Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's not you...

It’s better the second time. There’s less nervous energy and more of an anticipation to begin. Tension that’s nearly pleasant if not for the fear that I’d make the wrong move, say the wrong thing, do something to kill the mood.

I slept well last night, waking this morning with the absolute knowledge that my turn would come at noon today. I confirmed the meeting time and made sure I was prepared yesterday. I visualized it beforehand – thinking through how I should look, what I should say, the overall feeling of the event. I could picture the room with its comfortable furniture and darkened lighting. I wasn’t nervous, I mused this morning, feeling rather odd about the fact. More…ready.

Prepared as I was though, I still had that fluttery feeling in my stomach. There's always a chance something could go terribly wrong. Oh, and I want eight, would settle for three but hoped to be offered six.

I arrived in the room, passed by the food and drink presented attractively on my way to a bottle of water, then found a seat in the back of the room. I smiled greetings at the members of the committee I knew, then reviewed my notes and slides once more. I was scheduled second and settled in to watch the first presenter make his case.

“Wait.” The chair of the committee said when he started to speak. “Where is your presentation?” When told there wasn’t one prepared, he looked around at the other people seated at the table and said, “No slides at all?” Clearly bewildered and dismayed, he told someone they might as well turn the lights back on. I was confident that I – with my pretty and perfect slides and practiced remarks – would make a better impression. I told myself to sit calmly to wait for my turn, trying not to breathe too quickly as no-slides-for-you man finished up.

My speaking style – modesty aside – is quite good. I tell stories, use simple language as much as possible and focus strictly on why you should care about what I do versus the technical details. Those same details bore me so why should I inflict them on others? Especially those who have money I’d like to obtain? There’s another little gift that ensures I tend to test and speak pretty well. The nervous terror that forces me to over-prepare eases once the event begins.

My focus is complete and it usually wipes out any nerves or worry or fear. Once it’s started – whatever it is – I’m engrossed and living completely in that particular moment. What’s on that slide consumes my thoughts. Those test questions are all that’s important. I’m telling an audience what I know in the way I decided worked well. And watching people learn, cock their heads in confusion or nod in easy understanding, is a rush. When it’s going well, I’m delighted. And I don’t do it so often that I have a multitude of negative experiences to remember.

Questions are where I shine though. I’m truly interested in hearing what people think is wrong or strange. If I can fix it, I will. The focus shifts to giving people the specific information they seek and when presenting material I’ve spent years studying, there’s little with which I’m completely unfamiliar. I can pull off confident respect in those situations quite easily – I think it has something to do with standing behind that podium, everyone paying attention to me.

I returned to my seat after a satisfied nod from Boss and being dismissed by the chair of the meeting. I crossed my legs, admiring once again the adorable brown flats I wore today. They have a big satin bow behind the leather toe on a suede shoe. There’s satin trim around the edges too. They’re absolutely adorable and I savored the very sight of them as I let myself ease away from the intensity of the talk. They're blissful, the moments after it’s over. It went well, the anticipation is gone and there’s this euphoric mix of relief and pleasure and knowing these other people aren’t going to do as well as I did. He used too many big words. She said, “How do you make this bigger?” as if she’d never used PowerPoint before. That one mumbled so much that two people asked him to speak up on the small room.

After the presentations ended, I gathered my keys and water bottle and wandered from the room. I wasn’t as nervous beforehand, but the pleasure after this meeting was as strong as the first time I presented for this group. I skipped down some stairs, then exited the building, confused as all hell as to where I was. I frowned, knowing I was lost when I realized I’d never been on this side of the building. Was it some sort of strange balcony? With a bridge? I wandered around the outside, finally seeing something that looked vaguely familiar. After several more minutes, I made it back to the office – still pleased and relaxed and feeling lovely about life.

But, well, when faced with a relationship, you expect the sex to be good. The rush of emotion, the big payoff, the aftermath that eases into deep sleep. There’s a lot to be said for the day to day though. What you discuss, if you have similar senses of humor. The same hobbies are of interest. You feel more good than bad when together because of this mutual affection and appreciation. If all those things are missing – if the sex is all that’s really worthwhile, perhaps you’re not overly compatible.

My point? I think I want to break up with my job.

It’s not that I’m soul-crushingly miserable, but I am unhappy a good part of the time. There are good moments, but they are few and far between. The lows get me too low – rejected papers, projects that just won’t work, analyses that have to be done and redone and redone again (and again). And the highs just aren’t doing it for me most of the time. Papers get accepted? Eh. And experiment goes well? Fine. Get a project approved? It should have happened two months ago. It’s just so slow and painful and demoralizing sometimes. And in the current funding climate, it seems like a good time to leave the sciences. There’s just not a tremendous amount of money for research right now.

“If I had a plan B,” I told Friend weeks ago over caramel pie (Great. Now I want caramel pie.), “I’d be gone. If I could just figure out what else to do, I’d leave research pretty easily.”

But I didn’t know what to do. Just apply for an office job? I’m not going back to school, so that’s out. Utilize undergrad training and go work in a lab? There just isn’t a good option.

Then Dave came and reminded me of one. I have a Masters degree that matches his. It qualifies me to make twice as much money as I currently earn. I’d have to work about half as hard on work that is easy to the point of being boring.

