I have to pay back what?!

(by sweetscience) Jan 23 2017

As if it isn’t difficult enough to be in your mid-thirties starting a family while living on a postdoc salary and waiting to move yet again before finally getting a “real” job, some of us also have to worry about making career changes that don’t result in having to pay back up to a year’s income. Yes, you read that right – I could be made to pay back a year’s stipend if I don’t follow through on a commitment to stay in research or select other related positions for a set amount of time.

If you’re unfamiliar with this payback agreement, here’s an article that covers most of the issue and risks, but in short: certain NIH training grants (i.e. institutional T32 or postdoctoral individual F32) require a signed contract that you must “pay back” the time you are sponsored by the grant, up to one year, either by working at least 20 hours per week in research or a related position (including teaching, working in industry and many others at the NIH’s discretion), or by literally paying back the money that was granted to you.

To some degree, I get it. The NIH is trying to fulfill a mission, and in spending money on training researchers as part of that mission, they want to ensure  that they benefit from those investments as much as possible. And, as they will tell you, most people accomplish paying back the first year of training by fulfilling a second year or more on the training grant. Others find related jobs or receive alternate funding for research, which fulfills the obligation.

For the sake of this post, I am not going to go into all the possible scenarios that put someone in a difficult position to pay this back – you can imagine a laundry list of nightmares (needing to quit working for medical reasons and having to owe a year’s income?!?) – but I will focus on the situations for starting and wanting to get out that are most relevant for my situation.

First, it is often the case that a postdoc can only join the lab they want (or find any position at all) if they are sponsored by funding other than the PI’s grants – this is typically going to be a T32 or F32. So right away, one could be faced with the decision to either take a job with this sketchy payback agreement, unsure of what their feelings will be in 1-2 years, or not have a job (in the academic research career path) at all. I actually was given the option and, thankfully, had a boss who was thoughtful enough to bring up the payback issue and discuss it with me. Some people get blindsided with this once they’ve already settled on a position. I accepted it, thinking that I would be staying in my current position at least as long as I needed to fulfill the payback obligation.

So now I find myself in the early phase of my payback year, searching for jobs and leaning more and more toward a new career path that will certainly not fulfill the payback obligation. And a great opportunity has come up, in a place that would be perfect for my family to relocate to… but what do I do? Apply and (if offered a position) ask to delay starting for another 9 months? Accept a position and incur a huge loss in my net income as I payback my training stipend? Not apply now and just hope that another perfect opportunity will present itself when the time is ripe?

And there’s the rub. By being paid by this funding mechanism with the intention of supporting my training for my career, my ideal career path may actually be blocked. I try really hard not to make choices based solely on financial reasons, but this time it really matters, as the financial aspect would immediately and severely affect me and my family, and there is no apparent remedy or even band-aid.

The thing (well, one of the many things) is that there’s no way to demonstrate to the NIH how destructive this may be. There’s no way to measure the lost potential or even count the number of people who haven’t started the career they wanted because they felt stuck in research due to their financial obligation. There’s no way to know how many people signed on or stuck it out because it was the only option for making a living. Importantly, those trainees are really not serving the NIH’s goals in the long run either.

Now, not only am I losing out financially just by doing a postdoc, as this recent heartbreaking article describes, but I am also losing financially and/or in potential career happiness by having signed this payback agreement. I know, it’s never too late and I’ll give the new career direction a try when the timing is right, but I want to be able to make that decision on my own terms, not for fear of owing someone money. In a career path where I’m constantly reminded that the cards are stacked against me, I don’t think this is too much to ask.


15 responses so far

The layoff

(by peirama) Jan 20 2017

I’ve heard stories of it happening. I know it can happen. It has happened to plenty of people. But to me? It couldn’t happen.

But it did. I was laid off. With one month of notice. In some industries that is plenty of notice. In academia, in science, it is no time at all.

I had already been on a path to discovering a new career and I was already unhappy with where I was. I tried to take it as a blessing in disguise. At least it was a push to find something else, maybe even something better.

