27 and a PhD

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Growing up I never really had many traditions, family traditions that is. Sure, we visited my grandmas, one divorced, one widowed. I saw my grandfather a few days after. Gifts were exchanged. My mom, my sister and I always went to church, either midnight mass or on Xmas day, sometimes both. My dad never went with us, he’s not a religious person.

Now that I’m all grown up, and live on my own, I find myself yearning to establish something, something other than going to church and visiting the family. Something that I feel proud of starting.

When hon and I purchased our very first Christmas tree together, we bought decorations, and I added a few of my own which my mom had sent on my first year in grad school. I remember being so thrilled about receiving that box. It had lights, a nativity set and and a little plastic angel which I always hang by the entrance of the apartment. It’s a bit kitschy, but I like it. I also started to get ornaments, handmade ornaments for the tree. We bought the little tree in Canada, and it’s now in NYC with me, thought it is currently in storage. That first year I bought two or three handmade decorations, a little nativity one I purchased at Ten Thousand Villages, and some stars I purchased at the place where hon got his incense from. They’re little wooden stars, golden little stars. I also got a vintage tree topper which I adore, and again, is hidden somewhere in one of our storage boxes.

Then last year I didn’t get an ornament. Last year I was pissed. I wasn’t home with my mom, sister, nephew and honey. Thankfully I had more than a few caring souls around, who sent cards (thanks tweeps!), gift cards (thanks M! and my in-laws) and even brought gifts to the lab (mmm, chocolate). Last year I felt very lonely. I didn’t venture into the city for days. I was in my own little foul mood. I didn’t get an ornament … but one of my users did.

My users are awesome (with one or two clear exceptions, people who break off parts of instruments and then act as if nothing had happened …. grrrr). I got tons of delicious chocolate, an ornament, thank you notes. All in the span of the 5-6 months I’d been at work at the time. My PhD boss used to call each of her students into her office and get something for them/us (usually something decorative, a vase, candles, wine glasses) along with candy and a gift card. I’d never had a boss/mentor do that. Nor have I had one since (though my postdoc boss paid on occasion for beer or wine).

But last year was different. Last year I felt pampered by the people I try to help. I want their experiments to work, as it reflects on both my place of work and my capacity to do my job in the best manner I can. It felt great to have people say thanks, give me and my supervisor a hug, invite us for lunch, or a cup of tea. It reaffirmed my belief that, although I was far away from my loved ones and buried in debt (I’m recovering from that but oh so very slowly), I still felt the love and care … all coming from people that had known me for months, in some cases weeks.

This year has been somewhat similar, though now I have more experience. I had someone pay for my lunch for letting them use a bit of bench space for a few hours over a couple of days. I had a PI send treats with their postdoc. I’ve been given hugs and thanks and emails with links to classics on youtube.

I’m thankful for the wonderful people I work with, the lives I impact with my humour or my ability to solve a problem or train. These perks mean more to me than anything material I can get. And I keep these memories in my heart.

This year, I did get another handmade ornament for our tree, honey. I’m looking forward to our future, and to have a little tree with ornaments from different times of our life, to share with our families.

Almost home … and guns

I’m one week away from napping with my baby nephew (who is really a big boy … all of his 2.5 years of age, 😦 ). I can’t wait to be with my mom and crack jokes with my sister. To indulge in some liquor, to be surrounded by the family. I can’t wait to be with my honey, who has promised to take me on dates and indulge my sweet tooth with at a couple of new fro-yo places. I’m also gearing up to retort to the “loving” remarks that some family and friends are sure to make when they see my almost-200-pounds worth of a body. “No, I’m not pregnant. I’m just fat. Thanks for asking.” I’d lost a tiny bit of weight back in the summer, but between Whole Food brownies and my local Asian take out places (plus, holy mother, the McRib is back!), I’ve added more, and more to my boobies and mid-section. I guess I’ll make the dropping the weight one of my usual resolutions of the New Year. Barf. I’m tired, my period is starting and I’m not in a good mood. Can’t you tell!

Anyway. I’m generally pissed at life. Though almost all of my meaningful relationships are good, and I’ve gotten a few lovely holiday cards from a few of you (THANK YOU!), I have this general feeling of being pissed. It’s no one’s fault. I’m just in a general state of being pissed. Yes, I’m still on my meds. Yes, I’m getting along with the people I live with. (Sadly) no, none of them is honey. I’m just pissed.

