Who is Kati Kariko and What Can She Teach Us About Chasing Glory and Fame

Today's story is actually quite old, and it would normally have been a line in Friday's Reflections. But it was too good, too phenomenal to be a single line post.  A few months ago, New York Times reported the story of a 66-year old researcher and immigrant who never got any grant, never made more than $60K, never got her own lab, but who for FOUR decades kept working on the mRNA (a path many considered foolish) but which ultimately led to the basis for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

I recently realized that I don't cry easily, but this story...this story brought tears to my eyes when I first heard about it a few months ago.

Alexa, show me a hero.

It got me emotional for so many reasons, more than I could adequately articulate in one post. I have said over and over on this blog that know what it is to fail and to fail and to be rejected and to be rejected. So that hers resulted in quite literally saving humanity is probably the best story of this decade. 

Before we go on, let this serve as proof as we have been shouting from the rooftops that the vaccine was not made "very quickly".

Now moving on.  

A few months ago, Forbes released another of its list: 30 under 30. When are they not releasing list upon list that quite frankly serve no other goal than to be ego boosters? Anyway, I was saying to my friend that sometimes only the limelight is celebrated. Most times, only the limelight is celebrated. This brought to mind one of my most favorite quotes. 

"In this world of relentless self-promotion, we have all been raised to think that the limelight is the only light worth seeking...some of the greatest things have been done by people you've never heard of: quietly dedicating their lives to improve your own."  - Matt Mahoney

It's funny because this IS the reality of things. Everyone hypes themselves. People celebrate mediocrity. People embellish their skills. We call it branding. We call it celebrating yourself. We call it knowing your worth.  It is the world we live in. People value the huge following, fame, and popularity. I have actually always struggled with this. If, like me and a lot of people I know, you don’t like calling attention to yourself, it means in a world that only likes noise, they will drown you out.

Culture says boast, be arrogant, toot your own horns, make noise about how you are the baddest bitch. 

Yet, my Christian faith says, be humble, don't care what others say, don't try to impress others, think more about others than yourself, lift others up, care about how what you do affects others, don't take yourself too seriously.

"Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." - Philippians 2: 3- 4.

Honestly, if you take Paul's advice in these verses to heart in Corporate America, you will probably not succeed.  Literally, at one point, Paul even said all his achievements were rubbish compared to the joy of knowing God. That's the focus, the goal, to bring glory to God.

So which to do? I don't know. Sorry to you if you thought I had an answer.

Here is my take though. Never ever do stuff just because of the glory it will bring to you. Because you will chase a high that you can ultimately never catch. You will have the adulation of millions and the worship of millions, and it will never be enough. You will find yourself on a Saturday night feeling completely empty and lonely despite being so great. Or the inverse: no one knows who you are no matter how hard you try to get them to care. You chase and you chase. You seek attention. You tweet crazy things and post nonsensical things that don't even align with who you are, and the more inauthentic you come across as, the more people turn away. So again, here you are on a Saturday night wondering why no one, not even strangers on the internet, cares about you.

I say focus on your work. Do the work and forget about accolades, and hype, and all of the noise. Do what you can. Be diligent. Be hardworking. But don't give up your soul. Paul later writes to Timothy that soon, people are going to be "...self-absorbed, money-hungry, and self-promoting" (2 Timothy 2:3).  And WOW, I feel like this describes this generation perfectly. When I say generation, I don't mean a particular age group; I mean literally this cohort of humanity on earth, especially those in so-called Western, developed, high-income (or whatever egocentric classification we have assigned ourselves) countries. There is a pervasive greed  that is vicious, selfish, and all around ruthless. But it's allowed, because if you couch something as "self-care" or "looking out for me" then no one sees any fault in it. 

Back to our hero, Kati Kariko, who that New York Times article was about. I have been in so much awe of her brilliance and hard-work. In thinking of her place in academia, in so many, many ways, her story is also a story of how incredibly broken academia is. One might even say how broken our society is.  

Academia (our society in general too?) no longer rewards ingenuity but  in many ways, caters to gatekeepers and over-exaggerated egos. We love fluff, and grandiose facades that are never ever what they claim they are. 

I am hoping this is a helpful reminder (lesson?) to us all. I think with the advent of social media (God bless us, but for how long are we going to keep blaming it for everything?) it has never been easier to achieve virality and fame and popularity of some sort. Everyone wants to be a YouTuber or amass followers on—oh boy—the Tik Tok (as the elders say). But maybe it's okay to release that thirst for the limelight. I think what's more important is impact; or at least that's what I am focusing on. We have to learn how to disconnect impact and success from popularity. 

