How to escape perfectionism as an excellent researcher

If you want an academic career, you have to excel at so many levels. First and foremost you must show an excellent publication record, with many articles preferably in A status journals. Then there is teaching and supervising students: requires high quality lectures, committed availability, personal feedback, but hardly the time to prepare and deliver. Not to mention being the nice, helpful colleague (or partner, or parent). If you are not up to par with these standards, you fail. At least that is how many early career researchers think.

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The number one tip against stress in your PhD

Be honest: as a PhD or PostDoc, how often do you get to work outside, somewhere green, where you can feel the sun shine, the wind blow, hear birds, smell flowers or fall leaves? When do you get to see and experience some nature? For most of you the basement lab, the library, or even your computer screen define your daily working environment.

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A Taoist tip for doing research

Sometimes when you are trying to focus on a research puzzle, or when you open up a document to write that methods section you have been avoiding for a while, you may notice your mind flittering everywhere in stead of concentrating at the task you sat down to do. This constantly happened to Chris* as he was finishing his thesis. So he came to me and asked: “How can I create more focus and improve my motivation in this final thesis stage?”

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Philosophers who work outside of academia – part 4

A couple of weeks ago Helen de Cruz conducted in-depth interviews with philosophers who work outside of academia. She published the complete interview series at the New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science group blog: part 123. The interview series has also been featured at the Atlantic. I have been posting selections from the interview she had with me (here, here, and here). Below I elaborate on some of the points and add some answers that did not make it into the original series for reasons of space.

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Gun jij jezelf tijd om te mijmeren?

Een maand na ons gesprek (zie vorige blog over stress in de realiteit van je ‘droombaan’) mailt Ella dat het tot dusver heel goed is gegaan, maar dat ze zich nu toch voelt afglijden in zelfkritiek en haar oude patronen die haar zoveel stress en onrust opleverden voor het lesgeven en presenteren van haar paper op conferenties en symposia. Dat is niet zo gek, want het is niet makkelijk om de manier waarop je jarenlang gewerkt hebt zo grondig te veranderen. De gedachte aan een afgesproken coachsessie geeft gelukkig al wat rust en ruimte om de negatieve spiraal te stoppen: “als het echt zo erg is,” weet ze bij zichzelf, “dan is er bij die afspraak ruimte en aandacht voor.”

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Stress in de realiteit van je ‘droombaan’

Ogenschijnlijk gaat het van een leien dakje. Na haar promotie in de geesteswetenschappen kreeg Ella een plek als postdoc aangeboden en na een paar jaar volgde een tweede postdoc aan een andere universiteit. Daar krijgt ze een flinke onderwijstaak die haar zwaar valt. Uit zenuwen voor het lesgeven is ze dagelijks tot in de kleine uurtjes aan het werk, maar deze druk en stress is niet langer vol te houden. Hoewel ze altijd overtuigd was dat een academische loopbaan helemaal bij haar paste, denkt ze na een paar maanden in deze postdoc positie eraan om ontslag te nemen. Gelukkig luistert haar hoogleraar goed en spoort haar aan om actief naar een oplossing te zoeken om met meer zelfvertrouwen en effectiever te werken. Zo komt ze bij mij terecht.

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Inequality in academia

These are two sobering figures for the current situation in academia in the Netherlands:

Percentage of women professors in EU countries and the gender distribution in academic careers.

I have written about this before in a post on motherhood and academia. Before the end of year festivities caught up with me was at a symposium of the LNVH (Dutch network of women professors) where I had the pleasure to hear Prof. Curt Rice speak about implicit bias as the key to career differences between men and women. He argued that the confirmation of stereotypes leads us to forming an implicit bias where we, men and women alike, more readily see a man in a high profile function or on track to a professional career than a woman. If you think you are above this implicit bias, take this implicit bias test at project implicit and think again!

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Powers and pitfalls of introvert researchers

A Ted talk by Susan Cain on the power of introverts got me thinking about finding a balance between the power and pitfalls of introversion as a researcher. Cain argues passionately that valuable deep thought and truly creative and innovative ideas can only bubble to the surface if given enough quietness and solitude. Yet, she points out our society is increasingly organized to promote a more extrovert approach to cooperation, group work and outgoing interaction. The academic environment traditionally respects and fosters quiet contemplation, especially for PhD candidates and postdocs, but even here pressure increases to go public with your ideas: to publish, to participate in conferences, and to valorize their knowledge by reaching out to the general public and cooperate with many organizations.

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What am I about?

Some weeks ago my article “Create Your Future” appeared in Pandora, a magazine for the women network of Utrecht University. On their biennial network day I provided a workshop on how to balance professional and personal images while profiling yourself as a professional scientist using social media that require a more personal perspective. The main challenge that we tackled that day is to find an overall fitting answer to the question: what are you about?

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