For a long time in my life, I looked at other people for guidance about my own boundaries: I thought that if they could do something, I should be able to do that same thing. If they worked for 50 hours, then so should I. If they partied until 3am, then I should also be able to do that.
It has only recently dawned on me that everyone has their own boundaries. And it is weird that it has taken me so long to consciously realize this, because as someone who tends to get migraines, partying until 3am often meant the next day in bed with a migraine for me, while the others would happily go about their day.
And that was the other realization: that I usually only felt a boundary when I hit the proverbial wall, for example in the form of a migraine attack. But I also think that all the crying at work that I have done meant that I only felt a boundary when I really hit it and tension had built up so much that the only way out was crying.
So I'm trying to be more conscious of where I am in relation to the wall, as opposed to only noticing it once I'm hitting it. And one of the steps I took this morning was to block TWO WHOLE WEEKS in my calendar before the end of the year to finish a task that I need to finish. I know that if I don't do this, more urgent stuff will come up. So when I cycled to work this morning I found myself wishing that I could just take a vacation to finish this task, and it occurred to me that I can actually do that. Now let's see how good I'm going to be at keeping those two weeks free to work on that task....
Despite all sorts of horrible stuff going on in the world, this weekend I wondered about something a little lighter: the small things companies do for their employees. For example, the company I work for has a service to do your drycleaning for you (if you bring it to the office- and I think you have to pay too), and was recently contemplating whether to offer a flower delivery service, where you could pick up flowers at the office.
These services seem to have been chosen with rather traditional gender roles in mind: are these really the things that a diverse array of employees benefit from?
The reason this got me thinking this weekend is that I realized that we had almost no time to buy a birthday present for a party that BlueEyes was invited to this weekend. Wouldn't it be convenient if my company would offer a service that would handle this for me and buy me a little pack of Legos or something like that? And along those same lines, what about a service to triage phone calls from school before disrupting my work schedule? I know of another company that offers onsite daycare with the option to have your baby stay the night if you need to travel for work, which seems very useful to me. And I can imagine that people who need to go to the pharmacy to refill their prescriptions often might benefit from a service that is offered to do that for them.
What about you? What would the most helpful service be that a company could offer to you?
A while ago, I received feedback that "I shouldn't show my ambition so much because it makes people around me uncomfortable". It was one of those remarks where at the time that I received this feedback, I didn't really react to it. I didn't immediately react for multiple reasons, the primary one being that I wanted to keep my pokerface in this meeting and I knew that reacting would mean that I would show emotions.
But when I cycled home later, I wondered whether the giver of said feedback would have said the same to a man. And I continued to wonder how you can recognize this? Because when you're the person giving feedback like this, you can flip it to test it, ie. check whether you would have said the same to a man as you would have to a woman. And sometimes it is obvious that the feedback is sexist, for example when you're a woman and asked to smile more. But in this case I believe it is much more subtle and perhaps I am being too pushy on what I would want to achieve and when?
Either way, I realized (again) that recognizing bias takes time and effort, and therefore it is a classical Nature move to put the burden of confronting gender bias in the workplace on women's shoulders. As this article clearly lays out: the onus shouldn't solely be on women to change the workplace:
"we cannot and must not absorb facetious messaging that says we created and can fix failings that are not of our own making—and that we might somehow shape-shift until we fit perfectly into fundamentally flawed workplaces."
Earlier in the year, I wasn't very happy with where I was in my job. I wanted to make a next step which seemed like a real possibility but in the end it didn't happen. I vowed to myself (and the people around me), that I wanted something different and that I intended to move somewhere else (either in the organization or outside) in the middle of the year. I interviewed for a position that I didn't get and I sent a couple job applications, all of which did not lead to a job for various reasons. But I also decided not to apply to a bunch of opportunities that I saw, because they didn't speak to me enough to apply.
And then I changed my mind.
