Thoughts on being a mid-career scientist
Last summer, I was awarded tenure and it felt amazing. It was one of the proudest and most significant moments in my life thus far. After the warm and fuzzy feeling wears off though, I was left wondering “what’s next?” I’m still struggling a bit with it, and from what I’ve read on the internet, I’m not alone. It’s a bit weird to have such a major milestone out of the way and it causes you to look ahead in order to figure out the next big goal. I suppose the obvious one for this year was to get my NSERC grant renewal (which, thankfully, did happen). The next major milestone on the horizon would be applying for Full Professor in about 6 years.
I also think that it’s incredibly funny that I can consider myself to be in the middle of my career. Most days I still feel like I’m learning the job and just doing my best. There is a certain level of competency, but I don’t feel a strong sense of mastery in many of the skills that I use in my day-to-day work. I still struggle with teaching, mentoring my students, doing my research, and contributing to service at my institution. I had always assumed that this feeling would go away with time, or that things would get easier, but so far it hasn’t. I also find it vastly amusing that my friends who aren’t in science are considered experienced and mature in their respective fields because they’ve been in the workforce since their early twenties. So have I, but most of that time for me was spent as a trainee, and perhaps that’s why it feels different.
I think the key from this point on will be to celebrate the smaller goals and milestones such as manuscripts submitted, students graduated, conferences attended, courses taught, etc. I’ve also found it helpful to keep a running list of my daily successes in a journal so that I can see what I’ve accomplished and take pride in it. I think, as academics, we don’t do this enough; we finish a goal and then immediately move on to the next thing. Spending some time reflecting and planning is important, I think. I’m aiming to use some of my sabbatical time to figure some of this out.
Dr. Allison McDonald (@AEMcDonaldWLU) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. This story was published on June 7, 2016, on Dr. McDonald’s blog, Doctor AI (available here) and has been republished here with her permission.
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