In a couple of weeks I’ll celebrate my Mirena-versary (yes, it’s been almost a year since I got my Mirena in … time flies). Today, the always wonderful Katie tweeted an early FF to moi because … well, I’m always talking about personal business regarding my ladybits (not graphic stuff, but weighing in on Mirena and other forms of birth control). And her tweet reminded me also that I haven’t updated my blog regarding how things have been going with Mirena since way back in Sept of 2013. So, here’s a short and sweet post on how has my year been since I had Mirena inserted.
Around this time last year I’d been mulling over trying Mirena. I’d turned 32 the month before and was working hard in my lab when a convo with one of our trainees about birth control sparked my interest in trying progesterone-only BC. Mirena is a T shaped form of BC that is inserted in your uterus and through a variety of mechanisms, which include: thickening of the cervical mucus (making it harder for the little swimmers to get close to the egg), possible suppression of ovulation, and thinning of the lining of the uterus, prevents unplanned pregnancies. Mirena does this by slowly but surely releasing a synthetic version of progesterone locally and can stay put for about 5 years. There are other types of T-shaped BC rods, including Paraguard (ie., the copper one), and Skyla, which is similar to Mirena, but lasts for 3 years instead of 5. (And no, I wasn’t paid to say any of the above, just pointing out some of the details which may be relevant to us biologists).
At the time I went to the women’s clinic at work, I had no idea that Skyla even existed. Had I known that, I would have opted for it, not only because it is slightly smaller than Mirena, but because instead of 5 years, I could have had it in for 3 and have it taken out by the time hon and I may consider having a spawn of our own (no, I do not refer to my nephew as spawn, he’s the most adorable little boy ever … I like to have a fun outlook on a possible 27 and a PhD baby). The deductible would have been the same ($30), but it would have been a lower cost to my insurance and should I decide to take the Mirena out before the 5 years I’d feel like I’d wasted $$, even if my deductible was the same.
Anyway, after the initial shock of having my OB measure the inside of my ladybits and poke me a bit, the Mirena went in and after a bit of bleeding I got a break, and then spent about a month spotting. I did feel the discomfort of the instruments even though I was given a local anesthetic because I can’t take most painkillers. And I felt discomfort the first night and had a bit of a headache but it slowly went away.
Sometimes I think I feel/know when I’m ovulating because I feel as if something was breaking (more of a popping) inside of me, in my abdominal area. One OB I saw as a student said that some women report this and that it may be possible to feel the follicle releasing the egg. Usually after this “popping” I get some discomfort and two weeks later the red gates open and I’m miserable.
With Mirena, I was spotting for a month, then things normalized a bit and I was able to sort of predict when my period would start. During my next two periods I would spot, but the periods were definitely less heavy than … well, ever, and I didn’t have to take painkillers as much as I’d doing. I did hang around a bit with my heating pad as I was afraid that at any point I’d have my period and cramps show up … but thankfully that never happened. My mood didn’t deteriorate, my breasts didn’t feel any different, in general, it was how I remember my 2nd or 3rd period happen before I started getting the cramps from hell.
My OB showed me how to feel the threads that are supposed to hang out of the cervix. And honey did report at some point feeling something poking a bit, but nothing major and certainly it didn’t impair his …. performance.
Before our wedding, I did go back to the OB to have my threads checked because I couldn’t feel them. Turns out the threads sometimes curl up and are difficult to feel. I then (as always) shared my experience with the lady scientists on Twitter and a few of them said that they don’t even check them anymore … so I guess it depends on your OB. The threads can be a bit stubborn, but you don’t feel them, I promise.
I had my last period sometime in February and since then, I’ve been period free. Yes, you read it right. PERIOD. FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. This is truly a state of bliss.
I remember when I was grad student and I first saw the ad for (I think) Seasonique and it mentioned that you could have your period 4 times a year. I was appalled and I thought, hell, I ain’t doing that! But as I got older it dawned on me that all the suffering, the missed work days, the cramps, the breast tenderness and pain, they all could have been gone years ago! I wasn’t sexually active at that time and felt silly suppressing my period. Ignorance was not bliss.
