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.

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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]

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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 🙂

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’.

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—Here’s 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.