Dr Ks 364 days in Oxford

Exactly one year ago, I was torn between excitement of my upcoming one-way flight to Oxford and sadness during my grandfathers funeral. Tomorrow, I’ll be in Oxford exactly one year. And what a year it’s been…

The first days were exciting, my boyfriend joined me for a flat-hunt. We were fairly successful and even had some spare time to enjoy Oxford and each others company. Things turned ugly pretty fast and I vividly remember the moment he walked out of the hotel room to return to Germany a few days later. I felt abandoned, lost, alone in a new city without anyone to talk to. Maybe I also released the emotions kept in during the funeral, as I didn’t need to pretend to be strong anymore. I forced myself out of the hotel room to allow cleaning, but all I wanted was to hide.

I was really glad when I could start work, so I wouldn’t be facing the hotel room anymore and had some distraction. Turned out that my colleagues are absolutely fabulous. There were many Christmas lunches, dinners and parties and before I knew it, I was on my way back home again for a two week Christmas break. Returning to Oxford was even more difficult than before, because I felt like leaving my real life in Germany on hold for a shallow substitute in Oxford.

Winter was grey, windy and rainy. My work seemed to progress albeit slowly. My boyfriend visited once, during a period of festivities back home he hated. I was really happy to have him over so unexpectedly, but in retrospect I already should’ve asked the question: why can you come to Oxford when the alternative, being at home, is worse than being here, but why can’t you come over just to see me?! I went home several times.

It became clear a long-distance relationship is going to be difficult and I started looking at alternatives. Could I go back without damaging my CV overly much? Doubt crept in though, because I realised I quite enjoyed being in Oxford and didn’t really want to go back. I started to realise it’s not fair to treat my time in Oxford as my life being on hold, because I’m living here and now. To be happy, I’d have to invest in hobbies and friends over here as well.

April then literally hit me. I had a freakish bike accident, which had me waking up in the hospital totally confused and lacking several teeth. When they asked who I’d like to call, I realised there wasn’t anyone in particular I’d like to call. Another wave of loneliness swallowed me for a week or so. I felt so terribly alone, I couldn’t face it and went to work two days after the accident, with my face stitched up and lacking teeth…

We decided it’s better to break up. He didn’t want to come here, nor me back, so we reached a stalemate. His grandfather died and I went back for the funeral. It was bizarre to hold him, to comfort him, in the knowledge that our relationship was over. But still caring enough about him to want to comfort him. Two weeks later, I went back again to sign the papers needed for our break. I sold my share of our house to him and we loaded a van with some of my possessions. Most of it stayed with him though: I didn’t think I’d be able to face the memories day after day.

The weeks that followed must’ve been the blackest of my life. Stripped of everything I held dear, I had no idea where to go. My friends weren’t here, my family needed me back home, I suddenly didn’t have a boyfriend, house or cats anymore. Progress at work was infuriatingly slow.

I hate cheesy sayings, but apparently time indeed heals. The months between then and now have been relatively quiet and given me plenty of opportunity for introspection. What do I want from life? What’s important? To be honest, I still don’t know, but I’ve reached the point where I’ll just go with the flow, do what feels good right here and right now. Anything else will follow. I realised I’m really not happy at work and tried to address it.

Because I felt I had nothing to loose anyway, I tried to explain to my boss why I am unhappy at work. We haven’t found a solution yet, but one of the reasons why I was disappointed is because I felt my input in a project went unacknowledged. After speaking about it, at least I’ll be an author on the manuscript and be included more. I’ve always been bad at speaking up for myself, but the current situation is definitely making me better at that.

I’ve started to see many more rays of light. Being on my own has forced me to make my own choices in everything I do. It made me more aware of my needs, more confident.

I’m organising a symposium. I’ve tried to address certain issues at work, which have been medium successful at most, but have led the Institute’s Director to tell me he’d write me a recommendation letter if I ever need one. He really appreciates the effort I’m making, even if my direct boss doesn’t see it. Apparently most people never speak up about issues they may have, which is a shame really.

I’ve been demonstrating in immunology classes and got lovely feedback. I’ve given my first ever lectures, on molecular biology and bioinformatics, and got good feedback on that as well. I’ll use the experience to write up a teaching portfolio, which’ll allow me to become an associate member of the Higher Education Academy.

I’ve picked up piano classes again, joined a group of people playing board games and another bunch of people going to the movies quite often. There’ve been ladies nights out. Or the occasional drink with colleagues. I’ve started volunteering at the Musea. Finally, I feel like my life is happening here. To the point where I’m not really looking forward to Christmas, as two weeks with my family is going to be odd. Especially because I’m not sure yet whether I want to face my ex again, or see the cats. That’ll probably make me incredibly sad and throw me back, so I probably won’t, which in itself is enough to make me sad again. Does that mean I’ll never see them again?!