I think Mirena works well for me and if asked, I’d tell all ladies to forget about the pills and go with an IUD. For me it’s proven safe, effective, non disruptive and I don’t have to worry about forgetting to take a pill or making a quick stop at the pharmacy for a condom.
But above all, beyond preventing an unplanned pregnancy, what makes me a believer is that I haven’t had cramps in almost a year. And, for me, that’s unheard of. I’ve had to miss work because I’ve had a cold or a medical procedure, but not because of my period. I honestly wish I’d made this decision 10 years ago.
For me, an IUD has been a life saver and money saver. I haven’t had to purchase pads in a LONG time, and the other day when I had a headache, I couldn’t even remember where I’d put my acetaminophen!
*** If you want to follow the conversation on IUDs, other forms of BC and ladybits, click here. And last but not least, you can read about IUDs and how they are most definitely NOT an abortifacient as the scientists of the Supreme Court and Hobby Lobby want you to believe. Oh wait … Hobby Lobby and the Supreme Court don’t have scientists … they are NOT scientists.
Today the always awesome Dr Becca and DrugMonkey (and a bunch of other awesome tweeps) noticed this little gem from our frenemies at Science Careers: http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2014_07_21/caredit.a1400184
The gist of it is that one little study at one university apparently found that if you think positive thoughts, not only can you handle stress better, you can magically fix the world, end hunger, solve the conflict between Israel and Palestine and end global warming!!!! Insert sarcasm here.
Look, I’m all for having a wonderful outlook and all. I know that a positive attitude can help in overcoming difficult situations.
What bothers me tremendously is that the way things are phrased in the little gem above, it makes it sound like postdocs have the answer to solve ALL their issues and that it’s in their hands to fix everything with just a tiny attitude adjustment.
This couldn’t be further from truth.
I’m not the only disgruntled doc here. But since it’s already past my bed time and I’m battling the beginning stages of a cold (and I’m lazy beyond belief), I’ll do Science Careers a big fat favour and point out to some of my most downward ass posts from 3 years ago.
You see, Science Careers, thinking happy thoughts it’s all fine and dandy, until you find yourself in a horrible situation, with an abusive PI, or a bully labmate (like I did, the labmate, not the PI, thankfully, though I did see one of the PIs in my former PD department beat the shit out of a postdoc, emotionally speaking). Or you or your significant other are let go of the lab because the funding dried up and none of the 1500 grant applications you wrote and the endless nights of running FPLC columns, or counting fishies or measuring how high bunny rabbits jump, added up to 0 because the lab can’t keep running without money. Happy thoughts can totally help you console your sick child, help deal with your cancer or that of a loved one, or help you deal with death, divorce or marriage. You just have to find your happy place, cross your legs and think of how come you’re still in a dead end postdoc, in year 4 with 0 publications and you’re dealing with a sexist collaborator, or department head, or an ultra competitive postdoc and just breathe in and let it all go.
Truly, SC, truly. That is a bunch of bull.
Thinking happy thoughts didn’t save my dying friend, or helped me pay my bills, or drove my husband to the ER during a panic attack. Happy thoughts didn’t help shit when I was being bullied by the star student of the lab. Happy thoughts didn’t keep me fed and clothed, let alone warm during cold Canadian winters.
You know what kept me alive? A supportive husband (then boyfriend), friends from home that kept in touch, Skyping with my mom while witnessing my baby nephew grow in front of a camera. Whatever kind of career counseling I could get, be by the school or by a support network built on Twitter.
Those things kept me from jumping off of my apartment’s balcony on the 11th floor.
Not happy thoughts.
So, I hope you can pat yourself on the back for telling postdocs (current and prospective) that all they have to do is man/woman up and think positive thoughts. That that is all it takes to deal with stress. And that those happy thoughts will magically bring food to the table, a dental plan, retirement accounts and savings. They totally will (insert major side eyes here by me and a bunch of my tweeps).
