Monday, December 21, 2015


I tried to write a blog post - it turned out to be too personal. I'm lacking in practice. Maybe it is because I haven't talked to my friends for a while and feel that I want to share thoughts with someone who might read (and maybe comment). Maybe the blog isn't the place and maybe I know this which is why the post took a turn on its own and swirled into the "too private, too personal" space.

I'll look over it and see if I can salvage something. Maybe it is like with a lot of things I write - kill your darlings. Focus the message. One story, one text. Oh, I know it so well. And "don't try and fool yourself".

The general thought in the post was "Holiday - the time of year when feelings run high". All in the time of the season of course.

Friday, December 11, 2015

lessons learned part 2 - termination

Part of my job have turned out to be a participant in HR issues. Being part of corrective actions on employees who need a little help. And then, when/if the corrective action doesn't work - I get to be a part of the termination. It's not as easy as saying "you're fired" as a certain presidential candidate is known for. At least not the ones I've been involved in lately. no, they are more or a discussion - uncomfortable if anything - where you discuss with the employee what's going on and maybe they are better off looking for a new place of work.

I am still quite baffled at certain behaviour I've encountered in this "corrective action". I guess it's partly because I'm a rules gal. I haven't thought of watching netflix at work during work hours. Nor not clocking out for lunch or other longer breaks (like going off onto town and shopping while being clocked in). Nor have I thought that an option is outright lying about "what I've been doing during an experiment"*. I thought I was pretty hard core when it comes to a lot of these things (people on twitter might have seen a tweet I did a few weeks ago stating "I care about people's emotions since I need that to manipulate them into doing what I want them to do" - it was a short, crude way of stating that a lot of my work consists of figuring out a win-win for people since I don't have power to force them to do what I want, only trying to make them see the good in doing what I suggest. It's not that I like manipulating people. It's a pretty bad word to throw around, even if it might be useful more than one would like. Anyhooooo, I digress.) I still end up a bit baffled at some of the behaviour I've seen lately though. I'm trying not to make a prejudice assumption but there seems to be a little bit of an issue with certain positions, and certain ages of people.... I'm hoping I am wrong here though, so I am working on not having that prethought.

After these last couple of months I will say one thing. It's not how you start a job that's crucial for your future - it's what you do in the end. And burning bridges is never a good option. Regardless on how much you hate the job, the manager or what have you. It's not worth it. You still need some sort of reference and even if you are being terminated (or what you would call it, "encouraged to find new job"), the way you behave in the end will determine what kind of reference and new job you can get.

I had another more personal story to get into here but as I'm trying to be more personal, not private, here I've moved more into the work stories. I think however, that the next post will be more about dreams and hopes since a special anniversary is coming up and regardless on how much I would like to forget the date, it's pretty solidly ingrained in me.

*I will say as much as this. I trust you to document all you do. I try to teach while training that "mistakes happens, we don't want mistakes, we try as much as we can to avoid them ,but they are inevitable. The important thing though, is to be honest about what you did and then we can probably salvage a little of the data anyway. What we can't do, is try and trust you if you are dishonest about the data. It takes so little time to ruin something that has taken a very long time to build. And once the trust is gone.... well.... there isn't much to do there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lessons learned - last 5% (part 1)

As project managers know, the last part of processes is "closing". Part of that would be "lessons learned". It's also one of the parts that people aren't really interested in doing. Why? Because it means "looking back and revisit some of the not so fun times of the project, see what we could learn for next time and of course look at the things that worked and make a note of those as well". Needless to say, people are BUSY and they don't see the value of doing this (sometimes quite) time consuming part. Add on top that it might open some now half-closed wounds that they don't want to revisit.

For you as a project manager however, it is part of what you do - get people do what is best, might not what they (think they) want to do....

So last weekend I took a little "lessons learned" for myself. Went to a beach, left the phone in the hotel room, frolicked around in the ocean, drank too much sugar infused alcohol, talked too much, stared into the dark night when the sun set and the lit cruise ships took off into the wild of the ocean while the water sloshed and came up on the sand where I was sitting. The sound of waves crashing onto sand, the sea breeze making just enough sound to cancel out other noise coming from the party streets a couple of blocks over. Making it you and the stars in the dark, sand under you to keep you grounded.

Refreshed. Renewed. Restart.

Realizing what is important in life. What I should care about. And what I should spend time on.

More beach to the people. More "check out time" where regular life does not interfere. Most of all, more time in the present and not over-planning, over-worrying or over-reflecting. Done is done. Future will come. And beside all of this, there is the moving ocean - stinging your eyes with salty water, cleaning your nose out when the waves surprise you while you jump and and down trying to find the rhythm of the dunes, leaving your skin tingling when the sun rays hit you. Cleaning you up and tying a bow in the end of the project. Excellent. The project manager would be proud. Lessons learned part 1.

bliss - especially under a beach umbrella to protect from sun rays

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

self image - fat woman/healthy doctor/chubby girl

It's interesting, this self image one has for oneself. I've been trying to come to grip with myself over the years. It's been a little up and down, I'll admit. I flip between feeling ok with myself and my body, and then getting caught up into the "I should loose weight and not be happy with what I look like". And after reading certain articles on line about discrimination against fat people, thinking "I'm fat*? Do people look at me and think I am fat and won't hire me in the future?"

Part of my confusion is that I've always been body conscious (hello 13 year old me and my so called school friends). Part of it is that I, as everyone, is bombarded with photos of "perfect" people and when you compare your regular photos with these... yeah, it's hard. I don't know "where I fit". I've never been sure on "how fat" is bad, grey scale isn't my forte, and I know that I'm not thin. Ergo, I'm fat and people judge. I judge.

So, to keep on track and not get caught up in some woe is me blog post. My main concerns nowadays are to sort out how to think about my body and my body image. I've spent a good portion of the last couple of years not to focus too much on the scale - but to focus on how I feel, try feeling good and getting in shape - not focusing on 'just' losing weight. How the clothes fit**. How much weight I do when I do my biceps curls. How many punches on the heavy bag. Is plank getting easier to do. How long I can run without stopping. How fast I can run those longer distances. Focusing on what my body can do rather than being a size 6 with no flab on the tummy. And at times, looking at myself naked and feeling "well you know, not looking that bad there" and deciding to like my body - even if it isn't perfect.

Some times I can't stop the weird small commentary that is running in the back of my head though. Like the other day when I told my coworkers that I jogged last weekend, 10 km one day and 9 km the other. I felt fine the next day, no stiffness anywhere, it was quite a sensation for me to be back to my pre-injury self. I mean, I'm not a fast runner - I'm a jogger. But I do jog the whole time, slow and steady - at times even a rush. (See what I'm doing here? Making excuses, trying to explain rather than just writing one sentence "I jogged 10 and 9 km over the weekend". full stop.)

Anyhow, the saddest thing? The back ground commentary when my coworkers expressed "wow, really?", since my brain heard "oh, the chubby fat woman can try and jog?". I don't know if they find me big or small or maybe they don't even care? Hello self esteem and self image all rolled into a nice little pathetic blanket.

