my scientific society, starting a podcast with friends, blogging, science writing, etc., discerning feels better and a bit easier.

Discerning is a combination of the rational built up over time, feeling, and just what influences obvious and invisible affect our growth and environment.

How do you discern?


Serious in 2016 -> 2017?

I’ve written more for other blogs and publications this year than I ever have.

It was enough to successfully apply to the NASW, the National Association of Science Writers, which I am proud of. (I also joined the DC Science Writer’s, but that’s a membership fee alone).

I followed a science communication/science writing/science editing track this year as well. I attended the AAAS meeting and met a lot of people into science communication. I listened to reporters and scholars on communicating science, what impedes it (lack of incentive/money, in large part), and how to listen to people and get people to listen to scientists more (yes, it can be a two-way street).

I got to meet Joe Palca, NPR’s science correspondent and that’s been a fantastic contact to make.

I did my digital communication activities again this year and even did some things on Youtube this year (interviewing people) at the Plant Biology conference in Austin this year, stepping away from my science and just focusing on broadcasting/conveying the things going on at the conference, writing a blog post for each day of the conference. It’s intense for this introvert, but would do it again.

I attended part of the Science Writer’s meeting and got to meet/see some real science writers. A few weeks later, I attended Sci Comm Camp in Malibu and met even more great science communicators and writers (that I still need to do a better job of keeping in touch with).

Then there’s the podcast I started with friends, Recovering Academic, that seems to be going well, at least we’re building an audience it seems.

I’ve even been editing articles and posts for a few places (and will be doing more in 2017 – is it odd that I feel like I need to keep the places I’ve been editing for a bit secret?).

I also finished one of my projects in lab and it got published.

I’ve been pitching my work more places as well (& getting mostly rejected). But I did get a byline with the Royal Society of Biology blog this month.

And of course, continued to write on The Quiet Branches.

In short, I’ve been taking myself seriously. (yes, I cited this post by Sarah Cooper before).

It all feels very chaotic, and it certainly hasn’t been linear, and there’s still the pesky thing of actually finding my first full time paying job beyond academia.

Then I saw this Tweet, yes, also from Sarah Cooper – her voice has worked for me this year):

As an over 32 year-old that I think has been working hard to “make it” in this world (& I do have a beyond generic definition for myself of what that would mean). And at the end of 2016, I do feel like I’d like to be able to take a step back and not give up, exactly, but rest more. Take care of myself more (because to do all the above, it has taken a toll on taking care of myself).

Another concern with the all the things I’ve done above is something I’ve been thinking about since I’ve been reading, and just finished, Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game.

Am I conning myself? Is my dream of being in the science communication world something where I’ve pulled the wool over my own eyes? Should I give up and get out before I’m too much further in?

Self-made work of words to theme my 2017 (I keep it on my phone lock screen).

I’ve been aware of just how hard it is economically to make it as a writer alone. And that the career of the future is one where we’re all wearing many hats…the Uber driver-programmer-independent scientist, for instance. So in that sense, I don’t think I’m really fooling myself. However, as I enter 2017 and will have to find a new full time job, that the time I’ve dedicated this year, of taking myself seriously, pays off.

And that the skills I do have are valued somewhere.

Here’s to a prosperous 2017,



Being serious.

A lot on my mind lately. Figuring out my career and life foremost among them.

I’ve been guest writing more. I had a post at the Research Whisperer a few weeks ago that seemed to do well about building a portfolio career and using that to try to transition into a new job. Partly gaining experience.

I did some guest science writing too, both for UK based websites/publications. One was a collaboration with my PI, and then other was for the UK Plant Sciences Federation on flowering time. I even emailed a flowering time scientist to get some quotes. That is pushing my comfort zone.

People have been passing job ads and opportunities along to as well, which is incredible and part of why I am so grateful to platforms like Twitter. Which brings me to the #seriousacademic hashtag after The Guardian posted a short piece from a grad student that could not see the value of social media and how it distracted from the real world in front of people as well as taking away focus from actual academic research.  

As much as I love Twitter, I never tell anyone they have to be on it. I also legitimize most uses of the platform…I suggest people start out just by listening in/following things they are interested in and checking in once in awhile. Finding things serendipitously can be great sometimes. And if you feel like responding/joining a discussion, then great.

My community is almost entirely online…I would love to have a more consistent real world community of people I see regularly, but that is part of why I need a new job in a new place, something new. I tried being a serious academic. After years of trying, I’ve concluded I’d rather be a serious something else– ideally in the writing/editing world where I can draw on my scientific skills as well.  

