Archive for the 'advice' category

Why do you work hard?

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.

7 responses so far

Some peace for your mind in these tumultuous times

Jan 17 2017 Published by under advice, new job, personal posts

It is the week of the inauguration of the orange overlord and I realize I have not written anything about that here. As someone who doesn't live in the US nor is a US citizen, I don't feel it is my place to comment on US politics to an audience of mostly US people. It feels like trying to explain how MRI works to an audience of MRI experts and before starting knowing that you might get it wrong. At the same time, I'm concerned and sad about the next four years for the US, and as a result the next four years for the climate and the state of the world. And I'm also concerned about our own upcoming elections with a Trump look-a-like who shares many of his ideologies.

So what have I got? Not much I'm afraid, but I wanted to share it anyway. Like I wrote in my new year's resolutions post, I've been meditating using the Headspace app and I really like it. I had tried meditating before, but never really got into it. I always kind of felt like I was faking it when I tried sitting at home and it was hard to establish any kind of practice that I kept up with. Until I tried the Headspace app*.

As you see, the graphics are nice and you can see why I keep up with it: you get stickers for the consecutive days that you use the app. Yup, I meditate for virtual stickers now. Headspace starts with a beginner series of guided meditation that gently teaches you how to recognize thoughts and feelings without judging them. It then continues with different packages of guided meditations on various themes, like patience, creativity, mental health, etc. I like the level of "guidedness" and the voice of Andy, the person who narrates them.

But -judging from the internet- this is people's biggest peeve with Headspace: it costs money. I've doubted for a while if I wanted to pay nearly $100 per year for a subscription but in the end I decided that I would and I agree with one of the commenters in the Reddit thread:

If you compare it to attending a yearly meditation course for 20$ a week it is cheap.

If you compare it to free mediation practice it is really expensive.

If you compare it to one night of fun and drinking I would suggest that you decide for meditation (with or without headspace).

I'm only 15 days away from my next virtual sticker and am definitely experiencing changes, although they are not huge. When I started my new job thing last week, I noticed that where normally I would only realize my level of stress when my shoulders would get really tense or I would get a headache, now I realized much sooner:"I'm really nervous about this". This realization did not change my level of anxiety much, but it did allow me to take a couple breaths and relax my shoulders. Which I'm sure will not hurt over the coming week and months to follow.

*This is not a sponsored post.

3 responses so far

How to create a culture of openness in a team?

I'm currently involved in 2 different projects, and without sharing any more detail about what they entail, I've noticed that the teams differ a lot in terms of openness of the team members. With that, I mean to what extend people dare to voice their concern and be critical towards each other and towards the project. To me, this is not very different from the situation in academic labs, where sometimes there is more room to be critical and share new ideas than in other cases. For example, how do you deal with results that don't fit the story that the lab is building?

But how do you create such a culture of openness? If I compare these two teams that I work in, I see this as the main difference: In the open team, a lot of the tasks are shared, even if it may seem unnecessary to share this much. Meetings are larger, because more people are included. Sometimes people join who don't seem experts on the topic, but this also means that they can think out-of-the-box compared to people who have been working on something for a while. In the not-so-open team, people tend to get their own little assignment from the team leader, that they then need to report back on once finished. Sometimes the different team members aren't aware of what the others are working on, or where they are in the process. In the open team, the way of working leads to the feeling that we are all working on something together, whereas in the not-so-open team it sometimes even leads to an us vs. them kind of feeling.

When I read the piece on Theranos in Vanity Fair recently, I realized that this was almost an exaggerated description of the not-so-open team that I work in:

Holmes [Theranos' CEO] had learned a lot from [Steve] Jobs. Like Apple, Theranos was secretive, even internally. Just as Jobs had famously insisted at 1 Infinite Loop, 10 minutes away, that departments were generally siloed, Holmes largely forbade her employees from communicating with one another about what they were working on—a culture that resulted in a rare form of executive omniscience. At Theranos, Holmes was founder, C.E.O., and chairwoman. There wasn’t a decision—from the number of American flags framed in the company’s hallway (they are ubiquitous) to the compensation of each new hire—that didn’t cross her desk.

