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.

1 comment:

  1. In previous posts, you come across as being a very good educator and thoughtful advisor to students. Why not focus on this as your strength rather than your "weakness" as a researcher? It is not easy to be an effective teacher, and it is not as though they can just pull someone in off the street to teach a STEM discipline at the college level.

    It seems like you have found your calling working at a SLAC, and more than that, you've been successful and received tenure (while raising the kids by yourself!). So I would try not to focus on how you contribute to your two-body problem. Your strengths are the reason that you are able to provide your family with a solid, stable paycheck and financial security (while also being a kick ass mom, from the sounds of it).

    I don't mean this as preachy as it sounds. I have just followed your blog for a while and think you are doing amazing with a very difficult situation. I don't think you have a two-body problem because some how you are not "good enough." I was in a similar situation and beat myself up for a long time, thinking that somehow if I was a better scientist, my institution would value me enough to retain me and hire my husband. After seeing many friends struggle with these situations, I have come to believe that there is little correlation with how good you and your spouse are. So no point beating yourself up.

    Good luck and hang in there.