An overwhelming sense of duty, attachment and or guilt to current role or PI
“I also left a lot of people behind who I had built close relationships with. I did have a sense that I was no longer part of the ‘research family’.”
Connor, former postdoc, Biology
The feeling of ‘ending’ relationships with our ‘research family’ can trigger childhood feelings of fear of abandonment. For example, unconscious parent-child dynamics between you and your PI means that leaving or disappointing them, feels emotionally perilous. It may also involve projection on your part, and not be to do with the other person’s behaviour.
‘Don’t be trapped by fear. I fretted that if I didn’t publish anything from my postdoc, no one would hire me. That’s one reason I stuck with my ill-fated lab. But the concern turned out to be unfounded.’
The fear of disappointing others can explain an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Perhaps we equate our self-worth with measures of external success, such as published papers. If we boost our self-esteem with metrics or the sense of validation and belonging that we gain from others, poor results, disappointing or leaving that community, threatens our self-esteem.
Feelings of ethical obligation can influence your sense of duty. A postdoc working in Virology in 2019 describes his perception of duty during the coronavirus pandemic:
“Because I had access to coronavirus-related tools that were broadly unavailable at the start of the pandemic, I considered it my ethical obligation to work more than 50 hours a week. Now that those tools are more widely distributed, and the extent of the threat facing us has been clarified, that urgent sense of duty has waned significantly, but not disappeared completely.”
Postdoc in virology
FOMO and indecision
Are you terrified of choosing a new career direction, because you might make a mistake and you might miss out on a career you would like better? You might sink time and energy into something that you regret and do not enjoy as much as being a researcher?
This is a legitimate fear. But you have to ask yourself what is the cost of not allowing yourself to take any risks?
You also need to examine what it is that you are afraid of – being unhappy in your job? Then dig deeper – what does ‘being unhappy in a job’ look like, feel like, mean?
Keep asking yourself: ‘Why?’ and ‘What does that mean?’ Until you uncover the root of the fear.
‘I viewed myself as having completely failed’
‘...because I have devoted my life, my hopes, my aspirations to this thing that I thought was really important and now my dreams have died.’