Twitter has been great for me to get my blog(s) out to the world…for those interested in plant science and my writing about mental health here. My goal has been to be a one person broader impact for the plant science community– Twitter is my way of giving back and it has fed back into my science in great ways too. I consider it education/outreach, though I also am writing about things I find interesting or am curious about. I’ve made genuine personal and professional connections because of Twitter. I hope I’ve contributed something and not just taken away.

I’d tell the “serious academic” grad student that building a network takes time, and if it’s all an in real life/email chain of networking and that works for them, then awesome. No social media needed. However, I think social media has made me a better scientist. It’s instilled a love of learning that I had lost. It’s opened my eyes to some things, like inclusion/diversity. I really want to learn new things and do better science, and live up to the amazing things I hear about people doing on Twitter every day.

Something that becomes more possible when you take your ideas seriously and have a community  as a backdrop to accomplish your goal. 

I try to be a supportive ear and celebrator of successes and pitch in when opportunities arise to do something specific that I can do (organizing a conference panel for instance). Or being a digital media coordinator for the conference I attend most years. Trying to stay on top of Twitter activity at a >1,000 person conference is hard, and I do think is valuable as a record of the conference. Twitter is a good way for me to take notes and to listen to a talk as well, but there is definitely a balance to be struck with attention and tweeting– however, Twitter really shines as a 6th sense at conferences and as a networking tool. More people visit posters that presenters tweet about.

That said, lately, I’ve felt really exhausted. Everything seems to take gargantuan effort and little feels light anymore. Some of that is taking on more ambitious projects, and trying to make things better than I’ve done before. Some, though, I fear is feeling burned out with all the extracurricular things I’ve been doing to try and figure out what’s next. Maybe I’m doing it all wrong? It’s hard for me to know.

Last, Serious academic reminded me of this essay by Sarah Cooper on Medium about why taking your ideas seriously is important. Like her, I didn’t take my ideas seriously for years. Starting my blogs, engaging on Twitter, discussing real things there, has gotten me to take my ideas seriously. However, I don’t take myself too seriously and do have fun on Twitter too. Twitter is great for having fun– that is part of how serious communities are built.

Twitter has gotten me connected to people and I’m not sure that would have happened in real life in the last few years. It has, in many ways, saved my life. Are there plenty of people that can live without it? I’m sure there are. Even I need breaks sometimes. And having built my community online that has translated into the real world in many ways and I feel a lot better taking those social media breaks.




What is the purpose of Brakes?

The intuitive answer is so we can slow down and stop.

Less intuitive is that brakes let us go fast. The better the braking system, or the more trust in it, the faster it’s possible to go (credit to Sarah K. Peck for this idea).

While literal brakes operate this way in cars and other vehicles, permitting slowing down and going fast, the brakes in brains don’t work the same way.

I’ve been thinking about brakes in my life and how I might ease off of them to go fast- possibly achieve flight, basically thrive– career-wise and personally.

I wrote two articles about mental health in the last month. One for Bitesize Bio and one for the The National Postdoc Association Newsletter that will be out sometime this summer. It’s what I’ve written about for years here, and it is good to see that I can write for platforms that get a wider readership than a personal blog.

I’ve maintained my writing on The Quiet Branches as best I can with one of my more ambitious posts published last week. And doing it has lead to opportunities for me, and I really like doing it still, though my feeling is research is still a challenge. I read other science bloggers/writers and am constantly impressed- and I’m not comparing myself to the best/most successful science writers I know of- Ed Yong, Carl Zimmer, and Jennifer Ouelette, for instance. I still haven’t joined the NASW. Or the Genetics Society of America, or many of the several other professional societies I might be a member of.

There are deadlines I have made at work, a conference I attended, The AAAS meeting, where I networked like a pro and even got a decent opportunity out of it for a new job, that may or may not pan out. I’ve had people send me job ads that might be of interest to me as well and I’ve applied to some of them even. Despite the last few weeks where I’ve felt pretty worn down and burnt out, this has been a year of accomplishment in many ways.

There’s a direction I’d like to take my career in- away from the lab bench and in the world of science communication, publishing, editing…the more I learn about that world, the more fascinated I get. It’s incredible that they are all a key part of translating raw results into final reports, write ups, releases, and popular articles, videos, and books for audiences beyond other scientists (though it’s for them too– who likes science….scientists– well, OK, we at least sometimes like science…OK, perhaps not even sometimes, but we do it because we believe strongly in studying the natural world to understand it and ideally make it a better place).