I know, it's my issue and I should really get over it. It's like sending some risque photos to your beau and then he dumps you. You weren't pretty enough in the pics? I usually push those comments away since I know it's my sad little corner of my brain. It's hard though, since a lot of attention is going to the "wow, you lost weight you are so good. (really means - keep the self control). And I think about that time a few years back when I was at a fairly low point (ha, both weight and mood wise), I lost weight and people kept giving me compliments that I was so healthy&good looking. Truth, I was thinner than today, I agree with that. I wasn't healthy though -  my food intake wasn't really that good, but it was low calorie. I drank a lot of caffeine. I slept very little. I had high anxiety. My blood pressure wasn't that good either (140+) But damn, I was smaller and people kept telling me that I was so good, looked good etc.

Today I'm a 12-14, it depends on the clothes and the brand. I can't really fit into my size 10 gap jeans any longer, but I do fit in the 12 size. And I can run more. So maybe I'm healthier now? Maybe I can feel half ok about my body? Maybe it's ok to not feel disgusted when looking at oneself? My blood pressure is 125/74 with a resting pulse of 53. I try to improve my running with lower heart rate and I see improvement every week. 

Why am I bringing this up to a long rant now? Because I need some help to think about this again since I recently got a fitbit, started logging my steps, stairs, active minutes and weight and all of the other fun metrics I can do. And I've lost some weight and recognize my endorphin system stating "you go girl, you can do this - loose the weight and become the size 6, you can do it! be normal and sexy". There is nothing to me as a competition. Maybe I should push for that illusive sexy woman who doesn't have the large arms but the skinny ones you see everywhere? Maybe I will feel happy then, and proud of my body?

Then I have to be honest with myself and recognize that I am quite happy (in weak moments even proud) of my arms when I pummel the heavy bag at the gym - just never liking them in photos.... And the weights I can lift. The miles I can jog and hike. The endurance I've built. There are times when I dress up in dresses or that nice pair of nudie jeans that really accentuate my butt (I've heard that it's quite ok) and look at myself in the mirror and think "you go, not looking that bad - looking good". Those small fleeting times - then I wonder if I'm completely delusional.

Oh woe is me. a whole blog post about body issues and self doubt. way to go on the introspecitve ranting as of old school. Thanks for reading. I need to go and walk those stairs at work and get my daily badge...

*the obvious is "what is fat?". According to BMI I'm sure the obese (BMI over 30) is called fat. I guess  "over weight" is fat too (BMI 25-30). Then I start thinking that anything over size 6/8 is fat. Or anything with waist measurement over 80cm is fat and unhealthy (according to some studies it's the magic number). It's clear when someone is thin, but fat? Everyone who isn't thin? Is this part of the problem? It's clear when you have a small person, but when does the scale tip?

**I can still fit into that nice skirt I wore when I was 23. You know what the small commentary part of the brain says? "so, I've always been fat, really nothing to be proud of". Gotta love it ^^ The other part of me knows that I gained weight while writing my thesis and therefore I've been up the mountain and down again so I can feel a little happy.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

disparity on views of experiments, details and interpretations of data

Since I started in science I've been trying to not have prejudice against certain types of people I meet and collaborate with. It's been working so and so. I have to admit that I have, quite often, said to myself "open mind sweetie, have an open mind maybe they do understand the idea with science and the need of details".

To make this a sweet and short post without pointing fingers, I have collected shorter key issues to explain some of my frustrations with specific instances that come up more often than I would like it to. Of course, I'm simplifying the questions and the answers but most of it is, imho, fairly general.

Do I draw conclusions from an experiment with an n=1?
If you do an ELISA, drug screening or similar in vitro screen with cells - you need at least one bioreplicate to have any idea that the data is really real. (Exception - if you have a validated GMP assay where all the parameters are locked down and specific to the conditions and cells/material you are testing. This type of validation isn't really what I see in research on an every day basis.) I personally look "is the assay valid?" (did the positive/negative control work, are the CV% working etc). Then I would wait for the bioreplicate to state "this is the result" to a larger audience and make my decisions of future research on it. And, it would be recommended to have a larger n within each run, like having triplicate wells/plates per run. In the end you have two (or more) data points from triplicates in bioreplicates, which gives you better stats and more importantly, will show you more the variability within the assays.

How do you define "one experiment - one data collection"?
If you find yourself using a complex machine (with exchangeable parts that differ every so slightly between themselves) - you shouldn't consider it the 'same experiment' if you exchange one of these parts in the middle of the run of the machine. Say for example, changing pipettes in the middle of an ELISA run or change the column in an HPLC run, or switch a pin tool in the middle of a run. For analysis reasons and data variation, you should minimize the various parameters between the experiments and keep them consistent through out the run.

How much details in written protocols involving computer programs used for collecting data and interpreting said data do you need?
Short answer: everything needed in order to replicate the experiment exactly.
Long answer: it sucks, I know. You have to write down the settings on the plate reader (double reads, single reads, wave length, columns first, row first), gating of the cells for the flow analysis, number of dips with the pin tool, number of dilutions ("in and out of the pipette") etc. A lot of this can be solved from doing the same procedure every time. A number of people I know have a generic system that they keep with every time, "I always aspirate/disperse with my pipettes 8 times when I do the ELISA". And when it comes to plate reading, the recommended course of action is to save a protocol with the settings and use the same protocol every time for the assay read. However, to not document what the settings is... let's say not recommended.

Last pièce de frustration, if you are embarking into a - for you - unknown territory and work with someone whose area of expertise is said territory..... I would highly recommend you ask questions and listen to the answers to learn new things. One of the best traits in a scientist is humility and being humble about all these details that we don't understand nor know. And that it takes team work to make progress in complex questions. Part of that team work? Listening to other people who are experts in their subfield.

There. I'm done on my soap box now. Off I go to another day in the life of a scientist :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

playing the extrovert

Part of my job, the part that I had the most difficulties with when I first started this gig, is playing the extrovert. Stepping out of the introvert zone and smile, connect with people and mirror them. Give them energy and be supportive. Take their hand and guide them through the start of a project. Give them reassurance that "oh yes, this will work fine". Sort out issues they have with each other and the team(s).  And all this time, not be upset with them but smooth things out, sort it out and solve it.

Sometimes I sit in meetings trying to explain what Person A said and what they thought was the goal with the project to Person B (did I mention it's science and we don't really do "real" defined project plans and scope - it¨s all evolving and new). Never mind that I sometimes don't know what Person A really thought. Half the time I'm not sure they knew either... but the communication is all it's about. And  it is easier to point out what you don't want than what you want sometimes.

There are times though, when my introvert self is screaming (opposite of the inner goddess dancing a salsa*) and I just don't know how to make it. Those times are for COFFEE. It turns me into quite the extrovert, talkytalky and connecting. Smiling and not over thinking and analysing every single turn in the conversation. (It's worth noting though, too much coffee turns me anxious, my pulse races and I could give any two-year-old a go at the Belmont.)

Drawback? That I feel completely wiped out afterwards. At times it's like someone has seen my soul and I've opened myself up way too much. (For you extroverts out there, it's not like I've said anything that's extreme - I might just have admitted something that I like. Or a happy thought. Or made a plan without thinking through every single little nook and cranny.)

It does help with the energy in the room though. And connecting with the extroverts who feed on people interaction, smiles and encouragement. Especially like the other day when I found myself in  a meeting with four "PR consultants" talking about "branding architecture", "overall market goal" and "communication strategy". Without coffee, I don't think I would've made it even halfway. And afterwards, the best thing ever to cool off the adrenaline and get back to an even keel - spinning. Nothing like endorphins, sweat and very tired muscles to give a good night's sleep and turning off the brain.

