Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 Intention First Quarter Results: Career

Original Intention: "spend (at least) a few hours each week on this [independent project] and...make some sort of schedule for working...most nights after B is asleep and chores are done. "
Grade: C

I was about to give this an F on career; in the past 3 weeks I've received an unfundable score on my latest grant proposal and had a paper outright rejected. But those setbacks are 1) part and parcel of the whole academic research game and 2) not entirely within my control. Plus, as written above, my original intention was quite specific and unrelated.

So how did I do?  I did take one of my ideas a bit further---literature review, preliminary study design, meeting with experts in that area...and that's where it halted, because the feedback I got from THE expert in the type of studies I wanted to do was...discouraging. Basically I was told that I had no preliminary data to support such a high-risk project (this is true); I was then offered an opportunity to collaborate in a small way on an ongoing project in order to potentially gather some supporting data. This is in the works and may or may not happen (I haven't heard anything in a while). I count it a measured success, since I did make the effort of reaching out & trying to make it happen, and if nothing else, I am on the radar of the leaders in the field & they've marked me as the go-to person for any "X"-related studies they may consider in their larger projects.

Lately I've been too bogged down in my ongoing projects to spend any more motivation or brain space on another pie-in-the-sky idea.

The second half of the intention? Working in the evenings? Abject failure. What making & trying to keep this intention taught me is that I simply do not WANT to spend "most every night" working. I can crank it out for a deadline, but as part of my daily routine? Its not sustainable. In my reading about successful women in any field, I got a sense that they all worked like crazy during the work day, rushed home to work the second shift with dinner, kids, and chores. Then as soon as the good-night kisses were given & the kitchen shining, they cracked open their laptops for the THIRD shift, working until they collapsed into bed, only to rouse themselves at 5am to do it again.

Where is the time for connecting with your spouse or friends? For any other hobbies or interests? Or for simply decompressing in front of the television once in a while. I simply cannot imagine living my life like this, and if that is a prerequisite for success, I'm out of the race.

I HAVE to believe their is another way and so I am changing my intention to try to add more productivity to my workday itself. I have few concrete ideas of how to do so, but will aim for a general strategy of wasting less time on "work" (checking email & responding to non-urgent issues as if they were urgent issues) and more time on WORK that will actually help advance my career. I like the idea of doing an important task first thing in the morning, before checking email & also listing out the "three major tasks" that I need to complete each day. I will make my comprehensive to-do list with "actionable" items so that when I finish one thing, I can quickly move to the next without my usual "filler" activity of email-checking/web-browsing. Reading/blogging ONLY while pumping (because its really hard for me to focus on work).

Let's see if I can work smarter, so that I don't have to work harder.


  1. Ana -- How the heck does anyone do chores, play with their kids, "be intimate" with their spouses, AND do several hours of work per night? It just doesn't seem possible. Plus, it sounds like you're making decent progress even without doing that. I think the people you're talking about do it because they are really passionate about their research. It just doesn't happen if you're just *somewhat* passionate. And plus, if you'd prefer to spend time with your kids and husband now, why not cut yourself some slack and make yourself happy? There's a reason having a kid adds a year to the tenure clock!

    1. To your first point; I agree. Something's gotta give, and I'm assuming if you are working every evening that something is time with your spouse, or friends, or any kind of life. But in terms of your last point---yes, you get that additional year, but (here, anyways) it comes at the END of your 10-year up or out cycle. And my appointment right now is for 3 years, as is my start-up funding. So I only have a couple of years to achieve independent funding, which will necessitate more papers, more prelim data, and ultimately a successful grant proposal. So, basically, these first few years are CRITICAL...unfortunately these also tend to be the years that most of us who went the traditional route (college-med school-residency-fellowship-instructor-faculty) are building our families, too, in our mid-30s. And our marriages are moving out of the "honeymoon" phase to a phase that requires more active attention....its kind of a cluster&*#k of competing, and non-put-off-able interests. So while I appreciate the additional year on my clock, its worth nothing unless I get to stay long enough to use it!

    2. Blegh. I didn't realize that about the early career stuff. Awesome. At least that's something for ME to be happy about, since I'll be in my mid-40s by then, though I'm sure that will present its own sets of challenges.

  2. I check email obsessively, and you're right, I could probably be much more productive without doing so. Because the third shift is a killer.

  3. OOoof. I'm sorry about the grant result and the rejected paper. Yes, you're right that it's just part of the game, but if you're anything like me, it still stings. I love the way you put it: "a cluster&*#k of competing, and non-put-off-able interests" How true. How very true. And I can totally see why you'd want to squeeze in some after hours work, but yeah, that means pushing the other priorities down the list. I sometimes wonder how the women I admire pulled it off. Many of them hit their real productive strides after tenure, so I sometimes remind myself to just do the best I can. Of course, I say this as someone who is about to get tenure, most likely. ANYWAY, you're right, you DID make progress--reaching out is really hard, but one of the best things you can do. I suck at it.

    When I went back to work I followed the age old advice of doing a few hours of scholarly work (reading, data analysis, writing) before opening e-mail, and also the age old advice of making a to-do list before leaving. These things both really helped. Then I got lazy and went back to my old ways. Point is, I think this approach could really work, and better than trying to work even more hours at the end of an exhausting day.

    1. And THAT is my problem, too. I know what I NEED to do, and every little while I "reset" and go back to those tricks, but I always slide back into my old time-waste-y ways. "work" this evening consisted of hunting down tax forms (I KNOW...I just hate doing them) and responding to blog comments.

      (yes, of course it did sting. quite a bit. my skin is not yet thick.) Congrats on (nearing) tenure. My field doesn't really have "tenure" per's a constant up or out situation until you make full professor at which point you start gearing up to retire.