Tag: selfreflections

Self reflection time: naming my “roadblocks”

As I’ve been doing quite a bit of personal development/reflections over the past few weeks—I’ve realized that when it comes to my two or three biggest obstacles in trying to transition from academia to industry, they all have one thing in common—they’re all mental and I need to do the following to get past them:

            Acknowledge that there are obstacle/blocks to getting to my goals.

            Devise a workable plan for dealing with said obstacles (without hopefully adding more anxiety or obstacles to the path)

            Work daily to make small strides towards getting to stated goals.

            But remember that the goals may be fluid and change as I move forward.

So what are these obstacles or blocks that I’ve recognized over the past few weeks?

The first one is actually the major one—movement paralysis. What I mean by this is that I’ve overthought things so much, that I’m basically afraid to move in any direction, due to the (almost totally irrational) fear that I’m going to be making another large mistake. This is actually a three part paralysis problem–as described below.

This is due in part to how my first post-doctoral position ended—not well. In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have taken that position—I only learned a few new techniques, made quite a few new friends—but I didn’t end up having a very good working relationship with my mentor. When the position ended, I was financially in the hole and felt like I was pretty much emotionally in the hole as well (due mainly to stress).

I came back home to get my financial feet steady again, and to see if I could still find enjoyment in academic research. So—I do have my financial feet steady (for the most part), and while I do enjoy the freedom of academic research—I’m so far off the path from a faculty position, it isn’t funny. If I were to stay in academic research—it would have to be in a support position, and if I was paid a decent salary I’d almost consider staying in academia—but I know I won’t be, and therefore it’s time to move on.

Switching from academia to industry is going to be a complete culture shock, and I know this—also this is where the movement paralysis comes in—what direction do I want to go in?

            There is research at the bench, research away from the bench, marketing, sales, writing, data analysis, clinical, law, ethics, and everything in between. There is also the fact that companies want to hire people focused on a couple of things, and not jack-of-all-trades (and that is how I currently feel—like I’m more of a jack of all trades than a specialist).

So that is the first part of my movement paralysis—determining which direction(s) do I try to go in? Which then leads to the second part of my movement paralysis–what do I feel like “specializing” in, and what do I feel like being a “jack-of-all-trades” in?

I’ve always enjoyed learning new things, and at times I tend to get bored and let my mind wander if I have to do the same thing over and over again—though I have tried to get better at this with my most current position. I also know that there are probably quite a few techniques that I’m lacking knowledge on for certain positions. I know that I can pick up the techniques fairly quickly, so that isn’t the major problem (though it is tied with the second issue—which I’ll get to possibly in the next post)—but I’m worried that I’ll get bored with what I’m doing and that there may not be that much to learn with the position.

So this means that I need to look through my diverse scientific background, and list out basically everything I’ve done and decide which two or three things (or areas), are the ones that I’d be willing to spend forty to say sixty hours a week of my life working on for the next thirty to thirty-five years. I know that most of the areas have a numerous papers published monthly, and that it would take quite awhile to feel like I’m an “expert” in those areas—getting back into reading scientific papers is something else I know I need to work on (I lost the little bit of enjoyment I had for that during my postdoctoral years).

This then brings me to the third point of my “movement paralysis”—determining which companies to work for, and brings the triangle of my “movement paralysis” to a close. This point is tied in even more closely with the first point (which direction), than the second one is. There are numerous companies, of different sizes (small start-ups up to large multi-national companies), and they all have their own different culture, ideas, pursuits, and so forth.

So once I have an idea of the two or three directions I’m wanting to go in, then I will also start looking at the different companies that are in those areas and work from there. One way of pursuing this—figure out a way that the different directions could almost go together and therefore make it easy for determining which company (or companies) I want to work for and which biotech hubs I want to be working/living in as well.

So those are my three areas of “movement paralysis”:

            Determining which direction to go,

            Determining what to be an “expert” in and what to be a “jack-of-all-trades” in, and then finally,

            Determining which companies to start looking into, and what biotech hubs to also look into.

Now how am I going to address each area of “paralysis” and move forward?