I just finished attending Beyond the Professoriate (#beyondprof) where there’s a lot of good advice for those PhDs and other academics seeking to make it out into the world beyond academia and broadening the career ideas/paths that PhD holders might take. And trying to get the idea into our heads that we have skills that are in demand out in the world if only we could speak the language of the employers that want them.

All of the above are mostly good things and here’s where the brakes come in. The brakes in my brain are keeping me going slow, from punching the accelerator. It’s like my parking brake is stuck in the engaged position.

I am slowly learning to speak the language of editors, science writers, and communicators/public information officers/digital communications professionals. I still have a long way to go I feel (but thanks to two opportunities this year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with an editor). Though I write my blog, I feel like it could be better. There are content marketing and design elements I’d like to implement, but haven’t. My blog is due for a redesign. I could track my numbers better, but still have an academic philosophy about that- namely that numbers aren’t the most important metric– does my writing resonate with one person and their day is better for having read it? Does it spur some new project whether I’m involved or not? Is it evergreen and there if someone wants to refer to it (i.e. is it an archive for someone to stumble across)?

I want to start trying to record audio clips talking about each new post as a way to play around with podcasting as a medium. I love podcasts, though I know it’s not a career unto itself for most people (in that way content creation is like many careers these days it seems- the middle is getting hollowed out and you are either poor and in the masses or lucky/good/fortunate enough to make it into the elite of the profession). I think about doing it. I have the tools to experiment…and yet…nope, haven’t done it.

It’s been a slow process and one that I seem to have the brake in place for. I’m trying to learn new skills. I’ve adopted R and tried to figure out how I can take advantage of some of the massive amounts of data available out in the world, but haven’t made much headway there yet– finding a hypothesis to test isn’t exactly easy. But I can do and more or less understand what an ANOVA is in R and plot some data, so that is good.

I have tried learning more about Illustrator, Photoshop, and other digital tools that I just really like (& can use and figure things out in, it’s just something I’d like to get better with). And yet, the brakes are there too. Time is limited. I’m exhausted at the end of the day and learning new things just doesn’t happen as often as I think it needs to. Again, it feels like the brakes are there.

In my personal life, well, I haven’t really been trying much…I’ve been focused on networking and trying to figure out what’s next for me in life– or perhaps more fundamental than that…figuring out how to network most effectively still.

Until I figure out where I’ll be living and what I’m doing, it’s really hard to create any sort of dating life. Of course, this is another instance where the brake in my brain feel strongly applied. I know most postdocs are married, have families, date, meet significant others, even in the face of career transitions and other life backdrops. but my brakes are firmly in place to not explore that part of life until my career is more figured out (of course the question is, when will that be- more and more the answer is seeming like “never”, so may as well start trying now, right?).

I had the honor of curating the @realscientists Twitter account in March. And as a social media experience, it was intense and immersive. One of the things I started that really took off was #AcademicSelfCare, which echoes some of the things in the mental health articles I wrote about how academics seem to take terrible care of themselves.

I try to take time to take care of myself, but that has been harder and harder to do lately it seems. Injury and pain keep me from running far, time to join and make it to a gym are scarce, sleep has been elusive, and making decisions and moving forward rather seem more difficult. Cleaning, organizing life, focusing on the present, eating well…have gotten elusive as I try to spend all my time getting to what’s next, with my parking brake in place.

It’s spending a lot of my time in deciding rather than in doing– analysis paralysis? Distraction from real things? Some of this comes down to perfectionism, anxiety, depression, and the latter especially can feel like a weight that slows me down too often still (another form of braking- just weigh it down). Will I ever feel like I’ve “arrived”?

Am I still moving in a direction and not drifting? I don’t know. Some of the issue is that I’ve been doing the things I have been doing and haven’t had much chance to step back and think much. Enforcing reflection time would be a good thing, and something I need to do more often. And perhaps say “no” more.

There’s more to say, and yet I am also self-conscious about going on and on…



Finishing the writing challenge

I’m behind again on Sarah’s prompts due to other writing projects I’ve been working on. Some of them longer term, some of them came up just this week. So I’m going to attempt to do what I did last time and do a 2nd omnibus post answering the last week of prompts.

25: Behavior

What are your favorite activities? What are your most dreaded activities? How do you balance them throughout the day, week, or year?

Favorites: Reading, writing, thinking, drawing (though I am not skilled at this), taking pictures, learning something new, running.

