Wednesday, May 2, 2018

NIH New PI: Reflection and Progress Report, Month 2

Time flies! I cannot believe that it's already been two months since I got the official notice of award for a 5-year K23. (See blubbering me, right). And because the notice came on the start date of the grant (usually comes ahead of time), it's been two months of grant-funded activities. This grant protects 80% of my time for research; as I'm at a primarily undergraduate institution with a 3/3 teaching load and the notice came mid-semester, the change in day-to-day life was abrupt and dramatic. 

And great. And stressful. And humbling, in the most positive way.

So what have I done with the past two months, you ask? A lot, and not enough, all at the same time. Crazy how that works for so many academics! Here are some of the ways I spent my increased research time in March/April:

Step 1: Transfer two full sections of Abnormal Psychology to new instructors (35 students each). We knew in January that the grant was likely to happen, but we didn't know when, and I was in the classroom until the day the notice came. For one section, an adjunct who had observed me all semester took over; for the other, a full-time faculty member who regularly teaches the course took over. My tasks were to finish grading a set of homework assignments, meet with the new instructors to discuss midterm and final projects, and get my materials into shareable form. I had prepared students for my departure since the first day of the semester, but there was also the matter of actually saying goodbye. Abnormal is a popular course, and I'm pleased to say that at least a few students took it with me specifically because they heard good feedback from peers. So this was a bittersweet moment.

Step 2: Figure out how on earth to manage a grant. I was (and still am) astonished at how much time is spent on administrative tasks. Hiring staff, setting up record-keeping and other procedures, planning and tracking spending. There is so much involved that isn't really about the research (or training; see Step 3), and in my case, I'm doing it for two different institutions (more soon). Some days it seems like all I accomplish are admin tasks, which is frustrating. But I recognize that these are necessary and I try to keep a balance by protecting time for other work. Success rate ~40%.

Step 3: Get started on training activities. The K23 is a career development award, where research projects are intended to (1) facilitate practice and development of new research approaches and skills learned through training with mentors, and (2) generate strong preliminary data for future R proposals. My training plan involves weekly meetings with on-site mentors, monthly trips to other institutions to meet with specific mentors, workshops, and tons of reading. In the first two months, I've planned out the first year, gained a better understanding of the evidence base on tailored behavioral interventions, received guidance in grants management, and scheduled formal training in analysis of ambulatory assessment data. I've also watched several webinars on career development, responsible conduct of research, and academic productivity. 

Step 4: WRITE ALL OF THE THINGS! One of the best features of the K23 is the protected time, and I've tried to spend a good chunk of this time on writing projects. This was much easier in March than in April (see Step 6), but I managed to make some progress. I completed three invited manuscript revisions (two manuscripts now accepted for publication), revised a rejected manuscript and submitted to a new journal, accepted two invitations for manuscript/encyclopedia submissions, and added to drafts of new manuscripts. One of these required reviewing literature I'm not that familiar with, so again, tons of reading. 

Step 5: READ ALL OF THE THINGS! I cannot describe how wonderful it is to have time to read again. Not only for catching up on so much new research and preparing for class (see Step 6), but for other enriching texts that broaden my mind and skills. So far, I've devoured The Coach's Guide for Women Professors and Supervising Ph.D. Students,* and I just started a tome called The Cigarette Century (all nonfiction). I'm also obsessed with audiobooks; my favorite right now is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (fiction), which I've listened to several times.

Step 6: Continue prepping and teaching a new course, continue mentoring students on independent projects, and take on new leadership roles. So 80% of my time is now devoted to training and related research, and that leaves 20% for everything else. In my case, some of that everything is teaching and mentoring. The course I continued to teach is Psychology of Women, which is really the psychology of gender and equity. Oddly, prior to this semester, the course did not have a Women's and Gender Studies designation, and I did some prep last semester to apply for the designation (approved). Although my research focuses on women's health, my background isn't in the psychology of gender or women's/gender studies. This means that a lot of the material is new to me, and it takes a lot more consistent reading and prep work than a course like Abnormal.** It's also a very interesting point in time to be teaching this course, given the most recent presidential election and the #MeToo movement. I'm fortunate that I have a fantastic group of students who make the course so much fun to teach. Though it's a lot of work.

