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Postdocs, we are in this together.

As we have entered the virtual Spring Quarter, it is important to acknowledge that this is an unprecedented time for all of us, especially you, postdocs, given how our world has changed dramatically in the face of COVID-19. We are advised by the governor to stay home and stay healthy, but we need adaptation and reconfiguration to continue playing the roles of effective researcher, trainee, and teacher in academia. At the same time, these changes have impacted how we normally operate and make plans, which could result in additional stress and anxiety. Please trust that you are not alone if you are experiencing feelings of isolation, job and financial insecurity, the stress of balancing work and family, and general information overload. Here, we offer some strategies in the hope of supporting you during these challenging times. 

Adjust and adapt. When the normal daily routine gets disrupted, we can take some time to plan for a new routine. Daily, most of us are used to going to the lab, commuting to the office, or meeting friends and colleagues for coffee or lunch. Now, we are working from home, reducing the time outside to a minimum, setting new expectations with PIs, and making new plans for research progress. Most likely, we also need to attend to the family’s needs in the midst of finding a new healthy ‘work-life continuum.’ This is overwhelming, but now, you must adapt. Remember, focus on the things you can control. There are things FOR EVERYONE that you can’t control or predict. It is normal to fear for the unknown and get stuck with negative feelings. The truth is, everyone is worried about similar things to you; for example, falling behind in your previously planned research schedule and being not as productive as expected. Please make new plans, carve out work hours, and separate designated workspace from personal space, if possible. Check out the guidance from the UW Office of Research on mitigating the impact to research during this time. Most importantly, be flexible – with yourself and others. Everyone is doing the best they can. 

Take care of yourself. It seems the world has stopped functioning when every trip we take has to be “essential” to our lives. Without being overwhelmed by what we can’t do, think of all the things we can do and enjoy: Taking a nap, reading a book for fun, going for a walk, trying out a new recipe, practicing yoga and meditation, setting up a karaoke station, zoom/Facetime with family and friends, cleaning and organizing. Now can be a great time for reflection, re-assessment, and reorientation – things that should be done regularly but often aren’t prioritized in our regular workdays. Please be mindful of your feelings; ask yourself: am I feeling disappointed, overwhelmed, sad, or worried? Recognize these feelings, and don’t judge them. Check out some ways to help you mitigate the impact of stress and 21 self-care resources

Stay connected. Please take our advice to remain physically distanced, but socially close. You are not alone during this time. Stay connected with your family, friends, colleagues, university offices, professional societies, and groups on social media. If you are experiencing information overload on social media, take a break from your electronic device. There are national resources you can reach out to, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP(4357) and teletherapy through HIPAA compliant means. We, your UW postdoctoral community, are here to support you through online channels: reach out to the OPAUWPA, and PDA whenever you need it. 

At the OPA, we recognize this is a challenging time, but also one for new opportunities. We are working diligently to continue providing professional development opportunities via online format to our postdocs. As we work together, please reach out to us if we can be of support and assistance. 

Additional resources: 

Take care of yourself during stressful times

Even in the best of times, completing your postdoc fellowship can be stressful. And, we can all agree that with the uncertainty around COVID-19, our collective stress level has increased. Beyond the normal worries (e.g., will my experiments work, will I be scooped, will I find a job after my postdoc, etc.), we are now concerned about how changes to campus operations may impact our research progress. Further, we are uncertain of the consequences that coronavirus may have on us at a personal level, as well as our family and loved ones. Simply put, these can make us feel more mentally stressed.

The growing mental health concerns in the graduate student population have received increasing attention in the past few years (see Nature, 2019, PhDs: the tortuous truth; Nature Biotechnology, 2018, Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education; and CBE-Life Sciences Education, 2019, Burnout and Mental Health Problems in Biomedical Doctoral Students, among others). And, just because you’re no longer a graduate student, it doesn’t mean that all of the mental health concerns go away once you transition to your postdoc position (see Science, 2014, The stressed-out postdoc). 

It’s important to remember that it’s normal not to feel 100% all the time. However, when the burdens of anxiety, depression, imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and harassment become overwhelming, it’s OK to seek help. 
UW recently re-designed our Health & Well-being website to provide a one-stop-shop for all relevant resources you might find helpful for your needs. For example, consult with the Counseling Center and they will provide you with referrals if you require long-term counseling. There are also resources to support your well-being and safety on campus. If you want to discuss events in your life or research group, reach out to the Office of the Ombud or our office, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA). When in doubt, simply contact the SafeCampus 24/7 helpline (206- 685-SAFE), and trained professionals are ready to support you. 

