Life

Jan. 19th, 2016 02:27 pm
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
[personal profile] liv
I ought to write a review of the year, I'll be glad to have done so when I look back at old journal entries in future. But I keep getting stuck because I have strange feelings about 2015. It feels like a year I will look back on and conclude that it marked the start of a change in my life direction, but that change hasn't happened quite yet.

2015 was the year of being in love, the year of establishing lots of new relationships. I mean, it was late in 2014 that I realized my friends were romantically interested in me and [personal profile] jack, and I think by Christmas 2014 I was unquestionably and intensely in love, but it was the months of 2015 when the new relationship energy coalesced into actually functioning as a quad. 2015 when all four of us told our parents and where applicable sibs about the relationship, when we started to have tentative discussions about some kind of future together, though we still don't know exactly what shape that will look like.

2015 was also my worst year at work. Not really horrible compared to a lot of what people experience in a bad workplace, but it's been difficult and at times I was really scared for the future. I had a 'not meeting expectations' appraisal in early summer, which is not a terrible disaster in the scheme of things, but it was the culmination of several months when I found myself really anxious and just somehow falling more and more behind and not keeping deadlines and that all spiralled a bit. Some of this was related to the fact that my senior PhD student has had a pretty troubled final year of her studies, and it's still not certain whether she'll come out of all this with a PhD. To recap, I have essentially two half-time jobs, one in the medical school and one in the research institute; the medical school have been very helpful and supportive and done all the right managerial things and given me lots of support to make sure that one bad quarter remains only a blip and chances to sort things out. The research institute not so much; they've switched unpredictably between ignoring me and leaving me to struggle, being actively hostile, and occasionally coming through with some random and not very systematic help.

I spent the summer clawing myself up out of the mess I'd got myself into. And of course starting from behind made that hard, and I was scared, and I suffered somewhat of a setback when my junior PhD student failed her "Progression", the process where the institute decides at the end of first year whether a student is suitable to go on and do a full PhD. She and I both worked really hard through the last few months of the year, and the medical school supported me by reducing my teaching and admin load so I could be there for my students. And this week she passed the resit panel, so as soon as that is formally ratified I can breathe much more easily again. So in many ways I can be proud of myself for extracting myself from a bad situation, but somewhere along the way I lost track of my love for research.

In the summer I found a job at a Cambridge college that I reckoned I was qualified for. I applied, was shortlisted, got really good feedback from the interview, and just narrowly missed out on the job. That prompted a lot of soul-searching; was I really willing to give up my extremely shiny tenured academic job where I'm clearly making a positive difference to the world, both doing cancer research and helping to make new doctors? And the more I thought about it the more I thought that is what I want, I want a job that I can do which is not constantly stressful, and I want to live permanently in Cambridge near my loves.

The problem is that I find it really hard to trust that decision. Just because I've had one bad year at work, so what, that's hardly a reason to give up all my dreams. And being in love seems like a bad reason to make such a dramatic change. I really hope this relationship will endure and grow and make me solidly happy, but it's still new enough that pinning everything on it feels like a gamble. It's hard to know how much the two strands are connected; did I fall behind and get into trouble at work because I was putting all my energy into new relationship? Did I tell myself I was in love in order to give myself a rationalization for potentially quitting an almost unbelievably good job?

I really, really don't know. I think I will be happier in Cambridge in the long term even if my lovely quad doesn't work out as well as I'm hoping. I think I've been dissatisfied with my job for a while; reading back over my work tag I feel like it's been several years that I've been talking about the job like a relationship that isn't positive any more but which I'm scared to leave because I made a lifelong commitment to it. There's a whole load of financial anxiety; if it were just me I'm pretty sure I'd rather earn less and have a job I enjoy more, but I'm worried about being dependent on my husband, I'm worried about the ways that my family have supported me financially to get to this place and it feels like it's not only my money that I'm considering handling unwisely.

I also have gender anxiety, because this is exactly what women stereotypically do, they get to a certain stage in competitive careers and then throw it all in and end up in support roles because they prioritize family life over ambition. I'm very conscious of Linley Hall's very good account of why women leave science; it's very clear from her research that women don't leave because of overt sexism, but because of all kinds of perfectly reasonable reasons (like wanting to devote time and energy to a family) which in practice disproportionately affect women.

