March 16, 2013

Self talk.


I'm no good. I'm embarrassed to even be walking the Earth. I want to get run over by a bus. I want to crawl under a rock and stay there. I don't want to talk to anyone. Or make eye contact. Or talk to them. Or declare my presence.  I am an impostorAnxiety boils over in my head. I am extremely perfectionist. I am neurotic

Why bother investing in myself? Nothing will work out for me no matter what I do. I question and ruminate on every decision I make no matter how insignificant. 

I don't love myself. Rationally, I know there are people who care about me, but I don't  know why. I know I'm better off than many, but still feel awful about it. Truly, the world would be better off without me. I don't matter. Or count. I'm useless. 

Things can't possibly change. I'm too...old, set in my ways, don't know what I'm doing, uncertain, indecisive, asocial...I am wrong. A mistake.


I am doing more. I am in the arena a little more often. I have accepted my my introverted nature and understand more that it's not a flaw, just a part of who I am. I am inching my way back up to feeling like it's OK for me to live life. Doing something. Or at least trying to. I still don't have a good direction to go in. I am trying to prevent career burnout by doing things for myself that are novel and new. And enjoyable. I am exploring slightly more. And through this blog, commenting on things through Twitter (my tweets made it onto the #Sciquester home page the AAAS had!), emailing people and asking for the things I need more often. I try to do something that will make me uncomfortable every day...I even succeed sometimes.

I am much more open to feedback. A friend of mine- @MalaChakraborti- who has been a huge support to me when I was in my deepest depression wrote this to me recently: 
"You have a pretty strong tendency to qualify your sentiments, and sometimes you go pretty far at the self deprecation part. The reason I'm pointing it out is because I think it no longer really represents your true opinion of yourself in that situation, but has become a habit from a time when the sentiment was stronger."
I have noticed this myself. When I write, or speak to people, I still come from a perspective that I don't have a clue and am not confident. While it's true that I don't feel I have a ton of confidence, I do try to have a more confident voice. I go back and edit things I write when I see equivocations in my writing whenever I see them. I'm sure I do a lot of that here in this blog (I'm doing it right now...), but this is meant to be fairly quick and informal writing. 

I am taking enjoyment in things a bit more. However, I am not engaged in my work. The idea of doing something else is still strong in my head (this economy scares me still- no more middle class apparently...). I am slowly being swallowed and stifled by my scientific career and feel I need something else to lead a meaningful life (having a significant other is a long standing goal of mine still). I just feel largely lifeless when I'm working. I like science, but the career prospects to stay in it are absolutely dismal. It keeps me up at night sometimes.

I am having more compassion for myself as well. Not that I feel like everything I'm doing is OK, but being kind to myself helps me recover from set backs.

Things I have done so far that make me uncomfortable are actually looking more into my finances, setting up a newish home network, learning and trying new things in the lab, talking more (even though my voice sounds weird when I am more extroverted...and feels like someone else talking entirely), I am using more tools to help organize myself- like doing a weekly review, using Evernote (awesome!), and Unclutter to keep my desktop clear.

I am continuing to learn about myself- reading about High sensitivity (pretty sure that fits me well) and learning more about will power/habit formation and trying to learn good ones. And continue to be more mindful. 


I want to be bolder. Take more chances. Make more mistakes- and hopefully learn more from trying rather than reading theoretically about how something works. Not over thinking, which is still very much a habit of mine. I would love to just decide something and do it. Right then. And not be so afraid to spend money on things I want because I fear buying stupid things. And of course, I hope a major life change comes soon and I can truly announce the release of Ian 3.0.

March 14, 2013


Thank you.

Two words I am trying to say a lot now. To express gratitude as much as possible. 

This appeared in the NYT ecosystem this week. 

I have been reflecting on gratitude lately and how much I try to express it- even for small things that happen in my day. The customer service rep that I don't have to be nice to- they probably don't expect to be thanked for their help (or even their lack thereof).  

This has gotten me to think about how I communicate with colleagues and other scientists and my own digital habits. I'm not sure I communicate that well with anyone, let alone colleagues. I'm the strong silent type (also introverted). 

Introversion is a trait a lot of scientists share, but science also rewards extroverted tendencies a lot more. I am using my more introverted self to write more and speak up when I can, but I still prefer to be quiet and by myself a lot of the time.

I don't tend to talk on the phone. I've started tweeting a lot- I like twitter. I write. I don't tend to leave voicemails. My big fear is actually getting through to someone on the phone and having to talk to them. Of course, if it's a good friend, I'm happy to talk. But strangers is hard. For job interviews, etc. something I ought to get over, ASAP. Exposure therapy perhaps.

