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):

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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.

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Writing is life.

A few weeks ago, Lisa Munro wrote “Writing as Self-care” on her blog and this follow-up on focusing/actually writing when you dedicate time to doing it.

Jennifer Polk also referred to the Lisa’s post in her latest University Affairs column.

And it’s exactly right (write?). Prioritizing writing means prioritizing yourself and that is hard for a lot of people, including me. One of the biggest things I say about depression is that it makes it that much harder to consider yourself a priority.

I’ve often thought of it this way: it’s not even necessarily that I’m not a priority, it’s just that everyone else is more of a priority than I am.

In academia, and many other competitive fields, there need to be at least some moments of self-prioritization, otherwise careers and other things can stagnate.

In some ways, I’m doing better at saying I belong on Earth, being a person and trying to be OK taking up space.

I started this blog because I had nothing else going well in my life at the time. Writing has done more for my mental health than almost anything else. I’m trying to transition into a job where I get to write a lot for my job (that isn’t the traditional tenure-track academia). My science blog has done pretty well in its first year, beyond my expectations.

Writing is not just priority for me, even though the last few months it’s gotten harder to maintain a daily practice. And I need to make it more of a habit as well as incorporating the trappings that go along with writing: research, graphics/art, and editing (ideally separating those tasks in time).

Writing is life.

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Getting Convinced.

Last month I was really depressed. I was burned out. I wasn’t excited to do the things that people do. The dark thoughts were there.

Unfortunately, a lot of that is still true this month. I’ve been taking steps to mitigate these feelings. I’ve kept going, despite not wanting to. And there are projects that I am making progress on. It’s slowly moving me towards a better version of life, but I still am not able to break out of the depressive thinking– at least not fully.

I submitted a manuscript. I’m not excited about it, though.

I co-wrote an article for the National Postdoc Association Newsletter. I’m a little more excited about that.

I wrote one of my more ambitious posts on Quiet Branches, linking the past to the present. I sought input from an author of a study and did a lot more research than I have put in the past. I’m pretty proud of it.

And I got asked to have my blog brought into a blog network, which is exciting. It does feel validating, that maybe I am a “real” science writer.

I went to the Future of Research Conference for a day in Boston, which was really good. I networked! (I got a free book on storytelling in scientific publications from Rafael Luna of Harvard Med School!). I’m glad I took a long day to go.

I even applied for something, putting together a cover letter, resume, and a writing sample in a few hours. Whether I get the gig or not, I feel like putting that together that quickly is real progress.

These are the good things that happened last month and a half. I’m sure there are others, but as you can see, a lot of them still revolve around work, side projects (that I do love), and little outside of that.

How do I move forward from here? Where do I go? I’m still frazzled.

I’ve tried taking care of myself better with some success. I’m not exercising enough, running hasn’t happened other than a few short runs and one short race on a perfect fall day.

And as both commenters to my last blog post here noted, this is a long battle. Self-compassion matters. Having access to a therapist is important too (I am lucky in this regard). And taking time off, which I have done a bit of, feels more like my body telling my brain to take a break. And I even have a tiny in-real-life social life.

I have gotten better about asking for things and I don’t really fear rejection in most contexts, it’s just something that I find likely to occur still and am pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t.

Hopefully, I am learning. I hope I’m putting better content into my brain than bad. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say. It doesn’t help that the garbage can come from inside my own brain at times.

Am I just being busy for the sake of busy? Am I just distracting myself from what I should be doing? Am I just stubborn (tenacious maybe the more positive spin on that)? These are questions I keep asking myself.

Life goes on. I am trying to keep up. And keep swimming.

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Ian 3.0, stalled? or just slow?

I’m frustrated with myself for not making Ian3.0 happen already. I’ve been working on various projects around communicating science (have you seen The Quiet Branches?), getting involved in voicing my views on the biomedical workforce and diversity  (still a topic I’m learning more about– I will probably never say I’m an expert on it, but it’s been good to listen and learn as a moderator for the Diversity Journal Club. And there’ve been some minor successes of science too.

I’ve even started to learn some new things, trying to extend myself a little bit at least. Writing, Adobe Creative Cloud software, statistics, R, command line code, science communication & story telling, more are on my list too. I’m not sure I’m rapidly progressing in any of them.

Then there are the things I fall down on. Feeling organized, feel energized, motivated, and excited about life. And I’ve basically failed to find a ton of joy in anything. Sleeping has been hard. Staying on top of everything has gotten harder, though I feel good that I’m pushing myself in some ways on that front; doing to many things may mean I’m building skills (& hopefully not busy for the sake of busy).

It is hard to tell. Could I be more productive? More on top of things? Smarter about work? Do I still need to talk to more of the right people? Yes. I’ve averaged 1 information interview each month this summer.  And yet I seem to insist on a glacial pace of doing things. I feel like I react more than calmly respond lately too.

I think I have a future. That wasn’t true a year or so ago. And I still get flashes of the depressive mindset. A way of thinking that doesn’t work well.

