When was the last time you did something for the first time?

It is amazing how much we are able to see when we slow down. Our busy lives force us to do most of our daily tasks on the autopilot. When was the last time that you stopped to smell the roses? When was the last time you did something for the first time? And when was the last time you stopped to think about your life goals and dreams?

Street art in Milan, Tally (2012)

Ideally we all should allow ourselves some time to stop every once in a while, and take a “me break”. Technology is supposed to saves us time and allow us to free more time to do other things, right? Well, not really. We spend so much time with technology that we end up not spending time with ourselves. We also spend too much time thinking about what we should be doing, instead of enjoying what you are actually doing. It is okay to push ourselves to be smarter and more productive, but not up to the point of where you become exhausted and overwhelmed.

But life can be funny, and sometimes it simply throws you a hammer that forces you to stop, reaccess, and rethink your priorities. This has happened to me a couple of times before, but I never had the clarity to pinpoint exactly what triggered it. This time I realized that most of my ‘life crisis’ moments occur after I interact with tweeps IRL, when my worlds collide. Most of my twitter followers know my identity IRL, but very few of my IRL friends know about my online persona. Consequently, I am able to keep both personas fairly separate most of the time. Then something happens and you are exposed to a wonderful parallel world full of possibilities, making it very difficult to come back to real life.

I believe almost everybody tries to put off a different online image then how we are in real life. We hide behind computer screens and cell phones so nobody knows what’s really going on in our real lives. There are some people that act like two completely different people between IRL and on social media, being opinionated and bully online while quiet and shy IRL. But sometimes you build an online activity with the same personality, but based on the life you want(ed) to live? Realizing this was painful and a prompted a blogpost along with a Twitter break.

We all want to be better people — better professionals, better partners, better friends. It’s true that you are probably doing your best, yet it’s also true that you can probably do better. On the other hand, life is not a simply black or white, good or bad, happy or unhappy. You can be happy but struggling, or sad but excited at the same time. Along with those lines, my Twitter-break has been very bitter-sweet. Although I miss my tweeps and all the information I consume there, this past week has been very productive! Not only professionally, but also to reflect on my reasons and motivations to use Twitter. I also realized that despite the fact that Doctor PMS is still the persona I wanted to be, it does not mean I am unhappy with the person I am IRL.

Self-awareness is not a constant state of mind, but rather something we should all try to achieve from time to time. Becoming self-aware can be the first step towards becoming who you want to be, and creating the life you want for you. Sometimes recognizing your emotions and thoughts may make you realize that you are just ‘too comfortable’. The idea of being comfortable seems charming to many of us. This is why we see so many people remaining in jobs and relationships they are not fully satisfied with.

But at what point should we overcome our comfort zones in seek of the ‘magic’ to happen? Comfort does not bring change, does not bring growth. However, although it seems our entire lives are nothing but an endless pursuit of more comfort, one must learn to be happy with ourselves and with what you have – without getting too comfortable. It reminds me of an utopia quote I read a while ago:

“Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I’ll never reach it. So what’s the point of utopia? The point is this: to keep walking.”

Eduardo Galeano

The end goal seems to be to find the balance between having your moments of “what could be” without allowing yourself to enjoy “what is“. So let’s stop from time to time, reassess, and keep walking.

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It’s not real, and it shouldn’t be close enough

I’m super late with my podcast listening, but this episode of ⁦Hidden Brain⁩ really brings good for thoughts: Close Enough: The Lure Of Living Through Others

Today, more and more of us are living through the people on our screens and in our headphones. It’s not real, but for many of us, it’s close enough.

I don’t believe I fall in any of the examples they cited during the podcast. However, I do feel like I’m living a somewhat alternative reality on Twitter. That episode made me think about how I spend time on my pseudo account, talking and reading about how to improve science, peer-review, publishing, etc without that being part of my job or daily life.

I do it because I am passionate about it. I’d love to have even more time to read more, to write more, to discuss more. But in reality is that while I’m advocating for science I am refraining from doing other things that would be more beneficial for me. I have a really good job and I feel I could do even better if I put more time on it. Study chemistry. Do more online networking. Create customer’s presentations. Oh, so many things can be done/improved!