That said, it's time for a cup of caffine - soon there is another meeting that needs the "play pretend extrovert" to pull out all those great ideas and team spirit.

*if you know this reference, I'm sorry you read that badly written book. Let's hope you didn't read all three, since the last one was indeed the worst. Especially the conclusion. All I wanted to say fromthe start was "run away".

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

vacation and work hours

It's funny what work hours and vacation mean to different people. And this is not to mention across the world.

Back in my home country the general newspapers are usually publish a lot of articles before "industrial vacation" (falls in July) that state "in order to get a real vacation take at least 3 continuous weeks together". This is based on the presumption that "you need one week to wind down and stop thinking about work, one week to have vacation, and one week to start winding up for work". I always thought it extra interesting when I moved across the Atlantic to the USA where I ended up in a place where regular workers usually are happy if they can take one (or two) week of continuous vacation.

I was lucky when I was a post doc, my PI understood my need to take at least two week continuous vacation to go back to home country to fix some family things. Of course it helped that I did experiments until the day before I left on the plane, and had my mice delivered the week before I returned so they were ready for me to take right back up day after I returned.

It's coming back to me with my present job. I had a stint in FDA regulated industry where a lot of things had to be done in pairs (co-signed working reports), which means that when your co-worker goes home, you stop working too. Of course, there were a few other things that I did so I could work a little after hours and still get work done and get home late. No VPN though. At the time, we didn't use VPN for our secure working files. There were times when I thought it was annoying, since I had to be on-site to work with certain things. However, I would say that it helped with trying to keep reasonable work hours - especially when going on vacation.

So, back to my present job. I now have VPN and a work computer at home. I can therefore work all the time, if I want to (also if I have to). There are some really great perks with this, I can only imagine if I had "must do times and need to leave" on a regular basis - this makes it great. Same thing if you have a snow day (when the roads aren't safe to drive into work). The back side though, (apart from always being able to do some work) is that you can bring the computer with you on vacation and do some work. On VPN and get access to all those documents stored in the safe haven of work.

I've been pretty good so far on not taking my work computer with me when I go on vacation. I usually only bring my own home computer. I'm a little bit of a "compliance officer" (and a tad bit paranoid) I don't store private stuff on my work computer, nor do I do private surfing on that one (no private photos to show when you go on vacay if you bring the work computer). This vacation though, I figured I should take my work computer with me. We have new people who started just before I left and I knew that there were going to be a lot of changes to what they did and I would need to help. However, in a streak of luck (?) it turned out that the places I stayed didn't have wifi. I was left to my iPhone and the data plan... (and also not having access to all of the files nor the intranet of work).

The great thing with this? That the small emergencies that did arise, I could fix without actually sending the specific files (just sending emails on where the files were and what to do). Furthermore, I had days where I didn't have cell phone coverage and therefore my peeps were on their own. Best thing with this? My boss, before I left, did tell me to get off line and let myself have a real vacation. I actually did that! My boss have said this since my first vacation and for most of my vacations so far I've taken the liberty of not bringing the VPN computer but I have (so far) still checked my email at least every four days (ok, a lot of times every day). I find it more stressful not to check IF there is something that is crucial, than to check. Still though, I find this an obvious adjustment to expectations and culture of my current situation.

Why I'm writing this now? Because I realised one HUGE thing coming back from vacation. The first week back was soooooooo hard to get adjusted to all the work stuff. Clearly, I've changed my expectations of "real" vacation from three weeks (or five as my friends back home take) to less than two weeks (and without a computer). All the needs and wants from my fellow co-workers were hard and I found myself more than once thinking "oh boy, that time off was really nice. I want more".

I thought, when I started this post, that I would venture into the idea of when the work day starts and when it ends - but I realise that I don't really have time. I need to get back to work. 11pm at night.... on a vpn from home.... ah well, another post for that. But I'm alone in this odd work hour schedule.... and working too much. At times I really understand when one of my family shifted from "white collar/writing work" to "driving public transportation" since that left them very clear on when work hours were, and couldn't bring them back home.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Feedback on resume - tough love

It's always easier to look at someone else's resume or CV and critique than your own. Always. I help a lot of people with the job applications, scanning their resumes and CVs, adding a few key words, giving suggestions on how to best "present yourself in line with the ad" and so forth.

And I am aware that my resume isn't directly on par with what it should be. Why? Mainly because I'm in the (for me) new position where my technical skills in the lab and some other details aren't as important as "overall roundness and experience in management and strategic planning working with upper management and board work".

And my resume has lagged behind. Add on top of that, my detail orientation and want for accuracy. I'm silly proud of some of my skills, not to mention wanting to show what a renaissance* person I am (dabble in writing, volunteer work, selected for this and that, got a grant here) all the time I do know though that "Those things" need to be cut, streamlined and focused for one specific job advert and the process.

Kill your darlings indeed.

I got the opportunity to get my resume and cover letter abilities evaluated a bit back. "Look for your dream job and write cover letter and resume for it- then get feedback and concrete suggestions tailored for you".

Said and done. In the process I found a job ad that was interesting, not only "a sense of humor" as the last bullet point in the ad. I mean, who wouldn't want to work in a place like that?

Anyhow, I got a good slap in the face when it came to the feedback part of the exercise. I've never been great with listening to praise, and I didn't have to worry about it too much. My resume needed some work to be "top notch". Funny enough, a lot of it stemmed from issues I am very aware of in my personality:
1) my sense of wanting "all the details"
2) I'm old and haven't kept up with how the cool people do it nowadays
(3) I've reached the age where it's more than 15 years since I entered the work force, therefore not every job I've had is relevant, nor should go on the resume* )
4) losing focus on the point - also known as "cut some details" and present a whole image/brand...

In short, I've spent my last week updating it and going through a few steps that I thought were really good advice and figured I could write them down and share.