But a month. A month is no time to find a job. My PI told me his health made him do it. He would be cutting down his hours in the new year so he wouldn’t be able to focus on my project. It is not worth worrying about how much this is true versus an excuse. Certainly my project was not his favorite anymore. It took too long. It was too slow. But I am the only one out of 7 postdocs to get a pink slip. Also there were complications. I told him I don’t want to be a PI. I was working less than full time. Then there is the other thing. Someone said it and now I can’t get it out of my head. I was paid on the postdoc payscale. Most others were paid less. Anyway, it is not worth worrying about why I was laid off … is it?

Regardless, I tried to stay positive. I tried to use this as a kick in the butt to find something better. At least a step in the right direction. I applied to more jobs than I ever have. I pursued more options, branching out beyond my comfort zone. I considered alternatives like freelance scientific editing and tutoring.

In the end, at the point when I was really starting to think I’d be unemployed, I was offered a six-month postdoc position in a collaborator’s lab. It is not my dream job and it is not permanent, but it is a good right-now solution. It is better than losing money on daycare while doing freelance editing (I can’t be sure but I don’t think I would break even with daycare costs). No other application came to anything and my emotional energy has been eaten up with all of the applying, looking, and one enormous surge of effort – a phone interview that got me nowhere and left me feeling worthless.

I know job hunting is painful for everyone. I know that I am not worthless. I know something will work out. Regardless of where I end up, I believe that being laid off was for the best. Looking back, my situation was even more toxic than I could see close up. It beat me down in ways I couldn’t see how to get out from under. My new department is much friendlier. My new boss is much more human. I am going to take this month to collect myself, to regroup.

Then I will get back to figuring out what’s next.


6 responses so far

Your boss can’t always be your mentor

(by sweetscience) Jan 10 2017

“You shouldn’t be afraid to tell your boss exactly what you want to do for your next step – it’s their job to mentor you,” is the advice I have given many people, particularly grad students and postdocs who decide they want to pursue careers other than strictly academic research but are afraid to tell their bosses. And now under similar circumstances myself, I have become very hesitant about what information to give my boss about my career plans. I see all the reasons that people would not want to be upfront with their bosses.

  1. I don’t want to get fired. If my boss thinks that I’m no longer right for this job, or the kind of person they want to train, they could just let me go.
  2. As far as I can tell, my boss is not interested in mentoring me for a career outside of academic research.
  3. I don’t want to appear flaky or uncertain. Mostly for reason #1, but also because I still want to be able to count on good letters of recommendation if needed.

At the same time though, there are reasons I should talk to my boss about this.

  1. I could use some advice, mentoring, and maybe even connections or referrals, and I still believe it is part of a boss’ job to provide those things.
  2. I don’t want to waste any more of our time or energy applying for research and training grants, if that is not a direction that will help my career.
  3. Doing so may actually push me to move out into the career I want – even if it was because I got fired.

Plus, I just prefer to be open and honest and I’m sure my boss would prefer that as well. So I will try to first get some mentoring outside of my boss, come up with a game plan for my next career steps, ideally a plan that includes a clear reason why my current position is valuable for my future, and then open up to my boss about it.

With this new perspective, I completely understand why people would not want to be completely open with their bosses, and I apologize for acting like it was so clear cut. That said, as many before me have noted, I do think that most PIs need to be more aware that the majority of trainees are not going to end up as PIs like them, and be open to the many career possibilities that appeal to PhDs. And let’s be honest, your PI probably can’t be a great mentor to you when you’re pursuing a career outside of academia, the only path they’ve traveled, an you’ll want to find another more helpful mentor anyway.


2 responses so far

Resolutions 2017

(by peirama) Jan 03 2017

Happy New Year! 2016 was a little rocky, but just like any year it had its ups and downs and we have all learned something about ourselves. Here are some of our goals for the upcoming year. Please share yours in the comments!

peírama: My goals for this year are 3-fold – professional, personal, and civic.

Professional: Like last year I want to make progress in gaining confidence. I think this confidence will help me understand what I want to do professionally going forward and give me the courage to try out career options.

Personal: With some recent stresses I’ve lapsed into a routine of eating a lot of sweets and only doing a minimal exercise routine. I think I will feel better if I get myself a little healthier. So my specific goal is to reduce my dessert intake and increase my cross-training.

