On Standby.

My writing brain has been broken lately.

Maybe more than just my writing brain. My capacity to engage has been low for the last few months. Everything feels heavy, like it’s an obligation, and voices that used to work to bring me out

I’ve felt stuck in what other people think, my own perfectionism about what to write about and whether I can do a subject justice or not, whether I can do sufficient research for a post, etc.

I’m paralyzed and basically refuse to pitch ideas, I’m just so certain none of my ideas are that good, that I’m not that good. Or that I’m not up to the challenge of writing well enough.

I just read Randal Munroe’s brilliant essay in The New Yorker explaining Einstein’s scientific contributions using the ten-hundred most common words in the English language, which is a bit of a contrast to what would normally appear in the New Yorker that may be associated with $20 words. That said, good writing communicates complex ideas in the most straight-forward way possible. In that sense, Munroe’s essay fits perfectly there (Munroe is also the person behind the great web comic XKCD).

My brain acts as a black hole. Ideas pop up, seem good, but then disappear, get buried in gravity of questioning them, even if I write them down. There’s no drive to get them out there.

There seems to be a chasm opening, a crack on the wall. On one side, is the me that’s vital and vibrant and the other is the one that seems most visible to others. The drab, the dull, the dis-engaged. The exhausted. The aimless. The dispassionate (that I know means rational/cool as well as emotionless, but I feel the latter).

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has an entry nodus tollens, the realization that the plot of your life no longer makes sense to you.

Very little makes sense to me. Everything makes me feel worse, it seems, despite trying to be efficient, close loops, improve my skills, etc.

What’s missing? Part of it is still the feeling of not being connected to a community, or that I’m not good at building that in my life, or even speaking. I like writing, but am not yet really a paid writer. I like science and education, but don’t feel like either.

Where do I fit? What community do I belong to? How can I bring some enjoyment back? Does my narrative make sense? Can I communicate with people, especially through writing (b/c it’s my preferred medium)?

The dream would be to publish an article in the New Yorker or similar, I think, or feel? I am no longer sure which way growth lies.

 

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ineluctable.

I recently learned the word inelcutable.

It has the same latin root as reluctant. Luctari, or “to struggle”.

The word means unavoidable or inescapable. The inelcutable sunrise.

I heard it on an NPR radio show ‘A Way With Words’ all about language. and the way it was described, when I heard it, really struck me. I was tired and it was 6:30am when I heard it, so the first thing I had to do was to figure out what the word was. I didn’t get it at first, but luckily in this era of podcasts, I found the episode and the word a few days later.

It brought up for me the frustrations I’m having being a postdoc, trying to figure out how to have a career beyond it and just the sense that for me,  it seems that a lack of change is ineluctable.

I’ve been working to manage depression and do other things to improve life. Be present. Meditate. Exercise. Learn new things via the growth mindset. Take risks. Get out of my comfort zone. I have done a lot of these things and maybe I need to do it more, or better, or differently, but not much has changed. And that’s frustrating. I am still trying, but it still feels like outward change is simply not possible.

I am writing more. I am engaged in several fun side projects and I am trying to learn some new things too. And I think I’m networking.

There was a discussion on Twitter yesterday about how academics rely too much on external validation, don’t act on our own intuition, and are risk averse/not resilient.

The first two are true of me, certainly. I have tried to cultivate my own internal sense of intuition and to trust myself more, but still have a long way to go and may need to be out of academia to really instill that in myself. Risk aversion is still true of me…except when I’m talking openly about depression on the internet (which may not be a real risk, just plain stupid…seems to be a fine line). I live in fear of becoming someone obsolete, just eking by…which I kind of do now, but it feels better than that. I do live rather minimally, but aspire to more.

Resilience is something I think I may actually have. I (so far) have successfully been managing depression and slowly coming back to life from having stalled a few years ago. I still feel grey and not vital, with an internal drive for life, experiences, enjoyment, etc. but one reason I’m anxious for change is so that maybe a new place will spark that in me again (I know, I’ll always be carrying my own brain, which may be problematic).

I still think academia is not the best place for good mental health (unless you’ve made tenure, perhaps). And leaving may be the best thing for my soul. I don’t want to ever feel the ineluctable conclusion is figuring out how to remove myself from the gene pool. And I still feel too close to that thinking. And that is scary to me. And while I hope I’m alone in thinking that about myself, I’m sure there are other academics that may be thinking along similar lines and that is why I write this blog. We’re not alone.

Despite frustration. I still am not giving up. I don’t know why. I do have some people that still care about me, for one, and I still feel like I can be useful…somewhere. Maybe a connection I make, maybe something I write, taking a chance. I think I’m willing to do the work. I just also need to pair it with a life as well. I hope that that is an ineluctable outcome.

