Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 is over - long live 2018

I'll keep this short and sweet. I had planned to write a longer post with accomplishments, grievances, wishes for the new year and leaving bitterness aside - however, as the story goes, life came in the way.

So, I'll make this summary because I really want a post the last day of the year - if nothing else to leave some of the bad stuff behind and look to the future.

When I thought about 2017 earlier this week I placed it on my "Top 5 worst years of my life". Yep, that good. However, as some of the other years that end up on that list - 2017 had some pretty great moments that I would like to revel in, to focus on them instead of the less than stellar moments.

Good moments are mainly that I got some pretty big accomplishments in the year;
A Nature publication (I'm in the middle of the authors but I'm so proud of it).
I passed the PMP certification and can call me a PhD,PMP.
I got invited and did a podcast
Friends and family came to visit and we went on some nice trips and had great time together.
I got a trip to Las Vegas and got to ride in the desert, somethings I've wanted for a long time.
Found myself some more Swedes in town and celebrated both Midsummer and Lucia/Jul together.
I went to Smashville (Nashville TN) for the Stanley Cup Final and got to be there when Predators won at home and the whole city got together.

The less than positive things that happened? I 'll leave them unmentioned since they are pretty private and the main reason to mention them would be to have them as a learning lesson on "moving on" and "restarting and refocusing".

For 2018, what do I wish for?

My big hope is that I will refrain from becoming bitter. It is one of the things I fear the most and something that I would feel like a huge failure. I will also use the first few months to restart the everlasting question "what should I do with my life" and see if there are some answers out there. I will also work on my volunteerism and add a few more causes to be involved in (nothing to keep myself out of the bitterness).

For now though: HAPPY NEW YEAR! See you New Year!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

There is Sunshine Outside the Ivory Tower (shameless selfpromoting...)

So I have been on a podcast..... Earlier this fall I got asked to be on a podcast talking about my career, how I left post-docing, and a little bit about what choices I made doing so. We had a good talk about "how it looks in hindsight", "are you happier professional now than before" and "it's about believing in yourself". It's up/out now if you want to take a listen?!

There is Sunshine Outside the Ivory Tower, episode 7

(and yes, it might be a little self-promoting but that's how the world works, isn't it? And the Podcast - without my episode - is very good and brings up very good points on "finding a new place after leaving academia". It's a tricky thing, those pesky feelings and ambitions.)

happy listening!

"Be able to ask someone else, not you, and go through the experiment with you to see if there’s something you can salvage. Get a pep talk and get someone else to evaluate things” – chall

Sunday, November 12, 2017

can't buy happiness - but sometimes you sort of can

"You can't buy happiness". That's the sentiment of a lot of self-help books and internet sites. "You need to look into yourself and find the source of your happiness there".

While I don't disagree on a larger scale, clearly there are a lot of unhappy rich people whom we can see sprawled all over the newspapers and internet every day, I would say that a lot of unhappiness (uncertainty and insecurity) can come from not having enough money and that some parts of happiness can be bought.

At least from where I'm sitting right now, having has another conversation with one of my friends who is really trying to get it all together. They are in the same boat as a few of my coworkers. It's clear to me that a few hundred more a month would make a huge difference to them. It's not that they are poor, not per se. They have a place to stay, the have a full time job, it's just that they have no margins at all. Holidays are not on the margin list, not really.

I can tell that the biggest issue for some of my "examples" are that they are single. And with that I mean, they live alone. I know that my biggest saving ever came when I moved in with someone (even when I was footing the majority of the bills and paying for two - I had more money than when I was single). Why? Because it was so much easier to socialize at home as a couple than being a single person and staying in meant most of the time - not meeting anyone. It's also not only boring but difficult to cook for one for cheap, it'll be two or more portions of most anything you try.

The staying in is not the key thing, obviously. It's that the base line cost of living in a place; rent, tv, cleaning supplies, everything else that you have in a place regardless of if you are one or two (or three or more) is pretty high. It's not exponentially more expensive when you add people, the flat fee for being single is always going to be much more. And that makes it hard for someone who has a fairly low salary/wage to save up and then have margins. And that's even without the added "please deposit two months salary for an appartment".

I know I read a number somewhere, but I don't remember where and to be fair I don't remember the exact number, where it was stated that about this much a year makes people feel safe and happy. More money than that isn't adding to their happiness, but less money than that increases the unhappy feeling and sense of security.

This "sometimes it's just a small difference to you, but it's huge to someone else" is a point I'm trying to make now when the Holidays are coming around in the United States. First Thanksgiving and then Christmas and other religious holidays. There is an increase in asking for donations and money for people to help them. To give a good meal. To be able to help with warm clothes etc. It's the season and so on.

I'm not trying to sound like a saint here, I'm really not, but for the last five to ten years my family and I have been removing "gifts to each other" at various occasions - Mother's day, Father's day, Birthdays and even Christmas - with donations to good causes. It started since we have some long time standing volunteering going on with Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders. And I have worked with vaccines and developments for a long time so why not donate to "pure drinking water for a year" or "vaccinations against measles in children". When I moved to the USA I found Heifer and Kiva, not to mention a lot of local charities who focus on the city I live in, and it seemed like a good idea to expand on.

On a smaller, closer scale I try and make some meaningful gifts for the people I see close to me. It's a little trickier, I won't lie about that. I'm fortunate that I can do a lot of things I want to and it doesn't mean that I worry about my retirement or my present day rent. I see how much a gift card of $10 to a popular coffee chain makes someone I work with very happy since they can indulge in one expensive drink one day without feeling that they broke the bank. Or the good quality gloves I donated to the "men's wardrobe" last year that one of the workers wanted to have for himself rather than giving it to a homeless man since they looked too expensive to waste on someone who could never buy them themselves... Or giving a dinner gift card to celebrate an 10 year anniversary at work or as a big "Thank you". 

I am aware that this might make me sound entitled or that it might make people feel uncomfortable but there are ways to make it less odd and power balancy. I make it clear that these are not "reciprocal" gifts. It's not that I expect that back (some people will try but that's missing the point since I know I have more money than they and the point was to help them), but that I would like to do something nice for someone. Again, it't not super easy to get this to be non-weird, but if you have some sort of relationship with people it can be done. And also that I personally think it is what you should do as a "manager" or someone "higher up" in the job hierarchy.

In my old job I tried to get the Boss to consider giving the cleaning people and the low paid administrator something extra for the Holidays. Partly because I estimated that Boss made well over five times than the others did, partly because I knew that there was a discretionary fund that could be used. Well, it didn't fly and there was no holiday gifts. I won't lie though, I was pretty happy when my coworkers approved of my idea on Boss' day that we all donated to Heifer and gave a goat to a family in need instead of some flowers and stuff.

For me nowadays? I give "Flock of Hope", measles vaccine, quick testing of malaria, tetanus shots, microloans to sustain a family, or teaching girls to read and write, a Thanksgiving box for families who don't have the means and print these gift certificates for my family and friends. Most of the times it's appreciated much more than random gift certificates with money getting swapped around since "we should exchange gifts". 

I will see how a Flock of chicks plays in the Dirty Santa game we play at work in a month. Maybe it will be stolen more than the "salt stone lamp to increase healthy air"someone brought last year?

Thursday, November 09, 2017

some thoughts on #metoo and women

Like everyone I've seen the feeds of #meetoo on social media. I didn't want to add myself in the mix while I was thinking. Mainly because I thought it was fairly common knowledge that women are being harassed, partly because I am private about "what happened to me" since it's private. Yes, this would be one of the issues that make the harassment difficult to stop, the shame and non-privacy aspect.

Anyway, after these more than two weeks since it broke a few things stand out to me.

