What a difference a year makes.

I’m dead tired after traveling for more than 15 hours- and I dragged a bunch of work with me thinking … well, not sure what I was thinking. Anyway, I’ll blog instead. This post may ramble and be a little disconnected- hopefully you will indulge me.

Remember my posts this time last year? Maybe it didn’t come out so much on the blog at the time, but I was very down- holding on by my fingernails, contemplating shutting down my lab for lack of $$. Two great science friends dragged me to a meeting (*rightly*, and thanks guys) to keep me out there in the network and raise my spirits. I remember distinctly at that meeting- a friend of mine who was just beginning his/her faculty position coming up to talk with me, just sort of glowing with tremendous enthusiasm and excitement for the new faculty job.  I tried to be enthusiastic along with my friend- but I just didn’t really have it in me- having reached the critical third year of my appointment with no funded grants, fatigued from what seemed at the time a lot of pointless hard work.

Sometime during this last year, we had a speaker at one of the faculty group lunches that I attend. She talked at length about her career- describing her early days as TT faculty. She told a story that echoed mine- terrific enthusiasm for her position, lots of hard work and grants submitted, supportive senior faculty colleagues rooting for her, encouraging her to always have something (a grant or a paper) in the hopper… but reaching the TT faculty career point of no return with no grants in hand. She had to lay off people, she worried that she wasn’t going to make it.  Then,  she found out in a very short interval that she would have multiple grants funded- her career turned around,  she ran with it, and she remains today successful TT faculty. Believe it or not- I went back to my office after that, even in my state of extreme science fatigue, with the energy to submit whatever was next on my list. Her story has been in my head ever since.

Anyway, what a difference a year has made for me, things have completely turned around. The lab went from rags to riches (it is all relative)- in a way and to a magnitude that I never could have imagined. We are out of the woods, at least for the moment- and now we have the opportunity to do the projects that I have been dreaming, writing and theorizing over for the last three years. I’m about to send my first doctoral student out into the world fully Ph.D.ed, and she is a mother of 2.

This last week was a big one. I turned in my tenure package a year early, and a grant I wasn’t expecting anything from turned out to be the top grant in the review section. I served my first days as an editor at a great journal in my field- a position to which I was invited, partly because what I write in this blog was noticed by the Editor in Chief. This position is a huge honor, and not to be dramatic- but seeing my name on the masthead made me want to thank my mom, my dad and the members of the academy. I know that in the next year there will be some adjustments and many challenges, but I’m delighted and excited to enter the next stage of my career.

Why am I telling you all of this? Not because I think I’ve done anything extraordinary, or that I’m anything special. I’m not. But I want to illustrate that you can be at the bottom of the bottom of your morale, and with a little luck, good timing, hard work and persistence (put those in any order you prefer)- things can turn around on a dime. You are just never going to know how or when.


23 thoughts on “What a difference a year makes.

  1. Thanks for this, doubledoc–it’s good to hear these stories because from the point of view of the trainees, tenured and/or successful faculty often have a certain aura of inevitability around them and it can be hard to realize that they may have gone through sloughs like this….and turnarounds like this. Always good to remember.

  2. Congrats on your well-earned successes 🙂 I’m still at the bottom of the ladder with the same uncertainties and fears that you had a year ago but I’m hopeful that all of my hard work will pay off in the next few years.

  3. CONGRATS!!!!! Every body part is crossed for you.

    Awesomeness motherload is happening to me too. My editor chief told me he was at a summer meeting where I was voted as a plenary speaker for big international meeting on other side of the freakin planet. I’m still in shock, might go into cardiac arrest. I WILL be thanking the academy!!! profusely!!! I’m still staring at the email from the committee in disbelief. I had a series of papers that took off like lightning and a lot of people are noticing all of a sudden, every week is an email from another corner of the world asking for help or for the pdfs. I got an email from IRAN during the protests, it’s framed above my printer now. If I hear from someone in Iraq or North Korea, I swear I’ll keel over. Cuba, South Korea, Croatia, Egypt, Panama, places I’ve never heard of, Check. Totally Mindblowing. When the tide turns, it fuckin turns on a dime is right, holy hell!

