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.