27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: March 2011

3 not 2

It’s 3 job prospects that fell through in a matter of 24 hrs. One due to bureaucracy and 2 because there are always better candidates out there. This does not take into account the previous prospects of back home, which were 2. So 5 in total.

I’m trying to keep in mind that I wasn’t meant to be at those places, but it still stings. I had my own pity party yesterday and will be in a nasty mood for the next couple of days, if not weeks. That’s just how I deal with it.

I know I have to keep applying and keep a positive attitude. But it is fucking hard, and I hate life right now, I hate applying for jobs, I hate putting myself and my CV out there for all the fucking world to judge. I feel like fucking curling up into a fucking little ball and giving the fucking finger to all the fucking world. My feelings can be best summarized by the lines from the “When in Rome” move with this Bell chick and Josh Duhamel when she says at the Gugg museum that every time she’s put herself out there and loved someone she’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it always does (I know, tacky … fucking bite me, I don’t care). Well, this fucking cycle of interviews and job applications feels like that and I just can’t handle anymore rejection. I’ve decided to end my research pain by quitting in a few weeks, regardless of whether there’s even a tiny bit of hope for another job. This means that I’ll be jobless. I’ll be prepping my parents, in case I need to go back home as that’s my only contingency plan. Hon is still a student, and his salary is very tiny, as he’s not in the “hard sciences”. He simply can’t cover for me, and since I am an international postdoc, the option of unemployment is … well, not an option. I’m going to try to sell a few things, including my car, to see if I can generate some money to cover my expenses while I look for other options. But like most folks out there looking for a job, the market is bleak. I don’t have any more interviews lined up, only waiting for the answer of the last two places, which I’m not very hopeful of an offer at either place. Thus, I am back to actively looking for a job, but I’m tired and not in the mood, so it will be a slow process.

I may be off for a few days, if not weeks while I focus on finishing and salvaging whatever I can on my postdoc and moving back home if nothing else happens.

Thanks for staying tuned.

PS. Comments are disabled. I really don’t feel like interacting and blogging or answering comments on the blog for the time being. My apologies.

Delicate issue

Dear All:

Thanks again for your continued support. Words cannot describe how your collective wisdom has helped me while this whole process of finding, applying and finally interviewing for jobs has unfolded.

As always, I have questions, and would like to know what are your thoughts regarding a delicate matter. It concerns contacting my interviewers and asking whether or not they’re still interested in me. I don’t know what’s the etiquette here and would love some perspective. Leave a comment, tweet, DM me or shoot me an email, I’d love to know your opinion. So here we go.

When I got accepted to college I had only applied to two schools, both within the same state university system and I was pretty sure I’d get into one of them, and my department/major of choice as I had the grades and the scores to get in. I got accepted into my top choice, which automatically made me unavailable to the second school within the system (some complicated something, which tells the system that I’ve been accepted and took the offer from school #1). When I applied to my first summer internship, I only applied to one school, which luckily said yes. When I applied for my second internship I applied to 3 systems, 2 schools separately and then an umbrella application which covered applications for 5 other schools. When I was accepted at the separate schools I notified my final one by email and I called them second one. I never heard from the umbrella one. And finally, for grad school, I got letters of rejection from 5-6 of the 7-8 schools I applied, and I called the recruiting officer of the one I declined to notify. All the schools and programs had a date set by which to send acceptance letters and such, and all were very similar, so I felt no pressure to tell a school to hold their breath until I got an offer from another school. I’ve never had to deal with negotiation, and pulling strings and complicated things to tell a school or PI to hold their horses until I’ve considered all offers. I’ve never really had many offers/options to consider.