And the end of the Theranos story warns what can happen when you create a culture like this. Just to add: the team that I work in is by far not as siloed as the situation at Theranos, but reading this and comparing the two teams that I work in makes me realize the value of being open and being able to share your opinion and ideas.

And then to end: what can you do as a team member? Personally, I try to continue to share my opinion in the not-so-open team, even if that is often not met with enthusiasm from the team leader. I try to catch up with other team members and share what we are working on - sometimes outside the scheduled team meetings. But working in these different teams also makes me realize how difficult it is to change the culture within a team - as a team member at least.

3 responses so far

Yesterday was #drugmonkeyday!

Sep 24 2016 Published by under advice, blogging, mentoring

Yesterday was #drugmonkeyday: a day to celebrate and be thankful for everything DrugMonkey has done for the online science community and beyond. However, yesterday I wrote a navel gazing post about running my first half marathon and then spent the day at the side of the playground because Friday is always my day off (I work 4 days a week like so many people (M/F) in this country). So I tweeted about it, but didn't take the time to sit down and write this post until now.

I started reading DrugMonkey's and Dr. Isis' blogs when I was a wee grad student in my homecountry. A lot of what they were writing was literally very foreign to me, even though I had spent 6 months as a research assistant in a lab in the US during undergrad. I don't really remember how I ended up reading science blogs: whether I googled something and found them or whether I found them through the early days of twitter. I only started to appreciate the usefulness of all this information when I went to interview for post-doc positions in the US and when people said things like:"I have 2 R01s from NIDA and NI triple A" that this sounded like more than a couple random letters in a row but that I actually understood the meaning.

Fast forward a couple years and I was a disgruntled postdoc (a DrugMonkey term) who just had a baby that did not sleep well. I felt alone in the lab full of people who could spend whatever time they wanted on both science and drinking, while my time was spent running experiments and trying to get my baby to sleep. I started my pseud twitter account and a blog shortly after and found other sleep deprived post-docs, among tons of other interesting people. From a long-time lurker, I started to become part of this community and DrugMonkey played a big part in helping me become part of this.

I remember riding back home from the lab and checking my blog stats (my husband was driving by the way) to see that they had suddenly exploded from 2 people a week (or month) to over a hundred in an hour. DrugMonkey had tweeted about something I had written, which caused this sudden uptick in traffic.

And aside from everything that can be learned at DrugMonkey's blog, lets not forget about all the encouragement on twitter!

...while thinking about a good way to end this post, the time for #naptimescience and blog writing seems to be over in this house. Thanks DrugMonkey and happy belated drugmonkeyday!

 

Links to many other #drugmonkeyday praise in this post.

No responses yet

How do you network for a job outside academia?

Recently, an anonymous postdoc emailed me with the following question [slightly redacted by me]:

I realize it is time for me to start taking my career switch to industry seriously. Problem is, I really haven't done anything in the networking department and I'm not even sure what type of work I'm open to. Do you have any networking tips? There are networking events for postdocs here but because the speakers have not been in the area of industry I'm interested in I haven't gone to many. But I should, right?

To which I answered: I've never really made the conscious step of thinking "now I'm going to network to get a job", but thinking back, I've definitely used my network first to figure out what types of jobs exist and also to eventually find my current job. That being said, I've never been to any official networking events. I rather try to make an appointment with someone to talk 1 to 1 than try to get to talk to someone at an event like that. Also, I get slightly intimidated thinking:"I have to network NOW!"....

When you're not yet sure exactly what type of job you're looking for, I would try to talk to as many people as you can that have jobs that you might be interested in, to ask them what the job entails and what they like about it. My experience is that people generally like talking about themselves and don't mind explaining what it is that they do. Start with people that you may already know. Don't only look at people more senior than you, also people from your grad school cohort may have positions you might be interested in or know people who do. Obviously, when you're actually looking for a job, more senior people may be able to do more for you than your peers, but peers will have more recent experience applying for jobs.

And, but this may be hard when you're in academia and don't want to share widely that you're looking for another job, tell people what you are looking for, so they may hook you up with people they know.