  • Don't lose focus. The Goal of a Resume is to get an Interview (All the details are for the interview itself). Some details though, are relevant and extremely important (see next bullet point)
  • Bullets points under each job with your achievements - use action words (implemented, wrote, published, planned and executed, communicated, presented, directed, organized .... ) Make these things specific and if possible bring metrics to the table "coordinated three project teams with 10 scientists in each, resulting in two clinical trials". If you had a grant "awarded Grant X for €20000 for 2 years" etc... 
    • A suggestion on how to reminiscence and get a kick start on what you have done is to look at your self evaluations. If you get evaluated each year like where I work - you write a self eval (where you end up wanting to highlight all the stuff you've done that your manager may or may not remember and realize) before your supervisor writes the final eval and sends it to HR. Pull these self evals and see what you wrote. Also, check the final evals for what your manager wrote about you - usually nice strengths and good action words to boost you to write about yourself.
  • Make a summary on top with who you are and where you fit in - three-four rows with succinct keywords from the adverts highlighting your marvellous personality and experience (this is one of those things that have come and gone for me, making me feel dated. For a while it was "one liner", then it was "nothing", then "a story"....) Alternatively, this can be bullet point list with years of experience highlighting skills&qualifications that they look for in the ad. Again, GOAL is to make you stand out for the 6 seconds the HR person looks at your resume. And for the seconds the computer scans through the resume to pick up the key words and moving your resume forward in the system.
  • IF you have publications and presentations that you would like to add to the resume (since this is generally 2 pages tops), you can add a "supplement list" with the publications. However, if you are very productive and have published more than 20 articles, I'd recommend you add that in the summary section about you rather than adding long supplement with ALL the pubs and presentations. Same thing with presentations (pick the mot prestigious ones and add to the specific job position) or add a section "Honors, awards". (again, how important are those details for getting you the interview?)
  • If you have volunteer work that gives you qualifications that are relevant for your job search (say that you haven't gotten too much team skills working as a post-doc in a lab but you have worked with community outreach/teaching sports to children and worked with parents) you could rename your "work experience" to "relevant experience" and add non-paying work into there.
    • I struggle a little with this since I like the "other experiences relevant to being you".... However, back to the "I like to show that I'm a well-rounded person who can interact with others, likes reading books and work out on a regular basis (half-marathon runs) and certain races are always excellent to highlight (based on my country of origin where this is regarded as 'fit character') - HOWEVER, back to the first point: Focus on the goal - getting an interview. And "what I like to show", that might not be what is best for the goal. Tough. It's just to deal with it and decide what you think is best for the goal. (I cut all those things apart for my "origin country resume" where I have a short paragraph on the bottom second page with "Övrigt" ("Diverse"). I haven't been able to cut that just yet. Work in progress.)
  • No need to keep that (physical) address on top (in header or bottom where ever you keep the contact info) - UNLESS it helps you to prove that you are already "in town". For everyone else, email address and phone number is plenty enough. When was the last time you got a REAL letter sent to your house with "we would like to interview you on the phone"? Yep, back to the "focus on the purpose of the resume - to get an interview".
  • "From left to right", keep the most important pieces to the left (name of job position) and the less important (dates you worked) to the right. This make is easier to focus on the "easy to scan and get a quick look on who you are". (obviously this is for applications in the languages where one reads from left-right.)
What I got reminded about most? That it is a darn long process to fix your resume for that specific job - and a little heart breaking to know that the "me writing:HR reading" ratio is "hours:seconds". Then again, it's the world we live in and it's just to suck up and accept it. One way of making the process easier is to keep a Master Life File (I have a master CV for that exact reason, where everything I've done gets put in) and keep it updated with bullet points and details that you can modify for each time you need to make a resume for a job application.

Comments? Feedback? Was this at all helpful or just an annoying "generalization" post?

*I'm being slightly sarcastic here - facing my own ego on what I'm proud of since this may or may not be relevant at all for a future job search.

**no need to add every job you've had - it also opens up for age discrimination. Apparently there is no need to add year to your terminal degrees (this dates you), nor add your thesis title. Again, this is more IF it's relevant and makes it better for you to stand out for the job advert but for a lot of things I look for at least, A Degree is relevant - not my beautiful protein thesis title....

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

random views

I've read a lot about the post doc salary discussion (even had a thought to write a blog post but failed in time). Went on vacation a few different times to enjoy the wonders of summer. Thought about work environment in between and work clothes. And then I decided to do a picture cavalcade instead of random rantings. Next time I'll do more cohesive thoughts and rantings ('cos there is a plethora of thoughts in my little head at the moment).

Here goes, from various trips around the US last couple of weeks - I've been busy trying to enjoy vacation times in several "long weekends".

As always, I love and miss the mountains.
View from a mountain top (not the South)
Jalapeno margarita

Sign at the ABC store. I thought it was absurd, but apparently I'm the odd one

Civil war re-enactment - it's the South after all! (they lost the battle, and the war)

Summer reading - revisiting two of my faves

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Directness, rational and gooey center

“I love your sense of humor and directness” – quote from a good bye letter by a coworker. This coupled with a lot of discussion the last year with coworkers and friends has led me to wonder about a few things. (The yearly pondering was part of the “coaching experience” I have mentioned briefly before in this blog. It turned out to be pretty intense, at least for me.)
First of all, just because I don’t talk about feelings all the time doesn’t mean I don’t have them. It’s just complicated. Second of all, I’m not sure “feelings” should take up that much of the work space. It’s just complicated. Third, if I don’t like you – I’m really not going to talk about my feelings. It’s just complicated. Fourth, I’m not going to talk too much about feelings in my workplace. It’s just complicated (hello “emotional female scientist who cries”, not here.)
A lot of discussion has been phrased in the words of “you need to show you’re human and emotional in order to connect with people [in the lab/team]”. While I understand where this is coming from, and I do appreciate the sentiment, the notion of “what these feelings are” seem to differ a lot between me and some of the people I interact with.
I’m not a fan of delving into my personal life at work. Again, while I understand that people want to share their stories about their children (as the least common denominator…), about their wonderful loving spouse and parents etc. As I’ve said before, I stick to sports or cooking (but even that can apparently turn into “elitism”). It’s usually awkward for those of us who don’t have poster-child families to be in the run with the personal things. We who aren’t married with 2.2 children, white picket fence, fancy car and loving parents and grandparents where all in-laws get along. Not to mention we who might have some baggage and non-straight line trajectories and opening ourselves up for more personal questions that may or may not arise during these conversations.

Of course, “directness” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with “feelings and personal”. It’s more a question on how you phrase things and what you decide to voice and not. And yes, I can be direct and blunt sometimes. I can also be smooth talking and indirect in my comments. I think the main difference though, is that sometimes I chose to be direct (even when I could be smooth). Why? Because I’m bored being the cute woman who is correct and demure. Sometimes I just feel like saying “this is F and G and you need to decide which you want”. It’s also sometimes where the indirectness makes it possible for the other person to ignore what you’re saying and do something completely different “you weren’t clear”. To avoid those things, why not just be direct?

I know, I’m overreacting. However, it is a lot of “risk for judging” the more you are “personal” at work. And maybe, just throwing it out there, maybe I’m not really comfortable knowing too much personal stuff about you since I might be prone to start having prejudice against you? (Just tossing the idea out there, considering one of my old coworkers started talking about why they only had one child and that spilled into “all those who have children who can’t take care of them, we really should sterilize them in order for them to receive the welfare checks”…. Yeah… we really bonded. Not.)

Going back to the feelings talk and the “you’re very rational and analytical”. Yes, I’ve realized a lot that I don’t make decisions with my tummy (or heart). And especially not at work. However, that doesn't mean I don't do it at home/personal life. It's more of a decision to keep rational in science and feelt gooey center in personal life. there is also the choice of not being "an emotional woman" in the work place - as Nobel laureates have mentioned lately - and therefore I wonder, in my ever feministic thinking mind, "would it be such a talking point of I was a man, and still rational"? Just a small thought, in a big world...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

warning signs and sensitivity

"Look for differences in behaviour, especially if calling in sick Mondays or directly after vacation days" - that's part of what it says under "warning signs" in our Employer handbook. It's referring to "substance abuse" and potential dangerous situations. Signs that people should pick up on and call the employee in and have a discussion about it.

"Look for differences in behaviour, like suddenly texting in the bathroom and hiding the phone" from parents who are worried about drug abuse in their teenagers or the partner who is worried about cheating or criminal activities.

"Look for differences in behaviour, and withdrawing from social interactions and making up excuses for the bruises" when discussing domestic violence.