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Network.

I attended the Innovation to Venture (I2V) one day conference at the University of Vermont today. It’s an event designed for networking, but also to highlight successful startups, technology licensing, and patents awarded to UVM students and faculty.

I was there to mostly observe and see just what the world of venture capitla, start-ups, entrepreneurship, and tech transfer are like. It felt alien in a lot of ways. It is also true that it often takes a team of people to bring a product to market. And a lot of luck sometimes.

Everyone I interacted with was friendly. I got to sit at the round table with a chief scientific officer and keynote speaker who waited 15 years to really see her vision for a company become reality (Aratana pharma– PETX on NASDAQ; a company making medicines for pets/animals, now a big market; and potentially, I imagine drugs developed for pets can translate into human medicines at times too).

It’s a world of work that I am utterly not familiar with. She consulted for years, ran clinical trials and did licensing contracts to bring technology from one market into another. Hearing about all of this still seems abstract to me. I have a hard time exactly concretely seeing what the work is like. Finding people to execute all of the proper steps is what is mostly sounded like.

I also sat at a table talking about pitching and pitch decks…basically how do you introduce your product to market. I got put on the spot to give an elevator pitch and I did for my science blog and what I’d be asking for (not money in this case…yet…just subscribers to my still hypothetical email newsletter). It was OK, but something I am really not used to doing. And of course, I ran up against my nemesis as an introvert: enthusiasm that seems brash, loud, falsely enthusiastic, very salesly.

It’s OK to sell things, but it’s not natural for me to do it in that loud way. If enthusiasm and flare are the way to sell things, I may be in trouble. It’s not that I’d be any less passionate about what I pitch, but I’d just prefer to do it in a quieter way, if possible.

And of course, the secret to networking is just connecting, asking, being curious, and of course preparing as much as possible. I didn’t have the chance to really prepare for this event. I am still glad I went to meet the vibrant community of Vermont entrepreneurs, inventors, tech transferrers. Burlington is a really pleasant kind of city too.

I don’t know if there’s a place for me in that world. I might be able to help in the tech transfer process, I suppose. I still feel like writing about or telling/teaching the stories of the people in the room suits my skills and interests better (not a humble brag about how I’m a great writer/storyteller). Or maybe even helping people manage their lives more effectively.

I’ll keep exploring and hopefully land in a place that works for me. Where I can grow, learn, and do more, and hopefully have a life too.

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The answer to life, the universe, and everything (not really).

I’ve been quiet here lately. But I’ve had things going on. Go check out my other blog The Quiet Branches where I write about plant science each week– it’s been a fun project. Then it has also been a crazy few months in the lab trying to meet several deadlines. And I’ve been taking more online classes. One in learning R and statistics…it’s only going OK on that front. The time it takes to concentrate and truly internalize everything is probably more than I actually have, but I think I am picking up a few things at least. 

I need a career and to feel like I have a life. It’s been really hard to sense that I do have a life even though I know the mere passage of time that I am aware of is life.

I realize I’m not entitled to anything. I am grateful for what I have. This is a call for more humanity out there. It may be there. I just can’t detect it because of where I am or maybe I have faulty sensors. I find it sometimes though.

I’ve been thinking a lot about work and how I really want to carve out a space to not make it all of who I am anymore. In fact, it cannot be all that I am anymore. That will kill me. I am more than my work.

Setting that boundary is difficult and doesn’t seem all that acceptable in the world of work today. Companies/employers are not your friend. And will basically take whatever they can get from you of value. And they don’t care what your life is outside of work so long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.

I’m sure I’m not the first to notice the blurred lines of work and life in modern times. And it seems like there is little slack for life events these days as a lot of us try to do as much as possible to prove our worth. At Tenure She Wrote, @SciTriGrrl wrote a post a few weeks ago about time management and carving out time for people that priorities at work that are truly important.

Prioritize until it hurts is something I’ve heard entrepreneurs say.

Hustle.

Everything will be OK…unless something goes wrong.

Perhaps it’s possible to work through that fever.

The science must go on.

In the entertainment/creative/pro-sports industries, they work sick all the time I hear. Unless you really can’t get out of bed, your’e at work. At least in those industries, they have brief periods of intensity and then they’re off for a time until the next job comes along and it’s intense again for a period of time. I’m not sure science is quite like that.

 

If you can’t get out of bed due to illness for a day or two…maybe you’re not cut out for being in that industry.

Now let’s say it’s not the flu, but depression or other mental illness that you’re working to manage. Or imagine a sick kiddo and need to stay home with them. I fear the mantra of “you only have value if you work” is the only acceptable way to have value in today’s world (at least in the US). It’s OK until some challenging thing happens and knocks you out of the game, no matter how resilient a person you are.