I decided that I was going to stay in my current job AND be happy in my current job. After I came back from vacation, I told my manager that I was going to retract my statement of wanting to move within the year.
So what made me change my mind? In the first part of the year - during the time I was looking for change - within my role a couple things changed: I got more responsibilities within a project, and I got involved with Inclusion & Diversity within my organisation. And I realized that for the latter, it was good to be in a place where I felt comfortable in my work, in order to find the confidence and stability to be an activist when talking about topics around diversity.
And at the same time, I became more aware of who I am without my work role. I realized that when I was in academia, a really large part of my identity came from my work. And still a large part of my identity does, but for a while I felt like I almost didn't know what the other parts were. Also, I retrieved most of my hapiness and fullfilment from the output of my work and not so much from the actual doing my work. Now, I try to approach work more like I (try to) approach running: I enjoy it WHILE I'm doing it, not only after I'm done and sitting on the couch (I will need to remind myself of this sentence the next time I'm in the middle of what feels like an endless and difficult run).
And as usual when you think you have all sorts of unique feelings and emotions, this morning I came across an HBR article that describes nearly EXACTLY what I felt. Except that I surely hope I'm not in my mid-career yet.
This is one of those posts where I would be fine if nobody reads it because it's scary to hit publish on this one.
I was teased in school.
Or maybe a more accurate sentence is: I was bullied in school.
And when I was being bullied, my coping strategy was to vow to myself that I would become awesome, so the kids that bullied me would see me on TV for example. And when they realized how awesome I had become, they would feel bad about having bullied me.
I only recently realized that this promised I made to myself as a kid is still a promise I wish to keep. This realization came when I reacted really strongly (ie. ugly cried) when talking about my career and the struggle to find a path that fits me after leaving academia. It shocked me a bit to find out that part of what drives me is to please myself as a kid and keep my promise. The kid-version of me doesn't exist anymore, so how much sense does it make to try and keep a promise to someone who doesn't exist...?
Yesterday Michael Eisen tweeted this. I replied that I had actually finished 2 papers from grad school during my post-doc and 2 post-doc papers in my next job. In all honesty, I also still have an unfinished paper from grad school. So how did I do this and what factors are important in determining whether you'll be able to finish that paper after leaving the lab?
I think what helped me most is to make it non-negotiable with yourself whether those papers are going to be finished. They just have to get finished. Think of it as brushing your teeth: you don't ask yourself each day whether or not to do it, you just to it and that makes it take much less effort than to continuously negotiate with yourself whether to do it or not. And especially during the transition between grad school and post-doc, I just HAD to finish those papers because I knew that getting them published would make me more competitive to obtain a fellowship (my long-time readers may know that I never actually got a fellowship or grant, but still). After transitioning into industry it was a bit different, but in my current job I can still use published papers as a sign that I was productive, collaborative, etc during my post-doc.
What worked best in my experience to finish papers while in another job, was to allocate an hour in the morning to work on the paper and then switch back to my actual job. I would probably do this 1 or 2 days a week so progress was generally slow. Every now and then I took a whole day of, for example to write the discussion, which is really not something I can do in an hour here and there but requires a longer stretch of attention. With the generous amount of vacation days where I am now, this was something I could afford every now and then to get the paper finished. Also, sometimes I would work evenings or weekends on an unfinished paper, but I'd like to keep that to a minimum.
A big determinant in whether or not you are able to finish papers after leaving the lab is whether your co-authors are cooperative and also want this paper published. If they need to play a big part in getting it finished and for some reason don't do their part, this is clearly outside your circle of influence and will make it hard to get it done. So before you start taking days off to finish a paper, it is wise to make sure that everyone is on board and agrees on who does what.
And I want to finish by saying that while I believe it is do-able to finish a paper after leaving the lab, if you are the grad-student or post-doc that leaves, I think it is also okay if you decide not to finish a paper. If getting the paper published is not going to bring you much, and the costs of putting in the effort outweigh the benefits, then just don't. But in that case, I would be clear about that because there are few things I dislike as much as revisiting decisions and keeping half-finished things in the back of my mind and/or harddrive.