So yes, the past year has been a special one. One that makes me realise I’m stronger than I think. Which has taught me a lot about myself. I’m not afraid of what the future may hold, but will just take it one day at a time. Let’s see where life takes me!

Sorry I’m in the lab instead of the kitchen!

I’m still fuming. I can’t believe how ignorant some people are.

This morning when I entered lab, I was greeted with “you look funny”. Not in a bad way – probably meant to comment on the fact that I went swimming before work and my hair was still a mess. Still, I told the guy that even IF I look funny, it’s not really the right place to talk about that.

Later on, we were discussing a birthday present. The lab has 3 girls and and 13 men, but during this discussion I was the only girl present. Naturally, I should be the one to buy it, because “we” are better at that. I corrected that and told them I’d be happy to get the present, but then it’ll be just beers and nothing else, because I DON’T like shopping.

I brought up a sensitive topic with our boss, because the others were too chicken to do it. Which got me an “odd that a girl has more balls than all the men in the lab” as a thank you.

Which is all, I hope, not bad intentioned unconscious prattle, I can deal with that. But during an afternoon coffee break, I almost wished murder is legal. For some reason, we were discussing obligatory military service. The fun started when someone remarked that that is so much easier for us girls, as we don’t have to go into the army (and come on, in most countries the boys don’t have to either!). But – in Israel the girls apparently do (haven’t checked whether this is true). Which one of them found quite funny, just “imagine an army of girls”. Which got me on edge – why exactly are we supposed to be less good at firing a gun or flying an F16?

The reply I got made me explode. “Anywhere with too many girls isn’t good, I’ve been in this pharma lab where there were ONLY women and it was bad, you need some men or it’ll be chaos”. So you are saying that we need men to keep us in check in anything we do? Are we too stupid to think? To which he had the guts to reply that “women are better at certain things, you know, cooking, kids”. I still can’t believe he actually said that. So you’re saying you think I shouldn’t be in the lab?

It was all I could do to get up and leave instead of hitting him or something. Luckily, it’s only this one guy. One of the others stepped in and said something starting with “you know, that was really sexist…”. Because I was on my way out, I don’t know how the conversation ended.

I mean, how thickheaded can you be?! The thing is, whenever I talk to him, I end up fighting him within seconds. Always about things that involve women doing things they shouldn’t do or can’t do as good as men. No matter what we discuss, he always knows better than I do. He even knows that my hormones will change once I hit 30 and at that point I’ll wish I wasn’t as reserved as I am now because I’ll want kids and to cook for my man. Apparently, he fancies me and asked almost all of my colleagues what I’m upset about, why I’m so unfriendly with him. I’ll tell you, even if he was the last man on earth, not gonna happen.

I was really relieved that one of my colleagues told him off, even though it probably won’t do much good. But please, if you witness any stupidity like this, please intervene. Humanity will be grateful. I suppose it’s nothing compared the threats some women got on Twitter in response to their objection to Matt Taylors shirt, but these *minor* things are happening every single day and we need all the help we can get to counter it.

Feedback matters

Interestingly, I’ve come across a a fair number of people recently who don’t seem to be able to hand out a compliment when someone does something right. Even worse, during a recent social event a postdoc told me that it was really hard to tell whether his boss was happy with his work. He asked for more feedback, upon which his boss allegedly told him not to worry about it, that he would let him know if the guy did something wrong.

I mean, really?

All I’m writing here is personal opinion, but I am pretty sure you could find literature to support the statement that positive feedback is rather important too. Just let people know when you think they’re doing a good job, doesn’t hurt you and will make them happy! And happy employees are more productive employees…

If you have something negative to say, by all means, go ahead. I love getting comments because that is how you improve. The important thing here is how you do that. The golden rule is to first start a conversation on a positive note, say for example you really enjoyed the presentation. Then come in with whatever you want to comment on, for example tell them to give a bit more introduction next talk so people will be able to better understand it.

Make it constructive. Don’t just say “that talk was really rubbish”, but give them something to work with. Tell them how they can improve. I think some people here in the UK are really too polite, or for whatever reason too reluctant to really speak their mind, but even your boss should be open to your comments if you bring things up in a good way.

On the other hand: receiving feedback can be difficult at times too. Important thing here is to regard it as something positive. Apparently there is something you can do better next time! The person who gave you feedback is helping you grow as a person, which is good!

By the way – when talking about positive feedback. Do it. But keep it professional. On the work floor, hand out compliments about work related things. Keep the chatter about looks for the breaks – if at all.