With respect to mentoring, I have a full-time research coordinator, a senior fellowship student, and a junior student who all have independent projects they're working on, plus a senior lab assistant and a sophomore who is developing an independent project idea through a tutorial with me. That's three sets of data collection, individual mentoring time, and weekly lab meetings. Today, my students are presenting our work at the University's internal research day, so the last few weeks have been devoted to poster preparation. I look forward to sharing this experience with them.

Speaking of posters, it seems like yesterday that I was in New Orleans for the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM). The last major set of tasks that have occupied my last few months have to do with SBM. In addition to prep for student posters, my own oral presentations, and session chair duties, I've taken on an additional leadership role in one of the Society's special interest groups and joined two committees. The number of emails and phone calls per week alone is astonishing. But it's fantastic to have the chance to be more involved with SBM and to contribute to the Society's activities in a more meaningful way, and all of these activities are directly related to the topics of the K23 award.
Coordinator Kristen Pasko and student Sabrina DiBisceglie
presenting at SBM 2018
Step 7: Try to wrap my mind around this amazing opportunity. As I noted in a series of tweets back in March, I really never believed that I would become an NIH-funded PI. The funding environment is so competitive, and brilliant, talented investigators with great projects miss paylines all the time. (We also now have data to support what many suspected about low inter-reviewer reliability for grant scoring, which makes it all seem pretty random.) I'm a very hard worker with some decent ideas, but I fully acknowledge that I am not the most innovative person out there. This is compounded by the fact that my work has taken a sharp turn into the digital sphere, where the commercial market and research space have exploded in the past few years. So I planned to keep plugging, work with collaborators, do my best work and make the best of whatever happened. Then the K23 happened, and all of a sudden, a dream came true.

This changed things for me. Things like my expectations for myself, my sense of what others might expect from me, the scope and possibilities for my work. My researcher identity, in a way. Plus, there's the new responsibility of being entrusted with taxpayer money. I realize that I probably didn't need to have quite such an existential experience over it, but I did. And that hasn't really stopped. It's pretty common for me to be in the middle of one of the activities described above, and all of a sudden remember that I'm now a PI. Not once has this failed to bring a huge smile to my face or remind me how lucky I am. I plan to make the most of the next 4.8 years, and I think I'm off to a pretty good start.

*Supervising Ph.D. students has not been part of my work thus far, but will be soon. Stay tuned!
**My background is in clinical psychology and I've taught Abnormal about 20 times.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Change of (Research) Scenery


When it comes to routine, I am the best. I absolutely love getting into a daily groove and staying there for a long time. I also love going to the same restaurants on multiple occasions and watching my favorite movies and shows many times over. (Most recent case in point: I have watched the entire available-in-America catalog of The Great British Baking Show more times than I can count. I was on round five last time I checked and that was a while ago.)* There's something delightful about establishing a routine or revisiting something familiar. You know exactly what you'll get and you can look forward to enjoying it.

By best, I also mean worst. Not just because most people find this approach to life terribly dull for lacking in spontaneity. I see the value in changes and I do like to mix it up on occasion. (Mostly when a friend asks that we eat at not-the-same-restaurant-we-always-go-to.) I mean that sometimes routine can be detrimental to a research program. 

Fully immersing ourselves in a research project has plenty of advantages, as does regular/daily writing and setting a model of consistency for mentees. These practices can produce both more efficient and higher-quality work than repeatedly re-orienting to a project whenever opportunity arises. But even this can be taken too far. In my case, I get so engrossed that I don't leave my building for eight or nine hours at a time during winter and summer breaks. I get lots of work done, but my efficiency decreases after several days (or weeks) in a row of this approach. 

