Woman going through the trash

How to feel like a top dog

Life of a postdoc can be tough. Hard work is frequently repaid by disappointing results, rejected papers and ditto grant applications. Job perspectives are grim. One would almost think: what a dog’s life! But of course it isn’t. Then they would have called it a postdog.

Still, every doc needs to find their own strategies to prevent them from rolling over.

At the end of last year, there was a downpour of disappointments in my mailbox. The final drop: a grant application that was rejected after very positive reviews. In the final round. After a year. I tried all kinds of things to distract myself, but nothing worked. In the hope of finding inner calm I even signed up for yoga class. But as I was ushered into downward facing dog position, I realized this was not helping me see the upside.

Back at home, I fired up my laptop and desperately clicked through my emails seeking guidance. But my inbox -full of reports and requests- offered little consolation. So, I went to where no (wo)man dares to go: the junk folder.

In my Hotmail days, my junk folder was no place for the faint-hearted: the ads for Viagra and penis enlargements hit you in the face. But one fine day I got an email account from the university. Now, as it turns out, my junk folder is a true haven for the bruised scientist.

In contrast to my inbox, my junk folder bulges with ego stroking emails. There are emails with pleas to republish my articles (in very peculiar books and magazines). And emails with requests to speak in beautiful places (about obscure subjects). Experiential or academic expertise does not seem to be a prerequisite. The World Pregnancy Summit and American Dental Society would gladly take me on as their keynote speaker, regardless.

The nice thing about these invitations is that they invariably start in an extraordinarily warm-hearted way: “Hope this mail finds you in superior spirits!”. Or “Hope you are doing well!!”. Because well, why would you restrict yourself to one exclamation mark? I can appreciate that kind of enthusiasm. Even more appealing are the sentences that rhyme. Take for instance: “We wish God bless you with health and wealth!”. The rhyme just gives it that extra bit of credibility. My current favourite is this little gem: “We are impressed with the academic influence and prestige of you!”. I am thinking about adopting this as my new mantra.

After the outright flattery usually follows the friendly request to send my excellent article to magazine X or brighten up conference Y with my gracious presence. Then, to top it all off, follow a few more exclamation marks (“A particularly good and healthy day!”) and hopes for the future (“We hope to have a fruitful cooperation with an eminent and efficient figure like you!”).

Fifteen minutes of bathing in these warm emails is all it took me to finally shake off my blues. Because I knew as never before: I am not a postdoc. I am a top dog!

Disclaimer: Entry to a junk folder is at your own risk. The author does not take any responsibility for any encountered material, including viruses or shocking images.

This column was written for the newsletter of the Research School of Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences
Picture: Courtesy by Sander Martens