Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Everything has its season.
I started blogging here nearly a lifetime ago in Internet time—2007, several months before my second child, “Legume,” was born.
This blog has given me so much. It has given me a record of my children’s early years and the person I was then as a new mother. It’s given me a means to vent and express myself, to reflect and process. This blog was my way back into writing, an interest I had abandoned throughout the long years of science grad school and postdoctoral training. If it weren’t for this blog, I don’t think I would have ever started writing the fiction that I’m writing (and even publishing!) now.
Perhaps best of all, this blog allowed me to connect with you. It brought me friends—other scientists, other moms, other writers. It brought me into a community where we could share and vent and express and support one another.
In the past six years, I’ve seen blogs come and go… and sometimes resurrected. Blogging serves different purposes and needs at different times, and sometimes those initial needs end. Sometimes a purpose changes. A chapter closes.
I’m ending The Bean Chronicles here. But I’m starting a new blog here. A place with a different focus, where I’m a little less anonymous (although I still use a pseudonym on the site!) I’d be more than happy to see you there.
Monday, August 12, 2013
I blinked, and now I find the summer almost gone.
I had ambitions plans, a lengthy to-do list. I would clean out the home office, organize the kitchen pantry, clean out my closet, organize and print out a year’s worth of digital photos. I would write amazing, stunning, heart-rending Works of Literature. And I would prepare for a career in science writing by determinedly studying the works of popular science writers such as Carl Zimmer and Ed Yong, keeping up to date in the primary literature, and writing blog posts on actual science.
But I let it all go. First my career as a bench scientist, and then the to-do list of personal achievements. This summer, I’ve let it (almost!) all go.
Instead, I’ve been traveling and spending time with extended family members. I’ve held two new baby nephews born to my younger sisters. I spent a week at the beach. I spent every night of that week washing sand out of clothes and my children’s hair. I let my husband get me into anime. I’ve sat on my back deck and looked at the blue sky and swaying trees and thought of nothing at all. I did not get on an exercise regimen. I did not cook healthier food. I did make some damn good desserts.
Instead of working in a lab, I spent every weekend with my husband and family. I spent every day with my bean girls.
I thought I didn’t get much done, but as I write this I realize that I did, in fact, check off quite a few boxes on a certain list of priorities—a “family fun” summer bucket list I wrote at the start of the season. I had picnics with my girls, took them berry picking, went to the local park, the local farmer’s market, the splash pad/pool. My husband and I took them bowling and to an outdoor summer concert. I didn’t spend much time teaching Legume to read, as I had planned to do. But we’ve almost taught her how to ride a bicycle (I think she’ll have it down within the next two days), and we got her big sister up and biking nearly two weeks ago.
And I think we’ve tried out nearly every frozen yogurt shop in the area. I think that’s a pretty darn fine achievement.
Summer is slipping away; the days are noticeably shorter. In less than 3 weeks, my girls will be back in school. Then it will be time for me to buckle down and get serious about some career and work issues. Then I’ll finally clean out those closets. For now, I’m still letting it all go.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Summer. No structure to our days—the kids still in pajamas at noon, screeching through the house, building elaborate structures of cardboard boxes, pillows, stuffed animals and miscellaneous toys. Sun in my eyes at 6 am, sun still in the sky when I put the kids to sleep at night. Eight days ago I sent off a rough draft of the last first-authored academic science paper I will ever write. Since then I’ve had a backyard picnic with my youngest, taken the girls to see turtles in the wetlands area of a local park, and gone strawberry picking with my family in a field laced with larkspur and ox-eye daisies.
Walking away from science is easier than I thought.
Before I left my job, I went to the best “alternative careers” symposium I’ve ever attended. The speaker line-up was smashing—the director of science policy at the American Association for Cancer Research, a former high level administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, a patent agent, a medical communications writer, representatives from biotech, a venture capitalist, and professors at teaching-based, undergrad-focused colleges. The speakers ranged from those fresh out of their post-docs and just transitioning to the Big Bad World, to those who had spent 30+ years in their “alternative” field. And never have I heard such presenters speak so personally, so honestly, about their career struggles and transitions.
