A Scientist does not equal Scientist and why. Seriously. Why?

Omitting all the explanations on why I had been silent for so long again (because what is there to explain: busy busy busy or procrastinating hard to seem busy busy busy), a short update: big career decisions made (well, half-way, sort of), big move over the Ocean complete, trying to figure out my next scientific step… Wich comes with a plethora of observations, many of which would have/should have made really good posts, but: busy busy busy.

But here comes the most frustrating thing, which I need to let out, and feedback is oh so welcome (answers, anyone?). Frustrating at least when you come from Academia, where you kind of always know where you stand. Yes, perhaps there are standard differences in what completing a PhD entails in different countries (a bunch of publications in some places vs. a thesis with sometimes nothing published (!) in others), and of course a Post-doc does not equal a Post-doc for variety of reasons (e.g. the difference sin what their PhD meant). But still, you know more or less who you are, what it means and where you are on the ladder.

Now I have for a while been  browsing the colourful world of industry, and countless Scientist positions, only to realize that a Scientist in one company is a person with BSc degree doing technician kind of job, while in another company a Scientist is a minimum PhD, sometimes with Post-doc experience, often expected to lead a group of Associates, etc.

I am deeply frustrated. Why do I care you ask? As long as my job matches the degree requirements and is challenging enough, why worry what it means somewhere else. Well, I do worry. I see people change their positions every 2-3 years, migrate between companies. What if I apply somewhere where my PhD-holding shiny Scientist position will be frowned upon, because at their company Scientists are more like Research Associates somewhere else?

HR people out there, please make some order to this, do not call Research Associates Scientists, or other way round, make clear ranks for who fits into which position. Would it not benefit the Industry world as well? So they would always know exactly what they get when somebody migrates with a Scientist title? Sigh.

It is not Academia, so little chance anyone shall care to develop a unified standard. But…

Sigh.

Dream on…

Right, I gave up.

Big changes are coming. I’m hung in the time-zone gap, half the Earth apart, rooting for my partner starting his new job. In not so long, I’m supposed to close the gap. Take the flight. Take the chance.

It was a series of realizations. Realizing I could perhaps do it, that there would be plenty of options there for someone like me. Then realizing I actually want to do it and was weary of the idea of staying. Realizing I want a (new) life. Realizing I don’t want the two-body problem for much longer.

Realizing that if we are all so smart scientists in academia, then for Christ’s sake, being the best educated most intelligent skilled gifted talented folk, why shouldn’t we use it to our benefit. Doesn’t it all mean we should be able to make the life what we want it to be, get the (or at least a) job anywhere we want, at the level we want, and nurture our lives with it, rather than be those academia entrapped miserable folk, who go wherever their lady commands, never free to choose the place, the time, never able to choose for life. Sacrificing hours for our passion, in the least rewarding fashion a career has ever seen.

It might be rationalizing. But it was also further realization. Realization that after next few years of post-doccing I would be entering the industry world at exactly the same position I would right now. Realizing that the PI position dream might never come true, anywhere. Realizing that where I am right now I’d have even fewer options than in the livid, booming, biotech-rich area I want to move to.

Now I’m also realizing I really like my job. I’ll miss how everything finally fit here, the freedom of doing what I want, having sufficient resources, supportive boss and good colleagues. I can only hope the future will bring some nice places and people about too.

But I’ve always been drawn to change. And to challenge. Maybe my new job search is so compelling simply because it is a challenge. Something I haven’t tested myself in quite yet.

Wherever it takes me, it’s science anyways. I hope.

Giving up

I suppose I have given up on this blog in my mind about 20 times. It’s like with other hobbys when you’re a scientist: you pick them up; you are fascinated for a month; then you start attending to them less and less often; then you start feeling guilty…

Now, once you started feeling guilty the merciless self-perpetuating vicious circle starts, where the more guilty you feel about not doing something you planned to do, the harder it gets to ever do it. You feel bad about not keeping up with your own agenda, and not keeping promises to yourself. About starting and not finishing. About another side project of your life that gave in to lab and science (and, yes, sitting on couch staring at Netflix the rest of the time, but science works better as the ever-fitting excuse for why nothing works in my life).

