Whatever happened to reading for pleasure?

Somewhere along my road in academia, I feel like I’ve lost my joy in reading. I am an active reader outside of work, a hobby that I maintained even during 60+-hour work weeks as a resident physician (if only to read a single paragraph of a short story before falling asleep at night). But over the last several years, my sense is that reading at work has turned into a chore rather than a pleasure. Unsurprisingly, for many years I’ve felt a niggling concern that I don’t read enough or keep up with the literature properly. But, like most of life in an academic lab, there’s no clear definition on what is enough and it can be hard to accurately assess how much you’re doing. Reading at work is especially prone to this assessment challenge, because I tend to squeeze it in when I don’t have an experiment planned rather than schedule time for it. I also often will skim an article found via Twitter or an email alert at an inopportune time but not go back and read it thoroughly later (which leaves me feeling dissatisfied with the brief and hurried skim). All of this griping is a lead-up to my new plan - to follow along with the #365papers crew and tweet out every paper that I read thoroughly and deeply.

The grant cycle

My mom often comments that she doesn’t really understand my daily life as a scientist - she doesn’t have an intuition for what the ups and downs are like. And I must admit that the teenage girl who is always inside me when it comes to family has been known to moan “you just don’t understand.” My adult self has countered with “well then, why don’t you explain?” and I’ve decided to take up the challenge. This post is the first of what I hope will be many that tries to bridge that gap and help my mom (and others who are interested) understand the daily life of a scientist.

The genesis of Future PI Slack

A few months ago, I happened upon this interview with Prachee Avasthi. I was inspired by her exuberance and began to follow her on Twitter. A few months later, in a Twitter break inspired by grant writing, I read more about her efforts to create the New PI Slack group and turn it into a useful community to support new assistant professors. As I read about the group, I kept thinking that I wanted to join a group like this. At the end of her post on the creation of New PI Slack she wrote that the New PI group was getting multiple requests to join from postdocs - there were other postdocs out there who wanted a group like this too! Without thinking much more deeply about it, I created the Future PI Slack group and grabbed the @FuturePI_Slack Twitter handle. We’ve grown quite rapidly in the weeks since then, and I thought it was high time to write about my vision for the group.