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Bruised Ego.

8 April 2013

I’m sure this is cyclical, in terms of my emotional state. But this morning, I am not particularly looking forward to my  new job. Not this week. Last week I made my first real faux pas where I wasted a surgeon’s time in a meeting and had to be told afterwards to “stifle my curiosity” so that the meeting could proceed on pace. I was asking too many questions. I was told they were perfectly fine questions, but to write them down and ask after the meeting, don’t just bring up new stuff during the meeting.

That’s fair, sure. What’s hard to accept is, I’m not the PI anymore. It’s abundantly clear that people are tired of me talking about publishing. I’m going to stop, for a month at least. I just need to quietly go about doing the things I need to do to have publishable projects, and then publish them when that happens. This is an environment that has never cared about that, and while it’s something that I think people will be excited about when it does happen, no one sees it as valuable right now. And to them, it’s not. Papers won’t advance their careers. And maybe not mine either. I’m doing it for ego.

And it bruises my ego that I’m seen as wasting the surgeon’s time. I want to say, “No, he was rude for presuming I’d cater to his agenda.” But that’s not the case either. There was a published agenda that my office put together. I was going off books. And, objectively, that surgeon has more to do than I do. And my institution, a hospital, values his work more than it values mine. Probably by a factor of five. Maybe seven.

I want to be the person in the room that everyone respects the most. The one with the ideas and the one whose time is the most important. But that’s just not true here. It’s true for very few people in life, and I’m not one of them. I spent about three years as a PI where I got to be a sort of head-honcho. I’m not that anymore. I traded it for a good stable career doing what I was trained to do without having to submit grants. I’m part of a team, and I’m not at the top of it.

I’m feeling small. I’m feeling jealous of medical doctors who are no smarter and no better trained who get vastly more money and vastly more respect. I’m feeling rejected that the woman I went out with that I thought I liked didn’t return my email or my text, so she probably isn’t in to me. I’m simply feeling a tiny bit alone. In a strange new place. In a different culture.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 April 2013 08:23

    I think I know the feeling, although since I’ve never been the head honcho I guess I don’t ^^ As for the jealousy/annoyment of MDs though, right there with you. It’s different places and ‘they do save people more directly in front of you’ than research….. it’s a different culture as you said.

    Hang in there, it’s a thin line btw the “I’m new and enthusiastic” and “you don’t think we think about things like that” (from the old crew) but I’m sure you’ll do fine.

    (that said, it’s still a little annoying not being called ‘doctor since that’s what we call the real doctors’ where I want to scream ‘the real doctor is me, they’re physcians’…. oh the things that makes my ego roar 😉 )

  2. 8 April 2013 09:11

    First, the only useful thing I can tell you is to befriend some nurses. They know what’s what, and are far better at navigating a clinical hierarchy than you will ever be.

    Second, I recognize that navigating new hierarchies is always nerve-wracking, and I have a lot of empathy about that type of anxiety. Plus with everything else being new, it’s harder to feel confident about anything.

    BUT… I gotta say, I am vaguely unsettled with the status greed. I think in you it comes from deeper underlying issues of wanting acceptance, which I *can* empathize with. But there is a difference between wanting to see “my work is valued” and “my work is the most valued in the room”. You know this rationally, but you’ve been socialized in a very bad system. A huge chunk of the PIs I know, however nice they might have been, are coddled man-children with outsized egos. This is not a reasonable life-goal. Being even MORE of a coddled man-child with a god complex ego (i.e. some surgeons) is not a good goal either.
    Wanting to do science, wanting to help people, those are good life goals. But wanting people to see your work doing those things as superior to other people’s work doing those things? That’s why academics AND surgeons have a reputation for narcissism.

    • 8 April 2013 09:32

      Yes. It comes from feeling like an outsider, and needing validation, and being deeply insecure. All ugly, repulsive emotions. I recognize it’s an ugly impulse. I write about it so that I can try to recognize it and fit in my place better.

  3. 8 April 2013 10:32

    Sort of the same thing here .. minus the MDs. It’s really different to be back in a place where I used to be a trainee, and see different generations of students and postdocs. But more than anything is that, by virtue of having more than one boss, I have varying opinions on what I should be focusing on. And sometimes when I try to explain why it’s better to do something in X or Y way, I get told to do it their way … even though it’s wrong and takes a million times more to do. I sort of feel like an outsider, even though I’ve been here before, and much longer than some of the new crop of bosses I have. My ego is definitely suffering. Hang in there … we can get through this.

  4. 8 April 2013 12:47

    I think that it’s good to have this lesson now, when you are new there. Lots of people see researchers as prima donnas where the surgeons are the ones saving lives. It is a different culture and being part of the team means just that. Dominance is one of the huge no-no’s in my program. And it does come, as you noted, from wanting acceptance and to be valued. You are valued because you got this position. Keeping a low profile and having humility are good things though. Grandiosity and competitiveness are not such good things to have in this position.

    • 8 April 2013 13:22

      Of course you’re right. And I’ve always been described as collegial and friendly, etc. in my PI position. Today, I’m feeling a little bit small and bitter. I’ll get over it.

  5. 8 April 2013 16:51

    The idea of self-esteem based on “I am better than you so I am happy and I have value” is a false and miserable one to me. There is really no way to put people on the same thin ladder. If you are accepted a part of a team then you all contribute from your own expertise. Maybe there is no instant pay for every bit of effort, but you don’t need to have the top salary to be happy. The incident you described to me sounds like you were just a little bit carried away by your academic curiosity in a meeting. Perhaps you can have a private conversation with the surgeon (summarize your questions and prioritize those most relevant ones to your current research), or you can find out some answers from others.
    Social awkwardness is a perfectly understandable thing. It happens to everyone. If someone judges you because of this tiny little awkward moment I’d say that person is pretty shallow.
    There are highly competitive kinds of people out there, but we don’t have to identify with their value-system in order to fit into a working environment.
    And I think a little bit of not-fitting-in is actually a good thing. Every community is an organic thing. A new member always changes it a little bit. If you get too eager to fit in, you lose your own perspective. Andyou everyone has a part that they feel doesn’t fit with the community. Usually instead of endangering the core value it brings in diversity.

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