October 30, 2011

Ivory Tower or black hole?

There may not be a good metaphor for academia. Ivory tower is the traditional one with a clear delineation between academia and the rest of the world. Although that may have been apt at one time, it seems today as if academe is more open than ever in some ways, particularly with ties to the private sector and collaborating departments within and between universities. From the inside, from my perspective, it feels less ivory tower and more black hole; nothing escapes, or it rarely does. I know there are people who are post-academics, I just don't know of any to talk to just now about how they got away from the tractor beam that keeps people in academia for their lives. I'm not saying I don't want to be an academic for life (I'm just still not sure I can have a full and balanced life and still be a scientist- I know other people succeed in doing just that, but I am really struggling in that area).  Exploring the alternative options out there in the universe is hard when you're a full time academic. The external pressure to stay is certainly present, but making it even harder is the inner pressure generated from my brain. I was trying to recall tonight the first time I got bitten by the science bug....it was a long time ago when I was young, for sure, but I don't remember a specific moment. Maybe I just got pulled in by the gravity of science via teachers I had. I still want to explore other things, but am still a bit stymied at the step of just how to do that. I'm fumbling about clumsily with it a bit, and maybe I'll find out it's not the ivory tower or the black hole and it's just a windowless, dark room and I just needed to grope around to find the doorknob.

October 12, 2011

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

I used to beat myself up all the time. I still do on occasion. Although it may be a viable strategy to run a business (though I doubt that too), it's not way to operate a self. It would all start innocently enough, something would go wrong and it would morph into the idea that I can't do anything and it was easy to find 'evidence' for that hypothesis. Of course, the experiment lacked rigor and didn't have a proper control and no objective measurement. This led to anxiety to trying anything new and of course depression because I didn't feel able to make progress on anything. I finally seem to be coming out of that loop and am actually steadily trying new things and pushing myself to get outside of my admittedly narrow comfort zone. I've noticed that in all areas of my life this last year, the arrows are all pointing up as I do things, often fail, but then try doing them again, but better. It's true in the lab and my work is moving in an interesting direction. My biggest anxiety is that I've broken out of the loop way too late and anything I do now is kind of pointless; like trying to come back from a 3 touch down deficit inside of two minutes in the fourth quarter (maybe I should create a new metaphor). The upside is that at least I feel more like I can be myself around others and not shut myself off from the world. I'm writing this blog, aren't I? Will confessing that depression ground my career and life to a halt for too long make me un-hirable? I don't know. But it is something I feel I'm not alone in and maybe I can serve as an example to other scientists of  to avoid ending up in a deep dark ravine. In climbing out the other side, I have a new perspective and way of thinking that seems much more productive, though I still have a ways to go before I'm enjoying the view from the top of the ledge. So now that my morale has improved, I can stop the beatings and get some real work done while not hiding myself behind the mental walls I had up in my brain.

October 5, 2011


I'm steadily working to produce content. Teaching statements, research statements, figures, manuscripts and other things scientists are supposed to produce. I'm trying to work steadily on that, though I am finding I still have a major mental block in the way. So I'm writing a blog post instead. It's my creative outlet for the evening and one of the few I feel I have generally. I know part of my block is that I don't permit myself to do things- at work or in life. I'm slowly getting to a place where I allow myself to do what I want to do and what will satisfy me, but that's still a work in progress. I'm writing this on the evening that Steve Jobs passed away. I've followed him over the years and he clearly was someone who was bold, took chances and had vision that he brought into existence in the form of Apple. He also seemed to be able to let go and fire on all cylinders. I'm trying to have some small part of that in my own life. So my creativity list: don't be afraid to fail- that's a big one...trial and error work is the way to go. Do things I love; at work and in life away from the lab. And follow my intuition and not go against every feeling I have. Even if getting in touch with that might be difficult. And with this probably incoherent and badly written post, I'm going to bed and tomorrow I continue to work on bringing Ian 2.0 fully to life.

October 3, 2011

What am I doing again?

It's Monday and I made my to-do list for things I want to get done this week and the potential problems that might arise, etc. and I'm still in this place of wondering what it is I'm doing? I know science has the potential to change the world (has before, will again), but sitting at my desk in the lab struggling to do the minute experiments that I hope will lead somewhere, feeling like I've sacrificed having a life to be here (I know it's anathema to many PIs, but someone should tell me it's illegal NOT to have a life outside the lab and I'll get arrested if I don't develop one quickly). At least research seems to be going a better; I just need to find out that there are more possibilities than just the tiny (molecular scale!) universe  I occupy in the lab. I still can't shake the feeling that there's nothing else I could possibly do in life either; despite being fairly intelligent, motivated, willing to learn, I still feel like anyone looking at my resume/CV will just say "molecular plant biologist- I think we'll pass....". Either way, I also feel like to have a shot at anything, I need to publish a paper; the only real sign that you've been productive in academia. I know this is a jumbled post. Chalk it up to being a long Monday and I'm carrying a high level of frustration. I upgraded my LinkedIn account to a "premium" membership for a month, hopefully this will help me network a bit and explore options at least (even if it is futile window shopping at this point). Hopefully that's ending on a hopeful note.