27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Visiting: Family, friends & drama

Hey all! It’s been almost a week since I’ve been home. The BF and I had a 2 hr delay, but made it safe.  I really wanted to get home, eat home food, talk with my parents and sister and see friends. I’ve done a few of those things. And before I left my Canadian home I knew I needed to brace for drama. I’m a liberal, so a few of the reasons for the drama bother me, and yes, I know we must learn to respect other people’s opinions and convictions, but it kills me to see how some of the drama could be avoided if some of the conservative ways of thinking were not there.

My mommy and daddy are VERY conservative. My daddy despises church, my mom goes to it several times a week. Now she’s organizing a retreat and has to call and follow-up on people who supposedly will co-operate with her … but sometimes I think they just lean on her. Also she’s a retiree, and though I know church makes her feel useful, she’s not earning a dime, or at least some sort of physical reward for printing hundreds or documents, follow people up by phone and such. It bothers me too because she’s involved with a very conservative flavour or branch from the church, which in my opinion is giving her an extra (unneeded) headache.

Earlier this year my sister became pregnant. She called me as soon as she found out and she was literally scared of my parent’s reaction. To make the long and painful story short my daddy has embraced the situation and the new baby a LOT better than my mom. My mom went to talk to a priest from church who luckily told her to NOT marry my sis just to cover up circumstances. But I’m sure in the back of her mind, she still wants to try to marry her because a “good” girl should not have a kid out of wedlock. Mommy has times when she cries because my sis just moved in with her boyfriend, and though she’s 10 minutes away my mom totally feels alone (I’ve been trying to tell each side to be a little more understanding, to mediate and to not shun each other from their lives).

This whole situation has opened old wounds in me, things that I thought I had left behind. Also, my faith is in shambles, and sometimes I feel like I don’t care much for the church and even God. I’m pissed off by how conservatives in all branches of all churches had taken bits and pieces of the bible to justify hate, shunning people out of “God’s house” and do many other things that I thought Jesus had said not to do (remember Matthew 25:36 anyone). But this is partly besides the point.

I used to have a real close relationship with my mom. She’s ALWAYS been very supportive of me, and my school decisions. Boyfriend-wise my parents we’re not to keen on my dating many guys (because that’s only done by sluts … something that can be traced to ultra-conservatives views of people in any church). They wanted me to pursue a career (a very progressive thing to do in my view), but to eventually return home and get a job, a good husband and have kids. I’ve done some of those things. I finished my degree, moved to where the man I love lives and works, and hopefully in 2-3 years I’ll be doing a real-intensive job hunt to hopefully work close to everyone, BF included.

That does not piss me. What does is something my mom said the other day. She was saying how many people could or have criticized her in terms of how she’s not accepting of my sis’ decision and her baby because of her religion and mostly her conservative beliefs. I kind of agreed, but didn’t say anything. She then said that her faith in God is what’s kept her afloat. But for a minute I wonder … if she didn’t believe in God but was a moral person (like SO many non-believers who in my opinion are better at adhering to Mat. 25), would she have had such a hard time accepting the baby, or the act that lead to the baby?

The BF and I had an interesting discussion about this. I told him that I firmly believed that if my mom’s conservative “values” and beliefs weren’t there, if she was more chilled out, she might have had a different reaction to my sis’ pregnancy. My BF disagreed, he exposed his points and then the situation changed into why am I so mad at the church and it’s leaders, and why I’m opting out of participating in some sacraments. He said some very valid things (like why a sin of the “flesh” seems to be more frowned upon by some than say … homicide, etc … this goes to the point of why some commandments seemed to be viewed by some as more important than others). And then we both remembered something a few priests have said before, how the most important commandment can be summarized in “Love your God above all and your neighbour as much as you do yourself” … which I think is genius, because if we love our God and love each other the way we are supposed to love ourselves, wouldn’t the following the commandment parts be easier, or accomplished by “default.” We decided to stay true to that “summary” of God’s commandments, because if we do then accepting others won’t be as hard of a job as it’s been, we’ll hopefully tolerate each other more easily, and above all, learn to love God even is those who deliver His message are wrong sometimes.

