February 20, 2012


The last few months, I've really been trying to push my comfort zone and try new things- my latest thing has been brewing my own beer at home. My first batch is in bottles now, carbonating. At least I hope. I've even been less shy and been talking to more people (that's a big step for me, sadly. I know most people are a lot less inhibited than I am). And maybe more significant, I've been more willing to show myself and just how imperfect I am- in probably too many ways to count. I'm even taking weekends away from the lab to try and keep myself from burning out (still a sufferer, but maybe it's getting better). I'm also really trying to give myself credit for good things I do.

That last part is kind of a sticking point for me though. I do feel better doing new things, trying something out and failing, but it doesn't really register in my brain as something I take joy in, it's not exactly 'fun'. Does it relax me? A little. Is it satisfying? Yes, a lot of times it is. Does it register as fun? Almost never. I feel like my brain, deep down knows what I'm doing is fun, but it doesn't consciously register in my brain. There's a disconnect. It could be that I'm finally trying to engage in the normal things in life (after not really doing so for too long) and my brain is just not attuned to joyous things I do. it's all too easy for me to just tap into my painful place. Last Friday night, I had a mental pain that went right to my core.

I've spent so much of my life feeling unworthy, undeserving, and just like I don't belong anywhere that now that I am feeling differently and cultivating a whole new way of thinking, it may just not register yet. I'll keep an eye on it and see if I start registering things in my brain as 'having fun' or 'amusing'.

Hopefully I can do all this while feeling a lot of pressure in my work life this year- and my own pressure to develop a personal life which is important to me. as a new productivity method, I'm going to try this 'don't break the chain' method. I think I'm OCD enough to do it and I'll start with one work goal and one personal life goal and not break the chain. I hope this will move me forward from where I am now.

February 16, 2012

Is it OK to be a person?

I read ScienceCareers regularly even though it upsets me almost every time and leaves me feeling completely abject about the future. In his Tooling Up column this week, David Jensen writes about the disconnect between the Ph.Ds and postdocs academia produces and that the things they learn there don't line up with the very specific and technical jobs companies have. In other words, they hire a set of skills, not really a person (though, of course, you have to ace the interview(s) too- since every company seems to conduct multiple interviews with a candidate these days). I suppose it's natural that a company does not want an employee who has to learn anything new and can be productive straight away.

The thing that academia focuses on cultivating are much more general though. Grad programs want to teach people to learn how to learn, obtain critical thinking skills and be creative thinkers- coming up with new experiments to run, solving problems and generating new human knowledge. So if you happen to work in one of those hot fields in demand in industry, that's good for you. Otherwise, if you're someone in a field where you just followed things you were interested in, you're kind of screwed. The message of Jensen's column seems to be 'learning is not a good thing', 'critical thinking does not matter', 'stretching yourself beyond what your current job is is not a good thing to do' and 'creativity and 'curiosity are not required in an industry job'. Basically, the things valued in an academic lab are truly not valued by the private sector any more. That's kind of a shame, and sort of suggests that Ph.D.'s in industry are the new blue collar workers in the US- jobs with very specific skills that can be interchanged if a specific training program for it exists. I know in business money is all that matters (that's kind of sad as well), but it seems that crushing what makes a human a human being and not a robot is lost in this view of employees at a company. Jensen makes it sound as if being a human being with interests and motivation and curiosity as well as critical thinking skills is anathema to many companies.

This is one more message to me that I don't know anything useful, and that we should all just follow what's hot currently since that will lead to a job now. I thought companies liked to view themselves as innovators, but this column makes it sound as if imagination is dead- at least when it comes to hiring an 'out of the box' person who might be a bust, or who might, after a few months observing and learning bring in new ideas about how to do something that will lead to a new revenue stream. Taking a chance on someone obviously is not affordable to a company- even one with billions in profits every year. This TED Talk, by Edward Tenner, makes a fascinating point; during the Great Depression, people desperate for work found jobs in new career fields and this spread new ideas and helped fuel the United State's Economic engine after World War II til now. So hiring exactly who you want, pinpointing, may not always be the best thing for a company, though it certainly is the safe thing.