Limitations and the consequences
Well hello there. It’s been a hot minute as the kids say (they say that, right?), but I’m feeling somewhat better these days. I’ve written several “first” posts now or at least parts to them and I’m hoping that this will be the one I finally commit to and hit the publish button on. If you’re reading this and are not me, then it’s a good indication I made it that far, how about that? So let’s get the obvious out of the way and catch up on the past few weeks because there’s a lot to catch up on and I’m not abandoning the 365 days of academia project, so no worries on that front! I mean after starting year four, I might as well see it to the end!
Okay, first the obvious. I’m still alive, still full of spite, and still working on my degree. Hi, how are you?
But seriously, things are okay on my end. I had some minor health issues unrelated to anything, it was previous surgery shenanigans, because nothing in my body wants to see me live I suppose. The other good news is despite the travel to two different conferences I remain COVID free, so my N95 and general awkwardness around others has served me well! However, as I was reminded pretty abruptly after my return from said conferences, I am disabled and while that’s not a bad thing, it does set certain limitations on what I can and cannot do.
And again because I’m disabled, when I fight against it, it will catch up with me eventually. My last attempt at a hello (again) world post revolved around the idea that disability isn’t a bad word. Unlike posts like this, where I like to stream of consciousness style spew whatever I’m trying to say, I decided I want to polish that post a little bit because I think it’s an important thing to discuss and it is a topic I think deserves more than just whatever comes out of my brain as I type. So that post is on the back burner for now and when I have time to edit it some more I’ll make sure it sees the light of the internet. For now though, it’s been a bit so let’s catch up.
When I last left off I was fresh off the return from my conferences, which was a few weeks ago now, but it feels like days. That week was probably the highlight of the past 15 years for me, not that I don’t appreciate each and every one of you who read this, but it was a chance for me to feel like I made the right choices after all the struggles. It was something special for me and I’m really glad it went well. I never would’ve expected to get selected, much less get selected as one of the top five. Still even after all of that, all of you were a surprise bonus and more than I would’ve ever asked for. Perspective I guess.
Unfortunately for me, anytime I stress, worry, or just generally have to rush, I pay for it. As I described a while ago, oh wow it’s been years (here) I have weird stuff that my body likes to do, like develop rashes or weird sores when I get stressed or I overwork myself (haha… in hindsight a PhD was probably not the best choice for that…). The funny thing is that it’s gotten worse as the years progress, or maybe the stress has just piled on as the years progressed. Regardless the reason, for two months or so before the conference I was going full speed and ignoring all the preverbal red flashing lights and warning sirens because things needed to get done in time for the conference.
To be clear I don’t regret it and I would do it again in a heartbeat, but afterwards when the high of hitting such a huge milestone for me wore off I crashed pretty hard. Like bad, like I could barely get myself out of bed, everything hurt, breathing hurt, moving my joints hurt, life hurt, bad. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but the point remains that I quickly found that I couldn’t will myself to do just about anything outside of the basics and as I preach often, self care is the best care. So I stepped away without any notice and for that I apologize. I’ve had a surprising number of people reach out to check in on me and I am sorry for worrying you all. I will try to be better about that in the future.
Honestly we’re so close to the end of this project that I don’t know what I will do next, but regardless I’m not going to abandon the blog. I’m still trying to figure out what it will look like and how I want to transition to the next stage of my career, but I figure we can carry on with updates. Maybe not the daily updates I’ve been trying to do for the past four years, but regular updates at least. Again, that’s up for some debate and thought, so we’ll just have to wait and see (a common theme around here). I do hope to graduate next term, we’ll see. School-PI thinks it will be the end of summer, but I can still hold out some hope that I’ll be able to do all this before then. Again, that’s a wait and see.