"Look for differences in behaviour, like going for a nap in the afternoon or sleeping very late in the mornings" for signs of depression.

Similar, "look for insomnia and having more drinks than before" for alcohol abuse.

These warning signs, and changes in behaviour, are picked up and worried about differently depending on your background. At least I feel that I'm in the "over sensitive" portion of the crowd. Most likely based on my history and run ins with a few of these "changes in behaviour". I try not to over-read people and situations, but it's annoying and worrying me at times since I might pick up on things that may or may not be there.

Not to mention that I over-ananlyse myself at times, looking at my own behaviour and interpreting me in the eyes of another. I personally think that I should've been asked a few times about certain behaviour. And there was that time years ago when someone at uni really should've asked me "what's going on", but with asking comes responsibility and I'm quite sure they didn't want that...

I got reminded about this a little while back when I had to question if I was over sensitive or if there was real cause for concern. I wouldn't want to sound the alarm and alert, if indeed it was nothing. Think of all the trouble they'd go through. I decided to sit back a little and collect the signs for just a little longer and so far, they've not kept coming up. Maybe it wasn't a real canary - just a yellow gleen of light?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mixing hope with experiences

A friend and I spoke the other week about the problem with hope and experiences. You have this hope about people and situations, then you have your previous experiences that add into the situations. The notion that "previous behaviour is a prediction for future behaviour" and at the same time "giving people the benefit of the doubt and believe in them". We discussed in work context, they admitted to feeling naive since their approach to coworkers was that people
a) want to do a good job
b) care about the job
c) are telling the truth

However, what they have found out with experience is that a lot of people they work with seem to mainly be there in order to get a pay check and - this was the main cause of concern and annoyance - cover up and "looking good" while not doing anything. This was especially exampled in "they offered to help out, took over the task since I was busy, but ended up doing nothing and now I want to take the task back but it will cause a ruckus". I recognize the last example, I've encountered it myself and it is a little tricky to keep the environment happy without sounding like you are "selling out the person to your boss or others" and not getting thrown under the bus yourself.

The idea of "having hope" or "giving people a chance" (or two or three) has severely been challenged by my experiences that keep growing. I'm not saying I'm not giving people a chance anymore, I do. I probably give them too many*. However, it's part of the "using experience instead of only hope" that makes you to make alternative plans, make check points (things can get saved if you have early check points instead of waiting until deadline to confirm work), and most of all - getting used to the idea that "someone else's job is not your responsibility to fix great but to be there and help if they need help" and if that doesn't happen, well... it just doesn't. I should really work on how to phrase it since I'm sure it will be interpreted wrong.

What I mean is this, and this goes for things that aren't yours - not the things you delegate, that's slightly different.
a) if it isn't your job, don't fret too much about it since someone else is responsible and hopefully they have their ducks in a row (even if it might not be in your kind of row)
b) if you are working in a team, see if you can make clear to have check points/team meetings where reports are given so you all can make sure everyone is working on schedule
c) don't take over someone else's job just because you can do it better, do it faster, or do it "right" and IF you end up doing someone else's job - it has to be noted somewhere (preferably your boss) since otherwise you are on a track to end up as "the responsible cleaner" and risk missing doing your job as good as you can (and this will end up being bad for you).

Responsible cleaner = the person whom everyone knows will do a good job and fix problems for others, in short time frames (even when it means their own job will lack), and additionally some times without telling the boss thus making it less clear that someone wasn't doing their job.

It's important to understand a distinction here; It's not about telling on someone, but making sure your work doesn't get hurt in the end. Because I can tell you, when it comes to your job performance review it's going to be about how well you performed the things you were tasked to do, not others' tasks that you cleaned up. Sometimes it can be changed of course, if priorities in a group has shifted. In my experience though, I can't say that this really shines through as much as "why haven't you performed this thing" (especially if the 'cleaning up' happened more than a month from review time, people have short memories).

I guess what I'm trying to say here is: keep the hope to maximize your chances of success if it turns out that hope was slightly misgiven. That's what my experience tells me anyway.

*let's not go into personal compared to work... that's even harder

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Silence of the labs....

I tried to be a little cheeky while addressing a more serious issue; safety and “getting to know people”.

Go over to and read it, please.

Please tell me what you think, comments are open on this post here.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

problems with pseudo writing - self promotion

There was a discussion on twitter the other day about keeping two accounts, one pseudonym and then one 'real name' one for the research and the lab and institute. The overall consensus that I saw was that which ever type you started with, was that one of them will be your 'main' one. The one where you exchange thoughts and feel more like a part of the community. I have thought about the pseud stuff before, but it came to a more obvious "what do I do" last time I updated my CV.

As discussed ad nauseum, always keep your CV up to date since you never know what will happen. Maybe your dream job will open up, maybe your institution will shut down your department, maybe your boss will pull the rug out from under you.... regardless of why, keeping the big original CV-file* up to date is a splendid and important thing to do. (off the soapbox)

Anyhow, I realized that I had a little bit of an issue. See, I've written some things under pseud, but I've also written things under my real name. I don't want to link to my 'real name' publications from here (for example). And until a little while ago, I was fairly ok with not having my 'psudo writings' on my CV. However, it's becoming clearer to me that I'm quite happy with my pieces and I would like to show future job prospects that I can (or think I can) write something that isn't pure science papers but actually something entertaining and worth reading for a larger audience than scientists who reads papers.... diverify my options you might say? Or just plain vanity. I havn't really sorted out the difference there.

I'm not sure if I should add the pieces to the CV and just state "published under pseudo SH" or just say "layman publications" ....

In the meantime, I figured I'd do some self promotion here and point to one of my first writings

Time after time (you end up in lab at all kind of times)

A sinister reality  (it's not always easy being wrong handed)

*I keep a "master library file" with everything in. Then I cull and change it based on the job I'm applying for.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

best experience - training - for work

It sounds trite, and quite from a story, but the best experience and training for a highly competive environemnt (which, to be honest, I am in at the moment) or just regular academia that i have is roleplaying games and board games. Especially Diplomacy (board game) and Vampire the Masquerade (roleplaying game and LARP). I played both of these quite a lot as a grad student, and undergraduate and as a teen, before I moved to the States.

The main gist of the games? Well, for Diplomacy it is two-fold. Be trustworthy and know when to stab your ally. Or be trustworthy and know when they are going to stab you and anticipate it (either tell them or block it). Stab is what it sounds like, "I'm wanting to be with you- alas when the orders are turned in you realize that my mouth didn't copy exactly what I wrote on the order". Therefore, your troop got killed/moved/bounced.

My biggest wins were always when I established trust with someone and then told them exactly, "if you were to stab, this is the round you would do it, so therefore I need us to make provisions for that" and most often that not, it resulted in a known bounce (negated move) or nothing bad at all. I called it "being honest with people and letting them know that more were gained to play with me, rather than against me". Of course, in real life it helps if you know dirt on people or prove that you are worth more to them ON their side than not. Either way though, it's not really a fun game with real people. However, it's a reality in the games of academia/high stakes institutions.

