A Decade in Review

Ten years ago I defended my PhD, so this decade was the start of my career as a senior researcher. I have seen many blog posts about academic achievements as a part of the 2020 celebration,  and I thought that I might write one too. However, I will not focus on the success stories but on the things that went more or less wrong and that I learnt from during these years. I try to see these as learning experiences, as in “Make mistakes. Learn from them. Move on”.

Here are some difficult situations  and learning experiences I have had made during this decade. Surely there are more situations to come!

  1. Finishing a Phd as a Single Mom with Three Kids. Ten years ago I was a single mom with three kids writing up my research into a PhD. Honestly my PhD is not amazing, but I am proud that I pulled it off and passed. The learning experience from this is that good enough works fine, and that family is what matters most in every situation.
  2. Non-finished papers. Most of the time I find the energy to rewrite papers that are rejected, but sometimes there is simply no such energy despite the paper being 90% done. Fortunately I do this very seldom, but is it still such a waste of time NOT to finish and resubmit. The learning experience from this is set of time, and to give yourself a deadline when the paper needs to be done.
  3. Accused of Doing Unethical Research. Our research consortium DOME was accused of doing unethical research when doing studies on the implementation of patient accessible electronic health medical records. We were of course freed from all accusations, but this was horribly stressful. The leaders of the consortium including me were on hearing by the ethical board, and I felt like a criminal. Other experiences during these times included people calling asking for help when all they wanted to do was to find problems with our research. Learning experience from this: You can really build a strong community when there is a crisis, and DOME flourished from being forced to really collaborate and support each other. DOME is still one of the nicest research teams that I am a part of!
  4. Not Getting Funded for Years. In 2016 I was close to giving up my career as a researcher due to not getting any funding. Getting funding and understanding the system was indeed too difficult, and I tried as good as I could without any luck. I felt like such a failure. After more than ten fails with applications I at last got three project funded, and I am still in academia but it was a close call. Learning experience from this: I think I did learn a LOT from writing so many applications with different people. Unfortunately I did not get to work with them, but today my knowledge about how to write applications has indeed improved from all this hard work.
  5. Media Coverage with Unexpected (WHAT?) Content. I have been interviewed in the radio where sentences I said were cut off, and media articles that I have been cited in have titles that I would strongly disapprove of. When doing research on patient accessible electronic health records this was really not good as it was lots of conflicts related to the implementation. The learning experience from this is to make sure that I read or look at everything that is published including the headline of the article.
  6. Declined Being Promoted. Around five years ago I applied to promotion to Excellent teacher, knowing from asking knowledgeable colleagues that I was indeed qualified. And also knowing from having done such assessments myself. However, I failed and the application was denied based on really odd details. The learning experience from this is that failing hurts, and unfairness hurts, but I didn’t die but applied again a few years later and passed.
  7. Lack of Support. For more than five years I was in a situation where I had very little, or no support, from one important person in a power position at work. This resulted in much stress, and avoidance of being at work, and me applying for a job at other university in Sweden. I did not get the job which really was too bad 🙁 . Learning experience from this: Academia can indeed be a tough place, and we need to take care of each other. However, I still think that I would have been better off switching jobs than staying even though the situation came to an end.
  8. Difficulties in a Collaboration. People are different, and value different things. One of the most difficult conflicts I experienced was in a collaboration that had worked excellently for several years when I was the Pi in a project, but that failed when my colleague became the Pi in a new project. We had a different views on what counted as work in the project when she was the manager, and we did not find an agreement. I finished the collaboration one year early. Thee learning experience from this is to openly discuss what counts as work in the project, and what is expected from each person.