Although if we are being honest, I'm also a little too lazy for the whole self-promotion and branding thing. So there is that.

This woman was literally demoted but nevertheless, she persisted. She was diligent even when there was no promise of ever "hitting the bag" and frankly, I don't know how she managed to do that.  

Interestingly, when you stop chasing the numbers, the high, the popularity, you not only experience peace but I think you also get to enjoy things more. It means you understand that sometimes, something is just a passion or hobby and you don't need to monetize it. It means you don't have to debase yourself for whatever reason. You just are. Don't you deserve that? For instance, (allow me to be vulnerable here), this blog (and its other equivalents) is just an aspect of my life. And true, there was a time I cared a lot about people reading and you know every creative's dream yidi yada. I don't really care about that anymore. Maybe people will read. Maybe they won't. I like it, I can do it, and so I will keep doing it. I just do me; within the confines of my values and principles, of course. So give yourself some peace today.

With all that said, give this woman her Nobel prize immediately! What a badass!



Friday Reflections

 1.) Hi again, people!

2.) Don't buy into the chlorophyll shots hype. There is so much information at our disposal because of the constant barrage of 15-second videos everywhere, but they can be so damaging. It can be so so damaging when people act like they have knowledge about [anything really] because they have a million followers and go on to spread nonsense to their unsuspecting followers. Please your favorite influence is not a doctor or expert of any kind, if we are being honest.  

3.) Related to the above: STOP DETOXING! It's a waste of time and energy. Instead, eat balanced diets, sleep, and (true talk?) maybe ditch the alcohol. And oh, those supplements you never stop taking could be killing you even (especially) if it's sold to you as self care.  

4.) A BBC profile on our fave,  Chimamanda Adichie.  

5.) So apparently Cat Person (an infamous story) has always been a thing and I completely missed out on it. It turns out it WAS based on someone. Here ya go. In my opinion, the original author violated Cat Person in more ways than one. And no matter how kind that man was, a 33 year-old dating an 18-year old IS predatory. 

6.) Six signs you're at the wrong job. 

7.) I'm not even going to dignify Bezos and his billionaire contemporaries and their joy ride with a comment :-)

8.) Okay, I lied. I want to say one thing and it's that, although these rich people are the wrong faces for it, space exploration (Scientific exploration) is never a bad thing. Some of our most practical inventions today happened because people explored, because science worked. Now, should we monopolize space so that it's some sort of joke for bored, old white men? No. Nay. Nein. Nope. Rárá. Nopity. 

9.) A millennial’s guide to growing your salary. 

10.) Don't ever turn your passion into work. 

11.) Okay that's all for now. By the way, you know you can bookmark this page and then click on every link whenever you get bored at work, right? RIGHT? I keep yelling today. What's the deal with that? Okay, bye for real now. See you next week!

How to deal with rejection in academia [as a Ph.D. Student]

Rejection in academia.

Hooo boy.

As we head into the academic job market season (in America), things are ramping up, people are getting confident, some are getting nervous, and others are just plain terrified.  Given the competitiveness of academia, it is almost certain that most people will get rejected.  That is, most people will come out of the season with no job, no funding, and more uncertainty than they can deal with. Sorry for this harsh truth. But hey, that is why such a post like this is relevant. 

First, a little back story for those who don't know about the academic job system or the job market, as it is so often called. So let's say you have been toiling away in a Ph.D. program for years. You have taken course works; presented at conferences; taken the qualifier; written comps after comps (I did a total of three including two written and one HARROWING, HORRIFIC oral); done the dissertation defense; started doing the research (for some this involves experiments, for others field research, and for a few unlucky ones like me, both); and then if you're lucky (with great mentors and an extreme amount of sheer luck), you get published; then things are on the right track to some extent. At some point in this process—specifically somewhere after you make substantial progress in your dissertation or— perhaps when your advisor realizes they have used you enough* and they are tired of your old ass and need fresh blood, he or she will decide it is time for you to get out; to graduate. He/She will tell you this, you will feel your stomach flutter, eager and excited to join the ranks of professors. Only, no matter how much you have been told about what is coming, you will still have no idea of the world that awaits you in the job market. It will almost always be brutal and inhumane.

Normally, this (your advisor's decision to get you out) is one year out from when you actually graduate. The beginning of the academic year is August, so that summer before, in July or August, universities start advertising positions that don't start till August the following year. Are you following? So, say you (your advisor, really. Because you have NO power in academia as a Ph.D. student) want to graduate in May 2022. July 2021 is when you actually start looking for jobs. Now, this does not necessarily mean you're done with your dissertation. Though it could also mean you are in fact done because as you will come to realize, people spend years on the market (I know someone who tried out for five years, literally, so almost a decade as a Ph.D. student). Anyway, starting in July, you start applying for tenure-track jobs, for adjunct positions, for visiting positions, for postdoc positions. Explaining the difference between each of these will take an entire post on its own but I'm willing to do it if you are curious. 