To combat my tendency to retread a very deep path, I've embraced two practices:

(1) The writing retreat, and 
(2) The collaborative research trip.

I've tweeted about the writing retreats I organize for our faculty writing group at my university (see below),** and others have written (very eloquently) about the benefits and how-tos of these events. There's something about a change of scenery for the purpose of writing that packs a punch. Faculty offices are associated with plenty of other kinds of work, and it's easy to get distracted or restless. Finding a peaceful location where the goal is to write gives us something extra to look forward to and the perfect justification for putting other work on hold.





Running on the BFP.
In contrast, the collaborative research trip is new for me. By "collaborative research trip," I mean an extended stay at a university where you have collaborators and intensive collaborative work during that stay. In my case, I've continued to work closely with my postdoc fellowship lab, which is 2+ hours away in Philadelphia. I've been back to visit several times in the past three years, but never for more than a day or two at a time. This summer, the lab set me up with a small office for a week in order to have more face time for papers and grant applications. This is my fourth day on campus - I've made considerable progress on a manuscript I started last month and specific plans for two more manuscripts on related topics, plus tentative plans for grant applications. I've also been able to run in my old haunts, like the Ben Franklin Parkway and Boathouse Row. Quite a productive week so far!

Office space for Philly visit.
But this trip has been great for my research and for me beyond the concrete productivity. It's reconnected me to a type of research (i.e., large clinical trials) that I have yet to implement at my institution, and it's given me the opportunity to spend both work and personal time with people I don't see very often. I've also loved having time to myself to read, focus on marathon training, and avoid any sort of routine. I had already planned to visit again during my Spring 2018 sabbatical, and now I know that I'll visit as often as they'll let me!

This is your life moment of the week: Busting out of a routine helps to establish balance. Looking forward to getting back to my usual, but also to my next break from it :)

*I'm a member of my local public broadcasting affiliate, obviously, so I've even binge-watched all of season 4 many times.
**Please ignore the typo in this one - Twitter really needs an EDIT button!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

On Summer Reading

Like most academics, I really do love to read. And every time I get a break from the hectic pace of a semester, I remember how much I love it. I find it incredibly tough to make time for leisure or general staying-informed reading amidst teaching, grading, mentee supervision, committee work, conference prep, and event planning. During these times, most of the text that gets any sort of attention is on a syllabus reading list or in the form of a tweet.* But during long breaks, I (we) get to rediscover the long form.



Like what? I've read some incredible books during my last few breaks. I was utterly absorbed by Alice Dreger's Galileo's Middle Finger during winter break 2016. If you consider yourself a scientist (or generally a person who understands the importance of the scientific method), read this book. Likewise, Jill Leovy's Ghettoside: The True Story of Murder in America is a heartbreaking and eye-opening look into the reasons why so many murders of black people go unsolved in Los Angeles.** I was invited to read and discuss Pheobe Robinson's You Can't Touch My Hair with the student staff at our Women's Center. I was blown away by Robinson's ability to communicate her black, woman, and black woman identities as both distinct and integrated. And Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies was an engrossing mix of history, interviews, and personal stories that chronicled single women's contributions to US society. 

Women's Health Research panelists
The threads that connected these reading experiences were the marginalization, oppression, and intersectionality that motivate social activism and change. I didn't plan it that way - the universe just seemed to know what was good for me. Although I'm a clinical health psychologist with a particular interest in understanding and promoting women's health, I did not come to this topic with a background in feminism or women's/gender studies. A forward-thinking colleague at my university (who happens to be the director of our Women's and Gender Studies Program) heard about my interests and invited me to join the program two years ago. Participating in WGST as an associate faculty member, and now as a member of the program steering committee, I've seen my work in a different light. I've also been able to bring together faculty and students with women's health interests through programming, such as our recent Women's Health Research Panel.


