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.




Enjoying Nature.

A friend of mine took me out to see the sunset the other night.

It was a gorgeous night.  But I was distracted. Not really present. Thoughts kept interfering. I have things to write. Stuff to learn, like coding and R stats. Things along these lines (superimposed on actual images of the sunset):


When people talk about the all consuming nature of working in science, this is what it looks like. Time away feels wasted. There’s never enough time spent. And especially as I’m trying to transition to a new career this year, down time feels like an unaffordable luxury. That even taking care of myself is impermissible too (and that one goes beyond just the sunset…I resent having to take time to go to the Dr.).

And it’s not as if I am exactly enjoying work either. I still feel burned out a lot of the time. Still, after a few hours, and eating something, this time lapse my friend Holly Pierce took is pretty incredible:

I know time away is important, but it’s hard to feel that it’s OK to take time away until I get my life more settled. I hope that happens, but it’s still hard to see how it happens. I hope there’s a time when I don’t feel like I’m burning my candle at both ends.



I love the Flash Forward Podcast. it’s fun exploring what different futures are like and then discussing them with people that know things about that field.

This week it was Robot teachers and whether that’s a good idea or not. After all, schools and teachers are much more than about learning.

There was one moment during this episode where I had a response that felt refreshing and relieving to hear. Host Rose Eveleth was talking about her attitude towards school, saying that she was ornery and if she felt an assignment were stupid, she just wouldn’t do it.

In that moment, I had a “wow, me too” feeling, as well as a moment of amazement at hearing someone say they are stubborn and can’t abide doing things they feel are stupid with such self-acceptance and confidence.

I’m like that in a lot of ways, except I feel extraordinarily bad about expressing it and feel bad that I have ornery reactions to things I think are stupid. I know sometimes it’s the adult thing to do to just suck it up and do stupid thing X anyway, and I did that in school with so many books/assignments.

It’s been awhile since I had a moment of deep-seated identification with someone else. I wish I was more comfortable just being my stubborn self more often.



Active Transition.

There’s no good sense of when I’m on my way to something good and sustainable in life.

At least when it comes to me assessing my career as I work to transition to ‘something’ new (that I would love to be in the writing and editing world if possible).

I’ve put a lot of energy into being a thoughtful writer, a better editor, and otherwise being a contributor to conversations I care about/have something to say about while learning as much as possible along the way.

In some ways, this focus on communication is utterly ridiculous and such a stupid thing to pursue given the economics of the media/writing/communications world right now. In some ways, it’s a golden age of science communication, which is a good thing, but at the same time it seems like everyone out there in the world is a talented communicator of science or trying to be. It feels like being a small fish in a big pond.

I’d rather be at least a bigger fish in the small pond. Or a small fish in a big, but yet mostly empty pond.

This year, more than any other, I think I’ve proven I can work with editors,  make deadlines, and actually interview people to some extent (I’ve done all three and am going to be doing more). It’s been sort of fun, but exhausting, pushing myself in these new directions. I still feel like I have a lot to learn.

I’ve even started pitching things places, or been offered to pitch places (which I need to do).

I do not want to go back to school unless absolutely necessary. My feeling is the only reason to do so would be to network. It almost seems as if that is what universities are for: expensive networking hubs, since we can learn a lot on our own with the internet these days. I know there’s more to unis than that, but it seems like increasingly they are ‘pay to access the next level’ (that may not pay off).

And as I gain experience in some new fields or just say yes to writing opportunities and make the content happen, it feels like I’m doing the work I actually really do enjoy doing and am getting tools to do it.

I’m not great at it, but I really enjoy graphic design/Photoshop/illustrator.

Transitions are hard and unfortunately take time. And they require a lot of input of energy into taking risks (or things that feel that way).

I do still have the Shawshank Redemption thought– can I make it on ‘the outside’? Beyond academia will be different, no doubt.

I’ve had a glimpse of just how different in the few job interviews I’ve had this year. There has been a drift toward that world. However, I also wonder if me working from home, largely on my own, might suit me best. It would be nice to have colleagues I see regularly.

What is true is that I am fighting pretty hard to gain experience in the professional world I want to occupy. Up to a point. I could join the National Association of Science Writers, and yet, I haven’t. I’m not sure that I really belong yet. I could network more- locally and nationally/internationally.

I actually do like being a member and getting involved in society activities. I’ve been doing digital communications at the Plant Biology conference the last few years. And this year will be no exception. I’m going to be even more ambitious this year than in year’s past.

Things seem to be happening. I don’t know where it’s all going, but there seems to be activity happening. May this transition land me on solid footing.




Too idealistic?

I found out I have 6 months left on my contract today.

I do want a new job, it’s just time.

Here is one fear I have: That I am too idealistic about how things work for the real world.

I’m kind of a romantic in that way.

I chose to put a lot of time into writing a science blog that I am trying to make as good as possible. the fact that I chose writing and editing seems a little far fetched given the job market in that world is at least as tight as it is in academia. And I still hope I can land a job in that world– the writing/editing/content creation world. It suits my personality pretty well I think.

Here’s to the search.

And if you would be willing to chat with me about what you do for a living, get in touch. I’d be fascinated to hear about it. There’s a lot I don’t know out there.

I hope by writing this, I’m putting something good out to the world, that the universe will conspire to take me to the next destination in my journey.

That I will grow into that new patch of light.


The road to ________.

I tend to be patient.

And I tend not to ask for much.

I’m starting to think both of those are problems.

I think I had a decent shot at a job recently, but the position was suspended, possibly eliminated. That’s frustrating, but I know it’s not uncommon.

I feel like I should plan some sort of grand adventure. I’ve kept myself very sheltered despite my, in theory, exciting life as a scientist. I’d like to visit a few other countries in the world, even if just a few places within them.

Mostly, I still have a long list of to-dos regarding networking, organizing my digital profile, and otherwise trying to connect with more people, though of course, genuinely.

I’m hope there’s more out there for me in life. I know it’s somewhat self-determined, but as I write about here a lot, connection doesn’t come easily to me and it feels like there’s just a lot that doesn’t get through my still very thick walls.

I hope I can still engage my mind in meaningful learning, reading, experiences, etc.

I’ve been frustrated that I keep seeming to need a career transition to happen before I truly start my life. I don’t know if this is just me, something that postdocs everywhere feel to some extent and I am just particularly sensitive to it or is this still mild depression keeping me back, keeping me from trying, making me have a high activation energy before I’ll do anything.

These are some of the thoughts that have been kicking around my tired brain the last few weeks. And I don’t seem to have answers. Nor any sudden wells of energy, perhaps driven by some larger purpose or goal.

One day at a time, I suppose, even though I am starting to feel like my days are limited.




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…