Skip to main content

New year, new me? Maybe not this time…

I am an optimist by nature, and not often plagued by regret. Yet, every year as the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31st, I ponder what I might have done differently in the past year and how I will change for the better  especially in regard to my scientific life.

To be fair, I don’t have such a bad life. My job lets me try anything I want, in terms of Hematology, or at least have my lab members consider whether it is doable or financially feasible. I can hypothesize and fantasize about how things work, and see if I was right, or wrong, and at the end of the day either answer is actually OK. I get to travel the world to go to meetings to talk about our science, and meet amazing people. I set my own hours, and despite them always falling well above the imaginary 40-hour norm, I enjoy going to work. I have a family that likes me, and still (thankfully) wants to spend time with me, despite my crazy schedule that is somehow both planned out a year in advance and still simultaneously consistently unpredictable. But, probably like so many of you, as the year comes to a close, I am more than a bit worn down. I have agonized over the wording of a particular paragraph that sums up my entire 5-year research plan (what plan?) into 250 words or less, stayed up late to find 87 more characters to cut from a manuscript, distressed about how to pay for my lab members, and pondered at the reasons that people seem to like our work in abstract form (thank you!), but not necessarily as a grant proposal.

A new year is a fresh start. Aside of the standard resolutions to eat better and find time to get in shape, I usually vow to say “No” to all the things I volunteer to lead/participate in/cover for others that eat up my time. I promise to start grants months ahead of the due dates and ask people for letters well in advance of the submission deadlines, rather than the evening before. I will definitely catch up on reading all the papers that came out in the last 3 to 6 (OK, maybe 9) months that are relevant to my research interests. I commit to use my calendar to organize my life so I will not feel like I am constantly catching up, rather than leading the way. I pledge to be on top of all the projects in the lab and notice as soon as things start to go awry, and I will have the solution to fix it.

Yet, as is probably obvious from that not so short to do list, it isn’t going to happen, at least not in its entirety. So maybe instead of this being the year when I do everything perfect – the year when all the pieces fall into place and I receive a Nobel prize AND a generous benefactor, the year when all my papers are accepted on the first submission (does that ever happen?) – I will make this the year to be realistic. Sometimes people will like my science, and sometimes they won’t. And I will take their criticisms as constructive (hoping that they are) and not dwell any perceived animosity. I will write letters of recommendation and support as soon as I am asked, so its off my plate, and helps them out, and know they will do the same for me when I ask at the last minute. I will tell people- not just think it- when they give a great talk, or present a cool story. I will accept offers of assistance without questioning motive, or being stressed about why they think I need it. I will be honest when I am frustrated or confused by data or a review, and I will try not to always burden the same people with complaints, or if I do, I promise to be their everlasting sounding board. I will be candid when reviewing papers or grants, but not cranky, and I will try to be helpful, not just critical. I will be focused and productive in lab, but willing to admit defeat and go grab an ice cream, on occasion (see eating better, above). I will try to remember that my students, postdocs and colleagues have a life outside of lab, and sometimes need a break, and hope that they give me that same consideration. I will celebrate the good news – big time – with food, toasts and cheer. And I will keep going. I will work hard and it will work out. It’s actually fun. I’m lucky. I will make myself remember that and let it be the focus this year. To those who share my struggles, let’s make 2016 the year of no regrets, for all of us.

Trista E. North, PhD
Chair, ISEH Publications Committee

Associate Professor of Pathology
Harvard Medical School
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Boston, MA USA

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to Make the Most Out of Your Lab’s Move

“The lab is moving!” I must confess, when I heard these words from my mentor about a year and a half ago, my heart dropped. Lab relocation experiences are some of the worst horror stories that you hear from fellow researchers: precious samples lost, mouse colonies never recovered, months spent re-establishing protocols. Moreover, it also meant I would have to leave San Francisco, a beautiful city that I loved to live in, and where I found many friends. Being a scientist often means not having much choice of geographic location of your work. The choice of a particular subject or even broad field usually requires a move to a new city, or even a new country. Moving with the lab means making this choice again – do I leave my project and all the progress behind, or do I accept the delay in my research and go ahead. Now, two months after our move to New York, I would like to reflect on my experiences and that of my fellow lab members on our cross-country relocation from the trainee perspect…

The cost of a postdoctoral experience and its impact on STEM diversity

Academic diversity in the biological sciences isn't what it should be.  At the most basic level, representation by underrepresented groups in the top research universities in the United States is less than 5%1.  Despite gains in enrollment of underrepresented students in the biological sciences at the undergraduate and doctoral levels, these gains do not extend to the tenure-track realm, where representation has changed very little over the past three decades. 

At another level, because of the ferocious degree of competition in science today - for publication in high impact journals, for limited grant funds, for fewer tenure-track positions -- one might argue that academic diversity is slowly been shaped by a "1%" mindset.  Perhaps more than ever before, the institution you come from-- even the lab you come from-- influences where you will publish, whether you will attain funding, and ultimately whether you will succeed. My purpose here is not to grumble; I'm sure th…

When people can…

As long as I can remember, there were people marching on the streets, either protesting or celebrating or even supporting the topic of the manifestation. It always fascinated me how powerful people can be, when they come together. In cases of manipulation of the public opinion this is of course not good. However, many times this can influence things in a positive way. Coming from a country like Greece, I have to admit that it was fairly frequent for me to see people getting together on the streets for a variety of reasons. Then, when I moved myself and my life to Boston, these events happened less frequently. I remember that I joined a protest in Boston once (although maybe this is not the right time to admit such a thing). It was about the Gulf war and people wanting their children to come back home. The subject of the protest was noble, however only a few people participated. Thus, it was to my great surprise and satisfaction when on April 22nd, 2017 the March for Science was organi…