Archive for the 'happiness' category

A woman scientist in love

Jun 27 2015 Published by under career trajectory, gratitude, happiness

I am not ashamed to admit it. I am head over heels. I am riding a high. I am optimistic it is going to work out. And guess what!? – it has been the OPPOSITE of distracting. Being in love has had the effect of extreme focus in the workplace and pretty substantial scientific progress. I am in love… with my job.

Maintaining a loving and healthy relationship definitely takes some work. I know I am not always going to express these emotions about work – things will get challenging. People, policies, and black voodoo magic that causes instruments and reagents to mysteriously malfunction will cause some turmoil. But this feels right.

The objective for this post is not to rehash all the #distractinglysexy topics, although it has been wonderfully amusing and strangely encouraging. Instead, my thoughts were to just share some of my recent experiences as it relates to the themes of this blog – the adventures of being trained scientist who is figuring out her niche. That could be supporting other scientists, teaching, raising kids, developing a kick-ass product/therapy, or wining a Nobel prize.

And perhaps a selfish objective is to provide an amusing account for myself to flip back to years in the future when I am frustrated or hopeless. Seriously, though, I have had so many conversations with friends and colleagues about emotions as they relate to our respective career paths. I don’t always know what to say or how to encourage someone. There was a period of time where I felt all I did was dim the mood. Sometimes navigating a path is rough (especially when you can’t see the way ahead). Sometimes it is exciting. Sometimes it is scary. Sometimes it is boring. Sometimes it has you swooning (remember that feeling of being accepted to grad school?).

This has me thinking about ways that we all relate to each other, and effects we can have on one another.

One of the things that has me so giddy right now is the interaction I have been having with people outside my lab, outside my agency, outside my state and outside the country. That influx of ideas and opinions is so refreshing. I have had the extremely good fortune of getting to attend three very interesting meetings in a very short amount of time.

So, something I want to remind my future self: opportunities to go to meetings, trainings or conferences sponsored by work may not always come up. But there is almost always the flexibility to spend work TIME elsewhere even if the costs for transportation, lodging and registration aren’t covered. Some of my recent travels required me to pay out of my own pocket. I cannot think of a better way I could have spent that money.

At the moment, I am inspired. I am seeing how a scientific field is growing, changing, and making progress. I also see so much further down my current path right now! I see a role that I can play in this field. Meetings have always generally had a good effect on me. I do find some contrast, though, in attending meetings as an academic scientist compared to a more applied scientist. As an academic scientist, I was always trying to find the things I could do to make my individual projects more innovative. The things that would help me outline my next grant. Sometimes I came back frantic with all these things I might do, and companies I might contact. I had a hard time handling that pressure. Now, I don’t have the freedom or responsibility of an individual research project. For the most part, people in my lab are all working toward the same thing. This work is spilt up, and the overall goal is to provide a service. But the ways that we provide this service advance with technology. The lab has projects to keep up with that change in technology in an efficient way, while at the same time making sure that technology (and personel’s expertise in how that technology is working) be solid enough to testify to results in court. So, now, when I am at meetings, I focus on those projects, and ways the lab can keep up with the changes in technology in efficient ways, providing ideas where I can.

Getting back to the idea of why meetings and groups are money well spent – it fosters ideas. There are so many ideas I have – things I can do at work that would benefit my current workplace – these are things other people across the country and the world are already doing and work well. I may not have a position to change policies where I work, but I can certainly provide ideas to the people who do.

I also get to hear about how other people landed in the positions they are in. I find it very interesting to hear about other people’s backgrounds. I helps me realize that opportunities come up all the time that are un-forseeable. Perhaps I am even impacting my future path in ways that are not visible yet. Maybe some of these people that I interacted with at these meetings will remember me and invite me to participate in other opportunites in the future.

Conferences or not, interacting with other people I have noticed has been generally helpful. When I have gotten anxiety or fear about where I was headed, my first instinct is to hide that feeling. I feel I need to figure it out myself before I have another conversation about it. It was easy for me to avoid those conversations or change the subject quickly. But, when I did open up and share how I was feeling about where I was going, or not knowing what I wanted next, it usually had a positive effect on me. Sometimes that is easier to do with people you don’t know. A friend recently told me about a set of interactions that the career center strongly advised them to have. Using linkedIn and other websites, they got an idea of what type of positions were available at differently companies, schools, etc. This helped to see all the different roles that a PhD scientist can have. To get a better idea of what these positions were like, this person contacted these people for the sole purpose of doing a little mini-interview about what their job entailed. They said it was a very awkward experience at times, but was so helpful for guiding what niche they would be excited and interested about.

