We need a plan

I have a plan! The next time someone comes to me and tells me we need a plan, I am gonna show them this:



I love this scene from Guardians of the Galaxy for so many reasons. People trying to make plans in the lab all the time. Lab meetings which are as chaotic as this every now and then. I just can’t stop watching the clip laughing out loud!


When I was 15, or perhaps 16, my mum made me see a psychologist. Not because I was mentally ill, no, rather the opposite. I was taking so many subjects in school, that they couldn’t fit it into my schedule anymore and I was basically free to attend whatever classes I wanted. With the result that I often didn’t attend any. That was fine, as I managed to pass the exams anyhow. The problem was that I liked everything and couldn’t pick what to focus on. Which I would have to, latest when going to University. The psychologist was supposed to help me make that choice.

I was very sceptical. I mean – this guy didn’t know me and was supposed to tell me what to do?! Well, I’m happy to admit mistakes. I was wrong – this guy proved a golden find. He didn’t tell me what to do, although he did suggest I have a look at the study programme I ended up doing. He gave me two pieces of advice: no matter what area I’d chose, I could rock it, but I’d have to pick something that challenges me. Indeed, he saw what I at the time did not: I hate boring things, repetitive jobs, order. I love challenges, chaos and freedom. His second suggestion for me was to learn to accept that I cannot do everything. At the time, I was playing the clarinet in 3 orchestras, taking piano lessons and tried to learn to play the guitar by myself. Accepting I cannot do everything¬†was very difficult for me and part of me still wants to do everything. As a kid, my worst nightmare was dying of some exotic disease before having time to read all the books in our local library….. But taking his advice to heart, I dropped one of the orchestras and moreover decided I didn’t need either German or history.

Now, almost 15 years later, his advice still rings true. I’ve accepted that chaos and madness are much better for me than order and predictability, I’ve embraced that as part of who I am. Sometimes, it drives people around me insane but I’m happy with it. I still have difficulties with the second part though. I am too prone to liking things and want to do too much. Which is fine, if it wouldn’t be the case that I’d come home in the evening and have this massive list of things I want to do, because I will just go through it mentally, don’t know where to start and end up doing something else entirely. Realising there is a problem though, is the first step towards solving it. I am trying to sort that list into things that are doable and things that are more for the long run and start working off the highest priority things first.

The message I want to share here, is that it is good to learn to focus. I’ve become alright at that at work. One of my specialties for example is work with radionuclides, which my colleagues know. Every now and then, I do experiments for them, as I do them best, which has led to multiple co-authorships. Try to understand what you’re good at and really be good at it. If I hadn’t tried to play three instruments at once, maybe I would’ve been really good at one of them now instead of average on all three! I’m slowly embracing that part of me as well – who cares that I want to go swimming, hiking, reading, board-gaming, baking, music-making, cat-hugging and much more at the same time?! As long as I end up relaxing in my free time it’s alright, right?! Just gotta keep it under control in the lab!

Early career researchers in the Oxford collegiate system

Upon arrival in Oxford, confusion reigns. It feels like you actually walk into a Harry Potter movie, with people walking around in gowns, belonging to different ‘Houses’ and having their meals in impressive Dining Halls. It is not easy to directly grasp the relationship between the University and the multitude of Colleges.


Keble College

Keble College

After a couple of months, I finally feel like I understand a little of what’s going on. Undergrads follow lectures and demonstrations at the University, but all tutorial teaching is done by the Colleges, of which there are 38. The University determines the course contents and sets the exams, but the Colleges do a great deal of preparation in their tutorials, which typically are given by a postdoc or group leader to groups of 2-5 students… Moreover, students live in their Colleges, which all provide a wide range of facilities, including not only libraries but also for example sports facilities. Official information can be found here for those interested.

I felt slightly disappointed that I arrived in Oxford as post-doctoral researcher and not earlier. After all, this meant I had to find my own accommodation and would not be part of such a College and felt a little excluded. On second thought, I am increasingly convinced that this system is also beneficial for the University’s early career researchers. Why?

Magdalen College

Magdalen College

There are ample teaching opportunities. It is not only possible to deliver lectures at the University itself or to gather some experience as demonstrator in practicals, but colleges also have lecturers and obviously tutors. The sheer existence of 38 Colleges means there are plenty of tutors required, which can give postdocs a unique teaching experience (and some pocket money!). To further hone your teaching (and other) skills, The Medical Faculty offers a range of excellent skills trainings, which are an enrichment for anyone.

Moreover, these colleges have ‘Junior Research Fellowships'; which typically offer meal rights for recipients, some additionally include a housing or research allowance. More importantly, they do give postdocs a College affiliation and a feeling of inclusion in this system. With such a position, you can attend the formal diners at College or whatever activities they may organise and thus extend your professional network beyond your Institute.

So far, I’ve sent out only two applications for such positions and was invited for an interview for both. For one, they choose a group leader with 10 years more experience than me. For the other, I was not available on the day of the interviews and thus put on hold. I’ve decided to keep applying until I’ve landed such a position though and will hopefully be able to give some more insight information on here later on :)