How are things going? 1 year post-academia update

I know I’ve been way too negligent with this blog. I think about cool things to write about all the time, but either they don’t seem that cool anymore after a while, or I don’t take the time to write about them. But on July 1st I celebrated one year working outside academia, and a lot of people has been asking me: how are you doing? How things are working for you?

I wrote a blogpost about six months ago about how things were going back then: “There’s life after academia: 6 months update“. Things changed a bit in the following 6 months. In fact, work started to become much easier than in the beginning. I acquired experience on how to talk to professors in order to understand their research and their equipment needs, make quotes, and everything else involved in the process. I actually feel like I know what I’m talking about! (most of the time, at least). Of course, I still need help, but things are much easier now.

On one hand this is pretty amazing, but on the other hand I must confess that I started to feel a little bored. I work mainly from home, and I started to miss human interaction. I’m on the phone about 4+ hours per day, but this is definitely not the same as interacting with people, physically. I’m a people person, after all!

So I started to “force myself” to go out more often. Visit more professors, interact more with people that were not really planning to buy any equipment from me, but people that are worth meeting (and that are willing to meet me, of course!). I also started some side projects. My old PI asked if I could share some tips with the graduate student that is still in the “lab”. I’ve been acting as a consultant, helping the GS with guidance and suggestions mainly. And it’s great to have an excuse to go to campus, so I can still visit other labs once I’m there. Although it feels really good to help and to share your knowledge, amazingly this didn’t make me miss academia, or made me want to come back. I’m happy where I am now!

I also came back to be more active on Twitter. After my crisis of not knowing who I was on Twitter after my career move, (you can read more about it here) I think I finally found my new place there and feel comfortable tweeting again. I’ve lost some followers, but gained lots of new ones! I’m still mediating our #DiversityJC once a month with Emily And Ian. This Diversity journal club reads literature & holds Twitter discussions relevant to #diversityinSTEM every 3rd Friday of the month (for more info, take a look at our blog). I must confess that at some point I thought about giving this up, but now I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s really gratifying to make part of it.

And now we are about to launch our Recovery Academic Podcast, along with Amanda and Ian. This project required a little more work and preparation, but now that things are ready to go, it’s super fun to record the episodes. It feels like we are having a beer among friends and discussing that “there’s sunshine outside the ivory tower”. I’m super excited about it! All those things make me busy, and by being busy I don’t have time to feel bored anymore – and life goes on 😊.

Heavy Heart on times of hate

It’s been four days since the Orlando shootings. There are still tons of articles and news and interviews about the subject. Despite having had a lovely Sunday and not being able to catch up with the news, on Monday the news hit me like a brick. My heart was so heavy and I felt like I could break down in tears any moment. I was asked by a friend what kind of a shock it was for me and I really didn’t know the answer. I just felt pain and wasn’t sure why.

Just a couple of days before the shooting, I went out to catch up with a friend that’s a Trump supporter. He is a very nice person, and although I knew he was leaning towards Trump, I thought we could still be friends (well, I still do, in a way…). I believe his speech was moderated by the fact that he cares about me, but I could still listen to the anger and the hate in between the lines, specially when he was talking to others in the group. But listening things as “Diversity is nonsense and doesn’t bring anything good to anywhere” or “Now if I care about the rights of my kind, I’m called racist” were really tough to swallow. That whole conversation would make me angry if I didn’t know that person so well, but in fact it just made me sad.

This morning I read the Storify of a Trump rally in Greensboro. Two things cough up my eye:

That’s it. This last incident was result of so much racism, misogyny, homophobia, and just plain ugliness. I’m not gay, but I’m a latina. I’m an immigrant. I’m a woman. It causes me extreme sadness to think that there’s this amount of racism and hate among us. Even if Trump doesn’t win the elections, Trump supporters will still be out there, with their hate, their anger, and their racism against anything that’s “different” from them. Even if some gun control regulations are made, those people will still be there. Hating different people just like me. 

Things like this make me wonder about my security in this country. It makes me question my decision of moving to this country to begin with. And it just makes me sad.

Data and running junkie

Science and research requires a lot of discipline and careful management. One of the things that gave me more pleasure during my years in academia was getting a fresh raw list of results and plotting it along the different groups and graphing them. Running consistently also requires a lot of discipline and management. So when I saw this blogpost from the lovely Carly about plotting her runs, I decided to do the same for mine! I also used Excel and Powerpoint (a real copy cat…) and I was so happy to find a clear increase trend on my running mileage!

Running trend

I don’t remember exactly when I started to run, but I guess it was around the time of my ‘divorce’* on 2011. I used to be a heavy smoker, and started with intervals on the treadmill. I remember first time I was able to run a full mile! Slowly I was able to run a little bit longer, until being able to run 5k.

 

It was only on 2013 that I started tracking my running activity using MapMyRun, sporadic runs along the year. There were probably some treadmill runs that I didn’t know how to log at that time. On 2014 I trained hard to complete my first 15km race in November, what helped increase my mileage. 2015 was a year full of personal ups and downs, when I left academia and I was unemployed for 4 months. Even without any running plan or management I was able to almost double my mileage run of the previous year. I guess that’s when I became addicted to run and running became an escape valve for all my problems!

