Archive for the 'confidence' category
Today, it is easy to be discouraged about the state of the world. On NPR today, I heard about the hunger crisis. Yesterday, I talked to a P.I. at a large research institution in despair about the proposed budget and its impact on research. My students come to school on a regular basis in near tears about the state of immigration, health care or the most recent crisis of the day. I have been guilty of burying my head to some degree, for my mental health. But recently, I had the privilege of taking part in a panel regarding the role of STEM education on girls.
I was invited to participate in the panel because I coach a science extracurricular activity at an all-female school. I had few of my students participating, and other faculty and high school girls were invited to be on the panel. When the day rolled around, I was grumpy about having agreed to participate. My children were both sick, I had family in town and it was rush hour when I had to drive across town. Adding insult to injury, the audience was composed of a measly smattering of elderly people; I’m not sure what I’d expected, but I’d hoped for a least a few more people.
The point of the event was to showcase efforts being put into encouraging young women to go into science and technology. The responses of the teenagers astounded me. The totally understood the perceived and stereotyped behaviors of women in STEM in a way I never did as an adolescent. They demonstrated a value for their own collaborative skills. And they left me feeling hopeful about future of women in science and tech.
When the moderator started asking us me questions, I realized how odd it was for me to be on this panel. I was sitting there giving “advice”, as a young person who had recently left science. Inevitably, as I introduced myself and my history, the moderator asked me the question: “so why did you leave research?”. Sure, I’d been asked that question before, but I’d never had to answer it publically or succinctly. And without realizing it, I had a great answer: I love science. After grad school, I was no longer interested in doing research. I was (and remain) interested in talking about science and I find it fulfilling and challenging. So girls, you should do what you love—I am. Sure, there were lifestyle reasons, but it ultimately came down to my personal interests.
Interestingly, I recently got an invitation to complete a survey about myIDP. It forced me to log in and revisit the assessment I’d done during graduate school. I completed it long before I transitioned to teaching and sort of wrote it off. In retrospect, they had me pegged before I was ready to admit it. So I guess my other advice would be to be open to suggestion—perhaps I’d have discovered teaching sooner if I had been more willing to do so. I’m hopeful that the next generation will be able to value and identify their own skills in STEM much more quickly than I have.
At the beginning of this year we here at Portrait of the Scientist made resolutions for ourselves for 2016. Here is how reality lived up to those goals.
My goals were to gain confidence and enjoy the ride.
Over the past year I am not sure that I have increased my confidence, but I have done some useful exploring on the issue. I have recognized that I gain a lot of my sense of self-worth and confidence externally and that I am currently in a bad situation for that. My boss, and supposed mentor, is not a supportive person. This could be ameliorated by finding non-boss mentors, but I have not made enough of an effort to do so. So although my confidence per se has not increased, I have concrete things I can act on. ‘Luckily’ I am being laid off from my current position (PI cites his health issues, gives me 1 month notice, no support finding new position…potential rant for future post) so I will at least not have this bad mentor dragging me down in 2017.
I think I am doing well with the second goal. It’s hard to say what I have done to accomplish this, but I am feeling less stressed about having an exact plan for everything. I am able to recognize that at my age my parents had just moved several states away with two young children so that my dad could start grad school, all while shackled with a house that wasn’t selling. My family made two more moves after that before settling down. I don’t think my mother ever did find a satisfying career, but that doesn’t mean her life wasn’t enjoyable. The moment is worth appreciating even if it’s not the picture-perfect moment with everything exactly as planned.
I did a pretty good job on my personal goals, starting with having my baby! And I was super lucky because I happened to have the best baby in the whole world! I had a relatively easy transition back to work, thanks to my mom coming to stay with us for a couple of months. That went really well, and I’m a lot closer to my mom because of it. I tried really super hard to take care of my sleep and health, but sometimes there’s only so much you can do; I ended up having one health issue after another this year, including a chronic issue that’s still not 100% cleared up. But I can say that I worked really hard to take care of myself throughout, so I have no regrets about anything that was within my power.
For my work goals I either nailed them or completely missed. My first goal was to submit a grant for a career transition award, and I totally did not do that, and still don’t think I’m going to. Mostly for scientific reasons, but all of my personal issues have made me not even want to try. I did follow through on my goal to focus on work for my boss’ grants rather than my own, and have made enough progress to put together a paper, but between that and odds and ends for other people, I have really put my own work on the back burner and it has barely moved forward at all. Next year maybe I’ll get that happy medium. My spouse and I applied for faculty positions this fall and are moving forward in the interview processes, so I’m excited about that and will be reporting about it in the future!
I didn’t post any specific resolutions last year. I was not feeling inspired at the time (or maybe my past, pregnant self was just too tired to do it). I always have some resolutions in the back of my mind though, and if I had to follow up on myself over the last year and give a performance evaluation… I would say I passed.