Early in the morning today (too early to be exact), I had a convo with my husband re: nerds and creepy people. We were talking about whether when we were in school, we knew someone like Howard or Raj (from Big Bang Theory), or a creepy nerd. We talked about how we tried to be nice to everybody (though 16 yrs have passed since we left high school … oh dear God), but we probably were assholes at times. Not very proud of that. We couldn’t remember specific examples or Howards or Rajs in our classes … until it hit me. I did have someone like Raj .. and even though 16 years have passed, it still creeps me out.
The story goes like this:
I was 17, and we were near the end of our last semester in high school. School had approved a local reggae band to play at school for a day-time celebration and we were able to dress casually (uniforms were the norm). I remember wearing my “cool” jeans, my sunglasses, sandals and a cute little tee with some design in aqua. All I remember is the colour. Anyway. We took our classes, and after that, the band assembled in the yard and started playing. The way my high school was built, it had an inner yard surrounded by classrooms, offices and the cafeteria. There was this big tree that blocked the view from one side to the next and on the top level of our school, the were hand rails … giving the look of a balcony surrounding most of the inner yard.
Long story short, the band starts playing, we start dancing in little groups. I had a biggish group of friends and we made a circle and danced and it was all in good fun. For whatever reason, even though I’m very absent-minded, I noticed that there was a guy on the top floor with a camcorder (remember those?). I thought he was filming the band, which was popular in those days, and it didn’t bother me much. Until I started paying attention and noticed that every time I went out into the yard to dance with my friends, they guy seemed to be zooming in (my sister had the same camera, thus I knew what he was pressing and the motions he had to do zoom in). And when my friends and I moved, the camera moved in our direction.
I noticed that if my group broke down into smaller groups, he seemed to be pursuing the same little group with his camera … and I was always in that little group.
Then it started bothering me.
I remembered that a few weeks before that, we’d had an international celebration/day at school, and I was collaborating with one of my teachers in making a display. At some point I walked out of the classroom to get some fresh air and wait for some glue to dry and the guy that had the camcorder the day of the reggae band was waiting to talk to the teacher that I was helping. I’d seen the guy before. He was friends with some friends but we never hung out in the same group. He was a bit of a car nerd, and while I did like cars and nerding about them, I didn’t hang out with his all-male clique. I stroke up a conversation with him, very short and was able to sell him a chocolate bar to raise funds for our international day celebration. I can’t remember if I was flirty, or anything. I don’t think I was. Plus, guys in school didn’t find me particularly pretty (I was a geek, recovering from years of having acne and wore too-high socks), so I had no inkling that our little convo over him buying a chocolate bar would give him any sort of ideas that I was interested in him.
Fast forward two months, and the reggae band is playing, creepy chocolate guy is recording our group of friends with his handheld camera and I ask one of my friends to tell me what she notices if I hide behind a wall at school. I start dancing with her, and slowly walk behind the wall. My friend keeps dancing until the song ends, and I’m hiding and she says that creepy guy lowered his cam. When the next song begins, I walk out to dance with my girlfriend, and the camera goes up. This goes on and on for the rest of the mini-concert.
At one point I was so bugged that I stopped dancing and just hid behind the wall so he couldn’t record me. Eventually my friends and I switch places to another part of the school yard where there’s the big tree I mentioned earlier and the guy gives up. But I had to get on top of a bench at school, hide behind a big tree so he couldn’t find me, let alone film me.
And it dawned on me … this guy was a major creep that felt entitled to film me, to record my every move on a casual dress day at school for God-only-knows what purpose. I felt dirty, creeped out, used. I still feel it to this day.
My husband couldn’t believe it.
And this was not illegal (probably isn’t to this day either) back in 1999. It would have been dismissed as just a boy thing.
But I felt like my privacy, my right to be a regular 17-yr old, dancing with her friends to the rhythm or a popular reggae song was invaded.
I felt dirty, disgusting for inciting those desires in another 17 yr old (I was extremely conservative at that time, as in, if the guy was filming me it was probably for dirty purposes and I’d be going to hell for (in Duggar parlance), defraud him).
There are many issues in the story I have shared. From how the very patriarchal culture I grew up in made me feel guilty for being a regular 17-year old girl who just wanted to have some fun with her friends while in a school function that had been approved by the principal and teachers.
