27 and a PhD

Home » Grad school » Doesn’t matter how far you go, you’re still an ugly duckling

Doesn’t matter how far you go, you’re still an ugly duckling

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.


November 2010
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As I write this entry many thoughts come to my head, many memories too. When I was little, besides getting into trouble with my sis, dismembering my Barbies, and wanting guns and cool science equipment for Xmas, I also liked reading and colouring. I just remembered this because one of my favourite books was The Ugly Duckling. I remember going to a Walgreens with my fave aunt when I was 4 or 5, and getting a few story books from Disney. They had the classic stories, and more than anything, I loved the drawings. I would spend hours on end looking at the drawings, imagining that I was capable of drawing Cinderella’s beautiful dress, and the prince’s perfectly nordic nose. Or how when I grew up I’d draw the wind waves coming from the 3 Little Pigs big bad wolf’s mouth. Overall, my favourite one was The Ugly Duckling … I don’t know why since I hate ducks now (the taste, yuck) but every time I read that story I felt connected to it.

Let me give you some background. I’m the first-born grandkid on my dad’s side of the family. There are 5 of us (my sister, my 3 cousins and I) …, on my mom’s side there are a gazillion cousins. I mostly interacted with my dad’s side of the family, as my dear grams was the one that took care of the sis and I when my parents were at work. My grams divorced my grandpa a couple of months before my parents got married. My mom says that my sis and I were a much-needed breath of fresh air on grammy’s life and she made sure that my sis and I were loved, and cared for while our parents worked. She made sure we had the best clothes, shoes and toys. Grammy was always proud of my grades, and she gave me 1$ for helping her pick up the leaves on her backyard every day during the fall (hey, this was the 80’s!), and a couple more if I brought back a school report with straight A’s (which I did, until the year she died … I recovered later, but needless to say, it was tough). But above everything … grammy always made a point of telling me how beautiful she thought I was. I grew up thinking I was a princess, because in her eyes (and in my mom’s eyes) I was the prettiest girl to ever be born.

Then I started in school. I look back at pics of my first school years, and I was a regular cute kid, with my dimple, my natural ringlets, and a desperate want to be friends with everyone. I think back to the fall of 1986 and how I was driving my mom crazy because I wanted to be in school, and play and learn. I was so eager to learn. I’d grown up watching PBS and Sesame Street,  Inspector Gadget. I wanted to do experiments, to solve crimes, to  have work with cool equipment. I wanted to show people how much I was learning. You have to understand … I was in love with the idea of learning, of having my brain absorb everything that was discussed in class, and playing with the toys that all those kids were playing with on TV, in their classrooms.

I quickly made friends … people who literally walked next to me on our high school graduation. Some which even took a couple classes with me in college.

I guess that I felt like any other cute little girl until I was 9 or 10. At that point, I started developing. Pimples were slowly making their appearance,  along with boobs and a fantastic growth spurt that left me with a LOT of stretch marks. I was transforming right before everybody’s eyes … and I could not believe it. Blame it partly on my parents being conservative (prudes), I was never explained how the body changed, or why my face seemed to be as red and rough as the outside of a strawberry.  No really … sometimes my dad would check my cheeks and tell me not to pick on my pimples, he went as far as showing me some of his acne scars from when he was a teenager. Both my parents had pimples, but my mom’s face is lovely and you can’t see a mark. Ok, back to the story … neither my parents nor my closest family members explained to me why this horrific transformation was happening. You can grow hair where? Seriously? And wait, why are my areolas hurting! Fcuk!!! You can’t do that to a future scientist! It’s a sin to not let a child know what these changes will look like, feel like, or at least offer a book to learn about.

