Remember how I was going to take better care of myself?

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was going to make changes to my life so I would live healthier (and therefore, I presumed, better). I figure it's time for a short update - and I am happy and proud to say that I have nothing but success to report.
The first weight has come off (sadly this is not even a third of what I need to lose in order to reach a healthy weight if you believe in BMI indices), I haven't missed a single day of sticking to my food plan (which includes bringing my own lunch every day and cooking dinner every day), I've almost gotten it into my system that I tam a person who takes stairs instead of elevators (at least when we are talking about <3 floors) and I feel so much better! I even survived my first conference abroad (and still lost weight while traveling - a first if ever there was one).
I also sleep. A lot.

Just in case you are wondering: Yes, I have also managed to purge my e-mail inbox and I still keep to the not checking e-mail before lunch rule. I am probably boring as hell, because I don't really drink or eat cake or hang around in the break room to lament everything that's wrong with science and academia, but I just need to get my shit done so I can then go back to focusing on me.
Honestly, I don't know where I found this drive and motivation, but I am hanging onto it for dear life for as long as I can... while I anxiously await The Moment when A Major Stressful Event is going to wreak havoc on my good intentions. Until then: steady as she goes - because even if I don't get tenure, at the end of this track I will at least have got my shit together.

Could it really be this easy to publish our first paper?

This week we resubmitted the revised version of what I will call "My Very First Paper" (MVFP). The review reports were pretty positive and although the editors always find a way to phrase their decision so that it lacks anything that could be perceived as enthusiasm, I think it's safe to say that with the minor changes we made, MVFP should find a home (one where the door is always open) any time soon.

As a PhD and postdoc I have always been in charge of my own paper writing. Even as a PhD student my PI would let me oversee the submission process - including cover letter and rebuttal stuff, so I have been through all of this many times before. MVFP won't even be my first senior authorship paper. Still it feels special.
Because this is the very first story/study that came out of my own lab from absolute scratch. Where the idea was completely my own and where the hard work of my PhD student ultimately brought it to the point where we decided that this would be a story rather than a dead end street. Where we muddled through the analyses of data that seemed to be going in all directions (welcome to biology) until somewhere along the writing of the draft manuscript and the re-re-re-reanalysis (and re-re-re-replotting) of the data it all fell into place and the message actually turned out to be solid.
The message is not going to be earth-shattering. The paper is not going to be life-changing. In some big shot labs this would maybe remain on the shelf. But it will be helpful for people in my field though (in terms of our findings), as well as for a larger audience (in terms of our experimental approach). And so I feel proud. Because MVFP is the most solid evidence of my own maturity as a scientist. I know collaborations are important, but I also knew that I could bring stuff to the finish line in such a collaborative setting, with lots of back and forth discussions and brainstorming with others. This time I was the most senior scientist on board and completely responsible for everything from start to finish. And so, for that reason I am excited that we brought this little seedling to life, let it blossom and saw it to a safe harbour (at least, that is what the review reports and the editors comments appear to suggest).

How do you push people without pushing?

What do you do when it appears that someone has just sort of levelled off in their academic growth? They get the work done, they make progress in their experiments, but their academic development into an independent, critical scientist just isn't taking off?
In those cases, I give feedback whenever the opportunity presents itself, but I try to do it nicely - because I am afraid that I will completely turn them off and/or demotivate them if I'm too harsh. I will point out areas that need improvement - over and over again, but for some reason it's as if they just don't get it. (There are others in the lab that do pick up on these things and I can see that they slowly progress as they become more critical, so it is not something inherent to my overall mentoring, I don't think)
Should I just accept that that's what it is? That some people might just never reach the next level that would qualify them for continuing on in science (mind you, I am by no means of the opinion that that is what everybody should aspire to - we have enough postdocs without the prospect of an academic career-, but as a PI and supervisor it is my job to make sure that come graduation, all PhD students are well equipped to be an independent scientist if they so choose)? Apart from letting them try over and over again (and then showing what holes they missed, which critical steps they omitted, which specifics they just skipped.... over and over again), what can I do? I feel like a broken record, but perhaps I'm playing the wrong song.

What do you say?

Every now and then I will be talking to a male scientist when out of left field there comes this off hand comment. And while not directly offending, it might be slightly politically incorrect. And almost invariably, I will let the moment pass, because either it only sinks in later (making it feel strange to go back to something that might just have slipped out) or because I honestly don't know what the proper retort would be.

Two examples.

Exhibit A
I was talking to a guy my age for the first time. We were exploring future opportunities and without going into details, suffice it to see that I had the upper hand. He needed more from me, than I did from him. And at some point during our conversation he let it slip that I'd probably do just fine in my TT "because you're a woman". My calm response was that while agreed that I would likely be successful, I personally assumed that it was due to quality of my work. I am not sure if he noticed his faux pas at all. It just seemed to slip out and my reply didn't really seem to raise awareness either.

Exhibit B
I was teaching a class and one of the male students commented how this specific topic was really a "women's field". I asked him what he meant by that and he pointed out that I (thanks for noticing) and all of the TAs (all members of my lab) were women. I replied that sometimes it was just hard to find good men (okay this was probably not the best thing to blurt out, but this was my attempt at responding to a weird comment with a joke) and then went on to explain that when you hire people, you just hire the best ones you can get for a job and by chance, all of my recent hires had been women (looking back I wish I had expanded a little more and explained that in any team it is always best to strive for a balance/mix of people with different qualities, sex being one of them - or that based on an n=4-5 you cannot make sweeping statements about a hole field).

