Monday, April 7, 2014

My weaknesses as a scientist contribute to our two body problem.

I went to a talk today. I asked questions of the speaker that caused them to pause and consider alternative hypotheses, to relate their talk to broader issues, to question their interpretation of the literature. I often get compliments on the questions I ask during talks. This is my strength, a public one. I have the impression that many of the faculty at my sabbatical institution think I am really "on the ball". A post doc told me the other day that she thinks I'm brilliant. She just doesn't know the other side...

I have had major struggles in the lab for the sabbatical (see this previous post). I will have fewer data from this year as one would expect. While struggles are a part of lab work, my struggles are greater than average. In the past, I have had some denial allowing me to blame it on the situation.

The struggles from my sabbatical echo struggles I had during my post-doc and I have finally come to terms with my weaknesses as a scientist:

1. I take about 25-30% longer to learn many techniques than my peers do. While I survive despite this by working as hard as possible, when it comes to highly competitive environments or challenging techniques, I lag behind.
2. I have trouble troubleshooting. When something goes wrong, and the problem could be A, B, C, D, or E, I have a tendency to pick C, then D, when actually it is B.
3. I'm a very patient and tolerant scientist, and I mean this negatively. It's an issue with "Hmmm, this doesn't seem right. Well, golly, I'll just try it again." when it should be "What the hell is wrong?!?  I'm going to stop everything until I figure this out."

These issues are all interrelated, as you can imagine. They lead to fewer data and lower quality publications from me than others. This is why I have referred to myself as a "B+ scientist" in previous posts.

The major theme of this blog is that Hub and I are trying to find work in the same area, so we can avoid the commuter marriage we have now. I always imagined that I could go back to research full time in some sort of "research assistant professor" position if need be. I had even put that ahead of teaching at a community college as plan B or C.

I really love research. I love to work in the lab full-time. I like formulating hypotheses and testing them. I like working with my hands. I like learning new techniques. I like to build stuff. I had great training (for which I am deeply grateful).

Moreover, I have a growth mentality: I can and will improve on my weaknesses. I will try my hardest no matter what, BUT I should probably put the "perma-postdoc" option much lower in my alternative careers list than it was last year.