Around that point some of my girlfriend’s were starting to notice boys (I hadn’t until they did, I’ve always been clueless). Some were starting to hold hands, and even go on group dates (whilst accompanied by a responsible parent, or older (and cool) relative). I so wanted to be liked by one of the boys at school. I so wanted to be somebody’s girlfriend. But my impending acne-dom had different plans for me. Fast forward to middle school. Acne-dom is here … and it will stay like that for extra few years. Until I convince my parents that I won’t pick or scratch my face, if they take me to a dermatologist who can diagnose why these pimples are SO huge … I’m sure they’re the ones responsible for why I haven’t been kissed, or why boys run away from me, and why I may be perceived as an extrovert …. but it’s all to compensate for the lack of any meaningful relationship with the other sex except for those in my family, which of course doesn’t count. And my desperate want to have a boyfriend like my friends do … I want the attention of the opposite sex … as in NOW!

Accutane makes an appearance and forever changes my life. I look at pictures of me at that time, and I look cute, a bit older than the rest of the kids, but skinny, tanned and cute … and my face is covered in horrible  (purple and pink) cysts that just don’t go away (hence the need for Accutane). When the horrible pimples, cysts and you name it are gone, I start to feel hopeful that with a clear face guys will finally notice me. A few do, but I consider them dorks … the cute, cool jocks do not notice me. At. all.  Since I don’t get noticed I feel depressed … but my beliefs in God, and his mercy tell me to hold on tight, this is going to be a fun ride, if I wait.

I start convincing myself that maybe all I need is to wait a couple extra years until I go to college and then there will be thousands of cute guys, who don’t know me, don’t consider me the friend, the sister, the lovable dork who they grew up with. They won’t know how I looked like before. They will notice my total and awesome hotness.

I’m 18, I start college, I’m a biology major, I’m 130 pounds, best shape of my life, very cute. Yet, for years, I’ve been carrying these million-pound bags of issues and drama that don’t let me enjoy a look, a compliment … I question every look, smile, every guy that approaches me. I’m not beautiful enough.  I don’t feel beautiful enough. The acne is gone, but the scars are there, the physical ones, and the soul ones … and those don’t disappear with time.

Add to that the fact that no matter how much time passes by I remember those words my 8-year old friend said when I got my hair cut  in third grade… “you look like the little mushroom from Super Mario … it looks terrible, put it up in a pony tail, nobody will like you (nobody said anything, just her … she got the same haircut a few days after, but the damage was done and I would put my hair up for most of my childhood, while at school, until I turned 15).” Or the guy in the school yard in 7th grade … the first (and only time) I opened up to say to a guy (boy) that I really liked. I thought he was cute …  and his reply was “I don’t like you, you have the face of a boy.” It didn’t matter how much makeup, girly clothes, flowery this, padded bra that … those don’t erase the words, and worse yet, the impact that they have on me. And how, even at 29, I still carry those words around. Sure, I could forgive and forget … but somehow I can’t.

I remember every rejection, every snarky remark, every comment from the other boys … or how I was always the good friend who took messages back and forth between soon-to-be couples, all the while holding my breath, and sometimes my tears … waiting for a cute boy who would see how beautiful I thought I was … but that never came. It just wasn’t going to happen to me.

It doesn’t matter, that against all odds I get straight A’s and 2 B’s in my first year of college, all while taking a full load of courses. It doesn’t matter that I get to tutor people who are 2, 3 or more years ahead of me in school when we take organic chemistry … it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that a cute, tall, smart guy holds my head in his hands, gives me a sweet kiss and says out loud that he finds me irresistible … all those years of words, looks, actions, come back to me and ruin my moment, or moments. My head tells me it isn’t true, given the fact that nobody had noticed me before. My hopes of ever becoming a swan never became true. I’m still an ugly duckling.

It doesn’t matter that I finish college in the time and manner that many people didn’t expect, because the school I attended is not easy, it is competitive and it is hard to stay put and finish in four years. I run to my next goal, my next mission: grad school. It doesn’t matter that I have half a dozen papers to “prove” that I made it through, or that I get awesome letters of recommendation from people who appreciate me for what I can do, and for the person I am. Those do not compensate for my lack of beauty. I am not pretty, I was cute … I am not anymore. I may have “pretty” periods during which I wear makeup, dress in a cute outfit … but the ghosts of the past always resurface … to help me remember what that boy said in 7th grade, or all the other rejections when I even hinted of liking them, or the list another one made (also in 7th grade) ranking me as the second least pretty girl in class (I saw the list). And when the “uggliest” one left … guest who took her post even if nobody said a word. I was already conditioned to think of myself as an ugly girl.