While some of my neurotic tendencies still flare up, I have kept an open mind, hold myself back from reacting immediately to things. This served me very well in my professional life. I accomplished a ton at work over the year, despite getting to take a ~4 month break to adjust to new motherhood and take care of my new little human. And I have accepted a lot of help from other people. This was a useful skill to have especially at home when recovering from childbirth and figuring out how to care for a newborn. Reaching out to some friends about this for help on certain topics even helped start new friendships, which I am grateful for.
2016 had it ups and downs, but it will go down in my history book as a very successful year.
Resolution #1: Find a passion that can translate into a new career.
No, I did not achieve this. However, I did attempt. In the spring I joined a local moms’ writing group. It was geared more towards fiction/memoir writing, but I have stayed to improve my writing in general and to enjoy the company of smart, thoughtful, and supportive women. My discovery there was that in order to improve writing, you need to read more (duh). I don’t read much these days; perhaps my resolution for 2017 should be to read more. Although I do take pleasure in writing, I am not certain if it is my “passion” or will become my career…
Resolution #2: Lose 10-40 lbs.
For the first month and a half of 2016, I chronicled my daily calorie in and outtakes on a phone app. I took out alcohol and sweets almost completely from my diet and tried to stay calorie neutral or deficient. I lost 13 lbs! However, that was not the way I wanted to live my life. For me, life without booze and sweets is not worth it. I decided to go back to life with no restrictions, and my weight came right back up. In July, a new Barre studio opened near my house, and I got a monthly membership. I have kept up with going 3-4 times a week. Barre is not an optimum exercise for weight loss however. I probably should run or do crossfit if I wanted to be serious about weight loss. With Barre, I am improving in strength, endurance, and form (my shoulders look awesome! but not anywhere else). My weight is exactly the same as the beginning of 2016. I’m accepting that for now.
Resolution #3: Publish a post for this blog on time.
Um. I only posted twice this year. Two! I feel I should not even be here writing about my 2016. Regardless, for the two posts I think I was more or less on time…?
My resolution for my personal life for 2016 was to keep working on appreciating the moment, and to start meditating. I think I did pretty well with the goal of appreciating and staying in the moment. It’s been a lot easier to be in the moment because… I’m pregnant! It’s been a very exciting 21 weeks so far and I really think that I’ve just been too tired and sick (yup I’m still throwing up) to be as anxious as I usually would be. It’s also been a lot of fun to watch my body change and to learn about what is going on with my little one every week. I have also been doing pretty well with pausing and breathing when I do start feeling stressed.
I said that I wanted to try reviewing general chemistry – I did not do as well with this goal. I was given 2 chemistry textbooks and started reading both… but I only got a couple of chapters in and I don’t think any of the bits that I did review were very helpful.
I took a postdoc with a intense advisor because I wanted to be tougher.
I had a great grad school experience with a great mentor. I worried that, although I felt strong from this experience, perhaps I felt this way because my advisor had shielded me from criticism. I worried that I would not be tough enough for the “real world” of science. So I challenged myself by taking a postdoc with a mentor who holds nothing back when it comes to criticism (indeed, one whose interview style led me to cry in my hotel room).
I thought that just by experiencing the criticism I would grow a thick skin. I thought that by daily facing this challenge I would learn to take criticism better. Maybe in time I will see that I have gained strength from this (or understand that it saved me from something that does not suit my personality, as academic blogger The New PI says that you need to be made of steel to be a PI), but going through it has felt like an unnecessary tearing down of my confidence instead of a positive skin-thickening, strength-building exercise. Criticism still hurts. And, as Drug Monkey recognizes, this approach does not necessarily develop strong academics. While one needs to be tough in science, what one needs even more is confidence. So lesson number one learned so far: build confidence to face challenges, don’t put yourself in a negative space to face challenges.
I recently have come to lesson number two. I realized that what I need is not actually to be tough in the face of criticism. It is to see criticism for what it is. It is the ideas of another person colliding with my ideas or my creations. Their ideas are not inherently better than mine. It is not my job to take all of their criticism and patiently see how wrong I am. It is to critically evaluate their ideas and my ideas and create better ideas out of the two. Instead of allowing criticism to bounce off I need to allow in the good feedback and let the ideas I don’t agree with, or those that are simply negative, slip on by.
I started off this year looking for confidence. I wasn’t expecting to find it in the same place that felt like it was taking away my confidence, but here we are. Everyone in academia deals with criticism regularly, and while I’m sure some are naturally less sensitive to it, I’m sure many have developed strategies or ways of thinking about the criticism that make it manageable. How about you?
There is so much that I love about my career as a Research Scientist in BioTech. I love the creativity and intellectual stimulation, the teamwork and independence, the opportunity to apply expertise but always keep improving and learning, and I love the puzzle of it all. But sometimes I feel drained, and recently I’ve been in a bit of a funk. I think part of it is from our continued fertility struggles; but I start thinking that maybe I’m not in the right job or even the right line of work…. Maybe I want to run away and be an illustrator or a farmer. I should go live on a commune and teach kindergarten in a tree house. But when I really sit down and outline what I want out of a career/my life I realize (again) that I’m doing it, I have my perfect job. So why do I feel so blah?
