A discussion I've been having recently: If an editor gives you x amount of time for the resubmission of a manuscript, but the reviewers suggest additional experiments that take longer than x amount of time do you:
A. assume you don't need to do those experiments to get your manuscript accepted
B. ask for additional time to do the experiments?
I suggested to do B by the way.
One of the things that seems mentioned the least in the training of PhD students and post-docs is what I would call "your scientific gut feeling": this intangible feeling for what topics will be important, which questions will lead to important answers and which unexpected results can lead to important discoveries. I actually wouldn't know how you would train this in somebody, but I think it can be very important in somebody's career and for science in general.
I seem to have the reverse scientific gut feeling: the first time I heard about LTP in the hippocampus when I was in college I had some type of unexplainable aversion against the topic. Later, I had to admit that when this was the basis of learning and memory in the brain, I guess I had to start liking it a little bit.
Similarly, the first time I heard about a project I got involved with in my post-doc lab, I was extremely skeptical about the mechanism that we were studying. So much, that I started to look up evidence to disprove my PI's hypothesis. In the end, I had to admit that perhaps they were right, and the paper about this ended up in a pretty good journal, which I honestly had never expected the first day I heard about it.
So now, when I sit in a meeting and somebody talks about a method or results that make me feel annoyed, skeptical or even almost angry, I stop myself from asking skeptical questions, but I realize that this might be a very important topic and that this feeling may actually indicate that it is important.
How is your scientific gut feeling? Or how do you identify important topics or results?
Yesterday I talked to my manager about the fact that I don't really know where I want to take my career and where I imagine myself in 5-10 years. I ended with:"Or am I overthinking this?" And they laughed and admitted that to them, the idea that this amount of planning a career was not what they had ever done. They responded saying:"Personally, I try to have a job with as many aspects in it that I really like to do on a day-to-day basis". They continued:"So my advice would be that if you talk to people about what their job entails, don't talk about the tasks that they do, but about the things they like in their job. That might help you find what kind of job would make you happiest."
This advice sounds so simple and also so in contrast to what I've learned before, which is that you should work hard and in the end you are rewarded with something. That you need to climb a steep ladder to get to where you want to be. Maybe the end results is not the most rewarding thing in a job, but the fact that if you find a job that you like, going home everyday with a smile on your face is the best reward.
If you think about it, this is what we learn at school already: study hard and get rewarded with a high grade. You rarely get to wonder if you like what you are studying. Is this why so many of us seem to struggle with finding what we like doing later in life? Because we have learned to ignore whether we like what we are doing?
As I wrote earlier this month, one of my goals this year is "to figure out my career path". Writing it down I already realize it sounds like an overambitious and kind of ridiculous goal, but let me explain what I mean:
In academia, my career path felt a bit like this
A narrow and steep path with very few places to choose to go into a different direction. In addition, notice that it is not even entirely possible to see the end, but I just kept climbing and climbing.
After switching to a company, my options feel like this:
It feels like I can go anywhere: I can stay a scientist and stay within my discipline, or I can try other things. It is encouraged to switch positions every 3-5 years, especially for those wanting to go in a more management-type of position. And ideally, one would choose tasks within your job and a next position with some type of long-term goal on the horizon that you work towards. This year, I need to define that for myself, also because I feel that that is something that motivates me.
But how do you define where you want to go? Am I ready to not be a neuroscientist anymore, because I feel that that has defined me for a large part for the last ten years. Am I ready to take on a job that requires more travel for example? I will discuss this with my manager and perhaps with HR, but any other tips into finding where you want to go with your career? Or should I not make such a big deal out of it and just see what comes on my path?
The building that I work in is designed as an open office with flexible workstations. There are desks where you can hook up your laptop and at the end of the day you need to completely clear your desk. There are lockers and cupboard spaces to keep things. You can adjust the desks and chairs in height and they even raise high enough to become a standing desk. From a recent article in the Washington Post, it seems that not everyone is a fan of open offices, but here it works really well.
From The Washington Post article:
“As the new space intended, I’ve formed interesting, unexpected bonds with my cohorts. But my personal performance at work has hit an all-time low. Each day, my associates and I are seated at a table staring at each other, having an ongoing 12-person conversation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s like being in middle school with a bunch of adults.”
I think that what makes it work here, is that it’s pretty clear when and where it is okay to talk. There are a couple desks in little fishbowls where you can work quietly. There are bigger fishbowls where you can have meetings. People step outside into the hallway or into a fishbowl to make a phone call. And so the large open office space is usually pretty quiet. And then when it’s not, I actually kind of like to hear people talk to each other about work. It has happened more than once that people overhear a conversation and then actually have something to contribute even though nobody would have thought to ask them in the first place.
The only disadvantage: there is glass everywhere. People can look on your screen at all times. And worst of all, there are virtually no places in the building where you can cry at work without being seen, except the bathroom. But after having cried, you still need to cross an entire building full of fishbowls on your way out.
Do you work in an open office? And do you like it?
First of all: happy 2016 everyone! I hope next year will be a great one for you all!
Last year, I set a couple goals in January and I haven't really written about whether I was able to meet those goals in the past year. My first goal was a personal one:
...This is not to say that I should work less overall, but more that I need to divide it better: time spent not working also means not ruminating about work-stuff that needs to be done, and time spent working should just be that. Let's see how that goes.
I think that after quitting my post-doc and starting to work for a company I have become better at not panicking so much about keeping my job. Even though my job is of course not super secure, I am less stressed about being able to keep my job than I was in academia. I still think about work during non-work time, but it's the good kind of thinking: coming up with new ideas or going over meetings that happened. I make lists of things I need to do, which has proven to be a good way to not ruminate about them so much. Also, I've gotten good scores on my end of year review, so I feel pretty confident about what I get done in a normal amount of hours and how I do it.
My next goal was really work-related and was about stakeholder management:
I always wonder if I should ask someone for help or just do it myself without bothering anyone.
This has really changed in the past year, when I've worked in different teams needing to keep multiple people in various functions updated about projects. I now make a habit of checking if I'm on the right path with people or sometimes double-check to see if we all have the same ideas about where a project is going. I think getting more comfortable in my job and finding that people rarely feel bothered when you ask them things have contributed to this.
My last new year's resolution of last year was about blogging: I wanted to interact with commenters more and blog once a day for a whole month. This last thing sadly never happened. My priorities are taking care of kids and working and blogging only happens when those two things have happened to a satisfying degree. Kind of the same thing is true for answering to comments: sometimes I just cannot find enough time to answer or keep a discussion going (or comment on other people's blogs, which I would like to do more too).
My resolutions for 2016? I already tweeted the following
More about that in future posts! What are your resolutions for 2016?