Archive for the 'work-life balance' category

On being happy (or not) in your job

The other day I wrote about being a disgruntled post-doc and how that becoming disgruntled as a post-doc seems to serve the purpose of forcing you to move to another job, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do after x years of being a post-doc.

However, after finding what I thought was my dreamjob, this past year I felt the same kind of disgruntle on some days that I did when I was in the last phase of my post-doc. With the difference that this is not a temporary job, it could be my job for the rest of my life if I wanted it to be. And, for those of you thinking: “what a whiny post!” keep in mind that our HR department reminds us on a frequent basis of the fact that they believe there is a job for everyone in which you will feel satisfied and ecstatic with happiness. I think I can admit that I don’t feel like that every day. Some of the reasons for this feeling, in order of importance:

- comparing myself to others and feeling that I should be appreciated more, either in terms of money or in terms of praise. This –to me- is really the key reason for being disgruntled and a really annoying one, both to others and to myself. When I think about it in a rational way, I realize that I don’t see everything others do: it is impossible to compare yourself to others in an objective way. But on the other hand, I have been discussing a promotion for 2 years now, since after I good a really good evaluation when I had been there for a relatively short period of time, but for some reason it just doesn’t happen.

-having very little influence on decisions. In this big company, I am a microscopically tiny little wheel in a gigantic scheme. Unlike as a postdoc, where there were a few people who needed to agree with things like where and when to publish a paper, here there is a huge decision tree before something can get done. It took me a while to understand that however much energy I would spend convincing people, there would always be decisions outside of my circle of influence.

- having to do work that I don’t like. Obviously, every job has aspects that you dislike (I assume ). For me, they are filling out administrative forms. However, my job does involve setting up contracts with people and being the in-between person between the legal department and the external partner, which involves administrative stuff. At some point this year, it seemed like ALL I was doing was filling out forms and that whenever I had completed one, 2 would pop up somewhere else.

And as I said, at the same time HR makes us believe that for every single person there is a job that makes them run/cycle/drive to work in excitement every single day. Is that really true? Or instead of frantically trying to figure out what makes you most happy and excited is it better to be satisfied with a job you don’t hate and that even pays pretty well? And most importantly: nobody likes someone who whines and complains all day, and it will definitely not lead to favors and promotions and things like that (I have actually witnessed that happening to a colleague quite literally recently). More on how I think I deal with that soon, first more forms and powerpoints here!

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A detailed observation of the disgruntled postdoc

The disgruntled postdoc – or disgruntledoc - is a specific species of the academic family, first discovered in the wild and described by DrugMonkey. Its body is often found in a particular non-ergonomic posture that is intended to entirely devote itself to academic science, for example bent over to stare into a microscope, crouching on the floor to put a laboratory animal into an operant box or crawling behind a rig to fix the wiring. Its brain however is mostly occupied with online conversations on twitter or blogs discussing fair pay, the difficulty to obtain grant money and general unfairness of the academic system. This behavior has been observed consistently since the early history of social media.

At the end of the day, the disgruntled postdoc either indulges in cheap beer and free cookies – when these are left over from other occasions – or scrambles to be in time to pick up its offspring from their daycare that the disgruntled postdoc’s salary can barely pay for. In unique situations, the disgruntled postdoc will try to combine these two activities often with mixed success.

Similar to other adolescent mammals, the disgruntled postdoc stage has a hypothesized purpose to “learn how to maximize utility of their environment and emigrate to new social groups in order to prevent inbreeding”. It is expected that the disgruntled postdoc will leave its environment at some point in time. This point will either be reached when the disgruntled postdoc is able to rise in the academic ladder, or when the disgruntled postdoc reaches a threshold where their level of dissatisfaction is higher than their level of willingness to work hard on science. Where this threshold lies is different for each individual disgruntled postdoc and depends very much on the conditions of the habitat, most notably the amount of grant money available in said habitat.

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Figuring out your identity outside academia

This morning, I went for a run before work and listened to this week's Recovering Academic podcast. In this episode, they talk about how a large part of being an academic in recovery means having to figure out how much of your identity is being an academic scientist, and if that is gone, what is left? I very much recognize this feeling, even though I'm still a scientist, just not in academia. I did very much have to redefine myself, not just on the outside (new outfit, different haircut), but even more on the inside. What I am mostly still struggling with, is the difference in achievements and how visible those are. In academia, I was very much motivated by getting papers published and being able to search for my name on Pubmed and finding an increasing number of hits. The output is very tangible and is celebrated with press releases and such. Now that I work for a company, the end-product that we make is even more tangible (an actual thing that can sit on the table), but my part in it is much less visible, especially to the outside world. Think about it, you can read everywhere who invented CRISPR or optogenetics, but many inventions coming out of companies are celebrated in a much less personal way (to the outside world at least). Sort of connected to that is the fact that I took pride in the things I finished (experiments, papers), whereas now it is much less clear when something is actually finished and the work leading up to that thing that can sit on the table is much longer most of the times.

