27 and a PhD

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Dear Encyclopædia Britannica Online …. WTF????

This am I woke up to a screaming match courtesy of the minotaur* that live above my apartment. Thank you very much you inconsiderate assholes. A scientist has to get her beauty sleep in order to come up with fantabulous ideas! Also, if I hear y’all again I’m calling the cops, you beastly jerks.

Anyway, besides that, I decided to do a google search on my favourite pathogen thinking that I may get inked at some point. I’m kinda sleepy, but not enough to avoid noticing the glaring errorS (yes, errors, nor error) in one of Encyclopædia Britannica’s diagrams regarding said pathogen. There are so many things wrong with it I should accuse with … well, I don’t know what authorities, but that’s besides the point. The point is that you are spreading, old, crappy information to people who want to learn about said pathogen. I don’t know who’s in charge of this, but as a former researcher loosely associated with said pathogen’s field, I am appalled by the glaring errorS. Even a first year grad student, heck!, a junior or senior undergrad can notice those mistakes after spending an afternoon with me talking about the beauty of said pathogen (and yes, in my eyes it is a thing of beauty …. to study, not to use, ewww).

So, I’m scratching my head here EB online, I really am. I want to forward said “diagram” to my PhD mentor with the following subject line: DSF … WTFF is this piece of misinformation!?? Instead, I’ll try shooting you an email and pointing to a GREAT version of the revised, and accurate version of the diagram. In fact, it has better colours and it’s way less confusing.

That’s all. Please get your info straight. Said picture is full of fail. Same to all the websites out there that don’t bother to correct info, especially about the structural biology of the entities they’re talking about. Shame on you.

*What’s the plural of minotaur? I’m sure I’ll find the right stuff anywhere but at EB online. Minotaur? Minotauri? Minotaurs?

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Resolutions: 2012 edition

Even though I complain all the time about hating to do resolutions, I still manage to make a list. I like lists, I enjoy making them and I enjoy crossing stuff off. So, without further ado, here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2012 (in no particular order):

  1. Get bangs. I love bangs, but after a while I get tired. I found a haircut that I love and back in October, I found a stylist that I like, so I hope to get into the spirit of spring with a new haircut and bangs to match.
  2. Sell my car.
  3. But first I need to *finally* get the papers in order. It still has an ON title.
  4. Ask for a raise, because I deserve it, and I want it.
  5. Visit the family and stay a few days without worrying about money. Possibly attend my nephew’s birthday.
  6. Attend hon’s defense and graduation.
  7. Make a dent on credit card debt #3, the smallest one (thought it’s still pretty significant).
  8. Attend a national meeting of my discipline or at least sub-field.
  9. Appear on a publication, even if it’s in the acknowledgments.
  10. Write an entry once a week.
  11. Make dinner at home, at least 1 week of every month (it costs me as much to dine out as to buy groceries and cook, so I opt to (mostly) eat out and work late).
  12. Tell annoying family member to fuck off if he keeps harassing me.
  13. Try a few new places to eat, especially around my neighbourhood (not that I don’t love you y’all, but you know, I need variety).
  14. Walk more, eat less, drink more water.
  15. Find a good, local brewery and try a new beer every month (suggestions are more than appreciated, also #drunksci).

See also:

Resolutions 2011

Resolutions 2010

No need for pity/ I’m thankful

This is a rather personal account. You don’t need to read if you don’t want to. And I’m not looking for pity. This is just one of the many challenges I’ve been facing lately. It goes to show that everyone, even scientists, have problems, the same problems that “regular people” have. We have needs, and we have problems, like the rest of the world does. You’ve been warned. Proceed with caution.

Even thought it’s not Christmas day yet, I still made a few calls this morning to hon and my family. I realize they may be busy later today and tomorrow, so I wanted to talk to them before the celebrations begin.

