Emotional Vulnerability

Recently, the NIH OITE Careers blog published a post on revealing vulnerability in the workplace. While the article and linked study are definitely worth a read, the vulnerability I wish to discuss in this article is what Dr. Brené Brown describes as being powerfully and intrinsically human. We live in a fast-paced, competitive world that wants us to “suck it up” and keep going whenever things don’t go our way. It is a world and culture that for the most part perpetuate the myth that we have no time to understand or work on our emotions. In fact, revealing our emotions in the public sphere is seen as a weakness and something that will negatively impact our lives. This continuously perpetuates the stigma of seeking help on emotional and mental health and strengthens the myth that anyone seeking help is fundamentally broken beyond repair in some way. I’m writing this post to help break that stigma. I, Juan Pablo Ruiz Villalobos, successful PhD student and emotionally-balanced human being (happiest in my lab by the subjective opinion of my colleagues and an online psych test we all took), needed help, and sought out counseling.

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Job Stability not an Issue Just in Academic Research

This week’s Science magazine has an interesting piece about job stability in the pharmaceutical industry. It is a story about someone who got laid off in three consecutive jobs in the pharma world which, naturally, makes it sound a lot like someone doing the ‘postdoctoral circuit’ in academia.  The feelings are pretty much the same:

“So, finally, I chose to actively seek a change, and I ultimately moved into project management. The desire for a more stable, or at least more fungible, career was the practical appeal. The professional appeal was the opportunity to interact with and learn from professionals working across the full spectrum of pharmaceutical development, from discovery to brand launch and life cycle management. I enjoy the broad perspective and jack-of-all trades nature of the job, and I hope it will be my last career change.”

This short one is worth the read. As a friend of mine who is very determined to stay in science says, “it is really cold out there too”.

How Good Management Leads to Better Science

I must admit, I had not heard of Daniël Lakens before. He is an assistant professor in applied cognitive psychology at the Eindhoven University of Technology who, aside from his research, is actively engaged with broader issues in science: from statistics to open science, as well as how to implement better reward structures.

He has recently given an interview to the “I Love Experimentation” blog on How good management leads to better science. Though he touches on various points, two things resonated the most with me:

  1.  The importance of managers who understand that good research does not correlate with prestige or the number of publications. In his own words “If you try to improve the way you work, managers need to understand this will come at a cost. Being a highly productive crappy scientist is much easier than being a highly productive good scientist”.
  2. The value of considering problems within a historical context because some of the current ‘crises’ in science are not new and have been around for a long time. A recent Nature article gives a wonderful overview on the history of peer-review that clearly brings Daniël’s point home.

Needless to say, I’m glad I stumbled across his interview earlier this week. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on Daniël here at Labmosphere. If you’re interested, here’s a link to his twitter account.

Dividing and Conquering

I’ve found it quite interesting lately that a few of the students and lab heads I talk to about the issues in science immediately shut down and say, “that’s just the way science is.” Other times when discussing one issue, all the other issues inevitably come up due to their interconnectedness and we end our conversations with sighs of “there are just so many, aren’t there?”

If you’re familiar with gardening, dealing with these issues can feel like trying to remove ivy from a plot of land. You pull one strand up, and a massive tangled web that extends to the entire patch comes up with it. If you break the delicate strand, you lose the roots, and you might as well not have done the job at all. Overwhelming, right?

But like with ivy, compartmentalizing the issues in science that need fixing and maintenance as well as finding support from a team can make something daunting seem much more manageable. I’ve broadly categorized the issues not only to help people tackle them more effectively at the individual and cultural level, but also to break the misconception for a lot of these that they’re inherent to the process of doing science.

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