Sunday, May 05, 2019

"you're not a scientist, you don't have a PhD"

Ego getting in the way of making a good team. Ego ruining a good working team.

Everyone who has been in the science field for a certain time know when you meet new people in the field that there is a lot of questions about where everyone fit in and what roles everyone plays in these new teams and collaborations we do.

It's the newly hired person who thinks that "everyone in the labs who is involved with a paper gets on the authorship list". It's the newly minted PhD who know finally (?) feels secure that they have proved themselves explaining "I'm a real scientist now that I have the PhD title". It's the intern who spends three months in the lab washing dishes and cleaning up animal carcasses and studies for their MCAT since they are going into MedSchool and thinks that will give them power. It's the old technician who has seen numerous postdocs crash and burn with the thought that they are the special one who will change P&R while the technician has the ear of the PI.

And then there is that special person who takes it one step further and speaks up and tells people "you are not a real scientist since you don't have PhD" to their face.

And the kicker is that they don't seem to understand why it's offensive and making it impossible to work as a team. Never mind that they are wrong, oh so wrong they are. And that it is such a naive comment to make, and makes you look so small and misinformed. To disregard experience and the work that so many hand and heads in the lab contribute to. That science (STEM and biology is what I'm mainly talking about now since I'm mentioning lab work) is a team effort. That even if there is one PI seeing the bigger picture, writing grants, there is a lot of hands and thoughts and details getting in the way of the ego.... and that scientists come in different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, titles and knowledge areas.

It's similar to an old saying I had told to me in the scout movement and by military leaders in my leadership trainings;  "You're not a leader because you have a title. You're a leader because people follow you since they believe and trust you".

It's also called "if you have to call out in the room "I'm the boss/captain so you have to do what I say", your leadership is on the weakest ground/first step in the staircase of hierarchy and you don't have much in the long run. Authority is the position, that doesn't mean leadership which lies in the character of the person.

It's especially important if you are coming in new to a job, and your title is lab manager or lab supervisor - both titles that vary depending on where the job is, sometimes this requires a PhD, sometimes it doesn't. Whatever the requirements though, I would highly recommend a period of "look, see and gather information about the team" before making any big claims and statements. (Needless to say, I would never state anything as silly as "real scientist needs a PhD".) I would build confidence and trust with the new colleagues and lab members, as much or more as with the PI of the lab. Why?

It's a team sport this game we call science. The PI is the Captain/QB/Skipper/Coach depending on which sport we refer to and the rest of the lab take up various positions and depending on the time of the game, are of various importance at that specific time. An experienced lab technician who has been with the PI for a long time? Yep, crucial to the play. And, like a dishwasher (hello my old job) is key to get tables turned around fast in a restaurant to earn the money for the servers and seaters, someone to keep lab wear clean and sterile, changing animal cages, making regular solutions the same old reliable way are the backbone of repeatable, good and solid science.

And the absolute in the lab it trust. Trust that you know what you are doing at the bench. That you know when to ask for help. And that you realize that certain people in the lab know different things, and that the strength is in those differences and match ups. As long as you can make them all work together, towards a common goal, making al of them feel important and seen in their positions. That's a true leader, and something to strive for.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

being a failure vs having failed at something

There's a motivational quote that goes along the lines of "if you don't try at anything, you can't fail" and "you never fail until you stop trying". I'm not much for motivational quotes. I do however keep some demotivators as my screen saver at work since my humor is dark, and cynism has kept me from falling into the deep pit of despair a lot of times. You can't cry if you are laughing (well, you can but the saying is "laugh or cry")

The thing with the motivational quote in regards to failure is that I do think there is some merit to the saying. If you try something you have never done before there is a chance that you will not be able to do it (aka fail doing it). The problem is not with having failed at something. Learning from what you failed at doing is probably one of the best way to learn how to do something right. Not the only way though, and not always the best, but one of the ways. It is also true (in my humble opinion) that "just because you failed the first time, doesn't mean that you will keep failing".

One of bigger issues is when there is a switch in wording from "I have failed" to "I am a failure". It's a pretty common word play - at least based on the stories I hear at work, and the fears I hear vocalized from people I interact with. That the failure of doing R means that you are defined by R and now you are a failure. And that the failure is in everything, or at least in more things that one thing you initially failed at.

Personally, I have faced this particular piece of thinking a couple of times in my life so far (no surprise here). Maybe that is why I am so good at explaining it to others, yet failing a few key times with myself - no one is perfect...

Most recently I found myself talking to a friend who was walking in a circle around this particular argument. They have failed at something, something that a lot of people do and succeed with, and now they feel that they are a failure. That this something defines them and they keep thinking that success in general would mean no set backs and no failures - ever.

I saw a tweet a few months back in regards to people asking PIs to post their "failure CV" as in stating "applied for and got rejected for 5 R01s", "applied for 48 jobs before landing this one perfect job". While I like the idea, to be able to acknowledge that life isn't a full line of (easy or hard) successes, I can't help but think this is part of the issue that makes it even more difficult to not look at oneself as a failure.

Why? Because there are people who will never succeed with their dreams of getting an R01. They will not have the time to keep trying over and over. Like a lot of us knows, there's a finite time frame for most TT and if you haven't succeeded with an R01 by then, then you are out. Same with people who want to become actresses,  writers, partners, grandparents, truckers or anything else that people dream about. Very select few can keep trying the same thing over and over again to wait for that one time of success. This doesn't mean that everyone who does not succeed with what they set out to do are failures. Not failures as people, nor failures in general. I know that there are people who would say "but you shouldn't shy away from accepting that there is failure in life and that means that you failed". I don't. I shy away from defining it as "they are a failure".

