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

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

Street art in Milan, Tally (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eduardo Galeano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Paciência (Patience)

Mesmo quando tudo pede
um pouco mais de calma
até quando o corpo pede
um pouco mais de alma
A vida nāo pára…Enquanto o tempo acelera
e pede pressa
Eu me recuso, faço hora,
vou na valsa
A vida é tão rara…Enquanto todo mundo
espera a cura do mal
E a loucura finge
que isso tudo é normal
Eu finjo ter paciência…

O mundo vai girando,
cada vez mais veloz
A gente espera do mundo,
e o mundo espera de nós
Um pouco mais de paciência…

Será que é tempo que lhe falta para perceber?
Será que temos esse tempo para perder?
E quem quer saber?
A vida é tão rara
Tão rara…

Even when everything asks
for a little more calmness
Even when the body requires
a little more soul
life does not stop…While time speeds up
and asks to hurry
I refuse, take my time
and slow down as a waltz
life is so precious…While everybody expects
the cure for evil,
and madness pretends
that everything is normal
I pretend to be patient…

And the world goes around
even faster
We expect from the world
and the world expects from us
a little more patience…

Do we lack time to realize it?

Do we have this time to waste?

And who wants to know?
Life is so precious…
So precious…

Looking for *alternative* options

That’s it. It is definitely time for a change. And probably took me way too long to realize that. But It’s not easy to think about giving up almost 20 years in academia. It’s really scary to look into the unknown and think about other options. During all our training, we are very familiar with the academic way of life, teaching and grants, but what else is out there? What are those *alternative* positions that most of the PhD’s end up getting? And most important of all, how to look for them?

The first question people ask when you say you want to leave academia is “What do you want to do?” That’s such a tricky question when you are not really sure what’s out there! Industry is the first thing people usually suggest. I am a little skeptical about going that way. I really love my research, and it’s not about the bench itself. It’s about the scientific discovery, doing research with a purpose. As I’ve been working with a very specific subarea of neuroscience, and I am not sure if industry cares about fundamental questions in science. I believe they pursue more practical and translational aspects. It’s not that I’m not interested in those either, but again, it’s hard to let my research go… I don’t want to be at the bench for the sake of just being there, so it seems that industry is not the most appropriate pathway for me. Right?

Then the second question is “Are you willing to relocate?” Again, this is another tricky question. I mean, I’m single and don’t have anything that really ties me to this town. So yes, I could relocate. But, I’m also not that young anymore. It is already too scary to think about leaving the academic path into the complete unknown. However, it’s even more scary to think about moving to a complete different place where you don’t know anyone to work in a job you know nothing about. It’s not about the money, it has never been. I am passionate about science. I certainly believe there are amazing jobs out there and that I can be happy doing something else science-related. Just need to know exactly what!

I’d rather think about my skills and what could make me happy. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a VERY social person. I love interacting with people, I really love science, reading and talking about science. In that line of thought, I’d rather go for jobs that I could work remotely, like science editing or consulting. But apart from that, I’m not sure what else I could try.”You know nothing, Jon Snow”. Please, let me know if you have other ideas/suggestions of possible jobs. I am ready to move on. Just need some directions now! Can you help me?

Is it time for a change?

Just realized my last blog post (except for the #DiversityJC ones) was on June, 18th. Yes, I’m not a very active blogger, but no, I’m not okay. Writing definitely helps, but I don’t want to sound like a broken record – that’s why I’ve been away for so long, I suppose. But I need to get it out, somehow…

When did my crisis begin? I’m not sure. I believe during job season last year, when I applied for 15-20 TT positions at MRU and didn’t get a single interview. Shortly after that I started to attend to job talks for a position in our Program, and started to realize how my CV falls short of theirs!  Decided to write an R03 grant and try to teach – to fill up some holes in my CV. Teaching went great, but my R03 was not discussed. When I talked to the PO, it was not because of the science, but because I’m a senior PD and I’d need to receive research staff status for them to fund me. Except that our R01 grant is ending next January and they can’t promote me now. Sigh.

In the middle of all this I met someone. Even though I was busy and totally focused in my career, one cannot predict romance.  I tried to fight it, and I was still strong enough to tell him that I could not promise anything for the future. He owns business in town and told me he would not move from here. There’s no place for me at a MRU here. So case closed. We split apart. Buuuuuut, of course, he planted the seed. I have forgotten that I also needed someone by my side. That I still have some hope of getting married and having kids. And I was sad… I started to doubt if I wanted to go for TT at a MRU. I started to look for *alternative* jobs in town. Because of him? Not sure. I think partially, but wanted to see what was out there in case that our R01 was not renewed. Didn’t see anything that caught my attention.

Then we wrote the R01 renewal, new job season arrived. I had a big project to finish and needed to write the paper, so I decided I was not going to “waste my time” applying for all the jobs. Why would I bother trying jobs that kind of suit me if I still don’t have a grant on my own nor glam publications? Started to look for jobs at SLACs too, but most of them were in tiny cities, that is for sure a no-no for me. I finished my project, I’m almost done with the manuscript. Ended up applying for a single position, the only one I found that asks for my specific neuroscience area of expertise, in a SLAC. Haven’t heard from the job and our R01 grant received a 16th percentile score (we are still in the grey zone). Grant ends in January 30th, and I still don’t know if I’ll have a job or not next year!

As the end of our grant gets closer, so does my stress level. I start questioning myself why this is happening to me. Bad choices, I should have gone to a different lab for a second postdoc and not the same I’ve been doing since grad school. Bad mentoring, because no one told me I should apply for grants by the time I’ve got here and we had 2 R01s in the lab (life was good). But that’s all done and now I have to face that I cannot come back in time and fix my mistakes. Now I feel I don’t want to go for a TT position at a MRU, I don’t want to live under the constant stress of having to get grants and publish to get tenure. But then I wonder, is it really that? Or I’m just giving up because I feel I’m just not good enough? Or, do I feel like choosing a TT pathway would definitely end my dreams of finding someone and starting a family? In this meantime, I briefly dated someone else, thought that my ex was done with me, but recently we had a *deja vu*. He seems not to be over with me, I’m definitely not over with him. He is helping me a lot with this crisis, despite we don’t talk about “us” anymore. He is also not happy with his job and thinking about making a move. I know we cannot talk about us until I know I’m going to be here for a little longer. Or until I know what I want to do with my life. And I also think that it will not be wise to make career decisions in the middle of all this mess. But maybe I’ll just have to…