So you start to apply and apply and apply...and apply. Mind you, because it's academia you must be willing to move anywhere for this job, so you are told to apply broadly: Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Arkansas. No shade to these places but what is my black behind looking for in Boise or Iowa?????


I digress.

Yeah, so you start applying. You have put in so much work for the past few years and you're expecting to get some good response. Except silence. You are not invited for a Skype interview (Skype is used loosely here but after hundreds or thousands of applications, search committees pick about 10 or 15 students for a video interview and then from that bunch, pick about 3 or 5 for a "campus visit" which is the most exhausting job process that consists of job talks, meeting with deans, other faculty, and every other tom, dick, and harry).

Where did I stop?

Yes, silence. No Skype interview, no visit days, nothing. Or maybe throughout the entire cycle, only one school calls back but instead of you, they decide to yet again hire the white dude from Harvard or MIT because he knows how to do some jiu jitsu on R and/or Python. 

If all this sounds specific, it's because it's the truth. I will stand by it anytime, any freaking day. 

Now, of all the problems academia bestowed upon me, the rejections were not the worst of it. I guess I have just been rejected so so many times that I know the playbook now; I could literally write a book on rejection.  My problems were of a different beast, as you very well know now.

But what is this post about? This post is not to teach you how to finesse the system to get a job—though I want to write on that too since *shhhhh* I was somewhat successful with that lol.

This post is for that inevitable rejection you will get as a Ph.D. student. It's for when you apply for tenure track jobs for the umpteenth time. It's for when you apply for Fellowships after Fellowships, year after year, and nothing. It's for when you have been submitting the same paper for years (literally) and it keeps getting rejected. Or—and by GOD, this is the worst of all—when after slaving away and toiling for six years as an Assistant Professor, your tenure application is denied. WHEW. 

Because it will happen. It does happen. 


It will be especially worse because on Academic twitter: everyone and their mothers will be "happy to share that...'' or will broadcast their "some personal update..." very loudly because there is nothing academics love more than bragging while couching everything under "I know I'm so privileged", "I am so lucky" or promising to "dismantle the system" yidi yada, òjé màrínà. Announcement upon announcement, everyday, about people getting their dream positions and negotiating the dream package.  It will be lovely to see for those of us who have no stake in the game. But it will sting you if you're getting the rejections or the deafening silence. If you are in this latter category of rejections (and you probably will be given the beast that is the competitive nature of academia), please know that it does not and will never define you. The first step to dealing with rejection in academia is  to know that it does NOT and will never define you. Academia is your job. It is not some regal calling for a select few. It is just a part of who you are. You have an identity outside of academia and whatever anguish you may be feeling will also pass. You WILL be okay. 

That is a promise. 

I want to acknowledge what you feel seeing people (even outside of academia) get matched (hey medical doctors!), or get prestigious Fellowships, or postdocs, or TT appointments, or in one of the WORST  features (bug, to be honest) of academia, when one person accepts both a postdoc and a TT when so many others are left hanging. What is that about? There will never be a rational explanation for that, in my opinion. In any case, it is nerve racking to be the one getting the rejections. Yet, you must realize that it does not mean you're not good enough. It doesn't even mean your application is not great. Yes, it could mean you need to work on something in your application package, but true talk? It most likely is all due to chance. 

Yet, there is an "other" side to the anguish, and you will get there.


Other people's success or even their failures is not a reflection of your value and will never be. You have to remember this idea before proceeding to any other step or suggestion mentioned in this post. So let it sink very well. Selah. 

Rejection, interestingly enough, is not just a part of academia. It is everywhere. I say this because it can be easy to have a tunnel vision perspective, and not realize that whether you are a carpenter, a politician, a chef, a salesman, you will get rejected. This is another important thing to help deal with rejection: remembering that it is happening to everyone around you. Yes, even the hotshot, rockstar your department brought in with millions of dollars after telling you summer after summer, that they have no money for grad students. Yes, shade. 

The next important step for dealing with rejection is to take a step back. For the job situation, I get that you probably need to make a decision immediately because once the cycle is coming to an end and you still have no job prospects, you have to decide what to do if it means graduation is not happening. Again. Yes, I understand the urgency. But still, take a minute to breathe. To forget. This applies to all forms of rejections; whether Fellowships, or journal publications. Take a minute, whatever that is for you.

