Reflections from the Office
Ever wonder what operating a postdoc office is like? We want our postdocs to know more about the work we do and why we do it. We hope this microblog will give you a glimpse of what Professional Development & Postdoctoral Affairs looks like behind the scenes. Sarah will write in blue, Celine will write in purple, Rachel will write in orange, and Kate Baker wrote in green while she was a part of our team.
15 January 2019
Let me start by introducing myself – I’m Celine and the new(ish) Program Manager for the Postdoc Academy! If you’ve followed along with this blog, you’ve probably heard about the Postdoc Academy (don’t worry, you will hear more about it in the very near future). But today, I wanted to give you a little background about my own experience transitioning from a postdoc to my current position.
I completed my Ph.D. and postdoc at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I stayed in the same laboratory for my postdoc and had a few loose ends to tie up from my Ph.D. project. And maybe like some of you, I wasn’t exactly sure what I had planned on doing after. SLU did not have an office similar to BU PDPA (but are now working to create one!), so this is where I had to be creative.
In addition to my mentor in the lab, I reached out to a collaborator at SLU who runs a lab and works in an administrative position. We discussed my interests in working with graduate students and/or postdocs, and she exposed me to the world of academia outside of the traditional research positions. She recommended me for various committees and service opportunities at the medical school, and it was through those experiences that I solidified my career goals.
What excites me the most about my current position is that I will be able to help postdocs in two ways: 1) through the PDPA supporting you in person and 2) through the Postdoc Academy (online and in person), reaching a larger number of postdocs including those don’t have access to these resources. I’ll end with a few tips that I wish someone had shared with me when I was preparing to make this transition:
Stay. True. To. Yourself. I repeat. Stay true to yourself. I’m definitely a people pleaser – I want to make sure those around me are happy with my work, ideas, career plans, etc. I quickly realized that if I chose a career path that others wanted me to, I would not be happy. It took lots of self reflection, soul searching, and honestly courage to stay true to myself. It certainly wasn’t easy to share to my career plans to those around me, but it led me here. I’m so happy in my current position and can’t imagine doing anything else.
Seek help from those around you. Ask what people think your strengths (and weaknesses) are. Ask what types of positions they see you succeeding in. Ask if they have any connections that might help you in your job search. Find multiple mentors with a wide range of positions and backgrounds.
Apply to a wide range of jobs. I’m sure I was told this before, but I didn’t believe it until I did it for myself. I quickly realized there were many opportunities that matched my interests, so I applied to a wide range of them. Some jobs I was overqualified for; some I was underqualified for. Going through the interview process with potential employers allowed me to really narrow down my interests. Remember, the interview is also about make making sure the position is a good fit for you.
I look forward to meeting you all at the Postdoc Retreat later this month – stay tuned for a super fun workshop hosted by Sarah and myself!
Fun fact: When I move to a new city, I immediately cheer for their sports team (and leave my old favorites in the dust). My husband calls me a fair weather fan, but Boston sports teams gained a new fan this year!
30 November 2018
Some departing words…
Some of you may know that for the last three years, I’ve been working to earn my Masters in Public Health part-time. After many long nights and tall coffees, it’s just about time to add three letters to my name.
I was accepted to BU as an undergraduate but ultimately decided to go elsewhere because I wasn’t quite ready for the hustle and bustle of a large metropolitan campus. I am so glad that my career took me back to BU because it has been such a wonderful experience. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of you through Orientation, the BUPDA, the non-employee benefits program, or through other opportunities. I won’t forget how it felt the first time I walked out of my office to the BU shuttle and said hello to the many folks I ran into along the way; 18-year-old me would never have guessed that someday I would not only feel comfortable on BU, but also that I would know people from every corner of campus. I have you all to thank for that! It has been exciting for me to learn about your research interests and see how your hard work helps make the world a better place. Thank you for exposing me to new ideas and ways of thinking.