While talking to honey, he mentioned that he’s really sad I have to say in the City (me too, but I really couldn’t go home). He asked me to please, please, please, get out and do something fun. Go to the City, see places, maybe call up a friend, just do something and get out of the apartment. I told him that while I would totes to that any day he’s here, I really didn’t feel like going out (including, tourists, long lines, waiting for a long time for a subway or bus ride, sick people, annoying people … heck, people, I know, I can never be a secular humanist).I mentioned that I really do not dread staying in, I enjoy it, as I spend usually 10-12 hours away, most days of the week, and that whenever I get a chance I stay in, and veg-out. Once he saw that I’m not terribly frustrated by staying in, he felt a bit better (though he would still like me to do something fun).

The reason I’m staying in the City is money. I have very little of it after taking care of family debts. I got a nasty email from a family member a week before I was scheduled to move to the City (yeepee, I spent my last week in Canada weeping like a moron and wondering how the hell to get out of this one). My dad had asked this person and I to co-sign a loan for him (you know where this is going, it is not pretty). My dad had been faithfully paying this debt, until he lost his job, twice. Instead of calling me and saying that he’d be short on cash for a while, he thought he could get out without telling anyone. He convinced the bank (credit union, really) not to call me, that he’d figure something out. What I got instead was the angriest you could ever imagine email from said family member who said he was getting harassing calls and that I needed to pay for things now, or else (I was jobless at the time, in a foreign country, and I couldn’t collect unemployment).

The emails and the drama that followed wrecked havoc on my life, my peace, and my credit score (the least important of the 3). The credit union did manage to get a hold of said family member, who instantly blamed me for all his bad luck in not getting a loan to send his youngest child to college (his credit score is well over 710, while mine is 540). Said family member has been harassing my mom and my dad relentlessly. Said family member happens to live in the City, and also had enough time and anger to call my mom’s side of the family and tell them that I dislike paying credit agencies and that I’m an irresponsible asshole (among many other lovely things).

The reason I can’t go home is because I’ve been trying to dump as much money as I can to bring said loan up to date. My parents are at risk their house, and half of the family hates me (not that I was their favourite anyways, somehow they seem to hate me and my sister, even though we’ve been among the best sheep in the family). The money I was hoping to dump on the debts I made for myself is now being carefully divided to make sure everything gets paid, even if it’s only the minimum. The City is expensive and since the move-out from Canada, I’ve added even more things to my life that need to be paid (I need to sell my car, yet I can’t even afford to pay to transfer the title, let alone get my City driver’s licence, or pay for the basic repairs needed to at least put it in the market). New clothes or shoes are obviously out of the question. Getting married or having a kid won’t happen for (at the very least) 5 years.

I can’t go home because I can’t afford not to get paid, and I haven’t accumulated enough time to justify being away from work for 7 days. And I haven’t had a break since this time last year.

I know it’s a sad story, but I’m not alone in this. It could be worse, I could be unemployed. I could be missing a part of my body that wouldn’t allow me to do what I do, or I could be chronically ill. Thankfully the only things I’m allergic to are pain-killers.

Instead, I have many things to be thankful for (probably more than I have reasons to be bitter). I have a job and feel better about it than I did about my previous position as a postdoc. I’ve made friends at work; we all seem to genuinely like each other. I met a PI that I’ve admired for 10 years, and after dropping a seriously hilarious and nerdy line, he seems think that I’m somewhat sane. I have clothes, a roof above my head and warm food on my table, every day. I haven’t had to go without food a single day since I moved. Even thought it’s the minimum payment, I’m on time on all my debts, old and inherited. I got gifts and cards this year, even though my family is far away. I have legs that work, health insurance, a warm bed, a coat. My basic needs are covered.

I’ve been bitter for a while, and I hate the money situation like you have no idea. I’ll be looking for a (hopefully part-time) second job next year, so maybe I can visit the family and dump some more money on the debts. It’s tough, but somehow I hope to make it.

Don’t feel sorry for me, don’t pity me because I bitch and moan about not going home. I could be a lot worse, and I have many things to say thanks for.

Holiday gift(s) from the boss

Lately I’ve been thinking about my days back in grad school. Those 6 or so crazy/fun/weird/sad/meh/whatever years I spent working my tail off to have a series of projects that made sense and made me happy.

