I always come in third
Reading the posts by science woman and young female scientist has really put things in perspective for me. [BTW-I wish you guys the best of luck on your job search!]. I am very lucky. In my field, it is not uncommon to interview before a post-doc, which is what I did, receiving my job offer while still finishing my PhD. This minimizes the pressure to perform, and in theory I could perform some seriously lackluster research, and still have that job. And yet, I want to do good work. I know that the publications I put forth now, combined with those from PhD, form a dossier. Each time I apply for a grant, the reviewers will look at this dossier to decide whether I get funding or not. If I publish very little, or poor articles in my postdoc I may still have a job, but I may have a tough road ahead for funding.
This is where I started panicking. You see, I only have three months left here and am getting a little nervous about the number/quality of pubs that I will finish with. I will have one book chapter, a review article, and a 1st author for sure. I will probably have a 2nd author, and if I can just get my equipment to work (please G-d!) I will have two more 1st authors. If I get all of that everything will be golden. But, I have this horrible fear that the least three will fall through and I will finish with one 1st author pub for my postdoc, and it's not a Science or Nature paper. Admittedly this is better than no pubs, and I will also have the reviews. It's just not what I wanted to deliver.
All of this got me to thinking, what am I so afraid of? Even if I had no pubs, I still have that job, and I get start-up money for 3-5 years (depends on # of students I take). If my PI work is solid, I will get funding. Thinking into the problem more deeply, I realized that my fear is not that I won't succeed (i.e., get tenure), but that I won't succeed to my expectations. Reflecting further, I tried to remember when in the past I had missed my expectations, how had I dealt with that, and what had it meant to me?
That's when I realized that I always come in third. In junior high and high school, I ran track and cross-country. I was pretty good, but almost every meet I came in third. Even when my college roommate talked me into doing a 5K, and I hadn't run competitively in years, you guessed it I came in third. Academically, in high school I really, really wanted to finish 1 or 2 in class rank so I could give a speech. I was ranked 2 for some time, until a girl from another district moved into our area, and I finished....third. I think I can really sympathize with Michelle Kwan. For once in my life, I want to come in first. It is not that finishing third is so bad. I mean honestly just placing is an honor. But, for once in my life, I want to really shine. I want to meet my expectations and then some. I don't want to have to deal with disappointment. I want to win the teaching awards, get the large grants funded, and publish a couple of high impact papers. And yet, those goals must be balanced with my life. [Check out See Jane Compute to see how too much work can actually hamper achievement of those goals.] Well thanks for listening, I should probably try to fix my experimental problems so I can get those other two papers out.....