The other thing is that over Christmas I got to spend time with one of my closest and oldest friends, MK, whom I see all too rarely cos he lives in Australia and doesn't do social media. I knew coming out to him was going to be hard, because he lives in very straight circles and as I suspected hasn't really come across poly before. He wasn't negative, he didn't try to tell me my choices were disgusting or immoral or whatever, but he was understanding the relationship as some kind of crazy soap-opera type thing and using lots of metaphors from his profession, crystallography, to explain why a relationship with four people couldn't ever possibly be stable. And in particular he really really pushed back against my proposal to leave my academic research job and look for a job in Cambridge. I mean, he was in some ways exactly what I needed because he voiced precisely my own doubts about making this choice. He said, if you're having a mid-life crisis go buy yourself a Harley or something, don't give up your entire career that you've been working for these twenty years we've been friends. His wife, too, who has really given her all to maintain her own scientific career after having a child very young and needing to make compromises to support M's career, not to mention far worse political issues with science funding than I've faced.

So anyway, yes, that's 2015. I really don't know where I'll be by the end of this year, but I expect to look back on 2015 as a kind of watershed. Any comments or advice very much welcome!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 02:35 pm (UTC)
emperor: (Default)
From: [personal profile] emperor
I offered $AGES ago that we could sit down with some tea and have a chat about life after academia. If that still sounds like an idea, should we Actually Do That?

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-25 02:36 pm (UTC)
emperor: (Default)
From: [personal profile] emperor
Yes, I think the first couple of weekends have some free time in them; do you want to drop me an email about logistics?

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 02:58 pm (UTC)
jae: (tenuregecko)
From: [personal profile] jae
I remember making this sort of decision about my academic career (for different kinds of reasons, although maybe not all that different in the end). I opted to stay in academia in the end, but I can very much understand why someone would leave that sort of cushy job.

However things go for you, I wish you many adventures along the way.

-J

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 03:34 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Two thoughts.

The first is that you don't mention the pressures inherent in a job distant from your husband, and now quad. Well, you do sort of, by saying you would rather be in Cambridge, but you don't talk about the pressures that imposes on the job, and on your satisfaction with the job. If the dissatisfaction goes back several years, does that place the origin back when you got married/your relationship got serious? It may be the quad is just making something more apparent that's actually been true for a while.

WRT MK, no matter how good a friend he is, it's clear from what you say that he doesn't get poly relationships, and that is affecting his assessment of your plans. His thoughts may intersect with your worries, but he's discounting half the evidence (the value of your relationship to you) to get there. Give him time and his opinions may come around to value your relationships for what they mean to you, rather than discounting them to focus on the thing he sees as valuable, your career.

Actually make that three thoughts. I'm not saying this is happening, rather that it's a possibility that needs considering. Both the situation another friend is in, and my own experience with Evil Aerospace, make it clear that sometimes 'must improve' or similar assessments actually mean 'I don't like you' (my experience) or 'your face doesn't fit' (my friend's experience). Even if you think the assessment was valid, it's worth giving a little thought to your managers and whether any of them are a little 'off' in their interactions with you.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 03:36 pm (UTC)
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
From: [personal profile] forestofglory
I've been having a lot of feelings about careers v. caring recently. Partly it is that I feel totally pessimistic about the job market or at least the market for my labor. But I'm also feeling angry at the way caring work is devalued not only financially, so you don't get paid for it, but socially so you feel guilty for doing it instead of other work. Anyways I don't have any advice but I'm willing to feel grumpy about your choices with you.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-21 09:23 pm (UTC)
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
From: [personal profile] forestofglory
You sound in danger of burn out. There is certain amount of downtime one needs to do one's best work and its hard to tell at this remove if you are getting it.

(On the point about caring, well caring for adults and relationships is also work see recent-ish discussions about emotional labor.)

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 04:07 pm (UTC)
ursula: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ursula
It seems as if you would derive a number of financial advantages from not maintaining households in two separate places, even if your compensation-on-paper went down?

Anyway, my sympathies. I've been negotiating career stuff myself this year (albeit as a two-body problem vs. an n-body problem), and it's always complicated. For us, at least, the paths where I take my career very seriously are very different from the paths with the most income or stability for us as a family.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 04:49 pm (UTC)
vatine: Generated with some CL code and a hand-designed blackletter font (Default)
From: [personal profile] vatine
I (alas) have no specific advice. I may have a couple of things worthy of consideration, though.