What about you? How do you deal with unfinished papers after leaving the lab?
When Cleyde, Amanda and Ian started their Recovering Academic podcast I started listening to it, usually on my runs. I really enjoy their podcast and how they talk about transitioning outside academia and all the feelings and practical issues that come with that move. So when they asked me recently whether I wanted to be interviewed, I immediately said yes. It was almost surreal to be IN a podcast that I usually listen to, but it was mostly a lot of fun and I thought - but I might be biased - a nice conversation.
Now it's out and you can listen to it here! And please share what you thought about it!
Via a recent Naturejobs article about whether or not you should do a post-doc, I landed on an older article that suggests that for jobs outside academia you should/could format your resume like an infographic. Over the course of last year I re-formatted my resume to fit on just one page, and it looks a little like this example with a bar with things like education, courses and keywords describing my personality on the left and my current job and employment history with just a few bullet points for each on the right. Now the resume infographic is clearly a next step, and while I really like how they look and appreciate the creativity in showcasing what people have done, the comments underneath the article already suggest that not everybody is a fan of trying to stand out with your resume.
What do you think, is it worth the effort to turn your resume into an infographic and are there sectors where this would make you positively stand out? Or is it a bad idea overall?
The other day I had a bit of a conflict with someone at work and I talked to somebody else about it to get an outsider's perspective. One of the first things they advised was:"you should try and step in their shoes and see it from their point of view". I immediately thought to myself:"I wish THEY would step into MY shoes and understand how I feel". Of course I didn't say this and the reminder to look at the situation from the other's point of view did actually help me in understanding what the conflict was about. But this experience also made me realize that the only way other people can put themselves in my shoes is if I express myself well. And that led to the realization that for everybody the range in which they express their feelings is very different (see figure for a very rudimentary illustration). One person might easily share it when they are not feeling well, while another person will put on a brave face and pretend they're doing okay. And then when a third person asks both people how they are doing, the anwer "I'm okay" can have a very different meaning.
Some people are rather sensitive to where somebody else sits on scale of Feelings Expressions, while for other people, this may need to be made more explicit. Personally, I've come to realize that I am on the top scale in the figure, and I don't easily share if I'm not feeling well. At the same time I hope that if I say "I'm okay", people will immediately understand that I'm not too well. And that obviously leads to disapointment on my side.
Wouldn't it be nice if there was an easy way to calibrate these scales before entering into a conversation...?
Imagine this: every year you go on vacation to a location close to home, say Drenthe*. It's fine to go to Drenthe, there are farms where you can pet a little horse, there is a small museum and some sights to see. But then one year, instead of Drenthe you get to go some place really nice and fancy, say Ibiza. It is awesome, you have sun and beach and parties and it gives you much more energy than Drenthe. It makes you realize that there is so much more in the world than just going to Drenthe.
But then the next year, circumstances dictate that your vacation goes to Drenthe again and not Ibiza. Complaining about it makes you feel spoiled because it is a vacation after all, but now that you've seen what vacations can also be like, Drenthe just seems a bit bleak in comparison.
This is how I feel about being back in my old job after having spend last year doing a different job. It feels like a huge first world problem to complain about something I liked before, but at the same time I feel like I keep doing the same thing that is not giving me a lot of energy where in the other job there were so many new and exciting things that were giving me energy. And even when those things would not be new and exciting anymore I believe they fit me better. And knowing that, additional time spent in my current job does not get me to where I'd want to be in my career. I need to figure out how to start the conversation about other opportunities within the company because it seems that people have already forgotten that I said how much I liked Ibiza and now just sent me back to Drenthe thinking I'd be satisfied just being on vacation.
*Feel free to replace this with a location close to your home.