This same patriarchal society that protected this young man. I’m sure that if I’d opened my mouth, my teachers would have just shrugged and said that in 4 more months I’d be in college and that I could forget all about it and just dance.
I then remembered how one of my oldest cousins had to have campus police escort her to and from her car and to and from every class when she was in the same college as she was a few years prior, to protect her from the creepy stalker she had.
I can’t remember the creepy guy’s name. And maybe that’s good, because I would like to know if he has a criminal record or something for being a creep. I worry about what he did and if he did it to others.
My sense of security felt violated that day. How could I trust that other guys at school, or in college, could keep their pants on and their cameras away from me or my friends?
So that’s my creepy story, or memory of the day.
If I had a daughter, I’d make sure she feels comfortable coming forward and saying “hey mom, this happened, can we do something about it?”
If I had a son, I’d say, don’t be a creep, see how this behaviour makes women, or just people feel. It is not right.
To both I’d say that whatever they do, dancing, sharing with friends, going to the movies, whatever it is … they have a right to feel secure, protected, and not be filmed by creeps. They have to be sure that they are safe, and if they are not, they need to speak up, and know that they can and will make friends, or talk casually with someone, and that it is not OK for someone to stalk them, even at a distance, with a recording device. It is wrong and it must be stopped.
And now, back to work. I just wish I could take a cold shower.
If one is active in the Twittersphere or blogosphere, it is difficult to escape the results of the Sangji/Harran case. I won’t write much about it as it’s been wonderfully summarized by both Chemjobber and Chembark. The more I think about writing on Sangji’s death and how her boss got pretty much scot-free, the more irate I become.
I want to focus on something related which is one of the main messages coming out of this story. That is, who is responsible for what happened and what would be the level of engagement anyone/everyone, especially newly minted BS/BA when they join a lab, be it as RAs or techs (or even in the beginning as PhD students) should expect and are not getting.
A lot of people seem to fault Sheri Sangji for not doing things right. She wasn’t wearing a lab coat, or any other type of PPE, she apparently didn’t read or pay attention to the warnings of the chemical in question regarding flammability, and/or no one was supervising her.
I write as a lab manager, with 5 years of experience post-thesis defense, and over a decade working in a lab full time. These are my thoughts …
In 2001, the first time I ever did research full time in a lab (well, for a summer), I was a naive undergrad. I worked in a lab with a bunch of Russians that played metal pretty loud and were studying protein structure and function. I made many blunders … mostly based on how I saw the lab peeps doing things. I got screamed at by a postdoc because I picked up a DNA gel with my bare hands and it happened to have been freshly stained with EtBr. Yay moron me. He used gloves all the time. But he was freshly off the plane and we had to communicate using less words and more hands. I’d seen every other postdoc and RA in the lab pick up gels like that. Thankfully I only did it once. My “punishment” was to read an entire chapter on the developments of DNA gels, staining and what EtBr did. I learned my lesson, and didn’t get screamed at again (for picking up a gel with bare hands, anyway). It was difficult as I’d been used to getting all the info from textbooks and not from actually doing tests and running assays. But eventually, after lots of practice, of making tons of gels (I made a 70% instead of a 0.7% DNA gel too), I learned my lesson. Wear PPE, never pick up stuff bare handed, and always read the labels. The postdoc watched over me after that. The boss was writing grants in his office.
When I got back home, I burned my face while cutting a DNA gel because I left the UV lamp on too long … another stern lecture. I’m still waiting to develop cancer on my face and hands … I’m sure it will happen. This time, my mentor got involved and I got a bit screamed at. I was though. Also, the next week we had her lecture about the danger of UV rays exposure. I was still burnt.
Eventually, after making lots of blunders, I entered the PhD program at my current university. I had to learn about the dangers of not securing gas cylinders to a wall, or transporting multiple vessels without the proper equipment or enough hands. I learned to read oxygen sensors and to not fear dropping LN2 on myself, but do fear other cryogens, magnets and high voltage equipment. I learned about proper ventilation and the dangers of working in closed quarters, underground.