I have another special thank you to share. I first started at BU in a different office and I am grateful to have friends from my time there. Even more so, I must thank Sarah for the support and growth opportunities that she has afforded me over my time in PDPA. What I appreciate most about Sarah is her commitment to transparency, her candidness, and her commitment to doing what is best for the community, and I hope that you all have felt the effects of that, too. These attributes make her an authentic and impactful leader who drives meaningful change on campus, and I have learned so much from her. Sarah, thank you for seeing the potential in me and taking me along for the ride of building this office. I’m so excited to see how PDPA is growing and changing, and I have complete confidence in our new team members in serving the postdoctoral community.
Beyond my degree, I’ve experienced a lot of personal changes during my time at BU. I got engaged, then married, lost loved ones, moved apartments (twice), had surgery, and visited new parts of the country. I didn’t realize how much BU felt like home until it was time to leave. I wasn’t expecting to move on so quickly, but sometimes great opportunities come up that can’t be turned down. This is an exciting next step for me and I hope that each of you continue on to opportunities that excite you just as much.
I will be working as a Policy Analyst at a foundation that provides grants to nonprofits in Massachusetts. My main responsibilities will be researching health policy changes related to the foundation’s strategic focus areas, communicating that research to community partners to inform their day-to-day work, shaping data from the Department of Public Health into visuals and other informative tools, and monitoring key performance indicators of grantees. If any of this sounds interesting to you or you’d like to stay in touch, please add me on LinkedIn! Otherwise, my last day will be January 4, so I hope to see you around campus.
Fun fact: When I drive past Agganis Arena on the highway, I yell the BU hockey cheer (Goooo BU! Let’s go BU!) I don’t expect to stop doing this (to my husband’s chagrin) and in fact, encourage it widely. If the wind brings a hint of the BU cheer your way, think of me ;)
28 September 2018
Reading through the recent service award nominations reminded me of the many ways that one can get involved in their community. What I really appreciate about all of the nominees is that they have gone out of their way to stay involved, and have found ways to contribute that are interesting and meaningful to them personally.
Hanging above my desk is an article that suggests ways to advocate for better food access, an issue that is important to me (interested? Find it here). I keep the article in my sight as a visual reminder of something that matters to me but isn’t quite related to my day job. With work, class, and other responsibilities, I find it challenging at times to stay involved in issues that matter to me. What I particularly like about this article is that it provides a few different suggestions for people to adapt to their personal lives. For me, running for office someday might not be in the cards, but writing letters to decision-makers or submitting opinion pieces to local publications could definitely work. I never used to think that introverts (like me!) could be activists but there are many ways to contribute to efforts that are important to you, like voting or educating others about the impact of your research.
I recently moved outside of the city, where I have lived for the past three years, to an apartment in the suburbs. It’s been exciting to explore new restaurants, navigate a new commute, and adjust to a quieter neighborhood. I found myself looking up Meetup groups and checking out postings in local cafes. It struck me that I lost this enthusiasm and curiosity after living in Allston for multiple years; I am now making it my goal to continue exploring and learning new things about my surroundings.
My message for today’s reflection is to continue trying new things and finding ways that work for you to take part in your community. Consider joining the BUPDA or BPDA like the service award winners. Or you might prefer to join (or start!) a book club or cooking group. Maybe a sports league is more your style. Learn from my mistake; Whatever you are interested in, you don’t have to wait for a major life shift (like my recent move) to get involved.
Fun fact: I am left-handed but ‘right-footed’. I write, bat, and play tennis with my left hand but kick best with my right. Being semi-ambidextrous only comes in handy when I find myself in tricky mini-golf situations.
31 August 2018
There are not many jobs that include riding around on an ice cream truck on a sunny August afternoon as part of their job description, but I am glad that I have one! Kate and I had a wonderful time visiting each of our campuses and meeting so many you. We hope we will continue seeing you at our events as we continue to build our community during postdoc appreciation month in September. You can learn more about our events this fall here.