My summer 2017 reading list
Coming to a humanities-based program from a science background has wonderful advantages, but I've realized that my knowledge base has some serious gaps. So this summer, I'm giving myself a crash course in the women's/gender studies and activism. As you'll see from my reading list (right), there are some second-wave feminism classics, two histories of the women's movement, and a set of recommendations to help faculty and students maximize a WGST education. Oh, and some leisure reading - one of my favorite pastimes is reading about academic writing and productivity :)

Working on balance. As I described in my last post, I love writing, and I miss it when I let the craziness of an academic semester keep me away from it. Same with reading! So how can I (we) be better about reading what's not on our syllabi during the semester? I do try to take one day off each weekend, and I could be a lot better about making time to read on those days. I've also discovered the incredible world of audiobooks (via Audible) and I've "read" more than ever by listening while running. I got to experience Girl on the Train (incredible narration), Stephen King's The Stand (almost 50 fantastic hours!), and Katherine (an 
historical fiction classic) this way. I also LOVE listening to people talk about running while I run, so I listen to books about running (Eat and Run, Ultramarathon Man, Running Man***) and the new-ish Runner's World Show podcast - so motivating! I'm engaging in many hours of running each week this summer as I train for the Steamtown Marathon, so I have plenty of time to multitask.****

This is your life moment of the week: There's a lot to do, all the time. Taking a few minutes (or hours) to immerse myself in the original long form enables me to be better informed about and engaged with other aspects of my life.

So what's on your summer reading list? 

*To be fair, I get a lot of research-related notices and I find out about relevant papers via tweets. But I only get to skim them and save them in a too-big-to-describe Windows folder called TO READ.

**I read this very close to the time that I watched The People vs. OJ Simpson. What an education.
***I need to get some running audio by women!
****More on this later.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Where On Earth Did Year 3 Go? And Other Mysteries

It's been almost a year since I wrote a blog post. I bet you can guess what happened! The short version is that I thoroughly enjoyed my summer (while still being productive) and then was quickly swept away in what often seems like a complete blur of a year. Oh I remember every agonizing moment (and some positive moments), but it went by FAST, and there was always something pressing that needed attention. That should have been my first clue - an entire year with no lulls in the pace of work? Bad news. And bad planning. I admit that I emerged as a person I don't want to be: irritable, negative, overtired. Generally not my best self, and I committed to addressing that as soon as grades were submitted.

What did I learn from this unpleasant experience? Probably nothing that I didn't know already, but apparently I needed a harsh reminder. First, it's not as easy as "learn to say no." That's excellent advice and academics should follow it. But I said no, often. I turned down manuscript review and guest lecture invitations and I let students know that the lab couldn't support anyone new. I passed on some opportunities to participate in professional society and university committee activities and was relieved when someone else was selected for a particularly time-consuming position. Despite multiple requests, I said no to a large set of responsibilities that required summer work. In fact, I might have said no more than I said yes, but the pace was worse than ever. And it wasn't as though the opportunities I said yes to were just the wrong ones to choose. 

Me, giving the keynote address
at my university's Wellness Day
for faculty and staff.
I'm not certain about what went wrong. My hypothesis is that the balance was off - that there were too many recurring, long-term, or ongoing commitments (e.g., regular meetings, being available/not writing during RAs' work hours, organizing and promoting upcoming events) and not enough one-off/short-term tasks, or too many of the latter interspersed with the former. Definitely too many commitments that required me to corral other people; great service if you do it one at a time, but more than one at any given time is a recipe for frustration. And definitely not enough scheduled, protected writing time.

