Saturday, December 9, 2017

How do you keep going on the tenure-track?

The blog just turned 5 in November. I missed the actual birthday because it was a crazy month, but I've been thinking about this milestone. I realized that never in my wildest dreams I would have thought it would serve my readers and myself the way it has. It has followed me through twists and turns and going back through it gives me perspective on everything that happened. I went back to the beginning to read the post I wrote the day before I started my faculty position.

"Tomorrow I start the job I have been working towards for the past 15 years and I have been dreaming of since middle school. I always wanted to be a scientist and when I first joined a lab as an undergrad, I decided I wanted to run my own lab. I have had wonderful times and truly terrible times, when I have teetered on the edge of dropping out of college to man the cashier at a supermarket, dropping out of grad school to go write movies or just simply hide under a rock, leaving my postdoc to go work as a scientific consultant in finance or a policy advisor. For years, every day, I would wake up and think "Will I quit today?", and then I would choose my job as an aspiring academic scientist above anything else. Every day. And then, as I was interviewing for positions, something snapped into place..."

Little did I know that I would be back to the cycle in no time. This Fall as I went through the Nth federal grant proposal, dealing with the Nth admin disaster, and trying to keep my life together after months of antihistamines and steroids to calm my chronic hives, the thought of just quitting keeps coming up in my mind every day. Every day I wonder whether I want to go to work or not, whether I really want this job. I still consider working in policy, but have also developed a renewed interest in pharma.

What if I just resigned? A pragmatic friend asked if I have money ready for a transition to survive for 6-12 months, and I do. Heck, if I sold my place and moved to Bali or Costa Rica for a bit, I could probably rest easy on a beach for a couple of years...open a yoga studio...soak in some rays.

I saved a Tim Ferriss piece on TED talking about visualizing what would happen if you did what you are afraid of, and your fears came true. So, I indulged the fantasy and did the exercise of going through what I would do if I actually decided to quit. There is no scenario where the people in my lab are not taken care of, and I don't end up on my feet...and most likely on a beach, at least temporarily.

So, as usual, it all boils down to focusing on what I really want. What is this job worth to me? Is it the job itself or the workplace? Is it worth chronically affecting my health over this? In talking to my friends in and out of academia, I find these are the questions so many in my cohort are struggling with. Including "Am I making myself miserable by expecting too much?" "Should I just settle for what I've got and deal with the feeling of failure?"

2016 was truly terrible for me and I did a huge amount of personal development work in 2017 to keep going with a certain degree of sanity and level-headedness. And I was reasonably productive. But despite being more empowered and having figured out what I want and what I need, I'm still getting unexplained hives, which tells me that something is very wrong. In January 2016, in what I feel was a watershed post for the blog openly discussing some very personal feelings which resonated with my readership, I set a two-year moratorium on quitting. I didn't know then that the two years that would follow would be has hard as hell. I continue to feel the erosion and the sand slipping beneath my feet. Can I survive this job if it continues to be this hard? What is this worth to me? But also, should I stop pushing as much as I do to meet my huge expectations? Again, what is this worth to me?

Honestly, I have found some answers, but I do not know all of them yet. My plan is to put in one more R01 in February 2018, see what happens with the grants that are in review now and then take stock of what is going on. The only thing I know is that something's gotta give for this to be sustainable...

1 comment:

  1. We all keep going on hoping the big break is around the corner. But after year 3 it gets harder and harder to stay mentally sane. And considering plan B is natural, and desirable in that it can provide some peace knowing that if it does not work out, there are other avenues to explore. But, we all hope it does work out and that is why we just keep going.

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