There are also a number of online resources and support groups that you can explore to find the community that best suits your needs.

We all are responsible for supporting each other. We encourage all of you to be open about how common it is to experience issues related to mental health and to normalize and destigmatize the seeking of mental health care. Let’s support each other as you consider different career paths. Try reaching out to people who you think might be struggling and share some wellness tips with them, such as getting more sleep, doing exercise, cultivating a sense of purpose, and finding one’s community. For more tips, please read The Conversation (Meghan Duffy, 2018). With the support of the UW community, we will get through these trying times. 

How do you find your passion?

As we transition into the holiday season in 2019 and spending more time with beloved ones, you’re likely to be asked some variation of the following question: “what are you going to do after you finish your postdoc?” As we reflect upon what comes next, we are often encouraged to “follow our passion.” This mantra gets a great deal of attention during commencement season… and when you are about to start a job search. As we’ve shared previously, your formal job search starts well before you read a job posting or submit your application. It starts with a critical assessment of your acquired knowledge, your skills, engagement with your network of colleagues and personal champions, and possibly and more importantly, a reflection on what really excites you. In other words, what is your passion, and what do you see yourself doing for the next phase of your career?

As suggested by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness in The Passion Paradox,

  • “A better approach to finding your passion is to lower the bar from perfect to interesting, then give yourself permission to pursue your interests with an open mind.”

Many of us are perfectionists. However, when exploring different jobs and career paths, it’s OK to focus on something that excites you, if only for the time-being. Your passion for the job, the specific activity, and ultimately, the company’s overall mission may develop over time. If you find that you can get 100% on-board with this vision, great. If not, do you see enough that excites you to fulfill your career goals? And if not, that’s OK too… as long as you’re growing your skill set and your network, and gaining something to apply to your next career move. We like to draw the comparison to a research experiment. The best experiments are those that, no matter the result, give you actionable information. Can you use the info you learn in one career step to make a more impactful decision next time? As we noted last month’s newsletter, you will likely change jobs a number of times (an average of 12 times). Those transitions allow you to have multiple opportunities to re-evaluate your decisions and to make different and better-informed choices.

Additional advice comes from Dr. Jon M Jachimowicz in 3 Reasons It’s So Hard to “Follow Your Passion”,

  • “Don’t wait to find your passion.”

You should focus on developing a passion in parts of your job, understanding your colleague’s passion, and working together to pursue your passions together. This can happen either as part of your daily work or outside the confines of your research group or the larger university. If you focus on the people, the mission and the values, your passion will follow.

  • “Focus on what you care about, not just what’s fun.”

Aligning your efforts around what you value and the impact you can make will be more fulfilling than simply focusing on what’s fun. Clearly, you shouldn’t dread what you’re doing on a daily basis. However, if you’re committed to the company’s mission and values, then your passion with shine through.

  • “Take time to reflect.”

Your passion and motivation will change over time (and definitely throughout your careers). You should be open to these changes. Be sure to take time to re-evaluate what drives you… and look for new opportunities to evolve. With this mindset, you’ll be able to weather challenging situations and adapt to hardships.

As we enter a slower time in academia around the holidays, it’s a good time to spend some time focusing on YOU! In January 2020, we’ll share some ideas on how you can start to explore your different ‘passion projects’ while being a postdoc. For now, make time to recharge and reflect upon your success of the previous months, big or small. In addition, dedicate some time to think about what you want to do next… what is your passion? And how will you find what drives you?

Staying Motivated

Graduate school can be one of the most challenging experiences of your life. Not only are you working on multiple projects, putting in lab hours, or completing research, you may also be juggling additional roles as parents or caregivers, employees, leaders, or community volunteers. With everything you have to do, it’s no wonder that it can be difficult at times to stay motivated and on track. Below are just a few strategies to help you cultivate—and recuperate—motivation while you are in grad school.

Focus on what you can change. Losing motivation in graduate school can be a result of feeling like you have no control over your life. While it’s true that you can’t change things like a professor’s feedback on your assignments or internship and funding application deadlines, you do have agency over how you spend your time during the week. 1) Prioritize only the most important tasks you need to do throughout the day. 2) Break down large projects into smaller, manageable tasks. 3) Block out times of the day (or night) that you are most alert; use these 15 or 30 min. to free write, in order to chip away at a final paper draft. 4) Finally, work where you work best. Is this at your desk at home, in the library, or at a café with a study peer or two?

