so far so good

I’ve been at my new job—research fellow at RMIT University—just over a month, and I have to say it’s exceeded my expectations in every possible way.

Research isn’t normally a 9 to 5 job. You’re generally expected to work over 8 hours a day, and if you don’t go to work on the weekends, at the very least you should be working from home. But my boss didn’t tell me what time to come in on my first day. So I arrived at about 8:45, eager to get started, but….no boss. She didn’t even show up until after 10:00. And when she brought me into her office to discuss my project, she also mentioned that I can come and go whenever I please, and the only important thing is that I produce results. In fact, she usually comes in around 10:00, leaves around 5:00, and doesn’t even come in at all on Fridays.

So apparently research is a 9 to 5 job. At least here, anyway. I’ve been coming in at around 9 and leaving at around 6 because I’m still trying to make a good first impression, but even those hours are less than what I did during my PhD or my first postdoc. And what I’m finding is that when I actually take breaks, it’s so much easier to come back with a fresh outlook and enthusiasm. In fact, I look forward to going to work every day.

Of course, it’s only been a month.

Despite the lack of long hours, my boss does produce results. She has multiple collaborations with other research groups in both universities and private companies, and she has multiple papers published every year. Which is the most basic, albeit sometimes inaccurate, way to judge the quality of a research group.

My project is part of a larger plan to develop a material that can be put over reservoirs to minimize evaporation. Another research group is making the materials, and my job is to run computer simulations on them and find out how they work at the molecular level. The best part about this is that there’s no wrong answer. Whatever results I get, those are the ones I share with my collaborators. And publish. And since I’m coming into this project after it’s already been underway for a while, all the hard stuff has already been done. Basically, all I need to do is modify and fine-tune some things, and everything will go forward smoothly.

Which is pretty awesome.

Another thing that I particularly like is that there are two other people working on this project with me—a PhD student and another postdoc. I felt pretty intimidated at first because they’re both thoroughly familiar with the work and I’m coming in as an outsider, so I wondered what I could possibly add. But to my surprise, being an outsider actually helps. I’m looking at the project with fresh eyes and from a different perspective, and while I may not be as familiar with the details as they are, I can suggest alternatives that might not have ever occurred to them.

Plus, it’s nice to be part of a team. My colleagues really love what they’re doing, and their enthusiasm is contagious. The other postdoc and I often spend our days separating problems into chunks, and then working individually to come to a solution. And it’s just so great to have that feeling of accomplishment when something we’ve worked hard on to put together succeeds beyond our expectations.

Honestly? I mostly took this job because I needed the money. After all, I make more now in a week than I did in a month in China. But I never could have predicted that it would end up essentially being my dream job.