    Somedays I really feel like a piece of shit, when none of my analyses run, when papers and grants get ripped up and spit out, when assholes go ahead and make my day, and on and on. The swings between the highs and lows make me crazzzzzzzzzy. I was struggling to organize a women’s symposium with everything for me being big fat FAIL, over and over, not exactly the happy cheery successful woman in charge anyone wants putting shit together. If the grant gets funded, I’ll eat my laptop. I’m trying to ride the awesomeness as long as I can, because I know there’s a sucky hellhole ahead. I don’t know if there’s a middle between sink and swim. I was forced to endure Finding Nemo again last week, so “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” from Dory is swimming in my head. So damn true.

  4. JC- Excellent news! Congrats!!!

    PiT- Give it everything you have got and take the long view…, which- since I read your blog ;-), I know you are.

    Dr.J.- I’m glad you mention this-because it is true. But making success sound effortless doesn’t help anyone.

    DM, C PP, CE, and Tina- Thanks!

  5. Congrats DrDrA, it’s great for those of us starting out th see what others have gone through so we don’t feel like we’re on the wrong path just because things aren’t going our way just yet.

  6. I noticed a long time ago that the difference between the people who are successful in science and those who are not is what they do when things aren’t going well. The people who make it are the ones who keep working at it when the paper gets rejected, the grant isn’t funded, the seminar goes badly, . . . .

    I thought you were a role model before, and still are now, and think that nothing is more important than telling people about both the highs and the lows. The aura of inevitability (and, might I say, there’s a certain tradition to fostering that aura, kind of like BikeMonkey’s, probably crazy, idea about fostering pale faces for the aura of domination) leads a lot of people to give up when things aren’t going swimmingly.

    You were a role model when you kept scrapping and you will be when things seem to be going smoothly, too. I’m so happy to see people like you succeed.

  7. Neurolover- I am very honored that you would say this. I have said from the beginning of this blog that I hope that my experiences can help someone else – even if that is just by that person realizing that everyone has ups and downs!

    What you say about how people deal when the chips are down is very true. DrMrA always says that how people deal with adversity defines who they are. After all, its easy when thing are going well- anyone can manage that, right? Not true that everyone can function and do the things that need to be done when the times are more difficult.

    Also– that ‘aura of inevitability’ business- I love that Dr.J brought that up- it is very isolating to feel like you are the only one struggling and for everyone else success comes naturally. 99% of the time (in my limited experience) that is just not how things work. People who perpetuate this idea – are really only trying to highlight their own greatness, and intimidate you into believing that you are somehow less than them for struggling for it. It takes a lot of courage to talk about your own struggle, and be publicly introspective about what you did wrong.

    Prof-like substance- :-), you will get there. I’d just be glad if I could help in some small way.

  8. w00t! factor nine mr. sulu

    and it’s worth remembering that at the end of the day, even The Black Knight’s tenacity was rewarded with a technical victory of sorts.
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

  9. Wow. Great post and great comments especially when I am in a phase of feeling sorry for myself and feeling as if all of “this” is not worth it. I will scrape myself off the floor and keep moving forward. Thanks!

  10. The aura of inevitability (and, might I say, there’s a certain tradition to fostering that aura, kind of like BikeMonkey’s, probably crazy, idea about fostering pale faces for the aura of domination) leads a lot of people to give up when things aren’t going swimmingly.

    Say what?

  11. Congratulations! I beg to disagree in one respect though, you are extraordinary…as a role model and as a scientist. Your accomplishments are well deserved.

  12. Sorry to be so late to the comment thread but I just wanted to say congratulations and send you best wishes on the review of your tenure portfolio/dossier.

    There are many lessons in your story but most important is that you were the awesome scientist a year ago that you are today. You’ve done all the right things this past year and you are starting to see some major payoffs. I always try to remind myself that I don’t suck when the chips are down and to stay humble when things go well.

    It takes a lot of courage to talk about your own struggle, and be publicly introspective about what you did wrong.

    And yes: 99% of us do have to struggle in this business. Your talking about it so frankly is yet another reason you are a role model for me and for the young’uns ’round these parts.

  13. Hey Abel- Thanks for the kind comment. This is certainly a learning experience for me, and I hope I can shine some light on the process in some small way. 🙂

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