My new job starts tomorrow. In preparation, I am sitting here, munching on Jordan Almonds, snuggled into my puppy, reading ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire” and trying to relax and enjoy the last few minutes of ‘vacation’. I am glad I took a vacation – I am chomping at the bit to get back, rather than fitting work in around all the stuff we had to do. Which is good, but while I am trying to radiate serenity (sitting amid my Elephant Ears in my reading nook, freshly pedicured toes drying in the aircon) – inside I am a bundle of nerves (I think the churning is nerves, and not FW up to some antics….). I am not nervous to join UT per se – I have had some dealings with people both at my campus, and off campus at another site, and I have contacted both people obliged to work with me (mentors) and not (potential collaborators). Every single interaction has been wonderful. People have been receptive to my ideas, proactive and friendly. Even more importantly, I have not been given the ‘please don’t sue us’ lip-service polite responses to be being pregnant, but out-and-out support. I feel tremendously lucky that the responses to my news have included:
“Don’t worry! It is really not a big deal” (friend and insider)
“Ooooh, I can put you in touch with lots of new Moms at UT” (potential collaborator)
“Congratulations! Babies are wonderful things!” (Mentor 1)
“Having children has made me a better researcher” (Mentor 2).
So… I feel I have landed in the right spot as far as I could know now. Plus, I really liked the people I met at my interview, and academics can work quite alone.
What I am nervous about is (1) [Mainly]: stepping out from the protection of my mentors and moving without any grants NOR ANY DATA (Holy Moly, huh?) and (2) balancing my family life with being a successful academic; which up until now has not been as issue, as I have lived a very selfish life in that respect.
I am trying to think positively. I had a great PhD, and a great postdoc – and I think I can learn lessons from both my successes and mistakes, and get off on a good foot. So looking back, what I take forward with me is:
From my successes:
(1) Get a big grant out. Even if it is not funded, it will be worth it. Then break it up / piece it out and figure out how to use it. I hope to do this (or at least have it ready to go) before FW makes his entrance.
(2) Work within a big group, if you can. Even if your personal Science is quite isolated, working within a big group (for me the CHARGE consortium) has immeasurable benefits: I met people, made colleagues, kept abreast of the newest developments and I learned a lot from the senior members of the group
(3) Reach out to others. Don’t be too scared to make meetings, send out proposals and ask for help (drop the idea of wasting people’s time). It is easy to end up working in a vacuum in academia: but IMHO, this is not good (certainly not in epidemiology, whether it be genetic, behavioural or otherwise).
(4) Finish every project, and try to finish it in a timely fashion. All those ‘little’ projects, that were a great idea, but not so great in practice? It is tempting to abandon them for the next round bigger, better more fun ideas. Don’t. Finish them up (i.e. publish them). Work out the point at which you have done your best, and then close the door by getting the Science out there. Maybe this involves writing up null results, maybe it involves writing up results that are just a replication, and will do to a bottom tier journal… OK, so don’t spend months and months perfecting them like a Nature paper… but, get them out there and in the words of the great philosopher Charlie Sheen: move forward.
(5) Enter everything. Every poster day competition, every award opportunity, every scholarship you can.
From my mistakes:
(6) Hit the ground running. It is hard to say that I have regrets from my postdoc, because I consider it successful in so many ways. Good publishing record, likely-funded (although taken away) grant, massive amount of new skills learned, fabulous friendships made. It was not perfect (could have reached some better journals?) but I am satisfied. But, if not a regret, then a lesson learned is never to sit idle waiting for success to knock on your door. When you have no data, when you think there is no support out there, there is always: grant writing opportunities, review papers options (systematic / meta-analysis if you can), opinion pieces, publically available databases. While you want to aim high: something is better than nothing.
(7) Remain calm, by seeing the bigger picture. Academia is FULL of rejection. It is full of endless roadblocks and problems. I have learned that eventually I WILL overcome these – so I don’t see them as blocks now, but hoops to jump through. That helps get things out the door with many less tears. And in the scariest times, I do remind myself that there are other options to R1 academia. R3 teaching school, industry, Science journalism. I don’t anticipate my path taking me there… but then I didn’t anticipate marrying a redneck and having his baby a year later. I am very happy I did though 😉
This is getting over the academia-fear thing. For the work-life balance, I am less full of advice (please do send some). I want to achieve as much / more than before, but in a smaller chunk of working time. To achieve this, I am going to try: being less exhausted, physically and emotionally. So less extreme diets / exercise plans, and more ‘me’ time. I intend to build my physical goals around my work, rather than vice versa. I might try mediation (or maybe just more prayer?). And no more facebook / emailing at work – if I need a break, that is what a walk is for. And more compartmentalized time: less blurring of home and work, and always half at work, but never quite there: get to work, work hard, come home, family time, then if work time is needed in the evening, a set focused work time will be set aside, rather than hours and hours of me being semi-productive in my study.
I don’t know if this will work out. Maybe such an orderly lifestyle is just not ‘me’. Or maybe it is one I can grow / mature into. We’ll see. Do you have any advice for me? I am all ears and keen to learn 🙂
Now, I am going to try and enjoy this last half an hour before bed, and not freak out too much about tomorrow. Or miss my Mum too much (she is fab at times like this). Or eat too many more almonds. Mmmm…. almonds.