In pursuit of approachable

As I have decided to move off the PhD track, I have been searching for more career ideas. This mostly involves looking at entry level jobs and trying to decide if I can imagine myself working the job for a few years. One of the positions that consistently draws my attention is communications coordinator, especially when its for a science organization.

This position can be anything from website management to writing copy for press releases to traveling and giving presentations. Usually they want some professional experience, and some jobs want a lot more than others. They usually want to see project management experience. Either way, they want someone with communications experience (and sometimes marketing).

I’ve been working towards the PhD for awhile, and during that time, I have presented many, many times. Does that count? I’ve completed my project, with minimal supervision or help. As I think about how to spin my experiences, I’m struck again and again by how hard it is to write about them. Especially in a readable format, since I’m applying for a comm job.

For example:

  1. In order to test the ability of the enzyme to catalyze the conversion of reactant to product the scientist consulted with a colleague to design a new method of analysis.
  2. Two scientists worked together to design a new experiment to study an enzyme.

Unfortunately I’m better trained in example 1 than example 2. Neither is necessarily wrong, but one is dramatically more approachable. And when you’re talking about discussing science to the general public, it seems like you should begin with sentence 2 and perhaps build detail to sentence 1 (although in this example I’d say they are really equivalent). I’m having trouble. I have to keep rewriting sections of everything and substituting smaller, simpler words in a lot of cases.

But why dumb things down? Its hard to make things easily readable. And sometimes that means spelling out the main idea instead of hinting around at it seems juvenile (that’s a loaded thought for another topic).

So how do you write in a way that makes it conversational without losing the detail? I’m still trying to figure this out, if you have some advice, let me know in the comments.

Thoughts on Quit Lit

I read a few articles last week about ‘quit lit,’ where various people write about quitting their PhD programs. I hadn’t previously considered that this merited an entire genre, although in retrospect there are so many stories I have read it would be silly if there wasn’t. I’ve read stories about bad situations, changing life plans, and ennui. Lots about overworked and underpaid.

I like reading stories about quitting. I think part of the appeal is that most popular stories are about rising over adversity. I like the alternate perspective. (Kind of like the Wicked perspective: How did the wicked witch feel?). But the story about the quitter who finds success on another path isn’t the ‘responsible’ perspective. Even in profiles of successful people who didn’t follow the standard trajectory, the quitting is downplayed. Responsible young adults dutifully follow the steps to success. Work hard, do the extracurricular activities, be a leader. College, PhD, work hard, job, better job, work hard, Success. Success will come to those who work hard. But what if you’re working hard at the wrong thing?

Sometimes the plan isn’t what you thought, and sometimes you aren’t what you thought. I think introspection has to be combined with a thorough investigation of where your passions lie. I don’t mean the liberal arts track, where you pick a major as a freshman and then take gen ed classes. I’m talking about internships and shadowing and talking to people. Having job experience in the profession you think you want.

If you think you want to be a pharmacist, work as a pharmacy tech. Want to be a doctor? Take a job as a CNA. Interested in research? Work as a research scientist. Jumping to the next step to achieve a job you don’t understand just leads to unhappiness when your expectations are shattered.

This is the niche I think quit lit fills. As young people wake up to the reality that they are on the wrong track, they need to read stories about how other people answered the same questions. What should I be doing? How do I know? What can I do to make a living while making a difference? How can I make a transition? The job isn’t the hard part. Changing expectations, worrying about disappointing people, and most importantly, changing how you define yourself are the hard questions.

Until we spend more time developing a thoughtful, experience-based career plan, I think the quit lit genre is not only here to stay, but completely necessary to help the younger generation.

This just bothers me

This was recently posted to the Naturejobs blog: Work/life balance: Take a break.

The first paragraph really bothers me.

Is there a defined time and a place for science? Does science only happen at work and then you switch off when you leave the lab for the day? I don’t believe that for a second, and the majority of you will agree with me. There isn’t a distinct work/life balance for an academic researcher; science is a part of our lives, our passion for it defines who we are and we believe that we are honoured to have a career that allows us to feed our inquisitive nature and the need to solve problems.

This is a real problem in science I think. This is what leads to burnout and women leaving science and the attitude of superiority to other fields where work-life balance is a thing. There should not be anything honorable about spending your life so focused on one task you miss out on life. And while this is definitely a catchy introduction to an article, the next paragraph continues to accept this as ok and even ideal!!

There is no defined line between work and life for a scientist. Instead it is a series of intensities. Ranging from a 14 hour day working non-stop in the lab, to meeting with other academics and talking science, to chatting to someone at a party who asks what you do for a job, to discussing your day with your significant other, to total preoccupation with something else entirely.

I guess this article is frustrating because I find it reinforcing the idea that it is necessary to work around the clock, even as it discusses taking breaks. It seems like an article on work/life balance might address the fact that it is unrealistic to focus on your science 24/7. Maybe I’m just being idealistic and dreaming of a time where I could have it all. Its especially frustrating that this is absolutely the way science works. #academicguilt is an excellent example of this.

Article summary: You should be working all the time. But you should make time for yourself, whatever that means for you. Make breaks happen, but make sure you get in your hours.