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?

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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,

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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.

 

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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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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Closing the gap.

I still see signs of depression in my brain. That’s hard for me to admit since I’ve been working to manage better for years. Lately, I feel exhausted and frustrated with myself though.

The National Institute of Mental Health has a list of symptoms and signs of depression (copied and pasted directly from the linked page and my evaluation for myself is indented):

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
    • What do I feel about things? I still feel anxious at times, but more than anything, I do have “empty” feelings. There’s emotion there, but it’s a null set, or at least that’s how it feels to me; it’s a perception problem. It’s like there’s an empty place in my chest (and I know, that’s not where feelings come from).
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
    • These have intensified recently. I really question if I can improve my skills, have I been learning? I only have a limited lifetime, so just when does hopefulness and optimism become more default?
    • Can life get better? my honest answer is “probably not” right now, at my best it’s a “maybe”.
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
    • Yes, yes, and yessish…this last one is where I feel it sometimes, but know there are things I can do and actually do do sometimes. Am I improving, growing? The feeling I have is one of being stagnant.
  • Irritability, restlessness
    • Kinda…yes. especially the former.
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
    • What do I enjoy doing? And am I doing those things? Often no. It always seems like the effort and time are crushing constraints. And it feels like anything I do isn’t fun/pleasurable, exactly, it’s just something I do.
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
    • Yes, and yes. This may be getting less sleep, but I rarely feel energetic or excited.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
    • Yes, possibly (I don’t seem to care about details in too many situations), and yes, decision making is still really hard for me; even small ones.
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
    • I am up past midnight most nights, I wake up around 5am most mornings, try to sleep til 6 at least or 7…then the cat insists I get up to feed him.
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
    • I have eaten less this year. I think I’ve lost weight, though I haven’t stepped on a scale lately.
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
    • Unfortunately, yes. the former. They’re not insistent, nor do I take them at face value; they’re thoughts that come up and I dismiss them as temporary, fleeting, but my sense is healthy people do not have these thoughts. And they aren’t thoughts I would act on.
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
    • Unsure on this one. It is perfectly possible. I have aches, pains, headaches, and more; but that may be due to exercise and not taking the best care of myself.

So given these signs, how can I say I’m doing better? I still feel like there’s a gap between reality and my perceived reality. Making time for meditation/mindfulness may help; it’s something I’ve gotten away from the last few months. And how do I experiment more to figure out how to get myself into feeling better?

I need to think about it more.

But this assessment just goes to show the the road from feeling crushingly depressed is a long one. I’m not completely under its false narratives anymore, but still haven’t totally given way to new ways of thinking, cultivating a healthier mindset.

The component I’m missing may well be social too. I need to interact more with other people, the world, engage in real life with fellow human beings. I do this in fits and starts now, but I hope I can do it more often. I am still scared of spreading my depression to someone else. Trust me, I don’t wish the depressive thinking pattern on anyone.

I know things take time. But it is frustrating to realize I still have these feelings, even a year after feeling like I’d made a lot of progress. And in some ways I have, really. I am better at recognizing and addressing my depressive thinking in my own brain.

And I am more anxious than ever about being open about it (hello insurance cos and potential employers! I’m self-disclosing medical info! But you know, it shows I’m a bold person…so that’s good, right?). But here I am, showing up, telling the internet how I am doing. I hope it helps someone.

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Is change possible? (for me).

No.

I don’t know.

Maybe.

I want to believe.

Yes. And it has been happening.

But outwardly, it’s all still the same.

I don’t seem to know answers to basic questions. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

Yes, no, maybe.

Still a big work in progress.

I’m a scientist taught to question everything and never be fully sure about anything, even with data. Mission accomplished.

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