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.

 

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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…

 

 

That’s why I’m still single

Sometimes I catch myself imagining a hypothetical man who describes the woman of your dreams:
“She has to work and study hard, have an inbox always crowded with emails. Her feet must have calluses and blisters because she walks with very high heels, back and forth. She should be independent and do what she wants with her own salary: buy an expensive bag, donate to a social project, travel by herself to Eastern Europe. She needs to be a good driver and to do her own taxes. Cooking? No need! There’s a a certain charm to even mistake the rice. She doesn’t need to be in shape, because she doesn’t have time to do all that she does and still workout. But above all: she has to be sure of herself and doesn’t want to depend on me or anyone else. ”

Yeah. I haven’t heard this speech from any man. Not even part of it. Maybe that’s why I’m single here, still fighting.
The fact is that I’ve been thinking about it. In the amazing dissonance between the way that us, girls and young women were raised and the expectation of most boys, young men, men and old men.
What our parents expect of us? What we expect from us? And what do they expect from us?
We are the generation that was created to win the world. Encouraged to study, work, travel and above all, build our independence. The few cakes I ever made never made my mother’s eyes shine like my A grades at school. The days when I’ve dressed flawlessly never stamped a proud smile in my father’s face as he gave me when I’ve got my PhD. When I decided to do a short course of gastronomy my parents thought it was cool. But when I decided to do a short course in French language and civilization at the Sorbonne they inflated their chest like pigeons.

We never had sewing classes. Never learned to cook a stew. No one asked us to change a cousin’s diaper. No one explained to us the difference between whitener and bleach. Just as it happened with the boys of our generation. But they taught us sports. We did learn a second language. Learned to drive. Learned how to build a good resume. To work without fear and to invest our money. Just as it happened with the boys of our generation.

But, listen, did someone remember to warn those boys that we would be like this? That we would fight for the same jobs with them? That we would prefer to dine out rather than cook dinner? That we would like beer, whiskey, football and UFC? That we wouldn’t want to account for what we do? That we would be willing to find happiness in freedom and we dread submission?
And then, us, with our crumpled shirt at the end of the day, our heavy purse, cell phone beeping with 26 new emails, girlfriends waiting for dinner, car unwashed, 4 meetings scheduled for tomorrow, ask ourselves “what guy on earth will want to be with me?”.

Maybe if I was more delicate … didn’t curse that much. Didn’t have subordinates. Didn’t drive alone at night without fear. Maybe if I appeared fragile. Maybe if I said that I do not mind washing his underwear. Maybe … ” But no. These is not who we are. We want a companion, side by side, as equals. Many of us dream of children. But not only them. We want to make a risotto. But we may want to die if we our partner gives us a blender for our birthday. We want to tell you how our day was. But we will not allow anyone to question our routine.

The fact is, who was educated to want us? Which man is safe enough to love a woman who flies? Who is willing to make us want to land on your side at the end of the day? Who understands that lying on his chest is our way of cuddling? And that sometimes we will need your lap and sometimes we just want company for a wine? That we are the generation of the partnership and not of dependence?

And I’m not here on a tirade, blaming men. No. The fault is not exactly theirs. It’s from the society as a whole. From the way we were raised. The image that the world has of woman. From the parents who raise daughters to the world, but desire brides to live built in family. In the end we are nothing like the collective unconscious that the world expects from a woman. And best of all: we neither want to be like that. Let it be clear, we’re not going backwards. So it’s that old mentality that needs to move forward. We’ve opened ourselves to win the world. Now the world has to turn around to win us back.

I feel like I’ve failed

So lately I’ve been focusing on trying to understand why I’m in such a mess lately. Of course, a lot is going on in my life, but seriously I’ve never been so beaten down as in the last couple of weeks. It’s not just that I don’t know if our grant is going to be renewed and I’ll have a job next year. It’s not just that I don’t know what I want to do next. It’s not just the end of my “relationship”. Or my green card that never arrives.

Deep inside I feel like I’m a failure. Feel that I’ve failed in my professional life and I’ve failed in my personal life. I am almost 40 years old and I see myself in a foreigner country, with no stable job and no family around me. Deep inside I know that we make our own choices in life, and I know I could still be “married” if I wanted. But after that I also know I focused myself so hard into my professional life, leaving every feeling and every possibility of relationship for a future “after I get a job”. Years went by, I had to spend a year away in home country, and when back everything I did was to find that dream TT job. That never happened.

It seems that this last short relationship just made me aware to the fact that I am getting old, and I’m getting out of time. I still dream to find someone and have kids, but, can I really dream about that AND a TT position? While I was with him it seems that I lost my focus in a certain way. It was good, I was happy. But I lost my focus. Now that I’m finally seeing things clearer now, I can see my fear of the unknown was indeed fear of having to choose between my work or love life. So, as everything is over now, I should be happy and just focus on my career again, right?

Wrong. The little bug has been awaken. It’s there, all the time. Your biological clock is ticking and you have to be aware of that. Don’t shut yourself down like you’ve done during all these years, find someone nice and just settle down. I wish things could be simple as that. I’ve never been that kind of woman. If I was, I’d be married to my long-time BF from UG and be *happily* working as a dentist in a little town in the middle of nowhere at home country. I always wanted more. I always had big dreams. I wanted to be big. Today I realized I can’t be scared of being alone. Maybe a family is not for me and I was born to be by myself. Maybe I’d regret it someday. But I think that’s just the way I am, and I’m way to old to change it.