I was out at the pub last night after doing a trial run of this weekend's Shamrock Shuffle  with the running club I'm a part of last night. I talked a little bit on the run and a bit after at the pub with a beer. But I had to force myself to smile and when I did, I relaxed and had an OK time, even though I still felt out of place and awkward.

I'm not going to stop what I'm doing as far as my nettiquette. I'd like to talk on the phone more, but it's a thing I am not really able to conquer easily in my head. I don't know why, but I'd better get over it.

Expressing gratitude is one of the things that has helped get me out of major depression. i'd hate to stop now.

March 10, 2013


I got an injury in lab today. Probably not my first, but this one hurts a lot. And this one is unique. I cut my back on that key that sticks out of some models of -80 freezers. I was squeezing past an open incubator door across the way, something I do routinely, but this time I caught my back. 

You'd think I'd have stopped as soon as I felt it digging in. But no, I was in a hurry for some reason and just pushed through.

Just pushing through even when something hurts might be the MO of scientists. We deal with rejection, negative feedback, criticism from ourselves and others ,and experiments that don't turn out well. 

Too much adversity in the lab has lead to scars in my mind. While I love science, it hasn't been a great source of self-worth. And disconnection, depression, and distress have followed.  

As Science Careers post points out, the job of a postdoc is to find a job. The article is full of practical advice about taking full advantage of your postdoc experience. Network. Collaborate. Make good decisions. Get lots of feedback from mentors you cultivate. Learn. It's an exciting time...

In the current time of limited budgets, limited jobs and an overpopulation in STEM Ph.D.'s, it is hard to be an optimist in the face of what seem like increasingly long odds of 'making it'.  The "postdocalypse" appear to be unprecedented. It has always been hard to get an academic job, or a job. It just seems worse now. It is widely acknowledged that preparing Ph.D.'s for the job market that includes not just academia, but industry and even things beyond the field of science is woefully inadequate to the times. Job search criteria continue to increase. Just needed a resume and 3 references before? Now they'll Google you, call your immediate colleagues (not just your reference writer), check your credit score, FBI background check, anal probe (OK, I made up that last one, but I'm sure there's a job somewhere that requires that too...). In academia, the long CV (including multiple, brilliant first author publications that change the face of a field...) and teaching statement are now ubiquitous, along with the research statement. I was thinking the other day that there must be another thing they could ask for...perhaps a 'broader impact' statement that talks about not only teaching, but how your research, integrates with teaching and interfaces with the community to tell the story of science and scientists who do the work and how you'll implement it all largely on your own in a 5 year time frame. To boldly go....

Getting off on the right foot is obviously very important. As is taking an entrepreneurial attitude towards our careers. And of course it all comes back to connecting with people.

I can deal with the physical scars from lab incidents, which are hopefully limited to rare and minor scrapes like the one pictured above. The scar inside the brain of someone who is (and can still be at times) depressed are less obvious. It doesn't mean I can't be a scientist. Or that I'm not intelligent. Or capable of having a successful career. However, at times when depression is pervasive and long term, it prevents seeing opportunity or connecting to people very well. This is due at least in part to the fact that it made me feel less than anyone else, not recognizing any strength that I did have and feeling like no one would understand. I also felt that keeping anything 'heavy' to myself would prevent me from bringing other people down. Isolation plays right into depression's hands. 

It's still not easy, or comfortable, for me to talk about, but speaking out I hope will help others as well as myself. Sunshine- connection to others- a therapist, close friend or family member, or writing a blog- all help alleviate depression's grip. Having things outside the lab and getting over perfectionism are quite important. Both are things I still need to address more. I am making slow progress in the right direction. Taking more action. 

No matter what the scars are or where they come from, they're part of all of us. The best I can do is exist in the present, plan for the future and hope for the best. And maybe, just maybe I'll land on my feet after following the long and winding road to whereever I end up. I hope well connected to people I care about- and seeing those people in person on a regular basis.

For now, my minor bit of good news is I am 2nd author on a paper that I just found out was accepted. Step in the right direction after being in the fight of my life to heal the scars left by depression, anxiety and perfectionism. 

March 6, 2013



"There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."- Leonard Cohen

I haven't done the best job about letting light in. Or showing my cracks. 

I continue to feel isolated in my own world.

Pushing my comfort zone with calculated risk doesn't seem to be my thing. And it needs to become a habit of mine.