? I recently came across a blog post entitled “why a personal mission statement is key to career bliss.” Based on this maybe the question I need to be asking myself isn’t what I want to be, but rather who do I want to be. I like this idea! I don’t need go external and look for a new passion project or do anything drastic to find my happy place, I just need to be more mindful of my “core motivators” and make sure that I honor that thought in my daily life. Here is my first attempt at a personal mission statement, it’s pretty broad, but I like that it applies to my work-life and my life-life.….
To be a compassionate and creative person who contributes to, and supports teams trying to make the world a better place.
I would love to hear from you, do you have a mission statement? Has it helped you?
In a conversation with one of my female colleagues recently, she referred to me as a “strong woman.” I was surprised to hear that. Maybe because I would really like to be viewed as a strong woman, but not sure I fulfill all the criteria. So then I got to thinking, what are the defining characteristics of a strong woman. What does it take to be strong? Passion? Having it all? Confident? Being hard working? Impervious to criticism? Driven by and focused on a goal? High-achieving? Is a strong woman someone who is able to stand up for herself? Or take care of herself independently of a partner?
A brief Internet search revealed a couple of quotations that mention the word “strong” and “bitch” in the same context. Does a strong woman have to be a bitch? The word “bitch” seems to shift meaning, depending on context. Typically it is defined as aggressive, unreasonable, belligerent, malicious, or rudely intrusive to be strong. But in a feminist context, it can also indicate an assertive woman. Why the discrepancy? If a strong woman, with passion and integrity, does whatever it takes to reach her goal depending on the context, does it make her aggressive or assertive? Which one is it? Does it matter in the long run? Interestingly, I also learned that the term for bitch appears to be derived from Greek goddess Artemis – goddess of the hunt who is free, beautiful, cold, and unsympathetic. To paraphrase, a so-called strong, driven leader with an icy heart who demands respect. The Greek definition was coined a long time ago, does it still carry meaning in the modern society? Can a strong woman be benevolent, kind, thoughtful, respectful, and at the same time tough-minded?
Yes, I would like to think I am a strong woman. However, I would like it if the definitions carried less of a negative connotation – I would like to be strong without having to be a bitch. Is that possible? Which definition comes to your mind when discussing strength? I guess for me it starts here:
I dedicate this post to my dear friend Karen…
Prior to starting my new job I needed to go shopping for new clothes. I don’t love shopping. I used to love it before I had children. Now it feels like another chore, and it takes forever just to get through the mall, and then finding something that looks good on you, that has a reasonable price tag and that is work-appropriate is an additional challenge. All things considered, I knew that going shopping and updating my wardrobe to fit with my new role as a (official! Grown up! No longer a student/postdoc! Woo Hoo!) scientist was a necessity, as my old partially bleached and/or permanent marker stained postdoc clothes was not going to cut it. Still, why bother going shopping for a new wardrobe one might ask? Sounds like a very superficial thing to worry about for a scientist who takes themselves seriously? Well, it would be nice to pretend that caring about what one looks like doesn’t matter. But that is not the case. As you can see, this topic has been discussed here, and here. It is like we are expected to look nice, however we shouldn’t talk about it, in fear of bursting the effortlessness bubble of how we should “have it all” and “look good (and effortless) doing it.”
How you present yourself matters. My reasons for seeking a new wardrobe all had to do with me growing into a professional I so yearned to be. The team I was going to manage has been comprised of people who have worked with the company for many years, and who actually are older than me. It was this intimidation factor of not knowing what to expect that drove me to try and attempt to control the uncontrollable, and at least get myself looking respectable. Chemicalbilology addressed it in one of her blog entries, which took on an interesting angle of ornery undergrads not respecting her style of teaching. And why? Having spent enough time TA-ing undergrads at that very institution (and postdoc-ing with Chemicalbilology), I know it was because she didn’t wear tweed jackets with elbow patches, or knit sweater vests and pleated pants. So I was determined to buy a wardrobe that spoke for itself about the excitement for the new position from my perspective, and not from a perspective of a middle-aged man with a poor fashion sense. Through my newly acquired clothing I wanted to convey my enthusiasm for meeting my team, and learning all the awesome ways that I could contribute to their overall already awesome professional spirit. This sounds a bit shallow, how could my clothing choices affect my team’s overarching awesomess? I guess I was just trying to adjust my confidence levels, after all, if you look as fabulous as Kerry Washington in “Scandal,” you’re bound to kick butt, right? Or Gillian Anderson in “The Fall,” or even Charlotte or Miranda (it will take me some time to grow in to Samantha’s outfits, and for the most part, Carrie’s outfits have always been intriguing and questionable for me). And certainly, my inspiration was inspired by Stacy and Clinton from way back when I had time to watch really good bad TV.