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 ūüôā

 

 

 

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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 ‚Äėfailure‚Äô 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]

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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 ūüôā

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.

‚ÄúThere 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.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē¬†Milan Kundera,¬†The 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’.

New Year’s theme: Openness

I was never fond of “New Year’s resolutions”. I never truly believed things could magically change from Dec 31st to Jan 1st. I believe change comes in little bits, and it sticks with persistence. I am a more impulsive type of person – it may take forever to decide and fully commit to something, but when I do, it’s a go! I quit smoking on a Thursday, by the middle of December of 2013. I started and stopped so many diets that I cannot count. Would it have been better if they had started on Jan 1st? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

However, I’ve read and listened to a couple of people advocating for a different type of New Year “resolutions”. First, Dr. Marquita Qualls (@DrQualls) rebroadcasted an episode from last year in her Beyond the Bench: STEMulating Career Conversations podcast.¬† The episode was about setting SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Time Bound (SMART). You can (and should!) listen to the episode here.

Then I ran into this article, “Forget Resolutions‚ÄĒHere‚Äôs Your Blueprint for Making Next Year a Smash Hit”¬†which suggests that you need to come up with an strategy to turn your resolutions into realized outcomes. It suggests 3 steps to come up with your strategy: 1) Reflect back (the previous year); 2) Life audit (rate yourself in several areas); and 3) Look forward (the big list/the short list).

Both the podcast and the article pleased me with the idea of reflecting about where you are and what you want – except that I do that ALL THE TIME, and if you are a long time reader of this blog, you know what I am talking about. I am in a constant rollercoaster of wanting to change everything in search of a different life, followed by feelings of guilt that I should be happy and try to improve what I have.

But today biochembelle wrote a blogpost about setting a theme for the year, instead of resolutions. I liked the idea, a theme that is general enough to guide your new year. It was not easy to come up with one, but I decided 2018 will be the year of ‘openness‘: being more open to new concepts and ideas. I am generally an easy-going person, but the older I get, the less open I am to things out of my comfort zone.

I want more openness in smaller and bigger aspects of life. Be open to different types of music, movies, books. Be open to different types of conversations and ideas. Be open to new places, new running routes. Be open to new projects, new people in my life, new relationships. I know I have been too closed-minded in many aspects of my life, to say the least, and it is definitely time to change that. So here’s to a happy new year, a happy OPEN 2018!

And to keep the blog chain opened – what will your theme be?

 

Is it time to stop attending to SfN?

As I was catching up with reading blog posts today, I came across this one from @BabyAttachMode: “I am not going to SfN this year“, where she describes her reasons for not attending to this year’s neuroscience meeting. As I started to write a comment to her blogpost, it started to become too big, so I decided to put all those feelings here instead.

I can relate SO MUCH to this. I’ve left academia (and neuroscience research) to work as a biotech sales person 2.5 years ago.Wow. Time really flies! Although I still work with academics, the instruments that I sell are for analytical analysis, so my readings and research interests changed quite a bit since then. I don’t follow the literature on my research so closely anymore, and more importantly: I don’t plan to come back to academia anymore.

However, it’s this time of the year and here I go, attending to one more SfN. I’ve attended to almost all SfN meetings since 2002, only missing the 2013 one in New Orleans because I had visa problems and could not come to the United States. For some people, SfN is ‘too big’, ‘too overwhelming’, ‘too everything’. For a social person like me, it’s HEAVEN. I love having the opportunity to be around so many peers (for those of you who never attended to SfN, its attendance is about 30000 people). I always come back fully energized. When I was in academia, I’ll come back full of research ideas and projects. Now that I’ve left academia, I don’t normally go to poster session or talks, but still, only the feeling of spending a couple of days frantically talking and interacting with people still feels like a blast.

Part of me finds all sort of excuses for that. Having worked in neuroscience research for 20 years of my life, it seems to me way easier (and cheaper) to fly to one place and be able to meet all friends I’ve made all along those years. My PhD advisor and graduate school colleagues that are all over the world. My friends from when I was a visiting student at Rockefeller University. My dear collaborator that lives far north and I never have the chance to visit. And there’s Banter! This next one is going to be my 4th SFNBanter and it is incredible to put faces into handles. Each Banter I have the opportunity to meet old Twitter friends, but also to make new ones!