But, with this job application cycle things have changed. As I mentioned on my earlier entry, I applied to a total of 5 jobs within my area of expertise and got a call from most of them. I also applied to 60 or so other jobs in more general areas, most outside of my expertise, from computer admin, to editor of this or that, to administrative assistant (for real, I was that desperate to get out of my postdoc), to a whole other number of places which I forget. Needless to say, out of those 60 or so non-PhD or postdoc-related are job apps I got a call for one place soon after applying, but it was just a screening call and never materialized. On this more recent cycle I got calls from 2 schools in the States (one in the South, one in the Midwest), a centre in the Northeast, a patent-something something at my current school, and a job in the arctic, near Rainbow Lake, AB (it exists, for realz peeps; no, I’m not going to RL, but it’s darn close to it). Soooooo. Rainbow Lake place has made a very tempting offer. I normally wouldn’t even consider the other two places … but I am. It may be my ego or my 6th sense at play, or both, I don’t know. Or maybe that’s just how I’m wired. Partly because I’m a coward that in some way wants to go back to the familiarity of the US and partly because … well, Rainbow Lake is in the arctic I have my doubts about accepting this offer, or saying yes without factoring in the other two places … if there’s anything to factor. There’s a shit-load of snow at Rainbow Lake and y’all know how much snow et moi don’t get along. Although it’s in the Taiga, it’s supposed to be drier than it is here, and they have both good and bad winters. I’ve been searching everything and anything about this place, and honestly, it looks amazing, and I can picture hon and I living there. I think I’d like it there. It’s not as glam as the location in the Northeast and of course it would take me forever to get to see my family, especially during the holidays. The locations where I interviewed in person (the South and Northeast locations, S and NE respectively) were very nice, and good, solid science is done there … but I did notice a couple of things which worried me a bit, including one of the PIs.

Like I said, I normally wouldn’t hesitate in saying yes to Rainbow Lake, but it’s so far away that I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the idea of driving or taking a plane (or multiple planes) there. It would be similar if I moved to the South again … so that’s one of the less than glam parts of the issue.

But the real issue is that Rainbow Lake wanted an answer last Friday. I had interviewed with them the week I left for S, and I thought I’d done terrible … but aparently it was just my glass half empty mentality. I was able to squeeze in a few more days, hoping that I’d hear something from S or NE locations. I know that NE PI said that they’d take their sweet little time to let me know, and S said I’d have a definite answer by last Friday … still no email or call from them. So, my question dear reader/follower is … do I check in with NE and S PIs and tell them or ask them what’s the deal? If so, how should I go about it? Though I loved each of the 3 strong contenders (RL, NE and S) I’m considering, I only have a solid offer from RL. Is this even an issue? I’d honestly hate to wait forever, lose my chance with the RL group and miss out just because I decided to wait. On the other hand, I don’t want to be rude to S or NE PI … but I don’t know how to approach the subject, if it needs to be approached at all. I don’t know what’s the etiquette and I’d hate making a fool out of myself. I guess my main question is, if I decide to contact each PI and say, hey RL super awesome group of X has an offer … a) how do I let them know that and b) how do I ask if I still have a real chance with them without sounding like an idiot? South PI had mentioned in passing that they had another good candidate, so there was a chance I wouldn’t get a call as first choice, but I’m a bit bummed that they didn’t even contacted me to say, hey, we’re giving candidate #1 the chance, but you’re candidate # 2, or there really isn’t a chance you’ll get the offer. I suck at being assertive, and I’d hate to make a fool out of myself, but again, I’d like to have a really clear picture of what are my options, if I have more than one, and make a decision with as much information as I can. I honestly don’t know if the southern position, location-wise, would be my top choice.  Instrumentation-wise, the NE position would be even better, and I wouldn’t have to prepare any samples, at all (which is a plus in Rainbow Lake also and has me day dreaming about not having to do yet another purification!!!) … but, the PI and one of the higher-ups could become sore spots and NE …

So dear reader, I ask: should I get in contact with the other PIs and ask point-blank, but delicately, what are my chances, or if I even have a chance of getting an offer from them? Should I interpret their silence as them not being really interested in me as choice #1, and I’m more of choice #2, 3 or 4? If it’s OK to ask them, what would be the professional way to go about it? As you can see, I am a complete mess when it comes to this. I can totally kick ass with presentations, writing letters, CV … basically everything pre and during an interview … but when it comes to after-interview manners and situations, I become a moron and my PhD goes down the drain.