Why was the lack of writing time particularly harmful? Probably not for the reason(s) you'd guess. Sure, not sitting down and "slapping my mitts" against a keyboard (as Paul Silvia would say) made me a bit anxious about my productivity level, and the anxiety was warranted; I submitted fewer manuscripts this year than last, and thus, have fewer acceptances to date. But the difference really isn't that big, and the manuscripts I did produce had some important consequences for me. (For example, one of them got me a consultant position with a fantastic research institute.) Plus, I gave lots of talks (at professional conferences and invited talks on campus/in the community), got highly involved with my primary professional society (which has been great fun and has introduced me to wonderful people), and did A LOT of service. All of this is expected and needs to get done, and I still managed to get a few papers out. 

The problem wasn't just that I wasn't as productive as I wanted to be. It was that I genuinely missed writing. I have to work hard at it to generate high-quality products, as most of us do, and of course, that process isn't always enjoyable. Neither is the review process, most of the time. But the process of sitting down with a cup of coffee, putting ideas to paper, finding new published research that informs what I'm writing/finding ways to integrate it, and coming up with new, exciting hypotheses as I go - I really, really missed it. I didn't realize how important that is to me, or how happy it makes me, until I came back to it at the start of the summer. The difference was startling.

I have lots of ideas about how to address this problem, and I've already put some of them into action. First, absolutely no email or other work-related activities on weekends or after 5:00pm on weekdays (except for true emergencies, which are rare). I'm increasingly intolerant of the expectation that I'll respond during these times, even during active semesters, but especially in the summer. Second, I committed to a personal goal of completing my 7th marathon in the fall, and I'm training correctly by taking extra time to cross-train, build muscle, eat well, and keep a log. (Much more on this later.) Third, I make space for "quiet time" every day - reading, logging, and/or just thinking about the things I enjoy. The latter can include work, if I choose, but it doesn't have to. 

Finally, keeping up with this blog. I don't pretend to have sage advice or answers to life's most pressing problems. But writing these posts keeps me organized and accountable, and it fits well with item #3 above. As a preview, here are some topics you can expect to read about this summer:
- Summer lab management at an undergraduate institution
- My faculty summer writing retreats
- Running and research, Parts 2-X (see here for Part 1)
- Organizing the personal (in a healthy way)
- Reading as downtime

Stay tuned!

This is your life moment of the year: "Whatever we pay attention to is what we become." - Alanna Kaivalya. For me, this means paying more attention to aspects of my life other than work, and being fully present during these times. And when working, giving it my full awareness. Otherwise, I become that person I really don't want to be.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Taking a Real Summer "Break"

Happy SummerIf you've ready any previous posts on this blog, then you're likely familiar with my perpetual goal of taking a real break/vacation at some nonspecific point in the future. After the Spring semester I had (i.e., gave myself), I need a break more than ever. I spent last summer managing and analyzing data, writing a solo-authored manuscript, and drafting a related grant application. I also traveled for events that did not allow much relaxation time; two weddings, a project trip, and two weeks in Brooklyn for a training program. I'm guessing that I worked at 85-90% of academic year effort, which is not a break. As this summer approached - my second summer on the tenure track - my mantra was DO NOT REPEAT.

Unlike my work goals, though, my break goal is the definition of vague. What? When? Where? How will I know whether I did what I set out to do? What is it that I'm trying to achieve, exactly? Even when it comes to not-working, clarity is helpful.


My kiddie pool in the backyard.
Getting it right. My first priority for the summer is to rest. Easier said than done, as many of us know, and what does that really look like? For me, rest means taking evenings and weekends completely off, and spending that time either lying in the sun with reading material or binge watching Netflix/HBO. (Also sleeping at least eight hours per night.) I started on this path as soon as Spring grades were submitted. I slept; I watched all available episodes of Marvel's Daredevil and quickly moved on to True Blood. (Neither is typical for me, but I loved both. Which is cool in its own right.) I'm now on season four of Veep AND season two of True Detective. And I bought a kiddie pool to stay cool outside.