The holidays were (and still are, except for this year) my all-time favourite season. I love the blinking lights, the decoration, the special drinks that only come out at this time. Heck, I even like bundling up, and how my cheeks get all rosy (or red).

My other favourite part was/is gift-giving. I always liked guessing what other people would get me (or drive hon crazy while trying to find out). I also liked getting unexpected surprises from friends, family and sometimes total strangers. And I always loved the expression of surprise and delight in people’s faces when they opened their gifts.

A few days ago a co-worker and I were having a conversation about gift-giving and bosses. Our boss is a bit stingy (I’m still not happy with my salary, it could be better, and I’m partly blaming it on being a woman … but that’s for another post). I was asking my co-worker if the boss ever gets the lab anything, like maybe lunch, or a bottle of wine/champagne to share. My co-worker looked at me all puzzled. He was surprised because he says he’s never received a gift from any of his bosses/mentors. And he sure doubts it will ever change.

I then became the puzzled one because, as far as I can remember, whether for my birthday or the holidays, most of my bosses have made an effort to give a little something. I remember getting a little card and a small gift from some of the students in my first summer undergrad lab. Then, on one of my internships, I got a book and ice-cream with the boss and labbies. In grad school my mentor had the lab sign a birthday card and I have a few of those. We also had a nice lunch after a paper was accepted or after a defense. During the holidays, the boss would call each person into their office, say some nice words about the performance/papers/career and hand a gift, usually a certificate (in the 25-50$ range) and some sweets or an ornament. It always made me feel special. And it I thought of it normal. When I moved on to my postdoc, my mentor would invite us over for dinner at his house, and get everyone a little something, whether a bottle of wine, a sweet or an ornament. And there were more than just a few of us, so money was definitely not an excuse. He’d also buy the first round of beer on special occasions, like a paper, a thesis defense or a goodbye get-together.

My coworker said I was lucky … and that apparently I’m one of the very few that ever crossed paths with people who are into giving gifts, or making a bit of an effort to show some appreciation to their minions lab.

This also brought to mind that a fairly new professor at work, who is a collaborator, has gone out of their way to show appreciation towards us, the staff. This person brought personalized cards and sweets for individual lab members and has shown a lot of kindness … just because we’ve been doing our jobs. Said token of appreciation brought memories of my old days in grad school, and how I could always count on my boss to cheer me up during the holidays. Having a little token made up for the times I was frustrated or irritated, or when I couldn’t go home and had to work throughout the holiday season.

Did you (or do you) get gifts/tokens of appreciation from the boss/higher up during the holidays? If so, what’s your favourite? If not, do you think it would make a different in how you percieve this person? As a mentor, do you go out of your way to show your lab peeps appreciation? Do they go out of their way to do the same? How do you feel?

What’s in your CV?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about work (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 little excited, but eventually it didn’t pan out. That did give me hope that there were some interested souls out there willing to pay attention to my training and find it somewhat valuable.

At this time last year, and for the next 4-5 months (yes, 4 to 5 months, almost non-stop), I’d be sending CVs and resumes to whoever gave me the light of day. I had been to a couple of turning-your-resume-into-a-CV and vice versa workshops in grad school and then the postdoc and I was lucky to have a couple of super awesome tweeps look over mine and say “bleh, this is crap! Fix it!!!”

I had things written in paragraphs, I was rarely using (short and sweet) bullet points to showcase my mad science skillz and I needed to make it punchier (to quote my grad school PI who adores using that word).

As soon as I started at my new job, I immediately got out my CV and started adding skills as I mastered them. I’m somewhat lazy, especially when it comes to updating certain things, like my Twitter Bio, this blog, or hell, even my CV. So today, I started looking through the CVs and resumes I’d tweaked (or started from scratch) in the last year, and finally found one of my most recent versions of the CV, dated June 25th, 2011, very soon after starting at my current position.