Is there any suitable role in Cambridge that would be an (up/side)grade of your existing academic role? If so, taking that role would not be "throw it all in and end up in a support role", it would be "changing from one research role to another, in order to be close to your loved ones", which I understand is a Thing in academia (once you've stopped the chasing from one institution to another, so as to follow where the grant monies are).

There's also the fact that looking for a new job is perfectly normal (at least in IT, which is pretty much the only thing I've worked with, in multiple "industry sectors", including, but not limited to, "medical (research, education, delivery)", "music" and "interwebz"). It may well be less so in academia, but it certainly is a Thing in more IT-related academia (with people transiting somewhat seamlessly out of, and occasionally in to, academia on one hand and "the industry" on the other).

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 05:32 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
*hugs* *hugs* *hugs* *support*

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 05:56 pm (UTC)
green_knight: (Confused?)
From: [personal profile] green_knight
Firstly, I don't think your job is half as shiny as it sounds. It's in a place that you seem to be getting more and more detached from (because you're no longer commuting between your job and you partner, you're commuting from your home to work and back); you're working for two masters with different agendas and it very much sounds as if you're juggling your hats all of the time and never really getting stuck into either task. Between the physical commute and the mental one, it's not surprising that you never come to rest!

Also, this does not sound like a 'mess you got yourself into'. Given your knowledge and dedication, I find it very strange that you should suddenly have stopped doing your work properly - it sounds as if you faced challenges that you could not solve with the tools you had; which a good manager should have picked up on and supported you rather than handing you a 'must do better' card at the end.

I'm worried about being dependent on my husband

I hear you, but I can also only respond with hollow laughter; I *am* dependent on my husband because my skills and circumstances do not currently make anything else easy for me. Does that suck? In principle, yes. Is it a much, much, MUCH better place than trying to forge through on my own, making myself miserable (but earning equal money), or otherwise making compromises and constantly counting up who earns more? Hell, YES. As long as you can earn enough to live and enjoy your lives, that shouldn't be the problem.

But I think that you also sound more than a trifle exhausted and maybe a little bit depressed, because your options aren't 'stay where you are or get The One Job in Cambridge That Sounds Perfect - you've got a lot of experience and skills, and there are a lot of science jobs either in Cambridge or in the vicinity thereof; and it feels to me as if you're not allowing yourself to explore other options.

As for your friend, he's not living your life; he does not get a vote in how you run it. It took me around ten years to go from the collapse of my academic career via trying desperately to restart it to look at alternatives; and if I'm honest I am happier editing academic texts than I would ever have been playing department politics. There's always another route to achieve what you want to achieve; and more than one way that you can apply your skills in a meaningful manner.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 06:35 pm (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
Many hugs and support. It's of course really hard to work out what the Right Thing is; I know I'd love it if you were in Cambridge more, but it does have to be right for you, rather than leaving you unhappy that you gave up something important to you because of us.

It seems to me that MK is perhaps conflating two things a little bit? Suggesting that you shouldn't jump to the first thing that comes along just because it has less of the blasted geography involved is sensible (I don't think you're actually doing that, but I guess from his point of view it seems quite sudden?). But there's a lot of room between that and a considered decision to make a career change that makes you overall happier, and as others have said there's more than one option hereabouts. I agree with [personal profile] davidgillon and [personal profile] green_knight that some of the management involved over the last year has seemed distinctly iffy.

One thing that occurred to me is that you talk about "support roles" here, but coming from industry rather than academia some of the specific things you've mentioned doing in that category are things I'd tend to think of rather more as management (not necessarily line management, but people management nonetheless), which is sort of coded as higher up the pole even though the best managers definitely think of themselves as supporting their staff. I don't know if this is a different terminological tendency in academia or if I'm reading things too selectively, though.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-19 10:04 pm (UTC)
silveradept: The logo for the Dragon Illuminati from Ozy and Millie, modified to add a second horn on the dragon. (Dragon Bomb)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
It sounds like the last year was a disruptive year. If this year settles somewhat, anything that still sticks out as a sore issue is probably worth strong examination, but I can't assess whether or not your continued discontent is from all the change threatening or from some other element that needs looking at.