In terms of which direction to go in—I have several different ideas, but the main “issue” would be trying to figure out how I could go from research at the bench to doing marketing research behind the scenes for example—I know it has been done, but my thought would be can it be done after being in industry (say a second job transition from the bench to behind the scenes).

I have a list of different basic job “titles” or areas that peaked my interest (though one of them is basically my “comfort zone”), and they are:

Other than the R&D Scientist/Manager–which still will have a learning curve mainly for techniques, the other positions are all outside my comfort zone for numerous reasons including:

Not being at the bench–with my current position I do miss being at the bench, but I can’t say for certain if I miss it because I love it, or if I miss it because it is where I’m most comfortable at.

Writing heavy positions. This isn’t to say that I don’t like writing–but grad school and my first (and to a smaller extent my second) post doctoral position dulled my enthusiasm for writing. This is something that I’m trying to get back–starting with writing in my journal, creative writing, and working my way up to summarizing journal articles (to then hopefully write a mini-review on a topic).

Number heavy positions. Dealing with numbers really isn’t the problem–I would just need to learn statistics, and then brush up on basically everything business related (finances and economics for example).

While I’m not looking at positions that are constantly on the road (as I know there are at least two to four different positions that travel at least four days a week), there are one or two that might have some travel time. Currently I want to limit the amount of travel, since when I do move–I’ll have my cat with me (and then I’m planning within six to nine months after settling of getting another kitten or puppy), and that means I don’t want to be paying a large amount of money every month for a pet sitter.

So as you can see—I have numerous directions I can chose from, I just need to decide which are the most interesting and which ones could possibly overlap and make it an easy transition into the second, or third industry positions (as now a days—people may or may not stick with the same company for more than say three to five years).

I almost consider all the positions (other than the R&D scientist/manager) to be some sort of data analyst position—which would be interesting in their own way—but I’m not sure if I want to be stuck at a desk all day or not (but this is something else entirely to deal with).  The R&D position would be staying somewhat within my comfort zone. I’m saying somewhat—because I know that there are technical skills that I’m lacking, but would be able to pick up fairly quickly on the job. The position is listed, because currently I do miss doing actual research at the bench—I’m just not sure if it is something that I want to continue doing for the next thirty or thirty-five years.

All of the positions have a learning curve—there are technical skills, coding, subjects (such as marketing, statistics, and economics for example), and possible foreign languages to learn (or brush up on).

So how can I go about paring down the list? Well, for that to happen I will also need to make headway with the other two points on the triangle (what do I want to be an “expert” in and where do I want to work/live (biotech hubs and the specific companies)—and then hopefully work on getting some informational interviews with people to hear first hand about these positions.

In addition I have listed in another journal things that I can start brushing up on (or learning) that would help with transitioning into the different positions, and may also help get me back into enjoying learning something new and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

This is also going back to my issue with time management—I know that there is enough time in the day to brush up on one or two things, and that I can go between different things (say have a M/W/F schedule & then a T/Th schedule—just like college)—I just need to clean up a work space, install some time management apps—so I don’t spend all day going onto social media, and sit down and get stuff going.

That then brings me to the second area to figure out: my niche. So how do I decide on what to be an “expert” on and what to be a “jack-of-all-trades” on? If I had to pick a couple of skills/areas that I would enjoy doing frequently they would be the following:

I think that knowing how to do “old fashion” molecular cloning is important, only because I’m sure there will be a time when money runs out for a lab and they will still need that one last plasmid to get the grant—if someone knows how to do it the “old fashion” way—they can put in the grant application; if no one knows—the lab folds and closes. This is something that one might not have to do much of in the industry setting (as time is money, and companies may rather just pay another company some money to make the plasmid for them), but I do feel like it is something that any molecular biologist should at least know the theory behind (and if possible, have tried their hands at it).

            If nothing else, I think this would be a good subject to design an entire series of blog posts around, and maybe even a small online course.

