A few weeks ago I was looking through some old FB posts and noticed a bunch of disgruntled shit from last year (and the year before). I found it amazing how my state of mind has changed since I left the toxic lab.
I’m amazed because I finally have an idea of what it is to be happy, truly happy and fulfilled at work. I enjoy what I do. My colleagues, students and PIs are all top notch scientists. I work with people that are doing some rather cool shit that I had no idea could be done and are merging multiple fields. Even though I have no formal training in some of these areas, I feel at home! I feel like I belong, like I’m not a weirdo. It’s …. so different.
I came across a post from the always wise Dr. Isis that had a link to this gem. That letter took me to a sad place. I had to check the lab to verify that the PI was not the same guy I’d worked with. That guy made my life a living hell … and I let him. And it made be sad, bitter and depressed. I’m still working on forgiving myself for not standing up and running away from the totally toxic environment.
I also thought about what would’ve happened if I’d known beforehand that the toxic PI was a Poo-apprentice (they’re not related and as far as I know have never worked together, but the way they phrased things made me think that they’d worked together). I heard the same spiel at my previous job: how are we going to get published in Nature if you’re working only 55hrs/wk? We’re paying you to help out in the lab (I didn’t belong to that PI, department or discipline, yet he wanted me to work as much as a postdoc, while also running a core facility). I could add many more examples, but basically, if you read that Poo letter, it sounds exactly like my the toxic PI I worked with.
I can’t help but compare and contrast my last two places of work. My previous uni is a world-class institution, with lots of really talented people … but somehow, some people seem to think that because it’s not in California or an Ivy-League, that it’s somehow a shitty place. I’m proud of my scientific upbringing and thankful to every single person that invested their time and money in getting me to where I am. I’ve been extremely lucky, and I say that everywhere I go, everywhere I stand, everywhere I present. I’ve been a very lucky gal, being present in the right place at the right time. Sadly, my previous job wasn’t that. And it’s sad, because the projects that toxic PI works on are super important and have the potential to go from bench to bedside.
I got to talk to my replacement today (my replacement at the old job). The person is super capable and observed lots of interactions, so they know what kind of gloves to wear when handling the toxic dude. They seem happy and are doing lots of good work. They’re not shy about reaching out and seeking help or asking questions about how to do stuff. I’m so proud of them and sad that I didn’t get to work with them. Luckily we did interact near the end of my time at the core lab, and we got to run a couple of tests together.
At my current place I feel happy, valued, challenged. I’ve learned so much and have started instituting changes super quickly. I sometimes get paralyzed because I have so much freedom than before. It’s surprising and humbling and amazing, and downright scary. It’s like coming out of an abusive relationship, and not having to ask permission to do things, to move stuff, to buy stuff. I’m not being constantly questioned by a PI and grilled on why I prefer the expensive brand of reagent X when his lab has all the same components and I should just haul ass and prep it there (never mind that buying the thing was approved by my department and it takes a lot less time and money to make .. but whatever, I’m a peon). It feels like my wings had been clipped and hidden for so long that now that they’re physically healed, I can’t get my act together and fly. It’s a slow battle, but like I said before, I have awesome co-workers that push me off the nest every now and then. And my goodness can I soar.
No matter how good a lab/department/university is, no matter how ranked or how many Nature and Science papers get out every year … if the environment that those papers are produced is toxic … to me, it doesn’t matter. Because while a C/N/S paper may look good in writing, if it’s produced in a toxic place it’s not worth the pain. As always, I’m glad I got out. I worry about my former students, and hope and trust they’ll be stronger than I was/am, and don’t fear standing up to the toxic PI. I am also very happy that I am where I am right now.