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Working Toward a Goal Without Letting it Take Over Your Life

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 9, 2023

With the new year, the season of setting resolutions has begun.  But how can you work toward achieving a goal without letting it completely take over your life? Some goals – research projects, graduate/medical school – can feel all-consuming. It can be easy to get lost in the hustle and feel burnt out along the way. In fact, many report feeling burned out after achieving a long-term goal because instead of a break, there is another new achievement to strive for. For example, after graduation comes a job search and after a job comes a striving for a promotion.

Ambitious people can feel like they are trapped in a wheel of seeking accomplishments. Many great tips on finding balance were referenced in OITE’s blog post here. The importance of setting realistic boundaries was also noted here.

Lofty goals can become all-consuming when one fails to set the proper groundwork first, so some other tips to consider are:

  1. Set a routine.
    Most humans thrive with routines and predictability can help productivity. Find a routine that works for you. If you have a hard time shutting off at the end of they day, set a gentle alarm to remind you to take some time for yourself.
  2. Check in with yourself.
    Getting lost in tasks and to-do lists isn’t conducive to self-reflection. Find some quiet time in your day to notice how you are feeling. If you are feeling irritable, tired, sick, tune into that feeling and adjust your schedule accordingly. Remind yourself that you are a human with needs first and a go-getter second.
  3. Adjust your definition of “productive”
    Many companies have found that employees get as much done in 4 (and even 3) day work weeks. Being productive doesn’t need to mean being ‘on’ all the time. Some people find they do really well with a few jam packed hours or days and then allowing their brain and body to rest on other days. Find the balance that works for you.  

Discussing Your Career With Your PI

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 16, 2023

From the Archive: original post from Jan, 2012

Many trainees find having a conversation with their PI scary. Discussing your career path and next steps? Even scarier! You may be unsure that you have enough data to actually say this is the year that you will move on.  If you are going to be a PI you may not be sure if will be able to take part of your project with you.  Perhaps you do not know what reaction you will get if you say you want to take a different career path than staying in academic research.  All of these factors can persuade you just to not have the conversation at all. 

One thing we know is that this conversation is often more scary in our mind than in reality.  We have expectations of what the PI will say, and then when the conversation actually takes place it typically goes much better than we had played it out in our heads.  Most PIs actually have good intentions and just want you to be successful in your career.  Before you start booing, we are aware that some PIs are tougher than others….BUT many of us suspect that our PI will not approve of our choices, but we never actually give them a chance to have a conversation about where we plan to go next.

So, here is a way to start. 

  • Make an appointment to sit down with your PI.
  • Have this conversation away from the research group (think the coffee shop/Zoom). 
  • Plan ahead to make sure you get what you need out of the conversation.
    • Do you need to discuss what part of your project you can take with you if you leave?
    • Can you discuss the direction you would like to see your own lab go in as you move into your own PI job?
    • Who do you need to meet to make your career dreams come true? AND does he/she know any of the people and can they connect you?
  • Be bold!  This is YOUR career. 

Your PI may not have the knowledge or network to help you, especially if you are moving away from the bench.  If he/she doesn’t, that is OK!  You have many other resources around you.  However, you might be surprised by who your PI knows in different fields and at different companies.  Your PI wants you to be successful.  Not just because that is part of being a mentor.  But also, because successful alumni/alumnae reflect positively on a PI, both for recruiting top postdocs to their lab and for positive reviews from their departments. 

If it really is not your PI that you want to talk with, consider who else you might be able to discuss your career with.  Do you have a mentor outside of your lab?  Have you considered talking with your Lab Chief or Institute Training Director?  While your PI likely knows you the best and, you also need to find someone you are comfortable with and who can have an honest conversation about your career path.


