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My IDP and Me: Determining what I want to be when I grow up.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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“I see you doing a lot of great things, but when I look at DNLee, I have no idea what she’s going for.” ~ Dr. Isis

Nothing like a loving, critical friend to serve you some truth…and a shot of whisky to wash it down with. She is SO right. So she sent me to get my proverbial ish together, and a link to the Individual Development Plan (IDP).

I completed the assessments and at the top of the suggested careers for me are those related to science outreach and teaching. I knew that, but the options included everything from working at a museum/nature center to teaching high school. Those options are fine, but I want something that will compensate me adequately AND give me some satisfaction. I keep thinking long and hard about it and I really think working a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) fits me. But right now that’s neither here nor there. Why? Because I got to get my mind right and my CV beefed up.

My number 1 weakness – my publications. I know pubs matter. I buckle down and write. I sometimes get manuscripts complete. But I just can’t get over whatever hang ups I have with execution – sending manuscripts off to a publishers.
It’s the one professional activity I have yet to master (I’m as anxious about publishing as I am about micropipetting). Why? The why doesn’t matter. There really is no excuse. I just gotta get off of my ass and do it.

"______, please. Get back to work!" That's what Judgmental Academic Wolf says.

My future career depends on it. I need a mentoring army. I need a battalion of writing mentors specifically. I came back from Africa all gung-ho to get a manuscript submitted to my PI before he departed, but a shift in plans (before I can move) meant research priorities shifted. Now, I’ve been in a data collection mode. I’ve been in the lab 7 days a week – doing behavior experiments and recruiting a legion of undergrads to assist me. I’ve never been more productive (or happy) since I moved to this State.

But today, the psychological pressure to ‘get er done’ got to me. I’m tired. Physically, from wrangling rats, moving, cleaning, and setting up large apparatuses. Mentally, from thinking of how many more experiments I still have to do before Christmas, from searching for appropriate supplies to build yet-to-be-made apparatus, and from the paperwork I am constantly doing.
The thing is I am so productive because of the pressure. Deadlines give me boundaries. They are motivators for setting the pace and being innovative. But there can be too much of a good thing. I love the experiment part of science – that’s why the field work part is my favorite – but the analysis and beyond…er not so much. And I really need to get over it. (I’m kicking my own self in the butt right now. I know I need it.)

My first year here was filled with research hiccups (no animals, no space, sick animals, crazy paperwork) and loneliness) that I got no authentic research done. Couldn’t I have written up manuscripts from my dissertation during this time? Sure, and I was working diligently on it; but here and there something else would come up and I would shift my priorities.

I realize now that these were all procrastination wrenches.
Throwing myself into more physically (and emotionally satisfying) science tasks such as field work or now behavior observations is how I avoid doing other equally important science duties — writing!

Me in the Lab

Or starting exciting and worthwhile side-projects.

I also languished on in loneliness. So many people remarked how being in Stillwater – this quiet, college town with NOTHING to do – would boost my productivity. “You’re going to get SO much done!”
That should have been the case, even I admit that. But when I wasn’t leaving town, every chance I had, I laid in the bed in the dark for hours all weekend long. I came to realize I am an extreme extrovert. I need energy from other people – positive, happy people in order to feel motivated to work independently and effectively. The simple ritual of a happy hour or occasional attendance art show and striking up a random conversation with strangers is just the recharge I need. On my own and I just sputtered out.

And I found it very hard to acknowledge this about myself. I think I sound feeble. After all, in order to cut in this Academic Monastery, shouldn’t we be able to handle the quiet solitude of study?
Weak or not, I give up trying to overcome myself. I need results. I need to be productive; and to be productive I need to interact with other people. And some of these people need to be in the form of mentors.

My (internal) anxiety has kept me from reaching out and getting the help I need to become great. Perhaps I was afraid. Yes, I was afraid. Afraid of being judged — judged as a half-ass scientist…(And maybe I am. An unpublished scientist is a half-ass scientist.) Afraid of not being given (another) chance. Real or imagined, I am always worried that the decisions makers at academic institutions will look at me and say she can’t cut it. (I’m only suppose to show my strong together side, right?) And out of embarrassment, I try to hide and become forgotten until I shine, shine, shine. (I bet this is what downshifting looks like.)