Where does the smile go? It doesn't come out often enough. I don't go out often enough. 

It's an indicator that I might still be fairly depressed about things in my life. 

The easy distractions still get to me. 

I ruminate.

Don't laugh.

I numb my emotions. 

I don't always have a lot of energy. Or feel like being out in the world.

I want to feel more light more of the time. Laugh more. 


Maybe there is some light at the end of my tunnel, even if it appears millions of miles away.

Can you see venus through the rings of Saturn? 

That's how far the light at the end of my tunnel feels a lot of the time. 

At least it's visible now. I truly didn't think it was before. 

I must keep writing. Doing. Asking. Talking. Deciding. Finishing. Learning. Lightening.

March 1, 2013



I had to present the department seminar today, the journal club of the plant labs, but postdocs present our current work. 

I have a lot of pain associated with the last few years as a postdoc. I'm trying not to dwell and I put together what I could in the time I had. But didn't have much time to rehearse, which is really a problem for me. 

So when I went up to talk, I was nervous. I talked too quickly, I felt incoherent and on auto pilot. I felt completely disconnected from the audience, who were more than kind enough to listen to me.

Part of this is content related- I am not engaged with it, but I'm trying again, with all aspects of my life. I'm just not connecting well.

I wasn't present in the moment. Something I struggle with even when I'm not speaking in front of ostensibly friendly audiences (I always feel on trial- even if that's not the case). 

I felt like a stand up comedian bombing on stage. Comedians like to talk about their bombs once they get to a certain point. I guess I just haven't reached it with presenting my work, or presenting at all. I do need to do it more often.


I still feel too often like I'm a mistake- an embarrassment of a human being. So whenever I'm in front of people or talking to them,  I have a high level of self-consciousness. I've felt that way for so long, I'm not sure how to change it even though I'm really trying to move past that mentality.

I am trying to show up. Be present. Do my work. And working on being compassionate to myself. 

That last part is probably the key to unlocking a lot of good things in life; passion for work, better relationships all stemming from actually liking myself. Which is a feeling I haven't had for a long time. Be a presence.


Will I ever put things together and figure out how to get the true presents of life? Not stuff, but normal relationships, a meaningful job, a significant other, etc. Will I declare my presence here and do things because I want to, live in my own authentic way and not worry what others think. Not try to be invisible. Not have to be perfect.

Declaring that it's OK for me to assert myself is a big step for me. Not feeling guilty. Blogging about things that matter. Learning something new every day. Being mindful. 

Be present.

February 27, 2013


Things I fantasize about.

Sometimes I imagine things. Probably silly things. Mostly.

  • A job. That I like. That doesn't feel too dead ended.
  • Being a professional wrestler. There's something about imagining you're facing your problems in the Steel cage and suplexing them into submission. 
  • Swinging like Spiderman through the buildings of NYC.
  • Getting a job interview.
  • Never having to switch off so I can get more done.
  • Performing the Jedi mind trick to get free coffee. 
  • Being as smart as The Doctor.
  • Moving.
  • Being normal.
  • Building a better world.
  • Giving a great talk. Or lecture. 
  • Introverting to inspiration. To my bliss.
  • Run a half marathon.
  • Traveling in the TARDIS
  • Publishing. (Maybe my research project will actually succeed or I'll write a great novel).
  • Vacationing someplace new I've never been before and not freaking out b/c of it.
  • Sleeping enough.
  • Becoming a beer brewing internet guru. 
  • Repeating my (mostly non-roaring) 20's.
  • Becoming a speed reader.
  • Falling in love.
  • Getting a hug. Every day. 

February 17, 2013


Engage is the command Captain Picard gives when a course is laid in and things are ready to go. Usually at warp speed. Warp speed is what I'm thinking I need to get to to get all of my things done that I want to, work wise. Of course, that won't really happen. A guy can dream.

I've talked before about how this blog is in part what not to do as a postdoc. Which is as much for myself as for any Ph.D./postdoc I can help not hit the floor (or if they do, how to bounce back quickly & be resilient). 

And something that's been on my mind lately is being engaged with your work. 

Feeling like your'e doing something that matters. Feeling like you're advancing something greater than yourself. 

It seems particularly important in a time when postdocs are having a hard time finding work. Academic jobs particularly. 

Being truly engaged and passionate about what we do is more important than ever. The postdoc who finds what they love will more likely be successful. 

