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New Year's Eve Fireworks

086: Five Resolutions for Happier, Healthier Scientists

Turning over the last page of the calendar seems to naturally invite some reflection on the previous 365 days. When you look back at 2017, what went well? And what do you wish you could change in the coming year?

This week, we take the opportunity to reflect back much farther – to our days in graduate and postdoctoral training!  With years of hindsight, we offer advice and perspective to the scientists we were, and devise some resolutions you can adopt in your scientific training.

Grad School Resolutions

 1.  Remember that training is temporary

When you’re ‘on the inside,’ graduate training can seem like an endless tunnel – the light at the end just a distant pin-prick.  For many, the daily stress of lab life closes in and we begin to feel trapped and hopeless.  This year, pause to consider that your training is just a brief step in your scientific career, and that people do finish! We promise!

2. Be mindful of your unique skills and motivations

Many students wait to think about a suitable career until they have a degree in their hands and a PI’s foot on their backside.  We recommend taking stock of your natural motivation and skill patterns early AND often.

It can be as simple as reflecting at the end of the day or on a Friday afternoon.  What did you accomplish this week? Which activities left you feeling energized?  Which left you drained? When did you lose track of time because you were engrossed in the task? Jot each item in a notebook or on a post-it and save them.

After a few months, you’ll have a detailed list of skills and activities you like to use and those you’d like to avoid.  These patterns can persist over a lifetime, so spend some time examining the notes and identifying the common themes.  That way, when you’re reading job postings, you’ll know exactly which positions fit your personality.

3. Push beyond your comfort zone

Starting a graduate program often means moving to a new town, meeting hundreds of new people, and dropping the support networks you enjoyed in college. That makes many introverted science-types turn further inward as we try to avoid the stress of new situations.

But remember that many of the people you meet feel exactly the same way.  Push yourself to engage, and you’ll be rewarded with new friends and colleagues that will last a lifetime.  Graduate training is full of never-to-be-repeated opportunities if you’re willing to step up and take them.

4. Make science fun again #MSFA

Don’t forget that you chose a career in science because science is amazing.  Maybe it fascinated you as a child, but we quickly lose that child-like curiosity the moment Figure 4 of our paper is due.

Every once in awhile, it’s okay to let loose and try an experiment because you think it’s fun, or you just can’t predict how it will turn out. This will not only stoke your love of science, it may lead to your next line of inquiry.

5. Find emotional support before you think you need it

Graduate training may be one of the most stressful periods of your life.  That’s not unusual. But too many of us try to ‘power through’ on our own.  Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and worse are the rewards.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Your mental health is as vitally important as your physical health.  If eating right and going to the gym are admirable, then so are finding a counselor or mental health professional to help you on this journey.  As we look back over our own graduate training, we wish we had found this support sooner.

So that’s it – five resolutions for a happier, healthier, sciencier you.  Leave a comment below to let us know YOUR New Year’s Resolutions, or the advice you wish you’d gotten as a grad student or postdoc.

Shock Lobster

Science in the News gets metaphysical this week, with a report that Switzerland recently banned the boiling of live lobsters.  We reveal the science, and speculation, of nociception in crustaceans and how it impacts your surf ‘n turf.

Well, at least the ‘surf’ part.

We also sample the Elevated IPA from La Cumbre Brewing in Albuquerque, NM.  Yes, you read that right, IPAs ARE BACK, BABY!

And finally, this great quote from Peter Medawar about the beautiful, inspiring diversity of scientists and their passions for learning:

There is no such thing as a Scientific Mind. Scientists are people of very dissimilar temperaments doing different things in very different ways. Among scientists are collectors, classifiers and compulsive tidiers-up; many are detectives by temperament and many are explorers; some are artists and others artisans. There are poet-scientists and philosopher-scientists and even a few mystics. What sort of mind or temperament can all these people be supposed to have in common? Obligative scientists must be very rare, and most people who are in fact scientists could easily have been something else instead.

“Hypothesis and Imagination” (Times Literary Supplement, 25 Oct 1963)

Happy 2018 Friends, and Thanks for Listening!

person pulled down by project

075: When Research Sucks

It’s inevitable.  At some point in your research career, you’re going to get that sinking feeling.

Your experiments will all fail, your PI will get on your case about finishing that paper, and your graduation date will drift maddeningly out of reach.

So what can you do when your research starts to drag you down?

Coming Up for Air

This week on the show, we share some practical advice from the Academic Mental Health Collective on ways graduate students can get going when the going gets tough.

Stress, anxiety, and depression are inevitable in your graduate training. At least they were for us!