I still haven’t mastered the art of taking it easy on myself. I joke around and try to emanate slightly ironic attitude of a person who’s seen it all (works especially well in lab as the medium-stage post-doc attitude: you’ve just started trusting you actually got the PhD for something and you feel you know so much stuff those poor students have no idea about…). But so often I catch myself feeling as if the matters of my life are matters of… well, life, or death. Practising distance to life while desperately wrapping my arms and legs around it… that seems to be me!

Conclusion, if not apparent, is: I will try to care less. And instead of dramatically quitting this blog because I rarely write, I will rarely write. I don’t have to become the next internet guru. And while more visitors would be fun, hey, some day maybe.

Meantime, the post-doc life is holding up some surprises. Literally: things are changing, and I don’t even know which way they’ll turn tomorrow. Two-body problem, torn between academia and the great unknown world of industry – all the old dear troublemakers at first-hand experience, closer than ever. Stay tuned…

Personality crash

I have started my post-doc less than a year ago, and compared to the place where I did my PhD I always felt I get on much easier with people around me in my current place. And I will not complain today.

I will just say that meeting one black sheep just makes you appreciate all the rest even more! And yet, it shows also how sensitive science is to social interactions.

Obviously we are all aware of it. In today’s science world “networking” and “collaboration” are the daily key words that hardly leave your mind. Whether you’re a people person or not, you have to brush up on social skills, smile up, stick that hand out and start your factory-tape of introductions and elevator pitches…

It took me time, as a rather introverted person, to observe and learn bits of this and that on the matter. And although I have always been happy on my own, I had to learn to reach out to people, I pushed myself to be more interactive, to share, discuss, to not be afraid and knock at people’s door instead of writing a 10th e-mail… (Writing’s so nice. But sometimes it just doesn’t get the stuff done…).

And yet in this case I rest my arm. The more I try, the worse it gets. I feel I need to leave that person alone. I have to work with them, and loving my science I will get that data even if I have to smile through my raging heart and boiling mind…

I just hope they are as good of a technician as I was made to believe they are. Because, after all, I don’t have to be friends with every person I work with. But when it comes to the quality of my data, well then, I do take it personally. Very very much so.

How do you know science career’s (not) for you?

At a foreign-language-class few weeks ago the teacher asked us to make a conditional statement of the type: if I did/had …, I would do/have… . Without thinking much I said: “If I spent less time in lab, I would have more hobbys”. The teacher was slightly shocked, in the amused sort of way, but still. She called it a “dramatic” statement. Which completely surprised me.

It seemed like a perfectly intuitive thing to say. It came up in conversations with my partner (also a scientist), who another day said, when I asked jokingly what his hobbys are: “I have a lot of hobbys; I just don’t have time to enjoy them”. I think that to my fellow-scientists in the class my statement must have been hardly dramatic too.

And so it happens that I often wonder, how would it be indeed to have one of those so-called “normal jobs”. Shorter working hours and more time for yourself… There’s a few major options I can see there:

Option one: I work less, and have more time at home to “live my life”. I can do more of valuable and developing things, take up more coursera courses, another language course, read all the fancy intellectual books I don’t have time or energy to read. I probably end up watching more TV and feeling as tired in the evening as I do now.

It’s a pessimistic vision, but somehow I feel that keeping myself busy, I keep myself alert and ready to learn, and often wonder if I would indeed embark on new challenges if the main challenge – science – was missing from my life? And often I wonder how much I would actually miss working in science? Would working elsewhere drain the feeling of purpose from my life? The curiosity from my mind? Would it blunt me, or would I  be able to transfer that creativity onto something new? Problem is, that you cannot know it without trying it. A step I fear to take, because we all know coming back to academia can be tough enough…

Option two: Sometimes I think a “normal job” would be followed by a “normal life”. I’d get settled and pregnant sooner, and focus all the energy and creativity I put into my long sciencing hours into childcare and homecare instead… And as it likely takes even more energy to take that on, especially while still being professionally active, I’d most likely not have much time to contemplate what I’ve lost on the way. Just when I think I have this image right, one thing strikes: how does it give me more time for myself? It doesn’t. It won’t. I’d just devote my powers to child-bearing instead of research!

Option three: Option three is that maybe I would actually read more books and do all the challenging things. And develop a richer social life. And devote more time to my loved ones. And…

You know what? I would miss it.