Recognize that you are not a failure. You are in graduate school because you are brilliant, intelligent, and have much to offer to your discipline or profession. At the same time, one of the biggest hurdles you can face in graduate school is the fear of failure. For some folks, this can be emotionally and psychologically taxing and reduces motivation. But there’s hope. You can acknowledge that failure is a result, not who you are as a person. Practice reframing failures as learning moments. As our colleague Gino Aisenberg (Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity in The Graduate School) asserts, “You wouldn’t yell at a toddler for stumbling as they learn how to walk. So be gentle with yourself, while you learn, make mistakes, and grow in graduate school.” Read this article for additional tips on learning from failure.

Make time for you. Other times, lack of motivation can result from not getting your needs met as a whole person—because believe it or not—you are not just a graduate student. Also, it’s neither realistic nor healthy to be “constantly productive.” It’s important to invest time for wellness, hobbies, and connection. These may include a weekly chat with a friend or loved one, watching your favorite movie, making a nice meal for yourself, seeing your therapist, or individual time for self-reflection (e.g. journaling or practicing self-kindness and compassion). We do our best work, when we dedicate time in our lives to relax, recharge, and participate in non-work activities that engage our interests and bring us enjoyment.

See the bigger picture. Part of the challenge of completing a graduate degree is that incentives and rewards are delayed. This is why it’s especially important to stay focused on all the reasons you entered graduate school in the first place. Maybe you’re wanting to land that dream job in industry, interested in providing more financial stability for your family after completing your degree, or passionate about influencing policy that promotes social equity. All of these are valid reasons to stay motivated while working towards your degree. If you need to, jot down all the positive reasons why you are in graduate school. Revisit this list as a reminder of your bigger purpose, whenever you’re lacking motivation. 

We hope these strategies resonate with you, and feel free to share with us your tips for staying motivated!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs

UW Graduate School

Recharge in summer

Summer is the perfect time to make room for activities and experiences that will help you be – and feel – prepared for the coming year! The pace can feel slower during this time of the year, and there’s a little more wiggle room to be intentional about visualizing and achieving your intellectual, professional and interpersonal goals. Maybe you’re starting from scratch (or already have some initial goals) and just need a plan of action? Maybe you need some structured time and support to work on a grant proposal, finish an experiment, polish a manuscript or start your job search? Maybe you are interested in exploring the Pacific Northwest and trying some activities during the best season to live in Seattle? Or maybe you have other, non-UW responsibilities to take care of and often find it difficult to schedule time to relax and (momentarily) step away.

We encourage you to carve out some time to refuel yourself, and choose activities that would bring you energy. As we all know that self-care is important and will help with productivity.

Below are some tips and opportunities you can engage in throughout summer in Seattle.

Tips for self-care

UW Recreation opportunities

  • UWild Adventures offers opportunities to attend a class or a trip, rent gear, climb at the Crags, paddle at the Waterfront, or join a club.
  • UW IMA membership includes access to swimming pool, gyms, assorted courts, locker rooms, indoor track, climbing center, cardio and weight rooms and a variety of studio spaces.

Activities around Seattle

  • Space Needle | Chihuly Garden and Glass | Pacific Science Center | Seattle Great Wheel | The Original Starbucks | Fremont Troll | Gum Wall | Gas Works Park
  • Seafair Festival continues throughout the summer, culminating with amazing displays ranging from a Blue Angels Air show to thrilling hydroplane boat races between August 2 and 4.
  • Root for Seattle Teams: Mariners, Sounders and Reign
  • Foodies’ Choice: Bite of Seattle

Outdoor Activities

  • Golden Garden Park: beach volleyball; BBQ; kayaking; sunbathing on the sandy beach
  • Alki Beach: Biking; kayaking; beach volleyball; BBQ; sunbathing on the sandy beach
  • Hiking: Washington Trail Association; Public transportation options;

Museums and Free Museum Days

Live Music

Movies in the Park

The OPA newsletter is distributed monthly throughout the year. Feel free to reach out if you have something to share. And, take care of yourself!

Setting Boundaries for Yourself

These last few weeks of the quarter are truly a busy time. Many of you are completing final projects while also navigating job searches. Others are completing degree requirements in anticipation of graduating next year, or within the next several years. No matter where you’re at in your educational or career trajectory, below are some tips to help you push through this last leg of the academic year.

Protect your time. Graduate school can often make you feel like you have no control over your schedule, but this is simply not true. Yes, you are busy, and it’s still possible to manage your time. Block out times in your weekly calendar where you have no flexibility — e.g. courses, appointments, hard deadlines, family time. Reschedule meetings that can wait until after you complete the quarter. Hold small chunks of time during the day, or a larger chunk of time twice a week (or a duration that works for you), for self-care activities that re-energize and nourish you.