So my question is: what do you do in situations like these? I feel like I am always more prepared when I talk to older men. It's like I am almost expecting them to be unaware of women-in-science issues and so it is easy to point out why their assumptions are wrong, or whether they are missing something. In fact, that is also how it often is (at least in my experience) with older men: it's more of a lack of awareness than an outright sexist comment. But I am always caught off guard when it is people my own age (or as in the students' case, half my age!) that make these comments, which touch upon male/female scientist issues quite directly. It depresses me that apparently the bias against women is not going to magically disappear when the older generation retires: it is just as present in the ones to come.
I feel like I should take each of these opportunities to raise awareness, yet I also don't want to become some feminist warrior with a label attached. But how can you change things if you don't openly address them? You don't want to make these things bigger than they are, obviously, but at the same time, they offer room for discussion. Would the male student also have made a similar comment if I and all of the TAs had been male? Would he have said "wow, this is really a male topic"? Would it be okay to let someone know that telling me I'll have a job just because I'm a woman that this is a rude and insulting thing to say?

So help me out here. What do YOU do in moments like these? And what would be the best? Do I let it slide so nothing ever changes? Or is "in the moment" not necessarily always the best moment? Do I collect these stories and instances so that at some point I have a small "awareness lecture" that I can pop in at the start of one of my classes?

How the first half of my tenure track nearly destroyed me and what I plan to do about that in the second half

I did not do any work for the majority of August. Instead, I decided to focus on me. It's easy to put everything first: the peeps in my lab, colleagues, students, Big Problems, Small Problems, Urgent Issues. I've been getting a lot of feedback that I should perhaps care less about certain things and not try to fix everything. Part of me thinks these people are right and part of me doesn't agree. On the one hand, it is easy to waste a lot of energy on things that are outside of my circle of influence. On the other hand, I have always cared about my surroundings and the people in it and I also derive some joy or satisfaction from listening to people and advising them or nudging them towards the next step en route to their problem solution. But after collapsing on the couch like an imploded zombie, I had to admit to myself that if I keep on doing what I am doing (working all the time, not taking proper care of my body), I may not even make it to the end of the tenure track.

In the end I am surprised with how little soul searching it actually took. I just needed to step away from work. I was obviously exhausted, out of energy and did not feel good about that. Rationally, I knew I was caught in a trap of sedation, chronic stress and unhealthy eating habits. For some reason, that had always seemed like an insurmountable obstacle to tackle. And then it just happened. I decided that I was so sick and tired of not having this one fundamental aspect of my life under control, that I just started. I made a plan. A concrete plan. With how much weight I needed to lose (ouch) in order to reach a healthy weight. With a time schedule that would basically give me a whole year to reach that goal. With a healthy diet (as in food plan, not as in depriving myself of everything that's good). With moderate exercise (the minute I realized that walking also counted as exercise I already felt less guilty about not going to the gym). I dusted off my Fitbit (I really, really like that thing). I put new batteries in my scale. I made an Excel spreadsheet to track my progress. And then I just started at step one.

Then the best thing happened: I went on a holiday, all by myself. And I lucked out: the weather in my Holiday Country was better then expected. And whereas I had planned to do a lot of writing and reading, I decided that I could just not sit inside when I was surrounded by so much nature and sunshine. So I started walking. And I found out that my body, which had basically been stuck behind a desk for two plus years, was capable of so much more than I had given it credit for. That I was capable of so much more. And so it turned into a solo hiking holiday where it was just me, the great outdoors and a map. Where the only decisions I had to take were extremely basic: did I bring enough water and where shall I put down my foot. It was an eye-opening and transformative experience.

I've been back for a week now. The first weight has come off. I've also gone back to work, but I am still eating healthy, packing my own lunches and trying to squeeze in an evening walk when I get home. Part of me is scared to death that as soon as the Old Madness returns (my class starts tomorrow, all of my colleagues will be back, all of the old to do lists are still there, only with a few things added) I will fall off the wagon again. But I cannot let that part win out.

Funny enough, I have noted a few unexpected changes: As I am eating healthier and cooking, I also have more energy to clean the house. Which means that for the first time in twenty years, my apartment actually looks like a home instead of like a shag occupied by a hoarding bachelor. I am actually loading the dishwasher every day, instead of letting stuff pile up in the sink. I stop staring at screens at 11 pm and go to bed, preferably a little earlier, with a book. Sure, I've managed to miss basically everything that's on tv, but it does allow me to get up at 7 am relatively rested and I consider that a pro.

Here are the changes I've made at work so far:

- Last year I implemented a strict division between Teaching/Admin and Science. I am continuing that this year. Monday is my main teaching day (including office hours). It's when I will do prep work, meet with students, read and score reports, etc. I will allow this to run into Tuesday if needed. The same holds for Admin/Service related tasks: I try to keep these limited to a Tuesday, with some going into Monday if meeting schedules etc. require. This coming year I will be super protective of my research time (Wed-Fri). This is when I am only meeting with my own lab peeps, where I will read, write (papers/grants). I try to keep it as free of other meetings/obligations (of course some classes and outside events are impossible to move) as possible - because I need to focus on getting output for the second half of my tenure track.
- I jumped off the e-mail train. I changed the preferences of checking e-mail "automatically" to "manually". And I stopped checking it first thing in the morning, as well as on Saturdays. I now check e-mail for the first time around noon and once more around 6pm. Oh and I have also begun purging my inboxes, which had thousands of e-mails in there. In two weeks time (I am scheduling the purge into small sessions over my lunch break), I will have an empty inbox.
- I leave on time so I can cook dinner at a reasonable hour. I still feel a little guilty, but I also think that "setting an example" does not mean that I always have to be in the lab. In a way, this should be the easiest time in my career to take off in time, because I am not stopped by late-running experiments. I've done the 12-13 hour days in the lab and there may be times when it's required again, but I cannot be on all the time. I also need to be alive and sharp in order to be there for my lab peeps. So at least until the weight that needs to come off is off, this is how it is going to be.