The flexible I

(by Yaroslav Verkh)

We change and transform bit by bit. Often we don’t notice it and maintain the feeling of the constant I for the longest periods of time. Recently, in a moment of self-reflection, I looked back at myself in the past. The amount of personal change since the start of my Ph.D. amazed me. Most of it is positive and offered some insight to me into the importance of self-managed ventures as a Ph.D.

Recently a friend asked me a series of questions about my personal career development. That means all the stuff that makes a successful employability story. Some examples are goals, skills, strengths and weaknesses, and the ways to present it all to a third party in an understandable way. The reflection on how I do all these things showed how much I changed since I was writing a CV to apply for a Marie Curie Fellowship three years ago.

I became a “hacker”, looking for and finding information by myself and learning wherever and whenever I can to improve myself. And I improve both technical and “soft” skills which turn out to be the more important the more I learn. Also, I have now a clearer story of my work life with a set of goals for the near and far future. And I make decisions based on these goals.

The development of professional networks became very important. Before I could not understand why I need to connect with someone on LinkedIn or go to a networking event where people bug you with boring stuff. Now I routinely check new posts on various web pages and bug people on meetings and conferences trying to find out their goals and help them with those.

I also changed my way to internalize, order and show what I can offer. Where before there was a general idea of how to do things now I use devices as SEAL, STAR or SMART to structure my learning, presentations, and my goals. And the elevator pitch that summarizes my research in twenty seconds exchanged the previous three minutes of stammering about how important is my contribution to the future science.

Add to the mix the skills that I picked up from kind people along the way in many countries, work environments, tutors and social sites. PowerPoint templates, fonts, time and task management, dress code, writing styles and grammar proofing software, databases and libraries, programming, precise writing and career development narrative building just to name the few.

So looking back at the laid-back guy with fuzzy life goals and skills from three years ago I ask myself, was this really me? Or am I a researcher version of the Theseus ship, with all parts replaced, but bearing the same appearance? I connect with many thoughts of my former self, but I also see myself to be a more developed person now. Then again, it is my current I that makes that reflection. So there is a slight bias in this observation. And my past I would scoff on the shirt wearing, networking Tic-Toc Man that I am now.

Be it as it may, I am glad about my current life trajectory and cannot help but to extrapolate and ask, how and what will the future I be?

Originally published at