But my Choco Taco last week is not the only exciting thing going on in PDPA right now – we will have many new team members soon. Our team is currently in the process of recruiting new staff members to support the growth and expansion of the professional development programs that we offer. The postdoc office is getting a postdoc – we are in the final interview stages to welcome our own Postdoctoral Associate in collaboration with the Office of the Associate Provost of Graduate Affairs. This new member of our team will enable us to begin to offer programming for graduate students without limiting or changing the content that we provide for postdocs, and we are excited to collaborate with Daniel Kleinman to create a cohesive professional development program across PhD and postdoc training at BU.
In collaboration with Research, we are also recruiting an Events Manager. This new team member will streamline our event planning, given that we will be taking on many more events next year in support of our grant-funded programs and our new responsibilities.
And speaking of grant funded programs…
When I started my job back in 2015, I met with many postdocs that described the challenges associated with attending in-person programming – time, juggling other demands, location, and many more. I am very pleased to announce that with our new $1.9m National Institutes of Health grant, we will be able to create comprehensive set of digital learning opportunities for postdocs so that you can build your skills and join our community from anywhere. Alongside collaborators at Northwestern University, Michigan State University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we will develop the Postdoc Academy, a suite of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) tailor-made just for postdocs. And for those of you that like to learn in-person rather than at your own pace, all of the content will also be made available in-person through weekly workshops each semester. We are recruiting a Program Manager based at Boston University and a Postdoctoral Fellow based at Northwestern University to support this work. New Postdoc Academy programming will launch during postdoc appreciation month next September. (Can’t wait until then? Join our pilot focus groups this spring – more information soon.)
It is an incredibly exciting time for our office and for postdocs at BU and we look forward to celebrating all of the ways you contribute to our community during Postdoc Appreciation Month!
FUN FACT: I am an intensely fierce Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
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14 March 2018
The jump from postdoc to leading teams for me felt like a really big leap – I wasn’t intentional about preparing for it in quite the way I would be now if I was doing it over again. It wasn’t that I hadn’t had supervisory experience – I had – I mentored several undergraduates throughout my own training. But there continues to be something about the difference between being accountable for my own work and being accountable for a much larger set of people that continues to challenge me and develop my skills as I lead the postdoc office at BU.
So what do I wish I knew then that I have come to practice now? Here are a few anecdotes from me on what I have learned from my leadership positions in government (at the British Consulate-General, Boston) and here at BU:
- Talk less, listen more: I am an ideas person. During meetings, my mind is already in rapid fire, building on the things other people have said. When I first transitioned out of my postdoc, I thought leadership looked like jumping into the conversation immediately, being assertive in getting my enthusiasm and ideas out there…and…sometimes it does look like that. But many of my effective moments as a leader have been those times where I have listened and asked questions rather than spoke up myself, creating the space for the group I am working with to create ideas collaboratively.
- Know your values and stick to them – Two of my personal values are honesty and transparency. It’s really important to me that the work that I do is aligned with and successfully conveys those values. What things do you value? Find a place to work (and lead) that promotes those values within your work environment. It’s difficult to lead if you constantly feel like you are fighting against yourself.
- Assess risks…and take them – So often leaders are perceived as the people that mitigate risk, and that is true. I do spend a fair bit of time thinking about risks to the office and to the University and how to avoid them. But I also spend a fair bit of time trying new things, even when I’m not sure how they will land or whether or not they will be successful. Part of the perk of the ownership that comes with being a leader is the ability to take calculated risks in order to make significant progress.
How can you prepare? My advice would be to think about the type of job that you’d like to pursue after your postdoc and understand the responsibilities of the leaders within that pathway – what types of decisions do they face on a daily basis? What are their challenges in getting things done? What types of positions do they manage – are they entry level or more advanced/experienced? Then, ask yourself how you can get some practice within your own day-to-day now. Whether it’s taking on more responsibility in your postdoc role or volunteering/working outside of BU, how can you be intentional about putting yourself in some of these similar situations? Not only will this help you in your interviews, but it will also help you identify the situations and types of people that challenge you, so that you can work on those challenges before you step into a leadership position.
And of course, we are always here to help you get started. During the retreat, we will talk about supporting inclusive research environments and developing skills in mentoring. Later this month we will partner with Human Resources to offer a Choose to Manage session focused on understanding your own leadership style and how that interacts with other types of leadership styles when working as a team.
