Category Archives: Academic Careers

Trust Yourself

I’m posting here an email I just received from Monica Schultz – creator and founder of The WorkLife Lab
I hope you’ll like it as much as I did!
stellarfield“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” – William Shakespeare

Not happy where you’re at, but don’t know where to go? It feels stressful, deadening, and overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be.

The key is to trust yourself even though your current work may have you questioning past moves and decisions.
If you’re making a living, but feel dead inside, below are proven – and safe – ways to find direction:
Don’t quit your day job – yet. You heard me. Sure, financial pressure is a great motivator, but for those of us who have a career to “fall back on,” that’s usually what we do: fall and go back. Then we can find ourselves more dejected than when we started. The truth is, the less financial pressure you’re under, the more experimental you can be. Trust your current work has something to teach you in terms of skills and/or personal development.
Do something you love – or you think you might love. Anything. It doesn’t have to make sense. Play. Experiment. Meet people with similar interests. Once you start moving in a direction – ANY direction – life has a way of providing connections and recalibrates your course. Some people even find they enjoy their work more – and find they have it better than they thought.
Be patient. Focus on finding, doing, and fitting more activities you love in your life. Don’t set a timeline of “I’ll be doing X in three months.” Intentions are fine, but if you find out you hate “X,” then where does that leave you? However, if you steadily add 15 minutes here and one hour there of things you enjoy, life becomes animated. Which brings me to . . .
Serendipity. Allow for synchronicity. Plan a path, but be willing to go off it should an interesting opportunity arise. If you talk to people who really love what they do, you’ll find they had strange ways of getting there. It wasn’t all planned on paper, though a map did have a role.
Don’t panic or lose hope if you don’t know what you want to do next. It’s the perfect opportunity to play with your ideas and dreams. As Steve Jobs said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
This week, do something you love, no matter how silly, and trust that it will take you that next step forward.
Note added: the quotation by Steve Jobs is from his famous Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005. You can watch it here if you’ve never seen it before.
PS If you wish to find out more about Monica and the work she does, follow her or subscribe to her bi-weekly newsletter at The WorkLife Lab
…and by the way… she has the nicest logo I’ve ever seen! 🙂

The Burden of Knowledge

‘As we accumulate more knowledge, more knowledge must be known before new contributors can contribute.’

It’s called ‘the burden of knowledge‘.

And that’s why, the average age of Nobel Prize-winning work is now 48 compared to 40, as it was before 1905.

Interestingly, the average age at dissertation is 33, which leaves a little window of potential for truly ground-breaking research.

Often, it is the dissertation that lay the foundations for a successful career!  (see infographic – courtesy: Kyata Tobias, Online PhD Programs)

The bottom-line message?

It may just pay off to write it well! 🙂

Credits: Kyara Tobias

It’s Not Worth It – In Memoriam

ImageSome days ago, I woke up to unexpected and desolate news. A colleague of mine, from Italy, had died. He was 37. He had just got a permanent position at an American University. He had taken his own life.

It’s never easy to figure out why in such circumstances. One is left with only guesses or speculations. And above all, a vague sense of guilt: could I – could anyone – have done something to prevent this?

I had had a Skype chat with him just over a month ago. Nothing in his words (which I re-read on my Skype account, just in case I had missed a hint) seemed to indicate that he was unhappy. Apart from multiple commitments landed on him, he seemed to be pleased to have finally secured a long-searched-for position in a job he so much loved. Yet, he must have been under considerable pressure. Simply too much, it appears.

In many ways, an academic career is very unusual. It demands things from you that other jobs normally don’t. It demands that you move around from one post-doctoral position to another, often for many years, before you manage to get a permanent post – if you ever do!

It demands that you leave behind family and friends. Often, relationships end because distances make them unpractical to pursue any further. It demands that you adapt to new countries, new cultures, new languages. It demands that you re-establish your roots where none had been before and build from scratch a sense of belonging.

For some, this is – or becomes – too high a price to pay in exchange for the excitement that comes with a life in academia.

To make things worse, the competition in many research-intensive universities is often fierce and the human factor seems to become secondary to academic success. An individual’s personal history, background, and well-being are generally ignored in favour of one’s track record or potential for further achievements.

To an extent, one may claim this is as it should be. A job environment is precisely that. It’s all about the job, with little – if at all – space for concerns about emotional distress. No matter if emotions are what ultimately makes us human beings and elevates us above everything else.

I know from personal experience the sense of isolation, loneliness and hopelessness that can prevail when you are away from everything familiar to you. These feelings are made only more acute when you are under the pressure to deliver and to perform. Reclaiming stability in such situations may seem unachievable.

In many ways I have been fortunate. Not because things have been easy for me. But because, luckily, I’ve always been able to ask for help every time I felt so distressed I thought I couldn’t take anymore. Perhaps it’s easier for a woman. We seem to be better at opening up and reaching for help.

I wish my colleague had managed to do the same. I wish he had found a way to believe that there would still be a future despite the temporary darkness. I wish he too had been able to ask for help.

And the reason I am telling you all this is because I sincerely hope that if you ever find yourself in such despair, you might be able to stretch out your hand.

Do not give up. You are not alone. There is always someone out there who will be willing to listen and offer some comfort. It doesn’t have to be someone you know. But, please, do ask for help. No job in the world is worth your life.

As for you, my colleague and friend, may you now find peace wherever you are.

Academic scattering

A fantastic post by Katie Mack on the two-body problem in academia (from a woman’s perspective).

The Research Whisperer

Katie Mack, smiling for the cameraKatie Mack has been training as a cosmologist since about the age of 10 when she decided she wanted Stephen Hawking’s job. She got her bachelor’s in physics at Caltech, PhD in astrophysics at Princeton, did an STFC postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge, and is now a DECRA postdoctoral researcher in theoretical astrophysics at the University of Melbourne.

Her work focuses on finding new ways to learn about the early universe and fundamental physics using astronomical observations, probing the very building blocks of nature by examining the cosmos on the largest scales. Throughout her career, she has been working on the interface between astronomy and particle physics, studying dark matter, black holes, cosmic strings, and the formation of the first galaxies in the Universe.

Katie is also an active science communicator, participating in a range of science outreach programs such as Scientists in Schools and Telescopes in Schools. Her popular writing…

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Grazie, Presidente, ma quanta amarezza

Scrivi qui i tuoi pensieri… (opzionale)

Io Non Faccio Niente

Il presidente dell’INFN, prof. Fernando Ferroni, ha scritto una lettera a tutto il personale, dipendente ed associato, per ringraziare tutti coloro che hanno contribuito allo straordinario risultato della scoperta del bosone di Higgs, senza la quale Englert e lo stesso Higgs non sarebbero stati premiati pochi giorni fa con il più prestigioso dei premi per la fisica, il Nobel.

Il Presidente si sofferma in particolare sul contributo dei giovani, e coglie l’occasione per ribadire quello che è il suo maggiore cruccio: non poter dare loro nessuna prospettiva di futuro, neanche ipotetica, a causa delle condizioni in cui si trova il nostro Paese e in particolare il sistema della ricerca pubblica.

Avendo il privilegio non solo di lavorare insieme da due anni nel Consiglio Direttivo, ma anche di conoscere Nando da tanti anni, per me è ancora più evidente l’amarezza che emerge dalle parole finali, e che sicuramente non è sfuggita…

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