A promise I made to myself as a kid

(by babyattachmode) Sep 04 2018

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...?

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When funding agencies all of a sudden change the rules

(by babyattachmode) Aug 24 2018

When I went abroad to do my post-doc, I was determined to apply for funding from the homecountry's national science organization to be able to fund my project. This was a little tricky, because you were only allowed to apply once, and could only do that in the year after obtaining your PhD. My dilemma was whether to wait until my high impact factor paper was accepted (if it would be accepted in time of course), or apply as soon as I could. At that time, all of a sudden the science organization announced that the next round of that fellowship would be the last one ever, without a clear picture of the type of funding that would replace it. I did not hesitate and applied, as did many others. In fact, they received three times more applications as they did otherwise, and mine was ranked such that in any other round it would probably receive funding, but in this round it fell just outside the ones that were funded. I was seriously bummed, especially when the next round the fellowship reappeared. It still exists today, but of course I was only allowed to apply once, so I had wasted my chances in the worst round ever.

Now, the Dutch science organization is announcing that for the next round of two prestigious personal fellowships - the kind of funding that can make or break a young researcher's career - all of a sudden applicants need to have a guarantee from the university that they can stay there. This is very similar to the NIH's requirement that you need a faculty position in order to apply for an R01. However, before this rule got into place, many young groupleaders only got permanent positions at a university AFTER they obtained this funding. And because of that, very few permanent positions are being advertised at the moment. Changing the rules so suddenly means that for individuals this can literally break their career because it robs them of the chance to apply for funding to establish themselves as a group leader. It specifically affects those people who have made the effort to go abroad for a post-doc, because some of the people who stayed will by now have a permanent position at a university. It will surely reduce the number of applicants, which is the reason NWO is doing this, but at what cost for individuals...?

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I wrote a piece for the POSTDOCket

(by babyattachmode) Jul 23 2018

I wrote something for the POSTDOCket about , the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) newsletter:

Spending time abroad as a postdoctoral scholar is widely considered to be a beneficial to an academic career– at least it is seen that way in Europe. At the same time, it can provide useful experience when transitioning to a career outside academia. Labs in the United States are generally seen as the most desired destinations for a foreign postdoc position. However, when you want a job in your home country afterwards, being abroad may seem like a disadvantage because it is harder to maintain your network and you may feel overlooked for an available position compared to somebody who stayed nearby. You may feel like you’re stuck abroad.

You can read the rest here!

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Reader question: conference, baby and looking for jobs

(by babyattachmode) Jul 18 2018

Last month, I received the following question from someone who found my blog and has the following question:

My wife and I will both be attending SfN 2018 in San Diego with a ~3 month old.

I found your blog post and was intrigued by your insights.

I was wondering if I could ask you for some further advice given your
experience.

To give you a brief idea, neither my wife and I nor I have any idea
how to be parents yet. Furthermore, we will both ideally make contacts
at SfN that lead to ideally both of us having employment. (My wife is
looking for tenure track positions, whereas I would take a postdoc or
industry position, depending on a variety of complicated factors.)

Personally, I grossly underestimated how much work a baby is before I had a baby. Taking a baby to a conference means that whenever you're not working and would otherwise be relaxing and/or networking (I know, for some people networking is not at all like relaxing), you're now taking care of a baby. However, there are so many people who make this work, so why couldn't you?

In a subsequent email he's even more specific in his questions:

Related to your original post wherein folks assume that mom with baby
wants non-serious baby-gush fun time instead of serious science, have
you ever heard/seen a new father going to posters/talks with baby in
arms? If so, does the same effect hold?

I'm still not sure if this was my own insecurity at the time or that more people share the feeling that once you're holding a baby, everyone assumes you want to talk about the baby and not science (please comment if you have experienced either one!). I think that many conferences, including SfN get more and more welcoming to babies and children and that it will hopefully be more and more normal to be a parent AND a scientist at the same time.

I happen to be a tall-ish white American man, whereas my wife is a
non-white female from not the USA. I am totally willing to carry
around new baby in an attempt to help her avoid having people assume
it's just a baby-gush social fun time event because she is interested
in learning everything she can about a new direction for her research.
On the other hand, I wouldn't want folks to think my wife was somehow
a "bad mom" for leaving infant baby with dad for a while. (I do not
trust that even well-educated, most probably liberal, most probably
wealthier academics to perceive a woman fairly. As an example, at SfN
one year, I witnessed a prominent PI explicitly ask one of his
postdocs why she wasn't drinking alcohol at a social event as 'there
could be some problematic reasons for that'. I can only assume this PI
meant that it would be a problem if this postdoc was pregnant, which
is completely inappropriate.)

Great that you're willing to step in to take more than your fair share of parenting to give your wife the chance to network. I would certainly hope that people don't assume that she is a bad mom for doing that, and at the same time I wonder if a place that has an attitude like that is somewhere you would want to work...

We are also curious to know how you approached social events after
hours, such as the Presidential Gala and other dinner/drinks events,
as these have yielded leads to jobs and other important social
connections before. Most of these events appear even less
infant-friendly than the main floor.

I have brought a baby to a social at SfN and that did not go very well. My baby was kind of overwhelmed and fussy, so less than ideal. If I would want to be sure I would be able to go there and have the opportunity to network, I would go without baby. If you can't manage to get childcare (bring a third adult?), I would decide to split the nights and each go to separate events while the other watches the baby, but perhaps other people (and other babies) feel very differently about this.