There are a lot of failures in the world, I know. But there is something special to attribute the word "failure" to a person. A ship can be a failure (think Titanic). A plane can be a failure (think 737 Max8). Dinner was a failure (everything burns and is undercooked at the same time). However, Person P isn't a failure if they failed getting into grad school. They failed at getting into grad school.

To me that is a very important difference that bears reminding. We are more than a failure or a success story. We are the sum of all our failures and successes and it's not like math where the pluses and minuses add up since we are not math, we are people. People with experiences to live through, and learn from. And there are so many experiences in a life time.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

back in the saddle & planning new posts

It's like that saying "when you fall off the horse, you just get up in the saddle right away again". Why? Because you need to do it quickly to not overthink and over feel the scared feeling of falling. I should remember that. After all, I fell off horses a lot while training equestrian vaulting back in my youth and got back up again every time.

And still, more than three months since I wrote something here. Even more months since I opened my journal and wrote a longer piece.

I got a little wake up call a few weeks ago when I pulled a few 50+ hour work weeks, woke up at 5 am without an alarm even though I didn't go to bed until midnight and kept running around feeling wide eyed and having a cry at work.... Then I went on vacation and enjoyed no telephone, internet or work emails for a few days, plus hanging out at sea and in nature in the now so to speak.

Part of my "after vacation resolution" is to get better at doing things that keep me both mentally and physically in shape. The usual; sleeping, eating, working out, not over working, hanging out with friends, talking walks outside during work days and weekends. But also; reading physical books, writing blog posts and having time to do my side project (another sort of writing).

Since it has been a week since this "new regime" started; I have worked out every day (maybe not as long as I had dreamt about but 30 min is a good start), I have slept 7 hours every night and I have eaten porridge for breakfast every day - I have yet to attack the reading a book or writing a blog post, so here is it....

Life has been, I guess life? The last few years have had some struggles, maybe early midlife crisis ("what should I do with my life?") and some set backs in the dream department. There is nothing I would like to dwell in right now, considering this is my "back in the saddle, which should be short and sweet, bringing a happy feeling without dread for next time" blog post.

I have gotten increasing number and sizes of projects at work, and some of these have not been easy navigating. It's difficult for everyone working with unrealistic expectations in delivery when you look at the resources being offered and the time line to fix in under. Needless to say I've been repeating a lot "the best we can do with the allocated resources and the given time constraints" rather than "the best you can". The latter phrase usually leads to some Type A people working overtime and getting stressed since you know that "you can do better" and "it shouldn't just be good enough".

With that nugget/wisdom/pep talk/detailed focused nit picky comment, I leave you with a few areas that I am working on for the next blog posts during this year. If you want to make a comment/wish on which one to go first, please let me know.

  1. Good team work is constant communication and support
  2. Work-life balance in the time of "if you love what you do, it's not work"
  3. Stories from the US South as a Northern European woman - the differences, the similarities and the exotic craze - nuggets like bbq, heat vs freezing, feminism, church, seer sucker vs tight fitting dark wash jeans, craft breweries, biking to work and living together without being married.
  4. Science lab dynamics, the team sport like hockey
  5. "I have a PhD, this job is beneath me"
  6. Negotiation and diplomacy, best when coming from equal footing?
  7. Are you spending your time on the right things, or the things you want to be right?
  8. Setting expectations, an important part of delivering success
  9. Conflict between the wet and the dry lab sides
  10. Correct salutations - half the win when working with new people
  11. Pit falls to avoid when starting in a new team with a new project - no presumptions

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Year is over - Happy New Year 2019!

Some photos that summarize my year - a few of the moments I cherish in my memories.

I'll write more in the beginning of the new year! See you on the other side :)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A silver lining

It's holiday time and it's not the easiest season for some of us. There's a lot of feeling in the air of "finishing up the year" and "how behind am I and I'm supposed to take off in the middle of it?". It's been too many long days and working late, and then the early morning wake up calls on wondering just a little on "why am I doing this?".

Well, every so often there comes that one moment when I realize why I do what I do. And why I feel that I try to make a difference. And that it is worth it. This week had one of those moments.

Part of my job is to handle a program where we share information and biological samples with academic researchers. If anyone wants something, they send me an email. This email address is spread around through PR campaigns and through websites. It also helps that my place of work is not unknown. One morning I saw an email from a parent, who has a child with a very rare serious disease. They were asking for help and wanted to get information on how to best treat their child. It's not the norm that non-researchers use the email. It's not for the public. However, it doesn't mean it's not answered. I reached out to the MDs and asked if they had any suggestions. Their response "we will take it from here, thank you!".

It may sound small. It may even sound like it didn't have much to do with me and my actions. But knowing that I was part of building this program, and running it everyday, being able to give a helping hand, to give some hope and connect people - that's a huge part of why I do what I do. Those moments, while they seem small, are what makes it worth it. Because while they might seem small, they are by no means insignificant. Rare diseases, and especially in children, are exactly that - rare. And if ever there was a time the saying "it takes a village" is appropriate - to me it is that time.

Being able to share information, treatments and unpublished results to help better and to make more understanding - that's something that is near and dear to my heart.

It was exactly the reminder that I needed at this time. When the world is going nuts with commercial shopping and unnecessary plastic gifts, the reality of what really matters is good to realize. That small moments of hope and action can make a huge difference in the course of a life.