But the relaxation was broken up by nagging guilt about not-working. I should be writing X paper or drafting Y section of my upcoming grant submission! Think of everything I could get done if I worked just a little more! I was on the path to self-sabotage already, and beating myself up for it wasn't helping. So step #2 was clarifying what needs to get done this summer, what I'd like to get done this summer, and ongoing work that likely will not get done this summer. This also meant planning around some deadlines and travel and coordinating with summer RAs to maximize work time. 

Seeing this plan helped me realize how much I'll be able to do even as I work less than usual. Having a major deadline early in the summer also helped, and I used extra time off as a reward for meeting that deadline. (I submitted days in advance, actually, and I didn't experience the stress frenzy that usually comes toward the end. Planning works even better than I anticipated.)

Step #3 involved creating an intervention for those times when guilt still nags at me. We can't stop ourselves from having negative thoughts, but we can redirect them to more balanced, accurate thoughts. As a clinical health psychologist, I know very well that taking breaks improves efficiency and leads to higher quality work than does running yourself into the ground. This is something I help others realize and implement, but find difficult to do for myself. 

For example, recently I took a three-day weekend, just because. I worked hard during the week and I was ready to relax. As I sat on the couch or on the deck, relaxing, I found myself thinking you're being really lazy - you're really not going to accomplish ANYTHING this weekend? Sounds terrible when I say it like that. But then I called to mind my Spring-semester self: exhausted, irritable, and not incredibly productive. My current less-exhausted, cheerier, productive self then shifted to this is good for me (and the people I care about), and I was free from negativity for a good while. Breaks work wonders.

Also, non-work goals. If you've read previous posts on this blog, you also might remember that my "hobby" is running. I've run a bunch of half-marathons, six marathons, and an ultra-marathon (31+ miles). I'm slow, but speed isn't the point. I decided to run my first marathon in graduate school, simply because I needed a goal that was personal; not related to professional achievement and just for me. It was an incredible experience and I kept it up for years. 

But since I started my tenure-track job, I haven't been able to make the mental commitment to training. (That alone should tell me something.) I did a half-marathon in my third week on the job, which was fun but not great; it was a gorgeous day on a gorgeous trail and I finished in a respectable time, but I wasn't well trained due to recent illness. I wrestled with the idea of a fall marathon this year - as you have to plan months in advance - but I still couldn't pull the registration trigger. I kept up my usual running and strength training schedule, but it was more out of habit and fear of losing fitness than out of love or excitement. I renewed my subscription to a running magazine just to have some sort of running cue in my house. I needed a goal.

Having that running magazine around recently allowed me to pick up an issue when I felt particularly despondent. Reading about gear, trails, races, and other runners' enthusiasm brought me back up, and I committed to a fall event: a running "hat trick," or three races in two days. It's a back-to-back 5K and 10K on a Saturday, then a half-marathon (13.1 miles) on Sunday. It's a new challenge for me, and it really helped - I've enjoyed running more since I registered than I have in over a year. Together with rest, sun, and continuing to work on projects I care about, running is lifting the Spring-semester cloud.

This is your life moment of the week: Overall, I'm happy to report that this summer is going well on all fronts. I had to plan for this and commit to it, and I've been able to strike the right balance for me. So if you're struggling, try focusing on these for the second half of the summer, identify relaxation/hobby goals. Put those academic skills to work for non-work!

Share how your summer is going and how you're taking a break this year!

Monday, May 23, 2016

It's MAY?? Spring Semester, Conference Season, and Keeping Up

Wow. This was both the shortest and longest semester in the past 10 years, and it taught me a lot about my professional habits. Not just about a tendency to take on more than a human can manage (as many of us do), but how it happens, how I handle it, and what happens to me as a result. The short version is BAD - as in, I've already made many public commitments to avoid ever putting myself in this situation again. A good deal of reflection has led to some useful conclusions, including the meaningful rewards of all that hard work.

