Yesterday I met with a graduate student to talk to them about my experiences leaving academia. They asked:"What is the biggest difference between working in academia and industry?". Of course there are many differences (and quite some similarities too), some of which I have probably discussed on this blog before. But one of the main differences that I had not expected when making the transition, is the amount of people you (have to) interact with in order to get your job done.
In academia, of course there are many people to interact with: you usually work with your PI (if you're a grad student or post-doc) or with the people in your lab (if you're a PI), and then with collaborators, university staff, colleagues, etc. But the amount of people who are crucial in decision making (for example on which project to pick) is usually limited (please comment if you think I'm wrong!).
In the type of matrix organization that I work in, there are a ton of people to make decisions to move a project forward. I am in R&D, and already within R&D there are different teams that all need to align, and different directors that need to have a say, and then there are the people in other functions that either need to make decisions themselves about the project, or at least need to be managed in order not to protest against a decision.
And another thing that really surprised me at first is the fact that most meetings are not actually meant for decision making. Instead, they are meant to have all the important stakeholders in the room to say yes, while the actual decision-making process has already happened in pre-meetings, or pre-pre-meetings or over coffee or at the water cooler. And so I find myself spending a considerate amount of time talking to people: understanding whether they would support a project and if not, if I can convince them otherwise or what would need to happen for them to change their minds. One of the directors remarked the other day:"the main thing that stands in the way of success in this project are people's emotions. We need to manage those".
Happy 2018 everyone! I had a two week break and it was delightful after the busy year I had. It gave me some time to think about everything that I had done last year and where I want to go this year. A tweep recommended to use Yearcompass for that which I started, but to be honest I still haven't finished because it takes quite some time to fill everything. But it did help me to sort my thoughts about what I find important for next year.
I think my main
struggle challenge for next year is going to be how much change I am going to look for. Am I going to stay in my current job that I'm quite satisfied with but is maybe not as challenging as I would wish, or will I look for something that might fit better? A tweep came up with a solution for that, except that I still have to figure out how to embed this solution in my actual life.
Stay tuned for more on that ;-). As each year, the resolutions for running and blogging are that I wish to do more than last year, but that I'm also okay if it stays approximately the same.
It's that time again to sit down (or run - whatever works) to revisit this year's resolutions and evaluate.
Work: If I read this paragraph from nearly a year ago, I notice that there isn't really a resolution in there, more a description of what I was going to do this year, which was mostly the additional assignment that I was supposed to do for 6 months. In the end, this assignment went on for longer, along with most of my normal job. I don't think I've ever worked harder than this year, which might surprise you when coming from academia - or maybe not. There were many reasons why the assignment went on for longer, but one of the most important ones was that I really liked the work and for a while it seemed like there might be an opportunity opening up at some point. I spent a lot of time contemplating whether I would want to take that opportunity, which would mean moving further away from science. In the end, I realized that I believe that is where my strength lies: in translating between science and business and in connecting people in those two areas. But just when I was certain what I wanted, it turned out that this opportunity would not materialize and that I will return to my old role in 2018. I was pretty disappointed about this, but at the same time realize that I've learned a lot about myself in 2017. I want to get clearer for myself what it is that I work for: what my purpose is if you want to call it that. A recurring piece of feedback I received was that it would be helpful for me to get to know myself better in order to be able to grow at work. I need to figure out how and with what kind of help, but that is something for a next post.
Personal: I ran a half marathon and meditated for 10 minutes daily 99% of the days for the past year. Also, I joined a bootcamp class that is right next to my new house. And honestly, this has probably saved my sanity over the past year, with moving to a new house, being really busy at work and all the kids' logistics. There were a few times when I thought everything was too much and I needed to cut back on things. I probably yelled at my kids and husband more than I should have because there was so much going on at times. I wish I was better at not doing that.
Blogging: Last year I wrote: "I want to be more consistent in posting, so I’m going to post twice a week. Riding the train twice a week might help in writing down all the posts that are in my head but don’t always get transferred to words on paper. And I am going to try to include more link love posts. I really enjoy other people’s link posts and I’m going to compile whatever I tweet/read/listen to also here." This is really the part of my resolutions that fell by the wayside after the first few months. Partly because I was really busy and there was more going on in my head than I could put on paper. And partly because for a while I was debating whether to lose my pseud and become myself here. With every post I wondered if I would write it under my own name, meaning it would be google-able for the rest of my life and associated with me, which made me hesitate to post a lot. In real life, I have become more like babyattachmode, I speak up more about feminist issues for example. However, I have also decided that I don't want to associate my real name to my blog - for now. Especially the posts about mistakes and vulnerability are valuable for me to write, and hopefully for you to read and I don't want anyone to be able to just find those associated with my IRL identity.