My boss was busy writing grants, so instead I relied on the lab manager to dispense lab coats, on other trainees to pass around the health and safety info. I got no tests or certifications, nothing. I was never directly observed by my boss. I had to trust the lab manager (he taught me well) and my boss had to trust that the lab manager and other lab members were doing their share of teaching me the ropes. I never questioned why the boss never met with me and gave me a lecture on all the possible dangers I faced in the lab. I just went and did. You can say, but 27, you’re supposed to be independent or at least on your way to becoming a responsible, independent investigator … you should have done your work and asked questions. Sure, dump all the responsibility on the newbie.
As a postdoc, I got a 3hr training on an instrument with the boss, then everything else was left up to me to figure out and if in doubt, talk to the lab manager.
By the time I arrived in NYC I didn’t fear a LN2 spill, but I did fear leaving a vessel open and having the N displace the O and suffocate me or my labbies. I wanted to know how to dispose of chemicals properly. I got a test by the FDNY and got certified. Before that, I couldn’t stay in a lab alone, even if my job titled said manager (it didn’t, thankfully). I had to pass this info to my users and to new lab members. I needed to learn to not mix the wrong kinds of chemicals, of controlling fires and different types of spills. And of not overturning equipment and have it crush me.
Now, as a lab manager, I’m entrusted with doing safety trainings to new users, and retrain old ones if I see that things aren’t right. I watch over them and must assume that all times they’re as ignorant as I was 10 years ago. I haven’t been designated a safety officer … but by default, my bosses trust me with imparting this knowledge to a new crop of grad students and trainees. I’ve done my share of pretty stupid things, and I make sure to mention that to my students, as a cautionary tale. I don’t want them to have burnt fingertips, or splash nasty solutions, or let alone, dispose of something down the drain that shouldn’t. Thankfully I have a few levels of supervision above me and one of them sees what I do after I prepare and SOP or user manual and gives me feedback on how to do things better/safer or the rationale behind those procedures.
I realize, with this whole Harran business, that if someone was to get injured under my care, I’d be the one on the hanger for it. Sure, my bosses may get a reprimand, but if someone dies, is maimed or something explodes or causes a fire, I’m the first line of defense. And that is scary. Because just a decade ago I was a naive student, an idiot who barely knew how to plate and who’s now in charge of peoples’ lives.
It is something I don’t take lightly. Ever. I want my users to be responsible, to be cautious, to do research and still be able to reproduce and have healthy offspring. I want my lab to be funded. But should I carry all the burden of safety and education and GMPs because we’re created this culture where not many PIs are directly responsible for their trainees? This smells a bit like the GM car recall.
I honestly wish Harran had been sent to prison, even if only for a few years. Maybe that would have forced us all to have the uncomfortable discussion of safety, and make sure that our bosses and lab managers, and RAs/TAs and other lab personnel are all on the same page with regards to safety, PPE and who’s responsible for what. Mentorship, for me at least, is not only about churning data, learning to write grants and acquire other skills, it should be about passing good safety and lab policies and training well new generations. It’s about making sure we don’t have dirty hoods, filled to the brim with solutions and reagents that are not compatible. It’s about taking time and making sure we’re good stewards of and for science. How many Sheri Shanji’s will it take to have the Harran’s of the world realize that lab safety is important? And that mentorship isn’t just about admitting people in the lab or checking data integrity or writing money or taking endowed chair positions. Being a responsible mentor means taking care of the whole ship, and that even when you delegate, you still maintain contact with people under your guidance so as to ensure that safety protocols are followed, that certifications are valid, and that all lab operations are up to code. A life cut too short is at least worth that.
It’s been forever since I last wrote something.
Ever since the incident with my boss, I’ve been keeping busy and making sure that everything I do is well documented, so as to avoid getting k3rned by them.