Along these lines, give yourself a specific amount of time to be upset about the rejection. Before, when a journal rejected my paper, I could be in the dumps for weeks. Now? One hour max lmao. Frankly, I'm too busy to actually give a crap about whether some ridiculous journal publishes my work. I will confess that *very* recently, when a reviewer was extremely vile in their comments to me, it got to me a little more than I expected. Even with that, I talked about it a little and then moved on. I will never give them that much power over me. This is not and will never be a life and death situation for me. I do understand this is easy for me to say since I'm not the one who needs to publish 3 (4? 6? 8?) papers per year for six years to get tenure. 

Next, ask for help. A closed mouth will not get fed. Think broad and wide as you ask people for help. I will never advise being one-hundred percent stuck on academia. Whatever it is you want to do as a professor, there are a million and one ways to do it. It does not have to be in the four walls of a university, and this is where help comes in. Talk to people about opportunities that exist. Tell people your predicament.  Let them help you however they can, even if it's just by encouraging you. Ask for help reviewing your resume, or your grant applications that got rejected, or your paper that got turned down again. Always ask for help, and yes, even from strangers. There is only so much your advisor knows and only so much he or she can do. Leverage your connections or send cold emails (here is where LinkedIn is a tool to wield). You would be so surprised how kind strangers are; unbelievably kind and typically willing to help. I KNOW this for a fact. Just persist (don't badger them or be a stalker) but follow up. Even if academia is the hill you have decided to die on, you can still ask for help. Reach out to professors; they love the public show of kindness anyway so they might more likely help you, the stranger, than their own Ph.D. student in their department. So ask them for help on how to improve your chances or again, for encouragement, for opportunities that exist which you don't know about. They are everywhere on Twitter these days and if they are not there, no one is quicker to pop open a personal website than an academic so they are easier to stalk.

Please know that I will never make light of your dreams, or your rejections, or just your plight. Know that I acknowledge that feeling having been there myself. It is why I feel the most qualified to tell you it will all be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it is not the end :)



*because as you complete all of what I wrote above, you are also working for your university/advisor/department either as a research assistant or an adjunct

Friday Reflections

 1.) After randomly chatting in their workplace bathroom, two women found out they were a match for each other's husbands who needed a kidney. 

2.) If women ran this world, it would be so much better. Alliances would be formed over a shared love of shoes, and the sky, or red lipstick, or pockets. ANYTHING. 

3.) It's funny that just a few weeks ago I was praising Wendy as a consummate professional. If I didn't know better, I would say she saw it and let it get to her head, and then she went downhill almost immediately.  I don't know what happened but with her recent performances, I have not seen anyone more unprepared, rude (to their coworkers), and just altogether disheveled at their work. I am hoping and praying (desperately) that she is not back on drugs. 

4.) Retinol and Retirement: two things you can never start too early 

5.) Inside William Barr's breakup with Trump. 

6.) So many people are trying to rewrite history like it was not before our very eyes they were conniving with the most fascist administration this country had seen in  a while. We must never let it happen. 

7.) There is so much about "cancel culture" out there. I, for one, think most of it is garbage. Is there really such a thing as cancel culture if almost everyone that has been purportedly "cancelled" is still out there earning big bucks. That said, we do need a conversation about the extreme lack of nuance, and tyranny of ideology overpowering the American Left.  Newsflash: everyone is not going to think like you and you're going to have to deal. 

8.) I, for one, am sick and tired of the performative and public performance (yes one and the same but repeated for emphasis) of ideals and identity. 

9.) Like Chimamanda Adichie said, "too many people are choking in sanctimony and lacking in compassion". To me, a true progressive ideal must lean on compassion, and kindness, and yes, inclusivity. 

10.) "I’m old enough to know there’s a difference between denouncing bigotry and demanding everyone march in lockstep with you. If you’re more interested in performing your own purity than understanding people’s plurality, you’re not looking at progress, you’re looking into a mirror." - Hadley Freeman

11.) If more than three entries in one Friday Reflections post are pointing towards the same thing, that's my cue that I have to write about that stuff. But, I'm lazy. Meh.

12.) The reason there have been no books of the month is that I haven't read anything interesting. It's not that I'm not reading. It's that I just have been so unlucky these past two months or so with the books I am reading. Wow. So dead. I'm about to start a new book and honestly, I think it will be better. *fingers crossed* 

I won't say the title so I don't jinx it. I gotta tell you, the only thing all them wack books have in common is that I announced on IG that I was about to start reading them. So go figure.

13.) Now that Instagram has basically confessed to wanting to become a video platform and denounced the very purpose that brought us here—photos—where do we go from here? Because you know I'm not into reels and stuff like the cool kids.