To recap from the previous post; when you signed up for grad school you wanted to be the next Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Jonas Salk or Jane Goodall. Now that you landed a ‘real job,’ you feel like Mr. Anderson in The Matrix. A tiny little cog in cubicle wasteland, desperate to avoid drowning in paperwork so you can go sit in your empty lab and dream.
Do not underestimate the power of your dreams, for they are your salvation. Looking back over my career, I can’t possibly stress that enough. Your dreams are everything.
For me, when I took up my first Lecturer position at the University of Auckland, I was gung ho. Ready to shine light in the darkness, make amazing discoveries and inspire students along the way. I was just 34, had plenty of energy, and no kids as yet.
So I attacked the mountain of responsibility with vigour. I wrote and presented new lectures, learned the ropes of the university, wrote grants and ethics proposals, took courses on mentoring students, learned the online learning management system, ordered equipment for the new lab, sat on I don’t know how many committees that had meetings to schedule meetings about other meetings.
I think it was sometime during my second year as a Lecturer that I realised I was lost. I’d kept my nose to the grindstone those twelve long years of grad school and postdocdom while simultaneously keeping my ‘eyes on the prize.’ A real, tenure-track job. But that goal was already crossed off my bucket list. For more than a year since, I was so focussed on the here and now I’d lost my way. Grant failures, student complaints, papers rejected had worn me down already. And all the while I’d been putting up with venomous colleagues fighting over a tiny piece of steak armed with knives honed to the molecular level. Why? This was not the life I was hoping to lead.
Instead of taking a long look in the mirror and searching my soul to find meaning in my life, I addressed the surface problem. The political manoeuvring and academic intrigue in my department surely couldn’t be true everywhere, could it? So, after four years of getting almost nothing accomplished (aside from the birth of a beautiful baby boy) I moved. This proved nearly fatal to my academic career. I was no longer chasing my dream, I was chasing a lighter teaching load.