Years ago I went to our annual PhD retreat and one of PhD students from a different lab presented data from a screen they did. They talked about the model and the screen and just when we thought things were getting excited and they would talk about their findings, they showed data about "protein X". They described some of the features of said protein, but did not want to disclose the name, in fair of getting scooped.
I thought this was overly cautious and unfair to the audience, but the other day I heard an even more striking story of someone who was this vague about their data in a labmeeting of their own lab. For months they presented data without wanting to tell to their lab members the identity of a protein that was at the center of their project. It makes me wonder: is the lack of input you can expect from your lab mates when you hide critical information worth the reduced risk of getting scooped by someone close to you?
For the past 3,5 month, I have been working in medical affairs* for two days a week, picking up some of the tasks from somebody who is on maternity leave and learning a ton about what happens in this area of the company. In this company, R&D is in one location and all of the commercial functions are together in a different location, which leads my R&D colleagues to make all sorts of comments about me "moving to the dark side". In medical affairs - at least with some of the tasks - you're the intermediate between R&D and marketing.
At R&D, we generally joke about how we do all the serious stuff and marketing is adding some frivolities in order to sell more of the stuff that we make. But now that I'm experiencing life on the dark side, I get more insight in the things that marketeers are really good at. And one of those things is -as the marketeers call it- word crafting. It turns out that making materials together with a marketeer is like next level twitter: how can you use the least amount of words to convey the most impactful message? In reality, this means going over the words 10 or more times, going back and forth with new ideas on how to change a word or how to rewrite the whole sentence.
And learning better how to do this and how important this is, I look with new eyes at my own sloppy, barely edited writing. Is this the reason I've been blogging less the past couple of weeks? Because I see how I throw stuff online without properly making sure every sentence is at the right place and in the right order? And I wonder if it would do more scientists good to do a short internship in marketing to learn more about the art of word crafting?
*I realize my pseud is getting thin, but in order to write about what I'm learning here, it is important to reveal what I'm actually doing.
It has been a busy couple weeks, with the mistake I made at work, the temporary new role at work that I'm doing part-time next to my own job, travel to 2 meetings abroad and the fact that we get the key to our new house today (the first time we are owning a home ever!). In fact, it has been so busy that I completely forgot to celebrate my 5 year bloggiversary on March 1st!
So to make up for that, here is some confetti for you dear reader! And my vow to be back here more often for more work-life balance thoughts and other first world problems 🙂
Last Thursday I found out I had made a mistake at work. It wasn't a life-or-death mistake, but it was a mistake that was big enough it affected a project I work on, including people outside the company. It wasn't entirely my fault, but it surely felt like it. I talked about it with people in my team, including my manager and left in tears before the end of the day. I felt so bad on Thursday that I wondered if I would dare to step into the office on Monday again.
I was awake half the night wondering how upset people would be with me and asked my manager if I could call him on Friday. I told him how bad I felt, especially for the people that were affected too* and that I wanted to learn from this mistake and look at how we could do better from now on. I cried when I was on the phone with him. I guess part of why this got to me so much is the amount of work that I'm doing, that JUST fits in the time I have with very little room for error.
On Monday, I dragged myself to the office, half dreading what people would say, half rested and ready to try and make it right - or at least be pro-active in repairing the damage. And then I was surprised how supportive everyone was. A friend at work said she had experienced something similar and advised me to look to the future. My manager saying that to him it didn't particularly matter whose fault it was but that we need to learn from how this happened to prevent it from happening again. And the people that I work with were helpful in fixing what can still be fixed and doing it better from now on.
I still need to talk about the mistake to a higher boss who is not often around and I get a bit nervous thinking about this, but I guess what I've learned this week is that making a mistake (even one that feels like the end of the world) is something that happens to many people and is something you can learn from.
*I've made mistakes before when I was in academia and I discovered that for me at least, a mistake feels much less horrible when it affects mostly yourself then when it affects those around you, and especially when you represent a company and make the company look bad.
Most academics work hard, whether it is the amount of hours you spend in the lab or the efficiency and focus with which you dedicate yourself to your work. And having spend the last 2,5 years outside academia, I don't think this is much different for people outside academia. If I look around the company I work for, many people put in more hours than stated on their contract and work hard.
But lately I've been wondering why we all work so hard? When I was in academia, I worked hard because I wanted to have my own lab one day, and I knew that for that I needed papers and funding. I worked hard for a long-term goal. And even though I liked doing the work, on many days I did not like the work and purely did it because of that long term goal.
Now, being outside academia, I don't have such a clear long-term goal, and I especially didn't have one when I had just transitioned outside academia. I have been working less hard than in academia, or perhaps I should say: I've been less obsessed with the feeling that I have to work hard. But I'm still working more and harder than I technically should. And I'm trying to get a clear view for myself why I do it. Is it because I hope it will get me higher up in the company (yes, I think), is it for external recognition (yes I guess), is it because I like doing the work (yes, on most days), is it because this is the example my parents have given me (yes, both my parents worked hard and outside of their official working hours)?
What about you? Why do you work hard? Or do you like your work so much that it never feels like hard work, but rather like being allowed to play around all day?
More recent discussions on this here, here and here.
Oops a week without any other posts than this one, even though the discussion about workload in academia made me want to write a post, my workload outside academia prevented me from that. Which was kind of the point of the post that I had in mind, ironically.
Here are this week's links:
Office politics are things too
Feminism and fragility
Tips on asking questions after a talk
Women aren't failing at science - science is failing women
Black history month and the importance of mentors
Great illustrations highlighting lack of diversity from UN Women Egypt
"Thank you for not taking a vacation but coming in to do extra work".
"Wow such impressive work that you submitted a fellowship application 3 weeks after giving birth" (even though I did not get this grant in the end).
"Thanks for checking your email continuously on the day in the week that you're not working (and hence are not being paid)".
"What dedication that even though you have quit your post-doc job and have 3 weeks of vacation days left, you're still coming in to finish these experiments that you're doing".
Just a selection of things that nobody has ever said to me, ever. And this is (finally) making me realize that whenever you go this extra mile for work, you should do it for you and not to get external validation or praise. Because people tend to not see this effort that you put in in these invisible moments, while at the same time this effort may seem very large to yourself.
Well, my good intentions to do a weekly link love and blog more often kind of went down the drain last week. I got sick and am slightly overwhelmed by the combination of working, the new work thing and our new house which is almost ready (aaaahh we need to make the final decisions on the kitchen, we need to get quotes from movers, [insert rest of a lengthy to do list], aaaahh!).
So in the meantime, I just want to amuse you with this Michael Jackson song that I misheard the lyrics of yesterday when we were making decisions about with kitchen countertop we wanted. I'm clearly not the first one who misheard this.