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:


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:


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!


Where do you want to go?

As most of you are probably aware of, lately I’ve been looking into new job directions. As a true extroverted person, I have been pretty open about it, both online and IRL. And as I’m getting more excited about it, I talk more and more about it (For those who doesn’t know me IRL, I talk… a LOT!). Now people are starting to ask me how my career change is going, and they get surprised and excited to learn about my (small) progresses. But the thing is, the more I talk to people, the more I realize that many of them are not happy with their current professional life. Or with some aspect of their lives.

As my mom used to tell me:El hombre es un animal de costumbres” (Man are creatures of habits). It is easy to get used to things. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. In a way or another, I am pretty sure everybody has been there. Also, one cannot forget the principle of least effort, that postulates that animals, people, even well-designed machines will naturally choose the path of least resistance or “effort”. But many times the reality is, “If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.” (Thomas Jefferson).

When I left academia, I was pretty much pushed out of it. Our grant was not renewed and I was unemployed for 4 months. During that time, I had the opportunity to look into some of the inumerous paths that a PhD can take besides being in academia. But as the months went by and I was becoming more and more anxious about weather I was going to find a job or not, getting a job became the priority, not exactly choosing one. I was lucky, ended up finding a position that allowed me to be “academic adjacent” and that I sincerely enjoy doing it. However, after two years working on sales, there was no novelty anymore and as a people person, working remotely from home became really painful.

So here I am, again, looking into a second career change. But this time, I am taking the time to reflect, to explore, to discuss. I am far from getting where I wanna be, but now I have a much more clear vision of what I would like my future to look like. It has been taking me much longer than I’ve thought, as you can see in past posts from November, DecemberMarch… I don’t know if I will ever get where I wanna be, and I am not claiming I have all the answers. Things work differently to different people, but I’ve decided to share what has been working for me so far.

  • STOP! Acknowledge the fact that something is not right.

This may be the hardest and the most important part of the process. As I mentioned before, it is so much easier to take the path of least resistance and just “keep going”. There is no such thing as a perfect life. Of course there are little things that bother you here and there, but when those things start to become a burden, then it’s time to do something about it.

  • THINK! Where you wanna go / what you wanna be and how?

In my particular case, I knew I wanted to change my career path, but I wasn’t sure where to look, which way to look. One thing that helped me in the beginning was to create a prototype design of my life. I’ve stolen this idea from the Hidden Brain Podcast and cover it here: Before you do problem solving you have to do problem finding. I came up with the different possibilities for my career life: 1- Continue working in Biotech Sales, 2-Science Outreach, and 3- Come back to academia. And then, I’ve started digging into each one of them. As time went by, my options 1 and 3 faded away, and the more I explored option 2, the more I realized that was the way I wanted to go. I’ve read a bunch of things in the internet. I’ve made a lot of informative interviews. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how much people are willing to help you, if you ask!

  • ACT! Start working towards your goals.

A lot of times, you may need to undergo some internal changes first, in order to achieve bigger changes later on. I think of it as weight loss. Even though I’d absolutely love to lose 20 pounds overnight, I know this is unrealistic and I have to change my daily habits if I want to be in better shape. Baby steps. Changing takes time, and it can be painful. But most importantly, keep yourself on track. Be aware. Be alert. In my case, what I’ve been noticing is that I have waves of intense activity intercalated with waves of passivity. I believe this is part of the process, and it’s okay. Again, changing takes time, and it can be painful. But I truly believe that, with patience, it can be done.

Everybody feels stuck at some point. And most of the time, people don’t really know where they want to go, to begin with. 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.

And I hope that you and me both will find one of those many destinations!


A different kind of Spring cleaning

This past week was a tough one for me. First, because I’ve got sick – some sort of nasty cold that prostrated me for a good couple of days. But also, because I had a very important conversation to my bosses on Thursday. During the past couple of months my sales haven’t been that good. I blamed it on the academic environment, lack of funding, etc – but was told other academic territories have been doing good, despite the funding crisis. As an independent contractor, I don’t have to reach quota on my sales, but I do receive a base salary, and a certain amount of sales is expected from me!