I’m pissed at life, I’m pissed with fucking stupid, sick people who kill people, kids, little innocent kids, at the beginning of their day. I’m pissed that there’s no strict gun control in this fucking country and that fucking sick people have (almost) free and limitless access to all sorts of weapons that cut such precious lives short. I’m fucking sick of it. And don’t you dare bring the “God had a purpose for this.” Fuck that shit. A loving, caring God would not let something like this happen. But whatever, what the hell do I know. I’m just a fucking scientist without kids who knows shit about how parents feel.

Growing up I never had to worry about someone coming into my school and doing such harm. The worst thing I could be looking at would be an after school fight. Thankfully that never happened. Nor did I ever break an arm or leg playing. I was one lucky kid.

At home, it was a whole different story. My dad owned a gun and had access to it for most of the time I lived under my parents’ roof. We didn’t have the warmest relationship growing up, we still don’t. Many times, especially at night, we got into nasty arguments … some of them physical, in which I was punched and hit. I begged my mom to divorce him. The church she believes in told her to swallow up her pride and hang on … the reward would come in the next life. She never called the police … neither did I. We’d both swallowed the Kool-Aid. In addition, my dad had the gun. And now  I can think back to some of those times, when as I teenager I would go to bed after a fight, or after a physical confrontation, and try to fall asleep. I would wonder whether my dad was mad enough to pick up the gun and empty the bullets on my face, or worst, on my sister’s. Even to this day, we’re scared of the 357 Magnum. He said he handed it over to the authorities when the cost of owning it and having a carrying permit became too much to bear after losing his job. When he lost his job my sister called me crying, saying that she thought it would be too much for him to be jobless and with a mortgage and several loans and that she was afraid he’d turn the gun on himself and commit suicide.

He didn’t. He hasn’t. But my dad had (has a temper) and he has OCD, and several other issues. I think he was sane enough to recognize that shooting at me or my sister would be a bad thing. That said, growing up I didn’t know that. He seemed insane, possessed, when we had our fights. And I wonder now … did his right to carry a gun, was more important than his two girls feeling safe and loved and without the anxiety of wondering the what ifs/could haves, etc. THIS is what it boils down to, for me, that what sort of peace of mind can a piece of metal and wood bring you and your family, when you have anger and anxiety issues, when people annoy you, when even your family annoys you and test your patience constantly, when you obviously have deep psychological issues that need therapy and attention, and you constantly refuse because you believe science is voodoo, yet you have ready access to a WEAPON that HURTS, that KILLS, that does deep damage, both physical and psychological. To this day I can recall the worry, the anxiety. As I write this I feel a deep pressure and discomfort in my chest.

For fuck’s sake … really, we need to do something to prevent people that “seem” otherwise normal from getting their hands on ASSAULT rifles. The fuck? Who need a FUCKING ASSAULT rifle in suburbia? WHO THE FUCK NEEDS THAT. We need tighter controls on the kinds of weapons that are readily available out there. There has to be a way to prevent future Sandy Hooks, and Columbines, and Auroras. The last few weeks before I finished high school were filled with anxiety and worry that someone would come and open fire in my school. Columbine happened weeks before I graduated. On the subway I worry that someone will open fire. When I lived in the south I worried that some God-fearing, gun-loving, person would open fire on me because I am Hispanic.

Seriously, what kind of fucked up country are we living in?

I can’t begin to imagine how much therapy and counseling the survivors and families of Sandy Hook, how many YEARS, they’ll have to go through to feel some sense of peace and relief … if that’s even possible. I was 17 when Columbine happened, and it frightened me greatly. I can’t wrap my mind around the thought of how every single child and parents who’s seen this tragedy unfold in the last few days, how they can begin to cope with the new reality. This should not have happened. This can’t keep happening.

Your “gun rights” are not more important than my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

PS. If this sounds like I was rambling, maybe I was. I’m too shaken, too pissed, too upset to make all these things into a succinct entry. I just wonder what’s going to happen when my nephew and his friends grow up … if this is the kind of event he will grow up to live with. Is this really the new normal? What has happened to all of us?

Not much to report

Same old, same old. Working on a lot of different things, meetings at work left and right. I am excited though to go home in 2.5 weeks. I can’t wait to be with my mom, my sister and my nephew, eat yummy food, go on dates with Mr 30 and a PhD and take it easy. This year has been full of good stuff and the occasional kink, but otherwise it’s been better than 2011.

What are your plans for the holidays?


