Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Some breakthroughs have been made

No, not of the scientific kind: more of the life kind.

I blogged about my unhappiness and general negativity in my work-life here. The negativity was pretty overbearing, and I tried several ways to overcome it. I avoided, I listened passively, I even glazed over and mentally turned off when the bitching began, and all of it helped to varying extents. The fact of the matter was, the very people who were drains on my mental energy due to their bitterness were otherwise really nice and fun people to be around, besides being my only social interaction in the work-week. So after a while, instead of simply being a passive listener, I tried to offer a slightly different viewpoint. I tried to make way for a small ray of sunshine in the gloomy tales. I was afraid I'd come off as annoying and preachy as is often the reaction when a ranter gets unsolicited advice. Worse, I was afraid of being dismissed as naive. But in fact, I was received rather well. My suggestions were taken, my views were appreciated. I noticed that the cribbing was getting lesser over the past few days, and wondered if they had run out of things to complain about. Today, my co-worker actually thanked me and said I'd made a huge difference to her morale ever since I got here, and she was glad to be able to talk to such a well-grounded person.
(If only she knew ;) )

On the other hand, my own dissatisfactions at work have also begun clearing up. I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I switched fields in such a huge way. I was having a tough time understanding things, catching up and keeping up with an actively growing field of literature, and coming to terms with being the lowest on the totem pole. At the end of two months, I still don't have a defined project. And it didn't help that I was being so hard on myself, as I am wont to be, giving rise to a vicious cycle of less productivity and more despair. While I was busy hating myself for being so lost or having assimilated so little, I was making intelligent contributions to lab-discussions and every meeting with my boss always ended on a positive note with him being very happy with my progress. Clearly, things were not as bad as I was making them out for myself, but I was unable to bridge that gap.

I then made a conscious decision to lower my standards for myself. It sounds regressive, it was not easy to do, but it made me a much happier person and much more productive. Instead of aiming to present to my boss ground-breaking hypotheses or 3 specific aims for a grant proposal, I let myself be content in reading and understanding a few papers, and being able to put forth an intelligent idea. We would talk some more, and I'd take it from there. Of course, things are moving a lot slower than I hoped/imagined, but I have come to terms with that. With that, I have begun enjoying what can be a really fertile period in one's post-doc life: lots of out-of-the-box thinking, exploring and ideas that keep me up at night. Being new to the field has it's own charm- it allows me an unbiased view into things that can sometimes be very useful (and at other times, make me feel like a fool!). But in the end, it has revived in me the joy of discovery, an innocent fascination at how things operate in this system, and I am now enjoying this opportunity to find my own question and come up with how I want to answer it.

9 comments:

Sakshi said...

Sigh. I am going through the same thing project wise. Know what you mean when you say "things are moving a lot slower than I hoped/imagined".
After the old lab where I could trouble shoot, design or help out anyone in my sleep, this is pretty hard to take.
Glad to see (in a way) that I am not the only one going through this.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

Sakshi,
(new post-doc to new post-doc hugs)

I have realised that frequent meetings with the boss help - prevent me from getting lost in my own whirlpool of despair and also serve as a positive reinforcement or assurance.

Tabula Rasa said...

excellent! i love what you're saying -- after going through a very similar period of overstressing after my phd (with seriously negative consequences) i have finally learned to be reasonable in my goal-setting and the the effects are showing. a close friend i met at a recent conference told me i'm looking happier than she's ever seen me and asked what my secret is. sanity is not a bad option :-)

qsg said...

That's the key - not exactly lower the standards for ourselves, but being fair to ourselves and setting realistic expectations. I am guilty like the next person - but hey, the key is trying! :)

Good to hear the things are better...! :)

Anurag Srivastava said...

I am almost in constant dilemma what work I am supposed to do when I do my work. I once worked in a firm for five months and till today I have no clue what I was doing there.

I think the situation is more difficult in academic world :P

sd said...

Nice post.

The situation has been a little different for me, since I do not have a 'part of a lab' kind of post-doc. I met my mentor here and on the first day he told me that I had to decide by research agenda on my own. So more or less I have been extending on some of my previous reseach. However, of late I am venturng into newer area in order to broaden my research base... I should be careful, I guess, from your experience! Actually most of my stress is because of the fact that this is a one year position... so I have to search for a new job on the side....

Sorry I did not mean to blabber like that.....

ggop said...

This is a really good post. I don't have a PhD but reading your post and Thalassa Mikra's post on job search brought back memories :-)
I'm glad you are actively addressing the situation.

Born a Libran said...

Well, I agree with QSG... One has just got to be realistic in what one expects of themselves after taking the situation into consideration...

PS: Please to be removing word verification :)

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

professor Tabula Rasa,
thanks. and that coming from you, is reassuring that it's not such a regressive strategy after all. :).

qsg,
yeah, being fair on myself is a nicer way of putting it. and we must all try, i guess. :)
thanks babe.

anurag,
it's a little more fluid in academia, i guess. and one can keep floundering and getting lost if not guided or reminded of goals. but it takes some effort on our own part to stay on track and aim within reach to stay motivated.

sd,
yeah- i pretty much have to decide my research agenda by myself too: which was a very attractive proposition in the beginning, as against fitting into a slot that was already carved from a grant proposal or such. But defining that agenda is not that easy, i realised, and there is much scope for aimlessness, frustration and getting lost. I do get to discuss and bounce ideas off the wall with my boss and lab-mates, so i guess that helps.

having to search for another job this soon must be hard! you have hardly had the time to relax and unwind. good luck with it. perhaps your position might also be extend-able?

blabbering is always welcome. :)

ggop.
thanks. i just read that very well-written post you mentioned- thanks for introducing me to yet another wonderful blog.
am glad things are beginning to clarify for myself. however much one thinks they are prepared, when shit hits the fan, thats when you actually deal with it.

libran,
yeah, i agree too. it sometimes needs reinforcement and reminding.
sorry about the wv. i just turned it on and complaints already! :) been getting a lot of spam comments. will turn off soon.