“I’m so good at FreeCell.” Dave confided. “There’s just not enough to do during the day and I have to be around, so I play computer games.”

I could write my blog, I thought with pleasure. Or work on books that only I would read! Perhaps dabble in research in all that free time since my current interests would play into that career, albeit in a small way.

I’ve been thinking about what I want – what I think is important. If you look at The Plan (update comes tomorrow! It’s going to…suck really badly. Not looking forward to it at all.), you’ll note that very little of it is involved with work. It’s just a tiny piece of how I see my life. And research doesn’t lend itself well to sitting in the corner while one indulges many outside interests. Dave’s job – or one like it – does that very well.

I’d like to live near my family – head north and reacclimate to the cold and feel at home. I’d like to make enough money to live very comfortably. Starting near, if not in, 6 figures would do that quite nicely. I’d like to be healthier – have a job that allows me to come home feeling something other than mentally exhausted so that I could cook and exercise. I’d like to be more involved at church, do more volunteer work – perhaps tutor at the homeless shelter though I can’t ever find time to set that up. I’d like to seriously consider having a child when I’m about 35. I’m not sure why that particular age – just seems right to me (and safely far away at this point). I’d like to be able to travel. I want to contribute to the world – go to work and feel like being there matters.

All of those things would be possible with a career change. So what am I doing?

I think I’m clinging to the good parts of what I currently do. The presentation today felt good. Checking those proofs of my paper was very nice too. I like contributing when I go to meetings. I enjoy going to seminars where I understand more and am befuddled less. The sex is still good! There must be something worth saving! It makes me sad to think about not doing this anymore – we’ve been together a long time, my research and me. All those contacts in industry and academia. All that knowledge I’d never use outside my given niche. Those papers I battled to get published. Those file drawers of paperwork I’ve saved – highlighted articles, approved IRB forms, manuals, texts, binders.

I’m also in therapy. Had a major bout of depression earlier this year. Can’t get myself to work on this grant that maps my research future. Feel very disconnected and confused as to how I got here and where I’m going next. I could easily switch to this different field. I understood the concepts for it in grad school – it’s very straightforward. I have an idea on how to brush up on my training in my current city. I’m at the point where I’m scripting conversations in my head that allow me to move in this new direction rather than wondering how to remain in research. I’m not quite ready yet – I’m going to talk to Boss about exploring the opportunities in that particular field. The chair of that department is one of my collaborators anyway. I think I can dip my toe in the water without risking too much in the immediate future.

So, at the very least, I’m thinking of seeing other people. And once that happens – once someone acknowledges that there’s something missing in a relationship and starts looking for what will make her happier, it’s generally just a matter of time before she walks away. I’m not sure right now – I still plan to go to work tomorrow and plan projects, work on my grant, make progress on my list of things to do – but my feeling is that I might change some professional plans in the near future.

I just don’t think I want to do this forever. In spite of the good environment, amazing opportunities, and moments of pleasure and satisfaction, I think I want out. Much as I respect research and the people who do it, it may not be for me. The good thing is that my research can't start a blog and start writing about how I betrayed it by going in a different direction. So at least there's that.

Edited (the morning after): I slept better last night than I have in recent memory. I think it was a mixture of having the presentation out of the way, an idea of how to wiggle my way out of research and moderate amounts of sleep deprivation over the past week or so. (As in I slept only 5-6 hours instead of 7 or 8.)

I woke up and wandered down the hall to find an email from the chair of the committee I saw yesterday. They're not only offering every penny I wanted, they offered additional assistance with grant writing since this work is "tremendously important" and I have "considerable talent with which to complete it."

Two points. The first is that Boss, who I wanted to be anywhere but in that meeting, stayed for deliberations and clearly talked me up to a great degree. Which makes me feel guilty for being annoyed with him recently when he's so clearly on my side.

Second, if we're using my relationship scheme introduced here, it's like remembering why I fell in love in the first place! People think my research and I make a good couple! We do important work together and when things are good, it's challenging and amazing. So I'm fluttering under the praise right now. Thrilled that I can do some work I've been planning for years. Picturing the papers that are going to come out of this and gleefully plotting where I will send the results (which should be exquisite) (and the journals that rejected my poor initial papers aren't getting them) (unless Boss tells me to send them there.)

There are still problems. The unhappiness I've suffered since being here isn't erased by a couple of good moments. Except that for right now it is - the focus on this work will, in the near future, push my plans of escape aside.

I'm not sure whether that's good or bad.


TitleTroubles said...

Mmm. Caramel pie. You are evil.

The Contessa said...

I agree on the caramel pie.

You are too young to be locked in a career path that doesn't do it for you. If you think you want to make a change, plan it out. Research it out and then stragically make your move!

I'm confident that you will excel at whatever you choose wherever you choose it!

Terminaldegree said...

I've lived in the South for 6 months and still haven't tried caramel pie. But I will, soon.

post-doc said...

Evil, yes. Sorry. But I'm probably going to find a way to get caramel pie today. :)

You're so sweet and I very much appreciate your confidence in me. Perhaps eventually I'll start to share it.

I think it's important that you do. :)

LaKisha said...

Congratns on the $.

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