But the hard truth is — I’m not ready for a Tenure Track (TT) job right now (and that’s not just the anxiety talking). I am quite aware of the criteria of consideration: Grants, Pubs, Professional Presentation. I feel pretty damn good about my CV except for the Pubs. Even if I were certain I wanted a TT job at a MRU, I wouldn’t give me an interview right now. And even while I still figure out exactly what I want to do and where I’d like to go, I need to at least meet the criteria of the job I originally set out to do – become a college professor. Like it or not, that track is still the standard for almost any other alternative science career I would be interesting in taking. I’m back to getting my pubs up.

Why say all of this here? Why be so vulnerable to so many (and potential job granters, too)? Blame my optimism and extrovertism. I have found that when I live my honesty out loud, I draw those things and people and opportunities to me that I need to become my best self. Plus, I learned long ago that any unfortunate circumstance can be a lesson. Not only is sharing these uncomfortable truths about myself cathartic, but I am reclaiming some of my agency over my anxiety by turning this moment of exorcise into a public learning moment for other scholars who may be feeling similarly — especially scholars from under-represented groups. I suspect we feel especially lonely and worried about performance and appearance. As I minister to myself, I hope I am ministering to them, too. Stick it out, hang in there!

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. rtell 11:27 am 09/12/2013

    “I try to hide and become forgotten until I shine, shine, shine.”
    This is exactly something that I am guilty of the past few months! I thought I might be the only one…

    I’m at the point in this postdoc, too far into it to feel like it is ok to still be learning some of the ropes, where I feel like I should have real data, be well on my way to my first pub, but I am still working on tools and assays and optimization, and that is making it hard for me to reach out, when reaching out is probably exactly what I should be doing.

    I need to act on this. I need to start recruiting again for my mentoring army and swallow my pride about where I am in the data cycle.

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  2. 2. rtell 11:29 am 09/12/2013

    Hm, wrong screen name on that.
    Signed, TellDrtell

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  3. 3. aetiology 11:47 am 09/12/2013

    Needing deadlines + “army of mentors”–maybe you’ve done this and I’ve missed it, but have you asked around on the various social media sites for people to perhaps read drafts of your manuscripts, and get you to stick to a deadline to get those to said volunteers? There would be some mentoring + accountability for you in that scenario. If there’s a writing group on campus you could work with, that would also perhaps with the extroversion part of it (as someone on the far other end of the spectrum myself, that one I can’t help too much with).

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  4. 4. katiesci 9:35 am 09/13/2013

    I do the same thing with experiments. I love experiments! I feel so productive when I’m doing them but not so productive when I’m writing… so I avoid writing and plan more experiments. There are other demotivating factors for me about writing that I can’t discuss here but liking it isn’t one. I love to write! So why can’t I just buckle down and do it? It’s one of the most frustrating aspects of my grad career – if I love to write then I need to break down these demotivating barriers, quit resenting things, and just do it.

    There’s a great book (that you can read to procrastinate like I did) called How to Write More and the steps are just what aetiology outlined: make goals and deadlines and check in with a writing partner to keep yourself accountable for hitting those goals. I need to do this.

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  5. 5. AbbyKavner 11:23 am 09/13/2013

    I also need/prefer a high-interpersonal-engagement life–at the extreme. This has been difficult professionally as an academic scientist, since I am often surrounded by introverts. And writing–which is the cornerstone of our profession–needs to be done alone. I’m getting better at the self-discipline necessary to get writing done. I set a timer every morning, write, and then I’m off the hook for the rest of the day. I’m also getting better at self-knowledge and self-care so I make sure that I engage with people, both personally and professionally. As long as you love the science, please hang in there! Science needs extroverts. And science also needs a lot a lot of the other things that you bring to the table. Your friend, @mineralphys.

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