I haven't been nearly engaged enough in my postdoc and besides getting depressed about my work and my life, I think lack of engagement has been a big issue for me. 

Choose your field/project well. And carefully. Based on what you love in science.

I love science. But I haven't found my thing or so it seems anyhow. Is it too late? It appears so some days. 

You also have to carve out time for things outside the lab that you enjoy. It will make being engaged with your work that much easier.

I'm starting to do this. Finally. Enjoy the present. Getting some space is good. Other people is good. Being an adult (and a scientist) shouldn't mean 'I don't spend time with friends, family and significant others' (I don't have a significant other, but do have friends and family).

I'm reading @ShaneMac's book 'Stop With the BS' which is focused on the business world, but has a lot of good things for scientists in academic labs to keep in mind too. Work beyond your title, network, pitch ideas w/o fear, push your comfort zone. 

I have been struck by the parallels between business, art, and science worlds; sometimes jobs are 9 to 5, but if you're creating new things, it's very similar (science and business cross all the time. Art and Science are starting to more and more- which is why STEAM (Science, technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) ought to be the acronym; we have a lot to learn from one another. 

Learning is of course the key to success. Never stop. Learn by research, learn from others, learn from your errors. It can be uncomfortable, but one good thing about being a scientist. We experiment, try things and see if they fit a hypothesis. Bring that ehtos to your life as well. Try, see if it fits or works. Change your mind if the evidence suggests the opposite of what you thought (like me w/ Twitter for a long time- I didn't see the point. Now I think it's amazing). 

I want to be in a place where instead of answering 'how am I doing?' with 'I'm OK' I say 'I'm f*cking great!' (a phrase from the documentary 'I'm Fine, Thanks').

Work hard. Know yourself. Accept yourself. Don't beat yourself up too much. And don't give up. You'll land somewhere (even if it's not a TT position at Awesome U.).

Things I'm trying to keep in mind.

February 14, 2013


Based on a Twitter discussion with Steve Hamblin (@BehavEcology) I am a little too excited about comparing postdocs and grad students to an ant colony. Biochem Belle (@BiochemBelle) posted a few months ago about how tired the indentured servant analogy is- and how inaccurate (I'm sure others have said similar things). 

However, the ant idea has legs...six of them. 

  1. Ant colonies are collectively smart, so are Ph.D.'s and postdocs (and the scientific enterprise generally).
  2. In ant colonies individuals are expendable, so are Ph.D's and postdocs
  3. Ant colonies are very persistent and collaborative, following other ants to food, etc...sounds like Ph.D.'s and postdocs
  4. Ant colonies are adaptable. Ph.D.'s and postdocs also adapt to solve problems in their environments
  5. Ants are very strong. Ph.D.'s and postdocs have strong brains at least
  6. Ants can have fungi infect their brains. Ph.D's and postdocs seem very prone to depression, anxiety, impostor syndrome and other brain issues (I'll raise my hand and say I have had to deal with these things & I don't think I'm alone)
I like this analogy...there's at least dignity in it (ants are cool!). It acknowledges the difficulties faced by individuals and can be put into an ecosystem context- currently there are too many ants for the resources available. I have no idea if this actually ever happens in the real world. It is certainly the case with Ph.D's and postdocs. Hopefully it's not so dire that only the lucky few make it to 'old age' as it might be with an ant colony. 

I also realize that ant colonies are all female...which is obviously not the case amongst the scientific population (especially at the faculty level), but that may be taking the analogy to the breaking point. 

I might well be crazy here, but it was fun to think about this. 

As an addendum, I've basically disabled comments here- I'd prefer to interact via Twitter. Such a great medium for discussion. 

February 11, 2013

High School Self.

High School Self

I was made aware of this article on why we never leave high school and why that's actually not good news for many of us. It mentions one of my current favorite books 'Daring Greatly' and Dr. Brown's research. 

That thought terrifies me. I think that it might well be true. If I think back to my high school self, it is much like I am now. If High School was where I was supposed to learn how to interact with people, I dont' think I did very well. It's something I struggle with daily. I did my best to stay invisible- for fear (somewhat legitimate) that being noticed would lead to bad things- something I still tend to think too often. This blog is supposed to help with that. Stick my neck out...

I suppose there is one good thing: I survived. 

Which brings me to this...


I have been watching 'Buffy, The Vampire Slayer' lately, which got me thinking about high school even more. For those who aren't familiar, Joss Whedon took the concept of the motion picture and turned it into a great television series. It supposes a world where magic, vampires and demons invade Sunnydale, CA and they often serve as metaphors for surviving high school. The show is funny, smart, awesome and a lot of fun. Most of the characters are well developed too. And of course, it takes me back to the 90's...when I was youngish.

