December 2nd, 2018 | The Gap Year - Vol. 2

The gap year, vol 2

The Gap Year – Vol. 2

In August this year, I wrote a compilation of seven things I had learned from having a gap year. The funny thing is: that the gap year was only halfway back then. Now, when it slowly comes to the end, I can easily add yet another seven things I learned since then. Some of these things are almost like rediscovering America, but I would like to shortly highlight them here anyways.

1. To the human body, the math does not apply.

When I was a high school student or an undergrad, I used to sleep-deprived myself quite severely. During the working days, I could sleep as little as two to four hours a day, and I always felt like rushing from one place to another in panic as there were so many things on my plate. Now I do not feel like having all-nighters anymore, I started eating and sleeping regularly. I even stopped using an alarm clock. Surprisingly, even though my day shrank from 20-21 hours to as little as 14-15 hours, it did not affect my productivity. I would rather say the opposite – my productivity grew as I think twice before I take up any new activity, and I do not spend any time on doing random and unnecessary things. Not to mention that sleeping well keeps your mood at a relatively high level so that less time is spent on ruminating and self-defeating thoughts. 

2. Societal problems are more interesting than neuroscience

At some point, I realised that I think about neuroscientists and the ways to improve the quality of their lives more than I think about neuroscience itself. This manifests particularly strongly at conferences- or post-PhD defence parties where I meet a lot of colleagues yet I never caught myself talking about my PhD topic, which is related to networks in the brain. Most of these events resemble more of a group therapy than a ‘meeting of minds who would discuss high-level scientific research ideas – which is sad. 

In the last few months, I launched a few initiatives quite intuitively, and they all work out well. I co-wrote two manuscripts about mentoring and career development in academia, and one of them is almost accepted now. Moreover, I started a foundation without any major obstacles, I defined short-term goals for this foundation, and I started working towards hitting all the targets. So far so good. When I observe myself and notice these clear tendencies towards solving problems on a completely different level than typical, quite abstract research projects, I wonder if I am on the right career path. I will need to give it more thought, that is for sure. 

3. Cash buffer is important

I didn’t think enough about the fact that when my contract comes to the end, I need to have a buffer on my account in order not to worry about not finding the next job immediately. Now I know that an empty account can cause distress and better to avoid such situations in the future. At the same time, I realised that many of the things I used to buy, were unnecessarily costly – for example, that I can survive getting just one beer in the bar rather than five beers, and getting snacks every time I pass through the campus can easily be avoided by making good old sandwiches.

4. Friends will go, and the family will stay

Most of the people I befriended, behave the same towards me now when I am formally unemployed. However, there are also a few cases of ‘friends’ who immediately became too busy to meet me after my contract expired, even though I live very close by and I could have lunch with them any time. I disappeared from their world as if I never existed. Although I still have a lot of true, cordial friends, I came to the general conclusion that family is the only institution that will never leave you in any circumstances. 

5. Setting clear goals does all the magic

In August, some bold thoughts came to my mind. I thought that if I could choose any job in the world, I would like to be a venture capitalist one day. I just thought so, without having a clear plan of how to pursue this dream. Honestly, I did not even expect this would happen. Since then, I started advising a few friends with their startups, and one of these friends offered me shares of his startup in exchange for help. I could not believe this at first. So, what all these motivational speakers say might be true, and the magic is happening after all!

6. Find the third way

At some point, I realised that I need to find a third way between conducting all kinds of projects with my friends and coworkers – who are usually related to neuroscience – and social meetings which are usually spent around the same people. On one hand, I have complex and demanding research projects and on the other hand, private meetings with the same set of people who share their problems with me. I felt I needed something else – some other people who think different and represent different communities. I started to spend evenings going to meetups of all kinds, from student business clubs, through meetings for programmers and fans of tinkering, to blockchain conferences. Now I feel like I freed myself from this vicious circle, I have much more air and I feel much more relaxed.

7. Word of mouth 

I always heard stories that networking is crucially important when looking for jobs, but now, I feel it in my skin. Indeed, connections are much more efficient when looking for jobs than answering job offers online or cold mailing… At the end of the day, bonds and trust are crucial in every area of life. 

Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2018, December 2nd). The Gap Year – Vol. 2? Retrieved from https://nataliabielczyk.com/the-gap-year-vol-2/

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If you would like to read more about careers (for PhDs and other white-collar professionals) and effective strategies to self-navigate in the job market, please also take a look at the blog of my company, Ontology of Value where I write posts dedicated to these topics.

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