I appreciate any and all input and suggestions. I promise to update on my choice of words and final choice in the coming weeks, as things unfold. Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂

I’m back

Somewhat. I was finally able to sleep until almost noon on Caturday. After a month of waking up, every weekend to read, read, ask questions, prepare presentations and worry, ad nauseam, about interviews, I can finally sit back an breathe, and not worry that I’ll be gone for half a week and that again I’ll have to switch my time for this or that experiment. I’m not complaining about having interviews, it’s just that the schedule of said interviews has made me crazy for the last few weeks.

I had a wonderful time at the two places where I had physical interviews. I also had fun at one of the phone interviews I had, and the second one was a bit … boring, but pleasant.

On to the point. As regular readers and tweeps know, I’ve been looking for a staff position in my former field of study. The many frustrations of my current position (postdoc) and some of the comments from one of my coworkers, along with the fact that I just don’t enjoy this much snow have been instrumental in the job search. I also have the two body problem. It’s no secret that hon prefers Canada to the US. I have to say that if it wasn’t for the fact that I just don’t enjoy my job, I’d probably prefer Canada over the US. Canada has been very welcoming, and I like the way science if done here. Also, this much snow makes me stabby. So, some of the jobs I applied to in my former field, or a close approximation to it, were in Canada. It seems as though Ontario, where I currently live, doesn’t have many of these positions. I would have loved a job in Toronto, or even Ottawa. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Here’s a summary, with some details, of where I’ve interviewed and what’s happening with that.

The only solid offer I have is from a very, very important place in another province. The problem is that it is far away from major cities and it’s very close to the arctic, meaning, I wouldn’t get rid of snow … which is quite frustrating. The job also opens competitions for the position I’ve been offered, so there’s no guarantee I’d be able to keep the job after the 1st year. There is room to grow, so there’s a chance to move up the ladder too. People publish (usually in technical journals) and attend conferences regularly. And they’re going into more biological problems, which is why they want to bring me in. It would take me a day (at the very least) to get to see my family, since there are no direct flights from there to where my family lives … which is quite frustrating. But I’d have killer health insurance, access to major research institutions, and would serve a variety of clients, and I could probably develop my own methods, since none of the peeps in said lab know biology. Which could also be problematic, since they don’t do the exact approach I became an expert in and I don’t know whether the PI would be open to challenges posed by me if something is far away from what he and his lab know and do. There’s a lot to consider. I’d totally say yes without a doubt … if it wasn’t near Santa Claus’s house.

Position #2, to which no offer has been made, is back in the US. Of all the PIs I talked to, this PI was the best (or at least it seemed to me that way). Said PI reminded me of my grad school PI, but even more fun …. which I never thought would happen. This PI has a huge lab, divided into 3 major projects. I was interviewing for a staff/manager position. But, I have zilch managerial experience. They’ve interviewed 2 other people in addition to me, and I’m the only girl they’ve interviewed. But, I overheard someone saying that one of the other applicants has a lot of managerial experience, which places him way ahead of me. My only advantage, I think, is that the problems I studied during my PhD are very similar to the main project they’re trying to develop locally (they have a collaborator in another state). During my job talk the PI kept asking me really great questions about stuff they were trying to answer in the lab, which I kept answering like it was nobody’s business, and the PI kept pointing this out to the committee, how I was an expert in all these things they’re looking to answer. But, like I said, somebody else has experience in the techniques AND managerial experience too. I think I also identified someone who could be a potential source of discomfort (I’m amazed at how people seem to show their true colours when you’re not interviewing as a trainee anymore) … which may be hard to work around. The answer regarding who gets the position is happening soon. I’m not so positive …. but chances are that if the PI liked me as much as I think they did I may get an offer for an associate something, something, which will be more like a postdoc, but with better pay and benefits. PI said that their lab was very adamant about making sure that people in such positions were paid fair and square and that they know postdocs get paid and treated like shit (their words), so they’d be changing the position to non-postdoc research something to accomodate me, if I wanted … but then again, I didn’t get a formal offer. We’ll see. Also, this would be the closest I could ever be to my family out of all the 4 ones I’ve interviewed.

