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".
Last Thursday I found out I had made a mistake at work. It wasn't a life-or-death mistake, but it was a mistake that was big enough it affected a project I work on, including people outside the company. It wasn't entirely my fault, but it surely felt like it. I talked about it with people in my team, including my manager and left in tears before the end of the day. I felt so bad on Thursday that I wondered if I would dare to step into the office on Monday again.
I was awake half the night wondering how upset people would be with me and asked my manager if I could call him on Friday. I told him how bad I felt, especially for the people that were affected too* and that I wanted to learn from this mistake and look at how we could do better from now on. I cried when I was on the phone with him. I guess part of why this got to me so much is the amount of work that I'm doing, that JUST fits in the time I have with very little room for error.
On Monday, I dragged myself to the office, half dreading what people would say, half rested and ready to try and make it right - or at least be pro-active in repairing the damage. And then I was surprised how supportive everyone was. A friend at work said she had experienced something similar and advised me to look to the future. My manager saying that to him it didn't particularly matter whose fault it was but that we need to learn from how this happened to prevent it from happening again. And the people that I work with were helpful in fixing what can still be fixed and doing it better from now on.
I still need to talk about the mistake to a higher boss who is not often around and I get a bit nervous thinking about this, but I guess what I've learned this week is that making a mistake (even one that feels like the end of the world) is something that happens to many people and is something you can learn from.
*I've made mistakes before when I was in academia and I discovered that for me at least, a mistake feels much less horrible when it affects mostly yourself then when it affects those around you, and especially when you represent a company and make the company look bad.
I think that in the past couple of weeks I have cried more at work than in the years before that combined. We have a complicated thing going on with people who have feelings and opinions about the complicated thing which made me cry in frustration when discussing it with my manager. I have a colleague whose dad passed away which made me cry in sympathy. I had a bad migraine last week that made me cry when another colleague asked me if I was doing okay. And then today my manager kindly asked me if I was doing well in the middle of all of this and their kindness made me cry. My manager asked:"you're crying, are you sure you're okay?" and I told them that I guess I cry easily and I'm really, really okay and their concern about me made me cry more.
To feel better after this meeting, I re-read Meghan's post on crying in science because it says so nicely why it can be okay to cry at work:
... instead view [crying] as a natural form of emotion that simply indicates that the person is passionate or stressed or concerned or tired or anxious or frustrated – or, more simply, that they are human.
Someone who gave a training in our company a while ago said: "it's not so bad to cry at work as it used to be, because we are starting to appreciate vulnerability more." I'm not sure this is true, but I like the idea.
I feel that I need to reduce my crying at work though. I've started meditating again at the end of my day, because I feel that I was dragging all these emotions and opinions from people at work home, without really realizing I was doing that. I need to order my thoughts more so that I won't be caught off guard during a meeting by something someone says. But I guess I don't want to stop caring about what I do, so there may be some crying at work left sometimes.
When I moved from academia into industry 1,5 years ago, the biggest eye-opener was that in that company we were being evaluated not only by WHAT we did, but also HOW we did it. So it is not only important that you submit a paper, or get results from an experiment, or start a collaboration, it is also very important how you do that. It is for example important that you openly communicate with people, involve all the stakeholders that are important for the particular project. And this leads to an evaluation system where it can happen that you did not submit a paper that you were supposed to submit before the end of the year, but that happened because you involved an additional collaborator, thereby making it a more influential paper and/or set up a new collaboration, and you will still be evaluated positively because of that contribution.
I really like this way of working, because it means that shit can happen (and being in research you can rest assured that shit does happen), but the most important thing is not the shit itself, but how you handle said shit*. To me, this feels very different from being in academia, where it seemed like I was being judged by things that felt largely out of my control, like getting papers and grants accepted and rejected. It seems like in academia there is much less appreciation of HOW you make things happen and I wonder if changing that would contribute to more people being happier there?**
*Of course in the long run you do get judged by the things that you’ve helped to make happen, which makes sense I think.
** Additional reading: Universities with "cooperative culture" can help women thrive
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...
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.
Last year, I learned a ton of new things about doing science in industry in my new job. I've worked on new things like patent applications, collaborations and other things I hadn't done before when I was in academia. This year, the learning curve seems to be much less steep, and I felt that I needed to add something in order to keep myself challenged and engaged. So after long deliberation about how exactly to phrase this, I wrote in my notebook that for my weekly conversation with my manager I wanted to discuss:"more challenges, rather in interactions with people than in content".
15 minutes after I wrote that down my phone rang and somebody called to inform me about a Problem with one of my projects. All the rest of yesterday was spent on this Problem that can definitely be categorized as challenge, both in interacting with people as well as content.