And this also influences not only my professional life but my personal life as well. Most of my IRL friends are not academics. Although we can have nice conversations and spend a really good time I certainly don’t love it as much as when I have conversations about science.

Doctor_PMS is the personna I’d like to be, but in reality, I’m not. A couple of years ago I applied to several positions where I could get paid to do what I am passionate about. Unfortunately none of those worked out and I stopped looking for them. I may try again in the future, but for now I feel it’s time to stop dreaming about being someone you are not and focusing on improving who you really are.

No, I’m not quitting Twitter, or our Recovering Academic podcast, or my blog. I just need a little break and maybe a change in perspective.

Challenges of wearing different hats

Adulting means wearing many hats. Personally, we wear the ‘family’ hat (and all its subcategories: daughter, mom, sister, wife…), the ‘friend’ hat, the ‘co-worker’ hat. Switching can be tough sometimes, but in the end they are all part of who you are as a person. Professionally, things can get a little trickier. In academia, I feel there is a progression from the ‘student’ hat, turning into a ‘researcher’ hat, with moments where you have to switch to your ‘mentor/professor’ hat. But again, everything is somehow related to your field of research, making the back-and-forth seem a little easier.

You can never have too many hats. Source: Flickr

When I left academia, I had to put on the ‘sales rep’ hat, what was an interesting challenge. Except that’s not a single hat, because I don’t work for one company, but represent a bigger one along with other smaller ones. We also started our podcast, and wearing the ‘recovering academic’ hat is something that brings me immense joy. Helping others to transition out of academia is truly rewarding. But even after leaving academia, I never wanted to let go the ‘science advocate’ hat. I kept wearing that hat mostly on Twitter, and when I was offered the opportunity to join the protocols.io team it seemed I could finally do something towards making science a better place.

When I left academia I had some sort of ‘Twitter-crisis’ (along all other crisis associated with such a big change) and I wrote a blog post about it: Who am I on Twitter now? After almost four years, I can see clearly now that this was just part of the whole changing process I was going through. I cannot describe how much I have learned and grown after leaving academia. Little practical things like how a mass spectrometer works or general analytical chemistry knowledge – I am not a chemist, so I usually need to study before talking to customers! But more importantly, I learned to understand how a company works, all that’s needed to provide value, from hardware to personnel, but more importantly, money and profit.

I am a very different person from the one I was 4 years ago. I deal with far more diverse people, and many of those have completely different views and interests. In real life conversations are easier, because you always talk about specific topics with different people you meet. That’s just life. However, when it comes to building an online presence things get a little harder. Most of my Twitter followers are not interested in knowing about the latest mass spec technology. As most of my LinkedIn connections couldn’t care less about Plan S or my opinions about it.

Of course, you can always do a little bit of everything, and that’s what I try to do now. But I feel like when you try to do a little bit of everything, you end up doing it superficially, not bringing any real value. I’ve thought about starting a sales blog, with tips on how to choose the best instrument for your needs, and links to grant opportunities where professors could apply for funding. On the other hand, I’d simply LOVE to spend more time on Twitter to read all about how to increase reproducibility, Plan S, and Open Access. I just don’t have the time for any of those.

Exactly. The easier solution is to choose a main hat to wear and fully embrace it. But one of them is my work and the other is my passion. Tough choice.

Thoughts on having two jobs

It’s been a while since I don’t post anything here, but I’ve been BUSY! To be honest, more mentally than physically busy.

When I first left academia to sell analytical equipment to universities everything was new and different. Being a biology person, it was hard to really understand the chemistry behind the equipments I was selling. But study and practice really pays off, and after a couple of months (?) I started to feel more comfortable when talking to professors and choosing the optimal instrument for them. But the actual selling part, the whole behind the scenes and reading in between the lines – that took over 2 years to achieve. 2018 was my best selling year ever (the first I made quota – Sold over 1.2 million dollars worth of equipment!), but I am sure I still have lots to learn.

