27 and a PhD

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And it keeps me awake

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.

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Things keep me awake at night. I am sure more than one scientist gets this. Or you’ve had a partner who does. After my defense I thought I’d be able to sleep better. Since I kept working right after my defense (as in, I was back in the lab less than 24 hrs after my defense) I was still carrying the stress from that. And since I only took 7-10 days (or so, I can never do the math right) between grad school and postdoc, I never really got to wind down, go back to ground state, then get back up on the science horse.

Ever since the second of third month of work at my current lab (postdoc lab) my stress levels have been through the roof. Not only did I had to read and learn a gazillion things in a matter of weeks days, and get my hands dirty and …. deal with a ton, I mean, a TON of gossip.

I hadn’t been in the lab for a full  month when I started hearing rumours afternoon after afternoon about who had a beef with whom (and after that it magnified to lengths you would not imagine). Who didn’t like the boss, who worked his/her tail off, yet never got the recognition they deserved, or their 1st or 5th paper published. Or how it seemed as if nobody except the lab’s tech got the boss to expedite things no matter how many time you asked the boss directly to do it. I thought this was normal since I know that when tons of people are put together in close quarters, drama is bound to happen.

What surprised me was how soon it started. How soon I was in all the “juicy” details about how X has a beef with Y, Y is against the whole lab because of a misunderstanding with B, B is the boss’s favourite … and, you catch the drift. Or how this person who was the labs fave for who knows how long is going to come back and take my job, or the other postdoc’s job because he/she knows how to get shit done and all I am is a mess (these are pure speculations from a person in the lab, who I think gets a sick pleasure of telling others what to do with their time, and speculate on how many people will leave/join the group).

For the record, I did inform the boss, in more than one ocassion about my shortcomings, and how I had tried doing some of the basic stuff  they did and it really never really worked. And how I had published papers in a lab that was basically a factory of structures, where other people (techs, or postdocs) made samples, studies them by non-structural methods, and left the structural goodies for us to figure out. I do not hate bench science, I just can’t deal well with it everyday, and the troubleshooting (cloning, transformation, which IMO should be done by the lab’s own tech).

In the midst of all this, several people defended their thesis, and moved on to good paying jobs south of the Canadian border. There was a good amount of shuffling around and now I share my quarters with 2 people, one of  them who I shall refer to from now on as the emotional-terrorist. This person, like I said, not only has time to do his/her experiments, but also has time to tell others what and when to do things, and criticize their work, and guesstimate how long will the boss take to figure out how inadequate we are before we are kicked out (most of the time is just reserved for me). This person phrases the “judgements” as advice, as in, “when such and such were here they got a paper out in less than a year, and they worked day and night and got so much accomplished, you ought to be able to do the same.” To which I reply, I am trying my hardest and best, but it isn’t always easy, especially when you have not touched or seen this equipment/techniques …. ever. This keeps me awake, and causes me to question, at my every waking moment if I’m meant to be a scientist. I also question whether I am being fair and balanced in criticizing the lab when this person is obviously the one that may make me feel as if the whole lab was hating me. It keeps me up at night.

I’m struggling with these feelings of inadequacy, of not belonging, of realizing that I may not be as passionate about science as I once thought I was. That keeps me awake.

The fact that my project is stalled. And that everytime I need to grow something, even after taking all the precautions, it fails, or when it does, my yield is so low it’s barely visible on a chromatogram. This keeps me awake.

The thought that the boss might hate me, and might be/is questioning why the hell did he listen to friend of friend of friend to bring me here … that keeps me awake.

Knowing that my parents are struggling, and because I cannot send them money because I am swamped with my own debts. That keeps me awake.

The thought of being a horrible GF, a terrible partner … it keeps me up. The not being grateful for who I have next to me, and how his sweet eyes meet mine and melt all the crappiness of my day, yet I return this favour by criticizing the lab, and the way it’s managed at every moment. The thought that he might/will leave me because of all this negativity. That fucking keeps me up.

The fact that I let this person in my lab talk shit about how I am not productive, and how the boss has fired others for less …. keeps me awake. You betcha.

The fact that I hate confrontation, and cannot begin to describe the rage it produces in me for not being able to stand up and say that if I had half of this person’s data I would not be blogging mid-afternoon and I’d be applying for several conferences …. that keeps me up. The fact that I hate to ask for help, yet I’ve followed almost every tip that has been given to me by the people who’ve worked on the fringes of my project. That keeps me awake.

Those things and more keep me up. It’s sad, and my body aches for it. All this stress, all these feelings of inadequacy. All of them cause me to feel low and worthless. And to think that I am not made for anything other than what I did before, and nothing else will succeed like what I did before. All this, and more, keeps me up.

The common factor in all this is me. And it makes me feel like a sucky person. Like an incompetent, an idiot, not worth of a job, and only worth of pity and pitiful looks from my co-workers. That …. all that … keeps me up and struggling. This is why I don’t know if quitting and trying my hand at something else will be the answer. And it keeps me awake, and in fear.

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7 Comments

  1. DF says:

    You’ve got to move on. Some post-doc stints just suck. Chalk it up to whatever you want, but give yourself a second chance. Reading between the lines, it is obvious to me you are still in love with structural science. If you don’t like struggling in the trenches with bench work, there are plenty of post-doc positions out there where you can avoid that. Be honest with yourself, be honest with your boss, and tell that emotional terrorist to keep his/her opinion inside. Be respectful, but be firm. Ask your boss for an evaluation. And don’t blame yourself for poor protein expression. I have been witness to two post-docs and one visiting scientist who were not so savvy in the lab and came away from their time with little other than the reference from the boss. If your boss has already formed a bad opinion of you, then you have nothing to lose from leaving now. Start over somewhere else and don’t lose more time pulling your hair out.

  2. Dr. 29 says:

    Thanks for your words. They were exactly what the doctor ordered. I am actively applying for other jobs … and hoping, praying and keeping my fingers crossed that the universe will conspire to get me out ASAP. Thing is, I’m in debt and I can’t just quit …. at least not until something better is put in place. In the meantime, I keep looking. I already know I am not getting a letter of recommendation from this prof. And I am perfectly fine with it.

  3. […] I already told the boss I am actively seeking job, he may not be up to extending my stay … given my lack of passion for what I do. He could, but I fear he won’t. In his credit, I haven’t brought up the possibility […]

  4. […] to the details on how this position came about. As far back as October and November of last year I was very pissed off and tired of the situation in my postdoc lab. I had the […]

  5. […] (of course) and how I got to where I am, and how happy I feel at this time compared to last year. Last year I was feeling so miserable and sorry for myself. I had a job interview back home, and that had me a […]

  6. […] (of course) and how I got to where I am, and how happy I feel at this time compared to last year. Last year I was feeling so miserable and sorry for myself. I had a job interview back home, and that had me a […]

  7. […] (or the fringes). But I’ve said before, (thankfully) my job is not nearly as stressful as the postdoc (or perhaps it is that I simply like doing what I do), so there’s not much to tell job-wise. […]

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