The dirt on people and trying to control them that way would be the VtM game experience. It's when you play non-ethical, narcissistic vampire trying to gain control and power in a town (usually) with forming alliances with the Prince of the city (gender neutral title) or the Archbishop (depending on if you play the Camarilla (read old-school-Borgia-set-up with families/clans in charge, or Sabbat where the packs are constituted by individuals who chose to stay tied to each other in family packs rather than clans/families). There was a TV series in the 90ies called "Kindred-the Embraced" if you are curious on the Hollywood take on the Camarilla game. Or the book series "Clan novels"; good examples of the various clans Ventrue (blue blood Camarilla) and Lasombra (shadow masters of Sabbat)

Long story short, the strategic part of these games have proven to be quite useful, although sad, part of work politics. It's always important to remember to keep contact with people who are in power above you. Someone who will root for you. Either you tie your destiny to theirs, or them to yours, or you prove that they will lose something important if you go.

Of course, in real life it isn't as simple as in the games. In the game environment you often have a set pick of valuables/things that count. In real life that can vary. It can be grants (money), positions (career ladders), influence (who you know and can influence decision making), papers (pride and money) etc.

However, I will say - and I know this sounds silly - the best training for this scheming and plotting on power or simply "keeping my job" has come from these games. Not from my graduate professor, nor my mentor in post-docing, but from playing these fairly simple games. I guess if I was more of a chess person I could have used the allegory of chess. Although, I think chess is too simple since it is only two players and if life was only about two people (you and the other one) then chess would be great. However, playing work politics is more about "their allegiances" and "their alliances" than just them.

If anything I try and tell post-docs and graduate students who seek advice about their career and present position the same things.
1) don't keep all eggs in one basket (practically: have more than one mentor and get to know more than one person above you)
2) try to keep an eye on the environment around your lab (the department and the overall goal of the institute, your place will depend on what's deemed important on that level)
3) remember to keep track, how ever sad this is, on things you do that benefit your mentor/boss since baseline is that they will grade their people based on how valuable you were to them)
4) always have a plan B, C and D. If the first choice doesn't work, go with second, then third (practically: keep an updated CV, keep looking around for jobs even if you aren't actively looking, and always say yes to connections that are in a field you might be interested in the future)
5) never forget that unless things are iron-clad and signed (which they seldom are) never presume they are a done deal (practically: keep email trail of all verbal agreements for example on publications etc. They might not be legally binding, but it makes it enough of a mess usually, that people will decide to go with what was written and not make a mess)
6) depending on where you are - most often people are more likely to go with "what's easiest" (Practically: even if you aren't a screamer with drama tendencies, keep good relationship with HR/lawyer/dean of faculty since if push comes to shove, it's harder to do bad things against someone who has connections*. And there are a lot of people who work the system against you, when you don't "scream the loudest". Also, most people don't like drama so if you can show them an easy way out - "win-win" situation, they will often take it.)

TLDR: Never trust people you work with/for. Keep an open mind of options that you can do. Always show what you bring to the table as worth. Make sure that your boss's boss knows this too (it's difficult, I know, I bank on papers or other obvious metrics for this). Never completely trust people you work with, apparently there are a lot of opportunistic people who won't hesitate to use you. Even if you don't want to use them (I recommend not doing that), be sure that you're not used for someone else's agenda.

*I think I've mentioned this before. During my graduate studies my professor and I had a disagreement as in he wanted me to halt my studies and leave. At the time I thought it was due to my lack of papers, it wasn't. However, long story short - since the Dean and I served on committees together it turned out that it was a little difficult pulling off that I was the lazy student that needed to go but rather the Dean had a chat with the Chair of the Dept and all of a sudden there was no issue. (it was all a money deal so nothing else really, but all would've been easy if I just left like a good girl)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Following up on rejection - choosing career, follow passion

"You should follow your passion"*. That's what they said at the latest career seminar I attended. I cringed and thought for a second, I don't agree. You should definitely consider what you like doing, and what you don't like doing, but please consider other things apart from your passion when deciding your future career trajectory.

Tying in to my former post on rejection in the workplace, and the following comment by Drugmonkey on selection of PhD students and that maybe the selection is biased. Also my thoughts are about this perception about "higher calling" and being chosen to do research, have started to make me slightly uncomfortable.

I am the first to agree that I don't think of science as a "regular 9-5 job". I've been known to exclaim some "you're a post-doc so you work weekends" and "science is uncomfortable with timing, some experiments are uncomfortable". I'm not taking it all back, however I really would like people to be more honest and open about the choices and what it costs you in the end. There was an interesting article in Nature earlier this week: the future of post-docing. And what it really means in terms of maybe having fewer high-paid jobs in a lab instead of a lot of low-paid trainees. Although, I'm not sure that it is sustainable, considering the NIH grants and other structural issues at the moment. Nor am I sure that this is the 'real' solution.

My boss is a big fan talking about "work-life balance". He really means it, it's not just PI talk. And he wants people in his lab to think about their futures and what they want in their careers. Although, we are both in a agreement that work equals "probably more work than 40hours" but it's imperative to have things you care about outside work. I don't know how many TV shows you watch but if you have seen a few of the contemporary American TV-shows I watch (Bones, Law&Order, CSI, Vampire Diaries (ok maybe not that one it's more a guiltily pleasure about passion and no one has a job), Suits etc) most of them show that your co-workers are "like your family". It's a nice dream, and it makes for a great TV story - in reality though (maybe especially in a lab where you have competing interest) I don't buy it. The people you work with, they can be friendly but they will most likely not be there for an eternity of time and when you leave the lab (for what ever reason) you will need that outside gang of people (friends and family). You have to realize that there are choices everywhere and you need to feel comfortable with the ones you make.

Biochembelle has written very well about choosing future career paths starting with first post here
I loved the second part - maybe because it reminded me of what I went through before shifting my post-doc into industry work.

TL:DR Think about what you want for your future and be honest with what you see. If you want more time with family, look around and see what kind of jobs there are where that can happen. If you want more of a science bench type of work, look for opportunities for that. If you're like me, look for places where you can add your scientific knowledge intellectually and still be on papers, but mainly being outside of bench work.

*I think you should choose a job career that you are comfortable with. That you like. That you will feel give you the opportunity to do what you like, either at the job or in your free time. And that you should be able to live on your salary from this job. Passion is important, but it is also a very romanticized ideal and you can't - even if a lot of operas and TV and movies claim it - have a sustainable life situation based on passion alone. You need time and cold, hard cash to live. (trust me, I'm a romantic at heart. It's not recommended as a life career.)

NHL play offs - bracket challenge

It's Stanley Cup play off time!

If you want to sign up and play in a league with brackets - I've made a league: love of science password: canada

My precious Leafs didn't make it. And when I was digging through the comments I realized that I hadn't actually taken a picture of all of my shirts that have accumulated in my closets over the years.
For sure, my Leafsshirts are the oldest and the mostest (4). Canucks come in with two shirts - the blue one is from 1999! Then there is the Red Wings shirt I had to buy when I moved to the US and had to appease the American hockey fan in the lab ("you need to have an American team"), also at the time they had 10 swedes on the roster so it seemed appropriate. Then comes the Habs shirt - a bet that I lost. And the Predators shirt, since it seemed summery and appropriate. The yellow towel and the tshirt is from when I saw Canucks-Preds four years ago (being fairly lonesome in my blue Canucks shirt in Nashville).

As for what team I'll be rooting for since my lovely leafs are out? I'm going for Canucks in the West.

