Don’t Fear the Wobble

Uncertain steps down a new path

@SusannaLHarris

Don’t Fear the Wobble

Everyone tells you that scientific research prepares you for a wide range of careers (no just in mixing chemicals on a bench). I knew that my “soft skills” in speaking and writing would transfer into most occupations. Similarly, I’d been taught that the collaborations formed and trainees mentored reflected an ability to work at different levels of teams. Even my social media experience could be spun up as a type of marketing/PR skillset.

But here’s a new one (at least for me): fumbling through things almost blindly may be the first step to learning something.

And nothing teaches you this skill of “failing forward” like grad school.

. . .

If I had to design my dream job after graduation, I might have nearly perfectly described the one I landed. I met the founder and CEO of Grant Engine, Sam Tetlow, thanks to the Adams Apprenticeship Program (a story for another time) and he gave me a chance to transfer what I’d learned as a scientist and communicator to working in a startup company with a mission I can 100% get behind. Grant Engine helps other biotech and science-based startups apply for funding (often Small Business Innovation Research – SBIR) so they can grow their exciting ideas into major operations. The companies work to improve the human condition, and my job is going to be helping the innovative humans behind these causes to find and use our support.

As the Marketing Lead for Grant Engine, I get to learn so many skills and use some of the lessons I’ve learned through my wayward trek through the PhD process. I’ll get to learn about digital marketing, client relations, public relations, sales, management. . .

to say the least, I AM THRILLED (and a little terrified).

. . .

Two weeks before starting my job and shortly after my public defense, I had some time to kill. Aside from trolling around my own company’s web and media pages, as well as skimming the internet for “what is digital marketing,” I decided to learn something about CRMs – specifically, Salesforce.

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Manager; interestingly (to my brand new business eyes), the “manager” in this case is not a person. It’s more like a souped-up Trapper-Keeper for everything concerning client relations. Given my experience in engaging with folks around the world for science communication, graduate student mental health, AND my graduate studies, having a clean and easy way to keep track of contacts and tasks sounded like a dream.

Google suggested everything from taking a multi-day training to hiring an expert (which would have been a bit counterproductive). Switching over to the training modules within the site made things worse – even when “Beginner” and “Client” were selected as filters, I found more than 90 videos that I could watch.

I felt lost and frustrated. Should this be how I spend my time? Shouldn’t I know what a CRM is and what else am I not understanding along the way?

Was I unqualified for this job, after all?

. . .

The pre-PhD version of myself would have panicked with so much to learn and not having a “right” answer of where to start.

Leaving undergrad, I craved having a guidance counselor-figure in my life, setting up tasks and to-do’s, helping me find the best steps along the way. Six years of grad school broke me of that, forcing me to get comfortable with feeling my way through projects, shrugging of the “you should know this already,” and continuing forward until I realized I was going the wrong way and needed to turn around.

Instead of standing in place, plotting out the perfect path before taking a step, I choose to wobble forward. Instead of being afraid to waste time moving in the wrong direction, I will stumble over my feet and build accessory skills while I go.

I will make mistakes. I will be honest in what I don’t know. I will ask questions that make me embarrassed. I will expose myself as the beginner I am.

Eventually, I’ll figure this out.

Until next week,
Susanna

Posted: May 15, 2020

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