What is your advice regarding networking to get a job outside academia, dear readers?

One response so far

"Academia is sticky"

Fellow tweeps @IHStreet, @Doctor_PMS and @LadyScientist have started a podcast "Recovering Academic" where they talk about what it is like to leave academia and find a job outside the academic world. I think it's awesome, go check it out!

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Did you spend too much time as a post-doc?

Four years ago, I wondered "if I would ever make the decision to look for a job outside science, and if so, if I would regret all the time and effort put into trying to get data, write papers and get grants?". Before I left science, now almost two years ago, I spent more than four years as a post-doc doing slice electrophysiology mostly. Since I left academia, I've never patched a cell anymore.

Most scientists at the company I work at have done a post-doc, but many of them shorter than the 4,5 years I've spent as a post-doc. And then of course there are people around my age in more commercial jobs that have no PhD or post-doc experience at all (and probably get paid quite a bit more than me because of having more experience) So looking back, one might wonder if I've spent too much time as a post-doc?

I've given this quite some thought recently, mostly because it sometimes feels unfair that people who have an equal amount of experience-years end up in different positions. And I realize that if I had known that I would have ended up where I am now, I may have been able to get there with a shorter route. However, I also realize how much I have learned during my post-doc that is still very useful now, like writing, leading people and also just the experience of living somewhere else for a while. And of course the notion that work is also enjoyable, not just a race to get to some end-goal. So even thought I was afraid I would regret my time as a post-doc if I wouldn't be able to stay in academia four years ago, looking back I wouldn't have done it much different.

What about you? If you have left academia, do you wish you had spent less time as a post-doc?

9 responses so far

Assumptions vs open questions

Instead of: "Hey, are you an intern/graduate student/post-doc here?"

You can ask: "So, what is your position here?"

Or, instead of: "Is this your first job after graduating college?"

You can ask: "How long have you worked here and what have you done before that?"

So that I don't have to say - again - that I am not an intern, this is not my first job and yes, I do look kind of young but that does not take away from my credibility, if you first clear you mind of all the assumptions that live there.

Image from here: http://gentlemen-always-know.tumblr.com/post/104584707343

2 responses so far

The difference between a supportive and unsupportive manager/PI

I'm beginning to realize more and more that whether your manager or PI is helpful and goes the extra mile for you can make a HUGE difference for your everyday happiness and the advancement of your career. The other day I heard the following story of an industry scientist (paraphrased by me and changed some details to ensure anonymity):

"I recently received the feedback that I need to be more visible and impactful within the company in order to be able to keep my job and be eligible for any type of promotion. I want to be impactful, but I feel that I rarely get the opportunity: when I make slides for a presentation, my manager is the person who presents them. And when I ask them about this, they replied that they also need to work on being impactful to those higher up. On the other hand, my manager says that they want to help me, but I don't see how they do this. What can I do?"

I think that this is a clear example of having a manager who does not have much space to give you the things that you need to advance your career. I've been in that situation when I did a short post-doc with a PI who was only a few years more senior than me. While I saw PIs around me give their post-docs the option of co-supervision of PhD students or a co-PI position on grants*, or even 'just' the opportunity to meet collaborators and give talks, this person did not seem to have the ability or willingness to do that, or was still very busy getting those things for themselves. Perhaps it sounds entitled to want these things from a manager or PI, but I've seen around me how these seemingly little things can have a big effect on where you take your career.

It seems like this industry scientist is in the same situation: the manager and the scientist are not very far apart in seniority and the fact that the manager is busy getting the same things as the industry scientist within the same company makes it difficult for them to help the scientist advance.

So what can this industry scientist do? In the situation where they asked for advice, the following suggestions were given: find a mentor/coach other than your manager to help you with certain aspects, be more vocal about what you've accomplished and ask your manager to present your own work instead of having them present it for you.

 

*I can hear my US-readers think: you're supposed to show independence from your PI, which is true, but here it seems inevitable to have a period as senior post-doc when you're trying to become independent but here there is often no funding nor TT positions to be able to do that.

5 responses so far

"You need to persevere in the right direction"

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