And I do think Habs might be best for the East since I've tried to go with "the team that beat my team is ok to win" (as long as it isn't Bruins. Can't root for Bruins. Ever) The overall winner? You've got to sign up for the bracket to know that :)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

getting attention - Thank you

I have to admit I got pretty excited after my latest post "Rejection - a part of life", when I saw that Drugmonkey (!) not only retweeted it but also did a post of his own where he quoted a portion of my post and linked back here! Thank you so much!

First time I had a more than 150 views of a post in one day :)

I guess there is a lot of feelings about rejection and review, especially now in grant writing days.

Here's to hoping my next posts resonates with someone and might generate a comment or two.... (as usual, one gets greedy and wants more).

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

rejection - part of life and grant writing

Last couple of days and weeks I've been working with grant writing. As in, I've been the support person assembling preliminary data, help with reference papers and supporting material and - maybe most of all - supporting the feelings of the grant writers.

A lot of feelings and emotions go into the grant process. The worrying if the grant will be liked and approved, or if it's going to be rejected. That thing that if the grant gets rejected, it's also a rejection of the person behind the grant. And the fear of being rejected.

It's been a revisit for me since I'm not doing the grant writing on my own account. I'm not getting judged on my intellectual contribution and my writing (not from a grant perspective anyway). My ideas and my sense of self are not as closely linked as for a scientist who's competing for the few moneies that are left in the pool.

I can connect on the fear of rejection though. I did finish one thing of my own, a proposal of sorts and sent it off yesterday. I haven't heard feedback yet and I'm trying to keep an open mind and not worry about it. It's done. It's over. And there will be feedback and I can deal with it when it gets there.

Still don't like it.

The good thing with rejection in the work place is that you can practice and work on how to deliver and receive critique. There are, hopefully, mentors and support personnel to help with structuring the grant and improve the writing, thus improving your chance of not getting rejected. These things may or may not be part of your personal life, where rejection rears its head at times and you are left to deal with the fall out. And that type of rejection is seldom based on "your writing" but rather on "you as a person" or "things you did", which is a little more personal and a little harder to 'accept and get back on the horse'.

I've come to feel, after these pretty emotional weeks at work where my support have been asked for - that I have some knowledge in how to deal with these feelings. It's been a little surprising to me, since I tend to feel like the young emo teen I was back in the day, but apparently I'm fairly decent at alleviating stress and fears of rejection in others. Now I just have to work on alleviating my stress* of speaking about feelings and emotions at work every day. Good improvement work for the introvert ;)

*this stress have a tendency to manifest in slight paranoia of "am I a good enough friend/person/daughter" and other relationship like thoughts that could drive anyone slightly nuts. Good thing there are jogging and other exercise to get endorphins and remove the adrenaline

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Old library cards - making data bases searchable

One of my jobs is to organize. I organize processes, data, meetings, people, documents ... list goes on and one. Actually, I think one of the better words to use is to say that I "categorize" or "index". I thought about this the other day when someone asked about the details for a specific project.

"It's like old-school library cards" 

The blank stare I got back was priceless. I know, I know, I am OLD* I then proceeded to explain how I remember the old "cross reference index cards [kartotek] that you had to use when going to the library to find books. The big, long boxes that pulled out and you could flip through them intensely searching for the one card that had the book you were looking for. And then stepping over to the correct shelf looking for where the book should be placed".

I mean, it's like a computer database - just more literal. The main point I was trying to drive home? That if you 'tag'/index something incorrectly, you will never be able to find it. This might be even more obvious now with 'smart' computers. Since computers aren't smart. They only look for exactly what you tell them to look for, and if someone has accidentally mis-spelled the index word.... well, you're out of luck.

Hence the second portion of my conversation about details that got the very brilliant scientists and physicians cringing and wanting not to talk so much about "locking things down" and "being detailed" since "maybe we could just have 'open fields' where everyone could write their own words".

Yeah. Not so much if you're asking me to build the system for you.

Why? Simple. If you let people write "what ever they they feel is correct in the field" - how on earth are you going to find it later? It's fascinating to me how many people use this excuse as an escape to not have the discussions about "what is important" and "who decides what we call x". I usually explain that in the best scenario you have two choices - yes and no. (Think about a freezer box with 81 openings for eppendorf tubes. Either there is a tube in the slot, or there isn't)

Or a field that has to be filled in for the log function to work, like "today's date". Or CAS number, if you are a chemist. Or a patient MRN for patient samples.

Those are, for obvious reasons, not so difficult to get along around. It's the more fluffy things that make it hard. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying "streamlining" is easy. All I'm saying is that it's imperative that you decide "most cases fall into these categories" and then leave one little option as "optional". The language equivalent of comparing between French and German. The latter has a lot of very defined groups where everything is exactly clear and then a few odd ones that do what ever they want and you need another type of subcategory to even know what you're looking for. The former, well - lots of exceptions and special cases, also depending on context... not an easy index card system.

My solution for many of these discussions? Suggesting, gently of course, that we use "choice" menus. How we get there? By doing a couple of template and examples (always so much easier to "show and tell" why someones system has a few issues) and then have a discussion (feedback loop) again about "which fields are crucial for the whole system to work" and then go from there. Sounds very easy, I type this and feel that it's obvious. However, it's fascinating to see the faces of people when they realize the difference between using prefixed choice "preclinical" instead of "pre-clinical" since the program will make a difference and then not find all of the studies they were looking for.

TLDR: cataloguing is something librarians know. Befriend a librarian and get help with your database. And/or get a friendly scientist turned organizer to help you distinguish between what's crucial and what's ideal.

Here is a great blog and posts about this and more, very eloquently written!

*OLD - meaning "formative years without computers or cell phones, no Internet" i.e. born before 1985-87?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Heart in a box or on the sleeve

I'm not good with gray. Or so I've always thought. Then when I look at my relationships with friends and family I realize that it's not really true. I'm giving people a second chance (and third and forth). I'm trying to accept their quirks and differences. I'm trying to see that the sum might be more than some of the parts. To really accept it, I might be really bad with extremes and "cutting people off". Especially once they have been accepted in. Everyone can make mistakes, non?

For a long time I kept my heart in a box. My trust and my feelings were stuffed inside, the guarded attitude to making new friends and sharing feelings and thoughts in bigger crowds. Slowly trying to move towards a happy medium, where one don't spill the darkest secrets for everyone to share and comment on, just the "regular ones to create a connection". Or what that is....

However, lately I've felt that I have been carrying my heart on a sleeve a little too much*. Telling some things that should've been kept for me only to too many people. These people though, are my friends. I know that this is expected. (For me that is, being scared of betrayal and failure. Admitting to certain wants and dreams, to others and to myself.) Those friends share with me and they are trusted, we trust each other. Also, that what I find very important and big - might not be that big from their point of view. The grand parcel might only be a matchbox for them, thus even less to worry about.

Someone mentioned to me this week; "I'm probably more friends with them than they with me. I tend to overstate my friendships with others in my head compared to what they think of me. Small things that happened, mean a lot to me. I don't make friends easily."

