September 29, 2012


I've been thinking about the topic of what I present to the world- the digital world in particular lately. xkcd #137 is one side of a case that runs counter to a lot of advice you see about being extremely careful about what you post on the internet because it's there forever. I sometimes make the joke that Facebook will prevent everyone from holding public office or being employed in the future. If you're not buttoned down and perfect and show an ounce of humanity or personality, you are unworthy of employment or participation in society. Is there a picture of me drinking a beer somewhere on the internet? Yes. I'm sure that exists. I even brew my own beer at home now. I never drink to excess though. A lot of nights, it's one and I'm done- I like trying new beer and it's varying taste across breweries the world over. However, the paranoid in me says that any potential employer finding said picture will instantly think 'he drinks beer, he must be a drunkard and will be trouble, definitely a no'. That said, if it's obvious someone's a raging partier (not me, at all), that ought to raise a red flag.

Maybe the beer example is a bit silly. Let's see what else I can dig up. I'm introverted. And that's a problem to some because we live in a very extroverted society (talk loudly, act quickly, thinking is bad) and upon learning that, some employers who misunderstand introversion might easily just say no as well. I'm embracing it a lot more than I used to, since pretending to be extroverted all the time doesn't work. That's something I talk about a lot in my online postings, and easily could be held against me.

I also am fairly open about battling or learning to manage depression. It's easier to talk about now that I'm less depressed, but I can't say that I'm completely over it either. However, it's important to understand that many very prominent and successful people also deal with depression and that that shouldn't impede me from striving. I still try. Despite sometimes not wanting to. I have my very bad days. I am open about it because it has affected my life in a big way and I hope by being somewhat open about my experiences, others can be helped, especially in the academic science world where this gets swept under the rug too often.

I know I have a very grad student/postdoc view of the world- where I'm still striving for my next step and still trying to 'make it'. In that context, because competition for faculty jobs is fiercer than ever, it's easy to see how showing any kind of vulnerability- introversion (not a vulnerability exactly, but how I'm wired), depression/anxiety, etc. could easily be seen to be held against me by any employer; Candidate X doesn't have any issues...we'll go with him/her instead- thing is, Candidate X does have issues too, they just may not be as apparent as mine because I'm more open with the all too human things I wrestle with.

Which brings me to this from NeuroDojo. I don't know how my story will turn out, as Steve Jobs says in his Stanford commencement address, you can only connect the dots in hindsight. All I can do is the best I can in the moment and make mostly responsible decisions. I am a recovering perfectionist (yes, perfectionism taken too far is a bad thing- there is such a think as 'good enough'- deadlines exist in the world). I have been extremely buttoned down my whole life. Always wanting to do the right thing, always looking for the 'win-win' solution that's best for everyone, even if it's detrimental to me. I do get paralyzed by over-analysis at times too. And it hasn't gotten me very far. Since starting this blog and expressing myself more, I feel better about myself and life. I don't particularly feel like apologizing for being an imperfect human. I will bring the skills I have to whatever task is at hand and do my best. As the Mythbusters are fond of saying, 'Failure is always an option', but also Adam says, and the series took off because he said this I think 'I reject your reality and substitute my own'. You can't be buttoned down and fearful if you're going to create change, have creative thoughts or be an innovator. I'm not a round peg into a round hole, and that's OK. As in science, I'll find the 'best fit' model for the data that is me.

September 26, 2012

Getting out.

Something that's on my mind lately is just how sticky science is, especially when you're frustrated by a lack of success in the lab. There's a reason it's called research, of course, there are no guarantees that experiments will work out or go well. Since I still have too much of my identity wrapped up in science, setbacks hit me hard. But especially now. A postdoc is supposed to be a limited time to set yourself up for future success. Right now, I feel like I've failed in that goal. I can, however, tell anyone exactly what not to do (including myself, lately, so that's a positive). And would happily do so. So I'm in this strange position of being at a point to move on, but also still wanting to show that I can do good work and prove myself (publication is all that counts, really; any teaching, mentoring or helping colleagues with their work doesn't really qualify as 'science'). But I still feel stuck by it all. 

Though I am trying a new strategy of interacting more and trying not to worry so much. Also, I'm starting to lean on friends and colleagues to help me raise my game and keep my accountable. 

Tips on being a postdoc 1. Don't get clinically depressed 2. Don't isolate yourself (number one will make you do that, btw) 3. Ask lots of questions and don't be a perfectionist (number one will make you afraid of being anything but perfect and feeling like you aren't worthwhile). 4. Do things besides science. Find something outside the lab you love to do. It will keep you sane and balanced. 

Otherwise, you might just feel stuck. 

September 16, 2012


I should be working on powerpoints, data analysis, job applications, etc. It's 10:40pm on a Sunday night and the lab is taking a trip to North Carolina on Tuesday for a lab retreat with some collaborators. 