I’m at least a little satisfied with the work I’ve done, even if it is all small-scale, informal, and perhaps nothing to write home about to most people (referring to my writing and content creation on the internet). I hope I’m building something good for my future. Because I do like the quieter activities in life. Writing, reading, researching, creating content quietly in my apartment.

I just hope it leads somewhere. I hope I’m more often successfully managing my depression than not, though again, it’s really hard to tell. I go back to “I don’t have anything in particular to be really depressed about”; though feeling stuck may be sufficient. Most of the people I know are all undergoing transitions this year it seems. Am I going to remain stagnant again? Doing the things I do, but it leading nowhere in particular because I’m too what? Slow? Stubborn? Depressed? Anxious?

Change is inevitable, and maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. It’s just frustrating thinking of possibilities, sort of seeing them, but then my brain seems to refuse to take steps towards making them actually happen. Something that’s in the air lately is the idea of working hard, hustling, to eventually make it. I appreciate being able to do something quickly and move onto the next thing, but I also seem to require deliberation, consideration, before moving forward.

On her Talk Nerdy podcast this week, Cara Santa Maria  this week had on Marga Gual Soler, a science diplomat working at AAAS. She’s a molecular biology Ph.D. that got into her new role by asking (it’s worth listening to). Something I’m still not good at doing. And in a way, this is exactly the muscle I’m trying to build. Ask myself things like “Maybe I could make a version of that?”, “Can I ask that person for something?”, “Why not me?”.

Hopefully writing out some of these thoughts will help me take action and move towards a better system that works for me. To get me to Ian 3.0.

The worst. And the slightly hopeful.

My self-critical voice is still pretty strong. And still works too well.

The joke I use as the founding principle of this blog still rings true to me. I’m exactly how not to be a postdoc, or how to live life. I’ve been trying to do the opposite, or at least try new things the last few years. To some little effect, at least.

I’ve shared my view on the world from a lens of introversion, depression, and hopefully realistic optimism and openness, as terrifying as that is sometimes.

I don’t feel successful, even by my own internal standards. Things are generally better than worse in my own little world, but I am still feel early on in building my career, and yet i’m almost 38. I’m still trying to figure out how to feel like a pro at something. To feel somewhat confident, even in the face of learning new things constantly, or trying to.

I started from where I was. Depressed, anxious, feeling alone in the world, without hope.

Since I started this blog in late 2011, I have much more effectively treated my depression. I’ve tried taking up new hobbies, actually taken days off, and tried to focus on a growth mindset. And practice gratitude and self-compassion.

I tweet a lot. I still find it fun. And this year, I started a science blog which has been a lot of fun, even if it’s starting fairly small. And I feel like I have a career direction I’d like to go in, even if it still seems like a long shot to me. I keep asking, shouldn’t I be further along by now?

I have a vague sense of opportunities that might exist. I say yes a lot more. But then, I feel like I say no a lot too; and possibly in dumb ways and too often from a place of anxiety, rather than feeling excited about something.

I still worry about my energy level sometimes. I feel like the list of “essential” skills is long and I’m still at the beginning of learning, as expert as I might be in some areas. And I still worry I have not built enough effective habits.

Giving myself credit is still hard. Being optimistic (as an “early career” academic especially) is also hard. But I need to hope. Doom and gloom isn’t a healthy place to come from.

I hope I can still improve. I hope life gets even better, though I know there are no guarantees.

The feelings are complex. And as I found with starting this blog, becoming a bit vulnerable, I know I’m not alone. And in the end, that keeps me going.

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Blank pages.

I feel like I’ve been crossing things off this year. And I have a lot of blank pages to fill. To figure out.

I don’t think I want to be an academic anymore; not the PI route. I’m not sure I’m cut out for it and of course, it’s always been a tough job that seems even harder now. Plus, even if I were to succeed, something I’ve come to care about a bit is diversity. And in academia, I simply can’t contribute to it, period (no matter how much of an ‘ally’ I am).

Of course, it’s unclear that there’s anywhere I could go where I’d actually add diversity. Of course, I hope there’s such a thing as an expanding economic pie or growth in opportunities (I think at least some of the problems in academia stem from the limited opportunities there, driving unhealthy competition; it’s a lack of growth in the sector leading to stagnant demography; and yes, of course unconscious bias exists to make it even worse), otherwise there will always be people left out. And I still do need a job. Everyone does (that wants one or can do one, that is; anyone not working needs to be taken care of too…not unto ourselves alone are we born). (and yes, I know, my problems don’t really matter in this area).

I’ve explored consulting a little bit. I don’t think it’s for me. Maybe there’s a firm out there that’s the right fit for me and would have a role for me like doing some technical writing or data analysis, but I don’t think I’d do well being a boots on the ground consultant.

The startup world fascinates me. I even went to a conference all about Intellectual property and tech transfer, which is a cool world too, but again, my inner sense just told me this wasn’t for me either. Again, it’s not something I’ll write off entirely, but I just don’t see how I fit or how I can help contribute to that world.

