Archive for the 'advice' category

"You need to persevere in the right direction"

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How interacting with people at work is a lot like interacting with toddlers

The other day I was in a training that talked about effectiveness and it made me realize that being effective is really tested the most when dealing with toddlers. The trainer talked about how being effective is not only about the quality of the outcome but also about the acceptance of everyone involved. This made me think about getting a toddler to put their shoes on. When it would be only about quality, I can put those shoes on in about 5 seconds. However, when effectiveness is about getting out of the door with a toddler with their shoes on, I've found that often the only way to get this done is by having the toddler put their own shoes on, however testing for my patience that might be. The alternative would be that the toddler has shoes on, but is laying on the ground yelling that they want to do it themselves for much longer than it would have taken them to put them on themselves...

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I'm trying to remind myself of this example, because I've found that my initial reaction very often is to figuratively speaking put the shoes on the toddler myself and run out of the door, while this might not be the best way to interact with people (collaborators for example) in the long run.

 

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A postdoc's circle of influence

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.

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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).

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"Just do what you like doing best"

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?

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On finding where I want to take my career

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

narrow path

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:

balloons

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?

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On going to a conference alone

On twitter, @Dr24hours asked the following question:

When I think about going to a conference by myself, I think mostly about my fear not being able to find people to hang out with. I think about how a conference can feel a bit like starting in a new school or going to college first: I'm afraid of being the only person who has nobody to eat lunch with. It really depends on the conference you go to whether this becomes reality. And actually, most of the times other people are by themselves too and I end up meeting really nice and interesting people. However, it is much easier at conferences that are set up to stimulate interaction, for example by automatically sharing meals together. At other conferences it can be much more difficult, for example if all other people seem to already know each other and hang out in seemingly difficult to break into groups.

When going to a conference with your PI (but without other peers), it really depends how willing your PI is to introduce you to other people, either their peers or your peers. If you PI is doing that, it is really helpful to go with them, but if they run off to hang with their friends, it might be even more awkward than if you just go by yourself.

Even though I've become much more confident going to meetings by myself, now that I am in a new job going to different conferences than the ones where I started to know many other people, the feeling is still a bit the same. And actually, one of the conferences I went to last year, with many non-scientists attending, was almost worse in terms of not being able to find people to hang out with than when I was an undergrad. Other people attending this conference seemed to all come in groups that were seemingly not that interested in networking, so I ended up talking mostly to the other people from my company.

To come back to @Dr24hours' question: he also seemed concerned that his student would be more vulnerable going to a conference alone because she is a woman. I had not even considered this option, perhaps because I have been lucky enough not to experience harassment at a conference. Or should I say: not to experience harassment other than I experience in daily life? Which is why the same rules apply that my mom taught me, like: don't go somewhere if nobody knows where you are, don't hang out with people that don't feel right, don't make yourself extra vulnerable by drinking too much for example and leave when you feel uncomfortable.

What are your biggest concerns when going to a conference alone?

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How I should have handled the thing

The other day I wrote about how the following thing happened. As many people have pointed out: a. it is hard to distinguish exactly who the idea-owner was, and if so, this is not that important, and b. I should have said something earlier. Looking back, I clearly see what I should have done differently:

First, while we were brainstorming about what I could write my fellowship about, I should have asked if our stuff would be different enough. Perhaps I should have even asked if they were okay with me proposing this, as they may have felt it was close to their research-niche. I guess being open about this, rather than assuming someone would speak up about this could have avoided this situation.

Next, when they told me after I had just joined the lab that they were performing these experiments, I should have said something other than "Oh. Okay", which is what I said because I was so surprised. I should have expressed my surprise and have a conversation about how to move forward. Instead, I never said anything because I was afraid I would get upset and cry about it. And the longer I waited with saying something, the more upset I got about it.

So the biggest lesson here was that it is important to immediately have a conversation about things like this, instead of just whine about it on the internet.

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The following thing happened

A couple years ago I was applying for personal fellowships to return to the homecountry and work in a PI's lab in order to set up my own group within their bigger lab (which is how things usually go in the homecountry). I talked to a junior groupleader (JG) in this lab and we brainstormed about what I would write in my fellowship. I wrote the fellowship and asked JG for feedback because they had experience with said fellowship. I submitted the fellowship and it got rejected. Twice. Then I moved back to the homecountry and JG told me they were doing one of the experiments that I had proposed in my fellowship. And recently I saw that they had published the results. Aim 1 of my fellowship is done. But not by me. If this doesn't make you a disgruntledpostdoc, I don't know what does.

 

What is the worst academic backstabbing you have experienced?

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The thing that made going back to work after maternity leave a bit easier

I recently came across Laura Vanderkam's post about dealing with going back to work after your maternity leave.  It made me think about the one thing that I did when going back to work after BlueEyes was born and that was for my husband to take a week off to take care of BlueEyes the first week I went back to work (BlueEyes was 3 months when I went back). This was a great thing for us for a couple of reasons:

1. By being home for a week with BlueEyes my husband realized what it takes to be home with a baby and why some days when I was on maternity leave I would be ecstatic to have contact with another grown-up after being home with a baby all day. He realized how exhausting it was, how for some reason you get nothing done all day and by 5 PM you find yourself on the couch with a crying baby, still dressed in pajamas that may or may not have been puked on. After this, he would never ask:"what have you done all day?" on days that I was home.

2. For me, it was nice to go back to work and not have to worry about how BlueEyes was doing in daycare that first week. Instead, I only had to worry about pumping milk, being incredibly sleep deprived, not fitting in my old clothes yet, trying to remember what I was sciencing about before going on leave and adjusting to being this entirely different person who was mostly very alert whether somebody was crying or hungry.

3. I don't know if for BlueEyes it mattered whether he was home with my husband or at daycare. I like to think it was a nice transition for him, to have to drink from a bottle but still be in the house that he knew before going to daycare, but with such a little baby, it's hard to know.

I think my ideal situation would be to have some hybrid work-baby situation with a small baby: be able to bring them to work or be able to work a bit from home (which I did much more with Little Brother), or be able to have both parents work half days, but of course each baby (and parent) is different. What would your ideal transition back to work look like?

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Women in academia: one step forward, two steps back?

This morning, I was happy to discover this new website from 4 Dutch female full professors: Athena's angels.

Many people assume that men and women have equal opportunities to be successful in an academic career. Yet women continue to be approached and treated differently than men, in ways that impact on their scientific career prospects. This website is designed to elucidate the specific challenges women have to overcome to realize their scientific ambitions, and where possible eliminate these.

Their website explains what gender bias is, and gives examples of what everyday sexism looks like (in Dutch only). I think it is great that prominent females scientists highlight these issues.

But in the afternoon we were thrown back into the 50s by this week's "Ask Alice" advice from Science Careers. Since Science Careers was quick to remove the piece, you can read it archived here. A post-doc asks advice about her PI trying to look down her shirt and Alice advices:

As long as your adviser does not move on to other advances, I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can. Just make sure that he is listening to you and your ideas, taking in the results you are presenting, and taking your science seriously. His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on your science and his best advice.

Yup, so much for my optimism from this morning...

Edit: Science Careers just issued an apology.

 

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