Conclusion #1: When presented with an opportunity to begin a new project, I focus solely on the potential scientific benefits (including "that sounds so cool!"). Unfortunately, I don't attend to the details of how the project will be carried out - whether anyone has generated a list of all relevant tasks, who is in charge of which tasks, how long each one will take, and what the standard is for completion. Which is strange, because I'm a planner! I schedule my activities carefully and I've rarely had difficulty keeping up with ongoing tasks. But without soliciting all of the relevant information above and/or making key decisions ahead of time, my plans get blown up regularly, and I lose hours on tasks that I thought would take 30 minutes. That means something else just isn't going to get attention. 

Poster #8 of the Semester
Similarly, when it's time to prepare for my favorite conferences (or for our internal student research day), it sounds like a great idea to submit 7-8 abstracts at a time. It's only when preparing posters and presentation slides (or making multiple rounds of edits to student posters) that I remember "I didn't have to do ALL of this." Tired much, academic in this photo? ---->

As many academics suggest, it would be useful to have a clearer long-term plan and concrete targets to hit. Then I can reference the plan when new opportunities are presented: does this fit, and does it help me meet my target? If it will put me beyond the target, is it enough to justify the time and effort of the project?

Conclusion #2: I'm a perfectionist/control freak. This is a tough one for me to admit. I have high standards and there is a right way to do much of what I do, so I tend to insist that it be done this way. It's easy to see the problems that such tendencies create, such as making more work (and possibly, friction) for myself than is absolutely necessary. And of course, it's just generally uncomfortable to doubt that you're a good collaborator.

At the same time, there are good reasons to insist that work be done in a particular way. Junior investigators, in particular, have to be aware of how we're building our reputations and whose standards we use to evaluate our work - especially if we work on multidisciplinary teams, as norms differ across fields. This feeds back to #1, in that potential difficulties can be avoided with thorough conversations up front. 

I'm still in the process of deciding whether to focus on changing this tendency or accepting it and adapting to it (e.g., with early conversations and the attitude that not everything is worth doing). I suspect that there is a happy medium.

Conclusion #3: I hit my limits before I expect to. I can tough it out through busy, stressful times - I have a lot of practice and I hate to be a complaint factory. So I expected to be okay for the first few months of the semester, and to feel the effects in the last few weeks. In truth, I was burnt out two weeks before spring break (i.e., five weeks in). I had little energy for socializing, which usually invigorates me, and my work didn't quite meet those high standards of mine. 

I didn't realize how spent I was until I traveled for a conference and friends inquired about my well-being. They didn't think I was on the verge of a meltdown, but they could tell that something was off. Then it hit me pretty hard. In response, I took the opportunity to rest and see the sights more than I originally planned. It helped a lot, and probably saved me some sanity down the road. As a result, I'll be more careful to take breaks (always a downfall), check in with myself, and communicate realistic time frames for completed work.

Conclusion #4: Staying mindful of positivity and the power to change can get me through. Throughout this crazy semester, I prefaced (or added the caveat to) any complaining with the acknowledgements that (1) everything on my plate was good, and (2) I made my own bed. I'm fortunate to have the opportunities I have (people want to work with me, yay!), and I have some ability to modify my schedule and commitments as I see fit (flexibility, also yay). As a clinical psychologist, I know that most people can handle difficulty if they know that it's temporary. Hope and optimism are pretty powerful; it's the lack of confidence that circumstances will improve that really gets us. My little reminders - which were accurate - kept me from getting lost in negativity. So I'll keep up those mantras whenever staying afloat seems more difficult than it should be.

Clinical Health Psychology Lab
Conclusion #5: It's all worth it. Really. I had some important successes this semester. I had a first-authored paper accepted in a great journal and my first NIH grant received a decent score. Another grant was reviewed very favorably by a mock study section. I made some critical connections at conferences. I gave many guest lectures. And I finally recovered from surgery and got back to my normal exercise routine.