For whatever reason I started updating the thing (possibly a pre-New Year’s resolution), and all of a sudden I found myself updating every little section, as if I was ready to apply to a new position (no, I’m happy at work, though occasionally I would like to punch my boss, but that’s part of our relationship). This got me thinking that I love to swift through resumes and CVs and learn about other people’s talents and experiences, what was their first job? When did they start in science? What awards and grants they’ve had and for how long? Reading some of these things sometimes triggers old memories, which help me tweak my CV and add old, yet important career points.

I won’t post my CV for obvious reasons, but I wanted to mention the areas included in mine, and see if you have the same, or if you have more or less.

The categories in my CV are:

  1. Work Experience (which is newly added, for obvious reasons, though I feel like changing the name to something less lame. Ideas?)
  2. Education
  3. Languages
  4. Skills (which I divided in categories: computer and lab)
  5. Publications (I’m tempted to move it all the way to the back, like TT-hopefuls do)
  6. Research experience
  7. Seminars
  8. Posters
  9. Teaching experience
  10. Volunteering
  11. Book Chapters
  12. Continuing education
  13. Awards and Memberships

I think there’s a better way of shaping my CV. It contains a lot of areas that are important to me (like skills, research experience, teaching, etc), but I believe that there’s a more coherent way of arranging everything. As it stands right now, I feel like my stuff is all over the place. I used to have a shorter version of my CV (I know, a lot of people don’t like this as a CV is supposed to chronicle your every step in the education/training/work ladder). But for some jobs I trimmed it down to the bare academic bones, to avoid having someone look at over 7 pages of me, me and more me. It felt …. wrong, I don’t know. I love to talk about myself all the time, yet, 7 or 8 pages of me made me feel … awkward.

So dear reader, I ask you now, how do you arrange your CV? Where do you start it? High school, college, graduate/professional school? How do you organize your CV? If you’re a recruiter, what do you look at first? What do you simply overlook,or ignore? Any areas that I’m missing? Any clever name for the “work experience” category? I’d love to read your ideas?

And, since I had a lot of help trimming mine and making it easier on the eyes, feel free to send your resume or CV my way. I’d be more than happy to take a look and help in any way I can.

PS. If you’ve taken a course, or audited one after grad school, do you bother to include it? Only if it’s specifically related to your discipline or future job? If you do include it, did you create a separate section in your CV for it? If not, where do you include it/them?

End of the year meme – 2011 edition

I wrote this back in 2009, when I first did the end of the year meme. Let’s see how 2011 went.

An end of the year analysis… in meme form.

1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?

Cried if front of my immediate boss and got my “first real job.”

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I’ll have to look at my list, but I do think I accomplished certain things.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

A couple of nice tweeps. Don’t think anyone in my immediate family gave birth.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

A good family friend died.

5. What countries did you visit?

The US. I mean, I moved back.

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2001?

Mmmm, less debt, less weight and more peace family wise. A happier attitude towards life. An insane amount of expertise and independence on some of the instruments at work which are still biting me in the ass. I know I will master them as time goes by, and the software bugs will stop messing with my mind. It’s just a lot of equipment for very few people and lots of samples and projects.  Also, a raise after I master said instruments.

7. What date from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory?

June 21st, 2011. The last night I slept in the same bed, in Canada, with my hon. We headed to the airport later as hon was on his way to a well deserved break, and I was on my way to new job city. Also, a certain day in February when hon took me to a nice dinner in postdoc city, followed by a night at the opera. And, turning 30 in new job city and celebrating it with a friend and her friends, who totally welcomed a stranger and made her feel good about her day (I had no family or hon present as I had just started at my new position, hon was on vacation and my family couldn’t travel).

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Not giving up on the job search, even though it was brutal. Finding a job that I like, in a discipline I love and meeting some high-profile people in the field.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not telling a batshit crazy ass family member to shove it. And not confronting my dad re: stupid money decisions which have half of the family not speaking to the other half.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Probably a couple of colds and my always annoying and painful periods. And the feet pain getting worse. I gave in and finally saw a podiatrist. I’m getting orthotics in a few weeks. Also, a nasty heat-induced allergy. Spent a week on Zyrtec and lots of anti-itch lotion. And long sleeves in the summer.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A smartphone that has saved my life (kind of) a couple of times. How come I didn’t have one sooner?