I look forward to the postdoc retreat and hope all of you do too. Hope to see many of you in just two weeks! Until soon, Sarah
FUN FACT: I have twin sons, Finn and Erik. They are five, and very much postdocs in training. You may see them at events from time to time, running around and drinking a ton of apple and orange juice. They keep me pretty busy when I am not getting work done!
30 January 2018
I remember feeling confused when my elementary school teachers described me as a “leader” in my report cards. Obedient and reserved, I preferred quietly following the rules over organizing my peers to play a new game. Later in life, I was similarly as perplexed when my coaches cited leadership skills as a reason for appointing me captain of the school soccer team. As I grew older and went to college, my leadership experience became more clear through my position titles in extracurricular activities, internships, and summer jobs. But entering the workforce after college felt like I was back at ground zero; there were no soccer teams to lead, and I was not yet experienced enough to be the president of a society.
What I’ve come to learn from these experiences is that you don’t need to be in a position of power to be a leader. Furthermore, leadership is not binary- there aren’t strictly “leaders” and “followers”. There are people who exhibit leadership skills in different ways and in different venues in life.
Perhaps like many of you, I am in a position in my career where I am not typically the one in charge. I don’t run my own office or lab. The opportunities that exist for me to develop my leadership skills aren’t immediately evident. But similar to how I became captain of the soccer team, I know it’s important to seek those opportunities out so that I can advance to the next step when it is time.
Thought leadership is what immediately comes to mind for me when I think of leaders in the workplace. People in positions of authority often have more experience or innovative ways of approaching problems that qualify them for authoritative and decision-making roles. But there are several building blocks that can help one work their way up to those type of roles. First, it was important for me to understand my leadership style and how it changes in different settings. In general, I aim to exhibit democratic leadership, but when delegating tasks to student employees I might be more laissez-faire. When something goes wrong at an event, I step into a more autocratic role because the stakes are high and time is short. To excel in each of these situations requires developing a toolbox of both hard and soft skills. Hard skills may be dependent on your field, but everyone can benefit from strong communication and delegation skills. In my position now, I work to show that I am dependable and that I can be flexible. I also seek out opportunities to apply my creativity and work to cultivate that skill outside of my day job. Sometimes that is as simple as taking a new route to work or listening to a new podcast – anything to get me to switch up my usual routine!
I’ve come across a number of good tools to help me review and develop my leadership skills (here’s one!) What I’ve found is that there is no job or situation too small to practice good leadership, whether that be through encouraging diversity, using decision-making skills, providing direction, or being open to new ways of doing things. The actions I do today are the building blocks for my springboard into the next step of my career. Like training for a race, I’m taking it one step at a time.
FUN FACT: When I was younger my family had two hedgehogs as pets. I named mine Pokey after Gumby’s pet horse (plus, hedgehogs have spines that poke…)
13 December 2017
First, it was lovely to see so many faces at our holiday party this year. I hope to see you, and perhaps some of your ‘buddies’, at our retreat this spring. We will announce the dates shortly.
It is nearing the end of the year, and what a whirlwind year it has been! I certainly got lost in the shuffle a bit this fall, completing tasks and meeting deadlines (well, mostly…) as they came across my desk instead of being out in front of the work that needed to be done. I honestly can’t continue to work this way – it’s stressful, and getting things done is less fulfilling if I’m already in a frenzy to get the next thing done after that. I have developed a few tricks to help me stay focused, tackle tasks more proactively, and manage my time more effectively –
- I used to keep a running post-it note list of all the things I needed to accomplish. The challenge with keeping a running list is that I didn’t spend any time mapping tasks to open times in my schedule, nor did the list really factor in deadlines. Instead, it allowed me to find things on the list that I was excited to work on, get those done, and keep pushing the other (less desirable) work tasks on to new post-it after new post-it. I now have a weekly post-it planner that allows me to map tasks into my schedule and also set goals for each work day specifically.
