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

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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!

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

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