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.
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.