I am the kind of person that likes to keep little boxes with memories. At my parents’ house, I have a box with letters that my grandmother sent to me when I was studying or working abroad. When she passed away, she had a box with the letters I wrote to her, so now I have a slightly bigger box that contains both our correspondence. I have a similar box with letters from friends in high school. And a box with pictures from the time before digital photography.
My Hotmail account was a box like that. I started using it in the late nineties just before I went to college and continued to use it for almost 10 years, until I switched to gmail. I never deleted anything, except for in the early days when Hotmail only allowed you so much storage and I had to make the difficult decision of which of those precious emails to delete.
I hadn’t logged into my Hotmail account for over a year, and then when I did yesterday, it had switched to being outlook, and to my horror my inbox said: ”You’re all caught up” and it was empty, except for the image of a winner cup. What have you done, Microsoft? Did you just throw away my box of memories?! A quick google search shows me I’m not the only one, but that Microsoft has been an overachieving Marie Kondo for everybody and apparently decided that none of those emails were sparking joy and therefore could all just be deleted.
So now I’ve been preoccupied since yesterday with trying to remember what was in those ten years of emails: the entire electronic correspondence with the person I had a relationship with for more than half of that decade, the email from his mom around the time we broke up about how I needed to make decisions for myself – an email that really upset me when I received it, but that when I re-read it years later finally understood the warmth behind it. Also, emails from my friend when she was abroad for a year when we were 18. Sent emails from myself when I was abroad for work or studying. Very precious emails from the first person I ever dated when I was 14: email did not exist back then for me, but we later found each other back – in an email that kind of changed my life afterwards (yes – dramatic, but that is the case when you’re adolescent right?). Also: pictures from before the digital era that people had scanned and emailed. And probably many other things that I couldn’t remember, but that were in that box as well.
Why did you just throw away my box of memories, Microsoft?
I came back from SfN last week and want to write about some of my observations there, but with little time to sit down and write this, somehow this post came out first.
I’ve been asked a couple of times (both at SfN and elsewhere) what my pseud means. I thought it was an obvious play on words, but I guess it was a very nerdy play on words, so here is some explanation. Before I left academia, I was a post-doc doing electrophysiology doing whole cell recordings in slices. When doing that, before you reach whole cell mode, you are first in cell-attached mode (ie when the pipet is attached to the cell membrane, before you actually break into the cell). A good image on how that works is here.
At the same time, BlueEyes was born, and he was somewhat the opposite of babies that you often see in pictures: relaxing and/or sleeping in a crib or something like that. He was mostly happy when he was being held and even then he was sometimes unhappy *. I quickly discovered babywearing and other types of attachment parenting thingies that seemed to help retain everyone’s sanity.
So when I started tweeting and blogging around that time, babyattachmode seemed a good name. I did not really think ahead to the time when I would no longer be a post-doc doing electrophysiology and no longer have little babies. So I contemplated whether to change my pseud, but since I already find it confusing when people change their avatar on twitter, I’m just going to stay who I am online.
Have you outgrown your pseud and have you changed it because of that?
* I know, this is normal baby behavior too – but we see it much less often in books or on TV…
This morning, I went for a run before work and listened to this week's Recovering Academic podcast. In this episode, they talk about how a large part of being an academic in recovery means having to figure out how much of your identity is being an academic scientist, and if that is gone, what is left? I very much recognize this feeling, even though I'm still a scientist, just not in academia. I did very much have to redefine myself, not just on the outside (new outfit, different haircut), but even more on the inside. What I am mostly still struggling with, is the difference in achievements and how visible those are. In academia, I was very much motivated by getting papers published and being able to search for my name on Pubmed and finding an increasing number of hits. The output is very tangible and is celebrated with press releases and such. Now that I work for a company, the end-product that we make is even more tangible (an actual thing that can sit on the table), but my part in it is much less visible, especially to the outside world. Think about it, you can read everywhere who invented CRISPR or optogenetics, but many inventions coming out of companies are celebrated in a much less personal way (to the outside world at least). Sort of connected to that is the fact that I took pride in the things I finished (experiments, papers), whereas now it is much less clear when something is actually finished and the work leading up to that thing that can sit on the table is much longer most of the times.
On the other hand, the fact that everything was so personal was also a reason for me to leave academia. Because the downside of celebrating personal accomplishments was the fact that also criticism on papers and grants proposals felt very personal. Anyways, just some rather incoherent thoughts after listening to that episode, which you should do too!
I think that in the past couple of weeks I have cried more at work than in the years before that combined. We have a complicated thing going on with people who have feelings and opinions about the complicated thing which made me cry in frustration when discussing it with my manager. I have a colleague whose dad passed away which made me cry in sympathy. I had a bad migraine last week that made me cry when another colleague asked me if I was doing okay. And then today my manager kindly asked me if I was doing well in the middle of all of this and their kindness made me cry. My manager asked:"you're crying, are you sure you're okay?" and I told them that I guess I cry easily and I'm really, really okay and their concern about me made me cry more.
To feel better after this meeting, I re-read Meghan's post on crying in science because it says so nicely why it can be okay to cry at work:
... instead view [crying] as a natural form of emotion that simply indicates that the person is passionate or stressed or concerned or tired or anxious or frustrated – or, more simply, that they are human.
Someone who gave a training in our company a while ago said: "it's not so bad to cry at work as it used to be, because we are starting to appreciate vulnerability more." I'm not sure this is true, but I like the idea.
I feel that I need to reduce my crying at work though. I've started meditating again at the end of my day, because I feel that I was dragging all these emotions and opinions from people at work home, without really realizing I was doing that. I need to order my thoughts more so that I won't be caught off guard during a meeting by something someone says. But I guess I don't want to stop caring about what I do, so there may be some crying at work left sometimes.