Wednesday, August 24, 2011

decision making

A few weeks ago I went to training - hiring training - and a few of the comments there got me thinking about "gut feeling" and being a scientist. Or maybe more to the point, gut feeling and my basis of decision making (as a scientist). I would think that most of my training in grad school was "it doesn't matter what you think/feel but what the data tells you", aka "override gut feeling until you have data dots to prove it". That is; that gut feeling is fine, but you really need data to support it - otherwise it isn't "true" but "just a feeling" and that’s not valid until you can prove it.

Then when you interview people for a position, sometimes your gut goes "Hm, it doesn't feel all right here" ... and then my brain tells me to override the feeling until I find the reason (cause) of my feeling*. And after that I can make a decision. At the training though, many people did voice that gut feeling was the way to go, "after all, gut feeling tells you something that your brain might not recognize in words but transforming into a feeling" ... but unless I get the brain to tell me what it is, I am not comfortable with making a decision based on my feeling. Why? Probably because I think that if there is a valid feeling I would know what I based it on and therefore rule out the bias “I really like X so I’ll go with gut feeling on that and miss the data that tells me something else too”.

Like if I get results from an experiment and it doesn’t really look what I thought but gut tells me that there is something interesting there. What to do? Go and retry it and see if the result is the same yet again, if it is… data is data, right? (Hm) Or the experiment is not the right one?

Another thing that was pointed out to me during the training was "past behaviour predicts future behaviour". As in, you ask the interviewees about what they did at a certain time to know what they what they may (probably) do in the future. I understand the thinking but it goes against part of my beliefs that people can change and that what happened before might not be what happens in the future but sure…

In short, I left the training thinking a little too much about what to base my decisions on and if I trust my gut feeling or not. Especially since a few ones I’ve made in the past based on “gut feeling” turned out not the best ones, whereas most of the decisions based on “facts” and “data dots” (aka ‘list technique’) have turned out more favourable. Of course, I might only remember the bad gut feeling decisions (since they ended up fairly badly) and not take into account all the “regular happy ones” I’ve made – but I’m not too sure.

I’m revisiting this decision making basis again now because there are a few doors opening and I am going to have to make a few decisions in the near future. And it’s not as easy as saying choose yes or no for door B, then move over to door W and say aye or nay etc… No, rather it is “if you choose door B, door W will not be an option anymore” as in “it’s opting out of one thing when choosing the other”; and that leads me to have to weigh in a lot of other factors in my thinking and gut feeling is apparently one of them… If it would’ve been an experiment I would’ve made n=3 and see what the outcomes were and choose accordingly. However, I wonder if I should think of this round of choices as the last in a series or if it is an independent test altogether – no previous action will indicate the outcome…. Or just solving it all like the Gordian knot?

I know for sure that the option a friend of mine offered is a definite no though. After all; “just accidently close door W and then decide if you want the other doors” is not my style of things… even if it would be so much easier for this decision process … I guess I will know more in a few weeks… either or.

*I honestly think this would be one of the reasons I stayed through some harder things since I have decided that I don't care what I feel, I'll finish the task and then care about the "feeling" ... maybe I'm just too stubborn?

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Last Circus

Every once in awhile you see that movie preview that make you go "That's a movie I' really want to see" and you get your hopes up. Then (as I've realised way too many times in post doc city) I come to realise that the movie will not be shown at the local movie theater... It's most common with independent movies and, since I'm in a slightly not the biggest city of the southern US, European movies (unless if they're British/UK).

I saw Beautiful over Christmas, back in Europe, and the preview of "The Last Circus" (really "The sad trumpet" - Balada triste de trompeta) makes me wonder if it will be as devastatingly sad (yet good) as that one? I might have some prejudice against Spanish movies, which imho seem to have a hefty dose of 'realism' or depressing feelings, as with other independent movies and from Sweden, France and some Scottish and British movies. (I'm leaving Fassbinder - German - altogether outside of this, but if you are in mood for some serious movies; The Decalogue is good.)

But back to the movie in question... It seems to have love, sad romance, war, friendship, family and - maybe mostly my "don't look but still I do" nightmare food - Clowns. Yes, the main characters are clowns in a circus. Good food for nightmares in my book. However, the preview show a clown with a machine gun going slightly crazy... apparently that catches my eye?

Not sure if my fear (apprehension) is based on It (Stephen King) or simply because they have a painted face which makes it impossible to know who is really behind the makeup mask? That usually a good way to get me thinking bad things (yes, Jason I'm thinking about you and the old time hockey mask).

I guess I will try and watch it in Europe when I go there soon... although I fear it has already been shown and stopped at the movies there. Maybe only dvd/streaming will be my alternative?

Anyone out there who has seen the movie and have some thoughts?

Monday, August 08, 2011

but it's not even 10 am Monday yet?!

Some days would've just been better to stay in bed.... It's not even 10 am on a Monday, the week hasn't even started really, and I am ready for it to be Friday afternoon. Or, better yet, beginning of a long vacation (yeah, that's not happening).

It's been a couple of rough weeks at work, LOTS to do - new things to invent, tweek and fix - and most of all, stress from others spilling into your own work. This on top of being in the middle of transition with new people taking over from people who left... I thought I was doing fairly good with it, and I probably was... until one of my crucial assays decided to take a little vacation and not work as well anymore. And that would be the assay I'm alone of being qualified on, so there is no backup person (yeah, we're training someone but they're not there right now....)