This is not to say that I’m not pissed at having to deal with the drama. Especially when all I want to do is just watch TV, talk to the parents drama free and enjoy my new nephew.

It scares me (and I told my mom this) that because she’s so consumed on the act that led to the baby’s coming it might just kill her because of all the worry. And I went a step further by suggesting that if she lets her health decline and get all beaten up by this, what’s going to be God’s opinion about her taking care of his temple (her body, the Holy Spirit’s temple). I don’t know if something I’ve said will do any good, if it serve to help her tame her fears and worries …  but it’s not easy, and I’m not sure it will happen, but all I can do it try. And it pisses me off that these toxic thoughts and such are taking over my mom’s head, and that sometimes she might not tell people about my sister because of fear they will judge her (which they will do … now, when she need soup or a lift to the doctor or the hospital, they do not support or help in any way … not very Christian in my book …. remember Mat. 25?).

All in all it’s not been as dramatic as I thought it was going to be, but I’m not sure the storm is over just yet. For now all I can do is try to stay the course, talk to people and hope for the best. I still have almost 13 days left, so I’ll try to make the most of them.

How have your Xmas vacations been? Happy New Year!!

Travelin’ and getting home at insane hours

After many hours waiting at the airport, and a couple of flights later I report that the BF and I are home … each at their parent’s house (we live apart when we’re back for the holidays).

As the day went on different ideas popped into my head regarding what I’d write about each funny, silly or over the top thing that happened. I decided to just write a little bullet list of some of the main happenings of the day:

  • Originally the BF and I were going to drive to the airport, but although my car tires are Ok, the BF had a tiny car accident which scared me enough not to want to drive if the weather got nasty. Although we have not seen too much snow (at most 3-5 inches which has quickly melted) I was a bit hesitant about packing up and paying tons of money on parking, so instead we called a local shuttle service which for about the same amount of money took us to the airport safely and without worries. The downside … since we made the reservations a few days before, the noon departing time was all full, so instead we got out of town 2 hours earlier, which put us at the airport ~6 hrs before the flight.
  • We had an easy time getting to the airport and luckily enough they let us check in then and there, which took care of not having to carry the bags around forever.
  • We had lunch at one of my fave spots at the airport, then settled down to a nice corner to talk, play video games, and watch a movie.
  • We waited, and waited, and waited …..
  • And kept on waiting.
  • Then about 1hr before the departure time and idiot kid decided he’ll look for signal for his crackberry right behind me. I have to say that we were sitting at a corner close to the fate and there were no seats behind us. The stupid idiot decides to just stay there while I’m playing games on the BF’s computer. I was like “hello, you idiot kid, I’ve been here forever and even though this is your gate too that doesn’t give you permission to just barge in, dump all your crap behind my back and have your music blaring at an insane volume.
  • The guy finally took a seat, and since we were close to a power thingie (to plug the laptop) he TOO decided to plug ALL his entertainment gear there … and sat right next to the BF’s seat. I mean, really, you have not learned to give people some space? Couldn’t you use another wall receptacle or something? I’m seriously thinking that I just happen to attract people, that or I’m completely transparent and no one can see me.
  • Anyways, out time to board flight #1 comes … and everything is on time. We board, but since I convinced the BF to get us the cheapest flight possible space is running out of the overhead bins way fast. It’s partly due to the fact that you have to pony up almost 20 USDs to check in your bag (online, in person is almost 30 buckaroos).
  • Everything is good, we go on our flight and a few hours later we get to our destination before home.
  • The second flight was delayed and the stupid airline gets the part of the airport that stinks the most. Seriously, I have a very sensitive nose, and where do we get dumped? In the part that smells like nasty feet and doggie pee.
  • We waited for ~2-3 hours when it’s time to board. Again we run out of over-head space, but since the BF and I are carrying small bags we managed to find a spot … though the flight attendant was a BITCH! Yeah, I get it, thousands of people traveling everyday is a nuisance, but do you have to have an attitude too?
  • After being at the stinky terminal and gate for a few hours now we have to wait some more, because 1/3 of the remaining passengers had a delayed flight at their previous destination and I imagine that the airline is too capitalist and greedy to give them a room for the night, so instead they make the passengers on board wait. Thank goodness we only waited for ~ 30 mins. It just gets nasty to have too many people on top of each other, breathing the same air and then waiting more than you had bargained (or planned for).
  • Finally we are airborne and about 2 hours later we’re home. We are home. Our families come to greet us and my mom and dad hug me and say “welcome Dr. 27 and a PhD” ….. wow, that feels awesome.
  • We drive home after saying goodbye for the night to my lovely honey and we finally get home. My daddy stopped at a local bakery to get me my fave kind of bread and I get home to a warm, clean place, full of Xmas decor, a nice (and twin sized bed, my bed from college) bed, and my diploma.
  • After seeing it I don’t think it’s that small. It says my name (my full name, perfectly spelled), and then it says doctor of philosophy with all the honors and things and stuff. A beautiful end to a crazy and crowded night.

