Life as a researcher can be isolating, often with a seemingly endless stream of deadlines all vying for the top priority spot. Couple this with high levels of perfectionism and a dash of imposter syndrome, and you have an all too familiar academic cocktail of sometimes immobilising deadline stress and anxiety. Perhaps then, this is why the #ECRchat topic of ‘Suppressing perfectionism and overcoming imposter syndrome’ seemed so appealing. The revelation was that everyone taking part was also a perfectionist who felt, from time to time, like they didn’t quite deserve to be where they were. We were not alone! Several of us were lamenting how we found it difficult to let go of our work. Indeed, we were all currently nursing several manuscripts and chapters that long ought to have been out in the world; a veritable ‘bucket list’ of deadlines. Perhaps jokingly at first, it was suggested that we all make a pact to submit our work to wherever it needed to go (journals, supervisors, funding bodies etc) by a particular date. This could be a good step to actualising our ‘bucket list’ of research papers and chapters. Thus, #bucketdate and the four #bucketeers were born.
For a little under three years now, Jodie Bradby, Nikola Bowden, Marguerite Evans-Galea and I have been setting ‘bucket dates’ for ourselves, to encourage all of us to let go of work that every perfectionistic bone in our bodies is telling us to keep hold of until the end of time. Really though, bucketeers became about far more than this. What began as a collective deadline setting exercise became a supportive community of female researchers, spanning different career stages (PhD, ECR, and more senior posts), different disciplines (Physics, Psychology, Molecular Biology, and Genetics) and even different continents (UK and Australia), but all linked by the fact that we were experiencing similar challenges in getting our work off the desk and out into the big wide world. We check in with each other in the intervening weeks or months between bucket dates, to see how we are all getting on. We cheer when we submit something, apply the healing balm of scientific sisterhood if a paper gets rejected, celebrate when a manuscript is accepted or a grant is funded, and generally support each other through the highs and lows of the life academic.
Occasionally we miss a deadline, but instead of raining down a hellfire of judgement, we just cheer a little louder for each other. ‘Keep going!’ ‘You are so nearly there!’ Having this group of bucketeers has provided a focus for maintaining productivity and overcoming obstacles; sometimes the paper one of us was working on for the previous bucket date gets rejected and this then becomes the next bucket date project. The support of the bucketeer group helps to keep us all on track. Knowing that our bucketeer compatriots are also working towards the same deadline is strong motivation to keep going, even when things are getting tough. There is a sense that we are all striving for a shared success of collectively meeting our bucket date. Now, this all sounds very nice, but does it actually get results? Indeed it does. A touching culmination of this was when a paper by Nikola and colleagues was published recently and the acknowledgments section included a mention of her fellow bucketeers:
‘The authors would like to thank Marguerite Evans-Galea, Olivia Kirtley and Jodie Bradby for their continued support and encouragement to complete this review’
Support = productivity = tangible output.
One doesn’t need to look too far to find a plethora of horror stories of academic misery and struggle. When feelings of isolation are considered part of the package and there are worryingly high rates of mental illness amongst academics and students, the value of having a supportive cheerleading squad willing you to succeed cannot be underestimated. So this is a ‘good news’ story: from a Twitter chat on the worries of academia, to building a supportive international community of STEM women with a shared goal of supporting each other to succeed. All for one and one for all.
About the author:
Olivia Kirtley is a postdoctoral research psychologist in the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Stirling before moving to the University of Glasgow for her PhD. Olivia’s research looks at physical pain sensitivity in people who self-harm and how this relates to sensitivity to emotional pain. Her work also explores some of the factors that may be involved in someone moving from thinking about self-harm to acting upon those thoughts. Broadly, Olivia’s research interests lie in using biological and psychological methods to investigate self-harm and suicidal behaviour. Currently she is working on a project looking at the relationship between childhood adversity and suicidal behaviour in adulthood.