Radical Self-Care: 3 Strategies

The pace of life in today’s world and a cultural focus on productivity and outcomes leave little time for self-care. Taking time for mental hygiene is not embedded in our culture in the way physical hygiene is; I would argue that both are equally important. You’ve probably heard or even used the phrase, “I thrive on stress.” In our scientific culture, long days and nights in the lab or in front of the computer are worn as a badge of honor, of dedication to the cause, or simply what must be done. And while low levels of temporary stress do lead to increases in some measures of performance and productivity, our bodies did not evolve to “thrive” on high levels of chronic stress. This leads to decreases in output and creativity, but is also correlated to long-term risks to your cardiovascular and immune health. Functioning on low levels of emotional energy and high levels of stress for long periods of time can feel like we’re treading water: we’re still breathing, but it’s not sustainable.

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes us sinking to notice that something is wrong and feel required to take action. And while some of us notice the issues while we’re treading water, there’s a fear that putting in more energy to fix things followed by failure will only make things worse. Many things have been said about the PhD (and academic science in general) and whether or not continuing is worth it, including this recent blog in Science and this one on the “Valley of Sh*t.” As someone who was recently in that place, and has hit rock bottom at other points in my life, I’ve developed a three point strategy for turning discomfort and stress into personal growth, ultimately leading to what one of my past counselors has called “Radical Self-Care”, and a recognition of what my needs are in a situation. Though these three points are listed in the order that makes sense for me, sometimes there is a clear need for one over another. Care must be taken however, to not get stuck on one solution if it fails to get us where we want it to: Continue reading

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http://labmosphere.com/index.php/2017/02/20/radical-self-care-3-strategies/

Academia Incompatible with Family Life

Here is yet another article pointing to the larger issue in academia of increasing competitiveness and a focus and glorification of an unhealthy lifestyle. While social scientists continue to correlate mental well-being and balanced time spent with loved ones with creativity and productivity, our culture continues to push us away from these things. How long before we realize that this is going to have repercussions at the systemic level?

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http://labmosphere.com/index.php/2016/12/04/academia-incompatible-with-family-life/

Redefining Success Stories – Barbara

Barbara is a currently a Research Assistant at Oxford University, and is also the mother of two children, aged 6 and 10.

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Redefining Success Stories – Introduction

As scientists and academics, we are all familiar with the talks given by respected group heads, both men and women, about balancing work and life, and what paths they took to get to their successful careers. And while these talks do open our perspectives as to what is and isn’t feasible if we choose the traditional academic path, they continue to push the subconscious perspective that the only success for those pursuing a scientific PhD, is to end up in the academy as the head of a group.

For most, this can cause anxiety and other mental health issues when the values and sacrifices needed to reach this level of what is considered success don’t match with our own. Add this to the fact that very few faculty positions are actually available for people finishing their postdoc, and you have a recipe for many leaving the traditional tenure track career path. This has gotten to the point where staying in academia, as opposed to leaving, has become the “alternative” career path (See this episode of HelloPhD for dealing with issues when stepping off the academic track).

There needs to be a conversation in scientific academia about shifting our values and definition of success from what we publish and produce, to the impact that we have on our own well-being and those of others. In order to help with that, Labmosphere will be featuring blog posts on successful scientists who decided to step off the academic tenure track and are having an incredible time as scientists, but more importantly as human beings. If you know someone who fits this description, and would like for me to interview them on the site, please send me a nomination email with their information, and help us redefine scientific success.

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http://labmosphere.com/index.php/2016/11/05/redefining-success-stories-introduction/

Mentors and Online Dating

People have compared choosing a mentor and project to a marriage, even if it’s only one that lasts less time (though sometimes PhDs can be long, and marriages short…). For a long time now, people have been using sites like match.com that use different algorithms to match people based on compatibility. It seems like academia might get a similar networking tool for pairing mentors and trainees. It would be interesting to see how some of the features on dating sites are tweaked to fit the mentor/mentee culture. Check out the small article in nature here.

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On Science and Narcissism

We all as scientists have experienced the joy and nervousness of meeting the superstars in our fields. Our palms get sweaty as they walk up to us after a talk, and we either sigh with relief when we’re congratulated on a job well done, or are otherwise crushed when we’re told, in a somewhat offhanded (or quite direct way) about the thousand and one flaws with our current ideas. If we’re presenting data that refutes theirs, then we’re at the risk of suffering through a diatribe during the question session of the talk.

Not all leaders in the field, and certainly not all group heads, fall under the category of what we would call narcissistic. However, the unfortunate reality about our scientific culture means that we are all, if not directly, indirectly acquainted with stories of the sometimes baffling and at times downright rude behavior of some scientists.

For Dr. Bruno Lemaitre, an insect immunologist who was on the team that won the Nobel for its work on Toll receptors, these displays of narcissism became as intriguing as some of the things he was studying at the bench. It is from this inquisitive nature and open-minded approach to researching the researchers that arose his short book titled, “An Essay on Science on Narcissism: How do high-ego personalities drive research in the life sciences?”

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http://labmosphere.com/index.php/2016/09/12/663/

Gender Diversity and Equality in Academic Science

A few weeks ago, while discussing the issues of unequal opportunities for women in academic science, one of my guy friends said:

“I honestly don’t get it. I know a lot of women who are successful scientists, work seven to four, and then go home to be with their children. And they tell you that’s what they want and that they’re happy. Women have different goals and perspectives, and when a baby comes along it just changes what they want.”

The conversation that followed, along with others, has led me to some interesting insights which I hope to share, especially with my other male colleagues.

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Sexual Harassment of Students by University Staff Hidden by Non-Disclosure Agreements

In our continued fight against lab bullying and harassment, it is a welcome sight to see that others are pointing out the discrepancy between the incidence, reporting, and effective dealing with instances of harassment (sexual or not) and bullying in academia. We can only hope that through our combined efforts and other grassroots movements and organizations, such as the 1752 group, we can collectively begin to dismantle the culture of abuse that is all too prevalent in many institutes.

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http://labmosphere.com/index.php/2016/08/27/sexual-harassment-of-students-by-university-staff-hidden-by-non-disclosure-agreements/

Academics Anonymous: Why I’m Leaving Academia

The Guardian Higher Education section is constantly publishing interesting and well-written articles about the issues surrounding academic life. In one of their particular sections, titled Academics Anonymous, different academics give their opinions and perspectives on what can sometimes be quite a frustrating topic, especially for those who feel unable to voice their feelings or trapped in cycles of unhappiness.

I recently stumbled on one of their older articles, written by someone about to leave the academic scene after a stressful time in their Postdoc.  The author gives a more negative view on the entire academic process and career progression, but in doing so brings insight into some of the more pertinent issues.

Like Academics Anonymous, we continue encouraging the sharing of personal stories anonymously as a powerful tool for discussing important issues and bringing about cultural change.

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Anonymous Blog 25-07-16

During my position as an RA, my supervisor was not really a problem per se, and my experience of research in the first 1-2 months made me accept a PhD position that was offered to me ahead of time. However, after the “new” feeling wore off, I saw the stark reality of the lab environment I was in. The lab members were *****y, jealous, and highly competitive. Continue reading

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