First, it's been a huge thing in Sweden where equality work and feminism is on the active political agenda (two of the political parties have very clear wording on what they would like to accomplish in terms of future society, and almost all party leaders call themselves feminists). It's been a drive to "stop this culture of harassment now!" and demonstrations and now the latest the secretary of arts becoming involved with the national dramatic scene since 456 actresses published an article today telling their stories of harassment and sexual abuse in their work spaces (theatre and movie industry as well).

Second, the comments from not just one man but several in my vicinity where they've opened with various comments as "I just don't understand, those allegations refer to something that happened years ago" and "really, it's just a comment - it's not that bad", not to mention "Do you really think all these women have had something happened to them, maybe just someone calling them cute in the workplace, that's really not harassment". And of course, with utmost sincerity "well, it hasn't happened to you right - so not all women" and the subsequent shock when I had to reply to them "It's happened to me, several time and degrees. I don't think I know any of my female friends over 25 who hasn't had an inappropriate come on from a coworker/manager, and let's not even go into the bar scene where everyone I know have had a least one man grabbing their boobs or butt" (I tend to separate the drunken incidents from the general discussion since I have noticed that "I was drunk" is a common point of excuse and takes the focus out of the actual problem - the touching/harassment.)

Third, the subdiscussion coming out of this where a bunch of men, and women, start yelling and talking about "this makes it impossible to joke at the workplace" and "all these women turning into victims and this isn't helping women's image as strong at all". It's been a surge in the "let¨s all do the Mike Pence way and not be alone with a woman if you are a man" thinking. Not as much discussion about what kind of jokes are you really throwing around in a workplace? It's not your home you know.

To me the obvious faulty step with the third point is that it really says "a man can not be left alone with a woman since then he will assault her because he can't control himself". I call BS on that. Most men I know have no issue being alone with a woman and nothing goes out of hand. Some men are bullies(opportunist/sociopaths/harassers/bad people). These people are always going to use a one-on-one situation to their advantage. For the life of me I can't understand why not more men are raising to the occasion and saying "I don't want to be associated with those men, therefore I will not be the silent witness around".  Not to mention that the idea that a man can't control their behaviour around a women when opportunity arises to be doing something alone seems to me to be.... let's say very animalistic and basic, not really civilized and being in control of your own body and mind. Something similar to the argument that a woman can't be president because we don't know what will happen when her ovaries gives her PMS and she has access to the nukes. Yes, BS.

If we bring it back to the science scene, rather than the acting scene since I'm a trained scientist and have spent more than two decades in academia and pharma. Science and art have similar feature when it comes to perpetuating the genius image. You know the "he is so talented and successful, super special" feature. The golden lab with the associations. The PI who gets all the grants, the PR and the glory. The lab where you go and then you get invitation letters to the ball with the keys to the kingdom after a successful grad studies/post doc/first appointment.

And when genius is involved, a lot of things slide. Same with money, when money gets involved - a lot of things are overlooked. You want to keep the golden ticket and be associated with the gold and the glitter. Especially if you have invested in them. The higher up, the more protection. Nothing new about that.

I'm missing the biggest discussion I have had though. I touch on it in the second comment above. "It doesn't seem so bad that someone would lose their job now 15 years later" - mentioned in context about "he touched her thigh under the dinner table at a state dinner" and "he talked about oral sex in front of me when I thought we were going to talk about work". I had to get into the nitty gritty details and explain the surrounding extra things that to my surprise was not on the radar of the person I was speaking to. Then again, while talking I remember again that the perception of "threat" is very different when you are a tall man compared to a average woman. Not to mention that if you go to a state dinner to discuss affairs of the state, is it a positive to realize that the man next to wants to touch and grab you, rather than respecting you to know your thoughts and politics about the issues at hand?

Long story short, the upsetting (and unacceptable) part in these stories are when you as a woman have to encounter sexual advances from men while you think that you are discussing work, while they are not remotely interested in you as a contributor to the science, but rather to make them feel good and feel manly and in control. Every such encounter adds to your archive of incidents and after a few years, you start seeing these (what some people call) small incidents as the start of something bigger. It's the "feeler/grooming" territory. It's about not respecting your boundaries since they are not even a part of the conversation. It's also simply about power and a little help from their friends.

It's been said SO many times, most of these men know exactly what they are doing. They are not behaving like this with everyone. They do it when they know they have the power. And maybe most galling, the do it when they know that the other (powerful) men around them will not do anything against them.

I wrote on twitter awhile back "Do they behave in this way in front of their wife or daughter?". If they do, they fall into a very clear abuser definition since they are very entitled. A lot of them do not though. They know where the line is when other people whom they need to maintain a good character in front of are watching. After a dinner at a conference where they are in control is not one of those times.

A friend and I talked about the age old "professor sleeps with student" scenario that seems to be so  difficult to get understanding that it is not appropriate and never excusable. Never mind the post-doc/grad student in a relationship with PI. The latter is especially galling to me since I've heard the excuse so many times "she is a grown woman and can choose what she wants. You don't know thtat the PI inserted influence and there was anything inappropriate going on". (I say her since it's mainly female post-doc/grad student with male PI). Never mind the whole structure in science that we know that if your post-doc PI doesn't support your future career in science, it's going to be very hard for you to get the keys to get invited. And IF your PI opens the door to inappropriate behaviour, how difficult is it to reject the advances without hurting that precious position? And especially if you know that your institution nor the other PIs/people in power doesn't have the best track record of helping you/the non faculty. So WHY would the PI want to risk their reputation on this? (Because they don't risk that much, that would be my short answer).

When I started in science I naively thought that the employee handbook - where it clearly states "no person can have a relationship with someone who is their direct report" - was a rule. My friend works in a place where they have the same rule. I saw that Berkley, San Diego and the other universities that have been in the news for their disgraced PIs lately have similar writings. Yet, when it comes to geniuses, or people who has secured a lot of grant funding, these rules are just not as easy. And most often it's the "oh, would you really want to ruin his life and lab, it was just a little touching, or a late night text. Surely you can take the compliment and not make a fuzz." The colleagues to the person stepping over the line silently distancing themselves doesn't help either.

The long and short of this rant is this:
To me it's obvious what a lot of this confusion is about when it come to "why such a big deal". It's that specific feeling of being regarded as meat, as someone's pleasure, regardless if you have a will of your own since their will overrides everything else. You should be happy that this genius is interested in you - not your mind though - but wanting to be with you. You should thankful that they deem you interesting enough to care about them. I guess they think that the shine will rub off once they sully your body with their hands or their thoughts about what they can do to you.

I don't think they have ever considered how impersonal it is to be viewed only as a piece of meat (boobs, butt or other parts) that makes them feel happy and aroused. Because really, isn't that what being a woman should be all about? Being admired and wanted for our looks. We all apparently want to be Helen of Troy, not Morgaine Le Fay.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

a lab is like a NHL team?

I know, it's a little out there. And it might not be super accurate but the last week I've thought a little more about "what makes a good player/PI/postdoc" and "what makes a good team". It's mostly in the context of some moving a person with specific skills from one environment to another environment and hoping they will thrive in this new place. You know, like it happens all the time in science when a graduate student moves to a post-doc, or a player changes team and moves up to the NHL.

I'd admit, I started really thinking about this yesterday when I read this piece in ESPN and coupled it with what happened with Vegas Knights' player Sjipatjov/Shipachyov (depending on which transliteration you use, Swedish or English). Side note, if you are interested here is the official guide to "how to" from Russia to English from IIHF.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Just because someone is a shiny star in one place, doesn't mean that they are going to be shiny stars in a different environment. In certain things, this is obvious. In other situations, maybe not as obvious. And then there is that additional factor of "the majority of people want to feel comfortable" in order to do a stellar job performance.

The first time I encountered the discussion in a lab setting was as a graduate student with a predominantly homogeneous department. Let's say 90% was speaking fluent Swedish. It obviously meant that any visiting scholar was going to be either "changing the entire conversation into English" or "feel a little isolated when everyone was chatting away in their own language".

