It’s a long game

A friend just passed her PhD viva and another friend just earned his MBA. We gathered to celebrate their incredible milestones. One of our friends said, “Gosh, I could never do that. You guys are lucky to be born smart!”

They’re lucky, or smart? Really?

Yes they are smart, but the real secret of their success is stamina. As their friends, I got to witness how much time and effort they committed into their goals.

Getting a PhD is a lonely journey filled with countless failures and rejections. She’s constantly solving problems and overcoming hurdles.

The guy who got MBA is a full-time engineer who battled with his health issues while planning for his wedding at the same time.

Learning from them and other people who I admire, I realize that it takes very little talent or IQ to accomplish anything big. Instead, what it takes are

  • resilience
  • patience
  • self-control
  • self-aware
  • courage
  • efficiency
  • and a bit of luck (when preparation meets opportunity)

I like this TED talk by Angela Duckworth. She introduced the word “grit” which means the “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. According to her, grit is a better predictor of achievement than intellectual talent (IQ), because grit serves as the overriding factor that provides the stamina required to “stay the course” despite challenges and setbacks.

It’s the courage to try, fail and rise back up, again and again that makes the difference.

It’s the determination to keep going even when you are unsure of the outcome.

In fact not only professional success, personal projects such as overcoming a bad habit, maintaining a relationship, or parenting also need way more grit and effort than you’d imagine.

Case in point, recently my friend becomes a working mum. She has to juggle between her career and parenthood for the rest of her life. Imagine how much stamina that would take. Now I don’t even complain that I’m busy anymore.

By looking at the journey as a long marathon, instead of a short sprint has been really helpful. Each hurdle is just a small pebble on the road, I will rise and move on. It’s a long game.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Beware of the women scientists!

There’re 7 scientists in this photo – 5 with PhD titles (Doctor of Philosophy), 1 PhD candidate and 1 Master of Science candidate.

You better don’t mess with them.

They will secretly take your hair back to the laboratory  and mutate your DNA. Be warned, you might wake up having blue hair and fish scales on your body on the next day .

Their expertise also includes mixing rainbow-colored chemicals and make an explosive bomb. Their lab is full of needles, syringes and formaldehyde which is used to preserve human samples. Notice the water bottle that they bring everywhere? That’s acid.

They also like to discuss about serious issues during lunchtime. Their favorite topics include the latest cancer discoveries by Japanese researchers, global warming, or Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Smart women are mad and scary. Ha-ha-ha. *laugh sarcastically*

When people ask me what I do for a living, I’d say I’m “a staff in a laboratory”. Once I explain that I’m a PhD candidate and a “scientist”, people immediately think that our job is to create atomic bomb or some fish-chicken hybrid alien species.

I need to bust some myths about women scientists.

Myth #1: They know everything about science and medicine.

Even though we are technically “people in science”, we hardly master anything that is beyond our own field of expertise.

Please don’t ask me to explain Einstein’s theory, or ask me what medicine your mum should take as a diabetes patient.

Myth #2: They are bossy and difficult to deal with.

Some people generally perceive smart women as “bossy, difficult to deal with, and hot-tempered”.  I’d suggest that you broaden your social circle and witness for yourself how some smart women can be “interesting, charming and sexy”.

Myth #3: Smart women are intimidating. 

This is probably the most common misconception about women scientists and other women with successful careers. My colleagues, who are single, feel that their job titles as Ph. D. holders and women scientists intimidate most men in Malaysia. I understand that this concept is deeply rooted in the past generations. But man, this is 21st century. Come on, keep up and work on improving yourself!

Guys, if you’re excellent and you continue to grow, there’s no way you’ll be intimidated by women. Case in point, Alexis Ohanian, the husband of world’s legendary tennis player Serena Williams, said it’s absurd that men felt threatened by successful women.

A woman doesn’t transform into a robotic Super Woman after she gets a degree or a good job. She needs love and attention too.

Personally I rely on my family and my partner A LOT. I might already have a Master’s degree, but in reality none of them think that I’m really that brilliant.

I’m good in analyzing things and thinking logically. I don’t get emotional and unreasonable, but I’m terrible in remembering things, looking at maps or keeping my things organized. I need them to support me in many aspects.

In a nutshell….

Women deserve the freedom to choose whatever she wants to do. Accept the fact that she’s smart and she has a voice. Don’t define her by her job title or academic qualifications.

Talk to her. Listen to her opinion. Brain’s the new sexy.