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.

Self Talk, Introversion, and Getting it all to Work Out.

I’m still searching for my next job.

There’s been some progress, but becoming a full time science writer still feels like a remote goal. Even becoming a medical writer.

Learning the craft of editing has been good. It’s one of those things that the more I do it, the more I like it. However, liking something doesn’t mean that it’s a way to make a living. However, through the writing I have done, and the editing I have gotten to do, the feeling I get is that I am helping the best version of a piece to emerge. And I really like bringing things to people’s attention they may not have learned about otherwise. I like curating..

However, being a shy introvert in the world of job searching and interviewing and constantly asking/networking/information interviewing gets exhausting.

The joke I’ve made over the years about this blog is that it will tell you what not to do in life, showing you the example not to follow.

My self-talk has been brutal lately. The steps I’m supposed to take are murky, at best. It’s not that people haven’t been friendly or nice, they have. I’m working to build my new career and have been for awhile.

This is my resume:

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I am almost convinced anyone else could take it and land a job quickly. I’m not suggesting you steal my identity, but it’s just that I’ve been trying to break out of being a postdoc for years and haven’t been able to do so and it’s starting to feel like it’s me. Separable from my resume. My resume can get a job. I can’t (feel free to offer my resume a job…it works cheap, I assure you…I’m more expensive).

I’ve completed projects, started writing, guest written a lot (even asked to write things lately!), learned some of the art of tweeting conferences live and digital marketing…and yet can also feel I know nothing at the same time. Have I honed a craft? Writing? Editing? The art of Twitter? Is that even a thing? Is there enough substance behind what I’d done? Do I need to certify myself in coding and better formalize my scientific training somehow? Go back to school?

I’ll keep networking, and applying, but the pace at which I go seems like it’s too slow. I want a job where whoever I report to (yes, I’m assuming I’ll start at the bottom somewhere) will let me know what they need, when updates are due, what progress needs to be made by what time, and a deadline. Then let me get to work. I can do that.

The opportunities that work tend to have grown out of what I’ve done before. I just hope growing a full time job (or a combination of jobs that add up to a full time job) materializes out of my experiences.

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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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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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Adaptable.

I’ve been thinking about my career a lot and just how I might fit into the modern world.

I’m a thinker. I research. I do things once I’ve thought them through. I need space and time to focus and process things and then I’ll talk about it until the topic and possibly my conferees are exhausted and am still willing to keep going. It sometimes feel like I want the last word on nothing.

One thing humans are praised for is adaptability. PhDs seeking to go beyond academia are said to be flexible too. And in a way, the in-demand person is adaptable and can roll with many situations, learn what’s needed to get something done and do it.

I may be missing something but I do worry that the modern world vastly favors specialization (and automation). It is impossible for one human to do it all. I can’t build a computer or a smartphone (at least not a notebook computer) from scratch (yes, I could source components, but can’t make them myself). I can create blogs, I can write a bit, and research, as well as explore data and get something out of it. But that is general and vague it seems to me in a world that wants instant specialists. And fast specialists. Patience and thinking seem to be luxuries of the past.

A lot of people seem relatively adept at creating their own job within an organization, or at least that seems like a relatively common way jobs are gotten as organizations simply like having good people on hand. To do specific things sure, but who can adapt to new roles and grow as well.

It seems like the ideal candidate is a specialist that can generalize/adapt.

I hope I’ve specialized enough, that I can adapt. That i’m not stuck in Shawshank Prison.

In my next post, I think I’ll try and inventory my skills and see if something interesting emerges from the exercise.

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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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