I've mentioned it before, it might not be an issue to keep all work presentations and seminars in English (common language) - however the small talk between people in the lab is usually feeling slightly contrived if it is in "not your native tongue when you are in majority in the group" (like being 9 native Swedish people and 1 foreigner). Yet, and I've given this spiel before - A LOT of communication and work productivity is lost if some members of the team doesn't pick up on the general chat that goes on. Of course, as I am not outside of the lab - I've missed that a lot of people nowadays wear headphones all the time so maybe this isn't as much of an issue that I had back in the days?

Moving to the United States, this became more diverse and complicated. The majority of the people at my institute were native English speakers. And we had a lot of international post-docs in the labs. A lot of people gathered and got to know each other, some more lucky (?) than others with having a peer group who spoke their native language and getting a taste of home. I still would argue though that if you are in a group of say 6-10 people, I think it is fairly rude to start chatting away in your own language if there is only one or two people who don't speak the language. (Yes, I've been there. As a person who has chosen to live with a person who doesn't speak my native language but hanging out with people who do.... I try and translate and keep him in the conversation since I find it extremely rude and excluding and these situations have decreased.)

It's different if you go off on your own with a small exclusive group, say three swedes go for dinner. There is no reason why we would speak English with each other but rather bond with our native tongue, exploring all the feelings that come from speaking your own language with all the nuances.

I digress from the point of the article. Most often when you talk about language issues and NHL there is a Russian somewhere in there. Why? Because other European countries have more English and do use the same alphabet as English. There have been a few examples of Russian players who come to the United States and start playing for NHL and not knowing any English at all. They have been great at playing hockey, stars of KHL but moving to NHL is a whole different game.

Some teams solve this a little different. There are stories about "host families" who speak Russian and English and take care of the 20-22 year old man who now is living in a completely different world. Others might have "another Russian" on the team and expecting them to guide the new guy into a more American style, interpret and then hopefully get the English going. The rumors around Shipachyov has been that he moved from Russia to Las Vegas as a 30year old who doesn't speak English, no host family or other Russian player on the team and that this didn't work out for him. There is probably a lot of other things, but a lot has been mentioned about this language/cultural barrier and that the owner and manager team might not have done as much as the could.

It's like when some new post-doc move to the new lab from another country and doesn't speak English that well or almost at all. They were good in their old environment, star in the lab, had good publications yet coming to the new lab entails learning where everything is, how things are done, where to go in the city for regular chores etc. Not always so easy and some institutions have a post-doc coordinator or an academic office to help with relocation issues. I know that I benefited enormously from the one that was there to welcome me. I don't know how I would've gotten a bank account, found a car, gotten a driver license and all those other stuff that I fixed the first two weeks of settling in the United States after getting off the plane with two suitcases.

All of this ranting is because I'm trying to avoid being rude. You see, I have a bad flaw when certain people start complaining about "they don't speak English all the time". It sometimes happens when people say similar things about Swedish, although it's easier making excuses for not knowing Swedish (small language, pretty difficult to pronounce), but I'm not as annoyed by it, my bad. My complaint is mainly these people say something to the point that they feel excluded in their own country and that "we need to put our foot down about this". (If you read the ESPN article linked in the beginning, look up Mr Seguin's comment. That's pretty much right on point where my irritation happens.) The unfair thing I want to ask them is "so how many languages do you speak?" Or sometimes, when I'm feel really self-important I'd say "come back when you've learned another language". Partly to point out that it isn't the easiest thing in the world to master a new language. Partly to bring to their attention that maybe, just maybe, they could pick up some new words themselves and make an effort to know something else that their native language?

I realize that it's a lot to ask from a hockey player to pick up Russian when playing in the NHL. And really, if they should pick up something it would be Swedish (109 players in NHL are Swedish, 66 Russian and 44 Czech) but hey - I'm just pointing out that there could be a humility about the fact that even if they are playing in the NHL, maybe that is because NHL is the best league in the world and people want to play there.

Similar to when people want to work in a world famous international lab. Regardless of the lab being in the USA or in France or in Holland, the people want to go there and work with the best of the best in that field. And maybe, just maybe, we have to accept that it means that it will be a little uncomfortable and that everyone, not just the people who move there, will have to make some changes and adapt to make everyone feel welcome and produce the best of their ability?

(Disclaimer; if you read this far - thanks. I personally think that learning the language of your new country is a must if you want to fit in. If my lab had been in France, I would have to speak more French, just as a lot of people moving to Sweden have to learn the language of 10 million people to make themselves more comfortable. What really pissed me off with Mr Seguin's comment was the fact that he lived in Switzerland for a year playing there. While he was there? He didn't speak any of the four languages given as an opportunity but kept on in his American English. So..... I would've hoped that he could've had just a little more understanding and humility than what he explains in the article as "putting down the foot and speak English since we are in the US". I just would've liked him to think that maybe his team mates in Switzerland would have liked to keep talking French/German on the ice rather than accommodating to him. Alas, I have prejudice and doubt he ever went there in his head. Mean me.)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

when procrastinating isn't an option

I'm as a good procrastinator as anyone. I remember being an undergraduate student and prepping for exams knowing that I don't really like studying in the morning but rather start in the afternoon. I had one hard rule, all through university and that I've kept the rest of the years. If I have an exam on Tuesday morning, I did not go out the weekend or did anything that resembled fun. I was suppose to study, and even if I knew that I wouldn't spend too much time Saturday doing just that, I gave myself an opportunity to do it. What usually happened? I woke up early on Saturday - intention to study. Ate breakfast, prepped a large pot tea, placed all study material on the table and started organizing the things. Then I remembered to clean my room, my bathroom, maybe there was some food needing cooking?, and so on... the clock started ticking towards 16 and usually by then I was sitting down by my desk and starting picking up the pace. And come 22 I was deep in thoughts and getting stressed about "how little time I had left to do all the things that needed to be done by Tuesday morning".

This pattern repeated itself plenty of times. I started having these weekends earlier than 3 days ahead of schedule so I didn't have to stress quite as much. However, the sad thing is I usually needed some sort of time pressure like that to really get to it and study/spend my time doing what needed to be done. This pattern also repeats itself when it comes to doing taxes for example. I'm never late but it takes a least one day of procrastinating and staring at the papers and starting the process yet knowing that I will not finish it in one day. I will have to go back and double check everything and shuffle around a bit in the space.

It's a good reminder now when I have to finish a certification before the holidays. I have to study for it, but I also have to pay for the time and date to take a certification before I have finished studying since the available time slots for taking the exam are limited... not my ideal situation if I were to say so.

Well, all of this blog post? A clear procrastinating tactic since I should finish my application for the exam and then finish the first 3 chapters in the book so I can say that I'm keeping with my schedule. Lucky me! I have set up some time in the coming weeks when I can take off from work so I can stay home and shuffle my feet and get started on my studying, hopefully before 13 o'clock in the day. Wish me luck!

For now, I have procrastinated enough for today and will finish my application since the application isn't getting better unless I work on it and the later I put it in, the less time slots and freedom do I have for the other studying! Happy Sunday!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

pronounciation, accent and dialect...

The ideas of dialect and accent have been on my mind the last couple of weeks. First, I went out with my friends here in the South whom I’ve now known for over 10 years (!Where has time gone?). They commented that when they met me, fresh of the plane from Sweden, I spoke a clear British English. Now? It’s eroding and I sound more like a bland American English with some weird southern words and syntax at times (think y’all, fixing to do), extra confusing when interspersed with British English words* and spelling (I'm still spelling BE and have to change my automatic word check to AE when I write for work)

There are exceptions of course, when I speak to my British friends and coworkers I slip back into the BE accent. It's also one of those things when I give official talks or presentations, it's all BE. The main thing though, and that which makes me the most annoyed, is that my tone of voice is different in various languages, dialects and accents. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in the blog before - if I have it’s been  years so if you read this post you probably don’t remember or never read it anyway - but this is something that has been on my mind a lot. You see, in native Swedish I have an alto voice. It’s not shrill, it’s not as childish, it’s my “vomanly voice” (Janet Reno?). I first noticed the difference in tone of voice when I learnt French since I have a tendency to go a little higher pitch in order to get the correct sounds and rolling rs and some of those other non-native french speaking distinctions that one uses to address questions and surprise.