I'll also second the idea that disciplinary or review actions sometimes don't actually mean those things - when you have a manager lie on your official reprimand, it's pretty clear that there's something else going on.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-23 03:57 am (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
That management in academia is not very involved is somewhat baffling to me. Yes, there's a lot that gets done independently, but I can't see how how it is good practice to let someone who might be missing expectations to just flounder.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-20 04:37 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
using lots of metaphors from his profession, crystallography, to explain why a relationship with four people couldn't ever possibly be stable

BWAHAHAHAH, oh, my people, never change.

The prudent textbooks give it
In tables at the end:
The stress that shears a rivet,
Or makes a tie-bar bend,
What traffic wreaks macadam,
What concrete should endure,
But we, poor sons of Adam,
Have no such literature –
To warn us or be sure.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-20 12:26 pm (UTC)
sfred: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sfred
I don't have useful advice or analysis but I hope that 2016 is less complicated for you.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-20 06:37 pm (UTC)
atreic: (Default)
From: [personal profile] atreic
I've been turning this post over in my mind, thinking lots of *hugs* and sympathy but not knowing what to say.

I think it might be true that it's not the existance of the quad that makes you want to quit a good job, it might be the existance of the quad that gives you the perspective and immediate activation energy to quit a job that's a bad job anyway. I'm not sure - one of the biggest problems is that the job isn't the career, and it might be entirely true that this current job is bad, but that your academic career on average could be a really good thing for you. Or even that this year is bad, and the current job on average could be a good thing.

If you'd decided independently of the quad that this job was bad, do you have any career options for getting out of this job still on the original career path? (Eg going and working for another university that is still miles away from the quad but not where you are at the moment). Or are you stuck with the problems of tenured jobs doing what you want to do being vanishingly rare, and lots of commitments to things like funding and research students you already have?

Personally I'm deeply jaded and disillusioned about academia, it's a big pyramid scheme, and even the people at the top of the pyramid are still playing politics (and probably screened by the asshole filter of getting there). But the same is true about lots of jobs, and academia has a lot of perks as well as a lot of downsides.

*hugs* Can you make a plan balanced between the two options, with things like 'to make this job better I would do A, B and C' and 'if I was thinking of finding a job in Cambridge I would do X, Y and Z' and then see which you actually find yourself prioritising and which make you happier? It might be that's pretty much what you've been doing all year though, and there's only so long you can balance between two things, both of which would ideally take your whole brain if they could...

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-21 12:12 pm (UTC)
shreena: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shreena
So, I think I have a bit of sympathy with MK's viewpoint but I think that's because, when you've known someone a long time, sometimes your view of them can be a bit stuck in the past. I still think of you as the exceptionally clever girl from school who was so clever that, even in a school full of clever girls, teachers openly talked about her as probably the most brilliant kid they would ever teach. I always had as a background assumption in my head that you would have a brilliant academic career and it's really hard to change that view. So, I do emotionally react to some of your posts like this one and think "really? surely this is just a mid-life crisis? Of COURSE, Liv really wants to be a scientist."

And I also have some of the gender issues going on in my head - when I was at school, I genuinely thought that the girls around me could and would have exceptional careers and break the glass ceiling and all that stuff. So, it's depressing to see that so many women our age dropping out of what are seen to be "high powered" careers and doing more support roles/caring for family roles.

But I don't know that all of that is fair to put on an individual basis - I think you can think that these are genuine societal problems but you're not a society, you're a person and you should do what makes you happy. But, of course, figuring out what that is is really hard.

I think I agree with someone else who said that perhaps posing yourself hypotheticals would help you to figure some of this out. E.g. it might be worth thinking about whether you would have been keen on the Cambridge college job if it had been in Oxford?

I think my take in the end, for what it's worth, is that you are clearly unhappy in this role and that needs to change but I don't, in all honesty, think that you would ultimately be all that happy in an unsatisfying job in Cambridge either - I think you need to find a satisfying job in/near Cambridge. I wonder if science education/outreach might be an avenue to explore? I think, for instance, you'd be amazing at a role that involved explaining science clearly to children or adults.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-21 07:15 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
++ on that last sentence!

Science Communication

Date: 2016-01-23 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I also strongly support Shreena's last two sentences, with a supplemental comment that science communication/education is a role that can readily be built up concurrently with your present academic post and indeed complements it.

Southernwood

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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