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What weird place is this?

A few weeks ago I was looking through some old FB posts and noticed a bunch of disgruntled shit from last year (and the year before). I found it amazing how my state of mind has changed since I left the toxic lab.

I’m amazed because I finally have an idea of what it is to be happy, truly happy and fulfilled at work. I enjoy what I do. My colleagues, students and PIs are all top notch scientists. I work with people that are doing some rather cool shit that I had no idea could be done and are merging multiple fields. Even though I have no formal training in some of these areas, I feel at home! I feel like I belong, like I’m not a weirdo. It’s …. so different.

I came across a post from the always wise Dr. Isis that had a link to this gem. That letter took me to a sad place. I had to check the lab to verify that the PI was not the same guy I’d worked with. That guy made my life a living hell … and I let him. And it made be sad, bitter and depressed. I’m still working on forgiving myself for not standing up and running away from the totally toxic environment.

I also thought about what would’ve happened if I’d known beforehand that the toxic PI was a Poo-apprentice (they’re not related and as far as I know have never worked together, but the way they phrased things made me think that they’d worked together). I heard the same spiel at my previous job: how are we going to get published in Nature if you’re working only 55hrs/wk? We’re paying you to help out in the lab (I didn’t belong to that PI, department or discipline, yet he wanted me to work as much as a postdoc, while also running a core facility. I could add many more examples, but basically, if you read that Poo letter, it sounds exactly like my the toxic PI I worked with.

I can’t help but compare and contrast my last two places of work. My previous uni is a world-class institution, with lots of really talented people … but somehow, some people seem to think that because it’s not in California or an Ivy-League, that it’s somehow a shitty place. I’m proud of my scientific upbringing and thankful to every single person that invested their time and money in getting me to where I am. I’ve been extremely lucky, and I say that everywhere I go, everywhere I stand, everywhere I present. I’ve been a very lucky gal, being present in the right place at the right time. Sadly, my previous job wasn’t that. And it’s sad, because the projects that toxic PI works on are super important and have the potential to go from bench to bedside.

I got to talk to my replacement today (my replacement at the old job). The person is super capable and observed lots of interactions, so they know what kind of gloves to wear when handling toxic dude. They seem happy and are doing lots of good work. They’re not shy about reaching out and seeking help or asking questions about how to do stuff. I’m so proud of them and sad that I didn’t get to work with them. Luckily we did interact near the end of my time at the core lab, and we got to run a couple of tests together.

At my current place I feel happy, valued, challenged. I’ve learned so much and have started instituting changes super quickly. I sometimes get paralyzed because I have so much freedom than before. It’s surprising and humbling and amazing, and downright scary. It’s like coming out of an abusive relationship, and not having to ask permission to do things, to move stuff, to buy stuff. I’m not being constantly questioned by a PI and grilled on why I prefer the expensive brand of reagent X when his lab has all the same components and I should just haul ass and prep it there (never mind that buying the thing was approved by my department and it takes a lot less time and money to make .. but whatever, I’m a peon). It feels like my wings had been clipped and hidden for so long that now that they’re physically healed, I can’t get my act together and fly. It’s a slow battle, but like I said before, I have awesome co-workers that push me off the nest every now and then. And my goodness can I soar.

No matter how good a lab/department/university is, no matter how ranked or how many Nature and Science papers get out every year … if the environment that those papers are produced is toxic … to me, it doesn’t matter. Because while a C/N/S paper may look good in writing, if it’s produced in a toxic place it’s not worth the pain. As always, I’m glad I got out. I worry about my former students, and hope and trust they’ll be stronger than I was/am, and don’t fear standing up to the toxic PI. I am also very happy that I am where I am right now.

Celebrating life

Yes, yes. I know that during the last year I’ve started more than a few posts with the words ‘live’, ‘living’, ‘alive’, ‘still here’, etc, etc …

But this is a different alive. This is current me looking back at this time last year and wondering how I didn’t jump off a cliff, how I managed to stay on foot and appear semi-neurotypical, given how nasty things were going in my professional life. I’m thankful for listening to my voice (and the voice of my other half) and seeking help, even when I thought there was nothing wrong with me.

There were many, many things going bad in my life. I just couldn’t feel. I thought I was sane (I was sane, and extremely anxious and depressed), but I was just going through the motions, and I didn’t even realize that! I was a zombie and I was too hurt to even realize it.