On the other hand, the fact that everything was so personal was also a reason for me to leave academia. Because the downside of celebrating personal accomplishments was the fact that also criticism on papers and grants proposals felt very personal. Anyways, just some rather incoherent thoughts after listening to that episode, which you should do too!

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"Academia is sticky"

Fellow tweeps @IHStreet, @Doctor_PMS and @LadyScientist have started a podcast "Recovering Academic" where they talk about what it is like to leave academia and find a job outside the academic world. I think it's awesome, go check it out!

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Two stories about #everydaysexism

Two people buy a house together. The form for the mortgage is preprinted and starts with Mr. and then Mrs.. In this case, the person listed under Mrs. brings in most of the money for the mortgage. However, all the mail that these two people get for their house after that, is addressed to Mr.

Two people have a kid together. The kid goes to daycare and the two people are listed as the parents. Whenever something happens to the kid, the mom is the first to get a call. And today, the two people received an email for a course provided by the daycare center for working moms in order to re-find their balance to be a better mother, friend and partner. The sender of this email automatically assumes that the recipient of the email is the mom.

I guess I can conclude from this n=2 that we still live in a world where houses (and cars too by the way) belong to men, while the care for children belongs to women.

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Did you spend too much time as a post-doc?

Four years ago, I wondered "if I would ever make the decision to look for a job outside science, and if so, if I would regret all the time and effort put into trying to get data, write papers and get grants?". Before I left science, now almost two years ago, I spent more than four years as a post-doc doing slice electrophysiology mostly. Since I left academia, I've never patched a cell anymore.

Most scientists at the company I work at have done a post-doc, but many of them shorter than the 4,5 years I've spent as a post-doc. And then of course there are people around my age in more commercial jobs that have no PhD or post-doc experience at all (and probably get paid quite a bit more than me because of having more experience) So looking back, one might wonder if I've spent too much time as a post-doc?

I've given this quite some thought recently, mostly because it sometimes feels unfair that people who have an equal amount of experience-years end up in different positions. And I realize that if I had known that I would have ended up where I am now, I may have been able to get there with a shorter route. However, I also realize how much I have learned during my post-doc that is still very useful now, like writing, leading people and also just the experience of living somewhere else for a while. And of course the notion that work is also enjoyable, not just a race to get to some end-goal. So even thought I was afraid I would regret my time as a post-doc if I wouldn't be able to stay in academia four years ago, looking back I wouldn't have done it much different.

What about you? If you have left academia, do you wish you had spent less time as a post-doc?

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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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What happened with last year's goals?

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?

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Baby vs. work: sometimes you have to choose.

Yesterday, my anonymous friend wrote a guest post about bringing her baby to work and how - for now - this works very well for both of them. On twitter, @crazygradmama said the following:

which I wholeheartedly agreed with. Obviously, not every baby is the same and then we're not even talking about babies with disabilities or illnesses that make it much harder and more intense to care for them. I'm not sure BlueEyes was officially colicky, but he pretty early on was able to make known what his preferences were. He liked to be worn, but only if the person wearing him kept moving when he was awake. Only if he slept, that person could sit down, and he usually only napped for 30-40 minutes at a time, in a pretty unpredictable manner. He did not like to spend much time by himself in a playpen or something like that. He did not like to sit in his carseat and he did not like to be held by unfamiliar people.

In addition, it took quite some time for me to get used to my role as a mother and merge my scientist/professional-me with my mother-me (there's a post brewing about this, but it's not quite done yet). Especially in the beginning this made it kind of uncomfortable to bring my baby to work or to a conference because it felt really weird to be those two roles at the same time. Also, being able to focus on work and a baby on the crappy amount of sleep I was getting seemed a bit much for my already foggy postpartum brain.

With Little Brother, working during my maternity leave was easier. He was a bit less intense than BlueEyes in making known what he wanted and I was a bit better at going with the flow. At home, I put my laptop high enough that I could stand and work, so I could bounce him while wearing him and type at the same time. I took him to work every now and then just to check in at the lab, but we were also moving when he was four months old, so it wasn't that crucial to find a long-term solution of bringing him to work.

With BlueEyes, we were incredibly fortunate that when I had to go back to work three months after he was born, he went to the daycare at our university, where the teacher:baby ratio was 1:2.5. They assigned a particular teacher for each baby, so the babies were mostly cared for by one familiar person. We were fortunate to get a scholarship, because otherwise it would have been difficult to pay for this daycare on two post-doc salaries (and impossible on just one).

