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.

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.

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

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.

 

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.

 

Do you know what’s your dream job? Try the Flower Exercise!

This is a blog post that’s been among my drafts for a long time, and I never got the time to finish writing it. But recently IBAM reminded me of this topic with a tweet, followed up by a poll:

YES! So much this. When you are in academia, you are deeply immersed in that environment and it is easier to see and understand what are the tasks and duties of most of the people working there. Once you decide to leave, there is a wide open world full of possibilities to explore. You can do so many things but it is super hard to decide for anything. There is also the feeling of failure, so of course, if you are leaving academia, it must be for a BETTER job, a job that makes you HAPPIER. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself!

Networking is important. The more you talk to several people, the more you understand the options that are out there. Most importantly, you start to quickly realize what you DON’T want to do. But sometimes the more you talk to people, the more confused you feel about what is what you really want for your next job. Keeping an open mind is crucial, but there’s a time when you need to stop and take a deep look at yourself. To help out with that, there were a couple of good suggestions among the replies to IBAM’s tweet, you should check them out. However, that reminded me of the flower exercise, suggested to me by my friend Aidan Budd a couple of months ago.

This exercise is described in the book What color is your parachute and it is a self-assessment exercise intended to help you know yourself, your strengths, and your preferences. Each petal is an aspect of your life that you should consider carefully:

Slide1

I am not going to details about what to consider in order to fill up each petal, but you can easily get this information on Google (or ideally read the book!). I haven’t read the book yet, but decided to try to make my flower before reading it, and see if it changes afterwards. It was hard! Even though I thought I had a pretty clear idea of where I want to go, filling my flower was much harder than I thought it would be. It required a lot of soul-searching and prioritization to come up with a reasonable result. Here is what I came up with:

Slide2

Now that I have a pretty good idea of what I want, it’s *just* a matter of finding, applying, and getting the dream job! Of course, if life would be that easy. But knowing what you want is a very important part of the process. But keep in mind that it is easy to feel stuck and hope that magically the *right* opportunity will come to you. That reminds me of a podcast episode from the Hidden Brain, and a blog post I’ve wrote about it.

People complain that they don’t know what to do with their lives, and they want to find the right pathway (that is already there, and we just need to find it). What people usually don’t realize is that there’s not only one right destination, there are many.

Don’t wait for the dream job to start applying. Especially if you are in the process of leaving academia, the actual tasks of a given job may be way different that the add description. Some jobs allow some flexibility and may be adapted according to your skills. So maybe you can transform that position into your dream job along the way. Or use it as experience for the next one!

And don’t forget, as we always say in our Recovering Academic Podcast “your next job doesn’t have to be your last job. And it probably won’t. And that’s okay“. Good luck!

 

Who am I on Twitter now? (Part 2)

One of the (many) good things about blogging is that every once in awhile you see something on Twitter that reminds you of something you’ve wrote about in the past. That happened today, with @katiesci:

As a recovering academic myself, I relate so much to this. When I left academia two years ago I also felt somewhat lost in the twitterverse. And I wrote about it – you can read my post “Who am I on Twitter now?“. And because of today’s Twitter convo, I felt it would be good to address it again, more than one year after I wrote that post.

Yes, there was a period where I slowed down my twitter time, and felt like I had nothing to contribute to the conversations I’d see there. I’ve also considerably slowed down blogging during that period (in 2015 I wrote only 4 posts for the whole year!). But I believe this was part of the big changes that one undergo as we leave academia. You’ve been in that environment for so long, put so much effort and time into that, it’s tough to live a life that doesn’t involve this anymore.

But Twitter, as life, is not just about work, we build real relationships there! And those are too valuable to be lost. You might lose a couple of acquaintances here and there, but still, you are part of a community! And the thing is, everything changes. I am not the same person I was when I started using twitter, and neither is the sci community out there. Even if you stay in academia, you might start tweeting as a grad student, then you move to a postdoc, or a junior PI and your view of things change! And even if you don’t change, people out there do. I miss when we would set up google hangouts with tweeps and just chat about lab life while drinking wine. Or the youtube pubscience when some researchers would discuss science live on camera – mostly pseudos wearing masks to protect their IRL identity. It was fun! That doesn’t happen anymore, and it’s not because I left academia (or at least I hope I’m not being left out of those…).

Because those changes happen over a long period of time, you fail to notice them. The process of leaving academia can be long, but when it actually happens it is something abrupt, so it may take some time for you to adjust to it. Personally, I don’t really know when or how I started to feel comfortable on Twitter again. I think it was just another change that happened slowly and I wasn’t really aware of it. I know I follow more “alternative” accounts now that I did in the past. Still mostly scientists, but having a diverse TL helps.

In the end it’s mainly about sharing your thoughts, your ideas and your passion. Or to vent. And to incite discussion! Twitter is awesome (minus the trolls, of course), and I am so glad I didn’t quit. I might have lost a couple of followers in the process, but I am happy to say that I believe I’ve found my new niche and made new friends.

Life is a dynamical system, and just like math, can be affected by many variables. And if you look at life’s bifurcation diagram you’ll notice there is more than one possible steady-state in there. You may oscillate a bit transitioning from one to the other, but eventually the system (your life) will find its way to the next steady-state!