Dreaded: budgeting, cleaning, learning something new, applying for jobs, going to big social functions, scheduling my life only to have the whole planner go out the window, job interviews- I always think of the best questions, answers and things to say after the interview.

All my dreaded tasks are really important ones to do too. And I’m still working out just how to make some of them more enjoyable. I do clean, I do budget, and apply for jobs. And a lot of them are self-care tasks…which I am notoriously bad at because for the longest time I have not felt worth caring for. That’s less true now, but I still need to build those tasks I don’t like into my life more…now that I care more about myself.

26: Books 

What book turned your life upside down or around this year?

If you can’t pin it down to just one, make a list of books that you read this year, and sort out the top three to five that really affected you. What were they, and why did they influence you? 

I don’t know that I’ve read a book in the last year that’s turned my life upside down, it’s been awhile since that’s happened. I suppose I need to read more often. “Quiet” by Susan Cain really changed my life a few years ago and I revisit the book now and again.

I just started “The Complete Guide to Science Blogging”, which I think will be helpful to me as I pursue online writing more and more.

But most of the reading I do is on the internet, though I am trying to make room for books, both fiction and non-fiction alike; I just haven’t read anything that really sets my world on fire this year, that’s really blown me away.

27: Hidden Lessons

Often I find the things I struggle with the most are the things that teach me the most. What event or circumstance has had a big influence on your life? What did you learn from it? How did it change who you are?

I struggle with connection. Figuring out how to be seen is a real struggle for me. I don’t often feel like I’m worthy of attention or being noticed. I just passed 2,000 followers on Twitter and I have made very real connections through that, but I still am not great at interacting with other people in real life. I just feel like I’m always missing some key component.

With that as a background, depression has had an outsize influence on my life. And learning to manage it, rewire my brain to think a little more optimistically have been things I’ve learned. I’ve become more compassionate and empathetic because of it too. A better listener. and writing about it is how I initially started my digital presence. Nothing else was working in my life and so I started writing online just to have something on the record, something that I could point to to say “I’m doing this” even if it wasn’t much.

It’s lead to me writing about science- something I love doing. Finding the infinite and complex stories is a lot of fun. And I really like doing things online with communicating science. I have even written about mental health in academia for some websites.

In short, it’s woken me up to something that I hope I can make a profession of.

28: Take Care

How do you take care of yourself? 

Writing, running, taking one day off a week- even though that last one is hard sometimes..I know I’m a lot better for it. Managing my energy.

29: Strange and Wonderful

What are some of the things that make you strange, weird, and wonderful? What makes you feel different? 

I often find that the things that make me the weirdest are also the things that prompt the closest friendships. Once I discover another INJF who giggles to themselves while writing into a tizzy, I am so grateful to learn about someone else… like me. 

When has this happened for you? 

I’m slow. Deliberate. It takes me a lot of time to process things and make decisions. And that deliberative process seems anathema to today’s world of fast-paced moving. It’s not that I can’t do things quickly, it’s just I prefer to have space to consider things before making a decision.

This makes me take in information, listen, a lot more than many. I’m an INTJ by Myers-Briggs which is apparently rare (& I should note the MB test isn’t really scientific, I hold the typing loosely, though I really am an introvert…that is quite consistent in every assessment I’ve ever done).

I am also a podcast addict. I don’t tell a lot of people that though I know it’s not uncommon for people to like podcasts. It still feels weird to tell people what I listen to for some reason. It’s so great meeting a fellow podcast afficionado.

30: What Have You Learned?

During this writing group, one woman wrote in and said that the practice of writing unlocked so much for her, “even if she only wrote down just one word or phrase a day.”

What have you learned about yourself during this writing process? What feels good to you? What surprised you? How has writing for 30 days changed you? 

I know I’m late in finishing this, but just getting it done late is better than never. It’s closing a loop in my head. And I think that’s important for me. Closing loops and I try to do that as much as possible now, even if it can take a long time for me to do so with some of them.

I also find that I need to think quite a bit before I can really figure out what to write. that I outline posts in my head better than spontaneously (how I’m writing during this post).

It’s also true that this has made me reflect more on me, on what I think, how I feel about myself and just what is inside. I do think about it, but writing really brings out what I really think better than anything else. Things look different on paper- or on the internet than in my head a lot of times.

And even though I haven’t been as consistent as I want to be, I really have made writing a habit and one I want to continue. I hope I can develop a skill of writing better and quickly at the same time.