But something that a friend posted today reignited all those feelings of frustration. See here:
My boss is superb at de-motivating me. He knows exactly the things to say & do to show he thinks I'm incompetent, so why do my job?—
Adrienne (@fiainros) June 03, 2014
Seriously, if I'm as incompetent as he apparently thinks, I need to be fired. Luckily, his boss doesn't feel the same way.—
Adrienne (@fiainros) June 03, 2014
Therefore, I'm not at risk of losing my job. However, it also doesn't keep me happy in my job either to work for someone like that.—
Adrienne (@fiainros) June 03, 2014
The lovely fianinros wrote what I couldn’t very well articulate back in April. See, I’d been given the impression that I was doing things right, keeping the boat afloat and then when I got feedback from my department, my boss had all these complaints about me and my work. I felt like I’d been stabbed in the back and I felt like I was out of breath for a week. It’s was terrible. Then, during a meeting last week, the darned PI took credit for something I’d remarked a month before! I mean, seriously. It wasn’t a big deal (the type of info they informally took credit for), but I felt like I’d been stepped on, yet again. See, this is one of the things we get when we’re staff scientists or research associates, sometimes we have to put our head down and keep going despite having the air taken out of our lungs by the actions of our superiors.
Someone asked on Twitter why we weren’t looking for another job.
It’s a multi-pronged situation, you see. I haven’t been here long enough to make a mark. I’ve already been in a situation where publications didn’t come out of my efforts (ie, the postdoc from hell). Despite what some may thing, publications, even if you’re the 17th author, are still currency for staff scientists. Not only that, but because I’ve moved on to bigger and “better” things, there are certain milestones I would like to accomplish that I hope will give me more leverage to negotiate a better offer in the future. I’m going to a conference in the fall and I’m hoping that by that time there will be papers out (or at least submitted) that I can use to attract some attention and put out feelers and see if I happen to land somewhere else. So for now my strategy is to keep my head down, be the obedient, submissive sweetheart I can be and slowly plan my exit. In addition, there aren’t that many jobs out there as there were when I got this one, and this one came because a former committee member of mine saw the opening, contacted other faculty and said “hey, let’s see if she’s willing to relocate.” Said former member of my committee knew the types of experiments I was able to perform, but was/is far too removed from the field to truly get a deep understanding of the technical challenges involved in it. I feel a bit bad about leaving this person hanging … but they don’t know all the drama involved in being a staff sci.
It has been frustrating to hit myself against the walls of people who think they are too big, or too perfect, to do anything wrong. And sadly, I’ve developed a taste for proving them wrong but being a bit … confrontational about showing them where they messed up.
We had a PM done in one instrument recently and while talking with the service person about the challenges of being at the helm (for only some things) of a lab, he casually mentioned that I should totes apply for a job in his company. But his company doesn’t have any openings and the two geographical areas where the company has plants are too far from anywhere I’d like to be.
But, I keep, we keep, moving forward despite facing challenges and even sexism at times, because we love the research. Isn’t that what all PIs have to do when dealing with admin BS, or institutional stupidity?
I am committed to my job, mostly because of future prospects. But it is disheartening to encounter attitudes that extinguish your fire for a field one loves. Yes, people are difficult to deal with .. but honestly, it shouldn’t be this complicated.
I just found out today that, in more ways than I thought, I’m the token latina at work. I’m still in shocked and confused. I’m very disappointed, at being silly enough to think that at some point in my life I’d stop being looked at as more than a token. I need to think a bit more about this, but with cuts happening left and right, my job may be in jeopardy even with the token latina tag on me. I know a lot of this doesn’t make sense. Like I said, I’m still processing things. I learned many things today about one of the people high above me and it has a direct impact on me. I’m not sure how to handle it. All I can say is that it became clear that if I do not conform to being more “American” and less uppity, I’m getting canned, and fast. I’ve been deep in thought since the news this morning (try getting that instead of a good morning when you first come into the lab). That, plus some family problems, and my poor hubby’s bad luck on the job front, have made me realize that perhaps I haven’t deviated as much as I’d hoped for from academia. That whatever love and respect I had for my institution and some of the heads above, is be forever lost. To the point that I’m finally ready to accept that my link with academia may be severed for good. And that I don’t need to be deep in academic research to be of value and to feel like I have value to myself and to the society at large. My job and what I’ve done in the last 10 years cannot define me. And I have a year or less to make peace with it. And I may be facing economic hardship by this time next year. And while I had lots of fears and doubt about what I would do, I am not my job, I am not my publications, I am so much more than that. It is sad the way things have transpired, how things have changed in just a few hours. It saddens me, but my mental well being and my ability to take care of my family, without being judged, without invoking the token latina tag, take precedence over my job. I am not made for academia, and the news this morning only served to cement that knowledge.