Because I sell big pieces of equipment, I am not required to be in professor’s labs every week. No one buys a MassSpec per month, so usually deals are done over several months, or years! After a couple of years I’ve met most of my customers, and slowed down my trips. It took a while to get used to having extra time in my hands, to stop feeling that academic guilt that you should always be working on something. But humans are creatures of habits, and I’ve got used to it.

juggle-1027844_1920So when the opportunity to get a side job with Lenny at protocols.io was presented to me, I thought that was the perfect situation. I had some extra time and this second job would bring me the pleasure to finally be able to work doing something good to improve science and reproducibility! I’d only work 6 hours per week, so it should be easy, right? Well, not exactly. My initial plan to group my hours working for protocols on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons didn’t work as I planned. Life gets in the way! Those are indeed my less busy times for my primary job, but there’s always a phone call or some urgent email that needs to be answered. And although those tasks doesn’t take too long, it takes you out of your mindset, and it takes a bit to come back and refocus.

In the first months it was somewhat easy to track my hours and stay in within limits. But after a while, there was more work I wanted to do, yet not enough hours in my contract. Also, there are things that simply need to be done, and I won’t say “Sorry, I’ve worked enough hours this week”. But mainly it is SO HARD to prevent yourself to do work when you’re over excited and committed! But I’m learning to pace myself, I’m more used to juggle between the two jobs, and most important of all, I am happy 🙂

 

 

 

3 years after leaving academia, I don’t feel like a failure anymore!

Last week Nature published (another) piece about Why it is not a ‘failure’ to leave academia. Now that I am in the outside it feels surreal that this is still an issue, but I am close enough to academia to understand where this comes from. The article has a lot of nice suggestions of how to find your place outside academia, and what supervisor can do to help. But it doesn’t really talk about the actual feeling of failure.

Yes, the struggle is real. There is a general feeling of failure once you leave academia. In my case, after being in academia for 20+ years, I seriously thought that was the only thing I was capable of doing. And most worrying, the only thing I’d love to do. If you go through my blog posts from when I started blogging (2013), I was a postdoc, and almost all my posts were about the struggle of finding an academic position. But as years went by, more and more I feel like this feeling of failure is something that happens mainly in your own head. As @sennoma put it brilliantly on twitter a couple of years ago, it takes a lot of time (and work) to overcome that feeling:

Leaving academia is not easy. It takes a lot of courage to take the leap and jump out there in the open, in the unknown. Because we have been in academia for so long, we are surrounded by other academics, and it is easy to get swamped in feelings that if everyone around you succeeds in academia, you should succeed as well. And if you don’t, you are a failure. It is so easy to think that you’re all alone, and the only person going through those feelings. That’s one of the reasons we created our Recovering Academic Podcast, to help others cope with their feelings about leaving academia

For me, that feeling of failure started to go away as I started to be exposed to other recovering academics, other #NonAcademicScientists, other people with a Ph.D. that succeeded outside academia. Talking to other people that had gone through similar experiences was so valuable! In the beginning, most of my interactions came from Twitter. I had a lot of support from other Ph.D.s that were happy with their decision of leaving academia, but still remember how hard it was for them to actually leave. During my last trip to San Francisco, @lteytelman and I went through a DM we had back in 2014 (!) [published with permission]

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 1.50.48 PMScreen Shot 2018-08-04 at 1.51.16 PM

 

And he was absolutely right! I left academia about one year after that conversation. I’ve got my first job outside academia on July 2015. Life changes, and slowly you start to realize that academia is not the only way to be happy. Today, it’s been 3 years and a half since I left academia, and I am more certain than ever that this was the best decision I could have taken. I admire those who continue in academia, but the more time passes, the more I feel like this was not the life I wanted for me. I feel like now I have a much healthier work-life balance, and also, a much better salary 🙂

Of course, you may still feel pressure/disappointment from family, colleagues, and mainly from your supervisor when you decide to leave. But the more you are certain you are taking the best decision, the more they will understand and support you. So stay strong, reach out to your network, and don’t forget: there’s sunshine outside the ivory tower!

