27 and a PhD

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Yearly Archives: 2011

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I’m thankful

For so many things (in no particular order):

  1. I’m celebrating 5 months at work
  2. For having a job in the field I was trained, and love. And for finally having benefits (hooray retirement, dental and vision!)
  3. And learning my way with certain instruments and equipment at work
  4. And I’m starting to feel somewhat useful
  5. For having hon with me, in the city,  more times than I imagined possible after the move
  6. And his ability to find entertainment on the cheap (babe, you need to make your own website, entertainment on the cheap for poor grad students and staff scientists)
  7. And his love and support, and kindness and sweet messages throughout the day … even when I’m dead tired, it’s a nice things to find little smileys or sweet notes on my phone
  8. For my family and their continued support. For their health and love
  9. For great co-workers who make me smile
  10. For the lack of gossip and criticism from co-workers
  11. For getting more independent on some of the equipment, and hopefully getting the courage to ask the boss for a raise when the time comes
  12. For being able to pay my bills, and have food on my table, even if I can’t afford to go home for Xmas. This whole money ordeal with the family has shown me that sometimes, tough decisions have to be made in order to get out of debt and (hopefully) stay out of debt
  13. For the yummy, cheap deli near work and for the good Chinese place down the street
  14. For having a roof over my head and public transportation
  15. And an insane amount of luck finding parking
  16. For having fantastic Twitter and IRL friends
  17. For having two legs that work and carry my tired body at the end of the day
  18. For the many awesome people I’ve met while in this city, especially some really cool scientists … one of which I’ve admired for almost a decade
  19. For being able to speak my mind at work, to my boss’s face and not feeling bad about it (and hoping that it won’t get me fired). For his honesty and not needing a crystal ball to read his mind
  20. For having a crazy kitty that drives me insane … but it’s a most welcomed company when I get home from work
  21. For networking opportunities and for being able to attend a few cheap (or free) local meetings this year
  22. For leaving my postdoc at the right time, and for everything I learned there
  23. For having Canada be my second home and native land. I miss you and the nicest people on Earth (except the crazies driving around postdoc city, sheesh) …. and Thai Express
  24. For having 2 outlets to blog and share my stories, and especially, for all the warm and supportive comments, emails and tweets
  25. For looking out my window and seeing The City … I sometimes pinch myself because I can’t believe I get to live here
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Life …. lately

Oh my dear blog, why have I abandoned you? It’s been crazy busy. Right now hon and I are watching some boxing, enjoying each other’s company, after spending a day in the city. I’m enjoying this thing of having federal holidays off, which feels weird. It hadn’t been like that since undergrad.

I got my reimbursement from the moving expenses along other things, and one of my debts is almost wiped out (phew). But I’m still not out of the woods re:family/money issues. In fact, I won’t be for a long, long time.

I got into a mini screaming match with my boss, something I wouldn’t even imagine doing a few months ago when I was a postdoc. I’ve become a bit cynical at work, mainly because I’ve noticed some unfair treatment from some high up people towards some coworkers. I didn’t agree with two decisions my boss made, and I spoke my mind …. without a filter. I guess it’s contagious, because the boss is like that, filter-less. At least I know the boss appears not to hide his feelings, and if he’s pissed or frustrated, he’s likely to say something (no more guessing games, as with the postdoc PI).

I bought an mp3 player. My old one, which has a really great storage capacity but lousy battery life, was due for a change. I found a decently priced, well-reviewed one. And decided to take the plunge. Listening to music during the morning commute is one of my favourite things. I look forward to getting on the subway in the morning, and at night, and listening to my fave tunes.

I think I’ll bite the bullet and get a semi-expensive (read, over 30$) purse for work. Mine, which is a lovely canvas one I bought during my last vacation, is on its last legs. Luckily, I have some points which are redeemable for gift card to one of my favourite online retailers, so I’m thinking of getting said handbag. I’m excited about it.

And talking about money … crap, Xmas trips are insanely expensive. Since I don’t have any miles I can use, and I refuse to pay 3x more than normal to go home, I’m thinking of taking a small break early next year, instead of this year. I will sure miss them … but I can’t justify spending more than 500$ on a trip home (I know, I just talked about getting a purse and an mp3 player … both purchases will equal less than 100$, one of them technically “free” due to a rewards plan) for less than 10 days. That’s insane.

Kitty is driving me insane. I can’t handle her … I’m glad I’m childless … because I would make a horrible mother. ‘Nuff said.

Work is going well, I think. I’m becoming somewhat proficient on some pieces of equipment, some of which I’d never used. Things are becoming more logical, less cumbersome. It is still a challenge. Summer and fall have been crazy, and we’re near the end of a class, which has been taking a ginormous amount of time.

