The Excitable Scientist

Mostly cheerful, sometimes snarky commentary on life science research and its broader impacts

Flashback October 24, 2013

Filed under: academia,grad school,inspirations,undergrad,volunteering — excitablescientist @ 11:44 pm

Today I had a chance to see a couple of old pals from a very special volunteer group, prompting several flashbacks to 2008, a pivotal year in my life highlighted by joining this group and meeting individuals who would become the most influential role models I’ve had to date – all while being graduate students in the midst of trying to figure out their own life and career paths.  I remember being in awe of how knowledgeable, articulate, cool they were, and wanting to follow in their footsteps; now I’m a grad student myself and making goodness knows what impression on the younger generations.  In any case, for me, being in the company of motivated, idealistic, passionate and inspiring colleagues is far and away the biggest perk of being a member of the university community.  Academia is a slightly strange world and suffers from no shortage of systemic flaws, but on good days and to those granted the privilege of being part of it, it really is the land of milk and honey.


Let’s Please Disagree January 26, 2012

Filed under: academia,grad school,things i love,volunteering — excitablescientist @ 10:32 pm

One of the many things I like about my current lab are the lively debates.  I like this aspect partly because it suits my personality and it’s fun, and conveniently enough, most people agree that having good critical thinking and debating skills is useful to budding scientists in a professional context as well.


I like that no scientific discussions are taboo in the lab – and can think of one anecdote that illustrates this concept well.  I had asked a lab mate about whether anyone has shown conclusively whether phenomenon X is a result of mechanism A or B, and he got super animated – launching into an explanation about how our PI has drawn conclusions from a particular dataset in favour of explanation B (and considers the matter closed) – BUT, the experiment had caveats, and so he (my lab mate) still thinks it’s an open question.


Being able to say “I disagree with the boss and here’s why” – to question one’s supervisor’s ideas without fear of repercussion is, to me, beyond awesome, and makes me feel very lucky to be where I am now.  I come from a culture which strongly values conforming to authority, and this change, though not new, is still very refreshing.  I like that there are no absolute authority figures in science, and that ideas are debated mostly based on their own merit, rather than the age/gender/career level of the person voicing them.


I was equally pleased when, at a recent meeting of a volunteer organization I help to lead, several people candidly and constructively told me ways in which I could help run things more efficiently.  I’m exceedingly glad that the rest of the team feels comfortable enough (or perhaps frustrated enough) with me to be open about the things that need to change on my end.  To me, that’s a sign of respect.  I would never criticize someone if I didn’t think they had the capacity to change for the better.


I think it is a sign of great collegiality and healthy working relationships when people are able to passionately disagree with, and offer constructive criticism to, each other without hurt feelings.  We’ll add that to the list of many things I do adore about the academe.


E-mails are a timesuck September 25, 2011

Filed under: volunteering — excitablescientist @ 9:06 pm

Gosh it’s been forever since I’ve updated this blog – and I haven’t been starved for ideas, either!


I don’t have time to write anything coherent right now, but I wanted to get one idea off my chest: managing people is hard and a lot of work.  Perhaps it is supposed to get easier with time, but I’ve been in a managerial role in a student group for years now and it’s not getting any easier.  I know I have a strong personality, and so it takes a lot of energy to ensure I present as supportive and understanding, when in reality I’m impatient and stubborn.  I spend way too much time on e-mails and I wonder sometimes if the sky would fall if I left out the fluff, at least some of the time.


If anyone has ideas on how to turn off the guilt-trip mechanisms and just be OK with saying directly what needs to get done (and giving a realistic appraisal of progress), preferably without offending or scaring people, do get in touch.


Starting afresh September 15, 2011

Filed under: volunteering — excitablescientist @ 1:36 am

It is truly amazing, the sensation of deep relief one experiences upon clearing out a months-old backlog of work.  The amount of time I have spent feeling guilty about putting off these tasks exceeds the time taken to get them off my plate by at least an order of magnitude, maybe two.


I don’t know how I became such a procrastinator, but I think it happened around the point when I graduated – suddenly, my convenient e-mail-answering breaks between classes were gone, and spending time staring at the screen after a long day of work became less and less appealing.  With so many close friends leaving town, I prioritized spending time with them, and in the process neglected one of my major volunteer commitments.  Part of me was probably trying to catch up on all the socializing and rest that was sorely lacking in my final year.


Yet I forgot how satisfying this particular volunteer activity can be — and am only now realizing how much it has been missing from my life this summer.  All it took was 4 hours – to type up old meeting minutes, update and organize a website, get the ball rolling on logistics for various events, answer the most pressing e-mails and send out a bunch more.  The work is neverending, as it should be, but having erased the dusty cobwebs of past unfinished projects, now left with a clean slate, I feel I can take it on with full force again.