Real Scientists 2016/03/20-26

I curated the @realscientists twitter account last week and it was a fun, intense, and more vulnerable experience than I would have thought.

I took over the account on Sunday morning and had a general idea of topics I wanted to do, though I ended up not fully sticking to the plan during the week. I knew I wanted to talk about mental health in academia, plant biology, talk about my life as a scientist and some of what my career ambitions are, a little bit about diversity, GMOs, and science communication.

This was pushing my comfort zone. Curating someone else’s account for a week– with 31,000 followers. The account presents real scientists and what they do, how we live, how we work. Despite 16 years in science, I don’t often feel like I am a real scientist. A frustrated one. One with not a ton of success. One that wants to step away from the lab bench into a editing/communications role, and one that has come back from some mentally dark places.

I wanted to curate well. I almost wanted to “win” realscientitsts…though mostly I just didn’t want to screw up. I didn’t want to anger the admins or the followers (which I did in one case- I apologized, but still feel a bit bad about it).

I had no idea my first day I’d end up starting my first ever trending hashtag: #AcademicSelfCare.

I storified it in two parts here (there may be some redundancy):

#AcademicSelfCare part 1

#AcademicSelfCare part 2

#AcademicSelfCare part 3

People shared all sorts of things, including Michael Eisen who just said: “Twitter. #AcademicSelfCare”. I can’t disagree after the outpouring I saw– it is heartening to know that despite physical isolation from each other, we are not alone in our experiences. I know social media can be a double-edged sword, but I am happy to say I didn’t see anything abusive or rancorous during my entire week of curation. Everything was respectful. Especially when talking about self-care.

@PhDpositivity even gave a graphic design to one of my tweets from later in the week:


It’s something I think is true– our own scientific training and habits can have negative effects on our mental health if we internalize them too deeply– true of a lot of things held too tightly.

People also shared links such as this list of resources for neurodiverse STEM workers.

And @kyra_schwarz shared this self-care cheatsheet that was popular:


A few people, but started by Jesse Shanahan (@Enceladosaurus) noted that all the self-care in the world may not be sufficient in light of a system that is harsh and unaccommodating (and seemingly increasingly so–affecting ever more of the STEM workforce). Self-care ideas can seem like lip service a lot of the time. It is good to see initiatives coming from institutions like the Royal Society (#AndAScientist) acknowledging that scientists are humans too and do need lives outside the lab, but at the same time, the Royal Society and other big institutions of science still define the world of science and there are definitely some bigger changes that could happen I think.

At the same time, I do think scientists sharing the fact that they do get down, that they have a hard time sometimes, that living with uncertainty is hard, that systemic inequities affect some scientists and they need coping mechanisms sometimes, does help in a small way at least. It builds a community of people with similar feelings. It acknowledges issues are widespread. That we are not alone (my rational brain knows that to be true. The emotional side fails to fully internalize that and I tend to feel isolated). It was impossible to feel alone on Twitter this last week with everyone sharing their self-care habits and routines, and how they think about their mental health and what helps. People responding were everyone from grad students to PIs. It was really heartening to see. I hope it helps someone that was just listening in on the discussion in some small way. And having all of this out in the open can help drive institutional change.

I know it can be hard to talk about mental health. We fear for our careers, fear it makes us seem weak (which it isn’t). But being vulnerable can really drive change. No one *has* to open up– that’s a decision everyone has to make for themselves. My story is enough in the past that I’m comfortable sharing pretty widely. When I first started to open up, it was a very small audience of people I felt close to. And it widened from there.

Another thing that came up when discussion #scicomm on Friday was just how important education, science communication, and other efforts to talk science outside (and probably even within) disciplines matters for doing actual science. These aren’t frivolous activities to scientists that do them. They are integral to their joy of science and of being a good scientist. It echoed the self-care discussion. I know blogging has helped me reignite my love of science– and for me, I like writing about other’s research rather than my own.

People also shared their #FavePlants too, which was fun to see a diversity of plants shared. Some of the stories were really personal, like planting trees when kids were born. Another resonant them on Saturday when talking about networking via internet were a number of meeting significant others, but also many, many career stories too.

@paleoblais also started #pancakerule. For things you screw up the first time but then get better at. Even if you are an experienced scientist, you do new things all the time.

That was my week and a few reflections curating realscientists. I am grateful for the experience even if it was intense and really pushed me into some new territory. I want to thank everyone that followed along with me too. Thanks for a good week,