Set boundaries. During crunch time, it’s important to say no to doing things that take time away from completing your short-term goals this quarter. Often times in graduate school, exciting or interesting work or research project opportunities may come up that pique your interest. Just ask yourself: are these new projects a distraction from what actually needs to get done? Remember that it’s perfectly okay to say no to requests of your time, as only you know your needs and schedule. 

Connect with support. When the pressure is on, it’s important to stay connected with individuals that support us and have our best interests in mind. Having trouble staying motivated on a final paper? Organize an impromptu writing accountability group with peers at a café, or make it a potluck at home after you’re done writing for a few hours. Needing feedback on your work? Check in with your advisor or mentor to make sure you are on the right track. Feeling anxious or stressed out? Reach out to a friend, a loved one or a community member who can lend an empathic ear and help you stay present.

We hope these tips resonate with you, and good luck with the rest of spring quarter!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Setting Goals & Rewarding Yourself

Welcome back! We hope you made space in your schedule during the break to rest, have fun and celebrate milestones. Now that spring quarter is in full motion, we encourage you to schedule your time wisely to help you be and feel successful. And remember, time spent on self-care will lead to a more productive graduate student experience.

Goal setting. No matter where you’re at in your grad school trajectory, it’s always good to set (and revisit) your goals in order to continue making progress. What larger goals would you like to complete this quarter? Is it a realistic number of goals? Which ones must be completed this quarter versus ones that have flexible deadlines? What manageable, smaller tasks need to be completed to achieve your larger goals? Do you have a support system to hold you accountable and advocate for your progress (e.g. faculty advisors or mentors, peers, community members, loved ones)? In thinking about getting mentor support, be mindful that no single mentor can fulfill all of your needs. It’s best to build a supportive mentor network.

Motivation. Part of the challenge of completing a graduate degree is that incentives and rewards are delayed. This makes it especially important to stay focused on all the reasons you entered graduate school in the first place. Maybe you’re wanting to land that dream job in industry, interested in providing more financial stability for your family after graduation, passionate about creating policies that promote social justice in society or excited about being a researcher beyond the UW. All of these are valid reasons to stay motivated while working towards your degree.

Reward yourself. Related to the previous point on motivation, it’s important to develop strategies and systems that celebrate the range of your achievements in graduate school—no matter how small or big the milestone. Finished reading all of your assigned articles for the day; stream an hour or two of your favorite TV show. Completed one hour of productive writing; make plans to catch up with a friend or family member whom you haven’t talked to in a while. Completed cover letter drafts for job applications; order take out! Rewarding yourself can also include going for a run, making plans for a day hike or going camping for the weekend with peers. Your reward system is individual, so do what feels best for you.

We hope you find these tips useful, and have a great upcoming weekend!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Postdoc Well-being

As postdocs, you are much more than just researchers, scholars and scientists. You are whole people, with families, personal commitments and a full spectrum of interests. The academy sometimes focuses on your intellectual contributions alone. Evidence now shows we do our best work if we have plenty of sleep, connect with others and have breaks for play and other “offline” activities to reset our minds.

The January 2019 issue of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s publication, ASBMB Today, is dedicated to Wellness. Several authors wrote in their tips for maintaining wholeness while doing the challenging work of being a postdoc. Take stock of where you are now. According to the Gallup Wellbeing to Work scales, feeling solid in these five domains can make a difference to your work productivity (For a well-written explanation and example of this, read Craig, 2019, Finding the help you need):

  • Purpose well-being: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social well-being: Having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial well-being: Effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community well-being: The sense of engagement you have with the areas where you live, liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community
  • Physical well-being: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis

For you as post-docs, it may be very difficult to feel solid in most of these categories without considerable effort. And your feelings about these categories may change day-to-day. At the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, we recommend reaching out, finding people around you (in or out of the UW) who have shared interests, and putting YOURSELF on your calendar each day, even for 30 minutes.

Our OPA team contributed to a piece on holistic mentoring to the ASBMB Wellness issue. The piece includes a guide to asking expansive questions; Given the roles you play as mentors to students and others around you, you may find this helpful. Let us know what you think — we welcome your feedback!

In the meantime, it is 2020 National Mentoring Month, so take a moment to thank someone who has been a mentor to you over the past few years. We certainly recognize you and the valuable role you play as mentors at UW and beyond, and we thank you. Even as you are serving others, you must continue to take care of yourselves. 

