Archive for: January, 2016

Resolution Fail!

We’re not even at the end of January and I’ve already failed at one of my goals for the year. Okay, not failed, but postponed.

I’ve been working on applying for a career transition award through NIH. This means proposing research I will perform as a trainee in my postdoc, as well as in my independent laboratory after I get a faculty position (don’t laugh). This all must fit together in a way that works with my past experience, transitions nicely between postdoc and independence, and distinguishes me from my mentors, all while being a compelling (fundable) research plan. It’s pretty challenging and I’ve been working for months on my aims and getting advice from many different people. It was a pleasant surprise to find how many people, some of whom didn’t even know me at all, were willing to put time and significant effort into carefully reading my aims and giving advice.

The biggest challenge for me was getting the preliminary data I needed to show that my proposed approach was feasible and that there was some basis for my specific hypotheses. There were some logistical issues in getting things up and running that kept me from really getting started on the most important pilot experiments until December. I worked every single day over the holidays to get these things done and didn’t really mind – the planning had been the hard part and now I was going to get the payoff, in the form of beautiful pilot data, just in time to polish my application!

But then my first experiment didn’t give me the results I expected – not only did the drug I was testing not lead to the hypothesized effect, but I didn’t have the expected baseline differences between groups I needed to even show an effect if there was one, so basically the experiment was worthless for preliminary data purposes. And then my second experiment failed due to an unforeseeable procedural issue. So frustrating!

After each of these failures I still held hope for my third, and most important experiment. This was the one I needed to show that my methodological approach was sound, that I could actually do it, and that it supported my main hypothesis. But to my surprise, my results showed that this was not true at all – this approach was not going to work for my goals, and there was no support for my hypothesis. This was the final nail in the coffin, which I had already seen coming after the first two experiments – there was no way I could submit this grant as planned.

Now I need to do a few more exploratory experiments before I can even settle on an approach. Then I need to rewrite my aims – at least altering the approach, but maybe my actual hypothesis and entire research plan! So I hope I can do this before the next submission deadline, just postponing my application by one cycle, but it’s now clear to me that I have a lot of work to do be confident that my proposal is sound, not just a nice plan.

One of the disappointments for me on the personal side is that this inevitably delays my career progress. If I do get the award, whether it’s on the first or re-submission, it’s at least one cycle later than I’d hoped, and longer for me to remain in this training phase of my career, which I’ve mentioned I’m really ready to move on from! If I don’t get the award, I’ve spent a LOT of time doing things for this application that arguably take away time from other progress I could be making in my research and/or career plans.

And honestly, one of the biggest reasons I feel like not meeting this deadline is a failure is because of all of the people who worked to support me in reaching this goal. I have mentors, people writing me recommendation letters, collaborators, advisers, and administrative staff who’ve all been helping me try to make this deadline, and I feel embarrassed to tell them I’m postponing my submission. I know these people all have been a part of the game and know very well what it’s like, and it’s not like I was lazy or inattentive to deadlines – the science side just didn’t work, and that happens. But I still feel like a failure going to each of these people to tell them I have to postpone my plans.

I can only hope that I have continued support from both colleagues and data by the time I reach my next deadline. Here’s to flexible goals and a happy and productive mid-2016 – wish me luck!

8 responses so far

Career decisions

Jan 15 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

The further one gets into their career, the more intentional they have to be about every decision. The number of factors that impact every step seems to go from a few to ‘too many to consider all at once.’

I didn’t struggle choosing my career path. Things seemed to just work themselves out. Of course there were decision points, but things felt right one way. After some thought, but not agonizing thought, it felt like I knew what to do. I didn’t necessarily make the best choices. Maybe if I had picked a different postdoc lab with a more supportive and directed environment I would currently be a confident, productive, late career postdoc on the search for a tenure-track position. But just as babyattachmode explained in her recent post, the academic track, while not easy or simple, at least has a predetermined path to follow. When you consider options outside of academia, it gets less clear.

Now, regardless of my past decisions, I am at a decision point but this time no direction feels natural. There is no automatic decision even after years of considering the options. The decision is not easy and I need to really think about what I want out of career, which goes hand in hand with what I want out of life.

I try to think about what I want, but not everything is compatible. A well-paid, interesting, world-enhancing career that leaves plenty of time for my family would be lovely, but not obviously attainable. So how do I choose?

I recently read an article that suggested that instead of thinking about what you want you should think about what negatives you’re willing to work through. I think that is really smart advice. Based just on what I want, there is no answer for my future. However, if I focus on what downsides I can handle (there are downsides to every job) I can balance the bad and the good in a way that suits my needs.

The number one thing I want is time. Time with my family, time so that we’re not always rushing, time so that I’m living my life purposefully instead of rushing from one thing to the next, time so that I’m not cranky with those I love. This is a positive thing that I want but it is also indicative of what I won’t put up with. I wouldn’t take a job that takes all of my time.

Having that constraint limits my options. I then have to decide what trade-offs I am willing to take to have that time.

I’m not willing to take a mindless job. I want some kind of challenge, some kind of thought or analysis or novelty. At the same time it doesn’t have to be the most novel or the most challenging. Would a job as a medical writer be interesting enough? Would a job in science outreach be enough of a challenge? Doctor PMS never imagined herself in sales but has found a fulfilling job in science sales. Is that something I should consider?