In a quite literal way, the characters (especially Buffy) slays demons. Even the demons have demons at times. 

The first few seasons deal with the high school years. There's a plot where a girl literally becomes invisible- a lot like I felt. It is a show very good at portraying all kinds of outsiders- as well as the impostor syndrome, depression, and anxiety...and of course fighting through all of these things. 

Breaking Bio

Because of Twitter, I discovered The Breaking Bio Podcast, and apparently video blog. Episode 13 is with @JacquelynGill, a paleoecologist and blogger and short term postdoc who has a faculty position nearly straight away- the hosts of the podcast are all youngish postdocs...compared to me who feels like an ancient in postdoc years. It was a good discussion a large group of internationally located people had about her research, impostor syndrome (which clearly many of the hosts have dealt with and at least gotten past to some extent), and women in science- and how they might be more prone to feeling like impostors. While I can't speak to that part, I know that I have never really felt comfortable in academia. I'm getting slightly more comfortable, but don't feel that connected- in any aspect of my life. 

One of the things they talked about was the fact that being desperate in any avenue of life won't help you get anything. It's an odd thing...the more relaxed you can be, and yet engaged and caring at the same time, the more successful you'll be in dating or in job interviewing. I know I've been way too high strung for way too long; I've been trying to be more relaxed and am, but of course, it doesn't seem like it's enough. 

I'm introverted, high anxiety and perfectionist. And feel rather desperate too often...recipe for success, it's not. To be clear, that first trait doesn't make me less qualified, just viewed as less desirable in the United States at least...where the focus is on interacting with as many people as possible. 


I'm trying to stay positive even though that's's not exactly like a world ending apocalypse on 'Buffy', but feels that way a little bit. I'm currently not all that successful professionally or personally. I'd like that to change of course, but my own brain seems to have some very strong walls against that notion. 

I can feel cracks forming in my walls, but they certainly aren't anywhere close to structural failure. 

And with that, I am going to bed. 

February 9, 2013



Today was kind if terrible. I wasn't efficient. I was tired and hungry all day. Experiment failed. I couldn't read well. I didn't get much done. I beat myself up all evening after not being able to remember part of a conversation I had with my advisor last month- and failed to email him after trying to write it for an hour instead of going to the gym. I bought a horrible peach salsa unintentionally at the store. Didn't eat much for dinner. Went out to do my laundry. Got my haircut just before the place closed. I feel like nothin is going well for me just now (stylish haircut aside). Will anything ever change? It doesn't seem possible right now. What is wrong with me? Obviously something. 


This has been a rough couple of days. I know everyone has them, I'm just feeling particularly down trodden and can't see much light anywhere. Ugh. 

I hope things start looking up. 

February 5, 2013


Impostor syndrome (IS, happen to be my initials)

I was looking at Twitter and saw a post about the Science Online 2013 where they had a session about impostor syndrome. 

This is something I still feel strongly even today. In graduate school and the first few years of my postdoc, I always saw it as a negative thing. It certainly can be devastating if it gets to the point of 'I am an impostor, I am a mistake' (which is something that I thought for years; still do sometimes). This form of the impostor syndrome prevents people from trying new things and even tinkering around to find things that might work. It prevents action. 

The healthier form of IS

However, there is a healthier form of impostor syndrome that I'm trying to keep in mind more. It's the 'I'm new at this and don't feel like I belong, but that's OK. I'm learning. I'm trying something new. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone. Stepping out from the cave. Feeling awkward doing it.  But you're Daring greatly. Like with this blog. It's not as if I'm setting the blogoshpere on fire with my amazing posts. I do this because it's fun for me. And maybe I'll learn a thing or two through doing it. 

The challenge

One of my challenges I set for myself this month is to be more extroverted. Which means talking to more people I just see when i'm out and about (just saying an audible 'hi', with eye contact counts). I feel very awkward about this. And I've done OK with it so far (no Earth shattering moments of having a long conversation yet). I am pushing myself to do things in the lab that are new to me and I don't know if they will work or not. While these are all good things, it is hard to implement. It goes against my nature. 

Tomorrow's another day to work on being, not simply trying. And another day to practice getting to a healthier mindset with the impostor syndrome.

February 1, 2013


Despite my better



                               still working.

                 Still trying.

                                       Still a scientist.

        Still not giving up.