The recombinant protein expression and purification fits in with that aspect—because you have to put your gene/protein of interest into a plasmid to be able to study it. Proteins and small molecules are what makes the cell run—knowing how to study them, how to target them (in cases of cancer and other diseases) for treatment is something that I think I’d enjoy doing. There are also numerous technical skills that I would hopefully be able to pick up as well doing this; though with this area—there are so many different proteins, that again this would be an duel edge sword—being an “expert” in one or two, and then a “jack-of-all-trades” in a couple of other types of proteins.

Cell biology fits in with both the above two topics and the last one (small RNA biology) because you have to understand how the cell operates to be able to understand how to start to manipulate it. This is a subject that I would need to brush up on, as I only took one or two classes in college, and while my dissertation topic touched on it a little—it only touched on a very small aspect of it (post-transcriptional modifications).

Small RNA biology is an area that can span different industrial sectors such as biomedical, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural. This is also a growing field, with more being discovered about these small molecules that play a large role in the cell. Having done small RNA biology with both plants and animals, I can go either direction, biomedical/pharmaceutical or agricultural, and probably be happy doing the research at the bench.

So these four areas can probably be condensed down into two areas: molecular biology and cell biology that I feel like I could be an “expert” and a “jack-of-all-trades” in at the same time (as both areas encompass numerous different subfields). The other two areas that I would feel more comfortable having a “jack-of-all-trades” or “minor” expertise in would be biochemistry and chemistry. As I’m typing this, I’m finding it funny that I’m willing to consider myself an “expert” in molecular biology, and an “jack-of-all-trades” or “minor” expert in biochemistry (since both my undergraduate and graduate degrees were in biochemistry and molecular biology)—it has only taken me about nine years to figure out which subfield I’m more comfortable with compared to the other.

So, while I’ve chosen the areas (and to some extent the subfields)—I’m still going to need to spend time reading papers, and giving myself a refresher in certain subjects (namely chemistry, a little biochemistry (all those pathways), and a little cell biology). I need to design a tracking system, or something that will make it interesting and fun so that I don’t lose interest after a week or so—plus I will design a schedule to where I focus on only say two “subjects” on any particular day (pretend I’m back in college).

So I have some idea of the direction(s) I’m probably willing to take; ideas of what I wouldn’t mind becoming an “expert” versus an “jack-of-all-trades” in—which then leads to the third point—where do I want to relocate to, and then which companies within that region am I going to look into further. This is actually a two-part problem: location to live and company to work for. I’ve realized that I’m going to be going about this issue in a different manner than most people: I’m going to first focus on narrowing down the biotech hubs that I’m willing to relocate to, and then focus on narrowing down the companies within the biotech hubs that I want to work for.

So when it comes to choosing a biotech hub, I already have several different criteria that will have to be met:

            The cost of living has to be reasonable. I know that moving to a larger city, rent is going to be relatively high, but I don’t want to be paying an outrageous amount of money for a small studio or one bedroom apartment.

            There has to be a decent public transportation system in the city. This is currently an absolute must have, as I don’t drive (and until I work thorough my anxiety issues associated with it—I won’t be driving). So that is one thing the city has to have—public transportation. I don’t mind riding buses, trains, or both to get to work—you do what you have to do, with what you have.

            There has to be things to do within the city (both free and hopefully also fairly inexpensive). With a transition into industry, this will hopefully mean that I won’t have to be working on weekends (though the occasional one is perfectly fine), and I can spend the time exploring my new city and the surround areas. That also means that there should be ways of getting around the outlying areas as well (for example—Boston serves as a hub and you can take a bus almost anywhere within a four hour drive).

            Finally, there needs to be a decent number of companies within the area. I realize that I may not spend the rest of my career working for the company that I start with—but if I’m going to be changing companies (for whatever reason, say five to ten years after starting with company one) I don’t want to be moving cross-country, or even between states (if I can avoid it). The move to and from Boston for my first postdoctoral position soured me on long distance moving (moves are expensive, and time consuming [packing, arranging movers, finding an apartment/condo/house, setting up utilities, getting your stuff delivered, and then unpacking], and as far as I’m concerned—an all around headache).

