A little bit bitch and a little bit buddhist always at the intersection of biology, gender, race, and culture. This blog documents my experience as a Canadian postdoc living and working in the United States. I can't promise to be PG13. In fact I promise not to be PG13.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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I realize that I haven't mentioned anything about why I'm chosing certain blogposts to repost here. There isn't any particular chronological order, but more whether these posts relate to some event that happened to me in the day. And no I'm not schizophrenic and I haven't made the decision to switch to industry (really the decision isn't made until there is a job in hand). This post has more to do with the bad decisions that I made during this day.
Bad decision #1. Wearing a sweater but no hat or sunglasses in 30degC (for my American readers that's 90degF) weather. It's not just hot but humid.
Bad decision #2. Deciding to walk 10km (6miles) home in this weather.
Bad decision #3. Not knowing where I'm staying. Okay this sounds ridiculous but it really isn't. I'm staying at BFF's this weekend while she's away because both my sisters have cats (I have bad allergies). And BFF gave me the keys to her apartment so I could come and go as I please. Well, I left late this morning but I couldn't find a street sign - so I thought making note of a landmark would do. Turns out there are more than one KFC in the neighbourhood. Ugh. Getting lost is my MO.
Bad decision #4. My phone died and I didn't charge it so I couldn't call her to ask where she lived. Maybe in the end that's a good one - this way she won't think I'm an idiot.
Bad decision #5. Thinking that 2 frappachinos (mocha and strawberry) in quick succession would solve my thirst.
Bad decision #6. Turning on the oven to make frozen pizza. If I were a puppy I'd be lolling on the floor with my tongue out. It's so bloody hot in BFF's apartment.
So now that I've gotten all the bad decisions out of the way. Here's a post from May 13 2010 which hopefully will ensure that no bad decisions are made regarding the career trajectory.
One of the exercises in the book, "So What are You Going To Do with That?" suggests that you make a two column list of everything you love and hate about academia. I thought I would share mine with you:
Although I'm not a fan of writing jargon filled scientific prose, I do enjoy writing. I love thinking about the form and structure of an arguement, the logical flow of ideas, and synthesizing material from various disciplines.
One-on-one mentoring. I get a great deal of fulfillment in training the three undergrads that I currently have working under me. They come bereft of knowledge and they leave, hopefully, understanding a little bit more about how science is done.
Solving problems through experimentation and observation.
Believe it or not, I really enjoy writing R code. It's like a puzzle and so very satisfying once you've solved it. Booyah!
I enjoy the intellectual jousting and brainstorming around ideas, design, and analysis in the name of a common goal. I had a taste of this in one collaboration where I truly felt engaged in a team. Each member took on a major task of the work and committed time and energy to doing both the grunt work and the high level thinking. From my experiences and those of my friends, "academic team work" is often when all members of a "team" get together and the people at the top the pyramid tell one person (grad student or postdoc) to do all the work. A friend once described one of his collaborators as a lazy sack of puss.
Project management. I enjoy organizing, delegating, and managing the experiments of my undergrads.
I enjoy the vibe of a large group of smart people all coming together to think about a common problem.
Starting an experiment, getting the data, and then taking that data set to find out the outcome. When I read novels, I always read the last chapter first. For two reasons, first because if I start something I need to know how it ends. It's so bad that after I watched the first season of Alias, I spend two solid days reading the summaries to the rest of the series just to find out how it ended. A second reason I do this is because enjoy knowing how the author crafted the narrative. With science, I get similarly obsessed about the outcome. I need to know how the story turns out so when I first get a dataset, I am single-minded and spend all of my work time analyzing the data with R of course!
I enjoy using experimentation, observation and synthesis to try and get as close to an answer as possible. But then when you don't, I enjoy trying to figure out why and what some alternative explanations might be and then pursuing those. The recursive nature of science is very attractive to me.
I despise the idea of spending the rest of my career scrounging and chasing money to have the "freedom" to follow my intellectual curiosity. Eighty-percent of a professor's job, seems like it is spent looking for grant money. Not interested. Money and its lack thereof make people behave in ways they shouldn't. I think that more often than not, intellectual curiosity is shelved if it means that a question or idea won't get funded or published. But, please correct me if I'm wrong.
The pretense of informality. Yes, we call each other by first names. And we even socialize with those at the top of the pyramid, but frankly it's not really a good idea to be friends with people you have to evaluate.
The creation of an underpaid, highly educated class of cheap workers in the name of a training opportunity.
Hate spin. Lots of scientific work seems to now be about the spin as opposed to the science. If I wanted to write fiction, I would've stayed in the arts.
Teaching, lecturing, marking, and preparing lectures for students who spend most of their time in class either picking their nose (and yes I can see you), facebooking, or just sleeping.
Tenure. There I said it. Although in some ways the original intent of academic freedom is very important, in the race to get it, people act well... The Visiting Dude told me that he advises his students to do whatever they have to in order to get tenure and then once they did they could do science. I guess I wonder what that says about what you do until you get tenure.
Spending the rest of my scientific career doing one thing. Ugh.
All consuming, exhausting nature that breeds an unhealthy lifestyle depauperate of a true work-life balance.
Unrealistic expectations that leads to the exploitation of those with little or no power (grad students, postdocs) and to the point above soley in the name of collecting and publishing fast and furiously because of an upcoming grant deadline.
The same set of colleagues for the rest of your tenure, who, although have similar world views and values to my own, have very little experience outside the Ivory Tower. As one person put it, "Looking back it amazes me that I sought advice and career counseling from advisors who I think had troubles finding their pants in the morning."
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I hope cons you've mentioned can be managed differently, in rather balanced way :) I believe that also science can be handled in good work-life-satisfaction balance (not sure how it become possible in real life though)
Life's made up of ups and downs. I wrote these posts on a downward trajectory. Work-life satisfaction it turns out was in my own hands. It can be done, but it comes with 'sacrifices.'
I would never think you're an idiot.