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Hon’s of course, for being always supportive and understanding, and celebrating every little victory, especially during the grueling job search. Also my mom’s … between she and hon, I got some of the most needed advice ever.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

My mom’s brother and my dad’s. Thanks for screwing with my life and credit score.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Moving …. and moving related expenses, and getting settled. And food.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

New job, meeting some scientists that I’ve admired for a long time, meeting tweeps IRL and experiencing The City with hon, on the cheap. That boy is awesome, can’t you tell?

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2011?

Any song from the Super Mario Galaxy soundtrack, and a couple of songs from Calle 13.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

1. Happier or sadder? Happier.
2. Thinner or fatter? Hon says that I look thinner, possibly because I get to walk a bit more around The City.
3. Richer or poorer? Poorer. I’m still way in hell in red numbers, particularly due to stupid money decisions by the two people I mentioned above. I also had to take a small loan at work to cover some moving expenses. That should be paid soon, I think. So, maybe I’ll be able to save enough to go home at a later time.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Exploring The City, reading, blogging, and saying yes to more invitations to socialize.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Spend, complain, worry and cry.

20. How will you be spending/did you spend Christmas?

In The City. Like I said, I’m way down in red numbers, and I only have a couple of days accumulated for vacation, so I’ll be working before and after Xmas, and definitely after new year’s …. I haven’t had a break in a long time. I’m starting to feel it. Between not having money and time, I’m forced to spend Xmas in a city a lot of people can only dream of spending their holidays at.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?

Hon, mom and vendors.

22. Did you fall in love in 2011?

More and more with the same adorable guy. And my nephew. He’s cute.

23. How many one night stands in this last year?

None; though it would have been interesting to have one or two with the BF, hehe.

24. What was your favourite TV programme?

Little Mosque on the Prairie and The Fifth Estate, a couple of crime shows.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Yeah, my mom’s insane brother. Also, rude people in The City.

26. What was the best book(s) you read?

I’m a wee tired to remember some of the stuff I’ve read. But I’m on Goodreads, feel free to check out what I’ve read.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Mindy Gledhill and a couple of new songs by some of my favourite artists.

28. What did you want and get?

A new job, with benefits, a cute apartment and my music.

29. What did you want and not get?

More money, less debt and continue living with hon.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?

Haven’t been to the movies in a while, but probably the Dragon Trilogy, though I know it’s older than this year.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Went to a friend’s house who welcomed me with arms wide open, made a wonderful drink with her mad skillz and had cupcakes to celebrate the day and my birthday (it’s a holiday). I turned the big 3-0.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Living with honey, negotiating my salary for a bit longer, and less money problems.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?

Frumpy scientist, with the occasional sprinkle of something new and decent when outside of the lab.

34. What kept you sane?
The BF and my mom. And super nice coworkers.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I can’t think of anyone right now.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

Marriage equality, budget issues, OWS … among many others.

37. Who did you miss?

Hon, my mom and my nephew.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

Former immediate boss. Wonderful person, wonderful coworker, super chill. Too bad he quit.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Don’t take certain members of my family too seriously. Keep on going even when life throws you big piles of shit. 2011, you’ve been a bitch.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

Maybe later, it’s late and I’m a bit too tired to think.

Today I cried at work

I knew my job would not be easy. I knew my boss was a tough person to work for, and I knew I needed to let go of old attitudes which, combined with the lack of mentoring during my postdoc, made for a lethal combo that I sure didn’t want to bring into my new job.

I thought I was doing well. I’ve been working full-speed at my new job since day one. On my very first day at work I was hands-on, knee-deep doing stuff in one of the old instruments I was trained in.It’s been intense since day one. And because I like the technique and instrumentation, I’m happy to do my job to the best of my abilities.