I haven't had a good week. I've worked hard, but still feel like it's not enough. I did have a breakthrough with using the confocal- I get it now...a lot more than I did, anyhow. I actually got some quite good pictures, though one of them is puzzling and brings up more questions than it answers. I guess that's just science. 

Job applications worry me and my barrier to getting them done is purely in my head. Impostor syndrome (common amongst academics and high achievers- a sign that we're actually pushing ourselves)? a feeling like I've stagnated and completely messed up in life thus far and am not ready for the next step? Conditioning to my environment that says it will always be the way it is now? Doing the immediate work things to prepare for NC? 

None of that sounds very positive. I seem to handle adversity a bit better than I used to. and am more willing to engage with more new things that I wouldn't have considered before. And yet I'm not changing fast enough. I don't feel I know enough. I don't interact enough. I think the former and the latter I can do something more about and yet I hesitate too much still. Part of it is having to do things at a distance. Part of it is that I am still shy (not introverted, though I'm that too) around people. I still assume things that probably aren't entirely true- and need to unlearn. 

It's after 11pm now. And I'm going to bed. Monday will be a long day, but the retreat should be interesting at the very least. I think I included some positives in this post. 

September 8, 2012


In braces ({}) = Neurotic/anxious thoughts as  I wrote this post. {using braces, probably wrong}.

I'm neurotic. I think a lot of scientists are. I am getting a little better at doing something and yet I have a lot of times of paralysis where it's just completely uncertain what I should do, where I ought to go, what is the next step. Experiment fails. {Do I set it up again? the exact same way? What failed? Was it me? It was probably me. I have horrible hands. My knowledge is incomplete (easy criticism for a scientist to level against themselves- by definition, our knowledge is incomplete, it's why we're doing experiments)}.

I was speaking with a fellow postdoc yesterday about how being a postdoc in these uncertain times of low academic employment, a downturn in pharma/biotech hiring, the disconnect between our training and potential jobs we could get is wide, and how that fuels a special level of neurosis and anxiety {Overly long sentence. Oh no! I can't write either}. Science (AAAS) just put out an individual development plan web application for Ph.D. students and early career postdocs {for all postdocs really...but like Darth Vader at the end of ROTJ I think 'it is too late for me'- what a random reference}. I actually am giving it a try; It seems great, if one is willing to use it fully. {What the f**k is my problem? Why can't I just use all these great resources available to me, w/o excuses? Why am I always loath to ask for help? My brain is wrong. I tell myself that, and have basically been told that several times, so it might just be true}.

I am trying to dare greatly. My mind screams at me from deep down, slightly less loud this last year, but still loud enough that I can't ignore it very well either. I am not my immediate thoughts. I can challenge my negative thoughts, and do that more often now. In that sense I am back online and functioning {if you count still feeling stuck as functioning}.

One issue that I think postdocs/grad students often have {including me, seriously, what is wrong with me?} is that we feel like we're not in positions to influence things. We do what we're told- it's hard to let go and just be our creative selves, which is what science requires. {I can't do that experiment, it'll cost too much money, I need to think this through before doing it so I don't waste time, I can't reveal anything, otherwise someone will steal my ideas and get them out before I do, I can't be independent- I need my advisors input on everything I do, I don't know enough about technique X to actually do it well so I shouldn't try it until I've exhaustively read up on it even though learning by doing is the best way to learn something, I can't say I don't know something because everyone around will think I'm stupid and unenlightened}. We're small, PIs are big, sometimes we feel more like indentured servants than valued colleagues {seriously, something must be wrong with my brain}.

I feel a lot better about asking, looking stupid doing it, and trying to learn for myself and be more aggressive about what I want. {Not enough though. Still don't seem to know enough, be savvy enough, be enough, why not? My brain is wrong somehow- I need to challenge that, not sure exactly how to go about it after years of counter-training to thinking I'm not enough}.

My brain is neurotic. too much so. I don't know if other people have the same thoughts, but it seems that most of my friends who aren't academics have a clearer mind about things whereas most of my postdoc and grad student friends all tend towards the neurotic and anxious.

Is it something about the environment we're in? I think that has something to do with it. Progress and egress are slow in academia which breeds anxious thoughts. My friends in the private sector all seem to have less time to think, which is a good thing for moving forward. There also seems to be more of a culture in academia that we are our work. Take that away and we're nothing. I think that breeds a lot of anxiety and neurosis too, especially in times when we're trying to step away and do other things with our lives which is getting more and more common.

{By expressing all this, I'm probably hurting myself in some way. Everything I say is an excuse. Something is seriously wrong with me that I think these thoughts. I spent my morning blogging rather than doing something productive. Does this count as doing something worthwhile? Writing practice?}.

Back to challenging my brain into being better about everything and anything. And to getting myself out into the world, rather than being my introverted and sometimes shy self.