In 2016, the year started with our #200kChocoCardio twitter challenge (run 200k in 40 days, until Valentine’s Day), and this really motivated me to be more consistent with my runs. I set up a running plan on Excel, and it made me log carefully every run. As a result of that, January and February are the top two dots of my whole graph, when I was able to run about 2.5 miles/day (about 75 miles/month). Those months were followed by my vacation trip to Brazil, when I nearly run zero miles. Clearly motivation and goals are, albeit not essential, very beneficial for my running. I joined a challenge to run 1000km in 2016 (#YouVSTheYear) and this is keeping me going so far – 449 km until today – and I believe I can do it!

Even though I run consistently, I still don’t like to call myself a runner. Although I love to run, I’m such a night owl and super lazy person in the mornings. Almost all the races are set to start around 8am on the weekends and I HATE TO WAKE UP EARLY, even if it’s for running. So I haven’t really ran many official races, probably around 5 or so. I’d love to be a morning person, be able to sleep before 1am and wake up without the annoying alarm. After I quit smoking and started working from home, I gained a lot of pounds (about 15-20) and as I’m quickly approaching my 40s, those pounds are stubbornly not going away easily. I hate doing XT training. And I know I should work more on my core strength. And more interval training…

In the end, I don’t run because I want to run faster, or better. I run because I love it! I’m simply addicted to the way my mind gets away from all worries and my body feels a nice runner’s high every time I run. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up for a while🙂

 

*’divorce’ is between quotes because although we were never legally married, it was difficult and painful as if we were…

 

The purple hat

This morning I shared an article on Twitter about 24 THINGS WOMEN OVER 30 SHOULD WEAR. It reminded me of “The purple hat”, a poem from Mario Quintana (a Brazilian poet who was known as the poet of simple things). Here goes my amateur translation of the poem:

“At 3 years old, she looks at herself and sees a queen.
At 8 years old, she looks at herself and see Cinderella.
At 15 years old she looks at herself and sees a horrible nun.
At 20 years old, she sees herself too fat, too lean, too tall, too short, too straight, too curly, but decides she doesn’t have time for that and she goes out out anyways…
At 40 years old, she sees herself too fat, too lean, too tall, too short, too straight, too curly, but says at least I am a good person and she goes out out anyways…
At 50 years old, she looks at herself and sees how she really is… she goes out and does whatever she wants
At 60 years old, she looks at herself and remembers all the people that cannot look themselves in the mirror anymore… she goes out and conquer the world…
At 70 years old, she looks at herself and sees wisdom, laughter, skills… she goes out to the world and enjoys life
At 80 years old she doesn’t bother to look at herself anymore… simply put a purple hat and goes to have fun with the world… Maybe we should put that violet hat earlier…”

“If you leave, you failed”

So you know I left academia about one year ago and started working in biotech, selling analytical equipment to researchers in and out academia. It was a painful process, and at first I didn’t really want to leave – but life just lead me to expand the horizons on my job search and now I’m really happy with my job.

A big part of my job is to visit customers, and in the academic world, professors that currently own or that may be interested in purchasing our equipment. And even though I still live in the same city where I used to be a postdoc I’ve never really taken the time to visit my former University. At first, I thought that I didn’t know exactly what to say or how to behave, so I rather go to my first visits with a more experienced sales fellow. So that’s what I did, and it was great! If felt so good to be in an academic environment again, and to talk to professors about research, grants, etc. I felt I could really contribute to this, because I understand the complexity in academia in a different way that someone that has never been there. Professors also like the idea to deal with a Ph.D., not as a status thing, but also as a peer thing.

But still, I didn’t go to visit my University. I thought “I’m still to raw into this whole biotech thing, I need to learn more about the instruments and the applications before I go there”. So I did it. Went to trainings, attended to a lot of webinars. Talked to professors, made quotes, learned with all the specialists that help me to put together an instrument. After my vacation I felt like I was ready (or let’s say as ready as one can be) and I literally had no excuse not to go there. I had a business lunch with a staff scientist from my University and he pointed me in the directions I should move there. He’s been at the University for many years, and I’ve known him for a long time. He is one of those people professors seek for advice regarding instrument’s purchases. So after we talked, I made a few appointments and scheduled today to be “former University visit day”.

From the moment I woke up, I was feeling weird. It took me forever to find a good outfit. I didn’t want to look too dressed up. But couldn’t look too casual. Should I bring brochures? OMG, everything was a big problem and a huge decision to make. But still, I couldn’t understand why I was feeling that way. So I asked Twitter about it, and @sennoma nailed it:

EXACTLY! The reason I never really went for a campus visit at my former University was because of that little voice in my head. Everybody there knows me as a postdoc. No matter how successful and happy I am with my job now, but showing up as a sales person now seems to me like a fail. I tried to have a deep breath and just enjoy doing what I do best: smiling and networking with people. Half of the day passed and so far, so good. Met some old professors that seemed genuinely happy for me moving on. Met new professors that were very kind to me. Gotta come back to my afternoon appointments, but despite all this, little voice is still in my head. I hope that this will eventually get better and go away.

