I realize that presenting a whole series of spy rules can be disheartening. It’s all how you protect yourself against unknown foes, mysterious dangers, the threat of being revealed as an imposter at every turn, and so on, and so on. Let me lighten things up - and let today’s Cold War spy music reflect that.
Don’t look back; you are never completely alone.
Yes, this rule sounds like typical spy mistrust at first. I want to convince you that it isn’t.
“Don’t look back.” When you’re in a new grad program or post-doc, or even a job, it can be very tempting to convince yourself that things were better at the last place you were at, or to think that you missed some chance or opportunity. I felt this when I was in grad school. I moved to a new city to go to grad school. In doing so, I’d made choices. Some things got left behind that shouldn’t have. I got incredibly distressed.
But none of it had anything to do with the professional situation I was in. That was all good. I think I was able to realize that, and maybe because of that, I was able to keep going. But I could easily see how that level of distress could convince someone it was all a horrible mistake and they should quit.
Similarly, there’s a decent amount of research showing that people who spend a lot of time “in the moment” are happier than those dwelling on the past or fretting about the future.
What’s the opposite of looking back? Looking forward. Think about the future.
“You are never completely alone.” Yes, it can be an isolating to be in research at one time or another. Ultimately, ain’t nobody going to write that thesis or dissertation but you. Sometimes, you might feel like this is you and your supervisor:
As Amanda Bower said:
Getting (a) PhD is like getting (a) full-body tattoo. It's permanent, takes a long time, really painful, and people think you’re nuts.
And we don’t like hanging around with people we think are nuts.
The good news is that it’s easier than ever to join a community. I’ve benefited tremendously from being online, and the conversation and insights being shared on blogs and twitter and elsewhere. You have a deep, deep well of knowledge out there to tap into. The amount of information available about the grad school experience and career development is phenomenal. I wish I’d had it when I was in grad school.
That I’m guest blogging here, and am working with people to promote SciFund, are just tiny examples of the benefits of joining a community. I feel much less alone by virtue of being part of the online community.
Get friends and get feedback. It will help you stay sane in science. (And elsewhere, too!)