Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sabbatical; the ideal lab experience.

Hooray! I'm on sabbatical!

Our move did not go as well as expected, so it took three days longer than we thought it would. Despite this, I still had about 5 days to just "be" in our new environs before showing up to my host lab.

The first few days in the lab were shadowing a very senior grad student. It felt great for two reasons. The first is that it was all pretty familiar. Grad Student was extremely thorough and showed me every step, and I appreciated that. Everything that is done is done for a reason and all the reasons were familiar. It is much easier to remember details of a procedure if they make sense and fit into the bigger picture (hmm. pedagogical implications...). 

The second reason is because it is all new. I am so happy to learn something new, something for which I have a great background but still have never done. I am particularly looking forward to do something that they don't teach undergrads because it is too technically challenging. Hoo-hah.

I am also completely at ease in the lab. I understand my weaknesses, and am patient with them. I understand my strengths and will let them shine. I am a guest in the lab, so I make no demands about adapting to me (besides, I am quite adaptable), AND, most importantly, this is very low-stakes.

If it goes well, residual insecurities evaporate and I will have great success in the lab. I will feel good about my contribution, will contribute, and will publish. If things go OK, we make progress (and we publish). If things go very badly (and they won't as far as I can tell), I may have cost the lab some supplies. I am free labor for them. I have tenure doing something that requires some, but not daily, success in the lab. In addition, I would feel even better that I chose the teaching route (or it chose me, if you will).

In grad school, the question of success in the lab was extremely high stakes: can I even do this? How good am I? How smart am I? Am I going to be a failure? Am I going to have to go home? Am I going to lose this $60,000 per year scholarship? Failure was full of shame.

In post-doc the question of success in the lab was: what's my future? Will I find a job? Are the weaknesses I discovered in grad school situational or unmalleable characteristics? Will I hover on soft money for the rest of my life? My future rested on my success.
Now the question is simply: will I get a publication or two? Will I be able to use any of this in my permanent job?

Considerably different, wouldn't you say?

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