More thoughts on Cathy (part 4): Answering Sam's question

Aug 29 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

The comments to parts 1-3 are very good. Go read them: here and here and here. One of the things that is clear to me is that there is a bimodal response to these posts, and to Cathy's situation in general.

One set encourages Cathy to look at her situation and make the changes she needs, because Dr Ifix is a sub-acceptable PI. The other set perceived part of the point that I was trying to make: she's already chosen. She's already looked hard at the problem and decided to stick it out. And, what she and I were working on is the: what's next. How to cope. How to make it better. How to survive. I share that here because some of those strategies spill over into other situations and useful. I am writing this because these are things I wish I had tried harder when I was at MRU and working with the chair from hell. Of course, it may not have made any difference in that situation, and things are very good, for me, now, so move along...

But the replies that encourage introspection and fighting complacency represent people who not yet, or who have mentees or trainees who have not yet, made the decision that Cathy has. And Sam's question, so aptly worded, about threading the needle? This is perhaps a subgroup? These are people who are suspicious that they might be entering or living a Cathy-like situation and don't know how to assess and decide, select and sort, and figure out: what the heck do I do?

So this post: please add your suggestions on what to do, how to decide?

To begin with, one cannot ignore examining the context, community and the general twirl in place and look around at one's situation. But, equally, if you do this every day, you will see only the ectoparasite on the bark of the tree, let alone trees or forest. Scheduled annual reviews with supervisors/bosses as well as with trainees help. But one should also do this with a good friend. Ask yourself (this from my dear friend Gloria, who did this for me 30 years ago):

  • What have I accomplished in the past year (6 months)? What have I learned and how have I changed?
  • What do I wish I could have done?
  • What would I like to accomplish in the coming year?
  • What is going to get in the way of accomplishing things? What am I afraid of?
  • What is my motto for the coming period of time?

Do not get bogged down in lengthy answers. Do not get mired in having to answer completely. Say what comes into your head (in a safe place). This is a place to abandon the project well before the asymptote. Write down your answers. Keep them. Go back and look at them.

Here is a website I like and use, called 10Q. It's set up around the Jewish High Holidays, but you don't have to be Jewish to use it. Here is their blurb:

10Q emails you a question a day for 10 days. Afterwards, you send your answers to the secure online vault. One year later, your answers are unlocked and returned and the process begins anew. 10Q turns 10 this year following a decade of over 50,000 participants.

You may want something that unlocks more frequently than once a year. But I like the structure, and it givesĀ an opportunity for introspection for which, sometimes, it is hard to make time.



6 responses so far

  • girlparts says:

    In regards to part of Cathy's original quandry - "how do I convince my Dr. I that I'm right about [the length of an R01 etc] even though he doesn't seem to respect my opinion?" I find that the Dr. I's of the world will often respect the opinion of an outside authority. So for big stuff, Cathy may be able get someone that Dr. I does respect to deliver your message for her. The intermediary can't let him know where said idea came from, and she can't say "I-told-you-so," but he might be open to the same information coming from someone else. In this case, it sounds like Dr. I needs to be hooked up with an experienced grant mentor, or at least take a workshop . If Cathy is lucky, maybe he'll start to see that they say the same things she does....

    • potnia theron says:

      This can be a bit dangerous, and sometimes it can also feel disingenuous. It's partly why she asked me to come and talk to the division and have dinner with Dr. Ifix.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think there is also the element of learning not to dwell on the negative and let go of blame which can be very powerful. I'm on the TT and I really don't like my institution, but the lab is doing okay. I've been planning to leave for a while, but as you mentioned one of the previous posts, I'm a Big City person, and certain conditions have to be met for the stars to align so that I can get a new position where I want. Last year I almost broke down and I had to develop skills to cope with being able to come into work without having a panic attack every day. And the skills are to just focus on my goals, do not dwell on the annoying things that people do around me, manage my superiors and just get stuff done. I found that a lot of the upset was in my head for feeling trapped...Maybe Cathy has to start ignoring the annoying stuff Dr. Ifix is doing and let it wash over her as she does her job...also maybe convincing him to put her as a co-PI on an R01 for good measure.

    • potnia theron says:

      this is exactly part of her game plan. But therein also lies the tension: how much do you ignore, at what point is ignoring not good for one's own mental health? I think in this case, ignoring, working with, the small things will carry her.

  • cjb says:

    Since Cathy is NTT faculty, is there any institutional support at all for her to pursue funding as a PI herself? I understand that she doesn't have space and is dependent on Dr. Ifix for resources, but my experience with being on the NTT is that, while you may not have your own space or startup, you are allowed to write and submit your own grants so that you at least have a chance of building independence.

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