In the past, I’ve been accused of having “too much fun,” at work. That it “looks like I don’t do anything,” and I’m “always off away from the lab.” I post “too many photos of having fun,” and am generally far too cheery when folks ask me how I’m doing. Apparently, “fantastic!” and “living the dream!” are inappropriate responses to this question. It’s as if having fun, enjoying my lab, loving the fact that my work is the bomb-diggity, means that I can’t possibly be doing any real work.
Now, this really grinds my gears, because I actively try to cultivate a persona that runs counter to the absurd notion that happiness and productivity are somehow mutually exclusive. Here are some hard truths of my life of which I’m frankly not ashamed.
(1) Grad School Isn't Miserable
and I’m tired of everyone acting like it is. I get that this varies a lot advisor-to-advisor and person-to-person, but frankly it’s pretty damn awesome for me. When people say “oh well you just started,” or “just wait it gets horrible,” I want to yell. What kind of attitude is that? Why would I embark on this journey with that sort of endorsement? What do you, fellow grad student, gain from telling me about my future misery? Why are you so fussed when I refuse to commiserate?
I worked for three years before coming back to grad school, and I think that’s made all the difference for me. I spent a lot of time honing what I was truly interested in, exploring different research avenues and possibilities, and deciding what programs were and were not right for me. I gained valuable work skills such as managing long-term projects and working with diverse teams and doing my laundry even though I just worked for 14 hours.
And, mostly, I prepped for the PhD. I read the books and did my homework on what a PhD means and does not mean, I talked to friends and friends-of-friends, and I feel like I jumped in clear-eyed about what’s to come. I’ll joke about my self-perceived ability and tangling up my self-worth with my scientific achievements, but you will never catch me without a glint in my eye that I get to do this every day.
I am having fun, and you can’t stop me.
(2) I'm Most Productive When I'm Happiest
and honestly, you probably are, too. Because, as it turns out, happy people are more productive. I mean, for the love of god, look at the data! I don’t need to read these to tell you why I am more productive when I’m happy, cause I just feel it for me.
I am extremely socially externally motivated, so if I’m doing work for someone I respect and I feel supports me, I am extremely interested in doing a lot for that person. I am also very excited to come into a lab where I like and respect the people around me. As it turns out, having fun with people promotes bonding, and consequently, respecting your lab mates. So, when we, as a lab, head off on a weekend trip, or Thursday-night-pints, or lab lunches (personally funded), all it shows is we genuinely enjoy spending time with each other. Is this a good time for #sorrynotsorry?
By contrast, when I am unhappy, almost nothing motivates me. I am extremely fortunate to be in consistently good-to-very-good mental health, cause if that were not the case I would get nothing done. On the rare occasion I’m feeling blue, I can barely open an email let alone do my actual job. I accomplish things because I feel supported, encouraged, and empowered to pursue my own intellectual development, under the guidance of my advisor, my lab, and my department.
I Hate the Capitalist Dystopia in which Happiness and Productivity are Mutually Exclusive.
(3) Grad School Is a Multi-Faceted Experience
As it turns out, the majority of my time at work isn’t spent doing “science,” but instead the vast amount of other things that fall under the job description of PhD Student.
On any given day I may be asked to: analyze data, write a paper, apply for workshops and grants, organize conferences, run trainings, present at metascience meetings, run department social media, organize grad student social events, organize lab social events, brainstorm and design and pilot new experiments, run participants, evangelize the field, work on student or department committees, speak to the public about the research, write for a public-facing journal or blog, or any number of the other myriad things that academia kind of just takes for granted that grad students just do.
And I love that! One of my favorite things about my work is how varied it is from day to day. I love the variety, and I love broadcasting that variety, too. I’m excited to share that being a “scientist,” isn’t a just solitary experience crunching numbers and fretting about equations and code that doesn’t compile, but about being a part of a scientific community. I love variety, I love collaboration, and I love showing people the great deal of fun associated with those things. Because…
(4) Science is for Everyone
and I want to make that clear. “Science,” and “Academia,” should be accessible to everybody who wants in, and who wants those things when they’re branded as soul-sucking wastes of time? I am proud to cultivate the persona of the happy scientist, who’s genuinely excited by her research, and absolutely jazzed every single day to work on HUMAN SOCIAL COGNITION, LIKE BUT ALSO THERE ARE ROBOTS!?!?!?! Like, whaaaaaaaat!? That IS awesome and I’m not about to tell you it isn’t!
So, I’m gonna portray that happiness and show you a face of science you might not be used to. I’m going to be unabashedly gleeful, unashamedly proud of my failures and successes, shamelessly curious, brazenly animated about the “work,” that I do every day, and tirelessly, relentlessly, continuously positive.
Don't temper happiness to fit society's idea of productivity.
Let work speak for itself. Write papers, run experiments, organize guest speakers, present to the department, be a TA, build social bonds, evangelize the school, do the dang job, then talk to me about productivity.
For now, just know it’s cool to be happy while you work.