At the time I thought, that's me. Then I started to wonder. I might not make friends easily (new ones), but I keep the ones I've made. I've let my guard down for many years now - with then ones I've know for long, but also a few new ones to test the waters. It's been almost two decades for the old friend. Less than a decade for new ones. They've seen me through some bad times, I've seen them in less than perfect light, and yet - we remain friends. Maybe not keeping in touch every week, not even monthly, but when we do connect - it's like we pick up where we left off. It's a good feeling. An important things for me to remember, sometimes the heart on the sleeve is not a bad thing. Just exercise caution on when to put on that coat and when to tuck it in and wait for just a little longer.

*a week in solitude, without electronics or people, a true lenten retreat would be lovely.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Coaching, Mentoring and Life Goals

It's been a busy year, lots of thoughts and work at the same time.

I had the opportunity last yearish to be coached at work. The year before I had a more formal mentoring relationship with an assigned mentor (slightly different than my mentoring by my former post-doc advisor). The mentoring and coaching are slightly different in idea and execution. 

In short I would say "mentoring allow a more ‘directive’ attitude and provide specific advice where appropriate, usually from a more experienced person helping the less-experienced person with advice, info and guidance". A coaching situation would be more "focusing on improving performance and skills, and the coach wouldn't offer their own advice or opinion, but rather help the coached individual find their own solutions and grow".

This is to say that I had one meeting a month with someone who was assigned to me and we worked though a few situations and tried to give me tools and techniques to increase my effectivity and work efficiency. A lot of time spent of making me more efficient in interaction with people* in a work setting based on the experience from my mentor and their view on me and my abilities. The coaching was slightly different, being less one-on-one and a little more about reading books and applying techniques to work. Also, more focused on things like "how do you become more efficient at work", "having a work-life balance", "what are your life goals" etc....

Both of these opportunities have been great experiences and I've learned a lot. 

However, it also collided a little with a former goal of mine. When I became a post-doc I was under the impression that I could plan my life. I had a pretty good 5 year plan as a graduate student, and that spilled into my post-doc life and what I had planned for the rest of my life as well. However, life took a turn and my life plan quite significantly derailed and with that a big part of my outlook on life.

I spent quite some time thinking and pondering the whole "what's the point of life", "why does it seem to work for everyone else", "it was supposed to be different than this - I had a Plan" and realized that I had a pretty big chunk of "comparing-lives-with-my-friends-issue". I also realized that my planning and trying to control life was probably never going to work and that maybe I should focus a little more on being happy in the moment and being grateful for what I actually have (and have accomplished) rather than staring into the sky and wishing for the moon.

It didn't occur to me that I had succeeded quite well in the "be happy in the now and worry about future later" until this last fall when I had a little mini-breakdown and a pity-party-invite-of-one feeling that I was failing the life plan. What brought this on?

Two major things I think. (Apart from being a slightly neurotic woman who is secretly stressed about being perfect, happy and successful and worries constantly...)

One was a book that I read in the coaching sessions. The name isn't relevant since I think it's mainly drivel. One of the key points from the author is "you should write down your three life goals on a piece of paper and every so often (during the day/week) you should take that out and ask yourself - is what I am doing now bringing me closer to my goals - and if it isn't, you should stop doing those things".

My main beef with this is that it makes it sound like "you can make everything happen and you should just go for it". Which I would be the first to say that it SOUNDS nice and good, but in realty it isn't really as simple. It also brings a little issue (pet-peeve) of mine that relationships and emotions aren't something you can decide and accomplish on your own, it's a little more complex than that.

Second thing, a lot of people giving motivational talks and science talks at work stressing the "in the end of the road, work doesn't matter it's the family time outside of work that is really important" and "my success is derived of having a supportive family". Although, funny enough - most of these people are quite accomplished in their fields and have families and I have a sneaky feeling that they didn't have a great work-life balance when they started their jobs. 

Ah well, in hindsight it was pretty easy to see that this really messed me up quite a bit in my head. Combination of "the one thing I've failed in with life" (marriage/family concept) and the "need to spend time with family outside of work" made my brain and heart hurt.

On a cognitive (rational) level I understand that most of these people are also accomplished in their work and they add the family concept on top - thus making them super successful - and there are quite a lot of people who are just traipsing by the sheer luck of their lives to have jobs and family, or either or. And that it is quite OK to struggle with work-life balance and also liking the job and science and maybe "work a little more" in periods.

On a more emotional level though, my feelings are that I need to defend why I have ended up where I have, and that I need to overstate how happy I am with my current situation and that I really planned it this way (I didn't). Most of all though, I'm left with pondering what it is I really want with life and how to get it. You know, those questions I started leaving back in my post-doc years.... and those questions didn't really get me any place happy but rather made me question why on earth I didn't just find a man in my early 20ies and settled down with several kids next door to my parents since that seems to have been the best choice in this game of life that everyone is playing....

Or maybe, all of this is just extra stressful since I'm about to go back home and being sized up on "how successful are you" by my old kindergarten friends in a reunion?

*working with people efficiently (different from being a bench scientist)

Sunday, February 01, 2015

being friends with co-workers?

First post of the new year, and it's already been a month... ah well, Lent is about to come by and wit that yet another good opportunity to "change the life and make promises". Right?! :)

I've been contemplating this "work and friends deal" the last couple of months. I've never been great with being "personal and private" with my co-workers. I tend to be a little on the distance side. Why? Because I'm not great with sharing my private and personal dealings (family issues, dreams and emotions) with people that I need to work with and need to work well with. My stance has for a long time been to try and keep it professional since sooner or later there will be people I work with whom I don't agree with on the personal/private side and since I can't stop working with them just "because I don't like them per se" I might as well be in the dark about it.

More importantly though, I'm bright enough to realise that it's mainly that I don't want me coworkers to realize that they really don't like me (the private/personal me, not the scientist and fixer that I am in work life). I'm scared of them rejecting me and the messiness of emotions* entering the work space and therefore I distance myself from it all.

Why is this an issue right now? Because the last year or two I've been immersed in this "leadership" programme and "coaching" thing (in moments of ego I view it as 'grooming for higher role') and a lot of it focuses on "you need to connect with your people", "be personable and private with them", "share private things so they get to know you and you them" etc.... I have a really hard time with it.

And then I have some new co-workers who puts me to the test. The socialize a lot outside of work. They help each other with child care, paint houses, hang out and watch football etc. They are chummy and know things about each other and their feelings. And now they want to include me in this. It's sweet. Don't get me wrong. I'm really happy that they want to do things with me outside of work. My issue? Did you read the second paragraph of this post? Exactly.

I would say one thing though - the cultural difference that is VERY obvious to me - is that back home we would DO things together. Perhaps go ice skating, or swimming or something like that. Not really have dinner at some one's house - unless you really liked and knew people. The culture here though is very tricky as in "there is a personal side that isn't too private but kind of feels private and personal". I don't even know how to explain it. It's like the American Southern culture is very kind and "let's visit together" (code word for hang out, drink some tea/drinks and talk for max 2h) at one's houses and yet at the same time there is no real private discussions or what I would call personal space. It's very interesting, yet extremely stressful for me.

Anyone has any thoughts about this? How do you socialize with your co-workers? Your bosses? Your former bosses?** Do you invite them to your house and hand out? Go to movies together?

* emotions in work space based on "I thought we were friends and why didn't you back me up in the meeting etc"... and similar things

**side note, I socialize very well with my former bosses and coworkers. it's a piece of cake. It's the current ones that give me the head ache in nervousness.