I wanted to title this post “Why I Decided to do a Second Postdoc,” but I felt like that would imply too much intentionality. It was never my plan to do a second postdoc. For a long time, I was dead set against it. For the record, as a grad student, I didn’t think I would do a first postdoc. Oh, but what humble plans we make!
To be really honest, I tend to have a “work is work” attitude toward my own scientific pursuits. This thread has run through the years as I’ve moved from graduate school to my first postdoc to my second postdoc. Part of this attitude is that I come from a blue-collar background: I grew up in a lower middle-class family in a modest town. My parents are very smart and college-educated, but they are not romantic about their work. Work is work. The other piece of the puzzle here is that for most grad students and postdocs, the bulk of the “work” they do as scientists is labor, plain and simple. Animal work, molecular biology, behavioral assays, biochemistry—all of these entail an enormous amount of labor that somebody’s got to do if the science is going to get done. Graduate and postdoc work is usually couched in terms of “training,” but at some point, you’ve handled enough fruit flies and done enough PCR that it’s not training any more. You’re a damn expert, and running another PCR reaction is just work.
But I love—LOVE!—learning and becoming proficient at new skills. I really do. Pursuing science isn’t really non-stop learning so much as it is a lot of WORK and some learning. My new job involves both. The learning part is the fun part, and it is the part of this job that I enjoy the most.
My new job is not a perfect long-term position for me—I can’t say with any certainty that it’s getting me closer to my mountain*. I took this job so that I wouldn’t have to move and because I fell in love. I have no regrets about choosing either of those things. I love my life in Texas. Uprooting myself in search of a job didn’t feel like the right move this year; perhaps I have grown cynical about the idea of a job making me happy. My home and my relationships make me happy. I have lower expectations for my job, which I’ll talk about in this post.
In the spirit of keeping myself organized here, I’m making a list of my thoughts on the new job. Starting with the good stuff…
* I love the newness of what I’m doing now. Truly, I’ve been drinking from the firehose, trying to learn, absorb, and reflect on all the new stuff being thrown at me. It’s been a lot of fun.
* My work keeps me busy, and I generally feel good about what I have accomplished at the end of the day. I have enough little projects that I have some success every day.
* My expectations of this position are flexible. Initially, I thought I’d say that my expectations are lower, but that’s not quite right. Instead, I see my work in terms of making contributions wherever I can. I’m doing a mix of animal work, molecular biology, and manuscript-related work. The variety of my tasks keeps me excited and engaged.
* My boss challenges me to get things done, but I don’t think she’s ever shamed me for not getting something done. There is, I think, a fine line between dangling the carrot to motivate people and making them feel bad if they fail to meet a deadline or make a result. My boss has high expectations of her people, for sure, and she expects me to get a lot done. It can be stressful—sometimes I am stressed—but I’m adjusting to her, and she’s adjusting to me.
* I will likely have this nice job for about a year, and then…? The plus side: a job I like for a year. I’m not sure what happens after that, and I don’t want to speculate too much here. But I see my position as the chance to learn a lot of cool new stuff, and for the most part, I’m feeling optimistic about the future. This much I know: I want to write a book, and I want to teach. What else I’m doing is to be determined.
As for some of the downsides to this job…
* I have to follow a dress code. My boss’s stance on clothing: 1) no showing cleavage and 2) cover your thighs. So that means no showing toe, back, or front cleavage. I generally don’t have too much of a problem dressing for work, but I miss wearing sandals. Now I can only wear them during my off hours, which gives me sartorial separation between work and the rest of my life. I’ll admit that it’s kinda nice to have a tangible reminder of the difference between work time and play time.
* Frequency of meetings. I am attending upwards of four meetings a week, if not more. This is hard on my introvert self.
* Less time to write. If you read either of my blogs, you’ve probably noticed that things have been quieter than usual. The truth is that I just don’t have much time to write these days. It breaks my heart! I love writing and miss it so much. I also have a huge backlog of things I’d like to share here, and I live in hope that I’ll find the time I want and need for writing.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with my work life these days. This current phase may have an expiration date, so I’m enjoying the experience while it lasts.
* You must watch this speech from Neil Gaiman—I loved it. My friends and I now talk about our mountains as a metaphor for goals and dreams.