Welcome to my first ever blog! Being in a science discipline, I often do not have many options for creative writing. And heck, I don't even know if blogs are a thing anymore...but I want to pursue an outlet for more creative writing -- so here I am! I will likely feature some personal topics from time to time, but mostly career-related topics that I am learning through my career development. I'll throw in some science lessons as well to grow as a teacher, explaining complex topics.
This first blog is going to be about a topic that I have spent quite a few months thinking about -- success. It is one of the few topics/ideas that is really hard to define. Each person defines success in different ways and it seemingly changes depending on the stage of life you are in. One person may find success by pursuing their career, obtaining that "dream" job, making a difference in the workplace, while another may derive success from relationships, serving others. One moment success may look like getting that graduate degree, and the next it's teaching your young kid how to use manners. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of success.
In relation to success, I have been spending a lot of time reflecting on the last two and a half years of my life/career and how I would characterize my professional "success". Many of you who know me are aware that I joined the CSU Atmospheric Science department 2.5 years ago after finishing my PhD at Texas Tech University. I initially joined the department as a postdoc, and have since joined the Research Scientist ranks after a 2-year postdoc stint. This time in a young scientist's career is supposed to be exploratory, with opportunities to build new skills, network with other professionals even outside of your niche research area, and prepare scientifically, emotionally, physically, etc. for your future career. And therein lies the dilemma for defining success -- supposedly, we are still working 'toward' our goals. If success is tied to accomplishing a goal, am I being successful? Is my success momentary and minute? How do I find moments of success that can carry me through the muck and mud of the day-to-day grind as a researcher and human?
A postdoc is often seen as 'stepping stone' of sorts because it is not permanent (often based on a set limit of funding from an external grant) and is truly meant for training -- think residency for medical doctors if you are unfamiliar with the academic ladder. But the limited tenure of a postdoc (maybe only a year or two), coupled with the intense pressure to "publish or perish", presents some unique challenges that are often compounded by this stage of life. For myself, and I know for many others in the atmospheric science field at least, the post-PhD life is supposed to feature some "normalcy" of adult life after the grueling pace and stress of a STEM graduate education. Maybe that means finding a partner or spouse, or starting a family, or buying your first house, or settling down in one spot. So how can you find success in life and in your career with all these increasing demands? I need to be writing that grant, publishing that work, changing those diapers, making family dinners, getting more money to put my kid in activities, maintain some physical exercise, caring for my mental health, etc. etc etc. Oh and then you need to be deciding what you want to do with your career, right? Because the postdoc will end soon...and there HAS to be someonething on the other side of those 10+ years of college. What if your dream job is becoming less and less of a possibility??
If you sense a little bit of stress, ding ding ding! You have won an insight into my mind at the moment. My wife and I started a family just before I obtained my PhD, and we just welcomed our second child a few weeks ago. Even moreso now, I feel this immense need to be successful -- to get the job I always wanted, to join a faculty somewhere. But being unsuccesful over and over in my applications has left me wondering again how I can be successful at this stage in my life with all of the personal and professional demands. So I offer up a couple of pieces of advice that I have been pondering that I believe have fueled some of my professional "success". And I will mention that professional "success" in the context of being a Research Scientist is traditionally and inextricably linked to publishing and external grant monies. Both aspects effectively determine survival in academia. So these pieces that I share are a little centric to academia, but I think they can be somewhat universal to many aspects of life.
Time is a premium because of the juxtaposition of "life" and the pursual of professional success -- why you find many academics working on weekends! So what other pieces are needed to achieve success? I offer up three pieces: 1) Mentorship, 2) Research Freedom, and 3) Support. So lets briefly dive into each of these separately.
Mentorship: This one is maybe a little self explanatory. Find someone who WANTS YOU TO SUCCEED. There are lots of AMAZING mentors out there, and a lot of TERRIBLE ones too. But the good ones not only want to see you succeed, and they will assist you to reach your goals and success. I have been blessed and fortunate to have some good ones, and they all had these traits in common. They often would set aside their own personal goals in order for me to achieve mine.
Research Freedom: This piece is very specific to academia, but the freedom to explore new research topics and generate your own ideas is paramount to PERSONAL success. Let me explain. You will learn A LOT about yourself when given the opportunity to explore. Your mind is free, not tied to some task or deliverable. You will be amazed at how much you learn about yourself, helping you to further define what success means to YOU.
Support: Maybe also an obvious thought, but surround yourself with people who care. Family, friends, colleagues, a department. This doesn't take much time at all (ok, maybe a little time to cultivate the relationships), and having people around you that want you to achieve success, who are successful themselves too, will help you at least by osmosis.
I'll also admit that sometimes I just don't "feel" successful. But I think these feelings are likely a function of my decision to 1) compare myself to others and 2) set unrealistic expectations. Comparison sets us up for failure and a constant barrage of imposter syndrom. Just be the best YOU! Success is unique to YOU and your perception of yourself, not anyone else's success or their evaluation of you. And don't set expectations that are a reflection of someone else's success. Start with small expectations. Some can be lofty, but maybe not 10 lofty goals. Expectations should be a reflection of who you ARE and who you want to become.
Don't let some version of success define you -- you define your own success!