The first day of 2019 passes and my 20s officially ends.
The past decade was full of things. Interestingly, around half of my 20s was in Korea while another half was in MIT.
My first half of 20s in Korea was time of endurance and internal growth. I have seen rough and dark bottom of human lives through other people's and my own tragedies.
My later half of 20s in MIT was time of intellectual and external growth. Enjoying the unique and gifted environment of MIT, I have found myself as scientist, engineer, researcher, and inventor.
Sometimes, I lamented that my 20s lack many good memories like travels, hanging-out with friends, love affairs, and so on, all of which I have somehow exchanged to other things. But, retrospectively, I realize that it is an illusion that there is a golden way to live a good and fruitful life. Passing my 20s, I probably learned how to be myself. My new start toward incoming 30s feels calm with simmering excitement and confidence.
In research labs, senior members such as PI and team leaders face strong need of training new members. Particularly, training new graduate student members is an integral part of the research laboratory both for education and operational stability over time. However, this is one of the most difficult thing to perform in research labs, more than doing research itself.
As one of the most senior member of the current lab I stay (and founding member of the lab), I have trained several graduate students and still doing so. It is greatly time-consuming and cumbersome job, but I kindly agreed to do that as my role in this group is more or less a team leader, and such experience will be essentially beneficial for my near-future independence as a PI of my own lab. In my previous personal view, successful training for the new graduate students consists of three parts: i) helping them to settle down to the new lab both physically and mentally (e.g., assigning lab benches, office place, most basic protocols in the lab et al); ii) training them to perform their 1st research project until its successful publication or near-publication level as a mentor or senior investigator (most commonly by being co-lead author of the paper); iii) helping them to gradually shaping their own expertise and long-term goal in the lab for their remaining graduate study before leaving them to prosper themselves. These tasks look very basic but also dauntingly hard in practice. Unfortunately, my experience in the last couple of years has given more confusion and frustration than satisfaction, revealing the difficult nature of this job.
My first case was kind of good, as the student wrote two relatively decent papers with my guidance and help, and started to do own projects without involving me as a co-lead author after these two projects. However, this was not perfect example still as what I eventually helped was just writing few papers based on my expertise not helping the student to build own self-standing expertise in the group. Unfortunately, I was not helpful at all for this critical milestone for graduate study, leaving it behind as the student's own task to overcome. So, my first experience was half-success and gave more challenges to address.
Like most experiments or life itself, my second case was total failure. Similar to the first case, the student wrote one decent paper in a good journal based on my idea and training. However, the problem appeared as the student started to totally misunderstand the mentor-mentee relationship set during the training period. What I guess is that probably good journal publication might switch on something in the student's desire, which is actually pretty common in academia of all spectrum in ranks and positions. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but to terminate the whole training process, with bitter taste of disappointment. The student seemed aware of the problem but intentionally did so repeatedly, which infuriated me and eventually drove me to decided to let the student pay for the bad behavior in the harshest way.
Most recently, the third case is ongoing. With one half-success and one total failure, it is pretty cautious for me to decide how to do at this time. I got one important lesson from my two earlier cases. Graduate student training should not be dependent upon writing a decent paper, which can give very toxic influence and fail the entire training process itself. Hence, I realized that the graduate student training should more focus on training of skills and daily operations not a tangible outcome (like paper). With this corrected view, I now revised my view on successful training steps for new graduate students: i) helping them to settle down to the new lab both physically and mentally (e.g., assigning lab benches, office place, most basic protocols in the lab et al); ii) training them to get familiar with various skill sets and basic operations in the lab; iii) helping them to gradually shaping their own expertise and long-term goal in the lab for their remaining graduate study before leaving them to prosper themselves.
I will see whether this revised one works out better.
Even after doing many times, it is still not easy to submit, resubmit, revise papers. Interestingly, difficulty is higher when the work is not very strong. Strength or novelty of the work is almost all determined from idea proposal stage, and typically not much change or affected whatever done afterward.
Until yet, I typically just push out even when I feel not very excited about the idea as long as it is not too bad - which inevitably incured shortage of my time and frequently invited unnecessary collaboration to decrease my time investment burden. I nowadays learn that this is a bad strategy. It is better not to spend time on so-so ideas and fully focus on only good things without inviting unnecessary additional labor force. Also, inviting too many people to share work sometimes sends wrong signals and confusions, which is hard to correct later without serious measures.
Maybe this is because of academia's nasty nature. It is easy to criticize others while it is hard to propose something great. Also, it is easy to overlook other people's greatness while overvaluing one's own things.
It is the name of a famous book, and the thing that comes in my mind recently. We meet many people and handle numerous things. Particularly, as someone's experience, expertise, and influence grows in their own field, we encounter various decision calls as we need to lead people.
Unfortunate but obvious truth in human resource management is that we cannot be friend of everybody. I meet and work with a lot of people as I am playing in interdisciplinary field and I am getting more and more busy to do many things all myself. Unlike sol0-play in early years, this increasing managerial role occasionally require the art of human handling. I generally try to be best fiend in initial stages, but sometimes it doesn't work out. It's been quite a question for me that how I need to react when things become toxic. I find that reconciliation is generally cosmetic treatment and can never be true solution. It looks like the wisdom that the chance of adults being changed is very slim in most cases. Then I come to think myself - what we do when we find weed in a garden? We never try to reconcile with the weed as its nature as weed cannot be changed - rather we eradicate it. Maybe this is the solution? It may need the courage to be disliked.
In my teenage and early 20s, I cared a lot on other people to judge how I was doing well. It made me frustrated as well as excited, but retrospectively, it was a totally unproductive practice. But also retrospectively, I understand old myself as we did have a lot in common to share in that age in terms of life courses and choices indeed. We all lived in the same environment and walked the same road.
Nowadays, I am getting more and more indifferent (or apathetic badly speaking) on other people's business. Life has taught lessons (mostly in hard ways) that someone's life is short and intense to care even oneself. Also, our life choices have departed our courses fairly far away each other, unique to each one's own fate.
Maybe this is feeling of being an adult. It's very much mixed feeling. I am being my own, so feel more complete and solid. But, I feel more lonely in treading my ways ahead. No agony to watch others success in front of my failure. No exhilaration to experience my triumph over others collapse. I am recently living mundane life of just saying congratulations to others success of any kind, and saying oh... poor boy for others misfortunes. Satisfaction and frustration in my own outcomes are just short-lived self-consumptions, not anymore shared with others except family.
All old-days jealousy and schadenfreude were such a vivid feeling of being alive - which I now see as immature but unique luxury for younger ourselves. Aging and maturation make people less vivid but more stable - like boring but sturdy gray rocky mountains. I start to understand the commencement song in western countries which starts "Gaudeamus igitur, Iuvenes dum sumus" or in English "Let us rejoice, while we are young." It is sad fact to face that I will better understand this in the future.