Do you know if SfN have anyone designated to serve as a point of
contact for parents who bring their kids? (Maybe they should?)

What are the statistics on doing SfN with kids? Maybe there should be
a social event just for parents who brought their kids?

I'm personally not going to SfN this year and as far as I'm aware there are no SfN-sponsored events for parents with kids, but I'm sure many more parents are bringing their kids and will walk around the posterhall with them. And then there's the lactation/baby care room where you will likely find many fellow parents. So perhaps all the sciparents out there who read my blog can practice a secret handshake to get in touch with each other?

Also, please add your wisdom and experience in the comments!

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#MeTooSTEM: stories for everyone

(by babyattachmode) Jun 12 2018

If you have been living under a rock and think sexual harrassment doesn't happen in academia, this new blog is for you.

If you think: this only happens in the US, this story is for you.

If you think: men who are accused of committing these acts lose their whole career, then read what the women it has happened to have lost and are still losing.

If you think: these women only come forward hidden behind pseudonym, that is not the case. Although understandably, many are.

If you think: if stuff like this happens, people who see it will speak up, this story is for you.

If you think: I have my own story, these resources are for you. Also, consider sharing your story.

If you think: I want to thank the person who is bringing this to light ánd started a petition to remove sexual harrasers from the National Academy of Sciences, then consider sending @McLNeuro a supportive gif on twitter!

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On credibility and using your title

(by babyattachmode) Jun 11 2018

The other day I was in a training where we talked about how you can influence other people and we revisited Aristotle's pathos, ethos and logos triangle on persuading people (google it if you want to know more). One point of this triangle, the ethos part, is about credibility and trust, and in this training we talked about what that could look like. It made me realize that for some, credibility comes easier than for others, because some people may look more like what society finds credible than others. For example, I've heard people say that I look young, and not much like a scientist, so I guess I need to bring other ways of establishing credibility than someone who does look like your stereotypical scientist. Also, that stereotypical scientist can afford himself the luxury of coming into work in shorts and sandals and still look credible, while his female counterpart has a much narrower definition of what she can wear to be assumed credible.

Another aspect of credibility for scientists is your Dr. title. I've heard many people say that there is no need to use your title, and especially in The Netherlands there is a culture where people tend to be very informal. But if you can't use your title to bring credibility, for example when you're teaching, then how are you supposed to do that when you don't have the stereotypical "credible looks"? And wouldn't a really strong way for white men to be allies to women (or people of color, or anyone else who does not come with the stereotypical credible looks) to start using titles again, even in a society that is informal and scores relatively high on the gender equality lists? Would this be one way we could counter the "gender equality paradox in STEM?"

 

 

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Back when I had a baby and a fellowship rejection in one week

(by babyattachmode) May 15 2018

Over four years ago, I came home from the hospital in the evening after a day that started with me thinking I was in labor (and so did the midwives, by the way) but ended with me not being in labor anymore while the baby was still in my uterus. I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed, but just before that I checked my email. Back then, my private email and most of my work email came to the same email address. And there it was: a long awaited email from the EU with the results of whether I was going to get a Marie Curie fellowship to do my own research back in the homecountry. As the EU did back then, the email just said something along the lines of "fellowship results", and then you had to click a link, log into their participant portal, find out that your password has expired, make a new password, log in again to then find a very cryptic message that still did not really say whether you got the money or not. I was exhausted from being in the hospital all day, but my heart was racing at the same time because I wanted to know if I got the fellowship or not.

Fast forward: I did not get the fellowship but I did have the baby 5 days later. And now that I look back at these emails I'm surprised to see that within 2 weeks of giving birth I was emailing with the professor who gave me feedback on this grant on how to rework it into a new grant. I so much wanted to succeed in academia that I kept thinking and working around birthing a baby. But before you get all judgy, I also remember very clearly how this was a way for me to stay connected to my normal world: my world that I was used to and to try and avoid the world I had experienced with my first-born: a world where I felt so alone with a crying baby. I was not - and am still not - someone who can sit still for a long time. I wanted to continue to think about science even though I had just had a baby. I want to take care of a baby and think at the same time.

I was reminded of this when the other day, a journalist tweeted the following:

And of course Twitter had lots of opinions, that Racael Pells summarized for Times Higher Education. But as you can imagine from the story I shared, this could have been me (that is - before you come to the part where she describes that the academic in question was male).

In hindsight, perhaps I wish my work email wouldn't come to my private email address. In hindsight, I wish I wouldn't have checked my email after a long day in the hospital. And in hindsight, I wish I could have been more in the moment with my little baby. I wish I had seen more examples of how people actually do this, as opposed to stories of women who submit manuscripts while in early labor. I wish academia wasn't so much of a linear career path, where I was afraid to take some time to be in the moment with a little baby. But there are many moments in a day. Some moments were spent mindfully bonding with my new baby, and other moments were spent sending emails. That is how it was.

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Travel: Barcelona with kids

(by babyattachmode) May 14 2018

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.

Park Guell

The view from our balcony

Inside the Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

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On finishing papers after leaving the lab

(by babyattachmode) Apr 17 2018

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?

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I'm on the Recovering Academic podcast!

(by babyattachmode) Mar 29 2018

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!

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