It’s like species being able to adapt to climate change. Some species undoubtedly will be fine and adapt quickly enough to the rate of change.

Others. Not so much.

Internal value doesn’t matter. The fact that I am enriching myself by reading ,writing, learning stats/R/coding at some level despite the fact that I’ll never likely be a master of any of it, trying to socialize more, being a decent person, helping friends do things. I hope these things are valuable. But fear they’re not. In and of themselves, they don’t produce money and therefore are not valuable.

I am exploring career options beyond academia and it’s really jarring to deal with the fact I feel like I’m basically killing all the training I have and starting completely over again. I know I’ll bring something of what I’ve learned to whatever I go on to do, but worry it’s not enough, never will be, and that basically ,I am useless. I really try not to think that way because obviously it leads nowhere good. At the least, it makes me beat myself up. At worst…

It is a hard mental habit to break.

I have to find evidence to reject the null hypothesis that I am not lifeless.

If the goal is to prove your’e so valuable and in demand that you never have to worry about anything ever, do you get to take breaks? Ask for help? Or is asking for help saying you can’t do things on your own, acknowledging humanity, and there’s just not room for that in the world. Humanity is not valuable.

Except that it is, of course. Why are we working except to keep humanity going. Even for-profit industry has a component of providing a service to the world.

Look like your’e interested, but not too interested, you don’t want to seem desperate, but also not completely aloof either. Where’s the right line? When do you cross it?

All the above thoughts indicates that I probably need to socialize more with close friends. Vacation. Something restorative I haven’t had in quite awhile. Being human in front of another human, not a robot.

I want a pub trivia team to go out with and have fun. And I haven’t been able to build one so far. But it will be a part of my life some how. Until then, I have Good Job, Brain at least.

What is it I do that no one else can? I freely admit my struggles on the internet…that I’m human. I don’t think I’m alone or remarkable for that. I hope I’m not alone in my thoughts. I have learned to manage my depression, which is not nothing, but again, I don’t think anyone actually cares about that.

I can write a lot of words.

I can listen. I can synthesize ideas, edit writing, and think about the bigger picture as well as sweat details. Perhaps sweating details way too much. I think things through and am deliberate (which I honestly do not feel is of any value in the fast-paced world of today).

I can take a lot of punishment and push myself hard when needed, but certainly need recovery time too. I’m human. I’m sorry if that’s an inconvenience for the world.

Just where do I fit? What exactly do I need to get there?

I’m in the science-verse (but note, not at the center):

The science verse is big. I hear there is something beyond it, but it's a horizon that doesn't feel open to me right now. Is there an invisible black hole holding me in the science-verse? So much within it I haven't explored either.
The science verse is big. I hear there is something beyond it, but it’s a horizon that doesn’t feel open to me right now. Is there an invisible black hole holding me in the science-verse? So much within it I haven’t explored either.

What is beyond? I am trying to see and navigate that way. I just hope I can land there, realize there’s some slack in the line where I can work hard, but have a life outside too (my cat demands it…and having time to do taxes is important too). Heck, even staying somewhere in the vast science-verse would be OK with me. I just feel my value lies not at the bench, but in helping others do great work.

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Enough.

Today was a pretty bad day. Experiment went wrong, must set it up again ASAP even if it means losing sleep and weekends, breaking any boundaries I’ve set. And it’s the kind of thing where I am not fully sure what went wrong; seeds just germinated horribly that had worked OK before. At least I solved the one problem I had previously: no contamination.

Still, hard to deal with a sudden blow…and to think I’d woken up feeling pretty good. Even the snow today (even more than the Juno winter storm the other week) didn’t phase me. I was up at 5am, trying to sleep until my alarm, but also day dreaming about an ideal job in my mind (and a rather specific one). it doesn’t actually exist so far as I know…so still in the realm of fantasy, but it was the first time in a long time where I thought ‘that wouldn’t be so bad…I think I’d love that if it were real; or even if something like it were & it’s something I feel I could do). You’ll have to ask me privately for details if you care.

But today was hard. I skipped the gym, am going to sit down and dig into this neglected MOOC tonight, and be back in lab early tomorrow morning to set up this experiment again tomorrow night, late…skipping the gym again, most likely.

Part of it is distraction, but some of it is still the feeling of not enough, why bother because change may happen, but it doesn’t happen in big ways…at least to me, because I’m just built wrong some how, maybe? Defective human walking.