January 31, 2013


I am probably making a mistake by teaching this semester. I have the opportunity and I hate to say no to what is ostensibly a good opportunity for any postdoc. Teaching others helps solidify communication, knowledge, interaction and team work skills. All things I need to work on. After all I have Sheldon Cooperish tendencies

However, I also have a chip on my shoulder that says teaching doesn't matter and isn't valued at all as a skill- at any level of education (speaking for the US here, I hear that in Taiwan, tutors are rock stars and there are reality TV competitions 'who's the best tutor?'). 

Of course, it is just one class. And I am enjoying solving the puzzle of putting it together for the 2nd time.

I gave my first lecture tonight. It went well enough. I wish I'd had a bit more time to prepare, but the structure of DNA is something I know pretty well. 

I think teaching is good for me, and I think I do derive some satisfaction out of it; but I'm not sure what exactly it is. I do like connecting people to information. And learning new things myself (not that I've been super effective at that the past few previous posts; depression sucks. Perhaps it's something I should explore more in future posts. 

In some ways, it's good because it forces me out of my shell and pushes me to get things done. It's also exhausting. 

More to come on this, I'm sure. 

January 29, 2013


Rest. Relaxation. Sleep. A Life.

Four horsemen of a laziness and in the culture of science, they're things you're 'supposed' to minimize to be successful. These things are essential for being human. I don't get enough of any of them. And even though I do more things now that are satisfying to me, they feel like stop gap measures to maintaining my sanity. 

Turning off and letting go are things I don't naturally do well (especially when I feel like I'm behind on things & I'm always behind). That's not to say that when I'm on, I do things the right way, or well. But  I'm a human and no matter how I do when I'm 'on' I need to recharge my batteries (especially as an introverted person). 

This last week hasn't been great for that. Last night, I basically shut down. And just needed to stop. I drove home from the first day of lab, second day of lecture for the class I'm co-teaching in a large snowstorm. I don't think I'd have made it home if it weren't for the snow plow I followed most of the way. 

I barely ate today. And feel kind of awful (of course) because of it. I've been eating a lot less this year so far. I'm not sure if it's the cold weather or what. I've been rushed in the mornings due to trying to get every last minute of sleep. I've gone out for coffee on my way to work each morning. Maybe good for socializing a little bit. But it's also expensive.

I worked most of the weekend. Not sleeping well. Not socializing nearly enough to be healthy. My hug count for 2013 is 0 (yes, I count- and assume my count is lower than most other people's). 

Some of this is because I don't set good boundaries, but of course, like most scientists (probably like most Americans in professional positions), the ideal is to work as much as possible. Get up early. Stay late. Eat at your desk (while working). Don't read for pleasure. Only work. Come in at least one day a weekend and get something done. Have more things going than you can handle at once. Multi-task. 

I don't know that any of this is a problem, but it certainly doesn't help, especially if you don't have something else to balance things out a bit. A hobby, family, something else you're passionate about besides your work. I'm still not sure I've found that thing for myself (the most elegant solution for me would be a significant other- being single matter how much my friends in relationships say they're a pain too). 

I don't have any good answers. There are things I'd like to change in my life. And may well be changing. I'm just not sure any of my new habits will make much difference. 

I wish I had a more positive note to end on. It's late. So I'm going to get to sleep. 

January 20, 2013


Motivation and drive to get things done has been on my mind lately. As well as the things that still get in my way. Several things I have run across have spoken to this lately:

  • Biochem Belle (@BiochemBelle) had this  fantastic post about creating ideas, silencing your inner critic for a time, giving yourself space to generate ideas before nixing things in the bud outright (a tendency I certainly have).
  • I also recently subscribed to Annie Murphy Paul's 'Brilliant Blog' and her post about a sense of community being important for learning.
  • Kerry Ann Roquemore's series on academic perfectionism. I mentioned this series before even though I'd only read the first of the posts. I read the rest and it speaks to my struggles with perfectionism and how I've at least started to take some positive steps towards addressing it.
  • I also just watched 'I'm Fine, Thanks', a documentary I was introduced to via, @sarahkpeck's blog about getting things done and living life well. I had tears in my eyes in recognition during the whole thing. 