British English, to me, has a couple of sounds that require the tip of the tongue to go spelunking in the front of the teeth, on the top and sometimes locking in on the lower teeth as a semi lisp (think ‘issues’). American English? Well, in the beginning of living here I explained that AE is a little more like being drunk and talking with food in your mouth. Sorry for being rude, it’s what I said at the time. I can recognize that there are more stressed Rs in the pronunciation and that makes is a little more “chewy” to talk. Think about how to pronounce "were" [wae:] and "were" [weRr]. Compared to BE I don’t have to focus as much on how things are pronounced since it is less subtle, thus finding it easier and a little less precise, if that makes sense?

German, as a contrast, has the same pitch as Swedish to me when I speak it. There’s a lot of overlap in the sounds and diphthongs feel more natural and I have a good sense on how to make the sounds without thinking or working it too much. It’s also a couple of more throat sounds (guttural?) so I think it is easier to keep a lower voice/pitch. (This is me guessing obviously, I'm not a linguist at any rate.)

After a few months here in the United States I realized that while I was speaking English every day at work, on the weekend I kept up with my Swedish friends and family and when I had spent too much time (many many hours) on the phone in Swedish I was horse. Why? Because I stressed my voice in American English much more and I changed pitch every time I shifted languages.

Why am I thinking about this now? Well, it’s a disclaimer for something that will happen in a few weeks or maybe months...

You see, I got asked to be on a podcast in an interview! A great honor and so much fun. I practiced my “voice” before the interview, and prepped things that I wanted to say and planned good proper BE since that is what I normally end up talking when I’m on panels or giving talks. (Note, usually after giving a talk my colleagues come up to me in the end and comment that I’ve slipped into the BE and wonder why? Because I feel grounded in BE and I feel more confident in it? Or that I'm not trying to adapt to the AE all around me in the stores and I do try and fit in so I'm not an obvious immigrant all the time?) Anyhow, I need to continue with my excuse and explanation and not get side tracked.

I did the podcast. It was great fun. However, in the end I realized that I was SO not speaking BE. I sounded like a fairly arrogant American English speaker. Or maybe it’s mostly in my head (the arrogant part at least. No joke on the AE speaking part). But anyway, the pitch is very high and I am a little worried that I sound too childish and girly.

You see, I've read a lot about women and voice pitches. And that the girly/higher pitch is a great deal less threatening than the alto womanly voices. If you've ever turned on the American telly in the morning shows, I'm sure you know what I mean. All abundant, the fairly high pitch voices.

Regardless of what you think about this, it’s something on my mind. And I would be disappointed in myself if I continue sounding high pitched and nonthreatening since I’m a confident woman and should like to be considered as a smart competent woman.

I guess I have my work cut out for me. To either "change back to BE" or accept that I now sound like a AE person although I still pronounce 'z' as [zed] to the annoyment of everyone, and what that means to my perception about myself. Oh to face your own prejudice.... 

Lucky for me, this will never be an issue in my native language. That's always going to be "proper Swedish" where it's clear where I come from.

TLDR: if you happen to hear a podcast with me in it, please remember that I thought I was still sounding like a person speaking British English like I was brought up. And, when singing and speaking my native language, I'm an alto.

*pronouncing 'z' as [zed], jumper in clothing, lifts and lorries, autumn and all the 'll' and 're' in  words like travelling and centre ... It's a bit of a mess...

Friday, September 15, 2017

manage expectations: not saying no , under-promise & over-deliver

When people ask "what do you do" to me, I tend to say something along the line "I help people communicate and keep them on track with projects that are involving several different departments, groups and interest and making sure details don't get lost in the shuffle". If there is an interest to delve deeper I usually end up saying something a long the lines of; "it's about managing expectations. Never saying no, and under-promise and over-deliver". The middle part, not saying no, was hard for me in the beginning when people are talking about what they want in a project, the time line and the scope. Most often these are sounding a little, should we say - not reality anchored?

As an example, you talk about a drug screening project involving 200 compounds and 5 types of cells, and they want results in less than a month. It doesn't sound too off the path, it could be done. However, when you factor in that the cells are still in cryo, they haven't been grown in the conditions they are interested in, you don't know their doubling time, and the screening plates aren't made - well then you're looking at at least 8 weeks. And that's even before asking the "oh so important, yet often overlooked question": Who is going to do the work? Can they dedicate all their time to this project?

When I started working in this job, my response to the unrealistic project wish would've been "No, that's not possible", and then listed what time frame was realistic. After you state such a thing (No) the person you are talking to isn't interested in what you are saying anymore since "you are not on their team. You are a negative person. You are not trying.". And that in turn means you have lost the trust and the little leverage you've got. Instead, if you lead with "OK, let's see what we need to do in order to get that done" and you start making a list of facts - with help from the person who is asking for the project - it usually becomes more or less clear that some biological facts make the initial time line impossible and you need to amend the time frame.

I usually start planning the project as it could be done as a serial-connected-project. This to show how long it CAN take if you do all the small parts after one another. This is also showing "the longest time to finish". What you do later is to look for the parts that can be done in parallel, usually there are quite a few that can be done in the same time frame, thus save time and shorten the "time to delivery". Once you show that part to the person who wants the project, they'll be happy that you have found a way to shorten the time and they know that you are working with them "to get it done as fast as possible".

It also means that sometimes you can get people pretty excited since if they think they have to wait until Day 34 to get a result, but you give it to them at day 30 - they're in priority. It most often means that you built in some "buffer time if things don't go right" in your first prediction of time, which is key. Why? Because being late is always a bad thing. I don't care what other people say - it's never OK to be late and over-promise. It makes a lot of people anxious and negative. Most importantly, it makes them lose trust in you, and that's a hard thing to rebuild.

One person I worked with in my previous job always over-promised to new clients. Then they went back to us, the people who were going to "make this happen", and made us come up with ways to deliver in the shorter, extremely optimistic time frame. A lot of times it worked out, although most people involved in the project were overworked in the end of the projects. The times when biology messed up and didn't work with the optimistic time frame (say "optimize the growth conditions" and it took more than three months rather than the estimated 3 weeks), was very disappointing and stressful for everyone.

In short; when you are faced with a too short and optimisti time frame on a project - work really hard with the person telling you their expectations and never say no. Build the trust that you are on their team. Let them see the "impossible" time expectations and see if they can suggest something that will help. This will make them more interested in working with you, and will build trust in your team. Also, work on the over-delivery and find a way to add something extra, however small - since this is also indicating that you care about them and the project. A little extra care goes a long way in this world.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

ambition and the difference between contentment and complacency

The difference between contentment and complacency, and how they relate to ambition - this is something on my mind more the last couple of months. Why? It's pretty simple. All through life, especially when going through undergraduate and later graduate school, it has been about striving for more, getting that degree, getting that position to say that "I made it through grad school and got my PhD. Now, what's next?".

It's one of those days I will never forget, partly because it was a clear saying at the time "this, this degree, is something that noone will take away from you". That the degree will be there, as a mile marker through my life. Something I have accomplished.

After the grad school came a couple of years in the post doc life when I was striving for papers, making abstracts, giving talks, moving towards the next step. What that was changed over time. When I started I thought it was going to be TT and a coveted professor chair. After a couple of years I landed (settled?) on the idea of "being in management in pharma, working with science but not always at the bench".

