November 29, 2011

Error! (it's a way of life)

I've been trying to embrace my imperfection lately and I saw this post on Lifehacker today about learning from your mistakes. The whole essay is great but this paragraph really spoke to what my mission lately has been:

"For anyone who never discovers a deeper self-identity, based not on lack of mistakes but on courage, compassionate intelligence, commitment and creativity, life is a scary place made safe only by never getting into trouble, never breaking rules and never taking the risks that their hearts tell them they need to take."

I am trying to get to that deeper self-identity and break the rules and taking the risks my heart tells me to take- rather than ignoring them like I have most of my life. Doing the transition in my 30's when my brain is more frozen in place than it was when I was a teen or in my 20's makes it more difficult I think (if you believe the neuroscience on brain development). At least I'm generating some new neurons (again, thanks neuroscience!). The message in the Lifehacker article dovetails well with the book I recently finished "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error" by Kathryn Shculz which gets at some of the same points. Science progresses by people being wrong. So does life, or so I've come to believe now. Previously I was scared to make a mistake, ever. If I did, it said the worst about me. Now, I'm not saying it's not worth trying and doing good work, but starting often requires error until you do get it right. It's about learning. No one just knows how to do something (or they are few and far between!). So rather than feeling terrible that I don't 'just get it' right away, I'm trying to take a learning mindset. I will screw up the first several times, but I will learn and get better. It's a message I never was really exposed to (or wouldn't listen to if I was). Hopefully it's not too little, too late for me. So new perspective. Live. Learn. Laugh. (Love).  

November 21, 2011


This is another post about balance in my life that will probably reveal too much. I am an outlier. I am the 1% in one sense: I'm pretty sure of the people I know, I am in the 1% who is single (and in the 2% of people who have Ph.D.'s- which is supposedly good, though I'm still trying to figure out just why that's the case). My explanation for this has traditionally been that there's something really, really wrong with me; I'm a defective Homo sapiens. I'm the data point you just throw out it's so far out there (yes, I've considered throwing myself out in the past). The last day or two, I've tried to come up with a statistical argument for why being such an outlier isn't such a bad thing. The 'you're a human, have some compassion for yourself!' argument doesn't totally resonate with me. Though my statistical argument will come back to that. 
This may be a case where statistics aren't that informative. Although not being single anymore is something I do want, I'm really trying hard to convince myself even if I don't, it's OK. There's something I can contribute. I try to be a good friend. I donate blood when I can. I mentor and teach and basically try to be a decent person- I'm even doing my best to do good work (naturally). I know, I'm not the sunniest person ever, but if you get beyond my exterior and become a friend of mine, I will take a bullet for you- classic introvert...a few really close friends you'd do whatever you can for. So maybe the outlier statistic (which is undeniable) isn't a real measure of everything- it's not the whole story. I deviate from the mean in all sorts of ways (there are so many things I don't get about social situations where most people I know seem to be naturals). So in one sense, I'm trying to cut myself a break. I am an outlier in that one aspect of my life, but that can change (I hope!- or maybe I should just not care, not caring will make it happen faster, right?). And I guess from my outlier status, I bring my own unique view to things that some people may appreciate. So I guess I'm coming to the 'There's lies, damned lies, and statistics' idea. Stats and science may be (extremely) useful, but it's never a complete picture and really defining the questions you ask is of paramount importance. And my life statistics only give me a partial sense of things. So it may not be a mathematical argument, but a lesson that statistics need to be applied carefully. Humans aren't just numbers (or we are, but they're so complex, no one person can hold and interpret all the data at once to make a coherent picture. 

November 17, 2011

A secret.

I think I've generally been trending toward being more positive about things this last year except in one area; the depressing academic job environment- especially for current generation postdocs and grad students. And I've had a very hard time exploring other career ideas. It might be down to a lack of imagination on my part. But I was driving home today and another thought occurred to me; deep down, could it be that I love being a scientist and doing science (however incompetently) and my angst about my career has everything to do with the fact that I have trouble seeing my future in science? Maybe so. I'm not saying I won't explore other career avenues or that I couldn't be happy doing something else, it just means science is in my DNA (I know that's true of every living thing; science is all about nature!). Chances are, even if I'm not in research science, I'll maintain my AAAS membership for life and voraciously read books and articles about science and work in something science adjacent. It also doesn't mean I don't want to balance my life. I want a good life outside the lab. I think I need to do that for my own sake; I still have a hard time being kind to myself for not working most weeknights (or wasting my time blogging). So I'm doing something I love, even though it's painful in some ways and I don't know if it's sustainable or not. But I feel like I'm turning a bend where I'm willing to experiment a lot more and feel like I'm on a positive trajectory.....not sure where I'll end up. Hopefully the moon or the stars (as an old cliche goes).

November 10, 2011


Maybe it doesn't exist. Maybe it's a fantasy in 2011.  I sometimes wish I had a job where I don't feel guilty for leaving the lab to go home at a usual hour (say a 8am-6pm workday), even when I get there at 8am or even before. The science doesn't take a break- there's always more to do and not just in the abstract sense that no matter what, we as scientists will probably never know everything- always more questions- So why should I? Because I'm human? That doesn't seem sufficient; have I earned a break? I don't think so, no matter what I've gotten done. I know part of this stems from being an early career scientist needing to prove myself worthy and a sense that I need to keep up with everyone else who seems to be working those long hours too. It's sort of a passive aggressive competition to see who can leave last at the end of the day. I know another part is just not having a balanced life too...why leave work when there's nothing exciting waiting at home (I'm working on developing that thing at least)? To be a scientist requires passion for the work and an obsession with it; and it's easy to be that to an unhealthy level (I know I have). I hope it's OK to be a human and a scientist (I sometimes get the sense that it's just absolutely not allowed). Reducing my level of guilt has been a challenge, but I seem to be heading the right direction with it at least...trending downward. It seems to be enabling me to enjoy life and work more. May that continue.