All four of these things really resonated with me strongly. Here's why:

  • Perfectionism also takes on the guise of my inner critic that shoots down dieas before they even fully form and have time to breathe. Or before I even try.
  • Perfectionism is isolating. One thing I've been taught again and again is that learning happens best with other people. For feedback, for support, for new ideas and for getting used to a new environment. Perfectionism keeps you on the sidelines. "It's not the critic who counts...." comes to mind. Perfectionism keeps you out of the arena.
  • One things I've lacked as a postdoc is drive. Perfectionism is truly devastating. It's one reason for my disconnection. It's also the reason I procrastinate on things; if they're not going to be perfect, why start? It really is a self-defeating way of thinking. My tendency is to avoid people as an introvert, but they are essential to an effective learning environment.
  • When I watched 'I'm Fine, Thanks', it has made me see that I have been defined by a vision that has been defined by others. Namely, grad school, postdoc, then faculty position, then tenure, etc. Oh and a significant other, possibly a family along the way. The straight line to success that doesn't really exist. I feel stuck & disconnected in my current position. I don't have a good history with relationships. And I don't quite have a good idea of what my vision is. I'm starting to question and push that direction, but my feeling right now is that I'm not sure bench research is what I want to be doing forever. The director of the movie decided to make his dream of making a film come true; I like asking and finding answers to questions, but my current setting is not conducive to that.
With this blog, I'm trying to address perfectionism by just writing it pretty loosely and not worrying too much about 'tight' writing. And then putting it out into the world and realizing that it's not fatal. I do strive to be good enough. And coherent. And sometimes clever. 

Perfectionism is deadly. Don't participate. Get past it. Address the underlying insecurity that drives it. Academics do seem very prone to perfectionism. It will lead into depression and other bad places. If you're a perfectionist, join me on the road to recovery. 

January 14, 2013


This is my list of words that I'll be returning to again and again in 2013:

I've heard this idea from a number of places. Have a word you can return to to check in with and make sure you're actually going after your goals for the year. 

Ask is my word because asking is how I can reconnect with the world. What questions do I need to ask?
  • How do I_____?
  • Would you like to ____ with me ('go out', e.g.)?
  • Can you teach me________?
  • I am applying for _________.
  • Where can I find _________?
  • Can I help you___________?
  • Have you read__________?
  • Did I do this the best way I could have?
  • Do you think you can give me some feedback?
  • Will you publish my paper?
  • I'm curious about________. 
  • Do I have to be a postdoc forever?
  • Have I formed better habits around_____?
  • I would like __________.
I don't ask things of people or myself nearly enough. I settle for the status quo. I of course will ask questions in the lab and hopefully ask good ones. For too long, I've just not asked due in large part to a fear of vulnerability. I learned to hide behind 10 layers of brick wall in my mind and rarely let anyone in...not even me at times. What do I want? I've almost never had a good answer for this question. 
You may have noticed I have some other words below 'Ask'. These are other words to focus on this year. Finish, doing, deciding, writing and it will be good enough. Not perfect. I made this image the lock screen on my phone and I put it into Evernote as a note so hopefully I'll look at this often and be reminded. Asking terrifies me a lot of the time. I'm that person who won't even bring up bad service at a restaurant to the server; or often ask why something is one way vs. another. 

So my main word for this year is to ask. Of others. Of myself. Of the internet. 

Do you have a word or words for 2013?

January 8, 2013

Academic mastery vs. real world mastery.

I like 'The Big Bang Theory'. I can see myself in the main characters of the show (not Penny as much, but I'm not an attractive blonde girl from Nebraska who sometimes turns out to the be smartest one in the room when it comes to life in the real world). 

Which brings me to the point of this post (which again, I'm sure has been hashed to death by others in a more engaging way). 

There's an episode 'The Friendship Algorithm' where Sheldon talks about learning how to swim over the internet. He later learns to rock climb by the same method. 

When Sheldon does attempt to actually rock climb, he makes it part way up the wall until he realizes he's 'high up' (5 feet, at most!), gets really scared and can't move up or down. And eventually faints and falls off the wall...'hanging there like a huge Salami' as Barry Kripke describes it. 

Funny scene, but also speaks to an issue I know I struggle with. Being in my own head too often. And when confronted with something practical I need to do, I freeze in fear. If it's something new, it needs to be studied to death first (it is kind of amazing that Sheldon gets anything done, but perhaps because he's a theoretical physicist, his work truly is all in his head and he just needs to write it down in publishable form). 

I may be doing better but I'm still too perfectionist for my own good. It's hard to separate striving for excellence with trying to be perfect. Obviously, the former is fine, the latter is crippling. Jason Moore shared this series on academic perfectionism addresses the issues I definitely still have- almost at an unconscious level. I do it automatically with writing, it's part of the reason I write here. to get over it (it's partly helped). I haven't read the whole series, but the first installment nails the problem...I can't wait to read the rest of it. It is targeted towards faculty, but think the issues apply equally to grad students and postdocs. 

