27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: June 2011

I’m employed, the present (Act 1)

It’s no secret that I’ve been looking for work, and throughout the last couple of weeks I’ve mentioned bits (or tons) regarding a certain position in a cool new city. I’m happy to report that it is now official. I have a job. Though I’ve been carrying a letter bearing my name, a certain 5-digit figure and info regarding this position … it simply didn’t feel real until I had my papers signed and an ID with my name and picture on it. I have a job, it’s a real job, not another training position. It’s loosely academic, in the sense that I will work with a sort of core lab, serving various users. People at this place expect a couple of years worth of commitment. I’ll have an annual evaluation, a retirement account, health coverage, personal days off and some vacation time (not as much as I’d like, but it’s negotiable). I’m very happy career-wise. This position closely aligns with my grad school training and career interests. As far as I can tell, my labmates are very nice people, and I’m part of a small group, which increases in size upon meeting with collaborators and other interested parties. Small groups are my thing. I’m happy because I’ll be working again with Linux (yeepee!!!!) and with some kick-ass instrumentation. The group goes to a national/society meeting every year (or so I’ve been told), and there’s a possibility that I’ll be part of some search committees in the future. I have a BOSS and I also have a more immediate boss, whom I’ve been in constant communication since before the offer was made. This person has a similar background to mine (with, of course, a shit ton of experience), and seems to be easy to work with (at least judging by our emails). I met all my labmates during my interview, and I instantly liked them. We’ll see if this holds true after a few weeks/months. I hope I can make it work.

On 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 relentless comments from my dear gossipy labmate going on for a weeks (at that time they were only directed at me, and a student that was finishing, but later it involved every single member of the lab). I was tired, I wanted out. It appeared as if my postdoc boss was uninterested in my work (or that’s how it felt), and had me going on and on with some experiments which I was convinced wouldn’t work (but hey, I had to test that to back it up, right?). I started looking for positions back then, though I had no clue of where I’d end up, or if I’d be in science at all. I contacted a prof at my college Alma mater, and got an interview pretty quickly, but the prof offering the position to somebody else. I felt terrible, and judging by this prof’s language in the emails (prior to my interview), it seemed as if he was just waiting for me to say yes (suuuure, right?!). I didn’t want to look any further. I felt defeated. I’d been so psyched imagining a way out of the lab (sooner rather than later) being close to my family, etc, but it wasn’t meant to be at that time, I still had lessons (and workshops) to learn/attend. Now I’m glad it didn’t happen. Most of the work involved cell culture, which I didn’t feel like learning (I’m a bad biology major, OK?, what can I say), and would have used very little of my manual/technical training (something that was also a problem in my postdoc lab).

One night I was particularly pissed (though hon might have a different opinion on the exact length of time) and I had a conversation with Genomic Repairman. We talked about my previous experience, ideal geographical location (one of the coasts) and other details. I’d seen an ad for a position at new job city, but it seemed like too big of a risk to even attempt it. But after talking to GRM, and re-reading the ad, I thought “well, maybe this is destiny telling me to give it a shot, worse comes to worse I don’t ever hear back from them and that’s it.”

To be continued ….

My love

Today I left you at the shuttle depot that is taking you to an awesome pre-defense vacation. Enjoy every minute of it. Please do. You don’t know how incredibly happy that would make me.

I know I’ve apologized a ton for the family drama that’s been developing these days. I know it’s not my fault, and it’s something that mom, dad and person-from-hell need to figure out. Thank you for your support, understanding, advice and hugs, which you know it mean the world to me. Thank you also for the meditations before bed time … yesterday’s one was perfect. It had me sleeping like a baby. You’re awesome.

I’m wondering if all the heartbreak and let downs and unpleasant surprises during the last few days are just a way to toughen up my shell in preparation for the challenges coming my way. The situation with family-member-from-hell has made me realize how important it is to have a good relationship with those close to me, especially the immediate family. And you are a very important part of that family, so thank you my love, thank you.

What breaks my heart at this moment is that I won’t have you near me in the next few days/weeks. But I know I must get out of my shell and do once again what I did 8 years ago when I started grad school. As you pointed out it seems that, for things like moving and starting a life somewhere else, the older we get, the more of a wuss we become. You know how drastic change affects me, and how resistant I am to it. And now that I’m faced with so much change, happening in such a short amount of time, all I want to do is not go anywhere, and stay here for when you come.