I knew that my boss would never praise anything I did, and I was ready for that. I’m starting to grow accustomed to that, and I know that the quality of my work speaks for itself, and I get thank-yous and great job from everyone else I work with. And that is enough.

What I wasn’t counting on was that most of the pressure at work wouldn’t really come from my boss, but from the people who depend on me and my coworkers for their projects, and they’re not necessarily PIs. I came in and was told to be ready to get a wide range of attitudes and aptitudes, from people ready to go as knee-deep into the technique and instrumentation as I do, to people who were too afraid (or “too good”) to even touch their own samples. What I wasn’t counting on was that I’d be the sounding board for some students and postdocs, and that some of the people would not only be needy, but complain (a lot) when I was too busy to give a hand.

We had a sudden departure in our group. As it is, our research group is really small, yet we provide help and expertise to many, many people. One of my responsibilities is to set up equipment so people can use it, either alone (if they know how to and won’t screw things up), or with myself or the other members of the staff. We’ve been teaching a course, AND working full-time in the lab. All while having one less (and critical) pair of hands. We have needy students and postdocs on both sides. And today, one of the postdocs was complaining about not having a dedicated staff person to spend time on the instrumentation, supervising their work. As much as everyone in the lab would love to sit down and really explain things and do things, we just don’t have time. And ever since this sudden departure, it’s worsen.

What I wasn’t counting on is that, after this person unloaded their frustrations about not having staff at hand, I would greatly upset another person and all the weeks of little sleep and running around the lab fixing problems, and picking up the slack of others, would come crashing down and send me on a crying spree. Yes, a crying spree at work. I don’t know what happened, but it’s as if all the frustrations of the past few weeks, the being understaffed, the having to deal with incompetent and sometime irresponsible trainees, and the fact that I offended (without intending, I swear!) another staff person in another area, that all that would make me cover my face, hunch down, and cry like a little girl who just wants to please everyone, and make people happy.

I realize that it is stupid and not at all realistic to feel that way. And that if my happiness and sense of worth depend on pleasing everyone, then I really need to examine my life and get on some medication pronto. And I know it’s not a personal attack when someone just vents about how unfair it is that we don’t have enough dedicated hands at their disposal. And I know that if I repeat these things enough times to my tough boss, maybe he’ll act on it and tell people to chill the fuck out (and hire a new pair of hands). But somehow I let the worse stay and the best to leave, and I end up a crying mess.I know I need to pick up my battles and I just can’t take it personal when someone makes a comment about not having enough staff. It’s just too damn hard and too frustrating, because I know the feeling, and I sincerely wish I could help. I just don’t have time.

Take it from an over-worked, underpaid, and always eager to help staff person, your staff people don’t hate you. We work really hard to have things working, to have instruments in top shape, so you can run your experiments smoothly. But sometimes they will break, they’ll have a bad day, and no, we won’t know every single inner working to make it all better and make the boo-boos go away so can go back and keep on working. Instruments break, our help and knowledge has a limit, really. And sometimes, we simply don’t have enough time to help you. I’m sorry.

When we tell you that we’re understaffed (seriously understaffed) and we warn you not to come and use equipment we can’t supervise you working on … please, take a moment and really evaluate whether you want to spend 3 days complaining about our absence, and how bad it is we can’t assist you, and think a bit about how we’re trying to do our damn best to keep things alive and working, even at the risk of our health, well-being and even our families. We also have a boss, who gets pissed off, and if you run to them every single time something breaks, or during crunch time, and complain, we will get a call, and be asked questions as to why is it we’re not performing all our duties. It’s not that we don’t want to … we simply can’t. I know it’s hard, and I know your boss is pressing you, but we swear, we’re not doing this on purpose, and we don’t hate you. There aren’t enough of us to cover every single detail at the moment, and when we say we can’t help, we really mean it. Don’t take it out on us and call us incompetent, bad mannered or uninterested …. we simply can’t stretch that thin.

I don’t hate you and I want your project to work. I really do, but today I simply cracked under the pressure of trying to perform every task, and not being able to. I’m sorry.