An excellent article has just been published on the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) blog, by Pinar Gurel and Adriana Bankston, summarizing recent efforts by the Future of Research and collaborating organizations on mentoring. In the article, they provide great advice for graduate students and postdocs seeking to expand and improve their mentoring networks or looking to begin in a new lab.
Barbara is a currently a Research Assistant at Oxford University, and is also the mother of two children, aged 6 and 10.
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.
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.
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.
Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara of King’s College is an incredibly successful researcher who runs a great lab. He also happens to practice Buddhism too. In this incredibly insightful blog post for PhD students, he explains how the philosophies of equanimity and responsibility can be applied to a PhD (or any academic career) and therefore find peace within oneself despite the incredible amount of external pressure creating stress and inner turmoil.
In the post, he describes the difference between achievement and accomplishment as applied to publication in a journal, and how one can use rejection from a journal for learning, growth, and ultimately, satisfaction and peace.
We at Labmosphere tip our hats to Dr. Nanayakkara, who, despite the pressures of being an academic, finds the time to work on his inner growth and peace and strives to help students do the same.
Two of us on the Labmosphere team recently attended an event here at Oxford University titled, “Overcoming a Sense of Academic Failure.” It was a great discussion with graduates from many fields discussing their feelings of inadequacy and/or failure with highly successful academics at Oxford who, believe it or not, have also experienced these same feelings. Notes were gathered and compiled by Emily Troscianko, who organized the event, and are available for download here. Hopefully some of the thoughts, quotes, and resources that came out of the discussion can be useful to those who couldn’t attend the event, both within and outside of the Oxford graduate community.
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.
The Greater Good Science Center has recently published this article on risk factors for Burnout. What struck me most about the article is that in three out of the four risk factors, author Tchiki Davis mentions her experiences in graduate school. Does the culture at your institute perpetuate these risks? Does your own personality? If so, how do you prevent burnout in fields that promote or self-select for these types of behavior and personalities?