Civic: Everyone says that 2017 has to be better than 2016, but I find it hard to imagine given our incoming president. In light of that, my goal is to make a consistent effort to have a positive impact in my community and in my country. I’m meeting with someone this week about volunteering for Planned Parenthood and I’d like to get better about following through with the weekly call to action.

SweetScience: My only big goal for work is to transition to a new job, but there are a lot of elements of that I want to work on to the best of my ability

  • Learn and negotiate the best path to making my dream job materialize
  • Improve my interview skills
  • Decide with my partner what jobs we can each accept, and how to make the transition timing work in a way that will be the best for our family as a whole
  • Gracefully transition out of my current position without shirking my duties

And yet again, I need to make taking care of my health and sleep a top priority. My personal goal is to improve my relationships with my extended family, since feel like I dropped the ball in 2016 when I was stuck focusing on my own issues. My first step toward this will be to plan at the beginning of the year how to schedule birthday gifts for my nieces and nephews and others. After I survive the transition to a new job, I want to start doing meaningful service in my new community and connecting with people there. Until then, I don’t see myself being able to spend time in service, so I will plan to donate money to local and national organizations, and continue to support charities when asked for donations.

StrongerThanFiction:

  • Even though I have been at my job for a few years, there is still a lot that I don’t know. I need to keep gathering more information and perspective.
  • Contribute to the positive atmosphere and professional interactions in the lab, and don’t let myself get worked up about the negative things.
  • Keep up with scientific literature.
  • Read my baby a book every night.
  • Notice racism and sexism and be vocal about it.  
  • Go on at least one hike every month
  • Camping trips!
  • Don’t eat french fries.

Curiouser&Curiouser:

For 2017 my big goal is to have this baby (due in April) and learn how to be a mom!  I’m so excited but I also know that we have a TON to learn.  Tips and tricks would be much appreciated.

At work, I need to try to become more ok with accepting help.  I’ve been setting up a huge 7 month experiment that will start tomorrow… so obviously I’m not going to be able to finish it up before the baby arrives.  Luckily, I have a great team and my boss is being great (and has had kids so he is making sure that I don’t try to do too much too late in my pregnancy).  I also don’t want to let work slide.  I want to make sure that I’m still on track with my career and pushing myself to keep growing academically.  We’ll see if I can do it all.

NotaRealTeacher:

This year, I was pregnant most of the year, had a new baby and was on leave for the remainder of the year. Because of that, my classroom teaching has entailed mostly reusing what I did the year before. My goal this year is to change my curriculum and infuse it with more research based labs (maybe adding a zebrafish research project??!). Lastly, I’d like to start to establish a long term career trajectory. I want to figure out what I’m working towards. Is my goal to be the best classroom teacher I can be? Or am I headed in a different eventual direction? I also want to settle into this chaotic life as a family of 4!


5 responses so far

Resolution Revisit

(by peirama) Dec 13 2016

feat1http://www.unilad.co.uk/video/john-oliver-perfectly-explains-why-2016-is-so-awful/

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.

Peírama:

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.

SweetScience:

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!

StrongerThanFiction:

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.

Torschlusspanik:

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…?  

Curiouser&Curiouser:

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.  


No responses yet

“I do it for all the little girls”

(by sweetscience) Nov 15 2016

So we didn’t shatter that highest glass ceiling yet. Like many people, since last week I’ve been trying to stay positive and think of things I/we can do to promote a better, supportive society. A recent article in the New York Times shares stories from women who were told they couldn’t do something because of their gender, but they did it anyway.

I wanted to be inspired by this, but was totally depressed by all the times women have been suppressed or just not recognized as the capable people we are. One particular story that got me was of a young woman majoring in computer information systems who said, “It has been hard to stay motivated, but I do it for all the little girls who are told what they can and cannot do.” If I read that the week before the election I may have found it inspiring. But today, I just think of this poor woman trapped in something she doesn’t love (or worse, maybe she used to love it but has been worn down by all the negative reactions people have given her), ultimately doing it for someone else.

I want to be a good example. I love that Hillary Clinton was (is!) an amazing role model for girls everywhere. I want more women in STEM so that girls who are interested can see themselves in those fields. But is it a good decision for someone to devote their career to something because of a sense of duty? I really don’t know.