Sadly, I’m not a trust-fund baby and I can’t be sugar mamma for the two of us (bummer, I know). But I am thankful for coming here, for finally joining you in Ontario. We’ve done so many things, visited so many places, documented that through beautiful photographs. I’m really glad I moved here and I will miss school … even if it’s hard to believe.

I’m so very sad I hated my job. I remember one night, when I was very frustrated, and you had tears in your eyes, and said that you had hopes that even if I hated my job, by virtue of finally having you close I’d be happier than I was in grad school city. I am so very sorry for the stress I added through work. Hindsight is 20-20 … and now I can see that I didn’t take much action to help me either like work, or take even more advantage of the resources I had at my disposal. I’m a bit afraid that I won’t have those resources at the new place, or at least easy access to them. But I am thankful I woke up (somewhat) to some of the events and resources available at school to help me polish skills other than those used in the lab.Your encouragement has been key in all this.

Through my experience at school I learned more about my limits, and effective communication, and that I need to stop being a spoiled brat and learn to get the stuff done, even when things are hard. I know now that I have to make my expectations clear, and bug the boss as needed to make sure they are met, and not just shut-up and swallow, to then vent at home. I know I need to grow a backbone, and stop letting gossipy, toxic people talk me down, at work and in life. These are some of the lessons I’m sure I need to learn now, not tomorrow, not in 5 years, they were meant to be learned here. I thank you for your insight and for showing me how some of these things looked under a different light.

This is yet another time in which we have to live apart, and count on holidays and travel deals to see each other. While I’m so very sad I won’t be waking up to your loving smile every morning until later in the summer, I’m happy that God and life allowed us to come together, after being in separate countries for 2 years! We’ve done this before … this is just another chapter in our story. We tell people about all the places we’ve lived in and how good communication and a HUGE amount of luck have us sharing tons of time together, even when we’re apart, and for that I am thankful. I think that our communication skills are a huge factor in it, and I wouldn’t have developed them without you and your insight. Do you realize how amazing you are? You’re a fantastic teacher (and hopefully soon, a professor!) and that trickles into our life as a couple. I am so very proud of you, of knowing you and of having shared almost 6 years with you. I hope we get to experience many more.

New job city is cool. I know. I see people’s’ eyes pop up. I’ve loved it as a tourist. It’s a great chance, I know. I’m just sad you won’t be there at the beginning. I will miss our wonderful apartment, the view, the places we have close by. I will miss the food, the good friends, the cheap Tuesday movies, the characters at church, at work and in our building. Please keep me updated on them. I’m looking forward to new and refined internal jokes, to new places to visit, to new types of food, and different takes on the ones we love (I’m looking at you delicious shawarma!). I will miss our life here, our afternoons together, looking at kitty as if she was the most amazing non-human creature ever (she is, you know it!). I will miss the place with the bunnies, and that hand gesture you do. I’ll miss not knowing where to eat and the constant challenge this presents (I’m sure that’s part of the reason I’m moving to new job city).I will miss you greatly my love.

I must go off now to finish packing and leave this place in decent shape. I want you to come home, to our home, and look around and not find the mess I’ve slowly and carefully created during the packing and selling phase. I still feel the kiss you gave me this morning, and now I’m munching on the donut :-). I miss you already, I miss you so much … but I’m looking forward to your visits and me coming back here for your defense (at the very least).

Thank you for your love, and understanding, and your humour, and support … and for being totes awesome. I love you my love, my pretty, little love. Te amo

My friend needs help

Because my lovely readers and tweeps are super awesome, I wanted to ask a favour. I have a friend who’s in structural biology. He/she is looking for a way to go back to his/her home state. My friend works in a good/high-profile lab, has had some unhappy times as a postdoc and was offered a lower paying position in his/her home state. My friend has a family and is worried about the pay cut and repercussions to his/her family’s life, and whether this is the right time and right decision.

I’m posting part of my friend’s email and would love to hear/read your thoughts on this. I know for a fact that my friend would appreciate your perspective. Thanks in advance.