For whatever reason I’ve found myself thinking about my time in grad school. It could be that early next year marks the 10th anniversary of the email I got saying that Pretty Southern U wanted to fly me for an interview. Or that a new crop of students and postdocs are coming. Or simply remembering simpler times. Below are some of my favourite memories:

  • I remember being so excited about the prospect of flying to PSU for the interview. I got the news right after doing my undergrad seminar, in which I scored a wonderful 95. I remember the prof turning to face me after I finished my talk and pointing to his evaluation that had a shiny, lovely 95. Then adding that he thought I was ready for grad school.
  • The very first meal I consumed after moving to PSU in August of 2003. 2 slices of plain pizza and a cup of fruit punch.
  • When I bought my car and was scared to death to drive around town. I remember the new car smell, and the very first CD I purchased. Michael Bublé. Little did I know that I would move to his native Canada six years later.
  • Every apartment I lived in. I remember them fondly. The smell of the elevator on apt #1. The smell of the balcony closet on #2. The ugly cabinets of #3, which was also the first apartment honey and I ever lived together 😀 The tons of closet space of apt #4.
  • The time I went to see Michael Bublé in concert. And I had no bra (I hope he liked my boobs, hahahaha).
  • The first time honey visited grad school city.
  • And how he became a father to our kitty daughter.
  • Adopting kitty.
  • Voting twice in grad school city.
  • Dining with a bunch of Nobel Laureates in a very casual setting.
  • Failing the qual.
  • Passing the qual.
  • Honey nurturing and encouraging me through it all.
  • The time I landed in the ER because I was so sick with a nasty flu.
  • The time I sang at a totally new church.
  • The friends I made, and our cramming times during the first year.
  • Being scared to death at the prospect of my first (and then my last) departmental presentations.

So many good memories, people, and times.

What are your favourite memories from grad school?

I’m thankful – 2012 edition

Last year I wrote this. Since lately my inspiration has been dwindling, I decided to revisit the things I was thankful for last year and add a new one or two for this one. Enjoy!

For so many things (in no particular order):

  1. I’m celebrating 5 months at work. For celebrating almost a year and a half here. I’ve learned so much, met so many incredible people and having the resources I do.
  2. For having a job in the field I was trained, and love. And for finally having benefits (hooray retirement, dental and vision!). Still true and very, very thankful.
  3. And learning my way with certain instruments and equipment at work. Last year I was terribly scared of some instrumentation. Thankfully, said instrumentation doesn’t scare me anymore. I know how to troubleshoot some common problems and I enjoy using said instruments. Yay!
  4. And I’m starting to feel somewhat useful. Still true, though sometimes I still struggle.
  5. For having hon with me, in the city,  more times than I imagined possible after the move. We haven’t seen each other as much as last year, but still, we’re going strong. And I am beyond happy about that 😀
  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). Still true (we even managed to squeeze a trip to DC!).
  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. Very true and always welcomed.
  8. For my family and their continued support. For their health and love. Amen to this!
  9. For great co-workers who make me smile. I love them dearly and appreciate their help and patience.
  10. For the lack of gossip and criticism from co-workers. Still true and it’s such a relief.
  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. Didn’t have to ask for a raise, I earned that mother%ucker. Also, I now know how to work with most of the equipment I should master. Pheww.
  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. Doing better money-wise, but still in debt. The good thing is that I still get to have warm food on my table and that is awesome.
  13. For the yummy, cheap deli near work and for the good Chinese place down the street. I moved so I’m far away from them now. The good thing is that I finally found some decent Thai delivery place. Ahhhhh
  14. For having a roof over my head and public transportation. A new roof albeit, but still.
  15. And an insane amount of luck finding parking. True, and now better than before.
  16. For having fantastic Twitter and IRL friends. True, true, true and especially for the ones I’ve met in the flesh.
  17. For having two legs that work and carry my tired body at the end of the day. Amen
  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. Still true!
  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. True, though at times he can be a jerk, but still, I need to crystal ball with this one.
  20. For having a crazy kitty that drives me insane … but it’s a most welcomed company when I get home from work. Now with even more kittehs at home.
  21. For networking opportunities and for being able to attend a few cheap (or free) local meetings this year. Still true and for being able to attend a small conference and meeting some cool people.
  22. For leaving my postdoc at the right time, and for everything I learned there. Still true, there isn’t a day that goes by that I forget to thank heavens for not being a postdoc anymore. Best decision ever.
  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. Still miss you Canada.
  24. For having 2 outlets to blog and share my stories, and especially, for all the warm and supportive comments, emails and tweets. For having an extra outlet come out of the blue this year and a few other opportunities.
  25. For looking out my window and seeing The City … I sometimes pinch myself because I can’t believe I get to live hereNot true anymore, but I’m still thankful for living in the City and having many cool things at my fingertips. 

