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5 things I should know by now

Everyone now and then, usually when something doesn’t go to plan, I start to think about why things are or aren’t happening the way they are. Aside from making me feel unsure about myself generally, these thoughts usually run along a few common lines. The issues are usually ones that previously I would have assumed I’d have come to terms with already. For me, I think this is as frustrating and disappointing as the concerns themselves; the thought that I should have this nailed down by now. I’ve collected some below, in no particular order:

1. Why don’t I organise my time better? I would have thought that just doing something over a period of some years would attune me to structuring my time and work so it is as efficient as possible. But it’s not. Things still get pushed back until the last minute, others are left altogether, many ideas never even make it from my head to a piece of paper or a discussion, time goes by staring out the window, opportunities are missed and output is less than it could be.

2. Which ‘guy’ am I going to be? From what I’ve been told, being a postdoc is when you find your research niche, this means defining a focus for your work and establishing a profile that other researchers recognise. Doing this enables you to fit all your productive output into a nice structure and is apparently the key to ongoing funding. I’m almost there; all I need is to work out what the focus is and how to actually do it!

3. Is there really a career for me in research? I read somewhere that a PhD is the only educational qualification that reduces your probable salary. I haven’t looked into whether that is actually the case but it sometimes seems like a convenient stick to beat myself over the head with when things are looking a bit grim. It seems everywhere has the story of funding becoming more difficult to gain and good jobs being hard to come by. When I ask myself if I’m likely to working as a researcher in 5; 10; 15 years, the best I can come up with is ‘I hope so’.

4. Can I be doing something more/different? Given these concerns and the likelihood that many, many people (and at least a handful that I know directly) have probably wrestled with the same issues, it would seem that there are in fact answers – or at least ways of dealing with them. So what did/do those people do? I’m sure there are resources or strategies or exercises or courses or something I can do, but for some reason seeking them out gets assigned a low priority i.e. doesn’t happen.

5. Should I just do a barista course? I like coffee, I like smell, the taste, the caffeine. I could drink it myself and be happy, and at the same time sell it to other people and make them happy too. From what I’ve seen, research doesn’t make people happy as consistently as coffee.

I have a feeling that none of these problems are unresolvable, but probably all require a bit of focused attention. Maybe recognising their importance and assigning some time to them is what is necessary. I also think though, that a dose of frustration and self-doubt from time-to-time is inevitable, after-all we work in an environment where rejection is the norm, that has to leave some marks on even the thickest of skin. So as with so much, balance is probably key, working out what really matters and what is a reaction to the usual peaks and troughs of the business.