Position #3 is in the midwest. This was the phone interview that was kinda boring. It’s more of a technical position, and it is for a lab that is mostly into material sciences but is hoping to beef up the biological side. This one pays the least, but it’s in a really good place. I’m not so sure what to think of this one.

And position #4 is where I’ve always wanted to live for a really long time. I love this city, and it’s also a close ride to where my family lives. The people who work in the particular division I applied to are few and seem to get along well. They’re understaffed, so there’s a definite need for hands and experts. The PI is the one I called fancy-pants PI in my tweets. This is the person I couldn’t read for the life of me. I didn’t know if he hated me or if it was just the way he was. I met him and he was very pleasant. These people have dumped some serious money on equipment. I met with a few PIs who work in different areas, different problems and different instrumentation. All of it very kick ass. Data that is generated here normally goes to Glamor-Magazine-type journos, though it doesn’t always means that I would be the first author. The job would align pretty closely to what I know how to do and consider myself well-read in. People usually don’t get too attached to their projects, since some are very transitory. People tend to stay for many years, and they seem happy …. meaning, that this position would provide me with the stability I’m yearning for. Even when I met the PI face to face I couldn’t tell whether he liked me or whether he’s just shy … or Sheldon-like. In some ways he reminds me of my postdoc PI … and I’m not sure if that’s what I need right now. But, I was told he’s very involved in the projects. He runs other labs, including an academic one. People attend conferences and publish regularly and attend courses to improve and learn methods. But … I don’t know what to expect. Since I couldn’t really “read” the PI I don’t know whether he liked me, and whether he thinks I’m a good fit. I seemed to get along with the group, and in some ways it felt like some of us were old friends. I think that’s good. But, then again, it could all be a facade and a fake. I think I also identified a potential source of trouble … a lot of trouble, which I’m not sure the PI could ever remedy, since this person may be higher up than he is. People here were very candid, which I found reassuring because I’d hate to have it all painted in the warmest, nicest light, only to find out it is all shit. And I know two former members of this facility, both of which seem to praise their former place of work.

In conclusion, I’m just holding on, praying, asking all the questions I can to find out what’s life at all these places. I would truly hate not making a good decision, for me, my career, hon and the family. There are many, many factors to consider.,

For now it looks like I have hope. I told the current boss how things have been going and he’s been giving me advice and ideas of what to consider and ask …. it feels like I finally found the caring mentor I was yearning for. Maybe I was wrong all along, and it should have been me pursuing his advance, rather than waiting to see if he was interested in me. Who knows. I’m (hopefully) heading towards the end of this run and maybe the wisdom and hindsight of the years will help me see things under a different light and appreciate all the lessons I’ve been given while doing this postdoc. For now I have hope. Hope that even though time has passed I can, maybe, make a comeback to my former field of study and feel productive once again.

I’ll keep you posted. But now, I have to return to my experiments. Cheers!

Letter to my young self

Thanks to biochembelle I learned about this. Go check it out. I’ll be waiting for you. GO!!! Now take a moment and write a letter to your younger self and, if you can, submit it for this year, if not, keep it safe until next year. Ready to read my letter? Good.

Since I am in the middle of a very intense job search I won’t give too many specifics of my current life, but I’ll do my best to give you a general sense of who I am, who I was at 13 and where I’ve come.

Dear 13 and not a PhD:

This year many changes will happen. You will lose some amazing people in your life. You’ll make it. You’ll be OK. It will be hard not to have their physical support, but they will be a guiding light and a constant presence in your life and studies.

You have just watched a movie about doctors and surgeons and you’ll want to become one for a number of years, up until you do some research and listen to a very wise biology professor. Listen to her … one day you’ll be thankful. Also, even though you didn’t become a surgeon your favourite system is still the cardiovascular. You’ll become a scientist … a SCIENTIST. Like those smart people mentioned in your biology books.