Looking back I can see that I’m miles away from that old me. I’m able to feel, able to celebrate, cry, stomp my feet when an instrument is being a jerk. I still have triggering moments … but not having to see the PI that made my life hell on Earth has been quite fantastic. I haven’t had a relapse, and my meds are a bit lower than they were 6 months ago.

I’m able to be who I am, warts and all. People don’t think I’m crazy when I do a happy dance if an experiment works. I troubleshoot with more confidence, and learning doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s fun. I haven’t had this much fun since my 3rd year in grad school (the year I did most of my data collection and trained other labbies) or NYC.

But more than work-related stuff, I feel content with where I am in life. I’m honestly happy with who I am, with what I do, with where I live … I’m really liking this new lease on life. I’m on my way to conquer many small hills that will teach me valuable lessons and contribute to my overall well-being. I signed up for a conference, and I’m preparing a talk for a department (a sales pitch). I am genuinely enjoying life; something I didn’t think possible just 365 days ago.

Be well. It does get better.

Resolutions 2016 – 3 month update

As I mentioned on my previous entry, I think I’m doing pretty decent, resolutions-wise. Without further ado, here are my updates:

  • Two (yes TWO) debts should reach the end of their lives. If you go back to 2011, you’ll see that as I was thinking I was making headway in life and starting a new job, with decent pay, etc. I got the news of my life when it turned out that I was not only saddled with my own debt, but that of a family member for which I’d co-signed a loan. When they lost their job, the lender came after me. I’ve been slowly but surely paying this (I can’t give more details, but suffice it to say, the other option was bankruptcy). A part of that debt should be paid off by this summer!!! And, a debt I’ve been slowly but surely paying off (done exclusively by me, by getting credit cards in grad school that I shouldn’t have) should also meet its end this spring. I can see the end of that tunnel. After that, and with the snowball method that I’ve been following (more religiously during the past 1.5 years), I should be chipping in more money into the next debts in this series. In total, I have 5 accounts/debts on my shoulders, two from my family, 3 of my own doing. I can’t wait for this to happen!!! I’m $278 from finishing my (first of 3) card debt. It feels amazing. Seeing such a “small” number compared to what it was at this time last year ($2450), I can’t believe my eyes. In the last couple of months I’ve done two payments/month, a little one (about $50) and a bigger one ($200). I’m rooting for me and I hope to make that last $278 payment before March 31st!!!!
  • Finish training (and feel confident in teaching) on a new tool in my  lab. I have some really snazzy toys at my current job, some that I’m familiar with, others that I’m not so well versed in. I envision that in the first quarter of 2016, I should be more confident in using one of the snazzy tools. Once I get to that level, I will be put in charge of another piece of equipment that is totes new to me. That is a bit scary but also cool. I am trying to become more independent faster and I hope that within the first 6-7 months here I will prove to be an asset (thus far I’m starting to feel like that). I’m in pretty good shape. I was put in charge of another tool that seems a bit less complicated to use. In addition, I have used 3 other tools in the lab, tools which I’d used as a grad student and have used often-ish in the last two years. The feeling of knowing the tools, collecting data and teaching students how to collect their own data is amazing. Hopefully I’ll master this second tool ASAP and I’ll start getting requests from outside users.
  • Get a good (if not great) review …. and perhaps a raise. There was both a freeze in hiring and salaries at my previous job and so, I was not given a raise. But before that, when I was in NYC, I did get a raise (~4%, which looks to be within the norm). I was told that, so long as there’s $$ available, I could get a 2% raise. Now, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but to me, it feels like a fortune .. and it also feels great to have my efforts recognized and valued in some way. I completed my own review … now I’m waiting for my supervisor to meet with me and talk about the goals I set, etc. Typically university-wide reviews happen sometime between mid-April and the start of May, so I should have a better idea as to how I’ve been doing. I feel good about the job, and have had positive interactions with the boss … but I’m cautiously optimistic until I see what he has to say.
  • Attend a conference, or at least a workshop. I had a fellow staff member approach me and remind me that there’s a national meeting on our topic of study … and while it’s in an up and coming city, I wasn’t sure I’d be “allowed” to go .. given that I’m a newbie. But he kindly reminded me that this that this is part of our job and we could be getting new ideas/techniques we could use and expand out repertoire here. In the works!
  • Have a mini emergency fund (ie. $1000) available before the end of the year. I’m $300 away!!
  • Do our taxes ASAP (and find out IF we’re getting a refund). Based on my quick and dirty calculations, we should … but I’m always skeptical until I see the deposit from the IRS. Hon has his W2, I have one of mine … still waiting on the one from my old job … they usually come out around this time of the year … hopefully it won’t get lost like the time it did on its way to Canada! Got all our W2s and did the taxes. We got a small refund, but it was enough to add to my emergency fund and put it closer to the $1000 goal.
  • Go home for Christmas. ‘Nuff said.
  • Appear on a publication, even if just in the acknowledgements section. Always a fave resolution of mine.
  • Get a couch, or at least a recliner … since mine were left behind in the move (boo).