- For the last two weeks, I have been spending one hour per workday completely email free, so that I am not distracted by new messages coming in as I am trying to get other work done or respond to prior messages.
- I am trying to be better about setting aside even a few minutes to eat a proper lunch each day so that I can choose when I take a mental break (instead of my mind choosing when it gets to wander off later in the afternoon).
- I also ask Kate for help – reminders, delegating tasks, breaks for cupcakes…
I hope some of these strategies will work for you, and don’t forget – an individual development plan or a career advancement plan can help place all of your tasks into a proactive career planning process.
I also want to note that part of the reason why the fall has been such a whirlwind is because I have taken on more responsibility – PDPA has two new NSF funded programs that we will launch this spring. I have been named the co-Lead of the Workforce Development Core of the newly funded Engineering Research Center, and nationally I am serving on committee roles in the AAMC GREAT Group, the CIRTL Network, and Future of Research. All of these things I do in support of you – to influence policy at local and national scale, to build new initiatives to support your professional development and training, and also to make more connections between postdoc affairs and other networks on campus and off. I may be busier than I used to be, and bear with me…sometimes more frantic, but I am still every bit excited and committed to each and every one of you. I absolutely love my day job.
Best wishes for a happy holiday season and a great start to the new year.
FUN FACT: I am training for this year’s 2018 Boston Marathon! I hope to see many of you on the course cheering me along.
23 October 2017
The idea of change has been on my mind lately. The topic has been very present in our work at PDPA; Non-employee postdocs can attest that the new benefits and reimbursement processes have brought about many changes! Additionally, I’ve spent more time thinking about managing our data and visualizing how our population as a whole changes throughout the year. On a larger scale, BU is growing and changing as an institution and of course we have experienced numerous political changes as of late.
Sometimes changes are very clear and have an anticipated deadline, like the start of an appointment or exhaustion of a funding source.
But other times, change is less clear. It might start with a tiny voice saying that something just isn’t right. A trip on the shuttle gave me the opportunity to talk with a friend about her recent career shifts. She isn’t entirely unhappy with what she is doing now, but isn’t thrilled either. She turned down an interview recently and wonders now if it was her “one shot” for being happier.
As easy as it is to give voice to that fear, I think it can be detrimental to expect a new opportunity to solve your frustrations without reflecting on the reasons that you want change in the first place. Otherwise, you might find yourself in the same unhappy state a few months down the line. That being said, I know that waiting in the meantime can be confusing and even painful when you know something isn’t right but can’t pinpoint what.
I did some digging and found a few good resources about reflecting on and adapting to change:
- Unstuck.com – this is a great resource if you are feeling “stuck” in any phase of life, and offers guidance for the 11 different ways we can get stuck.
- This article from InterNations gives tips for reflecting on and preparing for professional changes. InterNations may also be a helpful resource for scholars visiting the US from other countries
- If your lab or team are undergoing changes, this article provides tips for leading effectively during those changes. You may find these tips helpful for building your leadership skills, which are important skills to have outside of your research.
Of course, changes aren’t all bad. Take the new benefits for non-employee postdocs as an example. Changes have to occur on the administrative end for these benefits to be possible, but the positives far outweigh the minor negatives experienced so far. Someone being able to access healthcare, either preventative or in the event of an emergency, is worth a few extra emails. Focusing on the end goal can make the side effects of change seem miniscule. Another example is moving; sure, it can be a pain to pack boxes and carry them up and down the stairs or ship them across the country. But being another step closer to your dream job or family members makes it all worthwhile.
Not convinced? One of my favorite sayings is, “the difference between fear and excitement is one deep breath.” Even if changes seem hard or scary, it can be reassuring to know that positive aspects are in store. We can’t always control changes in our lives, but we can control how we feel about them and how we allow them to affect us.
Do you have other good resources about adapting to changes? Feel free to share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, in the spirit of our other reflections, I will leave you with this fun fact: technically, I have an undefeated varsity tennis career. I played in only one meet to fill in for a teammate, but it makes for a good fun fact regardless!