Just this morning a friend phoned me, not knowing I was home already and asked me to join her and another friend for drinks or dinner. I have not decided since the BF and I wanted to go eat at WAY too many places, but I’m sure we’ll figure something out. For now, I bid farewell, and keep enjoying my daily dose of local (and crazy) TV. More to come as the weeks go by 🙂

PS. I forgot to mention, we spend all in all almost an entire day traveling, between shuttles, waiting, flights and delays. But I’m happy to be home once again.

Vacay Time and Other Topics

Hey y’all! Some of my southerness had to come up at some point, ha!

So, today I’m concentrating protein and hopefully freezing it soon in liquid nitrogen (I hope the campus LN2 facility is not closed for the holidays yet). I’ve had a couple of my labmates saying their good-byes and merry X-mas for a day or two, and our next door neighbors brought a card and freshly baked cookies to lift out spirits. I’m concentrating and maybe this might be the last step of purification and storage I’ll do until next year. The BF and I made arrangements for transport to the airport and soon enough we’ll be on our way to see family and old friends. I can’t wait to be home (though I’m sure some drama will happen due to events that occurred earlier in the semester). I’m not sure how much of it I’ll post, but I’m sure I’ll have some disagreements with a few family members. But whatever, eventually things will settle, they always do.  Mmmm, I dunno. But in any case, I may or may not be able to post more frequently than I’ve been doing now. My parents have internet and a PC, but my mom will be using it a lot to do church related things, so bear with me if you don’t see much of me around the blogosphere.

On a slightly different note, I’ve been thinking about a couple of posts I want to write about. I want to finish the “series” I started on what to expect while in grad school, I also have a post planned on undergrads, undergrad research and grad school and relationships in grad school. I may post something about the break, but I don’t want too many specifics so that anonymity is kept and the universe retains its balance.

I probably won’t write again until I’m home, so for now I wish my readers, however few or many you are a safe trip, a safe and calm, and relaxing vacation time. And for those of you who celebrate it, a Merry Christmas. Best wishes and much luck on your last experiments of the year. Ta ta!

Dear postdoc, formerly known as a colleague

Science is supposed to be collegial, cordial, elegant, with manners … Or wait, you probably did not get that memo. Why am I writing this you ask? Well, because you just messed up with my friggin’ paper, my (now) former first author paper. Because this was supposed to be the crowning jewel of my achievements in grad school .. you just had to mess up with it. Thank you very friggin’ much. Not only did the BF had a (tiny) car accident yesterday and I almost had a heart attack when I found out … no, you HAD to make my day, my week, my friggin’ year, by stamping your name on top of the crowning jewel, and belittle it/me too. My friggin’ results that took ONE friggin’ year …. ONE year of my life, away from family, from friends, from people who love me, so I had to stay in grad school (a full year!) finishing it so in the end you would ONLY complain, move on with life and then stamp your name on the paper that I so painstakingly worked for.  You just cut HALF of it, and stepped right over it without acknowledging my efforts, the efforts of my former lab, and possibly mess up a few friendships and collaborations in between. You get to keep most important position in the paper, even though you’ve been done with grad school for a number of years now.

Thank you friggin’ much. Thank you, seriously, for showing me how relevant universities like the all-powerful one where you got your degree from trains people. It reaffirms my opinion of it, of them, and of you. Thank you for showing me the nasty side of publishing, and how to step right over peoples dreams, and work.