            When it comes to trying to pick the companies, this will be in part dependent on which direction I chose to go in, what I’ve “branded” myself an “expert” in, and of course the city. I know that companies all have their own culture, values, and visions—so the best way of narrowing down the companies will be to setup informational interviews. These will start first online (or over the phone), and then when I have an solid idea of the place(s)—hopefully in person informational interviews, when I take some networking trips in the spring.

So there it is—my “movement paralysis” layout, and each little circle opened up to reveal another “knot” that needs to be worked out in order to move forward. I’m going to be doing this a little slower than others might—but by doing it slow, I can hopefully avoid falling into any major panic attacks or introducing a new “movement paralysis” stop.

First things to do: clean up my room and design a work area at home (probably not my desk—which is also currently serving as my dresser), install some time management apps on the computer (to keep me from surfing social media sites during the day—especially once I’m on my reboot break), and design a schedule for the “class” work I need to start working on. In addition, I’ll be working a little on it during the week at work (when I have a little down time in between other things), such as reading business/tech pages to start brushing up on the business side of science.

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Mini hiatus on the Photography challenge this week (short post)

So I’ve realized that I haven’t done a photograph posting since Tuesday (and that was in fact for Monday). So instead of trying to do a triple posting and make up for it–I’m going to be honest and say that I’m on a mini hiatus from the challenge this week.

This is in part due to the hot weather. Since it has been hot and humid, I haven’t done a full walk on the weekend for a couple of weeks–and that means that I’m running low on pictures to post. That’s not to say that I don’t have pictures–but I’m trying to avoid doing multiple postings of the same theme.

It’s also due in part to my mood–I’ve been in a so-so mood (not totally down and feeling depressed, but also not in the most happy go lucky moods either). This is due in part to the fact that fall is coming soon and I’d hoped to have my life somewhat planned out by now (at least narrowed down the industry sector(s) and hopefully had a few informational interviews by now). It’s also due to the fact that in less than two months now–it will be the one year anniversary of losing both Piranha and Chewi.

I realize that I need to look for the sliver lining in each day, and should probably write in my journal more often than what I’ve been doing. I also realize that I can try to do photography during the week, especially on my lunch break–but right now that is a no go (see above for the weather).

Photography has been and is becoming an hobby again–I just need to make time for it during the week and not just regulate it to the weekends. It may also be one of the few things that helps keep me on an even keel when I start my reboot break and refocus on my job search/transition in the spring.

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Reflections Part 1: The years since getting my PhD

As I stared at the calendar wondering how it could be August already, I realized that in a little over a month I’ll be staring down my last year of my thirties.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to start looking back on the past nine years or so (since I’ve earned my PhD), and look at what was good and bad–but also what lessons I can now take from those years. So my first reflection is on the twisting road I’ve taken through academia, and realizing that I need to reboot and plan for my industry transition.

I realized that it has been nine years since I finished graduate school—I had made a promise to myself that I would have my graduate degree before (or shortly after) my thirtieth birthday. I managed to keep that promise—I defended a little over two months before my birthday, and I got my diploma before the end of the year. I then spent the next two years out in the Boston area.

Being out in the Boston area for a little over two years was a mix bag of both good and bad—it was good in that I made new friendships (that I’ve been trying to maintain online, as I haven’t been back there as often as I would have liked), experienced living on my own, well away from having a family security net, and started to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Though on the flip side, the bad included: my postdoctoral position ending on a extreme sour note, unintentionally giving my dog an anxiety/separation disorder, and at the end of the time—being in heavily in debt and emotionally bankrupt.

I came back home to get my financial and emotional feet back on steady ground—and it’s taken quite a few years to accomplish those feats—almost seven to be exact. I am no longer heavily in debt (my monthly debt now can be paid off each month), and I’m still working on getting my emotional/spiritual reserves filled up.

During the past six and a half years, I’ve held three different positions within my alma mater department, at my alma mater. I started with a post-doc position (this was fairly smooth compared to my first, though any situation can head south when funding becomes an issue), then after a brief unemployment period I got a staff position helping with undergraduate research (this as a little over three years; ended again because of funding), and then after yet another unemployment period I got my most current staff position.