Said and done, I got myself a non-academic job as a scientist, yet no publications but rather bench work and some supervisor tasks. I remember clearly a family friend asking about my new title in my job and the comments afterwards. "It's QC specialist. -Well, I thought you were going to be a manager".

I drove the ambition train on the pharma tour towards a "better title". Worked for a few year, got more responsibilities. Working, as many does, for a few years in the job that you later [think] you will be promoted to. You're showing that you can do the job before getting the official job title. Well, after a few more years I got tired of waiting and went in search of greener pastures. There was a lot of other mitigating factors but one big one were the idea that there was no upward trajectory so all the newfound responsibilities that I took on didn't make a change for title or money or resources, so the difference when comparing to my fellow colleagues in the same position was that I had to work more, get rated on more things but according to HR or anyone else from the outside, we did the same work. Well, for a few years that was ok for me since I liked the job but it was better to leave before getting bitter about it.

I received a nice offer to become a project coordinator and started my new job. One of my colleagues in my old job got that promotion we had talked about for years, a few months after I left. Good for them and me. I was happy in my new job, they got some recognition for the future career. My new job toggled along. I did the same thing as I've done now in my previous jobs.... getting more responsibilities, broader work assignments. Rumour spread that I know what I'm doing so people came and asked for help and suggestions, outside of "my team". I was getting job satsifaction and the ego was getting paid; "I'm good at what I do and others appreciate and recognize it". For quite a while that is all I want and I am content with my job.

Sometimes the ego reared its head to ponder "well, shouldn't you go for a better job - a job with a higher title, more money, more power.... you deserve it". It's what I've always thought and dreamed of. Having a job where I'm important.

I know how this reads, very arrogant. Or maybe sad. Or maybe it's because I've seen so many managers, directors and bosses who aren't that qualified or competent having jobs that give them way more power and money (and autonomy) and I don't really see why I couldn't do that too (while being qualified and competent for the job). Oh the arrogance of a PhD who wants to be more.

A while back another colleague left from my PM job. They got a better offer to become program manager in pharma. Since there wasn't a career trajectory in the old job, which I knew when I took it, they jumped on it. I started a smaller conversation with a few of the bosses since I wanted to let them know what I said in my job interview still held true. "I don't see myself working in this job with the same title after 4-5 years since I'm likely to have grown with the job and made something else out of the job. If you want to keep me in the organisation then, there would have to be a career ladder option".

Of course things happen, the lives of bosses are busy ones and they didn't really pay too much attention to the hungry ambitious youngsters working for them. It's also true that no one cares about your career but you, so you got to be proactive about it. No use getting stagnant in a job and getting bitter - there is too much going on around for that.

I kept doing what I do best, work hard and not say no to opportunities that arose. I accepted a lot of responsibility and the new things took me away from the job description. However, I had fun, felt like a valued member of the team, got my ego stroked with some publications and mentionings by important people in meetings and presentations. Acknowledgement is always good and nice. However, that little sliver of doubt grew bigger for every new thing that got added to the plate. Where was I going with this? And what, if anything, was going to change in the future? Was this the idea for the rest of my time in this job? Getting new obligations, responsibilities but not ever a title change, nor salary increase? I mean, I'm not saying I think you should get a promotion every year, but when the job is so very changed from when you started, somethings got to give eventually. Or you end up there after a decade with the same title and salary but doing something that is so far off the origianl job that when you leave, the company hires two people to keep all those things done (true story for a colleague of mine).

It's a fine balance between feeling happy that you're "important and good at what you do" and feeling used for "being there and working above your paygrade yet not getting compensated for it". And one day, the scale tips the other way and you start feeling just a little less content and a little more ambitious.

Needless to say, if you've managed to read this far, the scale is tipping. I'm more unsure now than I was before since complacency is tempting me with "you know this job, you can scale back and do it without trouble. don't ask for more or change. Enjoy this and be content". Ambition, or rather my "fairness indicator",  is putting up the fight since "if you look at what you do, where your responsibilities lie, you are already working on another level and you should be compensated for it".

I guess the question is if the balance will tip back and forth and then settle on one side?

Sunday, July 09, 2017

energy draining things (and people)

I had thought to write a happier post, and something regarding how lovely it is when things come together and enjoying vacation and happy things.

Then this morning happened and I can't help but revert into a little more of an old school "venting" post. What happened? This morning I opened my old computer to start skype, it's Sunday and I'm home which equals "family call day". Lo and behold skype told me I needed to download the newest application since mine was out of date. I had a a sneaky suspicion when I pressed "download" that this wasn't going to work since my computer is old, the OS is old but since the application I was using didn't open I really had no choice.

As suspected the new application doesn't work on my old OS. I had to log into the "skype for web". And at that application (or whatever you call it) none of my contacts are added. Fascinating in itself to me. I have an app on my computer, my iphone and now on the web with the same log in and the various places don't have the same contact list. I don't even know how this is going to sort out and needless to say I felt a little tired since obviously my easy "family call Sunday" isn't going to be so easy now.

And I know that I have to go and purchase a new computer - and with it comes all the details to fix. How to store the photos that I currently have on the harddrive. The new laptop doesn't have as much memory since everything now is build to save on the cloud.... I have it all on a hard drive since I'm not online all the time. And again, hard drives aren't 200 GB anymore. This is even before me thinking about all the other small programs that I use that either will have to be updated and losing information, or starting to use something new.

Again, I know that this is a _me_ problem. I am not the best with learning new things. And especially not when it comes to things that I rely on to keep my family relationships intact. Of course, anyone who reads between the lines (or has read this blog before) knows that family and relationships are a thing for me anyway. The stress is there always. As previously stated, some of us have accepted a larger than good responsibility for maintaining these relationships. If I would've had a choice back in the day, I wouldn't had made it this way. Alas, no use crying over spilled milk. I've decided to handle it and as long as skype, phone, email and vacations work - there is less friction and sometimes less stress.

I wrote on twitter a few weeks ago; "if you want to soften me up for an interrogation, leave me at a car service place". That happens to be my number two stressor, the Car. Or rather, if something happens with the car. Why? because I live in a city where there is very little public transport and I am depending on a reliable car to even get to work. Of course, I thought that was going to work out fine when I purchased a new car last year. Completely new and warranty. Go figure, when you run into a pothole and then get a flat tire - things can mess up. Of course it wasn't too bad, but it took thrww trips to the service place to fix things. And with every time going there, the insight that I have to be the one on top of things. That's the drainage for me. That I have to be on top of the game, on the look out for someone trying to trick/scam/make a buck. That I have to ask control questions to check up if everything was done correctly, if nothing was forgotten. And that I have to do that when it comes to a car - I know little about cars. It's not my line of work. I guess a lot of this mess stems from an underlying feeling I have that I shouldn't have to know all of this, these are the professional people whom I'm paying to fix this. Yeah, I know. Life doesn't work that way.

And then as a kicker on top of this. I forgot that some of these family and friendly calls are mainly for others to vent and complain about how things aren't great for them. I know, I really do, that getting older is hard and that there are a lot of things rearing its head once you hit 70 or 40 for that matter. That there are a lot of us not having the lives that we thought we deserved or wanted. However, and it's probably the good thing for me here (since I'm in a little bit of an age related crisis), you have to look at your own life and if you want changes -you have to be open to change and also open to asking for help about it. There is little to gain of just complaining about how unfair and bad things are and then when getting some realistic suggestions on what can be done, scoff them off and then continue to complain.

Of course, I am aware that a lot of the complaining and venting isn't because people want to change. Neither themselves nor the situation. They just want to make sure that you hear the injustice that is happening to them. Or gain sympathy since their life isn't as good as others' lives seem to be. While I understand the urge, and trust me I go down that rabbit hole every so often as well (hello facebook and why we take breaks every once in a while), I am starting to have less energy to listen and care since I know now that it's never about solving the problem. It's about complaining and sharing the hurt and sometimes also getting support that "yes, you are quite right it's terribly unfair that this happens to you and you are so in the right of being angry and lashing out on them". Too bad that I've stopped handing out the last part but rather have acquiesced to a simple "hm" or "aha, I'm sorry". (Have to keep some of the relationships so radical honesty isn't in the cards, but rather some minimal sympathy.)