A couple weeks ago I tweeted this. I had a meeting that - for reasons I won't go into here - was going to be a rough meeting for me and when I came out I was pretty proud that I hadn't cried.
To answer Dr. ScientistMother's question: I'm not sure if having meditated for 10 minutes a day the past year helped me in not crying in this meeting. Maybe. But the main reason - that is admittedly a bit childish perhaps - was that I promised myself a present if I didn't cry. This way, every time something happened in the meeting that I might cry about, I could focus on my present and divert my attention from what was happening in the meeting. So I politely smiled, talked and nodded while thinking about something else. After this 1,5 hours of not crying, I gave myself the book This is how we rise from Claudia Chen. It is an awesome and empowering book, but more about that some other time.
But I want to come back to crying in meetings. Because cried I have in meetings, as documented on this blog here and here. That last post even drove a commenter to diagnose me with a depression and advise me to seek help. And also at work I've had people ask me if I needed a break or not. But at the same time people praise me for my energy and dedication. And to be honest, this package of energy and passion and dedication for me automatically comes with crying every now and then. Crying because I care, or because I am frustrated to make something happen or because I really appreciate the people I work with. Most of the time, it is not a sign that something is wrong with me, it is actually a sign that I care. Because at the end of the day, I'd rather not zone out and think about something else in a meeting just to make sure I don't cry.
My main reason to leave academia was the short contract I was on, in combination with the difficulty to get funding in order to sustain myself in academia. I wanted stability and be able to think about projects longer than just the year I had funding for. So I left for a position in industry.
However, shortly after I joined the company that I work for, there were rumors that our part of the company would be sold. If that were to happen, it was very unclear what would happen to the employees: would we be asked to move elsewhere, would we be fired? Fortunately that did not happen, but it did reinforce the notion that industry is not synonymous with stability.
And then at the beginning of this year I started an assignment that was supposed to last for six months. Currently, we're near the end of the year and I am still in that assignment. I enjoy it and people around me value what I do. It does however, lead to a whole bunch of uncertainty about what will be next: can I stay in the assignment (which I would like), or do I go back to my actual job? It made me realize all the more that there is uncertainty and change everywhere.
I do feel that I am much better equipped now then when I was a post-doc to deal with change. I know much better what I am good at because people give more feedback here than in academia, and I trust that there will be a job that I like somewhere for me. And it really helps that I have a permanent contract here that is not dependent on whether I find funding to sustain myself.
Most importantly, inside I went from feeling like a tiny boat that could be knocked over by change...
.... to a much more stable rock that stays stable among change, on most days. On other days I REALLY wish I knew what I am going to be doing next year and what I can look forward to.
The first year after BlueEyes was born, I vowed to myself never to take any important decisions in the first year postpartum. I was too tired, emotional and just not myself to be trusted to do anything else than do the work I had thought out before that year and take care of my baby and myself. It was even difficult to decide whether to work during naptime or take a much needed nap myself.
A little over two years later, Little Brother was born and I completely disobeyed my own order not to take any decisions during that first year. We moved, I briefly started a new post-doc job and then decided to leave academia. I still believe that was a really good decision by the way, but I wish there was a good way to figure out if you can be trusted to take decisions at a particular time.
I notice that there are differences during my cycle in terms of feeling confident to take a decision (or not at all), and then there's prodromal migraine phases during which I feel sad and completely incompetent. Usually I only figure out that this brain state was there after it has ended. It makes me realize how nice it would be if there was a little light on the inside of your wrist that would switch on if you are good to make important decisions, or something like that. Or is that what mindfulness is good for...?
What about you? Do you know when your brain can be trusted to take decisions?
There's having to take time off for parental leave. There's not always being able to stay for networking after work. There's having to stay home when your kid is sick. And the list goes on and on why becoming a parent means sometimes not being able to be at work or working. However, it is still the case that for mothers this compromises their career more than for fathers, resulting in less pay and an overall perception of being less competent: an issue called the motherhood penalty, which was also highlighted when Gina Baucom asked for examples of crappy things that are being said to women academics the other day.
