New year, new job, and future ‘me’

It’s January 2019. It’s a time when we tend to review our achievements from the last year, and to start thinking about the next 12 months. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what has changed – quite a lot, and also about how to embody my vision of myself for the future.

In September 2018 I left my previous post as a Knowledge Exchange and Communications Manager at the Scottish Association for Marine Science. It was a difficult decision to make, as I was working with a brilliant team through the Blue-Action project. I was also learning a lot about climate science, large-scale oceanography, and how the changing Arctic is linked to environmental change in other parts of the world. It felt good to know more about one of the greatest issues facing humankind, inside and out. It was challenging – translating the subtleties and complexities of climate modelling to meaningful take-home messages that people like my mother could understand – it was never easy!

Even so, I always missed being actively involved with the research. It’s the second time in my life I’ve experienced that feeling of being on the periphery of the action, but knowing you had the skills to take part. This was the reason I decided to leave a business development role back in 2008 to pursue an MSc in Marine Science. Ten years later, I took a similar decision. An opportunity appeared at the University of the Highlands and Islands to work on a new project, called the Bryden Centre for Advanced Marine Energy Research.

I am now a post-doctoral researcher on this project, which focuses on marine and bioenergy development in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. It’s funded through the Interreg VA programme, and all of a sudden I have a research budget, and three years to develop a research area of my own! Amazing, right?
Yes. It’s wonderful to start with a clean slate, to be fairly well funded, and to have the opportunity to work on almost anything (provided it’s related to marine renewable energy!). But it’s also intimidating to start from zero, to generate and pursue my own ideas. It’s hard to be vulnerable and to ask for help and advice, particularly when it seems everyone in the field is time-pressured. It’s also challenging to avoid feeling overwhelmed when delving into a new (but exciting) field when reviewing literature – there are so many unknowns and so many promising avenues for research. But there are also discrepancies in methodologies and approaches to experimental design – which are the best? How will I decide what to focus on?

I spent yesterday talking about these feelings with my ‘Learning-Action Set’ within the LF Aurora HE leadership programme, which I am taking part in this year. It was an opportunity for each of us to discuss a particular challenge we face in a safe, and non-judgemental environment. Our group then asked open questions to help each of us develop strategies or come to a few actions that we could start to put in place to help address what we’re facing.

I chose to discuss strategies to address the overwhelm, decision anxiety, fear of failure and creeping imposter syndrome that I regularly experience. None of these feelings are consistently strong, or sufficiently present that they truly affect my day-to-day work. However, it can be a battle to keep these feelings under control, such that they don’t grow or become paralysing. Nevertheless, these feelings are a persistent undercurrent which I want to address. I want to just be a little bit less burdened and a bit more free with my creativity and ideas.

Two interesting strategies emerged, which I wanted to share. First, it can be helpful to ‘pretend’ to be the person you want to be. What would it feel like to be successful? And can I imagine myself embodying that feeling? Can I ‘pretend’ to be successful me? Maybe just ‘try it on’ for a while – by which I mean step into the shoes of that other me – what would they say?  It’s along the lines of ‘fake it ‘till you make it’, which is another favourite of mine.

So I have been thinking a bit about what I can do to start to embody this ‘me’. One suggestion that I love is to take a look at my digital profile – do my Linked In, Twitter, and website profiles match? And do they describe ‘future me’? Mine didn’t – some were still linked to my old job! So I have spent a bit of time updating these for consistency across all my channels. The next step is to start keeping my website (this one!) more up to date. That’s more of a challenge for me, but I think its worthwhile endeavour, if only to start profiling what I’m working on now. I’ll do my best to stick with it!