Where I am going with this venting rant? Apart from that I want a bunch of comments stating "aww you poor thing. Apple really is a bad evil company and surely you should be able to keep your computer for over 10 years without an issue" [just kidding - I'm fully aware that in today's society this is a pipe dream and I've put off the purchase of computer for many years so... no worries]

I really mainly wanted to write it here to rationalize that it's important for my sanity (and quite possibly for some of you dear readers who might be in similar situations at times) to remember that
a) I can't fix other people
b) I can't help other people who doesn't want to be helped
c) with age comes some insight or feelings that maybe there are some less than stellar decisions back in the day that now will haunt you a little
d) guilt is not a great feeling. There is however, most often forgiveness and possibility of repenting
e) friendships are not one sided. (or at least they shouldn't be in my opinion) You need to take care of the other person and let them have time from you, if you want time from them

What I'm going to do now? Try and sync my contacts from my phone and the "web app" to see if I can at least get something to work so I can call my family. And I'll try to keep a good energy in these calls even if I'm very tempted to never mind the whole thing and go outside into the sun and take a hike in the forest. As one wants to do in the summer time....

Happy summer

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"You're the Good Girl"

There are a few specific phrases that turn my insides to molten lava. The ones that make me see red in front of my eyes in a few short seconds. With age I have sorted out many of these triggers, but it's not surprising that I forget a few. It is good that I have come to be able to take a breath and count to 10 so to speak before reacting.

There are also a few stereotypes bouncing around that mess things up. I've encountered quite a few as an immigrant, not to mention back in the day at university, and back in junior high school. Again, some of these come out to play nowadays too, sometimes to my own surprise...

Like the other week at work when I was enjoying a nice meeting and things moved into more informal mode with giggles and smiles. And then it came, innocent comment when looking at myself and my female coworker, So, you're the good girl and she's the party girl"

I kept smiling, since I was 99% that the person uttering these comments had no idea the things that went through my mind....

  • Good girls are boring
  • Good girls are predictable
  • One wants to hang out with pretty party girls
  • Party girls are good looking, good girls are...well... probably not that good looking since then they would be party girls. [yeah, it makes sense in teen brain, trust me]
  • Party girls are good looking but not really bright (it's like the Pet Shop Boys song "I've got brains, you got the looks")
  • Good girls are bright (the brains)
  • You want to party with the fun girl, you want to marry the good girl- maybe
  • and finally [we are not in a bar. do not engage in banter like this. this is work. You wouldn't want to say something too flirty/private/inappropriate] on a loop
Anyhooo.... I couldn't help my words a little bit later in the convo - while the smiles and giggles were abundant - to say "well, since I'm the boring girl I'll repeat that the joy ride is fun until the police stops you". Person who said the original comment didn't lose a second, looked at me and said "I never said boring, I said good girl" and smiled.

At this point I decided to listen to my brain who rushed into over drive to tell itself; "Shut your mouth and you'll get sugar" (Swedish proverb). I just kept on smiling, as per previous comments this year - points to me. So close to start explaining why I'm quite possibly not a good girl*, or at least that I'm not predictable and boring. Then again, I wouldn't have been happy with being called a party girl either. There are some stereotypes coming with both words that I have had some issues with in time so.... Sometimes you just can't win for losing - if you're me at least.

good girl dress

party girl tattoo
[this one isn't real, I am still tempted to make it real though]

I've expanded my shoe wardrobe since I moved to the South,
good and party girls wear boots with dresses

a great band - even for a good girl? [Ghost]

potential crush for a good girl turning party girl in danger zone? [Ghost]

*I'm most likely a good girl. Pay my bills on time, am loyal to my friends. Work too much, keep deadlines. Keep with the law. Don't do bad stuff. Call my parents every week. Send cards to my friends. And bring meals to the sick. It's just that underlying want from being a teen/young adult that I would like to be considered "exciting" or "cool" or "good looking hot stuff" sometimes. Not just the girl who can be relied on and help you with your homework since she's got it all together... Is this what they call a midlife crisis? Reliving the teen angst and want to change it? Am I buying a motor cycle soon and riding to work on it? Dear me. This could get expensive.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Book devourer

Book devourer - it's the literal translation of the term in Swedish I was called growing up 'bokslukare'. The correct English term is voracious reader, although I would say the devourer has a slightly more literal meaning of "tearing the story from the pages of the book" rather than "reading a lot of books" - but that's me and my feeling of languages. Probably not right, but more me.

When I moved to the United States for a while I didn't read as much as I had before. I think it was mainly because going through grad school, I didn't have the patience and time to indulge in reading as much. Well, at least not the last two years of grad school. It was easier to quiet the mind by watching TV series, episodes at a time of 40 mins. I went through Babylon 5 and Buffy (repeat) when writing my dissertation. It was the way to get me to get a quiet mind before falling a sleep. Something I've used during the years now, instead of lying in bed with insomnia while my mind churns into all this "what ifs" and "I must do" I turn on an episode of one of the series I watch and get lulled to sleep.

But there is something extraordinary with reading. Finding a book, sitting down or laying down or even walking around ever so slightly, and just turning the pages. Painting the pictures in my head, based on what the author is writing. Not watching something a director has made for you. Having the opportunity to make the details of the book in your mind, adding your own memories and desires into the descriptions of the book. Understanding certain aspects of being human, learning nuances of history or simple dream away in a fantasy novel.

When I didn't read as a child, I listed to "books on tape" and "dramatizations of books on tape". It was the best way to clean my room. I remember turning on one of the many Tintin tapes I had and listening to the reader and the different voices acting out the series. Or the Greek Mythology stories, how Phaeton fell from the chariot, Theseus fighting the stables and the Gods, or Orion being a merciless killer aiming for a little bird that turned into a hare laying eggs for Easter.... Educational and enjoyable at the same time.

Of course, part of this was probably because I am old and grew up with a black and white TV in a country far far away where there was two channels and not any (a lot) programming during the day. Never mind the idea of video, or Netflix as of today.

I still think though, that there is something very distinct with books. Something that's personal, yet you can share it. It's like your best memories in a box - that you can open up and look at, and then talk to friends about and they might understand. It's also one of my absolute clearest definitions of Vacation and "Time off". To wake up in the morning and grab the book of the bedside table and start reading. Never mind the time, you read the pages as long as you want - then get out of bed to grab a cup of tea and start the day. Or, as I have done these last two days, decide the "well, I guess I'm tired and would like to go back to sleep, perchance to dream" and then wake up a little later. Not to mention "going on vacation" to me read (I know) like "time to read lots of books". Even if I prefer real paper books, there is something to be said about being able to travel across the Atlantic and not being worries about running out of books when you can have them on an e-reader. Not to mention that if you purchase book 1 in a series and it turns out that you really like it, you can purchase book2 instantly... (yes, let's not talk about how much money I have spent doing exactly that.)

I've been told, on several occasions, that this habit of mine - the reading books with intensity - is not as innocent as I seems to think. It's sometimes viewed as "excluding", especially if you are a fast reader and can go through say 3 books in a weekend... The American therapist I saw for a short time while going through my divorce suggested that my memory of being with family and friends sitting in chairs reading books and spending time together, was really not that much about spending time together but pretending to spend time together. They suggested that if we really wanted to spend time together there was tv series to experience together or a football game to play etc. My explanation that I think it's more personal to read and then talk about what you've read was met with a strange face. Not to mention that I think there is a certain intimacy of spending time together when reading for a bit. I guess it makes more sense here if you read by the pool or on the beach?