The other day I got a bit more insight into why this could be on a level I hadn't considered yet. Someone I know had her second kid about a 1,5 year ago and the first time year had been quite a struggle: she was tired, also moved to a different house and at the same time was making a huge effort to perform at the same level she did previously. This nearly resulted in a burn out, except that she had a very kind and caring manager who sent her home at just the right time and told her to take it easier. At this point she was crying, tired and just not the strong person she was otherwise.
After this first year, she started to feel like her normal self again: more sleep, normal hormone levels, etc. However, at the same time she noticed that her manager still treated her like the more fragile person who needed help and protection. Her manager would not give her the more challenging projects even though she was very capable of taking those on again. And ultimately her male colleague who had been there shorter got a promotion and she didn't. Seemingly because her manager could not get rid of the notion they had of her being weak. She felt that not only did she have to fight to get back into all her projects, she had to fight double hard to erase her manager's notion of her being a weak person.
I'm not sure there is an answer here in how to navigate this path, but I'd be curious to hear what you would advice here, dear readers!
It's been quiet here for longer than I had intended. We moved to a new house 2 months ago, which was right after a really busy period at work. This doing my own job plus the new work thing was kicking my ass quite a bit. Mostly because I started by trying to do most of my own job but then squeezed in two days a week, because the other days were spent in the work thing. One major thing I've learned is to be much clearer about what I can and can't do in the time that I have.
The new house is great, and the new work thing (which by now is not super new anymore) is also great. Which now poses the dilemma of which work thing I like most - in case an actual job opens up in the new work department, which might happen but is still unclear when. My thoughts about this are not yet coherent enough to write down here. So expect more posts about all these questions and doubts: how to figure out what you want, how to determine which aspects of a job give you energy and which are energy drains, etc. And then there's the difficulty of moving within a company while still keeping everyone (or at least most people) around you happy.
As most of you know, I like my current job but am also looking to climb the career ladder within the company that I work for. Recently, a really exciting position opened up and I have expressed my interest in that position to a couple of people. The person who would be my manager in that new position even revealed that I was on her list of people that she thought about to fill this position and she gave me advice on how to tailor my resume to apply for this position (it will be advertised internally and externally). However, the person above her has indicated that they are looking for a profile that I don't entirely fit.
I have also talked to my manager about it and he basically told me that yes, I should apply to show my interest, but also that he thought I was too junior for this position. He told me that he was afraid that if I would get the position, I would fail. On the one hand I agree with him that it is a big step up, because it is a complex job with many interactions with different people inside and outside of the company plus managing a small team and a budget. I don't do many of these things currently, so perhaps my manager is right. Or is he just trying to make me not feel too disappointed when I apply and don't get this position? But mostly, I feel a bit demotivated by his comments and I continuously wonder if they are actually helpful or harmful? And would my manager say the same things to a man...?
For the past 3,5 month, I have been working in medical affairs* for two days a week, picking up some of the tasks from somebody who is on maternity leave and learning a ton about what happens in this area of the company. In this company, R&D is in one location and all of the commercial functions are together in a different location, which leads my R&D colleagues to make all sorts of comments about me "moving to the dark side". In medical affairs - at least with some of the tasks - you're the intermediate between R&D and marketing.
At R&D, we generally joke about how we do all the serious stuff and marketing is adding some frivolities in order to sell more of the stuff that we make. But now that I'm experiencing life on the dark side, I get more insight in the things that marketeers are really good at. And one of those things is -as the marketeers call it- word crafting. It turns out that making materials together with a marketeer is like next level twitter: how can you use the least amount of words to convey the most impactful message? In reality, this means going over the words 10 or more times, going back and forth with new ideas on how to change a word or how to rewrite the whole sentence.
And learning better how to do this and how important this is, I look with new eyes at my own sloppy, barely edited writing. Is this the reason I've been blogging less the past couple of weeks? Because I see how I throw stuff online without properly making sure every sentence is at the right place and in the right order? And I wonder if it would do more scientists good to do a short internship in marketing to learn more about the art of word crafting?
*I realize my pseud is getting thin, but in order to write about what I'm learning here, it is important to reveal what I'm actually doing.