Work has allowed me to meet with people I’ve admired for many years. I’ve met some of my favourite scientists, geeked out with them and even emailed, in some cases! That’s one of the parts I’m really enjoying about work. I have to give lab meeting in a few weeks. That, I’m definitely not looking forward to.

The lack of consistent tweets and entries has been a result of really busy days at work. At the end of the day I am so tired (hon went to visit me at work a few days ago and saw this first-hand, to which he kindly added that I truly don’t get paid nearly enough for all I do) that I don’t have the stamina, or mental power to interact.

I’m getting ready to spend a pretty penny for the lab, as we have some leftover supplies money to spend. So I’m getting the thrill of shopping, and finding deals, even if it’s for stuff I won’t get to keep and have to share, ha! I kind of enjoy the purchasing part … but only when I have enough time to sit down and do it right.

Sorry for the lack of science, or lab-related entries. I hope the new year will help me in pacing my writing and ideas so I can go back to some of my usual stuff. Even with all the bad things that have happened, and the meh salary, I’m kinda happy at work. I think I’m beginning to enjoy work … and even love science once again.

And a small reminder that, I’ve been guest blogging for a wonderful Canadian company, 1DegreeBio. They have some cool resources for all your antibody purchasing needs. Go check ’em out. And check my entries here!

On not being a student

Even though I’ve been away from school for over 2 years now (it feels like it’s been longer, somehow), I sometimes catch myself thinking and doing things as if I was still in school. Even as a postdoc I did things like a student would do. It’s starting to bother me, especially now that I have a “real” job.

I’ve (mostly) always followed the rules. If a set of rules at school said that I was not supposed to touch something, I wouldn’t do it, for fear of enraging the principal or teachers, but especially because I didn’t want to have my mom and dad on top of me lecturing me about not doing stuff. Or when I was younger, avoiding my dad’s wrath and the ensuing physical punishment. Hence why I’ve never been arrested. But, I have many issues.

Anyways, that behaviour has kept me out of trouble for the most part and has kept me from ruining pieces of equipment or setting the lab on fire (because I’ve forgotten most of my chemistry). When I was in school, I would ask for permission to do everything. That also went on as an undergrad, a grad student, and later, a postdoc. I would ask for permission from the lab tech (and drive her crazy), from the boss (boss, can I run the fancy pants, uber-expensive, piece of awesome science equipment? for the third time woman, YES). I read the student (and grad student) handbook a gazillion times. I read the thesis instructions (for writing and submission) a million others, and I complied with everything, making the thesis-reviewing lady happy. I have a very boring life, always following the rules. I honestly fear upsetting people, and becoming “that” person dreaded by all the office staff.

Now that I’m starting to finally feel like a grown up, I still keep asking for permission, and in the process, drive some of the labmates, and office people a bit nuts. Take for instance this situation: when I was in grad school I’d never even dream of touching the school letterhead fancy paper or envelopes, even though they were there for all to see and take. I’d ask the secretaries and they gladly gave me some sheets and envelopes. Now, at work, I walk into the office and sheepishly ask the secretaries if I can take the fancy envelopes and pens, and they give me this look of “girl, get your act together, you’re a coworker, get them yourself, don’t bother me with such nonsense!”

Again, I want to avoid being trouble and upsetting people, but it seems that my student-like attitude is hurting people’s perception of me, and their willingness to help, more than helping.

I ask you, have you ever felt like this? Were you pretty independent and didn’t have a care about bothering office personnel or coworkers asking permission or did you find some sort of balance between asking and simply doing?

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

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!

Changes at work

Things are changing faster than I’d like. Recently I learned about two group members who are leaving. Both departures break my heart, one because I think it was somewhat unwarranted and unfair, the other because this person has been one of my advocates and has provided insight and encouragement since I started at work. I honestly can’t think of a better person for the job and I’m wondering who’s going to “replace” this person. Ugh, I hate the word replace, specifically attached to work things (unless it’s for a huge piece of equipment that no longer works). I hope to God the search is exhaustive and we get to meet pretty good candidates, but I’m afraid of the future. I just started working at this place, and it seems like the foundation is shaking. Maybe I’m blowing it all out of proportion, but still, these are pretty big changes.

I was recruited, or “appointed” to cover some of this person’s tasks. My place of work is gearing up for the start of the semester, and with it we’ll sure have tons of visitors and new projects coming our way. Summer has been slow, and I’ve been basically reading and learning bits and pieces of how to use some equipment. The real questions now are whether I know how to truly use and troubleshoot the equipment, and whether I can teach new people to use said equipment. I may also be acting as an instructor at some point, which will greatly reduce my time to work in the wet lab. We’ll see.