Am I willing to have a job that doesn’t have a positive impact on the world? I don’t think I’ve ever discovered anything that has truly changed our understanding of biology, even on a small scale, but at least in basic biological research that is the goal. If I move away from that, what will be my role in the larger scheme of things? Clearly there are other obviously impactful careers but some jobs are less clear. A step away from bench science into user experience research, a career suggested by a friend, might be interesting, but may not fit any lofty ideals. Am I ok with that?

Other factors include money, location, pressure, subject matter, and respect. I am still debating many of those. Have you made a major career decision that didn’t feel natural? Did you have any strategies that helped you decide?



2 responses so far

Goals for the new year

Jan 04 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Happy New Year! 2015 was filled with changes, challenges, and successes too. I’m sure 2016 will bring much more of all of those, hopefully with the balance weighing toward the good. To ring in 2016 we will share with you some of our goals for the year ahead, and maybe you can share some of yours with us.


Since I’m expecting a baby in early 2016, this year will be all about new beginnings and balancing my new family life with work. Here are my goals, in chronological order:

  • Submit (and later probably resubmit) an application for a K99/R00 career development grant to NIH.
  • Have that baby!
  • Work with my partner to learn how to be good co-parents.
  • Work to be gracious (and not show annoyance) to my mom, who is giving us the amazing gift of coming to take care of the baby for several months as I transition back to work.
  • Find a way to transition back to work while maintaining time with/for family.
  • Balance work for myself (i.e. grant applications, preparing for my career transition) with work for my lab/boss – until now I’ve really focused on the former and I think it will be important to work more on the latter.
  • Apply for faculty positions next fall.
  • And all the while, listen to my body and take care of my sleep and health!


For me, it’s all about defining what’s attainable, setting goals, meeting those goals, and finishing my dissertation.

1. Time management

Set aside 5-10 to write down the goals for each day. Pause to check that the day’s goals are actually attainable. Break down into smaller chunks if goals are not attainable. Break goals into “writing/reading/thinking goals” and “lab goals”, and set up at least one from each category each day.

Set aside 15min on Monday to sketch out goals for the week, and 15min on Friday to assess the week.

Make note of how long all protocols actually take. Even jotting down times for each step will be useful.

2. Reward

Defining both “lab goals”  and “thinking goals” as describes above, then cross them off the list with gusto to help impart a small sense of accomplishment when the goals are met.

Save rewards, like going to get a coffee, for when a goal is met. Rather than going to the coffee shop to read a paper, read the paper, make notes on it, and then go get the coffee as a break.

3. Overcommitment

Write every appointment in the online calendar and paper calendar.

Avoid more than one appointment per day.

Limit meetings to 30min, 60min if necessary. Bring a timer and pretend you are in the middle of something (this is a good strategy for dealing with my boss).

4. Anxiety

Keep a running list of post-dissertation things (jobs, fellowships, programs, things to look into, articles to read. Look into these things on Sundays during nap-time. When you come across these things at other times, add them to the list for Sunday. Don’t get sucked in.


Due to my lack of discipline, I have never kept a New Year’s Resolution. In the last several years I have not even set one.

But this year my friend and an organizer of this blog suggested that I have one.  So here it goes:

Resolution #1:  Find a passion that can translate into a new career.

Step 1 of sticking to the resolution:  Do a Google search “How do I find a passion”

Resolution #2:  Lose 40 lbs, mostly for looks.  My friends, including the organizer of this blog, convinced me that is too unrealistic and to set the goal at 10 lbs.

Step 1 of sticking the resolution:  I downloaded an app to calculate my daily calorie intake. I stop eating once I go over my daily allowance.  I’m so hungry.

Resolution #3:  Publish a post for this blog on time.

Step 1 of sticking to the resolution:  Don’t schedule a post.


I like goal setting, but resolutions are hard for me because they tend to be less tangible; because of this, it is often hard for me to evaluate my progress towards reaching the particular goal. Mine this year is no different. Objectively, I love my new career and really feel like I’m making a difference as a high school teacher. A part of me is still unable to let go of what I perceive to be a drop in career “prestige.” In graduate school, I was awarded multiple fellowships, published papers and felt successful. I’m also a great teacher, but I don’t feel like saying “I teach high school” holds the same wow factor as “I’m working on my Ph.D. in Neuroscience.” I want to fully let go of this hangup, as I seem to be the only one that is unable to get past it.


Personally, I would like to keep working on appreciating the moment, and maybe start meditating.

Professionally, I would like to brush up on chemistry so I can better understand what’s going on in adjoining departments.


My number one goal for this year is to regain my confidence. I believe that I once felt like a competent person who would accomplish something in this world. Somewhere along the way a combination of career uncertainty and work environment has made me question whether I am good at anything. I know that this is not true and my goal for this year is to feel like this is not true. Any tips on concrete actions I can take to accomplish this would be appreciated.

My number two goal for this year is to try to enjoy the ride. Whether or not my work-life balance or my career is exactly what I want I have many good things in my life. My children will only be this age once and the two best things about my job are the flexibility and the intellectual stimulation, so stressing about what my future looks like is just not worth it.

2 responses so far