2013 was quite a year for me. There were academic successes and a lot of hard work, however it hasn’t been without personal challenges, insecurities and concerns that have not been easy to overcome. So here is my critique of what I did last year, and how I intend to make 2014 work for me. A personal development plan so to speak…
At the start of the year I worked my arse off writing my ARC fellowship application. With crippling insecurities about my publication record and actual abilities (as I’ve discussed) I submitted a DECRA fellowship, which turned out to be successful. I’d never written a full grant application before but the process gave me increased confidence in my writing abilities, and writing the personal sections gave me perspective on how to sell myself and my skills. I’ve always been passionate about communicating science and have never been one to shy away from presenting data, but writing the fellowship application put my abilities to communicate scientific concepts and ideas to the test.
I didn’t just write one fellowship application. I applied to 4 other internal university schemes including the Macquarie University Research Fellowship (MQRF), University of Sydney Fellowship, UNSW VC Fellowship and University of Melbourne McKenzie Fellowship. In writing these applications I had the privilege of working with fantastic and inspiring research leaders, and I am forever indebted to them for their support during the writing of these projects. These schemes are incredibly competitive, I placed in the top 10 for the MQRF and I was pretty gutted (I cried, a lot) when they only funded the top 6 as I had put so much work in and had such amazing support through the process. In a way I’m sad that getting the DECRA rendered me ineligible to actually get one of these grants because I feel like I would have learned so much in each lab. Still, they helped me with my writing technique, provided me with new contacts and allowed me to extend my research ideas. Also, I have very little fear of rejection now.
Speaking of science
As I mentioned, I enjoy science communication and the media team for science at UNSW helped me with this, letting me participate in various science communication seminars and providing me with support and recognition of my efforts. Regardless, I have particularly enjoyed writing for The Conversation and some of my greatest personal achievements involved being able to contribute fun and interesting articles to the website.
I published well in 2013. The main challenge was trying to revise papers from my previous postdoc with an already heavy workload, but by managing my time effectively (read: working during weekends and evenings). I am particularly proud that I wrote both a book chapter and article in collaboration with another postdoc and PhD students without someone more senior than me, it was quite a liberating feeling and felt like a genuine challenge.
2013 was not a walk in the park. I was on a one year contract in a country 16,000km away from my family and home. I missed being able to see my parents, and selfishly I missed the fact that they are my eternal backers, always there to tell me that I’m awesome when I feel like a heap of shit. To remain in Australia I have to secure sponsored employment and the trouble with being on the other side of the world is that although people are willing to take a chance with employment, they don’t know you and how you work. Being the new person in a lab meant that I was an unknown quantity, and I felt very distraught at times due to some personality clashes. This can be a learning experience though – how to deal with difficult people.
One year contracts don’t leave much room for breathing, they involve all your usual lab work, learning new skills and getting to grips with new concepts in minimal time, with the added pressures of securing employment for the following year. I found that my postdoc position required me to rapidly prove myself as a decent researcher and demonstrate my determination to be a leader in my field. It is tough trying to forge both an academic identity whist trying to make and maintain a life for myself in a foreign place.
So therein lies The Fear, the constant nagging feeling that I could be winging my way back to my parent’s house in Britain and having to live in my teenage bedroom whilst applying for every job I find. Unemployment for me involves taking a 26 hour flight back to the UK, not spending time being “in between jobs” working on my tan (ha!) at the beach whist working part time in a bar.
It felt like trying to hold onto sand at times and was incredibly emotionally challenging for me. One of my hopes for 2014 is that I obtain stability.
I don’t believe in resolutions, but I feel like setting myself goals is important for 2014. I’m not going to declare that I’m going to publish loads of papers and do awesome science (that’s a given), but I felt that last year I put a lot of things before my personal happiness. I felt like I was simply clinging on to the academia tree whilst putting everything else ahead of my happiness. Sure, it worked out in the end, but I feel like it came at an emotional cost and I wish I could have felt more secure and supported at work.
So my goal for this year is to be a badass and stand up for myself to get what I want to be happy. I need to stop worrying about how I am perceived at work and allow myself to pursue MY dreams as opposed to trying to please people who most certainly put themselves first. Hopefully this will be done with 20/20 vision.
Awesome motivational images credited to Hyperbole and a Half go visit and laugh, my favourite is the “sneaky hate spiral”.