No responses yet

Sadness and Resolve

(by peirama) Nov 09 2016

I am sure many who read this blog are feeling low right now. Almost half of this country voted for someone who, among other things, disparages science and outright disrespects women. Out of my despair the only thing I can think to do is stand up for what I believe in. It is time to defend what is under attack.

Support science! Spread knowledge! Defend women’s rights! Take action!

And this, from Senator Cory Booker:

“Early Morning Thoughts on Today, November 9th.

This is not a time to curl up, give up or shut up.

It is time to get up; to stand up, to speak words that heal, help, and recommit to the cause of our country.

We had an election defeat, but we are not defeated.

We hurt, we fear, we may even regret that we did not do more.

But character is not defined, forged or built in good times.

The fire of adversity forges our steel.

And the searing heat of defeat reveals what we are made of.

We tell our truth not in what happens to us but in how we react – how we face a setback; how we rise when knocked down; how we work through fatigue and frustration; how we bring grit to our grief and heart to our hurt.

The will of a patriot is indomitable.

I regret that we have but one life to give to our country.

And thus, as long as we have breath in our bodies and blood in our veins, nothing can stop us from serving, helping, sacrificing and struggling for the cause of America – a cause that is 240 years old, a cause greater than our pain, sorrow, or fears – a cause that has seen agony, loss, setback, and defeats – but one that has never, ever surrendered.

We are shaken, but our will must be firm.

This finite defeat will not end our infinite hope – in us, in America, in all her people no matter what their faith, race, or political party.

Our light is inextinguishable, no matter how much darkness we face.

We must be brilliant now, when it is needed most, not a dim, dull capitulation to the gloom that abounds.

We are prisoners of hope – knowing hope and faith do not exist in the abstract; they are the active conviction that frustration and despair will never have the last word.

So let us stand up today. Let us pledge allegiance to our nation with renewed conviction and courage.

Let us be determined to reach out to our fellow countrywomen and men.

Let us encourage others.

Let us be gracious.

Let us seek to build bridges where they have been burned.

Let us seek to restore trust where it has been eroded.

Let us stand our ground but still work to find common ground.

Let us be humble and do the difficult work of finding ways to collaborate and cooperate with those whose political affiliations may differ from ours.

But let us never, ever, surrender, forfeit, or retreat from our core values, our fundamental commitments to justice over prejudice; economic inclusion over poverty and unmerited privilege; and, always, love over hate.

Let us speak truth to power; fiercely defend those who are bullied, belittled, demeaned or degraded; and tenaciously fight for all people and the ideals we cherish.

It is a new day.

We love our country; we will serve it, defend it, and never stop struggling to make its great promise real for all.

And no one gets a vote on that.”


3 responses so far

Dual-body career planning

(by sweetscience) Oct 24 2016

The ‘dual-body problem’ gets a bad rap in academia. It’s seen as a major difficulty even though virtually all couples with at least one career in academia, and many other fields, have the same basic issue to deal with. This career path requires multiple changes in position, usually at different institutions, and often different geographic locations. It’s hard for anyone to make these career transitions, and made even harder when there is a significant other’s job to take into consideration, no matter the field. Oh how we envy those wise enough to have settled down with a someone who can work from a computer anywhere, and rake in the money to boot!

Anyway, my spouse and I have one of many versions of the dual body problem. We graduated from the same PhD program at the same time, are going on the job market at the same time, and some aspects of our research are fairly similar, meaning we have a lot of overlap in the actual job postings/departments we’re looking at. We are also very picky about where we want to live long-term. There are many “solutions” to similar situations, from the individual to institutional level, but for now, here’s our dual-body approach to applying for jobs.