Oh, Merry X-mas to you too!

Of independence and being a postdoc

I have to be honest … I’m a follower, not a leader. I have my little “fights” at home, but stay chill, silent when I’m out. Which is probably why I got along so well with my  PI from the PhD, why I was more of a follower, never really taking (or daring to take) the lead of my project. Sure, once I learned how to collect the data and process it I was in my domain, but as far as interpreting data, delving into results, coming to outstanding conclusions, having subaims for an aim, choosing a path or venturing into new territories … I didn’t do those things. Mostly because my PI from grad school was a bit of a micromanaging machine, but also because I was used to being “colonized” by others, from an early age, so I learned to sit silent and still, to follow and not lead. I think that one of the abilities that I left grad school without (or at least with very poor skills in) was the ability to think outside the box, and also to lead my way, and think critically. I can remember many of the conversations my PI from grad school and I had while attending seminars, or while practicing my talks. Even for talks, I was not given too much control over that. I molded my slides and speech according to the boss’s desires … and though sometimes when I got home and told the BF I seemed pissed off, eventually I grew … “comfortable” into that situation. Which I in retrospect was probably not a good thing since now I’m a lab where my opinions not only count, but will dictate largely where my project moves.

Recent events have me thinking about this. My PI comes to me yesterday to talk about how things are going. He’s a bright guy and gives you freedom to do whatever you want as a postdoc (and sometimes even as a grad student, at least from what I’ve seen). While in grad school I consulted with my boss how to do things, which path to take … pretty much everything she approved I did (I also did little tests on ways to process data faster, or that, but nothing too extraordinary). I realize now that this postdoc project is in my own hands. I can mold it and form it whichever way I want … and it’s proving to be a scary thing, because not only am I dealing with a project, topic and technique that are totally new to me … I’ve been given free rein over it. I can do as I see fit … as long as it doesn’t take me forever to do it. And I am scared shitless, mainly because I’ve never been given free rein over anything (scientifically speaking, I’m pretty independent otherwise) … but while I’m guessing I’m supposed to feel happy and free and do as I want … I feel like I still need direction, like a still need a guiding hand … but then I realize I’m not doing a thesis anymore, I’m not a scared grad student who has her boss to take her hand and guide her … I am on my friggin’ own! As I’ve said before, there are over a dozen people in my lab, and I don’t want nor feel the need to be observed and scrutinized by a boss every 5 minutes, but I would like to see more structure and/or organization (I’m guessing this is part of why I feel lost in my new environment). Maybe a weekly or biweekly meeting where we lay out on the table the recent events or frustrations of my project would help. I have to say, this is the second lab I go into where lab meetings are suspended just as I’m entering the picture. And I guess I’m a bit frustrated by that, because I was used to having, seeing, feeling structure, rules, boxes, categories, whereas now it’s a bit too free, too new, too raw, and too different from how I used to see and do things.

Maybe I just need to get over myself, get a grip, grab the bull by the horns and venture into this without depending (or feeling as dependent) on my boss as I think I should be. I’m really unsure as to whether I want to become a PI  … not just because I feel too lazy or incapable of writing a stupid grant to beg for money, but because I’m afraid of the huge responsibilities this process carries with it. I’m afraid of wanting to be at the top of the game and not being anywhere close to it. I’m afraid of second guessing, of appearing (or being) a complete dumbass even though a diploma, a thesis, several papers and references say I have the 3 little letters following my name, saying I’m capable, that I’m a good, or even great scientist. I’m scared of being a failure, or letting people down, of not being the best scientist and thinker I can be.

I had an “official” meeting with the boss today. We talked about the immediate parts of the project where he’d like to see my attention and efforts focused on. At the same time he expects me to be this independent entity which I feel as if I’d never been properly trained to be … and I cannot hide behind grad school now to vouch for me, or to give me a break from who and where I’m supposed to be. I don’t know how to develop independence in the lab, how to think on my own two feet, judge and have a say if I think a project or technique are completely wrong for the project. And most of all, I feel like I’m back at square one in grad school … but now I have a degree that says I can think and do …. and I may be afraid to use it.  

Anyone out there feeling the same? Scientific blogosphere … have you ever felt like this? Who do you go for guidance?