Finally, I may at some point close the shop here and on the Twitts. I love you all very much, but I am tired. I am tired of a system that sees in me $$ signs, and that the moment I raise my voice, or say ‘hey, this is not fair’ the “safety” of my job is threatened. That is not kosher with me. Forgive me if I’m silent … I’m not brave enough to call bullshit and out people for being unfair. What I fear is that the women behind me, the younger generations, will see me as a quitter, not as someone who stood up for injustice. I’m sorry. I’m just not powerful enough, american enough, and brave enough to make a statement. It’s bad when the ripples of doubt finally hit you. I’m sorry.
So, over the weekend, the much beloved Ed Yong tweeted this. That’s why we don’t put people on pedestals. Undoubtedly, they always end up falling (remember Borazgate?).
I want to take a few minutes and write to Ed, and to however out there reads me. I may be considered a failure. If I was being judge by the standards of 2003, when I entered grad school, I’d be (or am) a total failure in science. A waste of a PhD. Why? Because I’m not a tenure-track professor, or at least a postdoc on her way to PIdom. I am a lowly lab manager.
In 2001, after finishing an internship, I took Physics 101. I hated every second of it. Physics didn’t make any sense. And I was pretty sure I was going to grad school to do a PhD in mol bio or biochem. Truly, physics would be useless for those two, right? I got a B, and I hated the class. Plus the prof was a misogynistic ass who was always being accused of harassment, but was never actually prosecuted. Every time I went into his office, I cringed. Luckily for me, I was not his type. I was not blonde, I was average and had short hair. Lucky me. When physics part deux came about, I hated it even more. Optics? Magnetism? What in the world? I got a D. I had to take it again. I aced it. I don’t know how, probably it was because the prof was young, knew what he was talking about and was enthusiastic about teaching physics. He helped me achieve the impossible, enjoying physics. But still, I was pretty sure physics were useless and I’d be a damned biologist for the rest of my days. Oh ignorance is bliss.
Come 2004, after finishing all my rotations, and I ended up doing 3 of them in a biochem and biophysics department. I joined what could be considered an applied biophysics lab (VERY broadly speaking) and off I went. I failed my qualifying exam. I eventually passed it. Oh, and physics was pretty important here. I sucked at my defense (or at least that’s how I felt). I went to do a failed postdoc in biochemistry. I went back to my field of study and joining a lab as a staff scientist. I was most definitely out of the tenure track for good. And I was (am) to this day, eternally grateful that I got out.
I’m not smart enough or clever enough to write grants. I suck at reviewing papers, and I still suck at discussing them (unless they’re in a subset of very specific techniques and even then, some of them go way above my head). But I am good at collecting data. I’ve kept a lab running, and people doing for over a year. And I am enjoying it. I’m trying to learn a lot of things that I only skimmed when I was student, thinking that I wouldn’t stay in the field for long and that there was no use learning stuff I’d soon forget.
I just had my first year review and it went well, considering some of the obstacles I’ve faced throughout my first year as a lab manager. I still consider myself a pretty dumb biophysicist. I still roll my eyes when I see derivatives and currents and all that stuff. I still don’t understand much of the math. But I understand well enough how to collect the data, process it and prettify it make a compelling story, a story that helps my PIs craft scientific poetry around it, and make it a storybook.
I am happy and fulfilled with what I do now. I don’t know if or how long I’ll do it. But I am happy knowing that I’ll never be a PI. I was never interested in being one to begin with. And it took me a LONG time to open up to people and show them my true colours. I’m still in academia, but at the fringes. I have a PhD, and I could very well try my luck at being a PI, but I don’t want to. I don’t feel like putting myself through that. I’m happy being in a supportive role, to PIs, to students and postdocs. I still get my chance at mentoring them a bit, and that is OK with me. And I teach them, one-on-one, my favourite form of learning.
By old standards I may be a failure. But since I’m content with what I do and the TT was never my dream, I ask you Ed, am I really a failure?