Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Peerless

I ran into my old boss last week. She was in a rush to get to an appointment, but stopped for a hug and a brief catch up. And then she asked the dreaded question:
"So, do you miss us?"
Well, yes and no.

While my previous job taught me a lot, I don't miss it. I don't miss the nightmarish combination of boredom and stress, and I don't miss the friends I made there, because I still get to see them. What I do miss is the sense of being part of a team of my peers.

I have some fantastic colleagues in my new job, from the PIs to their postdocs, residents, nurses, students, lab managers, and administrators. And they're doing some amazing research, the kind that makes a geek like me go "cooooooooool!" in seminars. I'm so much happier in an academic environment, around people doing work that has the potential to make a real difference.

But I don't get to work with my peers. I usually work in very small teams, consisting of me and maybe two or three PIs. There are other grant wranglers around in other departments (and I have my online peeps too, of course - hi, Bean-Mom!), and I do interact with them, but not on a daily or even a weekly basis. That's just the way it has to be; it's a different dynamic because it's different work.

I didn't realise how much I miss the mutual support and learning opportunities that come with frequent peer interactions until very recently, when I took a writing course organised by a different department. Most of my fellow students were from that department, and they get to work with each other on a regular basis. They're visibly, tangibly, a team, who share experiences and help each other solve problems, and I envy them that.

A friend (who may or may not wish to out him/herself here) gave me some excellent advice; now that the course is over, I should contact the organiser, say how much I enjoyed interacting with my peers, and ask if there's any way for me to be included in the occasional team meeting or other activity. As soon as this crazy week is over, I plan to do just that.

But what did I tell my former boss?

Well, I told her the truth.
"I miss the team. But my new job is a much better fit for me".
And with a smile, a wave, and a promise of a coffee date, we went our separate ways.

No regrets.

16 comments:

  1. That sounds like a wonderful answer, Cath.

    Depending on the paper or manuscript, I work with different small groups in my lab. But because I work with and in only one lab (unlike you), I pretty much know everyone and still feel that lab team identity.

    It's nice, though, to have found other grant-wrangling peers online. By the way, "grant-wrangler" is a very apt term =)

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  2. Glad you like it!

    Working with one group, rather than with multiple ones in different buildings, would definitely allow me to build more in-depth relationships. But I kinda like the diversity I have now. Depending on who pays my salary if/when my contract gets renewed, I may narrow my focus to a smaller group of PIs next year though.

    Your office is in the actual lab, right? I don't ever visit the lab space unless I'm looking for someone. I think that would make a difference too, I'm a wee bit isolated in my current location.

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  3. Related to your answer to Bean-mom: Cath, could you ask to be moved to a different desk/office in the building?
    I mostly work with only one senior researcher at a time and I find that the 'group' feeling is very much dependent on whether I'm in an one-woman office or if I share with others. It doesn't matter if we work on different projects (we all do desk work though); just the feeling that others acknowledge whether I'm by my desk or not makes the difference for me.

    I also think your answer to your former boss was very 'grown-up' :)

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  4. It's possible... but lab space is a wee bit limited (lots of undergrads in right now). And I fear I'd be too easily distracted. Labs are great for doing lab work, but I've always done other work much better in a quieter environment.

    I always got on well with my former boss, and I left on good terms. She understood my frustrations and even tried to change my job description so I could do more writing, but it wasn't possible. She actually apologised for this when I resigned...

    I know what you mean about being acknowledged. I chat with the department's admin manager, lab manager, and a couple of postdocs in my area a few times each day, which is great. And my primary supervisor, when he's here ;)

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  5. What a perfect answer! I agree with Bean-mom: one of the things I love most about my job is still getting to be one of the lab members, with a desk and bench in the lab just like everybody else. There are downsides to having a desk in the lab, though, and I find myself working from home a lot when I'm writing because being interrupted every 5 minutes just drives me friggin' insane!

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  6. Great answer! It seems like most jobs will have something to miss, although one may not know what that is until moving on to the next job. Now, what would that be for the job I had back a few years. Um, not much? Oh, I got to stand up all day while logging, instead of sitting all day, so I was less sedentary.

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  7. MH, I love working from home! I get so much more work done, and my laundry too. My perfect job would probably be 2 days in an office (with a team, of course) and 3 days working from home. But my department doesn't have much of a work from home culture, so I tend to stay put.

    SF, that's true - you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone!

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  8. I wonder if said boss will notice a pattern in responses when this question is asked. I think I said pretty much the same thing when we ran into each other.

    It would be great if the organiser of the course found a way for you to interact regularly. I think everyone has much to offer each other and you would be a welcome addition to the team.

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  9. Ha! Maybe. It seems they might need to get better at hiring people who do fit. Have you heard about the latest departure?

    I hope the organiser can think of some way I can fit in, for mutual benefit!

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  10. Perfect answer. I might steal it when my old boss asks me.... not that I wouldn't want to work with them again but as you so eloquently put it "i miss the team" (sort of).

    On another note, I am watching the game and detroit isn't really ruling the thing as much as one would want... then again, I am back to the whole "if Chicago wins Canucks lost to the team in the finals". Shifting loyalties is hard.... ;)

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  11. Meh, I'm past caring about hockey (and indeed sport in general) for the rest of the summer ;)

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  12. The grass is always greener... my desk is in the lab, but often I wish I had an office desk away from the lab so I could drink tea while I type or read papers! (They are VERY strict about no drinks or food in the labs at this institution!

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  13. The tea thing is of crucial importance. I wouldn't give up the ability to drink tea at my desk for anything!

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  14. That defense for the right to drink tea at your desk at any given time clearly shows why you are allowed to hold two citizenships :)

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