Two moves are happening. I found a more permanent place near the city, but it’s with a roommate. Since I’m trying to help out my mom due to the irresponsible decisions my dad made with money, I don’t have enough cash to afford a place on my own. I hope the new roommate and I get along. Hon is trying to come and visit, but tickets are way expensive.

Related to the second move. Hon’s grad funding ran out this summer. Ontario offers graduate assistantships guaranteed for 4 years. Hon has been at school for that long, plus this semester. He’s really short on cash, and since he doesn’t work in a lab, and can pretty much write his thesis anywhere, he’s moving back in with his family and finishing the thesis from there. Before the end of the month the all our things should be in the city … we’re going to need to store some of them, because my new place comes furnished. So, other than my clothes and shoes and a few little things, everything will go in storage until I can either afford a place of my own, or send those things to my parents’ house, or dispose of them. I think my dream of downsizing is going to become a reality. We’ll see at what cost. Because of the stupid job market hon has very little hope of finding a job in this city.

My car was broken into by a low life junkie. He took hon’s CDs, and stole our GPS. The local city police in Ontario take reports via the web … they didn’t even bother showing up to interview witnesses. We have no hopes of recovering our stuff. The stupid asshole is in jail. I sincerely hope he rots in there. Even though I’m in the States, and this happened in Canada, many miles away from me, I still look behind my shoulder everywhere I walk. I’m afraid of people. I trust no one.

Scientists have regular lives too.

About me

Been thinking lately (especially after turning 30) about the things that I like and dislike. Since I like lists I thought I’d make another one about me (and my quirky attributes):

  1. I have friends in weird places. One of my good friends from grad school is an atheist who believes in aliens and is a “priest” in an alien-type religion.
  2. I never cook meat at home …. especially for me. I’m fine cooking chicken for hon, but I will always cook something meatless for me. I hate the smell of meat in my kitchen.
  3. I’m giving myself permission to try new things now than I’m 30. I hope to try salmon for the first time in my life this year.
  4. I’m always asking myself permission to do things.
  5. I also ask permission or approval from those around me.
  6. I have a secret dream of becoming a beer snob.
  7. I want to get a 2nd tattoo, but I don’t know where, since what I have in mind would not match my existing tat.
  8. I like music … but you can’t understand how much I love it. When I listen to a song I like (especially an instrumental one), sometimes I feel like my heart will explode. Seriously. I sometimes can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have my sense of hearing and be able to listen to a beautiful piece of music and concentrate on each instrument, each sound, and the powerful, moving combination they make.
  9. I think I just discovered my passion. It isn’t a scientific one … though I’ve channeled some of it by working in my field. It is photography … but I’m still a beginner.
  10. I may meet one of my favourite scientific people thanks to work. I can’t wait. In fact, I think I may faint.
  11. I think fainting goats are ADORABLE.
  12. When someone sneezes very loudly, and doesn’t cover his/her mouth, it makes my blood boil. I would seriously punch this person if it weren’t because we live in a somewhat civilized society.
  13. I hate shaving. But I also hate hairy legs and armpits. I have some Italian in me. I hate it.
  14. I applied for work because a tweep names Genomic Repairman insisted.
  15. I just saw a white penis today (the second one I see in my life, ie. I’ve dated brown guys). I was walking down the street and there was this guy, near a park, playing his bagpipe for money. He was wearing one of those Scottish skirts (a kilt). It felt wrong and I feel dirty.
  16. I’m taking a sewing class in SoHo. I hope my work doesn’t end up looking like a murdered chupacabras.
  17. I want to start watching Dr. Who, but I’m not so keen on the sci fi genre (well, except Stephen King’s The Dead Zone).
  18. I miss living in Canada.
  19. But I don’t miss work.
  20. I do miss my former labmates.
  21. I’m taking all the chances I get to network like crazy. So far I’ve managed to get some insider’s tips on one of the pieces of software we use. Score!
  22. I’ve been incredibly blessed by knowing a lot of tweeps in this city. I’ve never felt truly alone, because words, messages and emails have been there all the time. I’m very lucky, and I can’t believe that people are willing to help in more ways than I could ever imagine. I hope I can pay it forward somehow.
  23. I miss honey. I wish I could fly every night to sleep next to him, then fly back to go to work. This city reminds me of him. Of us. I miss him.
  24. This city is amazing. I can’t wait to discover more of it. But, I’m afraid of winter. I know I’m a wuss. I just spent 2 winters in Canada. Still, I’m afraid.
  25. I’m lazier than my cat. That’s all. If I don’t answer your email or message promptly, it’s not because I don’t like you, it’s because I’m lazy. I’m trying to shake some of that off.