16 August 2017
Last month Kate wrote about stress. I am challenged by a very specific type of stress in my world – burnout. Though rationally I know that I cannot possibly do everything, my personal and professional lives (and well being) often go through cycles in and out of sync as I try to keep up with all of the responsibilities I am juggling. I work and I push until I am running on fumes…and then I have to find a way to recharge before I somehow manage to begin the grind all over again. (It’s hard to balance being passionate and enthusiastic with making slow and steady progress…I’ll let you know when I figure it out.)
Burnout is chronic and can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment or lack of motivation, and feeling like you aren’t accomplishing anything (even when you are working really hard). Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Exhaustion – feeling physically, mentally, or emotionally spent
- Lack of motivation / drive – all the enthusiasm for your work or interests is missing
- Frustration or cynicism – feeling like what you are doing doesn’t matter anymore
- Cognitive challenges – lack of attention or focus
- Extended periods of low productivity – long-term slump in getting work done
- Interpersonal challenges – conflict or withdrawing from others
- Deprioritizing wellbeing – not taking care of yourself, overindulging in vices
- Preoccupied with work – cannot find mental spaces where thoughts of work are absent
- Health challenges – all the stress can lead to longer-term health problems like obesity, depression, and digestion issues
Academia is a rewarding and exciting place to work, full of opportunities to contribute creatively to solutions that will have an impact on societal problems. It’s also sometimes a really challenging and intense work environment that doesn’t necessarily have structured endpoints. There is always one more paper to write, one more experiment to do, one more student to meet with. Understanding the signs of burnout can help you take steps toward working healthier. Here are some things I have tried this summer to get myself back into a better space –
- Taking actual vacations – So often when I go on vacation, I am working just as much as I do during a work day, just maybe not during conventional work hours. This summer I have tried to limit email and completing work tasks during vacation and have enjoyed the change of focus to wherever I am and the people that I am with!
- Going to bed – I am amazed at how just sleeping well makes all the difference in how I feel when I wake up in the morning.
- Getting organized – Sometimes just the sheer amount of different tasks that need doing can overwhelm me. Breaking each project down into steps and assigning myself reasonable deadlines helps me feel like all of the balls I am juggling are manageable.
- Saying no – This is a work in progress (and perhaps the topic of a future post), but I am trying to be better about being honest about my bandwidth, both personally and professionally. Maybe I don’t always have to be the mom that brings cupcakes to the kids’ pre-K classroom and maybe I don’t always have to say yes at work.
- Finding an outlet – For me, it’s running, a good book, or junk TV.
I’m always available to talk through strategies you can take to minimize burnout, but BU also has great wellness benefits for postdocs. Check them out here: https://www.bu.edu/wellness/
FUN FACTS: My hometown (Butler, PA) is the birthplace of the Jeep. When I go back to visit, I like to get chocolate-covered potato chips from a local candy store on Main Street.
6 July 2017
Stressed out? Me too. But… so is everyone, right? Isn’t this just an inevitable result of being a productive member in society? We are bombarded with health recommendations about stress to the point where it is numbing, and quite frankly, easy to brush aside. After all, isn’t stress a good thing? It encourages us to meet deadlines, determine priorities, and put forth our best work. But I was surprised to learn recently that stress may have greater negative long-term effects than I previously thought.
When I’m not working in the postdoc office, I’m a graduate student in BU’s School of Public Health. Working full-time and going to school part-time leaves me with a lifestyle that I imagine parallels many of yours: spending a lot of time at BU! While I knew this lifestyle would be challenging, I was willing to sacrifice discomfort for a short amount of time in deference to my greater goal. This summer, I enrolled in a course that focused on stress as a public health problem. I was vaguely aware that taking care of myself and building resilience were important, but this class was the trigger that made me finally want to make self-care habits a priority.
Research has shown that stress in certain periods of life can manifest as health issues later in life. An article published in 2006 details how adverse events occurring in childhood, such as parental marital discord, household dysfunction, and exposure to various forms of abuse, can lead to increased risk of negative health outcomes in adulthood, such as anxiety, sleep disturbances, and substance use. The results of the study showed that in a sample comprising mostly white and at least partly-college educated individuals, 64% reported at least one adverse event, and 87% of those reporting one event reported multiple overall. Events that contribute negatively to our health are more common than we think (Anda, 2006).