Friend of Dr 27 writes:

Dear Science Friend:

” I need you opinion.  I am doing quite well as a post-doc and I am enjoying the science, but the overall life as a scientist is not jiving with my family life.  We want to move back to where we’re originally from (in the US) and I am now pursuing a job outside of research, although still science-related.  Everyone around me says that I would be a good PI, but I just don’t have the motivation to follow that path and wonder if there is something wrong with me in not wanting to be a PI.  Now I am thinking about taking a job in an editorial role for a big institute that deals with grants. I’m hoping that this will be a good move, but it is a major departure and one which I will not be able to return from if it fails.  Pay is also about 20% less than what I would make at a company.  Do you have any opinion or know of someone with personal experiences that you can share where they have left research, are being paid less, and now are happy?”

I’ll spare you the details of my answer, but it went along the lines of asking my friend to consider all the possible scenarios, and checking on his/her finances to see if the 20% pay cut could somehow be covered in some other way. At the time of my answer I was looking very deep into finding another job and getting the heck out of my postdoc lab, which may have clouded my judgement. Through Twitter I’ve met all sorts of tweeps, doing all sorts of academic, industry, entrepreneurial and many other types of jobs/disciplines, which is why I’m asking for your help. Extra points if you’ve faced a similar situation and can offer some input, but as always, all POVs are more than welcomed. THANKS!!

Grad school linkie goodness

Short entry to highlight some very useful links to incoming grad students and those of you considering grad school. Keep these in mind as you think of your future career after the PhD:

  1. Start here to get a better grasp on what’s a PhD and the current state of higher education. Via Nature Blogs & Bob O’Hara
  2. The PhD question, by Bug Girl.
  3. The 50-must read blogs prior to entering grad school.

The reason I’m posting this is that I wished I could have had these resources when I started grad school. I wish I could have had a different perspective and done more to become proficient in areas other than plain research. I wish I could have taken the courses, workshops and gotten certifications that would make me more attractive to paths and carreers outside of the academic and industry world. I hope that this is where I’m heading now … but I wish I hadn’t had as many growing pains as I did. Yeah, yeah, it’s all part of the natural process … but in my book, planning is of utmost importance, and for such it is better to have as much information as possible. Click away!

The moving boxes

I’ve got a little less than 2 weeks to leave everything packed before I move to uber-cool-city-with-small-apartments (or UCCWSA). Today hon and I went to get the boxes that made it alive during my move to Canada. Some of the boxes carry the names and addresses of people in my previous (read, grad student) life, while a couple carry my postdoc address.

Kitty is currently sleeping next to the boxes. Whenever something new comes in she sniffs, marks and usually sleeps in or around it. It’s happened with chairs, the sofa, our rescued recliner, and more.

I look at kitty, the boxes, honey. I think of how their lives will be once I’m not here. I think of how they’ll spend their lazy Sunday afternoons once I’m gone. I think of the history that those boxes tell, of old places, and new adventures. I think of how bad I felt during our move. The terrible cramps, no AC, on a hot summer day. I wanted to be done. I remember having things half-packed, and looking for a cheap bed. I think of how happy I was (and am) with my current bedroom, the space, the layout, the dreams I had for my postdoc life. I think of the next time we’ll be together as the little family we’ve become.

I think about how things have changed, how I have changed. I think of the places I’ve been, the memories I’ve (we’ve) made. I think of the snowmageddon we survived, with snow up to our bellies. I think of how honey and I played in the snow, like silly, little kids.

I think of the things that made my postdoc life a living hell. And how I’d love to go back and quit sooner, or at least have a better outlook on things, so I wasn’t torturing honey with complaints about how unhappy, unloved, un-everything I felt in the lab.

I now look back and think of all the things I should have done. I want to kick myself in my invisible balls and turn back time. I want to stay here … but I know I can’t. I know how unhappy my life as a postdoc made me. I brought home all my worries, annoyances, stress and foul mood (among other things). I don’t want to be like that again, it was a dark place and I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want to be that person. Honey doesn’t deserve that. I don’t deserve it. I don’t want to be in a foul mood. I know I’m better than that. I know I can do better than that. I need to do better than that.

So, I’m moving away, again, from everyone I know, everyone I love, everyone that matters to me. I’m turning 30 in another city, away from family, away from honey, even away from kitty. I keep repeating in my head, every day, before I go to bed, after I wake up, when I’m in the shower, that I’m strong enough, that I can do this.