But there is also a part of me that questions my choices. As IBAM says on her post: “It makes me realize that¬†it is impossible to have everything and that moving towards one thing, means saying goodbye to another“. Earlier this year I wrote a blogpost¬†along about breaking up with academia and how I felt I was going in the right direction. But I feel that, although I made a clean cut with working in academia, I am having a really hard time breaking up with science and research in general. I’ve attended to the AAAS meeting this year and had a blast discussing topics on how to make research better. I am really passionate about those issues, and would love to get a job that would allow me to attend to those conferences and improve knowledge research and sharing.

However,¬†getting this ‘dream job’ seems more and more like a remote possibility. Lately, I feel I could do much better in my current job if I could just let this other life behind. Maybe one day, I finally will.

 

I’m going through changes…

It’s been a very long time since I don’t use my blog as a diary, a venting tool to share my struggles and uncertainties. It is not because I didn’t want to, but because things have been different lately. My pseudo has become thiner and thiner – and although I really don’t care about my pocket friends to know my IRL identity, things become really different when is the other way around.

I recently applied for a job at my company where I added all my online credentials to my resume. Also, with our Recovering Academic piece being published at Science Magazine, more and more people I know IRL knows about my (not so secret anymore) Doctor_PMS identity. And as amazing as it may seem, I am way more comfortable sharing my struggles with my online friends… I can cite facts and situations to create a context and nobody will have a clue who I am talking about. That is very different when you live in a tiny city and everybody knows everybody.¬†Regardless, I have been struggling with internal conflicts and it is starting to reflect on my physical health. Anxiety and stress prompted me to tense my back muscles and now the pain has extended all the way to my lower back. I need to get things out of my chest.

About one year ago I made a conscious decision that, even though I was quite comfortable and happy with my current *new* life outside academia, I felt I could be happiER and more useful if I tried to move into a position that brought me closer to making science a better place. I realized every time I put down the sales rep hat to wear my PMS one, I was happier, and even though most of my outreach activities are accomplished after hours – it was never a burden. It was my time to do what I am really passionate to do!

I’ve spent the whole year trying to get there. I applied to a number of jobs, I did several informative (networking) interviews. I focused my energy into that goal. But in order to do that, as a passionate person, I knew I had to put my life *on hold*. I would make sure no situation will come out of hand in a way that I’d feel “too comfortable”. I know myself well enough to be sure that “comfort” would mean “be satisfied”, and this satisfaction would likely be temporary – and followed by feelings of regret.

On our Recovering Academic podcast we always say “your next job doesn’t have to be your last job – and it probably won’t. And that’s okay“. But on the other hand, it is not easy to drastically switch fields. The type of job I was looking for would most likely require me to move to a larger (and more expensive) city. Entry level positions usually pay very little, and I know it would be struggle to leave all comfort I current have here. That’s why I had high hopes when that position at my company showed up. Still not the science job I was looking for, but it would require me to move to a larger city, with a nice salary. I would interact with more people (that is currently the number one struggle with my current job, working by myself at home). But also, I could probably expand my PMS science outreach activities in a more active and useful way – still as a side job at first, but expanding possibilities? So when that didn’t work either, it was… very frustrating.

Last week I had a very deep conversation with a friend that triggered a thunderstorm of feelings:

That whole conversation made me take a look at my life through an outside perspective. It made me question how I perceive the world around me and wonder if I should not be happy with what I have. Sometimes I envy those who can be happy with their little lives. I was raised to believe in my potential, with some sort of inverse imposter syndrome – I always feel I can be bigger and better! Up to this day, my parents still support and encourage me to follow my dreams. On a way those feelings can be very useful, but on the other hand where is the limit? Would that be a time where I’ll be able to finally say “I am happy” and stop pursuing something else? Probably not. Is this a good or a bad thing? I don’t know.

Deep inside I know I should not give up. I still feel I can find a position where I will be happier, and I should keep fighting for this to happen. But on the other hand, I know that I can’t keep putting my life *on hold* until that happens. I should be able to live the moment, but still work for better things to come. Way easier said than done, but acknowledging it is already a huge part of the process.