Content Warning: This post discusses grief and trauma. I mention anecdotes from my own personal experience, which include the death, severe injury, and hospitalization of loved ones.

A silhouette of an empty bench in a grassy field at sunset.
A silhouette of an empty bench in a grassy field at sunset.
Photo by St. Mattox from FreeImages.

We’ve all asked ourselves, “what if I say the wrong thing?”

The worry hits before a first date or a job interview, when consoling a friend who was laid off, or in any number of situations that feel like they have high interpersonal stakes. It’s in those awkward moments where we feel obligated to say something — to fill an awkward silence, to introduce ourselves, or to lift spirits — that we tend to flounder and say hurtful things. …


I remember the moment I got hooked on science.

Don’t get me wrong, before that moment I had always liked science. During my K-12 education, I enjoyed my science classes. I found the material interesting. There was a lot I liked about science, as a topic. But it wasn’t until my undergraduate years that I learned what it felt like to do science, and that’s the part I fell in love with.

When I was little, I tried to conduct misguided experiments — such as mixing together substances that I found in the bathroom cabinets — that my father rescued me from. Being that said experiments sprung forth from the whims of a small child, they were dangerous, unprincipled, and did not in any way adhere to the scientific method. In high school, I did “experiments” in my chemistry classes, by which I mean I was assigned to measure reagents, mix them per the assignment’s recipe, observe a reaction, and measure its outcome. While those assignments followed the scientific method in that I was testing a hypothesis derived from a particular theory, and the test was carried out in a principled way, no new knowledge was gained. The thrill of discovery was notably absent. …


Every now and then, I think back to the fist time someone genuinely complimented my academic writing — not just because it was kind, but because I was confused. I had so normalized receiving negative feedback exclusively that I couldn’t even interpret what was said in the moment as a compliment.

Picture shows a close up of a red pen with the cap removed. The pen is resting on the cap such that the point is raised.
Picture shows a close up of a red pen with the cap removed. The pen is resting on the cap such that the point is raised.
Photo by Jan Verbist from FreeImages.

Prior to that, the feedback I received on my writing ran the gamut from merely unconstructive, to downright unkind — sometimes with a dash of patronizing tone for flavor (I guess?). A lot of the feedback was designed to control my voice as a writer, not to improve content or clarity. …


Content warning: Because the topic is emergency documentation, I describe traumatic experiences and grief that can constitute personal emergencies. I also discuss current events taking place in 2020, many of which are also traumatic, in relation to emergency documentation.

On the topic of excusing students for missing class, assignments, etc., due to personal emergencies: Over the years I decided to never ask for details or documentation. Here’s why.

Photo showing the silhouette of a person sitting alone against a dark sky. It communicates a sense of sadness and isolation.
Photo showing the silhouette of a person sitting alone against a dark sky. It communicates a sense of sadness and isolation.
Photo by Asif Akbar from FreeImages

My position is informed in part by my own experience with family emergencies. During my 2nd year of grad school, my then-spouse was seriously injured in an accident. …


In the past, I’ve made excuses for others’ repeated bad behavior, to my own detriment. I’ve since reached a point in my life where I no longer feel obligated to maintain ties with toxic people.

These are generally people who repeatedly hurt me or those I care about, are not open to dialogue or education, and are unable or unwilling to reduce the harm they cause. By the time I decide to cut them off, they have a long track record of harmful behavior. My perspective is that there should be interpersonal consequences for harmful behavior at some point.

I understand that’s not everyone’s approach, and may seem too harsh to some. If you don’t cut people off for any reason, that’s your choice, and it’s a choice that I respect and understand. It’s the choice I used to make in my own sphere, until it was no longer tenable for me. I have found that pruning toxic people from my social sphere has dramatically improved my mental and social health. You may disagree with my perspective, and that’s fine. …


Three analog clocks of various sizes positioned against a red background.
Three analog clocks of various sizes positioned against a red background.
Photo by Patrick Nijhuis from FreeImages

You’ve probably heard the phrase “time is money” used to express that time is valuable, and should not be wasted. I agree with the sentiment, but I’d argue we should take it even further, because that analogy underestimates the value of time. Losing money is bad, but it is at least theoretically possible to recoup lost funds. When time is lost, it is lost forever. As a sign of respect, it is important to show others that you value their time, especially in the workplace. I can’t stress this enough: everyone’s time is valuable.

In this post I’ll focus mainly on requests for help that fall outside of the requestee’s work duties. For example, you might be tempted to ask a co-worker for technical help, even though you have an IT department or IT support from vendors, because your co-worker is “good with this stuff”. While it’s particularly important to respect someone’s time when you ask for help that falls outside their job description, you should take care to show colleagues that you appreciate them and respect their time when making any request, because they’re human beings. …


When do you learn how to write a professional email?

Back when I was an undergraduate, I helped a professor coordinate with one of his collaborators on a project. The professor asked me to email his collaborator to get things started. I was intimidated at the thought of cold-emailing a professor I had never met. I asked the professor I was helping out for advice on how to start the email. He looked at me, incredulous, as though I must be a complete idiot, and in a patronizing voice he answered only “Dear [collaborator’s name]…”. At the time, I was embarrassed I asked, but why should I have been? …

About

Dr. Gwen Rehrig

Postdoctoral researcher studying language and vision at UC Davis. Opinions expressed are mine, not my employer’s.

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