I feel like I’ve been a student my whole life. That’s not a bad thing, from a certain point of view. I’ve always been open to learning new information and shifting the way I perceive a thing if factual evidence is presented. My mother is a teacher, I grew up around teachers, and I’ve always felt a deep comfort in being able to learn a new thing. Learning is good. Childlike learning, when you get hit with a soul-deep sense of wonder at the discovery of a thing, is the best.
I’ve been an undergraduate, graduate student, and post-doctoral fellow. All different forms of the same state of mind – learning how to “be” the next step. And as each iteration of learner, I was treated as such by those from whom I was gaining the necessary information. Not as an equal, but as a scientific padawan. “Here, this is what you need to know. Learn it and then show me you can do it.” Check. Next level, acquired.
But these days, I’m the one leading the way. I’m the one imparting information, planning the projects, submitting project proposals with anxious hope that they’ll be funded, teaching the undergraduates, and directing the graduate students in practical applications. This is where I’ve always wanted to be. It’s not easy, and bumps in the road are continuous. Some recent bumps include a former supervisor who offered their expert services recently, because they “knew (I) just didn’t know the field as well as they did.” A colleague who lamented the fact that there was no one else in our unit trained in the field in which they perform research. An associated researcher complaining of having “no one to collaborate with”. Another associated researcher who casually mentioned work that needs to be done in their lab, hinting that I should be the one to oversee it, because they weren’t present when the original work was performed.
That these and other issues were so quick to catch my attention has forced me to realize that I am in the midst of a change in my patterns of thinking and reacting. I am not the observing learner, but the interested colleague with something to contribute. My work is important, my students are important, and what I can contribute to not only the department but to our industry as a whole is important. My considered responses to the previous issues are…No, I don’t need your kind of expertise on this project. No, you’re incorrect, I’m perfectly well trained in this area, what can I do to help your work? No, we shouldn’t collaborate because you have so much to do already. Perhaps in the future. No, if work needs to be done in your lab, then you need to find someone to do it. Failing that, get in there and do it yourself.
Sometimes, my brain has finally figured out, the right response is saying “No” and backing it up.