Resiliently Navigating Rejection: Forging A New Path Forward

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 30, 2023

Rejection is something we will all deal with at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, this sentiment – meant to give us perspective and a sense of common humanity in our struggle – isn’t one we readily soak in when we’re the person who’s been turned down by our dream job or denied admissions to the medical or graduate school on which we’ve hung the fate of our future. Instead, when dealing with rejection, we often forgo the more helpful, deliberate practices of self-compassion, for our less helpful modus operandi: self-doubt, rumination about what we should have done differently, and worry about the future. We suppress all the uncomfortable emotions that accompany the experience, namely shame, fear, disappointment, grief, and anxiety by allowing our inner critic’s normal melody of complaints to become a cacophony of criticisms: What’s wrong with me? Am I even capable of pursuing this path? I should have done ____ different! If only I had more _____! What will people think of me? I am such a failure. I’m never going to…

You get it. The blows are endless variations of the same questions and critiques playing on repeat in our head, leaving us easily distracted and worn down. And while these harsh thoughts may be our mind’s feeble efforts to make sense of our situation, they don’t get us any closer to dealing with the rejection in a way that leaves us more aware, more resilient, and more readily equipped to forge our new path forward.

How then do we resiliently navigate the blows of rejection without getting lost in our self-doubt, rumination, grief, and worry?

1. Recognize and name emotions coming up for you: Our emotions can be a main driver of our behaviors, whether we’re aware of it or not. So, when we ignore or push them down, we’re only fooling ourselves. But when we can begin to label our emotions accurately, without judgment, we become more equipped to respond purposefully and act in a way that aligns with our goals and values. Grief is often an unidentified response to rejection as we have lost part of who we are and what direction we’re headed. When we don’t acknowledge and process this normal response, it often festers in us in unhelpful ways: physical aches, agitation, numbing, avoidance, or maybe anger (at ourselves and others). Next time you notice an uncomfortable emotion show up for you, instead of responding to it with judgment or trying to rid yourself of it as quickly as possible, consider asking: What information is this emotion trying to relay to me? And what, if anything, do I want to do with that information? Who might be able to help me with this? Or do I need to ride out this uncomfortable feeling until is passes? … Because I promise, it will pass.

2. Reconnect with a routine: With rejection often comes uncertainty that can leave us floundering in fear and searching desperately for a sense of control. One helpful way to ground ourselves during this uncertain time is by engaging in a routine or schedule that ensures we’re still taking care of the basics of our wellbeing – eating well, sleeping enough, moving our bodies, connecting with others – even when everything else around us feels like it might be falling apart.

3. Reflect purposefully during a prescribed time to combat rumination: Schedule contained time in your day to reflect on your application and your interview. Walk away from this reflection time with practical take-aways: What can you learn from this experience? What may need to look different the next time you apply? What action items are in your control that you can focus on when worry, rumination, or obsessing over imperfection inevitably sets in again?

4. Reframe the unhelpful stories you’re telling about yourself and the situation: Rejection is stressful which can make us prone to automatic negative thoughts. We might catastrophize by thinking that our future is ruined now that we didn’t get into the school we wanted or offered the job we were hoping for. We may over-personalize, failing to see all the nuanced aspects impacting admission or job decisions. Or we may start down the path of should statements, ruminating on all our missteps and imperfections. These are all examples of distortions that lead us astray, affirming unhelpful stories that make us less resilient. To interrupt and reframe these stories, we must first, notice and name them. Second, we have to learn to talk back by asking, Is this thought true? Is it helpful? What are the implications of following this thought?. And then finally, we need to start identifying more accurate and nuanced ways of interpreting the situation. With practice, the more objective interpretation – the one based in fact, not just how we feel – becomes the salient story in our heads.

5. Respond with a plan that aligns with your goals and values: Perhaps this particular rejection has left you questioning what you should do next. The grief accompanying this loss of opportunity may also be contributing to a sense of overwhelm and even fear about what to do next. Whether you choose to reapply to schools, look for other positions, or shift directions completely, it’s important to approach ourselves from a place of honesty and curiosity during this time. When we make decisions about our future without self-awareness, we can be vulnerable to biases, like the sunk-costs fallacy which keep us moving in directions that don’t always align with what we really want. So, if you’re unsure of where to start in this process of responding purposefully, consider reaching out to an OITE wellness advisor or career counselor for support in processing the many emotions and expectations you likely are wading through. Additionally, this can be a safe and supportive place for you to take small but important practical next steps like, conduct mock interviews, get support with your CV, explore career trends that may impact your next move, or find language to ask the job search committee or admissions team why you weren’t offered a position.

There’s no way around it: rejection is hurts, and the pain we experience from it can send us on a downward spiral emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally. But we don’t have to stay stuck here. Start with some compassion, by following the suggestions outlined above, and remember that you don’t have to forge the path forward alone. We are here for you.