BuzzFeed, Swear Trek, and almost my entire Facebook/Twitter news feed all have one thing in common: a somewhat grim (yet still humorous) perspective looking back on 2017. In a year of political turmoil, fake news, and twitter storms, many scientists felt the need to take a stand.
I also have a habit of looking back on years past with a similar perspective—I have a tendency to see the challenges, both personal and professional, and frame my perspective on the year prior around those challenges. But the problem with this self-critical approach is that it can make it more difficult to see the accomplishments or to remember the joyful moments that brightened the year.
With the New Year finally at hand, there is a general sense of relief, of finally getting to jump into a year that feels fresh and full of potential. One of my resolutions is to develop a more positive outlook on things, to transform my upcoming year of work, deadlines, and uncertainties into a year of open ambitions, flexibility, and opportunity. In short, I’m focusing on making 2018 my Year of Empowerment.
Regardless of what your New Year’s resolutions are, or if you have any at all, here at Science with Style we’d like to challenge you to also make 2018 your Year of Empowerment. And to get you started on your self-empowerment journey, here’s our handy three step guide:
Step 1: Focus on yourself
In the annual reflection post from 2016, we talked about the importance of core strength for early career scientists. Before you can start dreaming about that tenure-track job, winning a Nobel prize, or whatever research/science-oriented ‘moonshot’ dream you have, you first need to cover the basics of establishing your self-confidence and knowing your self-worth. Taking care of yourself is essential for your career, your work-life balance, your relationships, and your future.
It’s tempting to want to put a large number of resolutions onto your 2018 to do list, but avoid commiting yourself to anything that’s not feasible or achievable—otherwise, you’ll set yourself up to finish the year exhausted and feeling like you didn’t achieve enough. Instead, focus on developing resolutions that will strengthen you in each of the following ways:
- Professional and tangible: Add one item to your to do list that will further your career. It shouldn’t be something for your mentor, your academic program, or the nagging voice in the back of your head that’s telling you to get back in the lab, but something that you know will set you up for a successful future.
Possible ideas include writing a manuscript, expanding your professional network, or rocking your first scientific conference
- Personal and quantifiable: Before you make a general goal like ‘become healthier’, work on setting an objective that’s quantifiable so it’s easy to track your progress.
Ideas include: reading two books every month, taking a week’s long holiday during the summer, disconnecting from your devices at 9pm every night, drinking 8 glasses of water every day, etc.
- Personal and intangible: Make a goal that might appear nebulous to some but is clear to you what you need to do in order to follow through. This should be something that you can work towards on a slower paced but more regular basis.
Ideas include: reconnecting with friends/family you’ve fallen out of touch with, keeping your schedule clear, letting go of a challenging/toxic relationship, striving for inner peace or happiness
Keep a focus on these three resolutions even as you take on more goals and objectives—feeling good about what you’re achieving for them can help empower your year.
… then, if you’re still feeling ambitious and want to do something professional and intangible, you can work on becoming better at failing, developing better research habits, improving your work-life balance or your strategic mindset, or learning how to deal with symptoms of imposter syndrome.
Worried about what you can do to keep your goals on track? Be sure to check out our previous post on how to keep up with your resolutions and goals for the new year.
Step 2: Get outside of your comfort zone
One of the purposes of making a New Year’s resolution is to challenge ourselves—if we make a resolution to do things the exact same way as we did before, do we really gain anything?
Any year, be it good or bad, will have its challenges. By learning to embrace and accept challenge at points in our lives where things are progressing normally, we can better adapt to stressful or unexpected situations. It doesn’t have to be a huge challenge, and it shouldn’t be a challenge that’s not feasible, like learning to speak Mandarin fluently. It can be anything that keeps you engaged, keeps you on your toes, and shows you capabilities which you might not have even knew you had.
Choose a tangible goal, either professional or personal, that puts you outside of your comfort zone. It can be trying a new class or sport at the gym, attending social events on a regular basis that put you in contact with new people, learning how to use a new machine in the lab, or volunteering to help someone who works on a project that’s completely different from your own.
Step 3: Learn to empower others
Part of the frustration of last year’s March for Science movement stemmed from scientists feeling like they weren’t being listened to. From climate change to vaccines, and everything in between, we work on things that not only matter to us as researchers, they also impact the lives and futures of many people across the world. The concept of fake news and alternative facts is scary because it feels like our perspectives as scientists are being discarded at a time when they need to be heard loud and clear.
If we want to change the dialogue between science and the rest of the world, we as scientists can start by empowering others. We can prepare and guide the next generation of scientists and science-minded individuals by starting small: volunteering at a museum, mentoring science fair students, or talking about our work and our careers to students who are getting ready to embark on careers of their own. The focus of this goal should be something tangible and measurable—don’t just commit to ‘doing more scicomm’ without having a clear goal or objective in mind.
This step should also challenge you not just to share your science with others but to think about how you can engage and empower them from their perspective. What can you say that show the world that you are listening to its concerns? What drives people in making decisions? What do you have in common with someone who has a vastly different opinion about something than you do?
We all have a large number of things we cherish and care about, from our family, our health (both mental and physical), our livelihoods, and the cities and countries we live in. By focusing on enabling people to live their lives more happily and effectively with science, you’ll be able to make 2018 a great year for someone else, too.
If you’ve got an idea (or two) but don’t know where to get started, check out our previous posts about science communication and outreach or check out this Public Engagement starter guide from Sense about Science.
The Year of the Empowered You
Let’s conclude this post with some contrast and visit a topic that’s completely unscientific: astrology. I am looking forward to the colourful Chinese New Year celebrations—a chance to see the gray winter-time streets of Chinatowns in North West England adorned in bright red banners and lanterns to ring in the New Year with luck and prosperity.
According to Chinese astrology, February 16th will be the beginning of the Year of the Dog under the element of Earth. The Earth Dog is, apparently, ‘kind, efficient, and skilled in communication’ and ‘2018 is expected to bring prosperity, particularly to those who, like the dog, are proactive, work hard, and communicate well.’
It’s probably not the most scientific prediction for the year to come, but it sounds like a good one to me—certainly better than the two previous years of the Fire Monkey (2016) and the Fire Rooster (2017), which apparently “brought some disharmony”…well, that’s certainly one way to put it, at least!
Regardless of whether you were born in a Year of the Dog or not, we know that 2018 will be a great year. If you focus on empowering yourself, challenging your personal limits, and reaching out to others, you can look back on 2018 and see your year in a whole new light.