The other day I came across an interesting article from Daniel Lakens about how academic research grants are divided in The Netherlands (article in Dutch). In this article he refers to an interesting study (in English if you download the PDF), describing where scientist who receive prestigious individual Dutch research grants end up. What I thought was most interesting is that when they compare individuals who received a grant versus those who applied but didn't receive one, the successful applicants are 10% LESS likely to hold permanent positions SIX years after receiving a grant*. I actually see this happen around me as well: the lack of advertised tenure track positions in many scientific disciplines leads to a weird way of hiring people in the homecountry. I heard the story of someone who obtained an ERC starting grant, which is 5 years worth of money, who was then offered a 'tenure track position' of 5 years (meaning that they paid their own salary for said position, with no guarantee for what would happen after that). This type of story is exactly what is suggested by these data.
* Data are from the period between 2000-2008 so the situation may be different now.
For a training at work, I am reading "The 7 habits of highly effective people". I assume everybody in the world has already read this book, because whoever I talk to about this book says something like:"oh yes, I liked this or that advice that was given".
The first of the seven habits made me realize how I became such a disgruntled postdoc. This chapter of the book talks about proactive and reactive people, and how proactive people focus on their so-called "circle of influence": the things in life that you can influence, like problems at work that you can solve. Reactive people however, focus mostly on things in their "circle of concern": things that you cannot influence, but that do affect you, like the weather. As a postdoc it felt like my circle of concern was huge: there were so many things I felt were very difficult to influence, like circumstances in the lab, reviewers, the competitive job market, my inability to get grants funded, etc. I felt like my circle of influence was this tiny dot in a huge circle of concern.
After reading this part of the book, I think it is important to clearly distinguish the two, and - even as a post-doc with a huge circle of concern - to work on the things that you can influence, like figuring out what you want to do next and taking steps to go there. Also: writing and submitting manuscripts, applying for grants and considering to appeal rejections (although this may be more the pro-active playing field of PIs rather than postdocs).
I was the smartest kid in my primary school class, I think. I know I was the smartest girl, which was not a thing to be proud of. I was a smart kid in the time where there were no additional things to do aside from the normal curriculum. There were no science projects or other extra things. There was the education everyone got and then there was a lot of waiting until everybody else was done. I quickly learned that being smart or nerdy or funny was never rewarded. It was laughed at (not in a good way) and ridiculed both by my classmates and by some of the teachers. Girls (kids?) were supposed to be average. So I learned to wait. I remember not being allowed to sit next to a plant because out of pure boredom I killed the plant by picking at its leaves whenever I was waiting for the rest of the class to finish an assignment. Imagine the things I could have learned in that time. Luckily my parents are both scientists and there was enough to learn and explore outside school. I played an instrument and I fondly remember a car ride with my mom when I was 8 or 9 and I asked her all about HIV and AIDS and how that worked. My mom patiently answered all my questions with her knowledge from reading Scientific American.
I'm not sure if learning to act average has made me sloppy and the not-at-all-perfectionist person that I am. Maybe that was always already there. Learning to act average however comes with one advantage, which is that I always knew I could do much better if I actually did something. Even though I had to work harder once I got to secondary school and later university, there was always still that feeling that there was a lot of reserve, and that I could always go that extra mile if needed.