Who am I on Twitter now?

I created a Twitter account a looooooong time ago, using my real name, and as the vast majority of people, I couldn’t get into it at first. A couple of years later I decided to give it another try. As a postdoc, I started following scientists and enjoying what I was reading. But although I was comfortable reading, I was not comfortable at all expressing my thoughts. Internet never forgets, and I’d think about everything and everyone before hitting that tweet button! What when I’m in the job market and someone from the committee reads my tweets?

That’s when I created my pseudo account. That was so much better and easier. I could really “be myself” and those of you that know me IRL can confirm how, in a way, I’m mostly myself when I tweet. However, everybody has several personas*. When I started to be active on Twitter, I embraced the postdoc persona: underpaid, hoping for a TT position, bitching about experiments and my academic world. And that’s when I’ve gotten most of my followers (I guess? I don’t really track this). Of course, every now and then I used to tweet about something different, but my Twitter persona used to be a very sciency and academic one.

Now things have changed. I’m no longer a postdoc. I’m not applying for academic positions anymore. Although I still deal with professors and research, I’m not the one doing it. But still, most of my Twitter followers are academic science fellows. So I came back to think a lot about what to post on Twitter. I read about failed experiments, grants submitted, stupid reviewers… and I have nothing to say abound this subject anymore! I feel like most of things I want to talk about are boring and no one wants to read them. That’s the main reason I’ve slowed down my Twitter usage during this past 6 months or so. I feel like I don’t belong there anymore. I’m in a mostly academic community and I’m afraid I have nothing to contribute to it…

But I do love Twitter (and my peeps!) too much to quit. Leaving academia for me was not an option. I am very happy about it now, but at the time, it was very painful. I’ve thought about creating a new pseudo account and starting fresh. A brand new non-academic account. But that would be too painful as well. I guess what I’ll try to do is to embrace my new “non-academic” persona on Twitter. I know I’ll lose a couple of followers, but at least I’ll keep being myself.

 

*Jung describes the persona like this:

The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society . . . a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual (Jung 1953, p. 192).

There’s life after academia: 6 months update

It’s been a while since I wrote something here… But forgive me, life has changed a lot for me and I had to catch up! One year ago, I received the notice that our grant funding was not renovated and that the lab was going to close. One year ago, I was still fighting the idea of leaving academia. If at that time someone told me that today I was going to be working outside academia, with a good salary, and being happy about that, I’d never believe it! But here I am, exactly in this position now! Because everybody still asks me “how is the new job going?” I decided to share it with you.

I was very skeptical at first. To leave academia and work as a sales person? C’mon, who wants to be that annoying sales rep that always comes to your door at the worst possible time? I remember saying in my interview that I didn’t know if I’d be a good sales person, because I’d never would push a product to someone that didn’t want or it was not necessary to them. But you know what? That’s one of the reasons I got hired! Of course, my PhD mattered. They wanted someone to deal exclusively with academic accounts, and having spent so much time in academia, I was a perfect fit for the task.

Then I was scared! I was hired to sell analytical equipment, and my PhD is in neuroscience! It was ages since I had some sort of Chemistry classes and although I’ve used a HPLC before, all my knowledge in chromatography was very basic. Mass Spectrometry was always magic to me. How on earth I could talk to researchers and sell them those fancy instruments? It was tough in the beginning. I had to read and study A LOT.  I also had a lot of help, thankfully! What’s good about working for such a huge company is that there are specialized people to deal with everything you can imagine. Of course, finding who are those people sometimes takes a lot of effort, but once you know the deal, it’s easier! The other good part about working for a big company is that you don’t really have to make cold calls or look for sales. They come to you. Then it’s easier to call them back and answer their request. That made me feel much more comfortable in calling people.

I’ve always been a people person, always loved to talk and to help people. Now I am being paid to do so! In the beginning I was very afraid of wasting the researcher’s time. I know how crazy life is in academia, and how I was bothered with sales calls every now and then. But I started to realize that, when they need an expensive equipment for their research, they need my help and they are happy to talk to me! In my first time doing campus visits, I thought I was going to spend 15min talking to each professor – tops. I was extremely surprised how well they treated me and usually spend about 1 hour with them (Of course, I never just show up at someone’s lab, all meeting are properly scheduled in advance).

So now, after a little over 6 months doing this job, I finally got comfortable about my products, the techniques and the options that I can help my customers with. I believe I’m doing a good job, as I recently got a non-academic territory on top of my academic one. I started developing a relationship with some of my customers. I care about them, and they notice that. I fight for them, I tried to make the best for them. The other day a researcher wanted to buy an equipment with two detectors that would do basically the same thing. I could simply have sold it, but I warned and told the researcher that one was enough. They appreciated my help and my honesty. Yesterday was a very nice day. I was invited to do a vendor show at a very nice symposium and I heard that I was good at my job. Twice! My boss also told me how happy he was to have hired me. In the end, I am happy that he believed in me, but most of all, that I am happy that I also believed in me🙂