So, I feel fortunate right now to have benefited from so many helpful interactions. I am wondering if there is a way be on the flip side of that. I am extremely interested in maximizing the effects of being in love with my job. I am so motivated and constantly thinking of ways that I can positively impact my workplace. I strongly believe there is a place for love at work.


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No Regrets?

My body ached, I missed them so much. After giving birth to my twin boys about four and a half years ago, I have never been away from them, not even for a single night. Sure, there were those crappy days when I went to lab before they woke up and returned home after they had gone to bed, but I have never been away from them for too long. And then all of a sudden, this year, I decided to go visit my family. In South Africa. All by myself.

Long story short, I have family who live in Cape Town, SA. My cousin is one of them. Before she left, we were inseparable, growing up in Eastern Europe, and frolicking around our cabin in the woods and the Black Sea in the summer time. Then the Chernobyl accident happened (about 200 miles away from where we lived), she developed many very serious health problems, and as a result her family decided to immigrate from Eastern Europe to South Africa. I haven’t seen her in about twenty five years. A short while ago, I discovered that she got engaged to her long-time boyfriend, and the wedding was going to be some time in April. At first, I did not even dream about attending it, flying to South Africa by myself seemed unfathomable, and getting there with my husband and two little boys seemed even more incomprehensible because of the logistics of traveling with little children, and because of financial considerations (more on the reality of postdoctoral pay). And then one day, I got a yearning. A fire. A powerful, consuming, profound, imposing desire to go see her get married. So I did. I flew to South Africa to see my cousin, my childhood best friend slash pseudo twin, marry the love of her life. Like I said, all by myself.

Photo I took from the top of Table Mountain–view of Cape Town and Lion’s Head.

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http://imgur.com/71l1jqN

The funny thing is that in the beginning of the trip (this kind of surprised and scared me a little), I did not miss my boys. I knew they were in good hands, having fun with dad and grandma. But about half way through the trip and towards the end, I would think of them more and more, and start to really miss them. In fact, I began to miss them so much that every time I would think of them, a dull hollow ache began to spread in my chest.   And thoughts of missing them, like molasses, would envelop my mind and clog my head and my throat. I knew it was time to go home.

On my [painfully long] trip home, I started thinking about my priorities in life. Sure, I KNOW what my priorities are—my immediate family comes first, then my job, then everything else. But what about my future? I care deeply about what I do. So much, in fact, that I’ve lingered in my current position as a super-postdoc. Even though coming back to work from maternity leave all those years ago, was incredibly painful (newborn twins=no sleep=permanent real life zombie exhausted working mother). Now I am happy I persevered, and I have a career ahead of me that I look forward to discovering. I need to have this part of my life that is just my own, separate from my family, where I can work hard and make progress towards something that is bigger than I am. The scientist within me is on the verge of shedding her milk teeth and is ready to grow a full set of permanent fangs that I can sink deep into my new projects.

But I want even more than that. I want to “have it all.” I want a healthy work-life balance. I want flexibility. I want to be able to have a career AND be able to have deep, meaningful relationships with people I care about—my children and my husband. I want the empathy gap between my needs and my employer’s needs to be bridged in something that will allow me to “have it all.” Somehow being away from my family for 50-some hours a week does not sound appealing. I want to see my children for more than just one hour on weeknights. I want to spend weekends with them and not allow my worries from the week before or anticipatory anxiety for the coming week to tarnish the precious time with my boys.

Now that I am out looking for that next step in adulthood that some of us call a “job,” (all part of my plan B) I have many things to consider. And the biggest one is time with my children. Why is it so difficult to find work that will allow a parent to work part-time in the sciences? As a postdoc, I was able to negotiate a part-time position (which is not even really a thing, the position was created for me in my current lab). Sure it has not been seamless, and definitely not perfect, but it worked out. However, I don’t feel comfortable asking my potential future employer about part-time work for the fear of not getting that coveted next job all together. What exactly is my pounding fear, one might ask?   It is this: Twenty five years down the road, I fear that I will look at my children and see them as someone I barely know because I hardly spent any time with them when they were little. Like I saw my cousin this past April—a beautiful enigmatic young woman, with exquisite, impeccable taste, who once was my closest friend and now unfortunately essentially feels like a stranger to me, with only a slight hint of familiarity.


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