Back to the topic at hand though, the past few weeks have been a pretty exhausting time. Things are slowly piling up and my deadlines are inching closer and closer, but despite all that I’ve done the bare minimum in order to give myself a real shot at recovering enough to keep going to the finish line. Things on the hospital side are slow(er) at the moment, but I still have responsibilities and things I need to manage so I’ve been focused on that, but not much else. My dissertation progress has come to a halt, which I keep telling myself is for the best if I have to limp along I won’t finish in time. I think I will be able to do more once I feel better than I would if I just kept trying to push even with the shorter time to my deadline.
Overall, things on the hospital side are moving along though. I discussed my transition to postdoc with hospital-PI and other roles I could take on instead. None of my path has been “traditional” so I might as well continue that path. I think it will benefit me in the long run to keep with that idea, not that it will be easy, but nothing I’ve done to this point felt easy, so why try to take the easy path now? The nice thing is that I’m essentially a “postdoc” now as far as hospital-PI goes and even though it’s his lab, once I graduate the hospital will have to offer me my next role in conjunction with him. We had that talk and discussed how long I would stick around for, which depends on a lot of different odds and ends (some of which I cannot talk about).
Mostly between the experience I have now on the hospital side of things, the DARPA fellowship and other routes I could take, I’m not sure a postdoc would be valuable for my career. Plus, and pretty importantly, I wouldn’t be making any more than I do now if I went that route, which feels like a step back. Money is a taboo topic, but only because employers make it so. We all need money to live and if I’m valued at a certain amount now, that value should go up once I have my degree, meaning I should be paid in accordance to that and luckily hospital-PI and I are in agreement on that front.
The problem is most postdoc positions are paid based on NIH guidelines and those guidelines are horrible! I could make 2x or more if I went from my degree to an industry job (without a postdoc, because one wouldn’t be “needed” that route), but it’s not what I want to do. However, postdoc salary based on NIH guidelines start at ~$55k which isn’t a whole lot of money considering you have a whole PhD behind your name. In fact, a friend who went out of our lab to an industry job signed a contract for almost 3x that much. I would like to retire one day, so I would ideally make enough to save for retirement if you know what I mean. So a postdoc, in name anyway, is almost certainly(definitely!!!) not an option. Hospital-PI and others are helping me to push for an alternative option and I should know exactly what that looks like come January, which will give me plenty of time to decide if I want to do that, go off to DARPA (or rather apply, it’s not a sure thing), or just do something totally different altogether.
Basically the past few weeks, while dissertation work has taken a back seat, I still need to plan for whatever comes next. The last transition I made (Masters to PhD and frankly PhD full-time to work full-time/ PhD part time) was made without a whole lot of planning or understanding of what the decisions would lead to. To be fair, the work/PhD choice happened abruptly, but I went in knowingly. The PhD application process and figuring out the whole PhD route in general was blind and I ended up very lucky, but I am going to avoid testing my luck again like that.
I may or may not be posting regularly again, but in case I don’t I just want to say everything is okay, it’s just been a rocky recovery. Fun fact, I’ve missed more days of 365 days of academia this past month than I have the entire project. Not bad for over three years of posting! Also friendly reminder that breaks are okay and projects, especially long “daily” projects don’t have to have a perfect score to be a success. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but it’s okay to take a minute for yourself, even if you have deadlines. Trust me when I say that you’ll get far more done with a break than you would if you tried to power through it. But that’s coming from the guy who is still trying to recover, so maybe do as I suggest not as I do. In my defense, even when I was pushing I took breaks, but that was a lot of constant stress to be under for so very, very long.
And that about sums up the last few weeks. Thank you again to everyone who reached out to check up on me. It means the world to me to know that people care. I never realized how much compassion there is in the world from people I’ve never even met, which is frustrating looking back at my childhood and wondering what the hell went wrong with my family. Totally off topic, but regardless, thank you all so much. I’m glad you’re all around to celebrate the victories with me and I hope now that the end is as close as it’s ever been that we’ll get to celebrate again shortly.
TL;DR: Thank you all for the support, I’m okay and if I’m not officially back to posting regularly, I have a feeling I will be soon.