Little Brother went to daycare after we moved back to the homecountry, where the teacher:baby ratio was higher, and the amount of different teachers during the week was larger. He really only started to get comfortable there after he was a year old and could walk and start to talk. Before that, on some days he would sleep for 6 hours and barely drink anything (which he caught up on at night). When I was a post-doc, I felt that I should keep working to keep up, and that is also what the amount of maternity leave in most countries suggests. I'm also not sure if I would even want to be home full-time (and I realize that for many, this is financially not an option to even consider). For me, the ideal situation would be somewhere in between: work a couple hours a day, but also be able to be with your baby during the first year.

In the end, I think it is very valuable to share these stories, so that we can learn from each other. I'd like to hear how academics from countries with much longer parental leave have experienced their first year with a baby. Do you actually stop working, and do you think it is harder to get back? Share your experience in the comments or email me if you want to guest post!

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Guest post: Baby vs. work - why choose?

This is a guest post from a friend who would like to remain anonymous. She is a bioinformatics post-doc and a single mom by choice, and this is her story about combining work as a post-doc with being a parent.

 

I am incredibly lucky.

Let’s put that first, because I’m very aware that this is the case: not only do I get paid for doing what I love, but every day I get to bring my infant son with me, too. My boss is OK with it, the department is happy to tolerate my son’s occasional shrieks echoing through the hallway, and my office mate is completely in love with him. (I totally understand that last one, by the way.) Also, I’m not working in the lab at the moment, so there is no risk of spilling acid on my brand new baby. All of this means that I don’t have to choose between work and family: I get to do both, and whichever part insists the loudest gets most of the attention at any given time. I know that not everyone has this option; I am thankful that I do.

Here’s how the logistics work out: I have a playpen in my office, where he spends most of the time gurgling and attacking his mobile while I do low-level work; assembling figures, processing images. When he nurses, I read. In fact, I feel I get a lot more mileage out of my reading time now, as there is very little incentive to multi-task. And when he naps, I get to focus properly, and code or write. (He won’t nap in the playpen, only on me — but it turns out I am perfectly able to code with a three-month-old on my chest, drooling on my shoulder and snoring in my ear.)

That’s not to say that our arrangement does not lead to the occasional conflict. When I am trying to figure out something difficult, and he’s fussy or crying — or simply wanting my attention. Fortunately there is almost always a colleague who doesn’t mind taking a baby for 10 minutes (I never realized how much work could be accomplished in 10 minutes of baby-free time! Take note, ye childless!) while I finish whatever needs doing, so I can then focus on my child.

Also surprisingly doable, I found, are meetings and seminars — provided people are aware that I am there with a baby, and OK with it (or at least not too vocal in their disapproval). Carrying him in a sling usually means he falls asleep, and if he gets fussy I can walk around a bit to calm him down. He’ll never be completely quiet, but really he’s no more disruptive than a random audience member with a cough.

In fact, the biggest barrier to success in that case is me: I once snuck in a seminar after it had already started, with my son sleeping in the sling. Sleeping babies, I found out at that moment, are actually quite noisy, and his occasional squeals made some people turn around to check the source of the sound. That — not the noise itself — made me so self-conscious I spent all my time worrying about being disruptive and trying to shush a sleeping baby.

(Yeah. That makes no sense to me, either.)

Then a few weeks later, I joined a seminar at a university I was briefly visiting. My host quickly pointed out to their colleagues that “we have a very young scientist in the audience!”, everyone smiled, and the speaker started. This time, no one was annoyed at the intermittent baby noises — they already knew he was there, and I knew they knew, so I could relax, too. My host had opened the door so I could walk in and out in case he started to cry. This worked well for me (I could actually focus on the talk!), and while I didn’t poll the audience afterwards, I would guess it worked for them, too.

No, I am not as productive as I used to be and as I would be without him. But low-level productivity is productivity still. For example, when he was 10 days old, I submitted a paper. It took me two days, assembling all the documents and filling out forms in between feeds, diaper changes, and many, many cuddles. I typed the cover letter with one hand (which was not that bad, as my brain was about as slow as my typing at that stage). Nevertheless, at the end of these two days I could tick it off my list. Point here: there is a lot of downtime in taking care of an infant, and you might as well use it. That is not to say you shouldn’t use it for Netflix or naps — I did a lot of that, too — but think of it as an IKEA workday: some assembly required.

I know his is not going to go on forever: in a few short months he’ll be mobile (I both dread and look forward to that time), which will most likely throw a wrench in the works. But I’ll worry about that later: this is precious time in a baby’s life, so every day I get to spend and bond with him is valuable. For now, this is what works for us. And I feel very lucky indeed that it does.

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