Most important of all, though, were my students' successes. One was accepted at a prestigious medical school and one at an ideal masters program for her. I supervised three undergraduate Honors theses, which were my first; one of them received an Honorable Mention for our Library Research Prize and that student won two awards from our department. I mentored five additional students to posters at our research day (See photographic evidence, and #1....) 

Our Lab at Senior Awards Night
Seeing my students do well was hugely rewarding. It was the first time that I got to feel true pride in someone else's accomplishments (rather than just happiness for them), as I knew the role I played in each. And, unsurprisingly, it shifted my perspective on the long hours, sleep deprivation, and decreased socializing. I love the work for its own sake, and I'm so grateful that I get to share this with students. (Stay tuned for more commentary on this process.)

This is your life lessons of the semester: Know thyself, ask questions, and keep your eyes on the horizon.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

New Year, New Outlook?

Three weeks in. Though we've had almost three weeks to get used to writing "2016," I'll admit that I still have one foot in my 2015 mindset - the one that served me well as a trainee, but now shows diminishing returns. Namely, a mindset that pushes me to take on as much as humanly possible in order to squeeze out as much useful information as I can. There's just so much to be learned about the topics that I care about. But so far this year, I'm paying attention to the costs.

For example, I know that it's perfectly acceptable (and possibly desirable) to attend a conference without submitting to present at it. But when conference season rolls around, I don't even consider this option. Partly because I'm in the habit of gearing my projects toward conference deadlines, but partly because.... why the hell not? Conferences are such a great way to get the word out about my work! 

Me, presenting at a
conference last year.
But it's always the same. I start with one or two main submissions; as I prep abstracts, I get ideas for other submissions; I want students to present, of course, so there's a few more. Before you know it, I'm presenting a talk and five posters, plus three posters that I'll co-author (across two conferences). And just for fun, these conferences are within two weeks of each other this year! That's a lot of conference prep. On top of teaching, supervising honors theses, service, and running a four-month intervention study. (At least two of these activities also could go in the "probably not necessary" bin.)

WHY?? This product-focused mindset was not born merely of ambition, CV building, or the desire for tenure. I love what I do, and I want to discuss it with my clever peers (some of whom I only see at conferences). But this mindset has drawbacks: I spend little time on leisure activities,* I don't read for pleasure very often anymore, I don't travel much,** my house could be a lot cleaner. And I could be healthier. Healthy is the one that gets me these days.

As a clinical health psychologist, I'm well aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and I do pretty well. I practice a lot of what I preach; I run, I watch what I eat,. But I don't always attend to problems in a timely fashion, which can make the problems worse. Case in point: I've had a chronic, low-grade health problem for years, and in August, I finally went to have it checked out. After a five-month whirlwind of doctors and tests, I recently underwent a (minor) surgical procedure to fix the problem. My first surgery, in fact, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The short version is TIRED. VERY TIRED, NEED TO LIE DOWN, CAN'T GO FAST (physically or mentally). I've had to admit to myself that I cannot, and should not, push myself like I usually do.

What am I doing instead? I leave work by 4:00 and I nap a lot, which still is difficult to believe. I walk on the treadmill, rather than run. And I read. How glorious it is to have time for reading again! Honestly, I forgot how much I love to read. And I joined a reading group - my first one! For the group, which is meeting next week, I already tore through Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist and started Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me. Gay's set of essays was particularly familiar, as it articulated something I've long felt but couldn't put words to (a subject for another post). I'm also doing preparatory reading for courses, including texts on gender and illness, neuroscience, and psychotherapy supervision. 

This is your life moment of the new year: Forced relaxation serves as a great reminder to make time for LIFE during the semester.*** One of these days, that message will stick. Let's hope it's in 2016!



*Other than watching Netflix, of course.
**By "much" I mean "at all," unless you count overnights to Philly for work (2 hours away).
***To be fair, all of this (including the surgery) is possible because spring semester hasn't started yet.