Life as a…UC Davis postdoc

When I first arrived at UC Davis I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. We have Lepidopterists, and geneticists, climatologists and viticologists. The number of flavors of ecology and evolution and the level of expertise here is exciting. But what goes on in the life of a post-doc? After being here for almost a year, I describe my initial experience.

Bici Davis

A typical day for me starts at 10, then a break for lunch, work 1-4, followed by a longer break for attending seminars, running, and dinner, then I’m back at it for a few hours in the evening. Weekends I run errands and go for long runs or bike rides but usually no serious work is involved.

Work-life balance can exist, for me it involves running...and goofing off with hermanas.

Work-life balance can exist, for me it involves running…and goofing off with hermanas (see below).

I’m most creative at night so having flexible work hours is one advantage of my job. I’ve had to counter this freedom with a bit of structure and the Pomodoro method is my favorite trick for staying on task. Getting organized was another major goal this first year. After trying out EverNote and Notability, I settled on OneNote to organize my lists, seminar scribbles, ideas, and manuscript notes. I prefer OneNote’s structure and its accessibly off-line. I also set up Google’s RSS Feed for journals and blogs related to Ecology. I usually read headlines, interesting articles, and eco-blogs during the reading blocks of my Pomodoro. 

Un dia Pomodoro

Un dia Pomodoro

I stress about manuscripts getting rejected, the job market, potential conflicts between tenure clocks and biological clocks. These concerns are typical and a close network of friends, sisters, and family has been a persistent theme throughout my career.

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Gung Ho-shof: Las tres hermanas bromeando en el campo.

I celebrate when colleagues or my own manuscripts get accepted, when I connect new ideas to my work, and when my refrigerator is well stocked with food. Small victories (especially when biking from the super market).

During this first year I’ve learned a few key lessons about how to be a post-doc too:

1. The imposter syndrome.

It’s real. It can be overcome quickly. A little more self-confidence and a little less caring about what other people think are common cures. Si se puede, si se puede. 

2. Have a variety of ‘spiels’ but try not to be a job snob.

Spiels are the quick and ready response to the ‘what do you do?’ question. While socializing, this gives people a good way to strike up a conversation, and to quickly assess whether there is any potential for collaboration. However, it’s easy to be a job snob when spiel-ing. I try to keep in mind that some of the most creative ideas often come from unexpected collaborations.

3. Be professional.

It’s not always obvious how to be professional, especially since Ecology is one of the more informal branches of Science. My default policy is to be honest. Don’t drink too much at social events. Keep the conversation work-related. If you feel uncomfortable, say something or just leave. It’s not too complicated, but I admit I’ve sometimes had to learn the hard way.

4. Find friends, avoid jerks.

Academia is really no different than any other business. It’s not always pretty. However, at the end of the day, this is an amazing job and being able to work with incredible collaborators and colleagues is one easy way to keep perspective.

So: why the ‘field notes’? Throughout my career, my impression is that science and ecology are inaccessible. Y punto. By writing, I am simply reconsidering (and practicing) how I communicate science and how I can make science and ecology more accessible to the people around me. Since I’m Hispanic, and the people around me are predominately Hispanic, my field notes simply reflect that. “Si la montaña no viene a ti, ve tu a la montaña….Pero si la montaña viene hacia ti ¡Corre! porque es un derrumbe”!