December Newsletter - You Better Watch Out


Jilly MacKay


December 21, 2023

This month

Honestly, December was a bit of a write-off. Early in the month my daughter brought a nasty bug home from nursery. We ended up in A&E and eventually in paediatrics for a short while (once again - the amazing staff at NHS Lothian were wonderful and so helpful). Unfortunately the illness has lingered and has required having several days sitting on the sofa with a toddler on my lap, watching Funbox and only half an eye on urgent emails.

Despite mostly pretending to be a rational being, illnesses and misfortune bring out my worst tendencies. As I listen to a tiny, pathetic little cough, I wonder why the deities are punishing me in particular? Kissing my toddler’s vomit-soaked hair, I wonder what I’m doing wrong that my family is so often sick. Is it because I kiss her when she’s covered in infectious fluids? Who can ever know?

The upshot of this is that I haven’t done nearly as much this month as I’d hoped to. This has been my biggest challenge this year, learning how to be a working parent. This leads me to my reflections of 2023.

I have found 2023 to be a challenge. While I’ve done lots I’m proud of, it feels disingenous and even a little cruel to talk about the ‘best bits’ of 2023. I hope this blog can be useful to others when I use it as a space to reflect and collate my thoughts, listing ‘achievements’ (whatever they may be - my greatest achievement this week was maintaining my cool during an epic toddler tantrum, though I later snapped at said toddler for no reason) doesn’t seem like it will help anyone, certainly not my ego.

So these are the three big lessons I’ve learned this year.

Lesson 1: The Personal

This year, I got really into dressmaking as a hobby, and even made myself a dressmaking instagram account. I am not a very patient, neat, or particular person, so this seems like a hobby that is doomed to failure. Over the summer, I bit off more than I can chew by offering to make my sister a puff dress. The final piece, while laboured over with a great deal of love, was not what either of us had envisioned, and took some time to recover from. The way I ended up cultivating my affection for this hobby again was to take up smaller projects through a subscription service that gave me all I needed for the particular craft.

My lesson here is to not shy away from big, ambitious projects, because they are great for stretching your skills, but to give yourself scope and permission to fail, or at least to not achieve those ambitions entirely. Getting back on the sewing horse was a great achievement for me, and the next thing I self-drafted went much better. But we shouldn’t expect greatness too early on, and this has stuck with me through my discussions of teaching coding etc. at Posit Conf.

Lesson 2: The Professional

My return to work was not what I expected. Changes to my role, changes to my priorities, and changes to my own mental capacity have meant I’ve had to re-learn lots of what I do. I have had to be ruthless with my priorities and my time, meaning I haven’t gone for opportunities I wanted to. And I have lost the little patience and consideration I possess which made me a good colleague. One of the ways I am able to continue is by violently protecting my ability to work from home, and I am very concerned about what changes to work culture over the next few years might do to that. For the first time in my working life, I am disadvantaged, and I am keenly aware of how supportive colleagues have been, both enabling and tolerating me.

I have learned to become more tolerant myself, at least in the larger scale. While accessibility and equity have always been important to me, its easier to see now how fragile some of our accommodations are. I have heard myself speak with a surprising amount of diplomacy in meetings, not typically a strong point of mine, because I am more aware than ever of the possibility that I might be wrong, or at the least, too tired to be right.

Lesson 3: The Parental

Without a doubt, the hardest lesson I have had to learn in 2023 is how to be at peace with the parent I am, who is a good distance away from the parent I feel I should be. I surprise myself with the parts of parenting I feel I do well at, and the parts I struggle with. Apparently there is a wider gulf between the actual me, and the me I think I am, than I would have guessed.

I have learned the value of ‘good enough’ and I know how important it is to refrain from beating myself up when I get it wrong - there are plenty of other places that will do that for me. I haven’t quite achieved either of these things yet, but I know I want to strive for them.


Posit::Conf(2023) Update

In a nice little Christmas present, the Posit Conf 2023 talks are now up, and I’ve updated my talk page to link to mine.

Around the web

This Nature news article (based off of this preprint) highlights the concerning number of ‘extremely productive’ authors. I was feeling a little concerned myself, thinking of last month’s reflections on my skills as an author, but this section helped alleviate my creeping fear that I was part of the scientific problem

In 2022 alone, 1,266 non-physics authors published the equivalent of one paper every 5 days,

Phew - I’ve got a few more to go before I become ‘extremely productive’ then.

Also - More interrogation needs of statistical methods in the replication crisis? These authors think so.

See you next year

And with that, my working 2023 is finished. I hope to see you all next year in our more curated web. Have a wonderful break if you’re taking one, and stay safe.