They are worth it, you are worth it!

My pinned tweet was outdated, so I needed a new one to replace the #2018vday40 challenge that was there. Usually I pin tweets promoting something I’m involved or organizing, like a challenge or our Recovering Academic podcast. But this time it felt like I needed something more inspiring, so yesterday I shared this tweet:

It is certainly easier said than done, especially as we get older. Young people tend to be more reckless, inconsequential, impulsive. As years go by, we experience pain, defeat, regret; and we get more cautious. I personally don’t see this as a bad thing. As we grow older, we have more responsibilities. We get used to certain life standards that are hard to give up. So certainly the idea of performing a life change can be really scary.

I am in one of those times, about to make a (another?) drastic life change. I finally decided to move to a new city! I’ve been thinking and talking about moving for over a year. I’ve always been a big city girl, and seriously I never thought I’d live such a long time in a small town. During this time I’ve been carefully analyzing each and every aspect of this change; and although I know that this is the path I want to pursue, I’m in a constant  rollercoaster of emotions between extreme excitement and terrifying fear of what’s about to come.

Change is difficult, and we constantly talk about this in our Recovering Academic podcast. It takes a lot of courage to leave academia behind and take the leap outside the ivory tower. Getting to your “ideal life” may require several changes: jobs, relationships, trips, relocation. The thing is, no matter how much you plan, you can never be absolutely sure if your change will lead you in the direction you originally wanted to go.

“There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite a word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.”
― Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

Despite all this uncertainty, I still advocate for CHANGE. I’m not saying you should blindly take the leap. Plan, analyze, have a B plan. But follow your dreams, go outside your comfort zone. Change might not lead you where you originally wanted to go, but what if it takes you somewhere better? You’ll never know until you try!

fly

10 years as a foreigner in the US

19554815_1305813366191815_4453863070170899218_nToday (January 26th) marks my 10th year anniversary of living in the US.

I can still remember the mixed feelings of that day: the tears of leaving family and friends behind, but with the suitcase full of dreams and expectations. I had previously spent one year in NYC as a visiting PhD student in 2003-2004, so the experience of living abroad was not completely new to me. But it was certainly different when you leave uncertain of when (if?) you are coming back.

I came to the US to work as a postdoctoral associate, and I had clear goals of working towards improving my CV and getting a tenure-track position in academia – back in Brazil. I’ve heard from several people back home how the United States was a great country to visit, but not really to live permanently. “Americans are not friendly”, “Americans are cold”, “Americans believe they are the best” – they said.

But that was not what I felt when I moved here. Yes, Americans are different from latin people. We are loud, warm, and *almost* too friendly. But Americans are friendly too! It’s just in a different way. Yes, Americans are ‘colder’ than people back home, but they give you space, and to be honest I love how people are less nosy about your life here. Americans don’t give unsolicited advice. Also, they don’t usually give unsolicited help. I guess that’s why people back home can’t understand. Americans are always willing to help – if you ask them to!

Of course I miss a lot of things from my country. Mainly family, friends, and food. Oh, and soccer! But I’ve made new friends, I’ve learned to enjoy new foods. Not sure I can ever be passionate about Football like Americans are, but I’ve learned to enjoy watching it as well. Modern technology makes it easier to keep in touch with family, and in a way our family is used to living in separate countries, as my parents are Chileans living in Brazil.

A lot have changed within those 10 years. I’ve moved out of academia. My goals and plans are way different than when I first moved. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here forever, and others as I have just arrived. Because I’ve moved in 2008, 2017 was the first year I lived in a country with a republican president. For the first time in 10 years I’ve started to rethink my choices, and ask if it is really worth continuing here. Not even after my ‘divorce’, or when our lab closed due to lack of funding – none of these made me regret moving to the US. It was a rough year, but America is the country of diversity. And I am part of this diversity, and now I can’t wait to get my citizenship next year to be able to fight for a better country! This beautiful country that received me with open arms and that I am happy to call it ‘home’.