It doesn’t end in childhood. Some researchers have demonstrated that stress is highest in early adulthood, a period of life when individuals typically experience stress related to career, getting married, starting a family, and managing finances. Such stressors tend to alleviate over time, but often occur simultaneously or sequentially, which can exacerbate negative effects. Young adults may seek to reduce the psychological and physical arousal associated with the stress by engaging in detrimental health behaviors. Umberson et al found that higher stress levels are associated with weight gain (even when adjusting for physical health differences across age groups) and more rapid decline in exercise habits in young adults. The findings from their study taken as a whole suggest that stress impacts our behaviors differently at different points in life (Umberson, 2008). Unfortunately, those behavior changes occur when we need to be most conscious about instilling habits to set us up for a healthful adult life.
So… what can we do? McEwan’s allostatic load model asserts that stress can be good, but constant and long-term stress eventually makes us sick. Changing your social environment, reducing your stressor load, seeking out coping resources (FSAO, the Ombuds, and PDPA’s Resilience course are all great ones!), and leaning on support systems all help avoid chronic illness. A simple tip is to start viewing your stressors as challenges rather than obstacles. Using positive reinterpretation, or ‘looking for the silver lining’, in your stressors can also help. Mindfulness practices are inexpensive and easy to implement; during the class, I tried autogenic training (you can find podcasts online to walk you through it) and my peers found success with progressive muscle relaxation and meditation. Find what works for you.
So yes, my personal view is that stress is an inevitable result of being productive in society. All of us experience it at one time or another, and in different ways. I’m not suggesting that you take a vacation or work fewer hours; it would be hypocritical if I did. Instead, I encourage you to find ways to give yourself a break, so when you get the job you are dreaming about, you can enjoy it for a long time!
Interested in learning more? Check out these articles. You should have access to the databases through the BU library:
Anda, R.F., Felitti, V.J., Bremner, J.D., Walker, J.D. Whitfield, C., Perry, B.D., Dube, S.R., & Giles, W.H. (2006). The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood: A convergence of evidence from neurobiology and epidemiology. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 256, 174-186. http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.bu.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=cadf41c3-b1e2-43da-8a01-028d166cd152%40sessionmgr112&vid=2&hid=120
McEwan, B.S. (2003). Mood disorders and allostatic load. Biological Psychiatry. 54, 200-207.
Pearlin, L.I., Schieman, S., Fazio, E.M., & Meersman, S.C. (2005). Stress, health, and the life course: Some conceptual perspectives .Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46, 205-219. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.bu.edu/docview/201664286?accountid=9676
Turner, H.A., & Schieman, S., (2008). Stress processes across the life course: Introduction and overview. Advances in Life Course Research, 13, 1–15.
Umberson, D., Liu, H., & Reczek, C. (2008). Stress and health behaviour over the life course. Advances in Life Course Research, 13, 19–44.
1 June 2017
My colleague Bennett and I just finished writing a book chapter focused on postdoc-mentor relationships, and the deep dive I took into the mentoring literature during our writing has left a lasting impression as I think about our events and resources for the fall. Mentoring relationships are so important to achieving professional success…and yet getting them right is a really nuanced and challenging thing to do for a lot of reasons.
Most people approach mentoring relationships informed by their past experiences, as well as what they might need in the present moment rather than projected out into the future. This makes sense to me to a certain extent because most relationships evolve based on how we feel and what we experience. Though I’m sure there are oodles of research papers (bonus prize for someone that sends me one!) that study all sorts of nuanced relationship categories, no one consults the literature for guidance before developing a friendship with a colleague or entering into a new research collaboration. It’s funny, when you think about it, isn’t it? As researchers we would never develop a hypothesis without applying evidence, and yet we establish the most important relationships in our professional lives without factoring in any literature-based evidence at all. Most of the time, we enter into our primary mentoring and supervisory relationships not thinking about strategy at all, and rely instead on our experiences to make them work over time. Mentors tend to mentor as they were mentored, and postdocs tend to learn and respond based on their mentor’s example. This sometimes works – sometimes postdocs and faculty muddle through – and sometimes it just doesn’t work at all.