My bosses were beyond understandable. They could have fired me. They could have put me into straight commission. But they didn’t. They told me something was wrong and they wanted to help me fix it. I told them that if I knew what was wrong, I’d have already fixed it, because of course, I want to sell more (and make more money). They told me to talk to others, and reflect about what I may have been doing wrong and how to fix it.

Being sick, I’ve spent the last couple of days stuck at home. You know when you feel your life needs cleaning and organizing ,and you start by your house? So as I was feeling better today, I did A LOT of cleaning – and trashed tons of things around my house, specially in my office. As I was doing it, I also had time to reflect about life and do some sort of spring cleaning of the inside.

One of the main things I realized is that although I’m now on the other side of the sales process, I still feel like an insider. Meaning, I still care way too much about all the professors, and I still want THEM to get the best price, the best deal. When I close a sale, I’m happy, because of my paycheck, of course, but mainly because I know how much this means to them, and how happy they will be to have a nice instrument such as the ones I sale. My sales usually are not less than 50k, and can easily go to the six figures. So, I know it’s a big step, a big commitment.

But now I’ve got to change this. I need to care more about my sales, my numbers. One part of me is ready to take the pledge, and be a better salesperson ASAP. But can I? It might be possible that I’m just not good at this, and don’t have the right personality for it. When I was hired, I remember telling my (now) boss how I knew I could not be the car dealer type of person that would push anything to my customer. I was hired mainly because of my academic roots, and ironically it seems that this is what is preventing me to succeed in this career.

That brings me to the other point. Do I want to succeed in this career? When I left academia, I didn’t really leave, but was pushed away from it. I didn’t really have time to explore all the possibilities and this sales job was a nice surprise to be honest. I never saw myself doing something like that, but maybe because of my extroverted and social personality, maybe because I’m still somewhat related to science and academia – I ended up enjoying my new job. And that’s the key: I enjoy what I do, but I don’t LOVE what I do. Not the way I used to love when I was in academia.

Since last SFN I’ve been saying I want to get a job doing Science Outreach. I attended to the AAAS meeting last month and absolutely loved every second I’ve spent there, discussing how to make better science, more accessible, more reproducible, more open. That’s where my passion is, and that’s what I should pursue. I am more than ready to move on. It’s time to stop talking and start working towards it.


I believe most of you know that our R01 grant was not renewed. Our score was pretty close to the payline, what means that “maybe” it can be funded in a couple of months. The thing is, we don’t have a couple of months. After the money from our current grant ends, that’s it. Everybody is jobless. I know we’ve made several mistakes along the way, and now we are paying for them. But there’s no time to blame or shame, now it’s time to look forward! I cannot say I was surprised. I saw it coming, and I guess I had my deep crisis during the holidays. So now when the news was finally out, I just had one thing in mind. It’s time for jobmageddon – apply to ALL the jobs!

As weird as it might seem,  I was almost happy with the news. Reading @IHStreet post about feeling you are just not enough, I realized that’s exactly where I was before the grant news. I receive several job alerts in my email, so I knew that there were jobs that I could apply. However, after having applied to several jobs in 2013, unsuccessfully, impostor syndrome was all over me. I thought I was just not good enough for TT, so why bother to apply? But there’s nothing like a kick in the butt to make you move forward! In reality, with luck I will have a paycheck for a couple of extra months. So now I NEED TO BE ENOUGH FOR SOMETHING. Anything.

And it made me think. What are my options? What’s out there besides academia? I talked to several people on twitter and IRL, read articles, really tried to open my mind. The more I read, the more I felt I really love academia and didn’t want to quit. I am not saying I could not be happy working in industry or something related, but I realized I simply LOVE the academic environment. I like working in the bench, but not for the sake of pipetting. I love the whole research process, with a purpose! To come up with ideas of new experiments, designing and performing them… and then getting the data. There’s a special joy on plotting your data that’s almost addictive! And then there’s mentoring and teaching. Showing a whole new world to your students, and feeling really rewarded to see their progress. How can I live without it?

