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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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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Short post 5.

Getting this one in just under the wire. 

What a whirlwind week. I think I actually got some things done. I submitted two writing things for review (both still drafts in progress…wish they were done-done). I need to do a lot this weekend too…just getting figures together, gathering information and getting more things down on paper for various projects. and laundry. I seem to be building momentum in some ways, at least. Even though my diet, exercise and other self-care routines are taking a back seat.

I can glimmer possiblity and perhaps even opporunity for myself now. It feels good that I have truly made writing a habit, even if it’s not great all the time. I like doing it, practicing it. I think I am going to officially start a new blog with a registered domain and everything…just because I want to go through the process. It seems like a daft idea, for sure, but it’s something I am curious about. I’m finally just going to lean into that instinct rather than dismiss it as foolish, if that makes any sense.

As an introvert, I tend to overthink things. I think that that tendency might make me good at something like consulting, though I’d rely on co-team members to prompt me to get out of my own head. Me even typing that sentence, being hopeful about any other career possibilities was not true a few years ago.

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Uncertainty.

I know I’ve been quiet lately. Research and other writing as well as job applications have got me quite occupied as well as attempting to learn to do several new things around the lab has kept me occupied. I’m also thinking a lot about new directions for what I’d like to do in this space. That’s why things have been slow around here. I hope to pick it up more again at the end of the month.

Uncertainty.

Susan Cain (@susaincain) put this passage from Ecclesiastes on her site the other week and it did jar me out of my micromanaging, trying to control every little thing, build the exact life I want. And holding on tightly to things. This passage kind of says to just stop all that. And rejoice in the small day-to-day things that life offers. Just being alive is pretty remarkable and each day should be viewed as a gift.

Lately, I am uncertain that each day is a gift. I’ve talked in the past about depression and just how depressed, basically it ground me to a halt. While I’ve felt a lot better this last few years, I’m still walking along a dangerous cliff. Each morning for the last few weeks, it’s been extremely hard for me to get out of bed. I greet the day grudgingly and don’t leap enthusiastically into my same old life I’ve had for the last 6 years as a postdoc. And I think it’s not worth trying. What else to do? Neil Tyson (@NeilTyson) in this video talks about longevity or having a short time and feeling urgency to get things done- and how that’s better than living for a long time without that sense of limited time. Sarah K. Peck (@sarahkpeck) has a similar refrain to get out and do something in this life. Something you want to do and not to hesitate.

The Drug Monkey Blog (@drugmonkeyblog) had this post reacting to something from the NIH director’s office. There’s a real problem with Ph.D.’s and postdocs in this country and some of it does come down to different training. I have hope that those at the beginning of the pipeline will be OK. But I am not so sure that there’s a good mechanism for dealing with those that are presently postdocs and frustrated by not being able to get out into a real career/life (I am frustrated, at least); and actually feel like you have more agency over your career than a postdoc typically feels. There’s a very good point that there’s been an uptick in scientific fraud in recent years and part of that rise I’m pretty certain is due to fierce competition and rushing to publish work that turns out to be flawed. Pam Ronald (@pcronald) wrote about her recent retractions and is handling the whole situation appropriately. While it’s not necessarily a case of haste making waste, it might well have been a contributing factor as time is limited and the pressure is there to make your career as a postdoc/Ph.D. student quickly. It doesn’t pay to do good work, it pays to do fast work that gets published quickly. Of course, good work does get rewarded and the vast majority of scientists strive to do a good job and be careful in their work; but as pressure/competition increase, marketing hype will trump good science more often. The faster a scientific discovery is applied, a lot of times, problems crop up because of cut corners or an important aspect of the story was never investigated. It’s the reason why basic research takes so long to move into economic innovation. Lots of work has to be done.

Eventually the crushing sense I alluded to above that it’s pointless to try and we shouldn’t even bother with doing anything because whatever we try and do won’t make a difference anyway seems to set in. Feeling like there are options is a key for confidence and success. Anyone who has none might well shut down and not do their best work any more. Which is simply tragic when you’re talking about the future generation of scientists who are supposed to be inspired by the current one. It’s possible to convey the wonder that is science, but currently quite difficult to recommend it as a career. It’s not just the overwhelmingly crushing odds, but there is a tendency in academic culture to hide any sort of vulnerability, which, as Brene Brown’s work has pretty definitively shown is the starting point of change, creativity and innovation. And to get ourselves out of the mess we’re in as postdocs and academics generally, we’ll need creative and new ideas to be tested for doing actual science.

I am trying more things and putting myself out there a little more often. I had an essay I wrote about work/life balance for Science’s Next-Gen Voices series published online recently. That’s pretty exciting. A few other good things have happened too; partly through my own hard work. Getting a job application out the door, networking to a potentially new opportunity, trying to take the time to learn R as well as write more skillfully (falling down on those counts, sadly). I managed to raise $400 for the half marathon I’m running in a week (and it’ll be my first half-marathon).

And yet I feel isolated and alone- and not temporarily as I know everyone goes through those periods, but chronically. I am not taking a lot of time to take care of my personal needs in some ways. The desperation to get work done is still present; that that is paramount somehow. I don’t think I want to live this isolated ‘work is all’ life. I still need connection in my life and despite how great mediums like Twitter are, it’s no substitute for human interaction, and yet I feel that when I’m around other people, I’m an inert noble gas, incapable of reacting/interacting with people. My brain says not to open up or get involved with the uncertainty that is other people- or doing anything. Of course, life is about doing things and other people are a huge component of anyone’s well being.

I was thinking about the scene from ‘Star Wars: episode IV’ where the imperial generals are meeting on the Death Star with Darth Vader. And one of them starts giving Vader guff about his ‘ancient religion not conjuring up the stolen data tapes or given him clairvoyance enough to find the rebel’s hidden fort…..’. He doesn’t say any more because Darth Vader cuts him off by choking him with The Force and says ‘I find your lack of faith disturbing’. The voice in my head saying I’m not _________ enough is like the commander admonishing Vader, but I don’t seem to have the ability to choke that voice out of my mind, as Vader does. Darth Vader is basically saying ‘Commander, I don’t see you in the arena, you don’t get to speak to me that way’.

I will keep trying to leap into the unknown- or doing (to quote another Jedi- there is no try). What else is there to do but try to head into the undiscovered country? 

The End (of 2012).