Sitting at the grown up table

I don't know if there is a causal relationship, but since I got tenure (now some 2.5 months ago - yay!) I have found myself in an increasing amount of grown-up meetings. You know, with adults, often full professors and higher management, 10-20 years older than I am. And with fancy sandwiches, that you are supposed to eat (because: polite) while also making sure nothing drips down your chin (because: awkward) and always being ready to speak (because: need to get your voice heard). Some are once-only meetings, others are committees. All of them leave me baffled and confused about the state of grown up affairs. Here are the major faux-pas:

1. The chair usually doesn't chair. There is no agenda, no structure. Everyone sort of yells things, some things end up on paper, others don't. The chair doesn't summarise, lead or focus. It usually ends in a lump of stuff hanging in the air and then we are kicked out the room because ah, well, time is up and nobody was paying attention. I was editor in chief of my high school news paper and even at 16 I ran meetings that were more organised than this.

2. Pictures are not always worth more than a thousand words. Details are for kids. The grown up meetings are about big picture views. About future strategies for the university. About a point on the horizon. About visionary breakthroughs. You know the synonym for big picture views is you're not careful? Blabla. I am all for ambition and setting major goals. I can dream as big as anyone. But if I listen closely, these meetings never reach the stage where we actually end with something concrete. Suddenly I know why the upper-upper management is so out of touch with what happens on the floor. Because even one level up from where I used to be, the details are forgotten and we already talk in glossy-magazine paper. It sounds nice, but does it have a backbone?

Oh my. How am I going to make sure I don't become one of these people? How do I make sure I still keep an eye out for the reality that we are actually living in? I think this is a good example of why we need age diversity in our ranks. Because I may feel like a toddler slowing them down or holding and back, but at least every now and then I can also make them stop and really look at the world again. Then again, maybe not just youth but also hope is wasted on the young.

Looking Back

Now that I have had tenure for about 30 days, the realisation has slowly sunk in. I can feel myself slowing down (my blood pressure has literally dropped a few points). And I have decided to grant myself this time to slow down, for the first time in almost 20 years.

Has anything changed?

Yes. I have never been someone who kept their mouth shut, but now I am definitely more outspoken when it comes to organisational and political issues. It is not so much that I did not dare to speak up before (I did, both dare and speak up), but it feels as if if now I also deserve to speak up and be heard. I am not just visiting, I am here for the long run. This is also really my organisation now. My vote counts - I am no longer speaking up just for show, it's serious business.
I am also going in full force to protect and fight for the well being of my team members whenever required (and as far as I can exert some influence, obviously). It feels as if a new confidence has come over me, that I didn't even know was hiding somewhere. And it is really good to find out that she had been there all along: as I was struggling to make it, she kept quiet. She waited in hiding, until it was time to come out and shine. And now she has taken center stage. It turns out that tenure has been my Patrick Swayze and nobody can and will put me in the corner any longer.

Not everything has changed because of tenure (I think). A lot of it also has to do with time passing. You see, my confidence didn't just wait in hiding in some sort of coma. She was actively learning and developing as I grew into my role of PI and teacher. We both matured in the past 4 years. As I sucked it up, she absorbed it like a sponge. And as much as I still think it is crazy that it now commonly takes until you almost reach the age of 40 before you can really become an independent scientist, I must admit that I am much more ready now than I was 4 years ago. The funny thing is, you can only see it when you stop for a minute, capture your breath and turn around to look back at all the ground you have covered.
In the first year of my TT, I enjoyed myself. Everything was new, I was learning new things (both in content and skills) every day. In year two, the honeymoon was over and I just felt completely overwhelmed and constantly doubting my abilities and future success. I took problems home, I was stressed and worried. Year three has been like detox. I learned to let things go that I couldn't control and to really take control of the things that I could. And for the first time in many years, I actually have found some of the fun in science back. I'm reading more. I'm granting myself time to mull over ideas. I can actually feel myself acting like a scientist.

Has anything not changed?

Yes. I am doing the same amount of crazy teaching and grant writing. With the same variable success.
I still get disappointed by grown ups and I am still frequently amazed by my students. But we all need some form of stability in our lives.