I yearn to be pretty. I want to be like the ugly duckling, who, when time passes turns into a beautiful, stylish swan that is envied by the truly ugly sisters/brothers. I sounds shallow … I know … heck, I’m a scientist, I know what is shallow and what is consequential …. and no matter how many articles bear my name or my data, no matter the grades I had, or the title I hold … I feel ugly. And those don’t compensate for how ugly I feel … how ugly I think others find me.

Still to this day, 5 years after hon and I kissed for the first time, my eyes look down when he holds my face, kisses my cheeks, my forehead, my lips, and lovingly says that I am beautiful. That I am the most beautiful thing he’s seen. That I’m all his and that when I smile I look like the happiest little flower. It doesn’t matter, because when I see that Kardashian-look-a-like at the mall, or heck, Halle Berry, or whoever is pretty, wearing make up and walking and looking like a million bucks I feel terrible. My soul hurts a little (or a lot).

Make up or no make up, he thinks I’m pretty. Those are they key words, he thinks I’m pretty. I look at the image that’s in front of the mirror … I still see scars, I see a nose that is the trademark of my family (of the men in my family! hence I don’t think I have beautiful androgenous features as Tyra would call them, but really what I have and look is like one of the men in my family, with boobs, and ass and longer hair, or heck! just hair). I see the mouth that doesn’t look like Gisele’s, the hair that has to be styled because it is not perfectly straight, the stretch marks, the sagging breasts … and I think, oh God, I really never turned into the beautiful swan. I remain an ugly duckling. Why is this happening to me? What is so wrong with me that I don’t get the chance to become the swan all my friends turned into? Why … why … why.

I wrote an entry a little while back, about how I felt ugly, and out of style and shapeless. I do feel the same … but the issue is not the clothes … it’s really the image that is reflected in that mirror … that hasn’t changed, that won’t change.

I never did turn into the beautiful swan …. and that’s all I can think about …. that no matter how much I’ve accomplished, I’m still the ugly, unlovable duckling.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by 29 and a PhD, 29 and a PhD. 29 and a PhD said: When being a sort of sucessful scientist doesn't mean a thing … and other issues. I have severe issues tweeps: http://wp.me/pwp2S-c2 […]

  2. Alexandra says:

    Oh, honey, I’m so sad now that I’ve finished reading this…
    Let me tell you something. A girl I went to high school with is now a model (she lives in Australia now). She told me a lot of models have exactly the same kind of thoughts you do. They don’t feel pretty, they’re not perfect, they don’t understand how their boyfriends like them, some hate their bodies, etc.
    I feel like you do sometimes. Most girls do, I think. We all have these moments.
    Then we go and put on some funky nail polish, splurge on a haircut and a facial, buy a flattering dress and some sexy lingerie and we feel better. [when I say “we” I mean “me” ;)]
    Just try doing all the stuff that makes you feel pretty. You deserve some pampering. Your boyfriend loves you and thinks you’re gorgeous, so what if some douche said you look like a boy? I bet he would’ve said that to my model friend as well in 7th grade.

    • Dr. 29 says:

      You are so sweet :-). I do agree that splurging a bit does make me feel better and indeed hon is able to see past whatever comment or stupid thing I’ve been told in the past …. but sometimes those ghosts come back, and I can’t seem to shake them. Or a look or comment from someone in my current life leaves me feeling like I did back then. It’s never anything serious, but a look or joke (not even about me) can leave me feeling like the ugly duckling I feel I’ve been all my life. You are so sweet. Thank you so much for reading and for your words. You’ve made my week 🙂

  3. […] home. Figured out what happened with one of my constructs and why it was being anal … huzzah! But, that cannot take away the feeling of scientific inadequacy. Made a new friend in the department who offers a hand and a shoulder to use if I need to cry or […]

  4. […] know of my struggles to feel competent, to look for a job, to stay or leave academic science, etc. An opportunity has presented […]

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