In total over the past nine years (since getting my PhD)—I’ve been unemployed probably a total of nine (maybe ten) months—which averages out to about a month per year. But also over the past nine years—I’ve taken jobs that may not have been the best fit for me (first postdoc, and most current position) because of the fact I needed a job and income.

This is one of the main reasons why I’m so adamant about doing my reboot break/pause towards the end of the year and into the beginning of next year—I need to figure out what it is I want to do with my life. I’ve learned little things over the past nine years in terms of what I can put up with, what I can’t put up with, and what I would like in the next job.

For starters, I miss working as part of a team—or at least being around other people with whom I could have conversations with during the day. In my current position, we’re in a secure facility (so unless you have access, you can’t get in), and there aren’t that many people in the facility (five in total, counting myself; though there are two graduate students—but they aren’t actually within the facility (in other words they don’t work in the inner lab). I miss being able to talk with people while I’m doing things or inquiring what they’re doing (and learning a little at the same time). I’ve also realized that I don’t do well with micromanagers (and this is something that I will need to inquire with people about during informational interviews), and overbearing colleagues.

I also miss doing actual research at the bench, but at the same time—is that how I really feel or is it because that is all I’ve ever done? This is something that I will need to see how I feel during and after my reboot break—also this is a good informational interview question for people who have moved away from the bench—do they miss doing research?

I don’t mind doing an occasional long day or working a weekend in lab—as long as I’m compensated for it (in other words having a good income), and knowing that it isn’t expected daily. I also want to be within a group, that once someone apologizes for a mistake, the apology is accepted and everyone moves on—it isn’t harped upon constantly. Also I don’t want to be within a company where there is someone watching the clock to make sure that people are leaving exactly at a certain time (say 5 o’clock on the dot)—if you get in a little early, you should be able to leave a little early—but if you need to stay a little late, you’re allowed to stay a little late. In other words—I want a job with a little flexibility on the work hours.

Life shouldn’t be all work and no play, just like it shouldn’t be all play and no work—there should be a point where things are somewhat balanced—there is time for both work and play, but that balance is different for each of us, and each need to find it on their own.

Hopefully during the reboot break, I can work through various e-courses, interact more on Linkedin, network, set up informational interviews and actually decide on a direction to go–instead of wandering around a swamp with a lantern that is going to be going dark and risk falling into the swamp waters again (and possibly not escape this time).

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Realizations and reflections

Well today’s post is going to be somewhat brief, and I will have a catch-up photography challenge post tomorrow. I just realized that over the past two months (and probably longer than that), my posts have been almost all photography posts, with a few others sporadically posted throughout the month.

When I started this blog almost two years ago, I had figured it would be a way of keeping myself accountable in two different areas–personal and professional development (as I job searched), and also a way of sharing different interests (photography, fitness, books, and so forth). One thing I haven’t gotten the hang of totally yet is sitting down and trying to write numerous different posts ahead of time and then scheduling when I would post them on line.

I’ve been better this year at doing my bi-monthly moon goal posts, and my month in review–but that is still only about five additional posts added in to my photography challenge. The photography challenge is also starting to become difficult, because I feel like I’m almost taking the same pictures every week. At least I know where I can start making small daily changes.

I’ve also realized that I’m falling into an almost predictable mood swing pattern–I work on different areas and feel good about myself one month, and then the next I fall prey to that nasty inner voice that has me questioning everything I did the month before. It takes me a week or two to silence the inner critic, but then I have to build back the momentum that I lost–and then I repeat the cycle. I’ve realized that to break this cycle–I need to work on countering the inner critic voice (work on getting out of my own way), and also doing more journaling and getting the thoughts to paper and acknowledging the emotions (instead of ignoring them).

As we head into the second half of 2019, I realize that I’m going to have to make some big decisions about certain things (like when exactly am I going to be doing my “reboot break”), and that while I can’t see all the stairs in front of me–I need to take those first few steps and actually get myself unstuck in order to start really moving forward.

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