Then I made up my mind. I am not quitting. I am not giving up. Not yet, and not without a fight! On the other hand, the idea of getting a TT position in a R01-Institution kind of started to scare me. The actual funding situation and the constant pressure to get grants and to publish. And also realistically, I know I missed the TT boat long ago. There are holes in my CV that cannot be filled anymore – my research is not very sexy (at least not for NIH standards) and I don’t have any US grant or glam publications in my CV. But R01-Institutions are not the only available jobs in academia! There are SLACs 🙂 I cannot say how lucky I am to have a collaborator working in a SLAC. As a foreigner and academically ‘raised’ to just aim for a R01-TT job, I didn’t really know what a SLAC was until starting our collaboration. I know my CV also has holes for a SLAC position, I have very little teaching experience. But this hole it’s easier (and more pleasant) to fix, IMO.

So here I am now. I am not literally applying to ALL the jobs, but now that I see no light at the end of this (grant) tunnel, I started to look at job adds with a different mindset. I am focusing on job adds in the Chronicle website instead of Naturejobs or Sciencecareers (more SLAC jobs there, and also more VAP, that could buy me some time AND improve my teaching skills). I am still applying to TT jobs, and with my eyes opened to local *alternative* jobs. I am hopeful. My applications look better. I am still the same candidate, I still think I am not enough for a big tier 1 University position, but I must be good enough for SOMETHING!

Now I see that if our grant had been renewed I’d probably just have continue here, doing more of the same and with no real perspective of a future in academia. It may still not work, and I may have to try to be happy outside my beloved academia, but at least I am trying. And in a way I feel I must thank NIH for denying our grant. Without this shake in my life, I feel I would be forever still.

Mock cover letter

So I’m working in the application package for this academic administrative job. I don’t need a research or a teaching statement for this position, but just a cover letter and my CV. The main problem is that I’m used to write cover letters for academic scientific jobs and this one has to be really different from those. It has to show passion and it has to show who I am. The more I read the job add, the more I think I’d be perfect for that position and that I’d be very happy to do it. Just talked to my collaborator and she suggested me to use part of my last blogpost into my cover letter. Instead of that, I decided to write a mock cover letter here, to my readers! It seems that it will be easier to express emotions when there’s no pressure about it being to apply for a job you really like:)

Dear reader,

I am writing to apply to this awesome academic administrative job. I am currently a postdoctoral associate working in neuroscience. I believe my years of academic research combined to my excellent networking skills will make me an ideal candidate for this position. Someone once told me that I am a hub, connecting people and ideas. I am a very social person, and passionate about research and science. I sincerely think that this job will be a wonderful opportunity to use my ability to deal with people in an academic environment.

One of the things I love most about being in academia is to interact with people at all levels. I feel truly happy and rewarded to mentor undergraduate students, opening the research path into their lives and watching them grow as a person and as a scientist. I look forward going to scientific meetings where I can spend all day surrounded by other researchers and discussing science. I attend to the SFN meeting every year since 2002, which involves more than 30k attendees come from all over the world. Most of the people think that this is really overwhelming, but I just love it! Another thing that really brings me joy is to organize academic and social events. I love to be in charged of everything! From the list of participants, topics and panelists to the details of the closing ceremony, food and drinks. It is always a lot of work, but there is nothing like the feeling of reward when you see your event happening successfully.

Over my academic years, I’ve always acknowledge the importance of advocating for our rights. Specifically, I’ve been a representative for every single position I’ve ever had. Back in my home country, I was the president of my undergraduate class and representative in the Physiology department for many years. As a graduate student, I was involved in the reorganization of the local association and later I was assigned as the vice-president for the national undergraduate student association for 2 years. As a postdoctoral associate in the US, I’ve been part of our PDA for almost 2 years, advocating for PD rights and helping the establishment of an actual niche for the PDs inside the University. I have worked closely to the former holder of this position at the University, what makes me feel somewhat familiar with what to expect from this position and confident that I can do it accordingly.

Conciliating all these extra-academic activities during my undergraduate, graduate and PD taught me a lot about time management and multi-tasking. And patience! Dealing with people is not easy and many times you need to find a way to conciliate different ways of thinking. The academic part of my training developed a sense of prioritizing but also helped me to deal with frustration. Failed experiments, nasty comments from reviewers of my manuscripts and grant refusals. But most important, to overcome all the frustration and be able to try again, and be even happier when you are successful 🙂

As requested, I’m enclosing a copy of my CV and arranged three letters of recommendation to be sent directly to your email address. I will gladly provide any other supporting materials that would be helpful. I am looking forward hearing from you soon and thank you for your consideration.


So, dear reader, would you hire me?