The last few years, I’ve been writing. This blog, my new(ish) Quiet Branches blog. I’ve been guest blogging for the ASPB every so often and have the honor again of being able to officially cover the conference via social media and blogging (along with a team). I really like doing it. I love being a curator, telling the story of a day at a conference. I think I’ve learned from last year just how much better I should be able to do that too. After all, there are a lot more tweeters at the conference than ever before. Note how this is a longer paragraph than the previous two. It probably means I’m excited about doing this kind of work. The gathering of information and trying to make sense of it into a good narrative. Telling the stories of science. And the scientists that do it. And telling the world about it. I believe every journal needs a blog dedicated to its content (I know many already do).

It also seems like the most impractical path ever. Is there a career in it? I don’t really know. We hear a lot about how journalism is dead, writing is going by the wayside as a profession and anything to do w/ human communication will be done by a computer in a few years. I don’t want to be cynical. I think I’d like being a writer/editor. I had a nice moment on Twitter a few weeks ago…I noted a correction that needed to be made (a minor one) to a story by a journalist I really like. I get a rush out of editing copy and helping people tell their stories (ed note: this blog post will not be highly edited).

I also like being an educator. Or at least feeling like one. And even though I don’t generally know a lot about how it works, genuinely educating people about things is a part (I would hope a big part) of marketing. I could see myself in a role like that as well.

So, have I done things to move in this seemingly fraught and stupid career direction I seem to be ineluctably moving toward? Yes, but perhaps not enough, maybe never enough. Whatever I go on to do, and it will be something (I’ve at least jettisoned the idea that there’s nothing out there for me), I hope it’s not another academia. I just hope I can do to the point where I’ll actually grow and thrive, not remain super stagnant.

The thing that’s always frustrated me about my own brain (besides depression) is that it thinks. A lot. Decisions don’t come quickly. I think about a lot of aspects of things, I don’t consult people enough (been correcting that lately, perhaps). And it can get me down. But they’re also precisely the things that I think make writers good a lot of the time. Things percolate. Sometimes there are quick stories,but often times there aren’t. Things take time. Thinking, re-writing, editing, trying again, are all part of it. And it’s something I like doing (I know there aren’t necessarily jobs that follow ‘what I like’).

I’ve fought against myself for a long time. I’m happier when I am able to embrace a bit more of what I gravitate towards, at least. And that is new. Also, stating what I like is fairly new to me too. I’m what would be described as an ‘old soul’ I think.

My career still feels full of blank pages. As does my life. And my brain. I still have vestiges of depression too that make me feel empty inside too. But slowly, I’m eliminating things that don’t make sense, and I hope populating my mind with worthwhile things. Things that are important to me.

So if you’re looking for a writer/blogger/editor/educator/marketer with a science background, get in touch. Maybe we can work together.

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Life metaphors and narratives.

I’ve been challenged (keeping the by who vague for now) to write a blog post talking about a narrative, a story I tell myself to help me along as I try to become more of a blogger/science writer/editor/informal science educator of some kind, likely beyond academia, but not necessarily so.

And the challenge is to come up with a positive narrative, one that has challenges and obstacles, but not one that is self-limiting and stifling. I’ve been there and done that narrative, and it doesn’t work well.

Is academia like Shawshank Penitentiary? Yes, it kind of is. And I am trying to crawl through the tunnel out into the clean rain on the other side, and pray I’m not like Brooks, unable to make it on the outside.

For awhile, I’ve felt like I’ve been trying to swim to the surface but I’m being held down by a large squid, each arm an aspect of life that I have to take on, but there are so many of them and each time I take care of one, there’s another one there…hard to get free. Or to go after the squid itself for some reason.

One, more positive, narrative is that I’ve gotten away from is Ian 3.0. Treating myself as software that upgrades over time with all the right skills (of course, I wonder how many of us have software on our computers we don’t use often, or that we don’t use to its fullest extent or become full masters of no matter if we use it regularly or not.

However, the one I’m going to explore is that of running an ultra-marathon, Something I have never done (best I did was a half marathon). It takes training, and grit to do something like that and the fact that I’m still here, after going through a deep depression, still showing up, starting a science blog and spreading the word about it. Hitting publish each week, even if I know each one is not the best work I could possibly do. I hope I’m getting better as time goes on.

I have helped staff an aid station at one ultra-marathon, and it’s the kind of event that relies on having friends and staff to account for racers along their way. I think runners go through more than one pair of shoes, and their friends/staff leave aid packs strategically along the way, at least for some of the runners.

And that is what I need more than anything. Connections with others, and being able to ask them for things/help/encouragement to keep going. And of course, having a staff to track me well along the way would be useful too.

I have been running for awhile, I may be halfway to a finish line that would mean a new job, new life, a better place for me. I am tired. I have a lot of trail to navigate still.

I fear that any step I take towards a new career also means stepping away from having a life outside of work. I hope that’s not really true. I want to experience things outside the world that is the career race and I hope that it’s still possible to explore beyond work. I can’t see them really in opposition, because that will always cause problems.

I hope I have a network of people I can ask things of to help get me to the finish line. I am a lot less hesitant to ask for things, though I still feel like I could do more in that regard. I know I can’t do it all alone and that indeed I am not alone.

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