****After writing this I realized that if I want to see and set some changes and rules I need to take charge of the situation, and I cannot and should not sit on my ass for days without talking to the boss, bounce off ideas and plan the next steps. I need to motivate myself and be/become independent … and it has to happen from within, it’s not fair (and it’s not his job) to expect my boss to do and tell me everything. Change has to start with me.

12 months of change

Following into the footsteps of one of my fave bloggers, I present now a list of cool things …, or just things, that happened during the fabulous 2009 which marked the end of my graduate career … heck! the end of my time in school as a student (oficially; unoficially I’ll never stop being a student and learning). To summarize, here are some of the awesome bits that have made 2009 a great year:

  1. January – came back from a vacay at my parent’s house, in my lovely hometown with my vision settled on finishing the damned thesis. BF and I didn’t get to spend too much time together as he was studying for his version of hell qualifying exams.
  2. February – I think I had a seminar of some sort at the beginning of this month … though my mind is usually nebulous as I had one thing in mind .. well, make it two things which would happen in March.
  3. March – I submitted my application for 2 postdoc interviews, one at a fairly new lab in the field in which I did my PhD, the second one in a lab that has been established for some time but in a completly different topic and technique from the one in which I did my PhD. I nailed one of the interviews and I got the job offer even before I interviewed (at the second lab with the totally unkown technique). Secondly … the reviews from my first author paper came back a month after submitting it, I would only need to wait 2 more months to have it approved and select the date for my thesis defense.
  4. April – Finished up chapter 5 of the thesis, only one more chapter (and the approval of the paper) to poll my thesis committee about defense dates.
  5. May – Got the flu (not the H1N1, thanks), on the same day I think I’m dying because of the coughing, sneezing and pressure on my head my boss calls me to tell me I can schedule the defense whenever the hell I want … the friggin’ paper has been accepted within 3 months of submission and I am finally  getting out! Last but not least, the BF passes his qual .. meaning that he’s well on his way to earn his PhD.
  6. June – Finished writing the thesis, but need many corrections as the last chapter (chapter 4, second thesis aim) is still out of shape … also, polling the committee regarding defense dates yields some uncomfortable results, meaning that I’ll upset a few of them if I want to be out by August. Also … chose the date for the defense by pulling major strings and begging more than a dog.
  7. July – turned 28 (my goal for defending was to do it prior to turning 28); defended, but mommy and BF seemed not to get along very well days before the defense which greatly upsets me. Packed up my things and left for my Canadian adventure.
  8. August – Start in the new lab, realize I have to relearn biochemistry and catch up with years of not doing it. Oh … also we moved twice in a 2 week span … thanks! 
  9. September – got my first paycheck as a postoc …. a-w-e-s-o-m-e. Oh, the boyfriend goes on a school trip and while I plan to clean the apartment, cook him a delicious dinner and be super productive my sister calls me to tell me she’s pregnant … on the same week of my parent’s wedding anniversary. I should mention that said parents are VERY conservative … this move will ensure many, many tears and LOTS of drama just as I’m adjusting to my new job … oh, the joys of having a family many miles away.
  10. October – purifying lots of protein, on my own, using uber-expensive equipment.
  11. November – because the boyfriend is a TA at Big Name Canadian U and because I’m afraid of traveling without him I push him every day to the edge while asking when are we going to buy tickets for our X-mas vacay (he reminds me every time that he has to grade finals and can’t leave until Big Name Canadian U posts exam dates … hate, hate, hate undergrads so much … ok, BNCU for not being efficient). I want to go home and celebrate freedom from grad school.
  12. December – ahhhh, it’s been almost a month since we booked the trip to visit our families. We’ll get home (parents home) at an insanely early time, but hey, we’ll free from school for 3 weeks! Currently purifying tons of protein to stock up for sequencing and future biophysical experiments. I officially have over 70 pages of protein purification profiles, gels and protocols, but really no results to speak for all I’ve been doing during the last few months. This business of being a postdoc is sometimes frustrating … but overall I’m trying to stay positive and remember that it took me almost 6 years to generate a thesis full of lovely drawings, tables and diagrams and I’m still learning in the new lab, so no reasons to be all frustrated … yet.