Heading for the Finish Line

Whether you are enrolled in your very first quarter, or entering your third or more year of graduate study at the UW, the fall is always a busy time for meeting project deadlines, fulfilling work obligations, and taking care of family and community. We know you are looking forward to a well-deserved break. As you work through this week and the next, consider trying out the following strategies in order to help you finish the quarter on the right foot.

Protect your time. One way to stay on track during these last few weeks is to set boundaries with how you spend your time. Block out time slots you know you have to honor, such as hard deadlines for school, work, and family. Hold off on scheduling meetings and appointments that can realistically be postponed for a few weeks or more. Prioritize time in your daily schedule for short breaks away from your work space, to get some water, and for wellness and stress management activities that meet your particular needs.

Reach out for support. Every now and then life totally happens and we fall behind on papers and projects. Rather than spend time worrying about the possible outcomes of not turning in a final project, we encourage you to be proactive by asking your professor for an extension. You can do this by drafting an email to your professor. Briefly state why you are behind (e.g. family emergency, personal illness, need more guidance on understanding key concepts). Include any questions you may still have about the project. Finally, include a concrete plan for turning in your project in a reasonable amount of time. Have a peer proofread it before you click the send button. You could also have an in-person conversation with your professor during their office hours: just bring a draft of your project completion plan to help guide your conversation. More often than not, you will find that your professor is understanding and will work with you.

Reward yourself with self-care. It can all feel like one big blur after you’ve completed all your work for the quarter. We truly hope you dedicate time during the break to participate in activities that support you in feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and centered. This can include reading a non-academic book, cooking for yourself or loved ones, hiking or zumba, or catching up on episodes of your favorite tv show. You’ve earned the time to just be!

We hope these tips resonate with you, and have a wonderful break!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Moving Past Perfectionism Into Wholeness

In this newsletter, we want to continue building on ways to cope with perfectionism by adding a few more ideas and strategies in support of your health and wellness as graduate students. Consider trying these out, and see what might work for you:

Feeling anxious. Often, perfectionism goes hand in hand with feeling anxious. For example, you may be pre-occupied with negative thoughts such as “I will never be good enough.” This is especially prevalent in academia where it can appear as though everyone else has gotten it all figured out. To manage this, try re-focusing your anxious thoughts and instead say to yourself, “I am working on this project one task at a time, and that is good enough.” Or “I don’t always have to be on top of things,” or even “My overall worth as a person is not defined by being an ‘excellent student’.” We know this is easier said than done, and yet just like with any life-long wellness strategy, it will take consistent, regular practice and setting yourself up with a wellness accountability partner or two.

Fearing failure. Ever spend too much time over-thinking and re-writing the same paragraph without going any further on a paper draft? Us too. Sometimes it’s fear of failure that keeps us stuck in a perfectionistic rut. Just like with any project, a way to move past getting stuck on writing is to set realistic and manageable goals for yourself. For example, rather than spending too much time on a single paragraph, try non-stop free writing for 15 minutes. While you are free writing, notice any perfectionistic feelings or thoughts but resist responding to or internalizing them. Stay engaged in your 15 minutes of writing, then take a five minute break. Then do another 15 minute round of writing; afterwards, you might have at least two paragraphs (and one or two ideas) to build your overall draft from. Doing manageable rounds of writing can help you see that you are making progress.

Resisting perfection. The stakes feel so high in grad school, especially when you feel like you are somehow “not smart enough”; when you are the first in your family to go to college let alone grad school; or when you don’t feel like you belong on campus. In these situations, you may feel the pressure to constantly prove yourself. Not only is this unrealistic and will impact your health in the long run: it is so far from the truth. While it’s important to be open to feedback from advisors and mentors in grad school so you can grow on intellectual and professional levels, it’s also important to let go of the need to be perfect for anyone. Mental health professional Ilene S. Cohen suggests several steps for letting go of perfection:

– Change your mindset. Resist the idea that you need to work hard in the hopes of gaining a person’s approval.
– Build self-reliance. Be open to failure and learn from trial and error.
– Learn to let go. Practice letting go of negative ideas you have about yourself.
– Make your own decisions. Trust in yourself to know what decisions are best for you.

Finally, working on undoing perfectionism also involves being in community. Reach out to trusted peers, loved ones and friends outside of academia, mentors and mental health professionals who can support your growth as a graduate student and your wellness as a whole person. Also, when you have the space and capacity to be supportive to your grad student peers, consider reaching out to let them know.


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School