Though our office is always here to support you and provide career advice, we are not enough. You also need the day-to-day support of a mentor or team of mentors that can help you advance professionally. Postdocs without strong mentoring support are innately set up for disadvantages that can continue to accumulate over their early career milestones. Our current practice at BU of assuming faculty members and postdocs will enter into productive relationships on their own, without consistent resources and interventions, isn’t a practice I’d like to continue. This year PDPA will focus on providing structured resources for faculty to support evidence-based mentoring practices, as well as provide postdocs with strategies to “mentor up.”
We will also develop initiatives that emphasize the importance of mentor networks, helping you diversify the support and advice that you receive during your training here. Join us for our kickoff summer social event – you can meet postdoc peers and professionals around Boston and begin to build your network (more details to follow soon):
Postdoc Summer Social
1 Silber Way, Kenmore Room (9th floor)
Friday, July 14, 2017 4:00PM-7:00PM
26 April 2017
We ask a number of questions in the Postdoctoral Experiences Survey, but my favorite question is “If you could meet one-on-one with the Director of Professional Development & Postdoctoral Affairs today, what would you want her to know about your postdoctoral experience at Boston University?” I like it in part because there is something exciting about a mental image of postdocs bursting into my office with things that they just had to share – things they couldn’t get off their mind. (Maybe this is because I often enter meetings this way, bursting in with the one or several things I can’t get off my mind…) But more importantly, it’s my favorite question because it is so important – it helps us make sure that we are working on the real issues at the heart of ensuring the postdoctoral training experience here at BU is a good one.
Just like in 2015, the responses coming in this year are reflective, constructive, and illuminating. I look forward to working with Kate to put many of your ideas into action. But it seems only fair that if we are going to ask postdocs this question, we should also answer it – what do we want postdocs to know about our experience running a postdoc office at Boston University?
From my perspective, the most important thing you should know is that it isn’t actually my perspective that matters – it’s yours. Though I feel a lot of pride and ownership in expanding this office two years ago, it isn’t my office, or now that Kate has joined, our office – it’s yours. Whether you answer this survey question now, email us on a random day sometime later, or stop by and see us in person…it is your feedback that shapes the University’s strategy on postdoc-related issues, we simply action it. I hope that you feel like you are part of an institution that hears you, even though it can sometimes take time and teamwork across the University between what we hear from you and what we are able to do for you.
What I will add to Sarah’s comments are that the feedback we receive from you directly inform the questions that we ask ourselves about our office and our day-to-day tasks. No question is dumb, and no trying situation is trivial; if we can’t help you ourselves, we can direct you to somebody who can. You might think that your feedback is too small or that your comments can’t be operationalized, but in fact, they help us sense trends in issues that postdocs are experiencing. Short of coming to your desk and standing in your shoes, we can’t always see or anticipate these issues until you paint that picture for us.
This happened recently in our office – a postdoc reached out to me to share about a frustrating experience she had and mentioned a resource that helped her. A few weeks later, a different postdoc reached out about a similar frustrating experience. I shared the resource with him, and Sarah and I were able to have a conversation about whether this issue might be affecting more people in our community, and what we could do to help. Many times I have been able to prioritize my work based on the sense of immediacy and degree of helpfulness we perceive a task having to the postdoc community.
One of the most important aspects of this blog and our wider work is to create community, and so we should also spend time getting to know one other. I will end each of my posts with a fun fact about me, and you should feel free to share yours in the comments section. First fun fact – my favorite food is pizza.
Until soon, Sarah
My fun fact is that my first job was working at the lake in my hometown, which is known for having the “longest place name” in the USA. The name of the lake has 45 letters and 14 syllables. I would be pleased to pronounce it for you next time we meet. See you soon – Kate