by Annette Hirsch on behalf of the ECR Committee
This year at the ECR workshop we were very fortunate to hire the services of Thinkwell a pair of savvy researchers and leading practitioners in cognitive behavioural coaching.
The ECR committee was very keen to run a workshop with themes that our growing ECR cohort desired and after a judicious doodle poll we decided to go with ‘The Balanced Researcher’ program offered by Thinkwell. A brief synopsis of this workshop program over three hours included (with a warning to CIs and supervisors) learning the art of saying ‘no’; how to time manage more effectively by finding the balance between writing papers, teaching, writing code, preparing talks, writing grants, family, writing newsletter items and… I could go on!
We all have competing demands of our time and one thing that Hugh Kearns, our self-management guru, drilled into us is that you only need to remember the magical number 168. Yes that’s right, 168! No it isn’t the meaning of life but it is how many hours there are in a week!
One powerful take home our ECRs learnt is that we only have so much time available, there is no magic genie who can create extra hours in the week for you to agree to every opportunity that comes your way. And that means that when that silver ball comes along, also affectionately known as an ‘opportunity’, our brains revert to panic mode: “If I say no, they will never offer me something like this again”, “it’s the end of the world if I don’t take this on” or “they will hate me if I say no”. I know this sounds like catastrophising but, seriously, who doesn’t think these things at times when under the pump? But the reality is that the world doesn’t just revolve around you, it won’t fall apart if you say “I can’t help this time”, most people are reasonable and understand that your world doesn’t revolve around them…unless, of course, that is your two-year-old child… trust me I’m speaking from experience! If you do have a ‘boss’ who does hold grudges perhaps agree but also go and find another boss!
What our ECRs learnt is that it’s better to pause, buy time (e.g. don’t reply to emails immediately) and reflect: “How long would it take me to do this and do I have the time?” It is far better to turn down an opportunity if you don’t have the time than agree to something and fail to deliver!
Another thing to remember is that you may not be the first person that the ‘silver ball offerer’ may have asked. Now, this thought “I wasn’t the first!”, brings me to the second part of our workshop where we had a seminar about Imposter Syndrome by Dr Kim Norris from the University of Tasmania.
Imposter syndrome is sadly a circumstance that a large proportion of researchers experience at some point in their careers. It can involve moments of feeling “I’m not cut out for this”, “I’m only here because of luck” or “I don’t deserve to be here”. What researchers experiencing these moments often forget is all the hard work and time they have invested in themselves to get to where they are today and the evidence of their own success.
In academia, we are surrounded by a bunch of over-achievers, we are all competing in a realm with resource constraints (e.g. funding, jobs, Nature papers) that we often forget that we are all on the same team. And while some people are sickeningly competitive, we are fortunate that within CLEX we have a supportive and collegial work environment!
So, what are some things that Kim encouraged us to consider going forward when we have our ‘imposter moments’? Firstly, give it a name! I call mine Fred, and he often gets sent to the garage! This is about acknowledging your feelings when they emerge.
Secondly, take the time to celebrate your successes. This is important to remind yourself of the evidence that you are not an imposter.
Finally, if you need help internalising your proof of competence, one thing my psychologist recommended to me was to write a sentence about how awesome you are including notable achievements (we all have them) and stick this above your computer! Every time you take a break from that screen, read that sentence and remind yourself how awesome you are. In time, you may no longer need that reminder because you believe in yourself.
So many things were learnt in six hours by our ECRs. We have now gained some tools and confidence to help us manage our time better. And to all our inspiring and hardworking ECRs be wary of the words “this will not take long to do!”