  1. Who is more needy/picky in their requirements? Will they be happy if they settle for less? Will the other partner? Is one person’s skill set more in demand? In other words, do you have a “trailing spouse” or does it depend on what position is offered to whom? For us, it is my husband who has more specific needs, and may be a more desirable hire since he has grant funding to go with him to his new position. To do the research he wants, he needs to be at a major university with specific facilities and collaborators. I am more flexible in that I’m applying for anything from primarily teaching positions at small liberal arts colleges to more research-focused jobs at R1s, and I would also be interested in other kinds of jobs if things didn’t align perfectly for a traditional academic job.
  2. Restrict/expand searches geographically to match. We’ve done the long-distance thing when we couldn’t get a perfect match for our postdocs. That’s not going to happen again, though you do hear those stories about couples who go the majority of their careers living long distance!
  3. Make exceptions. When I see a job that I’m a perfect fit for, I’ll apply anyway, even if my husband doesn’t have plans/options to apply in that region. At the very least it could be a competitive offer to give me negotiating power; at the most it might sway us both to move for my dream job, or my spouse might discover another match there at a later date. Don’t give up before you’ve exhausted your options!
  4. Strongly consider jobs that advertise multiple positions. I don’t know if it’s the economic recovery or what, but I’m seeing a lot more institutions advertising large hiring sprees this year. Even if they are not ideal in one way or another, this could be the best all-around fit for getting both of us in decent positions.
  5. As with any job search, spread the word! We got wind of two positions opening in a department we both wanted to be in, from a friend who was keeping an ear to the ground for us. We were able to get our applications in despite the short window the post was open because of our friend’s influence, and never would have known about it otherwise.
  6. Prepare for when and how to bring up the dual-body issues with the department (most sources say for this early career stage it should be after an offer has been made) and what to ask the department to do about it. Can they create a position for the spouse? Hire both of us to share a lab/position? Exert influence on another department/institution to consider hiring the spouse? We are choosing not to mention our dual-body issue in our cover letters and will see for each position when it makes sense to broach the subject.
  7. Support each other! Pass along job ads, decide together which jobs to apply for, read each other’s application packages, and be enthusiastic about all promising opportunities that come up without over-analyzing what you would do if

Stay tuned for future posts on interviews, decision making, rejection… and wish us luck! If you have any other experience or advice for the planning/applying stage, please post in the comments!


6 responses so far

Take the good and leave the rest

(by peirama) Oct 18 2016

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?


5 responses so far

Are you prepared to deal with chronic illness?

(by sweetscience) Oct 06 2016

I could probably count on one hand the number of sick days I’ve used in my adult life before this year. I figured that would change when I had a baby, either to stay home with a sick kid or because I may get sick more often myself, and I was right. But I was unprepared for dealing with issues of chronic pain and illness.

I’ve had some physical issues this year that have noticeably affected my work. I haven’t had to take any sick time directly because of my illness, but I have had to take so many half days to see doctors trying to diagnose and then treat my issues, and then recently took a few days off following a treatment. And all throughout these months, so much of my time and energy outside of work has gone to dealing with the pain and doctors.

This has given me a great appreciation of what it must be like to work with a chronic illness, something I’d read about but didn’t know very much about. As much as I may have tried to hide it, I have definitely been less productive than I (or my boss) would have liked. I have missed promised deadlines, something that I never do, and finally had to tell my boss what was going on. As always, he’s been very kind and understanding, and I know how lucky I am. I even have a slight advantage (depending on the circumstances) in that my pain and the ways I’ve dealt with it are often visible with an obvious root; it can be extremely difficult for people with invisible illness (think fibromyalgia, depression) to deal with others not understanding or believing that they do in fact have an illness.

Even with a flexible schedule and sympathetic boss, I had to consider how my productivity was going to affect my job moving forward. As a postdoc, I’m expected to be in the most productive phase of my training – no classes to worry about, no teaching duties, just all research all the time! So what does it mean when I’m really not being very productive? For that matter, what is productive enough? Where would I need to draw the line, either because of my productivity or to preserve my own health, and consider taking a medical leave, going on disability, or cutting back my hours?

Then I realized that I had no idea how medical leave or disability insurance worked or what other possibilities were. And a number of reasons make it difficult to look into those things while in the midst of health issues – let alone after a traumatic accident of some sort. Sarcozona over at Tenure She Wrote recently wrote a wonderful post about some of these issues and more, and how to value and support [student] researchers with chronic illness. I think we should all take some time when we’re healthy to learn and think about how to deal when we’re not, for our own health and for times when we’re called upon to help or work with someone else like a student dealing with these issues. Talk to your HR representative, read that part of your employee/student handbook you may have glossed over, look into disability insurance – you never know when you might need the benefits suddenly!

In the meantime, take care of yourself and stay well!

 


3 responses so far

« Newer posts Older posts »