27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Let’s see

Where to begin? I don’t know. I didn’t realize it had been that long since I last posted. One of my new year’s resolutions had been to blog more often, and here I am, neglecting the blog for weeks. Sorry. I’ve been so busy, many changes, much work, lots of awesome people, and lots of tweeting.

Work is going well, I think. After my immediate boss left (I miss him terribly) we’ve been interviewing people. Two people have been offered positions, though one has a conflict of interest with a few projects (comes from a competing lab and would like to continue working on that line, which is in serious conflict with at least one of our projects). The other one is/was strange. I didn’t like this person, but the higher-ups loved this person. This person got an offer days after coming for the interview …. I was not impressed by the lab work (it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t too great IMO) … and my suspicion is that some people in my place of work are interested in raising the profile of the lab by bringing people from fancy labs and with fancy pedigrees. We’ll see.

Things are getting back to normal, kinda. Hon and I moved out of Ontario and into new job city. Most of our things are in storage. Hon had to move back in with his parents, as I don’t make nearly enough to support us both and he’s still a student without a stipend. We’re back to being long distance, but, it’s possible he’ll be able to visit more often as money-wise, visiting new job city may be better.

I’ve been attending meetings, sending emails, and of course tweeting to many (new and old) contacts. I’ve been introducing myself to different people, from tweeps to PIs, to administrative personnel to staff at labs. I’ve never been too shy, at least when it comes to introducing myself and striking a conversation, so I’ve been taking advantage of my current position and I’ve been networking like crazy. I think networking was one of the thing that helped me get my position, so now that I’m here I need to (cliche coming, you’ve been warned) raise things to the next level, because as much as I like work, and the challenges it brings, things always come to an end, or I’ll want to move to different role elsewhere, and doing a good job and keeping my professional relationships in good shape is critical for the next step.My business cards are adorable. I’ve been getting compliments on them, but I still think the font is tiny. I only have 482 of them left, after that, I’ll make sure to have a bigger font. Sans serif, please.

My room is a mess. Kitty is staying with me, and this has been a bit hard. Since kitty was a baby she’s never slept in the same room as mamma, and she’s a bit too noisy for mamma’s taste. Sadly hon had too many things to take kitty with him (this time) a carryon, so she’s staying with mamma until mamma can figure out what to do with her. Mamma’s roommie may be allergic to kitties, no matter how cute they are. I also have many boxes of stuff from both hon and I, and most of my clothes are still in storage. I only have one tiny closet …. I’m hoping to take this opportunity to get rid of even more stuff than when I did in preparation for this move. I really don’t want to pay for storage for more than a few months, though chances are it will be that way until I can find a bigger place or a place of my own. We’ll see.

My car is here. If you follow my tweets you can read about how frustrating it is to find a parking spot in this city. Though I have to say, in the few weeks it’s been here I’ve managed to find parking without murdering anyone or setting the car on fire. Phewww

This has been a hell of a week. So for now, I’m signing off, I’m tired and I hope to get some rest and buy some (real, non-take out) food this weekend. Thanks for visiting and reading. I hope to go back to my somewhat regular blogging schedule soon. Ciao

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Question via Twitter

Lovely @GilleighD asked on Twitter how did I choose the topic of study for my PhD. I don’t think I’ve covered this before, and it is a very interesting question, so here it goes.

Choosing what to study during my PhD was a multi-factorial decision. I’ll start by saying that I went into a school with a broad program, which didn’t “force” students to choose a lab or department right away. After doing rotations in a couple of departments I chose a department and lab I felt comfortable in. I’d met my PhD mentor during a departmental open house in my first few weeks in school, and while chatting with the PI and a lab member (and later friend) I noticed that their area of research and the tools they employed were very interesting. I’d learned a bit about the critter I ended up studying while I was a sophomore in college and couldn’t believe that it was there, staring at me in the face begging to be studied. I also liked the approach they were using, having just learned about it the previous summer.

So, the critter I knew from two years before, the technique a year after that. I found about these two things while doing research for a class and later for a summer project. I felt incredibly lucky that, even without really any intension, I sort of stumbled upon my future lab and science love. I think it was a combination of finding two things I liked, which drove me to choose a lab where I could learn about the topic and approach in more detail.

Later, when I joined the lab my boss talked about the different projects that were going on and what each person was doing. There were 3 major areas of research and I wasn’t really interested in the first one, at least enough to commit several years of effort to study it (plus, another student who had started the year before was actively working on it, so I didn’t want to step on his toes). The second project, now that I think about it, though interesting, was bound to die in a couple of years. Eventually someone solved the structure of it and the project was put on hold indefinitely. The third project, and a big focus of the lab, had been my PI’s thesis topic and now someone else (the student I talked to at the open house), was actively pursuing it. The boss made it clear that there was enough material for several thesis projects and that I wouldn’t be stepping on anyone’s toes. I chose that one, and I ended up in 4 or 5 publications in one way or the other.

Originally I was set to study a “subset” of the main project, and not the whole system. But, the project was really hard and I was just learning the technique, so the boss asked me to help the senior grad student in the lab and learn how this person worked on the whole system. I picked up really quickly and eventually what was set to be this person’s second thesis project was passed on to me (all friendly, as this student was set to defend). That project opened up the door for a couple more projects, all related to the biology of the system (if you would, though this is not technically 100% correct, as I wasn’t doing any molecular bio or biochemistry on the system) and towards the end of my time in grad school I’d woven a story about how a particular critter behaves. It’s a very interesting project and along the way I taught another student how to set things up and do a project of his own, along with providing enough starting material so that a new generation could take over.

To summarize, a critter and approach I’d learned while I was an undergrad were staring at me while talking to a PI and student, then I chose the topic I thought was “hot” in the lab (which it was/is), started a somewhat related project which wasn’t working, then switched to the “main” area and ended up setting a beautiful story as time went on. The perfect combination of topic and technique were what drove me to decide. I’d say, find a topic or technique you like, study the prospects of this job (feasibility, how much you can get accomplished in however long you have in school, etc), and commit to it. BUT, if during the course of your studies you hit a wall, or see promise in something related (or totally unrelated), don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your project and its future.

Hope this provides some insight into how I chose my project. If you have any specific questions, feel free to email or tweet. I’ll be happy to talk more about this. Best of luck!