I should be able to do this. I’ve done it before. Except that I had savings in that previous life. Except my mommy was with me, looking for apartments, helping with the deposit, walking with me and telling me that she’d think of me during the morning commute. I was eager to move outside of my parents’ house. I was done with being a child. And now, I want to be a kid, feel sheltered, protected, cover by my family, honey, everyone. I don’t handle change well. I’m scared I’ll fail, I’m scared of the mistakes I’ll make.

It’s really scary, but I know I must do it. I want to be happy, I want to go back to what I know, I really want to be proficient in what I did (and hope to do), again.I should be able to do this. But the magnitude of it scares me … what if people hate me? Whatever I do at the new place will have an impact on whatever I do next. If it’s bad, I’m done for sure. If it’s good, the sky would be the limit.

We’ll see how this goes. I will miss many things, many people, my old life. I’ll miss waking up in the morning and kissing hon’s head, feeding kitty. I’ll miss looking out the window of our high-rise and seeing green. I’ll miss the food, the places, the comfort of it all.

I’m just hoping it’s worth it. I’m hoping my career dreams are worth it, and that somehow, somewhere, I’ll be able to reunite with my loved one, smiling, happy, and fulfilled …. I know it will take time. It always does. I just hope it’s all worth it.

Female, scientist and homeless

Can’t give too many details but, there is a possibility of work in the States. In a couple of days I leave Canada. I’m packing away my life of 2 years in Canada and 6 years in grad school city to move to the unknown. I have to downsize drastically, and sadly I have to move alone, as hon will stay in Canada to finish his studies. I can/will leave my things in Canada and it’s possible I get reimbursed once I’ve completed the move, but first I have to spend money.

I got a call from one of the places I had visited earlier this year. The place was very welcoming and nice. I liked that almost everyone is/was a staff scientist and that I wouldn’t have too many people to share my working quarters with.  I don’t hate people, I don’t mean it like that. But, rather than sharing office and lab space with 15 people, it’s possible I get my own (looooong bench space), and maybe a bit of office space (but the offices and lab quarters are way apart, so people mostly stay at the bench). It’s a science place, but it’s neither industry nor academic.

I’m going back to what I know, but applied to something completely different. I may get a “fancy” title with the word ‘scientist’ in it (it’s true peeps, I’ll get to introduce myself from now on as some sort of fancy scientist). In paper I should be getting more moolah, but in practice I’ll be taxed on 3 levels (city, state and fed), which will invariably have me seeing a lot less money than I would have wanted (I did negotiate, but there’s no way to compensate for taxes, and no, I’m not complaining about taxes, it’s my civic duty and I’m happy to do it).

I’m thinking of renaming the blog ‘female scientist and homeless’ because I barely have money to move to uber-cool-city-with-great-science-and-too-small-apartments and I may not see more money for a long time. Possible new place of work will provide a roof over my head for a couple of days (read, a couple). I have a couple of (very, VERY) distant family members, and a grade-school “friend” who live there, but (sadly) can’t play hosts for me while I get my feet off the ground (in an ideal world I’d be happy to crash on somebody’s couch for 1-2 months while I get started, but reality is a bitch, and I don’t have any money, for realz). And because uber-cool-city-with-great-science-and-too-small-apartments is cool, landlords need to see a lot of moolah in all sorts of deposits and this and that prior to letting me in one of their (possibly not so fancy) apartments. I won’t have a car, furniture or even pots and pans to survive the first days (or months, at this stage, who knows who long it’s going to be). I’m taking a sleeping bag, and hoping I can pick up enough loose change on the streets of uber-cool-city to buy a pump and sleep somewhere (I’ll investigate whether there are showers at (possible) new job).

So, to summarize, I (may) have a job (I haven’t exactly signed anything, so to me, it’s not real at all, and based on the last 6 months they could back out at the very last-minute) which requires me to move back to the States, to a state I’ve never lived in, to a complete unknown, which is hard for me to swallow since I’m a type-A, planner-to-the-max kinda person. Yeah, I want to pull my hair to say the least these days.

We’ll see how that goes. Oh, and I’ll also turn 30 alone and (possibly) homeless. I am strongly considering renaming the blog female scientist and homeless.