The level of certainty I seem to need in things is higher than for most other people. Like Raj on 'Big Bang', I have trouble talking to women (at least ones that I don't know..I'm OK w/ female friends). It's perfectionism + needing certainty of outcome for me to proceed. 

Trying to live purely intellectually is what I've done for so long that it's hard to learn a new way of doing things. Or to do what Sheldon doesn't, try to get over fear, get out of my head into the messy uncertain world and try as many new things as possible. It's where my resolutions are centered this year. I have no doubt I'm in for a world of mistakes.

Lifehacker was once again helpful with a timely post about taking small steps towards addressing anxieties and fear. As I do with this blog, I guess it means exposing myself to the real world. 

So this year, I am working on being the master of my academic work, but also to not be as paralyzed by the real world either. Through small steps. Let's see how I do...

January 6, 2013

New. Old.

2013. Obviously. It's a new year. New Stuff! 

I am buying quite a few new things it seems. Some things I should have gotten years ago. 

An APA style guide. So I can write more good.

I'm thinking of getting a printer I can use at home, rather than relying on the lab printer for everything I want in hard copy form. 

I got a new computer last month that I'm slowly setting up the way I want it. Computers are great. Keyboard shortcuts are really fun to learn. 

Some new toys I still want to get: 

Sonic screw driver and Dr. Who themed notebook. Because I'm a Whovian and I want a blank journal to record things in.

My own laster pointer. To point at the night sky, but also use in power point presentations

New Running gear. This is the year I want to run a half marathon.

New Sheets on my bed. Flannel is comfortable!

New attitude: Ask! I think that's the theme of my year. Ask questions. Ask for help. Ask people to attend things with. Ask to get myself into crazy adventures. Ask. 

I am also getting rid of some old things:

Books I haven't looked at in years. 

Old magazines.

Files I no longer need. 

Old clothes. 

Old attitudes. Bring in more self compassion. Less time beating myself up. More time doing things that matter (people, relationships, 

January 3, 2013

Write Right. Write. Right.

It is early in 2013 and I'm thinking about resolutions. 

One of them is to get things written down. In digital or hand written form. I'd like to do a post a week. I want to get a good work flow going on one of my projects at work. Though I still don't see what's interesting about it. One problem I have is feeling disconnected. Not just from my work, but from people too. I'm re-reading the section in 'Daring Greatly' (now one of my favorite books) about how people become disconnected. The amount of times I tear up in reading passages and seeing just how many layers of shielding and armor I've wrapped myself in is astounding. No wonder I feel so stuck. 

I was reminded of this line from 'Doctor Who' recently: 

"The Doctor said the universe was huge and ridiculous and, sometimes, there were miracles."

I'm kind of hoping for a miracle this year. Not that I'm a literal believer in such things per se, but there are things I find miraculous. Like yesterday, I got a message from a friend telling me exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. 

As the title of this post suggests, I want to write more this year (and do it right!). In this space, but also in my work, writing cover letters and formatting resumes and sending them to whoever I can; a real miracle would be getting hired. While I do believe in myself more & feel like I can make meaningful contributions to a lab/company, it's still hard to see the change happening. All I can do is make a real effort to get it done.  

I'm still in my own way too much. A mantra I'm trying to internalize is "Do More. Think less."

Two blog posts have caught my attention this week:

Penelope Trunk suggests banning the word 'busy'


The always good suggestions of Sarah Peck, in this case a list of 52 suggestions for good life habits (#16. Do something that terrifies you. Every Day.)

Publishing a post here terrifies me. So I've done that for the day. 

At the beginning of 2013, I can tell I have some better habits that I've slowly formed over the last year. And I feel like I am slowly chugging forward, as opposed to being a train that had stopped (seemingly permanently) at a depot. 

I don't know where in the huge and ridiculous universe the train will take me, but mostly, the thing I want to do is feel connected again. Be connected. Probably fall flat on my face and fail more often than not, but the main point is to not think about things so much. Just do them and trust myself enough that my first instincts are correct. That I do have a decent brain that can solve problems, interpret, note, observe and explore. All while continuing to serve as an example to others of previous bad habits as a postdoc and my development of much better ones. 

I know none of this sounds specific, but that's the part I'm not going to share with the world. 

Good luck and best wishes in 2013,