This whole day was a test of what I wrote about yesterday, vulnerability (indeed, it’s  a theme of this blog; I’m me here). And asking if I’m enough. Today, I didn’t feel like enough.That I lack focus and direction of my own, that I am still trying to stay small. I hope I can rise to this occasion. And others. And yet I do not feel I sufficiently push myself. Part of it is distraction, but some of it is still the feeling of not enough, why bother because change may happen, but it doesn’t happen in big ways…at least to me, because I’m just built wrong some how, maybe? Defective human walking.

How many potential jobs have I explored? Not many. If any. I do not feel like enough.

PIs are chosen for their clever, and visionary research

I was listening to the ‘You are Not So Smart’ podcast, one of my favorites; all about cognitive biases and self-delusions we humans fall prey to. This episode was about the halo effect, where halos get cast over other traits besides the one being measured. If someone is amazing at something, a halo develops around them that they must also be good at many other related things. A possible extreme example is academia. PIs are chosen for their clever, and visionary research and the halo effect says they must also be great at managing people, teaching, mentoring, service work, etc. even though all they have demonstrated is ability to do clever research. It’s not that they won’t learn or can’t do those other things, but the halo is there and it biases us. Ben Lillie’s partial list of things scientists are expected to be great at that are also full time jobs may be a good example.

Because scientists do wear many hats, it can be hard to narrow down to just one when exploring work outside academia. it can still seem like every employer wants superman/woman….who can do everything well (even this isn’t quite right in reality; obviously, someone qualified is important, but to begin, just do the job you’re hired for). It also cuts the other way and can make careers outside the academy seem plain and boring…just writing? just experiments? BOOORING!). For the record, I don’t find a career outside the academy boring anymore. Just still hard to envision an exact spot for myself in a new world (and it really does seem like a new, unfamiliar, world).

I am not superman. I am not great at all the things. I want to be good at something. A few somethings even (am I? I don’t even know…I rarely proclaim I’m great at anything ever because that is almost certainly a falsifiable statement and it’s not hard to likely find someone better). And have a person to help me with the rest. Accountants, a suit guy, perhaps…I’ll be here writing. Speaking up about depression & mental health in academia, being vulnerable and open on the Internet (good for me or not…), not giving up, teaching or linking people with new ideas, or putting science into terms more people can understand, showing up. And I hope I can make a real contribution to the world. Make a living/keep myself fed, etc. yes, but that is not my sole motive in life…I kind of wish it was in some ways…then the direction would be easier.

Maybe one day the switch will flip and I will simply be able to say without doubt or negotiation, “I am enough”.

I have worked hard to not cast a negative halo. I worry so much about being a ‘cooler’. Holding others back. If anything, I hope that is something I have accomplished, despite this post that’s making me pretty emotional.

Back to trying to learn more. Do more. Be more. Maybe one day the switch will flip and I will simply be able to say without doubt or negotiation, “I am enough”.

Ever on and on.

 

 

 

 

PS- I was excited today about my new planner/notebook…I think I’m really going to like using it. And the #Scinema today, #GradhogDay, made me happy.

Daring Greatly/comfort zones.

The NPR show “On Being” re-ran their interview with Brene Brown.

For those not familiar with her work, it’s all about vulnerability, shame, and trying to live in a more whole-hearted way, or those that don’t ever question whether they are ‘enough’.

Her work, along with a few others that hit similar themes really does resonate with me. And it’s been not small part of better managing depression. And her work is not ‘just be positive, and things will work out’…it’s perfectly possible that anything anyone tries will not actually work or go well.

I was listening to the interview this morning and wondering if I’ve truly been pushing myself to “Dare Greatly” the last few years, or have I only really put myself on the line in small ways, ways that don’t really matter, that are harmless to me. Have I been vulnerable? On one level, I suppose so. Because of this blog, I have been open about dealing with depression. On other things, not so much. I still seem to have a really hard time exposing myself to the world (though I am a little better than I once was, for sure). I don’t know that I really show love to people I care about or have feelings for all that well; I still tend to hide that (with some exceptions for really close friends of mine). I haven’t been able to really stick myself out there professionally either, though I did a little bit more of that last year perhaps.

It’s a mixed bag, but it’s a question I keep asking myself. Do I feel like enough? Deep down, I still don’t. It’s still negotiable whether I am worthy or not in my head. And that is a problem. It does make it harder to extend myself, to develop more. I’m not sure how to get there. And I’m open to suggestions.

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Reminder.

I can do this*. (you can too)§.

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*Not perfectly. Maybe not even great. But I’m in the arena. I am showing up .

§You can do it too. Better than me most likely. Just know you can contribute to the world in both small and big ways. Show up. Try. Learn. Try again. And not in everything. Decline some things. Choose others. Good luck.