Half a year

I just realized that it has been about half a year since I left my old job and moved to my new one. It feels like a lifetime ago. Last year around this time I was feeling despondent, restless, devalued … and a few weeks after that I’d be diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I look back and see how different things are, how far I’ve come … and I have to pinch myself because I think this is a wonderful dream and when I wake up I’ll be back in my old hell hole.

I’ve been happy for the last 6 months. I never thought I’d say this … but I am happy beyond measure. I’m not being constantly being praised or told how wonderful I am (though I won’t lie, it does happen once every week, I swear) every single hour of the day, but I don’t need it. My one boss consults with me, my other boss (there are always several layers of higher ups when you manage a lab) trusts my abilities … my users like working with  me. Even though I’ve had to learn some new ways of thinking about data, I’ve learned it from students and postdocs that love what they do and don’t mind sharing the knowledge. I have experience with other tools in the lab, and I’ve been able to help outside users get data on those tools. Right now we’re in talks about sending me to a national meeting this year … and did I mention I’ve only been here half a year? Unlike my previous position, I don’t hear people complaining about the place of work. I don’t hear them praise FSM for everything the uni does, but I’ve yet to meet someone that despises this place and wishes it burned to the ground. The interesting thing is that, in terms of national rankings and all that, both places are similar … except my current place is better known than my old one. Perhaps this was partly why my old job felt the way it did, because lots of people lamented that we weren’t a fancy pants ivy league type place. But that is silly because we had great tools, and smart people and wonderful resources.

I’ve assisted some of my old peeps every now and then, but it looks like my dream of leaving the place in good condition for my replacement came true! I wish nothing but the best to my old labbies … even the jerk boss.

I’ve done a lot of local traveling, and been to a couple of cities I used to visit when I was in the East Coast. I am in the East Coast and my town is pretty much a very big blue dot. The place is quiet, but has lovely natural resources around, and major cities (both in the US and Canada) are within a handful of hours from here.

I’ve grown a lot, went down on one of my depression/anxiety meds, have really good benefits and have decent public transportation! I’ve made friends with the building people, and they get stuff done in no time (unlike at my old job). I feel more fulfilled and competent than ever before … and my students and postdocs like me.

I’m  glad I didn’t give up on the dream of being back in the field and becoming a staff scientist (now manager). I really love what I do, and when I’m given the chance to stretch my wings and fly, I do it, and do it with passion and love.

Resolutions 2016

Hi all,

Thanks for sticking around. I know my posts have been very few and super far in between. Mostly it’s because I’m out of the office a bit more these days, and I’m slowly getting my feet wet again with blogging and tweeting.

I was thinking that, if all goes well, I should have some good things happen this year. Thus I wanted to share what I’d like to accomplish in 2016:

  • Two (yes TWO) debts should reach the end of their lives. If you go back to 2011, you’ll see that as I was thinking I was making headway in life and starting a new job, with decent pay, etc. Then I got the news of my life when it turned out that I was not only saddled with my own debt, but that of a family member for which I’d co-signed a loan. When they lost their job, the lender came after me. I’ve been slowly but surely paying this (I can’t give more details, but suffice it to say, the other option was bankruptcy). A part of that debt should be paid off by this summer!!! And, a debt I’ve been slowly but surely paying off (done exclusively by me, by getting credit cards in grad school that I shouldn’t have) should also meet its end this spring. I can see the end of that tunnel. After that, and with the snowball method that I’ve been following (more religiously during the past 1.5 years), I should be chipping in more money into the next debts in this series. In total, I have 5 accounts/debts on my shoulders, two from my family, 3 of my own doing. I can’t wait for this to happen!!!
  • Finish training (and feel confident in teaching) on a new tool in my  lab. I have some really snazzy toys at my current job, some that I’m familiar with, others that I’m not so well versed in. I envision that in the first quarter of 2016, I should be more confident in using one of the snazzy tools. Once I get to that level, I will be put in charge of another piece of equipment that is totes new to me. That is a bit scary but also cool. I am trying to become more independent faster and I hope that within the first 6-7 months here I will prove to be an asset (thus far I’m starting to feel like that).
  • Get a good (if not great) review …. and perhaps a raise. There was both a freeze in hiring and salaries at my previous job and so, I was not given a raise. But before that, when I was in NYC, I did get a raise (~4%, which looks to be within the norm). I was told that, so long as there’s $$ available, I could get a 2% raise. Now, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but to me, it feels like a fortune .. and it also feels great to have my efforts recognized and valued in some way.
  • Attend a conference, or at least a workshop. I had a fellow staff member approach me and remind me that there’s a national meeting on our topic of study … and while it’s in an up and coming city, I wasn’t sure I’d be “allowed” to go .. given that I’m a newbie. But he kindly reminded me that this that this is part of our job and we could be getting new ideas/techniques we could use and expand out repertoire here.
  • Have a mini emergency fund (ie. $1000) available before the end of the year.
  • Do our taxes ASAP (and find out IF we’re getting a refund). Based on my quick and dirty calculations, we should … but I’m always skeptical until I see the deposit from the IRS. Hon has his W2, I have one of mine … still waiting on the one from my old job … they usually come out around this time of the year … hopefully it won’t get lost like the time it did on its way to Canada!
  • Go home for Christmas. ‘Nuff said.
  • Appear on a publication, even if just in the acknowledgements section. Always a fave resolution of mine.
  • Get a couch, or at least a recliner … since mine were left behind in the move (boo).

What would like to achieve by the end of 2016?

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 60,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 22 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

So loooong 2015

2015 was a bad year (I’ll give you time to check out what little blurbs I had time to come up with while finishing the old job and starting the new one). My husband noticed I wasn’t as happy or excited about my job as soon as we got back from winter vacation. I thought it was pure BS. Then my ex boss told me I sucked. And that was all it took for me to go over the edge, emotionally speaking.

I went to EAP (employee assistance program) and got an immediate referral to start therapy and med management. I was able to take a break from the lab and take care of mental health issues. It had been way too long since I’d last seen a therapist and although at the moment I was doing it I felt like it was a lot of BS, turns out lots of things that my therapist (and the group of peeps I joined for group activities) was right. Besides helping jump start my emotional well-being, doing intense therapy, specially with the group taught me empathy … we rarely know the extent of the troubles and issues others have. Even when they smile, they may be experiencing hell inside. Had I not gone through this, I wouldn’t have learned to be a bit more compassionate towards others, and yes, to myself.

Once my emotional health was on its way up, I was able to articulate to my departmental head that in order for me to be an effective manager, I needed to have controlling-asshole boss as far away from me as possible. I spoke with confidence and showed the pattern of emotional manipulation this person was doing and said that things had to change for the good of the lab. Thankfully, the boss listened and he was able to spin things so as to let this person know that since there was going to be a big change above all their heads, I would report directly to the dept boss, instead of the controlling-asshole person. I think it worked well and I was able to spend a few months of bliss with little to no interaction with problem PI.

Then the hubster got a job offer, and my world spun again in a crazy direction. I realized that if the Mr was gone, I wouldn’t really have any ties to the city I was in. And having had a hell of a year up until that point, I decided to apply to jobs in the same area and within a 2hr radius around his area.

The cool thing about having managerial experience is that I got more call backs than ever before. I got calls (and interview offers) from both academy and industry and I ended up going to two of them. One was for a global-type applications position in my area of expertise and the other one is my current position. I wasn’t too excited about the location, even though it was geographically advantageous, but I interviewed any way. Having the 3 years I spent in hell fresh in my mind, I asked as many questions as I could about the management above me, who I’d be reporting to and whether there were layers of people involved. Turns out there are two layers, but only one is in charge of evaluating me. We get along well and for now I feel happy and accomplished. It’s weird to feel happy in a lab. It seems like a foreign concept to me. We’ll see how things progress, but for now, this place makes me feel appreciated.

I don’t have any major resolutions for 2016 other than taking a well deserved vacation somewhere nice (but not too pricey) and master a technique that’s done in the lab I work closely with. I’ve gotten some training, but I need a bit more hands on experience before I’m able to troubleshoot confidently.

I wish you and yours a great 2016! Hopefully you’ll see a bit more of me here and on Twitter.