It's been a bit quiet here on my blog and one of the reasons was that we took a short trip (4 nights) to Barcelona recently. My husband and I had both been to Barcelona before, but this was the first time for the four of us, and also the first vacation where we only visited one city with our kids (4 and 6 years old now).
We stayed at an AirBnB apartment in the old part of the city, which was really nice: we could walk to many of the sites and were close to public transport. Also, having an apartment meant that we could cook at home when we didn't feel like going out for dinner (although dinner with kids was quite painless at the restaurants we went to). In the days we were there we went to Park Guell (but book ahead if you want to go inside!), we took the cable car up Montjuic hill, we walked around the old part of the city, we went to the beach and we went to see the Sagrada Familia (also make sure you book ahead!). A big plus of Barcelona compared to some other cities is the great abundance of little playgrounds. Nearly every square has one and if you're lucky they are situated close to a terrace for a drink. What was nice about that is that even when our kids didn't feel like seeing sites any longer (BlueEyes' comment at the Sagrada Familia:"Oh man, ANOTHER church?!"), we could promise them a playground when we were done.
The view from our balcony
Inside the Sagrada Familia
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...?
Last week I wrote that a news outlet reported that Hans Clevers had said that Dutch women don't want to work hard. According to Hans Clevers, who came to my blog to reply, he hadn't actually said that.
Seeing the article on a Dutch news website, writing my post here and the discussion that followed left me feeling drained. I feel so frustrated that while I and so many others with me point out how this attitude of saying "I have done some things and there is nothing we can do to further increase diversity" is unhelpful and harmful, it does not seem to change the speed at which diversity increases. Outside of this blog, the LNVH ("Landelijk Netwerk Vrouwelijke Hoogleraren"; the Dutch society for Women full professors) wrote a letter to a large Dutch newspaper. And Athena's Angels (an initiative of 4 female full professors) wrote a reply in the same news paper today. But otherwise nothing happened. What could have been an opportunity to start a discussion on how to improve diversity in (Dutch) academic science, and increase the retention of women and minorities in the academic pipeline, ended in silence, at least as far as I can see.
I want to look into scientific literature on methods to increase diversity in STEM (or elsewhere) to write a post with suggestions on what to do and what works, but haven't had the time to do so. If you have links/papers to share with me, please do so in the comments or on twitter.
And in the meantime, I want to acknowledge the energy it takes to address these issues and take a deep bow for those of us who do this on a daily basis. I realize the privilege of writing here under a pseudonym and being able to go to work at a place with great emphasis on diversity. As Sara Ahmed wrote in her blog post titled "Feeling Depleted : "I think of social privilege as an energy saving device: less effort is required to pass through." So for those who still believe women aren't working hard: this is also where their energy goes: into the invisible void of challenging the status quo.
This morning, BlueEyes woke up with a slight fever and a bad cold. Nothing really bad, but he clearly couldn't go to school. My thoughts:
"Oh no, my kid is sick."
Immediately followed by: "I'm glad today is Wednesday which is husband's regular day home with the kids so we don't have to arrange something".
"But what if he's still sick tomorrow, then I have a really busy day, so I will have to negotiate who gets to work when. I really don't want to have to miss the meeting that I have".
"I feel really bad and guilty that my first thoughts are about MY job instead of my sick kid."
"What if I had a kid that had an actual illness? I would worry to death and would never be able to think about anything else, how do people cope with that?!"
And then these thoughts continue to go in circles, occupying a good 65% of my brain for most of the day.
This morning when I cycled to work I listened to this Hidden Brain episode about making fresh starts. It ends with Amy Mann reciting the poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop.
This year, I've lost quite a few things: my kids are both in school so I lost having really small children. I left my old apartment. And even though it is not my loss, when Little Brother recently lost his favorite stuffed animal (a monkey he received as a present three years ago) at school, it definitely felt like my loss. Coming from a family of hoarders, I am quite bad at coping with losing things. Little Brother on the other hand seems quite undisturbed. The stuffed monkey is still lost, and every now and then he asks whether the monkey is still hiding, searches for the monkey and concludes the monkey is not back and that seems it. At the same time I am heartbroken about the monkey and I picture him laying in the cold on a muddy playground somewhere.
I am also slowly losing my identity as a scientist. Or perhaps I'm not losing it, but it is no longer my main identity, which I think is a good thing for me. As they say in the Hidden Brain episode: "when one door closes, another one opens". That is definitely true for the scientist identity loss, but I'm not sure which door opens for a lost stuffed monkey.
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?
It has been much quieter here on the blog than I had hoped, but the first half of this year has significantly kicked my butt. Every time I tried to put my thoughts about that on paper it did not lead to anything coherent and/or blogable. But then I had a really nice break over the summer, which even allowed me to read books!
Living a Feminist Life - Sara Ahmed: I had been following Sara Ahmed on twitter for a while but so far I had never read any feminist literature. Reading Sara's book was great because she is able to put in words what it means to experience sexism and racism and what it feels like to address those issues, sometimes over and over. Her style is interesting, as it very much reads like a flow of thoughts, which made some parts hard to follow at first.
Homo Deus - Yuval Noah Harari: This was a gift from my brother and is actually the sequal to the book Sapiens, but I started with this one and have Sapiens still waiting for me. In this book, Harari talks about how things like famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges for human beings. I thought that the first part of this book sounded a bit 'splainy to me, but I was especially impressed with the second part of the book where Harari talks about how we see the human brain as a collection of algorithms, that cannot compete with the algorithms that humans are creating at the moment, or will create in the future. I was impressed by his ability to think outside of what we currently know and experience and describe what the future might be like when computer-algorithms become better than biological algorithms (which I guess is already the case right now for some specific tasks).
The angel's game (in Dutch: Het spel van de engel) - Carlos Ruiz Safon - This book had been sitting on my bookshelf for nearly 8 years. Together with my husband and brother I had given it to my grandmother for her 80th birthday. She brought it on vacation with her into the mountains, read until page 28 and died in her sleep of a massive stroke. My mom wrote down where my grandmother was in the book after she passed away when she drove to meet my grandfather at their vacation destination and later gave the book back to me. It took me 8 years to not get so incredibly sad when I picked up this book that I could actually start reading it and think about the awesome person my grandmother was, and how weird it still is that she isn't around anymore. With respect to the book: it is a good vacation book, because the story just pulls you in. But it is not a mind-blowing story and it sounds and feels very similar to Shadow of the Wind, the bestseller Ruiz Safon wrote earlier.
What about you, dear reader of this blog (if you are still around), have you read any of these books or do did you read anything else worth sharing during the summer?