reflections on bio and ageing

I just had my fifth biology lab.  Since we are virtual, this basically consists of online group work, usually some type of data analysis.  Taking this class has helped me see how I’ve changed in the last 20 years, since I last took undergraduate classes.  There have been good changes and bad changes.

On the down side, I find it harder to focus.  The internet is a constant temptation when you’re watching your lectures online.  I’m tempted to take care of this or that errand or just read the news instead of focusing 100% on the professor.  This, to me, is reason enough alone to take classes in person, as a child or an adult.

I also don’t think I’m as sharp as I used to be.  I’m slower, and my memory, though still good, is probably not as good as it was when I was younger.

I am less savvy on some software than my peers.  Think various chat programs, Zoom, etc.

On the flip side, I think I’ve definitely gained interpersonal skills.  I was chatting with Jonathan about it, and during my short management tenure, I’d estimate I ran 500 to 1000 meetings, not even counting my stint at Hyper.sciences.  I’ve learned, in the context of active group work, how to set and manage an agenda, manage time, keep people on task, and respond to people’s concerns.  I’ve also learned that in a work setting – and an academic setting among highly motivated people is really no different – that if you listen to people and figure out what they want and try to be responsive, they will like you professionally.  It’s all about meeting people’s needs while meeting your own at the same time – getting the project done, making people feel respected and included, being willing to do more to help others.   I’ve also learned that running a meeting doesn’t necessarily have much to do with what you know.  It’s about drawing people out, getting the experts to share what they know and figuring out what the root conflict or the heart of the problem is, and working through that.  (Or if there is no problem, just getting information on the table so you can determine what to do next.)  As a manager at Blue, most of the time, I was managing people on projects that they had more technical expertise on than I did.

As a result, I find myself interacting very differently and far more assertively than I would have done 20 years ago in my online Bio labs.  It’s interesting.

The other thing I’ve noticed, though, is that even though I can lead in a meeting or a lab, I really don’t like it.  I find it absolutely draining and exhausting.  And working with four other people intensively for three hours on a lab reminds me of how I used to feel after work when I was a manager every.single.day.  I would feel satisfied if I felt I’d done a good job facilitating everyone on my team that day.  But I would be absolutely just wrecked.  My introverted self just does not enjoy that type of work.  The odd thing is that I really do like people, and I loved informal social interaction at work – chatting with various friends I’d made through the years when I had the chance.  I always seemed to form friendships with at least one person sitting near me.  But interacting with colleagues hour after hour?  Just exhausting.

All of this makes me think about what to do next.

2 thoughts on “reflections on bio and ageing

  1. becca

    1. I feel exactly all your points about strengths and weaknesses. It has been really shocking to actually feel the decline in memory capacity and be very aware of it. Sometimes it would dawn on me “I used to be able to do this..” It makes me think of a law school classmate I had who had been an Olympic swimmer. She said she can’t swim laps in swimming pools anymore because she can feel how different her speed is when she was at her prime and its too frustrating (she still swam in open water, because she had never competed in open water the frustration was not as high).

    2. Have you considered a career in the law? Only half joking but it is so isolating compared to my previous job. It is definitely a great career for an introvert (again, another marketing problem; engineering attracts all these introverts for a very extroverted career; and law draws the opposite depressing all the extroverts with how confrontational and isolating it is). As a lawyer, at most I have to deal with a handful of people in 30 minute increments (which is good, because sometimes the people I deal with are awful). I feel like all my great project management and team leadership professional skills are going to waste (though when I do use them to organize something all the more senior lawyers are like “oooh, aahhh you’re so good at this sort of management.”). I straddle the line from introversion and extroversion, so at times I really enjoy my quiet deep think time that I haven’t had in a long time in my career as an engineer, while simultaneously miss the feeling of accomplishment I used to get when I brought a team of engineers (particularly from multiple organizations) together and solved a problem with them!

    3. On the focus subject, I actually found focusing as a adult student easier than undergrad. There are more distractions, and that’s a problem (though I enjoyed the gchat I had going with my classmates during lectures, I also enjoyed passing notes with you, and Karen, and Sarah as undergrads :)). But I had a very rigorous attitude about school as an adult that I never had as an undergrad – I know I had a limited time to devote to it, and being in class was one of my dedicated school time. Where my classmates could study all day, that 2 x 1.5 hrs i had a class for was literally the only time I had for the subject probably all week (as I mentioned, I did all my studying on Sunday morning). And that knowledge really forced me to dedicate my attention to a class the way I never did as an undergrad. It also helps that law classes are very interactive – with the Socratic method and never knowing when you might randomly get called on definitely keeps your attention.

  2. admin Post author

    I have to say getting a law degree is not on my agenda!

    I do think I do a better job of actually studying when I have time to do so. I have not procrastinated AT ALL this summer, and I used to be a master procrastinator. But I’m not sure how long I could keep this up.

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