Many spoke honestly of feelings of shame and failure when they left academia. They spoke of sleepless nights and wondering oh-my-god-what-am-I-doing? The younger speakers talked about the steep odds facing them in even getting that first “real” job after the postdoc. The medical communications writer told us that she’d sent out 65 applications in a variety of fields during her last post-doc year. She landed only two interviews. A professor at a teaching college told us that he’d sent out 70 applications with similar results. The lone tenure-track professor at Big Research U—the representative of the standard grad-school ideal of success--also sent out about 60+ applications and landed only two interviews total.
The line between “success” and “failure” is so thin. 60+ applications and one job offer= Success! 60+ applications and no offers? I have a friend who was in that exact position. After two years of trying and countless applications, he landed exactly one job interview just months before his funding was due to run out. He aced the interview and is now celebrated by his peers as a success story. If that one interview had gone differently, he would have considered himself (in his own mind) as a failure.
The stories we tell ourselves can be paper-thin.
“Be intentional!” some of the younger speakers advised. “Be deliberate!” They said that after the decision to leave the bench, they took deliberate steps to achieve their goals and were continuing to purposefully direct their careers, to move purposefully and not reactively. In contrast, the two most senior speakers confessed that they had never had a plan at all. I just seized opportunities as they came along, both said. Both spoke of just “jumping into the deep end,” of moving (repeatedly) into new areas where they had little to no experience and then just swimming for dear life. This willingness to jump led both speakers to high-level, impressive positions (one is currently managing director of venture funds for a very well-known, large pharmaceutical company). But even these senior speakers admitted that not all risks had paid off, nor had all jobs been perfect. And the most senior of them spoke, again and again, of the importance of family and friends and a personal life—and that no career is worth more than the people in your life.*
I’m fascinated by the stories that people tell. There is one story that I could tell about my own career path, and it goes like this: I went to grad school, I got a Ph.D., I did a post-doc. That first post-doc failed, so I left science for a while. I tried to come back. I did a second post-doc and failed again. I am a loser.
There is a story I tell acquaintances who do not understand academic science, and it goes like this: I worked at local Research Institution for awhile, but in a three-year grant-funded contract position. The grant came to an end, and there were no suitable permanent positions open. I was sick of the grant-driven temporary contract lifestyle, so I just decided to leave science.
To friends I tell a combination of stories 1 and 2. I say that I left because I was burned out, I was sick of the lifestyle, I saw no viable, sustainable career in research for me. I say that I left, rather than that I was forced out. But of course it was both, at the same time.
I don’t know the story I am telling now about my future. In one version, I tell people that I will be starting a freelance medical writing/editing business in the fall. I tell them about the online course in medical writing I’m taking this August. In this version, I sell myself as the soon-to-be successful freelance writer. By “successful” I mean successful by the standards my parents hold dear: that I will make good money relative to the hours that I work. And I don’t plan to work full-time. I don’t mean to be always hustling for clients, but only to work enough to satisfy my hunger for social validation, to feed my fragile self-esteem. To work enough to have something interesting to do that makes use of my talents and education, and brings in a bit of cash (Yes, I know how lucky I am that I don’t really need to work; my spouse brings in a good paycheck). In this story I spend more time with my family, and I also have time to pursue my interest in fiction writing.
I do like this story. I hope it comes true.
**More notes on the alternative careers symposium: The oldest speaker was also the only one to emphasize the importance of blogging in career networking! He suggested reading blogs in your area of career interest, leaving comments on blogs and using them to network. . . and of starting your own blog if there are no suitable blogs in your subject of career interest. (yes, I was tickled by this).
**All the speakers emphasized the importance of networking. The medical writer who sent out 65 applications? She landed her job through a personal connection. For almost every speaker present, landing that first non-academic job depended upon personal connections.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Well, it's been a while.