Anyhow, I can take that reading like this is an introvert occupation. It's something for me. Something that I do on my own. My mind wakes up and I think and dream and live through the words I read. I sometimes feel rejuvenated (big word). It's making me cry, question thoughts and actions I never would've done before. It's also a fabulous escape from reality, depending on the book of course. I've been sleeping badly last couple of weeks - it's been hard falling back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night - and the last few days, rather than fighting it I've surrendered. I've pick up my kindle (I can read without turning on the light in bed) and read. Yesterday I ended up with silly issue that my ipad ran out of battery, the kindle too and finally when my phone indicated 5% I realized that I had to get out of bed and get up for the day. Reluctantly I did and had to charge my devices to continue reading. Lucky for me, there's an electric outlet on the patio so I could sit in the morning sun reading while drinking my tea while the kindle charged up. Small mercies with first world problems.

It was then I realized for real - it's summer now! And even if I don't have vacation plans at the moment, I can utilize the summer vacation feeling by increasing my reading and sitting (laying) outside in the grass on a blanket with a book, feeling the wind move and the sun shine on my freckles and just relax.

Happy summer time!

Monday, June 05, 2017

Visit to Smashville - Price anchored

If you read this blog, or come here by the way of twitter, there's a chance you've picked up that I am somewhat interested in hockey. I had an opportunity this last weekend to go to Nashville to hang out in the "the other city" where the Stanley Cup Finals are played this year (it's Pittsburgh and Nashville).

Funny enough, driving there I listened to a pod cast explaining the "anchoring phenomena" - an economic term and discussion that tries to explain that we people subconsciously compare things to others. If you are choosing if something is expensive or cheap, you automatically think about something first and then comparing it to that. The researchers had tried it with glasses of wine and after mentioning different prices, they asked their subjects to guess how much the glass of wine were that they were drinking. If the researchers had mentioned a higher number, the likelihood was that the subjects quoted a higher price. They were, as the report said, price anchored.

I got the perfect experiment set up when we arrived in Nashville. You see, the tickets online for the game (game three) were starting at $1300. While I am by no means poor, I don't have that much money to put on a team that isn't even my main one. I mean, it's my adopted thirdish one (the first American if you don't count Red Wings, which to be honest I have considered dumping since they ended up in the Atlantic with Leafs. I can't even try rooting for another team in Leafs division) but $2500 is more than living expenses for a month and to pay that for two tickets for one game?

Alas, what happened when we got to the arena? Scalpers. And were they trying to sell tickets. I knew I was in trouble when I managed to get someone down from $800 to $700 in two minutes flat. Plus that they said "I'll walk you to the doors and make sure the tickets work and you get in". I even considered it. "It's not that much, it's HALF of what I saw on the website". Well, little hind brain kicked in a second later with "it's still A LOT OF MONEY (and it isn't your team)". I even entertained the question "but how do I pay for the ticket, I have no cash and I doubt that the scalper takes credit card?".

Then I shook my head, for real shook my head as to banish the silly notion that I could afford the tickets (compared it to REAL life stuff rather than $1300) and walked my merry way to a good restaurant to have a nice meal, watch the first period. And then, when the game went to second period, take a stroll down town to the pedestrian bridge over the river.

It was on the bridge I stood, taking a photo of Järnkrok's shirt, when the cheer from every bar in the area and Broadway went to the skies. Predators had scored and made it an even game! Time to find a roof top party and watch the third period with all the lovely, happy, fun fans.

watching hockey outside in the summer breeze - what can be better?!
Preds won and they whole city erupted into joy and glee. It was truly a lifetime experience and I am very very happy I went there. Even if hotel rooms turned out to be pretty pricey. And the restaurant and the bar wasn't the cheapest. Although, if I anchor on the hockey ticket price - I still made a deal on my stay since it was cheaper than the cheapest ticket. Win-Win indeed :)

Broadway before the game

mini cup cakes like the Stanley Cup

Cat fish shirts, it's the South ;)

Friday, June 02, 2017

Happy being "water divider" author of article in Nature

One of the things my late professor from graduate school taught me was to always be happy and grateful for every publication you get. Of course, you are more happy about your First author publications, BUT it's important to be happy about the publication that you are in the middle of the author list of too (and obviously if you end up on the TT, the ones where you are the LAST authors for).

When I wrote my thesis, it was a summary thesis of a number of published articles (as is customs for STEM in Sweden), every one on my committee made it clear to me that regardless of where I was on the author list of a paper I added to my thesis I was required and expected to be able to defend the WHOLE paper. It enforced the idea to me that if your name is on a paper, you are responsible for all of the paper. Similarly, they enforced that you should be happy and have pride in papers that you have your name on.

To me that was the start of being happy and celebrating every time I have had a paper accepted and published. (I actually celebrate both the acceptance "oh thank goodness no more resubmissions and revisions" and the actual publication "oh look, that's MY name, in print!".) I realized when I started my post-doc at the more prestigious institute(TM) that people pretty much scoffed at this idea and only celebrated the First Author papers in CNS journals. It seemed like they thought it was silly to care about these "smaller achievements", like celebrating finishing a race but you didn't get a medal. Or something like that.

After coming back to academia as a project coordinator, after my post-doc, I have been happy to continue my little mission "you should be happy with every publication" even when certain post-docs aren't as on board with the idea.

Maybe this is since I probably will never have a first author publication again? Maybe it's because I think it's important to show that a paper comes for a team effort? Maybe I just want to feel important and successful? Who knows. But I still think it's a thing to do. Celebrate the acceptance and then later the actual print coming out.

So, yesterday I had the happy times finding out that an article I am the water divider on (the one in the middle so when you go one from the front, one from the back you'll end up with my name in the middle) got accepted in Nature. Ha. There might have been a small dream of mine, back in the early days of my graduate days, to get my name as a first author on a Nature article - although to be honest, just getting my name on the author list was a pretty big dream as well. It's like saying you dream of receiving a Nobel prize, ending up receiving a national prize would still be pretty swell... And I'm not turning that down. And I am silly happy being part of an article in Nature and that my name will be there. Pretty nice feeling for sure.

As a kicker I decided to humble brag and posted my happy times on twitter. (I wondered if it sounded like it was my article or if it was clear "I'm one of many people on there" but I think it was pretty clear and shouldn't have to worry about it, right?!) Lots of people said congratulations and liked the tweet. And in the end I got my most viewed tweet as well. What a day. A little happy turning into more happy and a great start of the weekend!

THANK YOU for sharing my happy times! .... until printing time..... :)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Stockholm syndrome

After some days when I've encountered the same question at least five times, I had to stop and think yesterday why it bothered me so much.

The question? "I've heard that Sweden is such a great country, why did you leave and aren't you going back there". It's also been "do you think you are moving back to Sweden since it's such a great place".

From some of the people who has asked, I understand. They come from countries where they can't go back. There is war, there's less heath care, fresh water, clean air, democracy and so on. The didn't want to leave but took a chance to get a decent life. A couple of them do comment that they stay in the USA because of their kids, they want to give them a good start in life. Then they ask, why don't you go back? You don't have kids and your family like mom and dad, siblings, cousins are there.

Yes indeed, why don't I?

My initial thought process - this is a _very_ private question and I really don't have an interest in sharing my life choices with every Tom, Dick and Harry - aside, why don't I? I guess it's because a lot of things in life, I'm a little vain and insecure at the same time. I've also lived abroad before I moved away for my post doc and the return to Sweden was.... interesting. Maybe something other people recognize in other countries, I know that lots of Swedes who has lived abroad know what I mean since we've shared the feelings and thoughts about this. A lot of them have moved back to Sweden, just to move out again and find another country to live in for awhile.