The Problem isn't entirely solved yet and I haven't had my weekly conversation with my manager about me wanting more challenges (and I'm not sure if the timing is right in light of the current Problem), but I am wondering about the power of writing something down in my notebook...
First of all: happy 2016 everyone! I hope next year will be a great one for you all!
Last year, I set a couple goals in January and I haven't really written about whether I was able to meet those goals in the past year. My first goal was a personal one:
...This is not to say that I should work less overall, but more that I need to divide it better: time spent not working also means not ruminating about work-stuff that needs to be done, and time spent working should just be that. Let's see how that goes.
I think that after quitting my post-doc and starting to work for a company I have become better at not panicking so much about keeping my job. Even though my job is of course not super secure, I am less stressed about being able to keep my job than I was in academia. I still think about work during non-work time, but it's the good kind of thinking: coming up with new ideas or going over meetings that happened. I make lists of things I need to do, which has proven to be a good way to not ruminate about them so much. Also, I've gotten good scores on my end of year review, so I feel pretty confident about what I get done in a normal amount of hours and how I do it.
My next goal was really work-related and was about stakeholder management:
I always wonder if I should ask someone for help or just do it myself without bothering anyone.
This has really changed in the past year, when I've worked in different teams needing to keep multiple people in various functions updated about projects. I now make a habit of checking if I'm on the right path with people or sometimes double-check to see if we all have the same ideas about where a project is going. I think getting more comfortable in my job and finding that people rarely feel bothered when you ask them things have contributed to this.
My last new year's resolution of last year was about blogging: I wanted to interact with commenters more and blog once a day for a whole month. This last thing sadly never happened. My priorities are taking care of kids and working and blogging only happens when those two things have happened to a satisfying degree. Kind of the same thing is true for answering to comments: sometimes I just cannot find enough time to answer or keep a discussion going (or comment on other people's blogs, which I would like to do more too).
My resolutions for 2016? I already tweeted the following
More about that in future posts! What are your resolutions for 2016?
Happy 2015 everyone! I hope this will be a great year full of whatever you want it to be full of! For me, there are a couple things I want to work on this year, and even though I normally don't really spell out my resolutions, I decided that this year I will.
Let me start with this one. After a week of vacation where I did NO WORK AT ALL, I found out that the doing no work part was both hard and easy. I noticed that all those years as a grad student and a post-doc had left me feeling that every free minute had to be spend working, or at least thinking of working, or feeling guilty that I wasn't working. This week, I could have worked on a project that needed to be finished before the end of last year (but can really be finished early January too), or on a manuscript that needs to be rewritten, or on a left-over manuscript from grad school. But I decided to do nothing AND enjoy doing nothing. Actually, I still did some useful things, like unpack boxes and organize things from when we moved (way back in April) and learn to crochet. But other than that, it was nice to not work and most importantly, not feel guilty in any way about not working. I need to do more of all that this year. This is not to say that I should work less overall, but more that I need to divide it better: time spent not working also means not ruminating about work-stuff that needs to be done, and time spent working should just be that. Let's see how that goes.
Edit: it seems like I am not the only one who has these kind of work-life balance resolutions for 2015.
During my end year review at work, my most important feedback was that I should improve on stakeholder management, so this is definitely something I should work on this year. When I started my first job I thought stakeholders were only people on the outside that need to believe your work or need to buy your product. But I soon learned that really anybody you interact with is a stakeholder: colleagues, managers, reviewers, etc. These people can be asked for help or at least need to be informed about what you're doing in order to follow your thinking and be enthusiastic - or in the know - about what you do. And I also soon realized that this is something that I've always been bad at: I always wonder if I should ask someone for help or just do it myself without bothering anyone. This has backfired before when I didn't ask my PI to look over proofs of a manuscript and there ended up being a very ugly error in one of the figures that happened when the PDF was made by the publisher. So this year I need to get better at interacting with the people around me at work.
Kind of the same thing holds true for my blog as well: I often don't interact with you - my commenters - as much as I would like. Often I write a post and then do a really crappy job answering to comments or keeping the discussion going, because I'm busy with other things I guess. In addition, I still kind of feel like I need to re-find my voice on my blog now that I'm no longer a disgruntled post-doc and after I moved to Scientopia where I kind of feel my blog needs to be more sciency and less babywearing. So I have this New year's resolution to blog once a day for a month. But not this month; I'll just procrastinate a little bit longer and do it in February. Or March 😉
So, dear readers of my blog: what would you like to read about this year? What are things you would like to read more or less of?