At the same time, these painful emotions can be a valuable signal that it’s time to step back, take stock of your situation, and ask for help.  There are resources on, and off, campus to help you through the hard times.

By thinking ahead, you’ll meet your training challenges with a tactical plan and a team of supporters to help you through. It does get better, we promise!

The Check is in the Mail

Science in the News brings us the story of a New York court’s $15 million judgement against Sci Hub, the online research paper pirate ship.  We explore the legal and moral implications of the action, and make bold predictions about the future of scientific publishing.

If you’re interested in the history of academic publishing and how we got into this quagmire in the first place, we highly recommend Stephen Buranyi’s Guardian piece titled: Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?

We also celebrate the beginning of summer by breaking our IPA fast. We’re drinking the Nectar IPA from Humboldt Brewing Company. This golden beauty has a sweet start and a bitter finish, sort of like my first marriage!*

(*Yes, this is a total lie, but the setup was perfect and impossible to resist.  Sort of like my first marriage!**)

(**Okay, I’m done.)

071: Practical Advice for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome with Dr. Maureen Gannon

Imposter syndrome might make you feel all alone in the world, but ironically, many graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members experience the same feelings of inadequacy.

This week on the show, we interview Dr. Maureen Gannon, PhD, about the sources of imposter feelings and the practical steps you can take to work through them.

By every objective measure, Dr. Gannon’s career has been an unqualified success.  She went from private high school through a Masters degree with full scholarships, finishing her undergraduate training in just three years.  She completed a PhD at Cornell and is now a tenured faculty member at Vanderbilt University with appointments in several departments. She leads and chairs multiple organizations and committees, and is invited to speak internationally about her work.

And yet, for much of her training, Dr. Gannon didn’t feel successful.  She sometimes attributed her personal wins to outside forces or good luck. She wondered when others would discover her shortcomings as a scientist.

Then, she attended a workshop that put a name to the feelings: imposter phenomenon.  With the name came a realization that many of her peers were experiencing the same thing.

Now, she speaks to students, faculty, and professional groups about her experience of overcoming imposter syndrome and getting on with her career.

In this episode, Dr. Gannon shares some of the common triggers for imposter feelings and the steps you can take to work through them.

Here are the books and resources she recommends:

Take the test yourself: The Clance Imposter Scale

The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It

Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life

Man vs. Machine

Science in the News brings us another reminder that computers are going to take our jobs.  This week, machine learning algorithms outperform human doctors on predicting which patients will suffer from heart disease.

Now, when the robots rise up to kill us, they’ll be able to make it look like ‘an accident.’

We also sample a tropical ethanol with the Big Wave Golden Ale from Kona Brewing. It’s not clear why this allegedly Hawaiian beer was featured on a cruise in the Caribbean, but it’s best not to argue.  Any port in a storm, as they say…

Like the show?  Support us on Patreon!

070: Imposter Syndrome

Meeting a new cohort of graduate students on your first day of class can be intimidating.  These are the brightest students from their undergraduate programs. Some of them have years of research experience, first-author publications, and a depth of knowledge that seems encyclopedic.

Feeling intimidated by your new colleagues is normal, but some of the people you meet will suffer a more insidious type of anxiety. Some students actually see themselves as charlatans who are just play-acting at a scientific career. So far, they feel, they’ve successfully bluffed their way through college, entrance exams, and interviews.

But they fear that at any moment, they will be discovered as frauds and rejected from the program.

This daily battle is the emotional reality for people suffering from “Imposter Syndrome.”

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/59632563@N04/6480297645

058: How to Be Truly Unhappy in Grad School

On those days when you manage to take a break from bench-work and call home, you will almost certainly get ‘The Question:’

“So, how is your research going?”

If you’re new to grad school, you might make the mistake of telling your parent or loved one exactly how your research is going.

“Well, I was up until 3 AM doing time points but then one of the buffers was contaminated so I had to throw out my last two weeks of work and start over.”

To which your parent will reply, “That sounds awful!  You must be so upset.  Are you sure a career in science will make you happy?”

And you’ll stop and ponder that last question.  Will a career in science make you happy?

Will you prance from bench to bench giggling to yourself, high on the sheer exhilaration of learning?

Or is it much more likely that you’ll face roadblocks, confounding data, experiments that only sometimes work, and that every once in awhile, you’ll push the boundary of your knowledge into new territory.  In those moments, you might feel proud or relieved or curious, but not exactly ‘happy.’

Does that mean you should leave science to find a career that can make you happier?

Or is Mom asking you the wrong question entirely?

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