27 and a PhD

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Today I cried at work

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.

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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.

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11 Comments

  1. Bam294 says:

    I feel for you and think that most “staffers” don’t give a crap and people should be thrilled at finding someone ( you) who does. Call it hurtful, say you need to shore up your defenses, but whatever you do, call this person put. Tell them you found their comments were unprofessional and hurtful and can not work with them if this reoccurs. Have ‘the dead shark eyes” as Tina Fey says. Never expect these disputes to turn out okay. They simply need to define a professional boundary. Cry. Breath and never take your job personally. Ever.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Aww thanks … that’s kind of what I’m striving for, to make up for the bad staffers or PIs, or whatevers users encounter on their path … but sometimes it’s hard to keep smiling when things get crappy. I’m practicing my lines to be more assertive and call mean people out. I’d hate to be like my predecesor (which some people loved, and some people hated, and most people found their manners rash) … but I can somewhat understand their attitude now. I’m working on not taking the job personally … but it’s a tough cookie. Thanks for your words of wisdom. They are more than welcomed, especially today.

  2. Alethea says:

    No fun. While sometimes being invested in science, experiments and outcomes is really rewarding, sometimes it sucks. I have totally cried about crappy experimental days and mean reviewer comments (in the oh-so-cozy privacy of the departmental bathroom), and I have totally snapped at people who get whiny at me on bad days. I think it’s life. I hope next week is better!

  3. katiesci says:

    What a horrible day. The feeling of not having enough hands it enough time in the day I frustrating enough without people pointing fingers and saying you’re not doing enough. Keep on doing what you can; it sounds like you are doing great! Crying is okay when you have a bad day. Tomorrow will be better. *hugs*

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thanks for your sweet words! It was a tough day. I had an idea on how to try to help the person who was complaining about time, and it doesn’t not involve my direct help, which is fantastic. Thanks for visiting πŸ™‚

  4. genrepair says:

    If I ever see them, I’m going to smack the fuck out of them. Nobody makes my friends cry, except for the movie Brian’s Song.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Aww GRM, you are awesome … in fact, I may need your ass-kicking awesomeness … would you mind punching my boss in the nose? Just once. The guy is driving me insane!! I know I’ll survive, it’s just that today he’s worthy of a punch. Thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

  5. rpg says:

    Yikes, sorry to hear that. As someone a month into a new gig who has just got landed with a whole heap of work and responsibility, I sympathize.

  6. […] to help them do the job just right. At times it hasn't been like that and most people understand. Most. I try my hardest, I really […]

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