I officially left my lab two weeks ago. Then spent another week banging out a rough draft of my manuscript, which I just handed in to my (ex)boss this past Monday. I've only just come out of recovery mode.
And I have a new short story appearing today at the wonderful science-in-culture/science-in-literature webzine, LabLit.
More later. I swear.
Monday, April 15, 2013
If you have two little kids, you end up reading a lot of bed time stories. And I've found that kids often don't have much discrimination--or at least, not any kind of discrimination that I can understand. At various times, my kids have both become fixated on books with plots so thin or inane that I can't even recall them now. Lapses in logic particularly infuriate me, and repetition of those logical lapses can drive me up the wall. I never liked re-reading the Dora the Explorer series of books, and reading the Magic Tree House chapter book series to my older daughter almost drove me around the bend. (Seriously, how stupid can those kids, Jack and Annie, be? Jack loses his backpack in every freaking book, and Annie is always walking up cheerfully to some dinosaur or saber-toothed tiger or whatever, confident that it's a friendly beastie that will enjoy a scratch behind its ears. She should have been eaten long ago)
Then there are the other kinds of books, in which repetition is soothing to kids and adult alike. The kind of book I can happily re-read. My blog-friend Cloud has written such a book.
"The Zebra Said Shhh" tells a simple story. A zebra at the zoo wants to go to sleep, but the other animals are making too much noise. Shhh, the zebra tells them. Each page depicts a different zoo animal making its own specific call. The monkey says "oooo", the lion says, "raaaar," etc. It's a calming and charming tale. The pictures are bright and adorable (I particularly like the lion's mane, and the scene of the sleeping seals). It's perfect for the toddler to preschooler set, who will enjoy making the sounds for each animal.
And even my six-year old, who fancied herself too sophisticated for a zoo book when she first saw it, enjoys this book. She is learning to read, and we found that the repetition of simple sentences provides her a perfect exercise in sight-reading. "Shhh, it's time to go to sleep," she read out loud for us tonight, as my husband pointed to the words on the page. With every turn of the page she grew more confident, and by the end she was proudly reading the entire sentence at once at the correct time. "I can read the whole sentence!" she said proudly.
By the end of the book, each zoo animal is slumbering peacefully in its enclosure. The stars are out, and it's a restful end for animals, kids (and parents!) alike.
Recommended. (And not just because Cloud is a friend!)
Note: as we finished this book tonight, Husband read the "About the Author" section to Legume, and mentioned, "This is mommy's friend."
Legume replied, "When she's dead, her book will still be around and children can still read it." (Sorry Cloud--my kid's on a morbid streak right now)
"That's right," my husband said. "That's the good thing about books."
"And when I'm grown up," Legume continued, "maybe my kids can still read my books. If my books are cared for."
"That's right," I agreed.
That is the good thing about books. I looked at her shelf, which has real paper books. I admit that Legume and Bean-girl don't really know of any other kind. Even if all the electronic copies were to vanish into the ether, we would still have these shelves of physical objects, and if well cared for, we could indeed pass them down the generations.
Monday, April 8, 2013
Thursday, April 4, 2013
I'm on vacation, having a fabulous time visiting friends and family, including my new baby nephew.
And I thought I'd also just toot my own horn. Vacations seem to bring good news for me on the fiction front. On my last vacation, I received word that my fantasy tale, "Snow's Daughter," had been accepted for publication at New Myths.
And now it's just gone live.
Unfortunately, I seem unable to link directly to the story. But if you'd like to take a look, you can click on the above link to the journal, click on top for Issue 22 (the latest issue), and then scroll down the table of contents for "Snow's Daughter."
Yes, I'm blowing my pseudonymity. I'm leaving scientific research--what do I care anymore?
Also, I received word this week of another story acceptance--this time at the wonderful science-in-culture webzine, LabLit.
And now I'm off to get ready for a meeting with friends, and then an afternoon with my new nephew. It's our final day here in the San Francisco bay area. Next day we board a plane back to the Midwest and reality.
Yes, it's been a good vacation.