Decisions, decisions

One of my resolutions for 2012 was to continue writing, at least once a week, to keep this blog going. Things went well, until they didn’t. It’s not that I don’t like to write. I do. Very much. Maybe because my computer crapped out at last week and that I’m definitely not writing 800 words using my phone, oh no … lately, I’ve found myself being lazy. I’m not on Twitter as much as I used to, and I’m definitely feeling like owe people something. The people that come to the blog looking for info on how to survive in grad school. Or how to deal with rough patches in their postdoc. Or simply to vent some of the frustration that comes with being a scientist. Whatever the cause, I feel like I’m failing as a communicator.

In reality, nothing major has been going on lately. I come to work, do my thing and go home. Wash and repeat. It’s not a boring existence. It’s just uneventful. And I hate being so quiet and “out of touch” I guess.

So, I’ve decided that come 2013, I probably won’t write every week, unless there’s any major development in my life, career, or both. I won’t write as often, but I will. I promise. I just want to feel less guilty about not writing as often, or with the passion I used to. I’ll keep on sharing new developments and such, but I won’t be writing as often (ie., 4-5 times a month).

Other than that, all is going well. I’m happy that this is a short week and that I get to rest a bit on Thursday. I still cough and sneeze on occasion from the cold I had a few weeks past. But thankfully I can finally walk and go up and down the stairs without losing my breath. I took my kitty to the vet and she’s had her shots and is doing fine. Next year she’ll need surgery for a minor problem.

I’m also interacting a lot with my roommates. They’re good people and fun and I’m getting out of my shell and talking more, opening more to see who they are and who I am. I’m very thankful that I haven’t had a crazy roommate (just yet).

Above all, I’m excited to go home and see my nephew and my mom and sister. And my favourite cousins and aunts and uncles. And of course, to go on dates with Mr 30 and a PhD. Oh, and did I mention that he just started teaching a master’s level class, at a university?? My honey is an adjunct faculty! He’s a professor!!! I’m so happy that one of his dreams is coming true little by little.

What’s new with you?

I should be home for the holidays

Compared to last year, money-wise I’m doing a tad better. Not great, but better. I’m paying a little less in rent (though I live in a place that not even Sandy could get to … thankfully). A few months back I paid off one of my credit cards, and now I’m continuing, though it’s hard. There are many temptations here in NYC and I’d like to rewards myself with nice things every now and then, but the future is much more important, something I try to remind myself as often as possible.

Honey had been paying close attention to the prices of tickets to go home and finally, after a bit of convincing he twisted my arm a bit to travel with the airline I *hate* the most in the world to (hopefully) get me home. I hate this airline (which starts with U and ends with nited) because they’re always screwing this up, but, they had the best price and it’s a direct flight. So I bit the bullet and said yes and now I’m going home in December, in time for the holidays. Last year I was bitching and moaning about staying in NYC and not seeing my family thanks to my father. But this year I still had some vacation days left and the hell with it, I’m going home. The director (dictator) of where I work won’t have my days, hell to the no. I’m taking each and every vacation day I have left and making the most of it. I do need to find a place to leave my kitty cat and square out some other details. But I am going home even if I have to fly myself to hell and back. I’m so relieved and happy. Christmastime is my favourite time of the year. People that haven’t seen me in forever shower me with love and alcohol. Hon and I go on dates. I get to play with my nephew and my mom and I spend some quality time together. I can’t wait to get home.

Most of my resolutions for 2012 have come true in one way or the other. I still have a few left to mark off. I promise to update this as we get closer to the end of 2012. I’ve also decided that 2013 is the year that will bring honey and I together once and for all. I don’t know how but mark my words, Mr 30 and a PhD and Miss 27 (plus 4) and a PhD will be together by this time next year. This is happening.

Science-wise, I have my busy days and my not-so-busy days too. Mostly I’m prepping instruments for people, doing some PM here and there and writing lots of documentation on how to use the different tools available in the lab. I also got a call from one of my previous PI’s. They’re in the market for some equipment and wanted my opinion on it. Maybe in the future they’ll collaborate with my lab. Maybe. It did feel nice to talk to them and talk, on a different level, about lab stuff and my opinion on it. It’s odd, but I felt useful, like the expert they said I’d become.

Also, I finally got an iPhone. Yes, I got the newest one. No, I can’t compare with the old ones, though I giggle when I see the smaller screen of the old ones (I know, I’m a snob .. but hey, it’s the nicest thing I’ve bought for myself this year). I’ve downloaded a couple of apps (including angry birds and the one for the PDB … it is fawesome! yes, fawsome … you know, f-ing awesome).

What’s new with you?