So, for the last couple of weeks I've been doing and redoing (and redoing and redoing) this assay. The part why I am ready to accidentially hurt one of my hands so I can not perform it for a few weeks? That half of the problem is that my assay readout isn't reading what "they" want to to be.... Guess what though? That's not due to the assay, or my performance. It is all in the samples I get...

Oh joy and happy times. It is good that I got some good ego boosters last week in terms of emails telling me happy things. One of my first students I mentored back in country far away have landed an awesome job and wrote to thank me for all the good advice and teaching I did back in the days of undergraduate for them... And a post doc wanted to pick my brains on industry and interview techniques and she got a fly out interview based on her good phone interview we pep talked for.

So, I guess I should relish in "those who can't, teach?" since clearly I can do something.....

Well, nothing will be better by me being grumpy this morning so I'd better get right at it and go chugging at that assay. Yep, yet another day of "assay from hot place" and no refuge insight yet.... I might feel better if I make plans to go out after work and have a little break with friends?! There is nothing a little laugh can't help with, right?


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

mentoring and small talk

One of the major things I talked about during my mentoring session at The Big Conference (TBC) where they had asked me to participate in their mentoring program as a mentor* turned out to be small talk. What I mean with that? It started out as simple (ehh) questions like "how did you get your job in industry?" but more often than not "what's the biggest difference from being/working as a post doc?". Most of these types of questions for me would mean that I end up with "small talk" or "it's not what you do, but how you report/tell/talk to others about it and interact with your co-workers". With that I tried to point out that my post doc was fairly lonesome, as in - I had my own project and could plan it the way I wanted to do it since most of it was up to me (as a type A control freak that worked out really well). I didn't collaborate that much, and I didn't have a tech running my stuff but rather that I did the hands-on work as well as planning it. That meant I could work late nights to get the results if I wanted to, or when the machine was available...

Furthermore, most times it was not the chatterbox in lab in the morning so when I came in and started to set up my stuff at the lab bench most people would not talk too much to me but rather see it as (at least that is how I see it) as "oh, she's setting up her stuff and is busy, better wait for a bit to chat". In my "new" job, that isn't the thing really since we have cube land and more (as I would think it is for most people) "chatty". Why I keep bringing it up? Because I might seem like an extrovert at parties and such, but in lab and when I'm working I tend to be focused, thinking and planning; not as easily moving from "work mode" to "chatty mode". It's one of my "less great areas" I guess? Or one where adapting to the work culture is more an issue.

It's been one of the biggest adjustments for me, to leave my train of thoughts and answering questions about all and everything (sometimes work related, sometimes more interpersonal chatty things) without sounding short and getting people offended (it's many people who takes this as a snub off and that's not a good thing, of course).

Nothing big for some I'm sure - I was merely answering these questions from my personal view, which I think was the main reason for being a mentor... but still, it showed me that I at least know my weak spots. Which brings me to the crux of the matter. Many of the graduate students, and undergraduates and post docs, were fairly keen on telling me "that they didn't have that problem". In fact, many of them stated they didn't have any problem whatsoever.... You know, in the terms of telling me that in fact they didn't think they'd have a problem getting a job after uni at all....

And some of them might not, they were a diverse group after all. And some of them, I'm sure, with a stellar publication record and perfect skills etc. Nevertheless, I started to wonder somewhere in the middle of the session how to explain (or express might be a better wording) that their attitude imho was one thing that wasn't going to make it. Just because you are good (or great) at what you do, doesn't mean that you will get what you want in the end. Sorry, but that would be my experience... It's like that old saying about fair - life isn't fair... even if I'd love it to be, but it's not.

It's more about how to play the game and have the small talk and other "trivial" things in line to get things rolling your way.

The same thing happened when many of them asked me "is it too early to start looking for a job since I'm not graduating until January next year?" (this was late spring/early summer). My response was, and is now, that it is never too early to cultivate your contacts. I know, it sounds so trite and cliche but really - I think that in today's world it's not about "looking for a job right now" as much as having people you know who can keep an eye out when it comes down to it and then approach you with "we're looking for someone who can fill this position".

I guess what I was and am trying to say is that half of the time my friends and myself have been looking for jobs, it's been extremely helpful (and pivotal) to have that head start of being in "some one's mind" when they start looking for someone to fill the position. It's also one of those things that I am trying to remind myself of, that the "dream position" might not be there for you right now but in awhile... and then you'd want to be in on the action once it opens up.

I'm not saying this only because I've "heard" it, but since that was the way I got my present job. I had looked into the place I'm currently working, met with some of the Big people there and talked about "what did you do to get your position and what would you recommend me to do in order to move into industry". This was way before I actually applied or anything, just doing the dreaded cold call and coffee chat without any asking for work things. Just talking and having a "mentoring" like kind of conversation - since most people like getting the opportunity to talk about themselves and how they got to where they are now. And it's helpful to know what they did in order to get there, if nothing else - you get to practice that small talk and net working (all big words, and BS warning, I know).

*As a side note, when I got the first email request about mentoring I thought they wanted to know if I was interested in being mentored. As it turned out, they wanted me to mentor... goes to show where I am in my "head" about being asked things from professors and professionals... well, I'm learning that ego boosts are good to take in and process. And also, maybe more important for me as a professional, that I am viewed to have some experience and good advice. Not that I didn't think so (in my great moments) but it's still a little uncommon to get requests. Then again, the more I looked through my emails I realised that I have actually been contacted by quite a few with questions and advice... I guess I never really understood that post-docs that I had worked with asking me things would fall into a slight mentoring category?