Thursday, March 10, 2011

Indulgent whining

I think I hit a wall this week.

The gloomy dregs of winter, the endless colds, the endless demands of work and family and laundry and experiments and "that time of month" (you know what I mean, ladies), well, it all seemed to come together in a potent brew that has left me spectacularly unmotivated.

For, well, about the last four days now.

Not that I haven’t been working. I’ve dutifully done the minimum of what needs to be done to keep certain experiments going. And other than that, I’ve been staring into space, logging onto Facebook for the twentieth time that day, gathering a stack of papers to read in the cafĂ© or library and then zoning out completely with papers in hand.

The latest discussions on the perpetual postdoc problem have not helped my mood. Anxiety is the undercurrent to a postdoc’s life: the knowledge that the odds are against you, that you have a vanishingly rare chance at even being able to have a sustainable career in the field you trained for, let alone a shot at assistant professorship at a decent research university. Me, I would be perfectly happy being a staff scientist, of the class that Jennifer Rohn envisions in her recent Nature editorial. Indeed, there are a number of such Ph.D.-level staff scientists at my institution. But word on high is that with current budget constraints, such slots will not be as readily available as in the past. And such a position is still no safeguard against insecurity; one is still dependent upon the funding of the primary investigator. I’ve seen one previously well-funded lab at my institute slowly dissolving over the past year, and one very senior staff scientist there (he’d been in that lab for nearly ten years) had to leave his family here in America while he took a second staff scientist position in Asia.

Insecurity is the name of the game in science these days—whatever level you may be at. I’ve hitched my scientific fortune to a mentor who is a rising star—but you can never tell what will happen. My husband jokes that maybe I’m bad luck: my first postdoc advisor lost his Howard Hughes funding two years after I joined his lab, and my first lab at this Institute (which I joined as a scientific writer/editor) rapidly lost funding and went from 15 people to six during my tenure there. Then again, I think it’s not so much a sign of my bad voodoo, as simply a sign of these very tough economic times.

Which is enough to get anyone depressed, along with listening to NPR and reading the global news.

So I hid out in the Institute’s library yesterday, tried to read a review, and stared into the gas flames of the fireplace. Outside was damp and gray, and the heat of the fire seemed the only warmth in the perpetual chill of the Institute.

Next week I have more experiments geared up. I’m going on vacation in early April, and there is so much I need to get done before then. If I think too much, I feel a little panicky because there is so much I need to get done always. And then I feel overwhelmed.

I need to get up and get motivated. Kick butt. Read, think, plan, do a dozen experiments, cook healthy dinners, spend more quality time with my children, try not to neglect my husband, and vacuum the inside of my car. The inside of my car is a disaster. If you saw it, you would shake in horror. Things are breeding in there. I subject my kids (who are also the major source of the disaster) to this horror every day when I buckle them in for our commute.

Okay, motivation is lacking.

Could someone please send Spring soon?


Cloud said...

Well, the weather's nice out here, but I still know what you mean!

Speaking as someone who fully expects to get laid off every two years or so, you get used to job insecurity, and start thinking in terms of career security and financial security- i.e., what you have to do to make it easier to land the next job and to make it so you don't panic when the inevitable lay off comes. It doesn't really even bother me anymore. But then, I'm supposedly compensated for the extra insecurity in biotech and that helps.

My husband jokes that I'm bad luck, too. Two of my former companies are no longer in business, and another one has seriously downsized its San Diego operation.

Hoping you get some nice weather soon!

The bean-mom said...

Thanks, Cloud =)

The instability in industry is scary. But then again, academic research (with its dependence on "soft money"/federal funding) seems nearly as unstable these days. Even tenure doesn't mean much at most medical schools these days (not when the PI has to secure most of her/his own salary out of grants).

I'm trying to look at "career security" vs "job security," too. Harder with geographical restrictions, of course. Congrats on your new job, and hope it's going well! I knew it wouldn't take you long!

chall said...

aww... try to not think of all of the things at the same time. (I need to clean my car too... it's embarrassing for real)

I hope you get happy times, spring weather and some rest!! It might not help but i see the sun where I am for the first day in a week and it is SO good. Only one day is needed for the spring hope to get up - and tonight is day light savings in the US too.... spring's coming!

The bean-mom said...

Thanks, chall! Sorry I haven't been around much... glad to hear you saw some sun this week! I know the light really does make a difference in my mood; I just need to wait a little longer!