Letting go

Why is it so hard to let go, if not to forgive at least to forget and move on??

When I moved to Oxford, it was to pursue the project of my dreams, in what I thought the best place to do it. When I walked away not much of that youthful naivety remained, my career was in shards but my personal life flourishing. I completely lost faith in science and am keen to invest some time in finding alternatives. I have a sweet boy now and a great partner. I haven’t been stressed anymore since leaving Oxford, as I had been for weeks on end. I thought I’d moved on. Science isn’t all about experiments and observations, but largely about money and publications. It isn’t about talent, it’s about selling. I thought I’d accepted this and would be happy to trade it in for a more 9-5 job and time for a life besides work. For a career where hard work pays off more than sheer luck and big words.

Why then, if it was so bad, is it so hard to let go? Stupidly, I followed a link on Twitter that led to my old lab’s new website. I was astonished to read that 3 new postdocs have been hired. Whereas my contract was not extended, unlike promised, because of lack of funds. Just after informing about my pregnancy. Seeing that money appeared for 3 new people makes me so angry again. One of them is surely continuing my project, will probably even run off with a first authorship after almost 3 years of work from my side… Parts of the project proposal that brought in the money, were actually literally copied from my postdoc fellowship application. It makes me so angry.

But then – would I really have wanted to stay longer, even if given the chance? I’m not so sure, especially considering the toxicity of that environment. I should be happy to have escaped. I’m just still really struggling to accept this new reality. For 30 years, I’ve studied and worked in the sciences, loved every second of it and I still can’t believe it’s so easy to lose that. Much less, I can’t envision yet what could replace that??



One of the things we could do very well without is regrets.

Sometimes I find people agonising over choices they’ve made. What if I’d done something differently? Would I have gotten that job, or publication, or car, or love? They can get really upset about things they can’t change anymore anyway.

I find these kind of thoughts destructive. What I believe, is that at the time you made that decision, you made it with the knowledge available to you at that moment. And you genuinely believed it was the best option you had. In hindsight, you may think you should’ve made a different choice, but by doing so you are forgetting the limitedness of the knowledge you had back then.

I went to play paintball this Sunday. Was a lot of fun really. But at some point, I thought I could be a hero and conquer a hut on my own. As far as I could tell, there was only one person defending it who had not seen me and had his back to me. This was my moment to try for eternal glory! I scrambled from behind my cover, made a mad run towards the hut and was already starting to celebrate reaching the hut unharmed. To be mercilessly thwarted by a puddle of mud. My ankle twisted away beneath me and as a result I hit the doorway with my shin. But I still thought I made it and didn’t even feel my ankle. To be shot in the leg by a person hiding behind the hut and having to admit defeat before limping off. Defeated.

Now I feel stupid because I am going on holidays this Thursday. With an ankle twice its normal size and bruises all over. But would it really make me feel any better, to go calling myself names and regretting what I’ve done? Or is it also OK to say okay, I’ll have to live with the consequences now, which is going sight-seeing on holidays at only half-pace and scrambling over rocks on all fours? And still relish the moment where I thought I was going to be a hero? That blissful moment of ignorance, not seeing the danger in a puddle of mud and a hidden person behind a hut, that moment of thinking I can do it.

Of course, this was only a game and holidays is hardly a matter of life and death either, but I think it holds true for most decisions you make in life. Looking back at the year and a half in Oxford, I’m pretty sure I’d make a different choice if I could make it again. I would not join this lab. But that choice is past now so it doesn’t do to dwell on what if’s and regrets. Instead, I’d rather remember the elated feeling of knowing I’m coming to Oxford and try to be better informed before making future choices. Try to see that puddle of mud and hiding person before jumping in…

About the 8 months of silence….

Don’t even know where to begin after such long absence!

Maybe with the reason why I’m writing something right now, even though it’s a very trivial one.. I’m at home being ill. Some kind of summer flu. Feel slightly better today, but still not up to cycling to the lab. So I have some spare time 🙂

How have the past 8 months been? Both a blast and a nightmare. To start with the negatives first: my supervisor and me are water and fire. We don’t get along. All of our interactions are very forced. It hasn’t gotten better since I stopped writing blog posts, if anything it’s gotten worse still. I’ve been surprised, puzzled, annoyed, upset, angry, sad or even all at once at this. I’m an easy-going person and I’ve never run into trouble like this. It’s a shame really, because it does negatively influence my time here in Oxford. Doing a course on Lab Management from EMBO has helped me greatly to understand some of it better and maybe more importantly how to handle it.

Then on to the more positive: personally, I’ve found my way here. After breaking up, I think I ended up at rock bottom but looking back at it, it’s the best thing that could’ve happened. At 29 years, I’m finally making my own choices in everything I do, which is an eye-opener and something I thoroughly enjoy for the time being. The troubles with my supervisor have helped me to also put the lab in perspective: in the end, it’s just work. So I’ve picked up some more hobbies again, the piano, running & swimming, found a bunch of lovely people to play board games with. Having a pint after work with some colleagues or watching a champions league game. My life seems more than okay again 🙂

Also professionally I’ve grown. I’ve learned so much on how to handle difficult people, I’m sure it’s going to come in handy sooner or later. My life until Oxford had been so ridiculously easy and linear, it was about time something happened that would allow me to learn to deal with different stresses as well. Now, the damage is limited. I’ll try to publish my findings within the next year and it will definitely not be the big thing I was hoping for when I started here, but it’s okay and then that’s that. The effect would probably be a lot bigger if anything like this had happened when setting up my own lab. At least I’m now not as naive as I was when starting here and can hopefully avoid making the same mistakes again.

So yeah, the short summary is that I’m alive and kicking, doing well and learning. The next period will be quite exciting, as I’ll start looking for what’s coming after this postdoc: another postdoc? Setting up my own lab? Something outside academia?

My plan for the blog is to pick it up again and write a few posts about what I’ve learned the past year on handling a difficult supervisor, on developing a project with little direct support, about the teaching I’ve been doing, but I’ll also definitely write about the choices ahead of me 🙂