It's a complicated feeling, this love for a lagom land where people walk around thinking it's the best place in the world. (And it might very well be, since it is pretty awesome.) The issue? My issue? The people complain so bloody much about all the things that aren't great, yet fail to actually do something about it. The consensus attitude and fear of stepping out of the group is very very large. That not being part of the group is something that most people fear. You want to fit in, you want to be like everyone else. You don't want people to say that you are "wrong" or "not part of the group". Most of the times this is a good thing. I grew up with it and I can't say that I didn't like it then. It's a community feeling and in order to obtain it, you have to be a team person. However, there are some obvious drawbacks with it and once you've seen them, they're pretty hard to ignore.

Anyway, the simple answer to "why aren't you going back" is - I haven't managed to get a job back home yet. After 2 years as a post doc and being away from my country I applied for about 40 jobs. The general gist, at that time (only 2! years away from home) was "well, do you think you will be able to move back here after being so successful in the USA" and "do you think you can manage to speak Swedish everyday*" [say hello to the little complex of being one in the group and moving away to big country and not failing is not "being part of the group"]. The overall summary comment of my job seeking experiment at that time was "we might be able to find something for you, if you reapply once you are back on Swedish soil so we know that you are actually here". And therein lies the rub. I am a little bit proud you see, and not as desperate to move right this very minute, that I would quit my job and move back and then look for jobs. I understand that it might have to be that way, but really - it's not a viable idea for me right now. Of course, the higher I go in my present career, the more experience and well rounded I become, maybe the likelihood of "taking a chance with me" will increase? Time will tell.

The idea of this blog post however was a little more somber, hence the title. During my time as a post-doc, and my current interactions with people working in lab environments, I've come to realise that there are quite a few "less than ideal working environments" going around and how that has affected some of my friends. While I'm quite ok with working in a lab where people aren't super friendly and doesn't need to hang out outside of work, as long as they are not hostile out right, I'm quite happy. However, I've had the good fortune to have close bosses/supervisors who has respected me and supported me most of the time. Maybe because I was lucky (very dubious word here) to encounter less supportive and not so great boss behaviour early on, I have actively chosen places where I feel that the boss and I can have an open, honest and clear line of communication.

Some of my friends have not been so lucky. And it's very complicated (at least for me) to stand by idly when they start making these really weird decisions after a few years and you can clearly see that it is because they've adapted their behaviour to their boss. It's maybe more obvious looking at graduate students or post-docs since while you are a "trainee", you know that you are very dependent on your boss' opinion and network for future success. You also tie your success to their success, if they fail your chances of success are slim so you are going to look out for them, even if they might not look out for you. Talk about a dependence situation if there every was one. If your boss is a regular normal person, this is not an issue. If they are not, well - then it's a whole different ball of wax.

One of my friends is in a bad situation at the moment, and I can see how they ended up in this very big hole one step at a time. It's like a parallel situation of domestic abuse. Don't think that the bad abusive husband started out that way, there was some really great times in the beginning when the lure went out. Similar thing with the friend and their job. In the beginning in the lab their boss showered them with praise and let them know they were so good. After a few months though, small things started to appear that made me a little wary. I told my friend to set down their foot and say "not acceptable behaviour" before it went out of hand. My experience would say that this type of behaviour is a test balloon and if you accept the small first things, the boss will move on to bigger things and very soon you'll be stuck with accepting really strange things since 'you've already accepted some stuff'. Of course, it's hard to be the "grown up and say stop", especially when the emotional hooks sink in and the berating starts.

To make a long story very short, after a few years this is what has happened. I've heard some stories I don't understand how they can occur, but I realize it's all normalized in the very strange environment my friend works in. The only thing left now is for them to quit, and then hopefully find a good place where they can slowly build themselves up again. It's very hard to do this though, especially finding a new place to work considering that you not only have to sell your talents (when you are doubting yourself) and when you 'know' there will be no good references from the boss.

For everyone else, I would like to point out that there is a need to remember that at times people's actions will seem strange to the naked eye but after looking at their environment, it might be more obvious that they are driven by some underlying need for safety since they are indeed working for a ruthless person who has, lack of better terms, slowly acclimated them to something they never thought they'd agree to in the first place. And if you run into these "test balloons of behaviour", either to you or to a friend, you have to assess and not let the slippery slope become your friend. It will most likely end up way worse later on and much much messier to change course once it's started.

*I lived in Sweden for about years before moving away for 2 years. I think it's safe to say that I wouldn't lose my native tongue that quick. And still, after being away for a decade, I speak and write Swedish on a regular basis. Thanks to internet, this lovely thing.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

smile! You're in a meeting

The last couple of months have been a little..... taxing. When pressure mounts on both sides of "inside work" and "outside work", it's not an ideal situation. The outside of work pressure, well it's something I'll have to deal with in my spare time and shouldn't affect work,. I don't share that with my coworkers, it's for my friends. However, work has been increasingly about emotions, managing not only expectations, managing up but also being the emotional support for a couple of peers, well - it's good to relearn one's limitations, right? Joke aside, it's not.

However, I can't but help think that part of what really has annoyed me is a little nagging feeling inside that a certain situation is in play because of the fact that I'm a woman. You see, I've been told repeatedly over the last couple of months that I need to manage my face in meetings. My regular face is not what one would say a "smiling complacent woman face eager to please". My regular face is neutral. Nothing wrong with that, and if it stayed as such, there wouldn't be a as much of a problem. However, I have a tendency to have a different face when trying to follow a thought process when someone is talking, or when I'm working out a problem, or when I'm mentally writing out a time line and making notes of all the potential issues that will come up when planning new projects.

This different face, let's call it "my thinking face", is the issue (like "resting bitch face"). It looks angry. Or maybe not exactly angry, "it's rather like you are malcontent or just scrunching up your eyes and it's a little unsettling". Or, as one person said "well, your face is not looking happy right now". [you bet it doesn't, your proposal has a lot of issues and I'm going to have to fix them all dude] In short terms, I have forgotten, due to trying to fix all these new tasks and extra stuff at work while navigating my outside life so it doesn't affect my job, that the most important part of my job is to smile and be a happy woman in every meeting I attend.

Well, to be clear - I'm pretty good at the smiling face in project meetings with "the non-special people". The crux is that these comments are coming from the closer people at work. The ones I've worked with a long time and know me. My close work groups. The ones who have been talking about "we should all be close and so good friends" groups. The irony isn't lost on me. This whole time when we have "gotten to know each other" and it's been about "you need to learn how to trust close coworkers, drop your guard" I've been a smiling woman. Now when I'm relaxing in my interactions with them, the critique and disappointment has reared its head since my face isn't as nice [fake] as before and that bothers them.

I wish I could tell them this, but I won't. It's not going to be what they want to hear. It might be what they THINK they want to hear "let's be honest, everyone likes honesty". No, actually most people don't want 'honesty' and 'real' - they want 'convenient & affirmative'. And most of all the want "non threatening". And a non smiling woman [me] in a meeting not giving them constant affirmation is quite clearly not what they want. And especially not when part of the deal is that I'm there to help them figure out all the snags and issues that will come along in their projects.

So, back to neutral face with a slight smaller smile I go. Of course, it's interesting that I don't see this need of having a smile or being affirmative reflected in my male peers and their interactions with people. Nor have I heard any male peer being critiqued in a large group "you really need to smile more" as I've been admonished. It's quite alright for the male peers to sit with scowling faces in meeting after meeting, interrupting and throwing in "helpful critique" whenever suits their fancy.

Alas, I'll label this under "things I knew before, got persuaded for a while I was wrong and paranoid as a feminist, but it turned out I had the right idea all along so it would've saved a lot of energy just listening to my own perception". And then I'll move on.

Welcome to the world "Ms neutral face with a small smile". Adios real face where I actually use my time thinking about what you're saying instead of rearranging my face so you feel comfortable. I wonder if they ever realise how disappointed in them this made me? Most likely not. C'est la vie d'une femme, souriante tout le temps.