Because truth is, ugly a it is, sometimes lab is a shelter. It’s a sign of immaturity, to hide somewhere while the reality happens and takes its course around you. And yet, from all the covers, the lab gives you the nicest excuse ever. For not making the adult steps in your life. Perhaps, for not starting a family. For not investing in your social life. Sometimes even for neglecting your personal and love life. It gives you a purpose that you can trade off, when your own insecurity wraps around you like a big choking python. Lab’s a safe place.

Plus the challenge. A safe kind of challenge, experiment after experiment. A challenge that does not claim lives or millions of dollars, it just claims another sleepless night if your experiment goes wrong… (Unless your experiment did cost millions of dollars, but I’m no rocket scientist…).

For good and bad reasons altogether, I’d miss my science life. So, I end up thinking, I’m going to stick around a bit more.

When THAT paper is finally OUT

Last two weeks brought on the proofs and the online presence of the last paper from my PhD Thesis. Feelig so happy! And counting every share and read the paper gets, although… it seems to go so slowly.

I consider it the most important paper of my PhD work, and a very interesting paper conceptually and results-wise as well. How to get the right people to notice it, read it, use it, propagate it? Still no idea. But I’m sure – it has to be found!

Wish me luck 🙂

What’s worse than living a post-doc life?

Living a post-doc life and maintaining a long-distance relationship. Sciencey to the square, because the long-distanceness is further complicated by the academic two-body problem. I.e. that makes it so much harder to solve it – you cannot “just get a job” in the city of choice.

And so I am one of the dots in the scatterplot, my life makes a tiny contribution to the statistics, to all those articles that come around, about people like me, people like us. I feel kind of proud: how cool, a couple of scientists. And I feel kind of scared: that one day I’ll stop being it.

Every Friday I am at the top of my career, feeling strong and independent, and driven, and motivated, and controlling all the 100 strings that I need to balance to keep my projects going and everything working. Every Monday morning, or Sunday afternoon on a train, or Sunday evening alone, I just want a home. No, I don’t want a family, children are still in the “scary” department. But I want… a home.

This is currently the see-saw of my life, the not-so-subtle weekly swings of moods, needs and priorities.

Hopefully one day they’ll merge and balance themselves out into just one, relatively happy and fullfilled life.

Conclusions? No conclusions. Just an observation at the end of the day: when in long distance relationship, one takes very personally all disturbances in public transport. It’s like they try to sabotage you and you only, isn’t it? Yes it is.

And now, tomorrow’s Tuesday, I’ll be getting slowly back into the career and work mode, building up my resources and my motivation; tomorrow’s Tuesday and again, it’ll all be about science, anyways.

The unhealthy conferences…

No, it’s not the buffet. Or evening drinks. It’s viruses. Just that.

It’s becoming a pattern – any time I go to an international conference, I end up sick the very second day. Despite it being a repeated experience, I never have paracetamol on me. So I ask around, get some from a hotel room-mate or run out in a coffee break, only to be hit by the cultural shock (no, in this country we don’t sell paracetamol in supermarket, you can only get some from a Pharmacy). And then I take my precious pills with my coffees and try to keep awake and even be social…

As fit for a biologist, I have my own theory on the matter. It is as obvious as unverified, and says that because of the mixing of people from different sides of the world – both met at the conference, and on your way at the airports and/or train stations – you get exposed to a range of new virus forms that your system is not resistant to. No ready-made antibodies, and you “fall like a fly” (as we say in the home country…).

So here I am, feverish, in my hotel room, hoping to survive the last day tomorrow and travel back. Because… yes – it’s science any-ways.

Want to write? Write.

Busy days, finishing another grant, this time working hard against the dealdine, that mercilessly approaches every day and… you know what? I feel almost ready! Having just written the fourth grant in a row to get funding for my project, I feel like I can describe it in so many ways now and approach my own work from different angles.

Well, despite what people tend to think, science is far from being carved in the stone – it’s a dynamic beast, changing every day you go to work! The art of research is to tame it, to give it a name, feed some warm milk, and after months of patience (intertwined with despair) finally have it crawl up your lap and purr – then you know you’ve got it. You got that project right.

But back to grant writing. The obvious truth, probably not unfamiliar to any blogger, is that the more you write, the better you write. Months of writing my grants (and before that my PhD thesis and papers) have made their impact and even if it was a slow process, I do think I’ve improved.

Hence, conclusions are simple today: if you want to write – write. Write regularly, write frequently, write, write, write. (And yes, they will still edit you, no matter how good you get 🙂 ).