Being marmite…

Most of my thoughts about academia seem to come out of random phrases that float into my brain at odd phases.  “Being marmite” is one of those phrases that I’ve heard several times at leadership & management conferences.  I have to say, it didn’t mean a lot to me, because I’d never tried marmite (I know, I’m 31 years old, and I’d never tried marmite.  This is on the list of other things that I’d never done, like camping, but that I might have to catch up with during my 30s!)

During the discussions, it turned out that what they meant was marmite is a love/hate relationship.  Everyone (apart from me, clearly) knows whether or not they love or hate marmite.  Everyone remembers marmite; they recognise the brand; they recognise the taste instantly. Nobody is going to forget about marmite.

I’ve needed some time to think about this.  I don’t really want to be hated, but nor do I want to be forgettable.  Would I rather be liked and not taken seriously? Or not liked and remembered?
That’s a really difficult thing to think about, and I can’t see it working in a clinical setting: we’re a team, and that’s what makes things work. Why would deliberately creating a love/hate impression just so that you’re easily remembered work in academia? or management?
Things like this are why I never wanted to get involved in management; why I just want to sit in my little box, and let the world of work trundle past… until I get so annoyed about something that I have to get involved!
Two things happened in the past few weeks to make me change my mind.  Firstly, I had a talk on leadership and management from one of the best (OK, probably the best) consultants  I have ever had the privilege to work with.  And yes, that is a deliberate work with and not work for.  (Anyone who’s worked with Andy Currie will know that’s true).  It made me think about why he’s such a brilliant leader: it’s not that he deliberately sets out to make himself memorable by generating this love/hate scenario I keep hearing about (the marmite effect).  It’s because compared to getting the job done, and done well, personal things become irrelevant.  The team works better when we all get along; because it delivers good care.  That’s what we feel is important.  It’s not that we need to be memorable to be good leaders; it’s that leading the team to get the best possible outcome over-rides all those personal considerations.
The second thing that happened, is that last week, I had my first taste of marmite.  And, it was OK.  It was nice. It would work really well with cheese on toast; I can see me putting a bit into a tomato sauce or a chilli; it would probably give a really nice dimension to some bread (of course it would, it’s yeast!).  But it isn’t this yes/no, love/hate phenomenon I was told it would be.  Actually, it’s a really nice flavour enhancer that helps everything else sing a little bit more; work a little bit better…
Maybe being a good leader is about being marmite after all: but it’s my kind of marmite
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Why I love my job

The last few nights have just crystallised why I love work so much.  It’s because I work with such an amazing team of nurses.  I have fantastic medic colleagues too, but when you’re the only doctor for a unit overnight, you really appreciate the people around you.

And this is why… 

Because it is so important to them that babies & families get the best care that they can that they will offer to take on more and more work to give help and support to new mums & dads; work through the night to get the admissions sorted; stay late to make sure it’s safe, and sod the the effect on their workload.

Because we work as a team, and they think I’m part of that team.  Because it doesn’t get split into “my” jobs and “their” jobs; because they trust me to talk to parents, and cuddle babies, and give feeds, and get vomit down my neck…

Because they tell me when they’re worried; if something’s not quite right; if parents are concerned; if things are changing.

Because they let me know if my plans don’t make sense; or if they’re not right for that family; or just plain stupid!  And because they’ll help me work something out that’s the best solution; regardless of the impact on their workload or their time.  If it’s the best care, then that’s what they’ll push for.

Because they expect the best.  Because they believe that anything less is unacceptable.

Because they remember I get stressed and tired and ranty; because they accept my apologies when I’ve behaved like a brat, or lost my temper, or forgotten to do something. Because if I’m really not managing, their solution is coffee and a hug and a chat.

And largely, hugely, amazingly, because they know that we’re all in this together.  

Different highs

A few weeks ago, I worked my first paediatric acute shift in a while.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I am by no means a full time academic.  I work 50% clinical.  But because of the way that training and things have worked out, I haven’t done a general paeds shift for a year.
And I loved it.
(Apart from being terrified, because, it’s my first shift in a year; I’m a reg now *gulp*; I have a reputation as a sh*tmagnet…)
I remembered how much I love my job (I know I always say that I love my job, because I do.  But there’s a difference between knowing that in an objective way, and subjectively feeling amazingly lucky to be trusted enough to look after someone else’s child.  I don’t even get to have my own to look after, but I take care of other people’s. That’s pretty amazing).
I came out of the first shift back, and thought “that was great”. (Getting home-cooked dinner delivered to work definitely helped 🙂  but honestly, I love my job.) I love the units I work on; I love my nurses (even if the standard welcome is “hello trouble!”).  I love being part of a team that cares.
And compared to research, the effects of that team caring are immediate.  It’s the salbutamol effect (remember giving salbutamol for the first time, and watching the breathless child haring around the playroom 30 minutes later?).  Usually in medicine, we’re around to see the effect of what we do.  It might happen on your shift, or it might take a few phone calls. But you will get feedback on what you’ve done.  (And maybe I do go home and think about what happened that day. Maybe I do ring the ward on my “I’m turning the mobile off and leaving my laptop at home” weekend.  At least that way, I know.)
Research isn’t like that.
It’s what makes it difficult, and hard, and tiring, and sometimes just dull.  It’s when you spend days and weeks and months working on an idea without realising that you are working on it anymore.  It’s the days when you tell yourself to write something, anything, because at least then you’ve done some work, something worthwhile.  It’s when I sit with piles of data trying to sort them into categories that make sense.
It’s looking at results and thinking, this might not ever make a difference.  It might not make a difference for years and years.  Why am I not doing something useful? Why am I not giving a child salbutamol?
The answer is that occasionally, rarely, there’s that “yes” moment.  A recognition that this is right.  It might be the way I sort my data; or finding I’ve written the perfect sentence.  It’s looking back and suddenly understanding that all those people were trying to tell you something important, and now you understand what that is.
I’m not a psychologist, but I often wonder if the reason that I find it so hard to engage with things like e-portfolio is that my medical brain is externally motivated.  It’s much easier to stay an extra hour or two if you can see that you’re explaining something properly.  It’s harder if the only person listening is the e-portfolio portal.
That just doesn’t work for research.  Anyone seeking external motivators in academia is bound to be disappointed.  There is recognition for your work, but it is so removed from the process of creating that work that it seems as though it happened in another lifetime.  By the time a paper is published, you’ve moved onto another project, another lifetime seems to stand between you and your work.  You may not even recognise this neatly compressed, multi-authored paper as your work in the way that your scribbled notes and frantic arrows belonged to you.
But that “yes” feeling; the click in your head when the words flow, and you understand what your data mean…
That endures, and that is yours alone.