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