Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rebecca, Unleashed

The theme for this month's Scientiae Carnival, hosted by Zuska, is "unleashed." I've been thinking a lot about this topic, which as Zuska described it, concerns something inside you that needs to be unleashed.

It's not something inside me that needs to be unleashed, it's myself that needs to be unleashed! Sometimes I think that I keep myself too tightly tethered down, and that's something I need to change.

It may not seem like it on this blog, but I don't actually talk a lot. I'm shy and I tend to clam up, especially when I'm in a large group of people, and even more so when those people are loud and appear to be more confident than I feel. So, working with a lot of very intelligent and very (over)confident men can be overwhelming. I dread asking questions, or even worse, being asked questions at our group meetings. I fear approaching people I don't already know, especially if I perceive them as being more important or busier than I am. I never call anyone on the phone unless I really have no other choice. And I have an irrational fear of being a bother, meaning that I tend not to ask for help when I could really use it.

But, I am working hard to overcome these issues, because I realize that they stand between me and a productive career. One of the things that helps me is to remember the times that doing these things I am afraid to do have ended up well.

For example, because I asked a question in a recent group meeting, a new avenue of research may soon be open to me. I have to gain the acquaintance of a very important and busy person, but I was introduced to him over e-mail by a mutual friend, and I have an appointment to talk with him about this new research area the week after next.

At a workshop in March, I hit up a conversation with two men behind me in line for lunch. One man was asking the other about his young baby, and I introduced myself and compared notes with them about my baby. Then, I sat with them for lunch and asked about what they did at the lab. That evening, I invited myself to sit with the first man (not the one with the baby), his boss, and a very important visitor from Washington. If I hadn't introduced myself, my life would be much different. That man is my new boss!

I work with a very busy, very smart, and very kind chemist on a software project. I'm supposed to be a computer scientist, so I am always reluctant to ask the chemist for help when I get stuck. But eventually, I get so frustrated that I break down and ask him, and he's always happy to help. Sometimes the problem is something that was staring me in the face, but other times, it's a bug in something he wrote, which he appreciates me finding.

When I think about it rationally, I realize that the vast majority of the time: 1) I am competent and I don't ask stupid questions; 2) People like me and I like them; and 3) Positive things come about when I don't hold myself back. I should do it more often!

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