So, onto the goodies. In 1999 you will be one of the first students selected to attend the same school as your grandpa did back in the firty years before you. Mom will cry (as usual) when this amazing thing happens. You will think about grandpa on your first day of school. You will remember granny too on your graduation day. You will miss them, but somehow you’ll be extremely happy for their support. You will have tons of people remind you that said school is not easy, and that even though your GPA is good it will be no match for the school. They’ll say not to get discouraged if you fail precalc or calc or chemistry, it’s normal for them and others. Don’t be cocky … these courses will make you sweat and fight tooth and nail, but you WILL make it. And you will pass most of your classes on the first try. You will graduate in 4 years and will go on to a very pretty university in the southern US where you’ll spend some of the most challenging and trying times. You will come out an expert in one of the disciplines of structural biology. It is beautiful. You’ll see.

Some of your friends will move on, move away and carve a niche for themselves and their passion. So will you. Don’t judge them too hard. Don’t be too shy when you try to contact them. They will remember you fondly.

Pay attention to your chemistry, calculus and physics courses. They are extremely important for your career. You’ll wish you could go back and pay attention to everything your profs taught you. But it’s OK, you’ll develop the capacity to teach yourself well. You will serve as an inspiration to a friend you once had jealousy feelings towards. These emotions are normal, but you’ll overcome them and when you learn you were an inspiration you will cry a little. She will be a rock and an inspiration to you. A bit of a competitive spirit is good … but don’t let it get to your head.

Even though it may not seem that way, your humanities and social sciences courses will be amazing. Sure, the names of the classes sound boring, but remember the meaning and root of the word university, you are there to become a well-rounded student, to challenge views and form an opinion. And you know what? Remember that passion for Greek mythology you had in high school, when you’d absorb yourself in those books to lands far, far away? That’s how your humanities class will start! It will be amazing. You still haven’t visited Greece …. but I’m sure you will someday.

Attend every public lecture on all topics related to your passions. Learn to take out time for yourself, and it will help you get rid of some of the stress associated with excelling at everything. It is OK to fail, it is OK to fall down. You just need to stand up tall and give it your best. Independent films are good, auditing classes is great. Explore your resources and take advantage of them.

You will develop a passion for editing and helping people craft beautiful stories, papers and even resumes. It is a talent of yours to share. Update your resume often, and you will be amazed at everything you’ve accomplished when you’re applying for that fellowship. You will not get it, but the experience will be great. You will look back at everyone who’s been a source of inspiration and encouragement. You have done wonderful things, but it’s also been a team effort. Acknowledge that and be thankful. Always be thankful.

You will fail your qualifying exam in grad school. It is perfectly fine. You will take it again and the committee won’t need to deliberate long to decide that you shall pass. They will hug you. It will be amazing. You will write about it, and inspire people to take a second chance and excel.

One day you’ll do a report in college which will have deal with a parasite you find fascinating. Less than a year later, during a summer internship, you’ll learn about a technique that is instrumental for studying that parasite. A year after that you will join a group, which you had no idea even existed, that studies said parasite with said technique. You will learn how to control exquisite techniques and equipment to study it. You will be amazed and ever grateful for joining that group. Did you know that your work will be on covers of scientific magazines? YES! It will be amazing, and humbling. Soak it up like a sponge, like every piece of knowledge that passes your way.

You’ll face a lot of challenges, you will be judged hard by peers and unknowns alike. But you will make it. It’s OK to cry.You will help, in a small way, to give science a more human face. And people will be thankful for that.

Finally, you will travel and enjoy life. But don’t take yourself so seriously all the time. Life is a balance of work and play. Don’t judge yourself too harsh and don’t always take no for the final answer.You will still love Super Mario Bros 16 years after, enjoy ;-).



Dr 29 is proud of her hispanic heritage and her love for science currently living in Canada. She completed a bachelor’s of science in general biology in 2003 and a PhD in structural biology in 2009. She’s learned to love and respect supporting roles in science and non-academic careers for PhDs, and is currently exploring staff positions in her former field of study. She’s a proud daughter, new auntie, sister, girlfriend and scientist.