27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Days that blend

One into the next. Even though we’re not having a course this semester, the beginning of 2012 has been a bit (or a LOT) crazy. I’m barely doing science, and mostly making sure that equipment is ready for use, and if not, contacting people and explaining/cancelling their bookings (makes for a lot of happy people). Seriously, it’s like half of our equipment has been under repair for the better part of this month. The last two weeks have been busy with meetings, workshops, trips to get stuff done and diagnosed (the stuff, not me). And I’m still behind. I need to work with someone in the lab to order parts for a pump, a co-worker and I need to work on an instrument and finish fixing it after some major upgrades, I need to run to the machinist and have stuff done. In addition we have to sign off on an old purchase that its grant is about to expire. Fun, fun, work, work, work.

But it’s days like today that I really enjoy (dare I say love) my job. Even with all the pushing and the phone going off the hook. It is says like this one when I can feel that I made the right decision. That all the doubts, that all the asking (and driving nut) honey in the summer, are cast aside and I feel that not pursuing an additional year as postdoc was the best decision I’ve made (career-wise, in a long time).

Today I took care of a lot of things on my to-do list (as stated above, there are many others to take care of, but at least I feel like I’m making some headway). I got equipment ready for next week. I prepped instruments for people, called a vendor and managed to get the correct part for something we had ordered two+ months ago, and finally got here, and now it’s all wrong. We won’t get slammed with re-stocking fees, and the shipping costs will be covered by the vendor. I felt a bit of relief when I explained that I purchased the wrong part, based on what the sales rep told me (this was back in December when I realized that I had no recollection of the months of October and November, because it had been that busy and I had no brain cells left to look deeper into the piece they’d suggested).

But something is missing, even when I’m this happy at work (read: something, not someone, I’m always missing honey). I miss being in front of my computer and reading all the fabulous posts y’all write, the (totes awesome) news you tweet, I miss interacting with my peeps and my tweeps.

I do count my blessings, though. I got to see hon, we did some touristing on the cheap during the days he was here. We ate at yummy places, found a delicious shawarma and falafel place which we visited more than once and enjoyed each others’ company. We held hands like two high-school kids (I love that, and his hugs, and oh so many other things). It was awesome. And now he’s gearing up to get the abstract for his thesis done and hopefully (before) May he’ll be Mr. 30 and a PhD 🙂

Additionally, some of my efforts haven’t totally overlooked (and dare I say, one of my 2012 resolutions can be crossed off the list … yay!!!). The boss and I were talking about some lab stuff and at one point he smiled and said he had something to tell me. I got nervous, flushed and sweaty (and a bit shaky). The year-end review took place at some point this year (which I had no knowledge of), and he was glad to report that he was able to lobby for a bit more moolah for yours truly. He may have said that he was satisfied, or something like that, with my performance …. but by that time I wasn’t listening anymore because I was in shock and disbelief. It’s the first time in a long time I’ve heard that. Wow. And it is the first time ever I get a raise (if we don’t count the grad school stipend increases every year).

Said raise won’t be enough to get me out of debt (sooner), but, I may be able to stay in the black more often, all while keeping my payments current and saving a bit for filing taxes (hopefully the last time) in two countries. Lovely. Also, hello new undies, jeans and some (much needed) tennis shoes for work (I don’t wear anything fancy for fear of dumping crap on them, much like I did with my computer).

It’s been good. My apologies for my absence from the intertubez.

Reading papers

…. Or not. This am, Cackle’s post on reading papers, based on Scicurious’s entry on the same topic, caught my attention. I can’t lie (well, about reading, anyway). I simply don’t read. Even though I was almost peeing in my pants when I got the job that got me back into my former field of training (I should start calling it FFT, not to be confused with fast Fourier transform), I have yet to read the latest and hottest in the field. I don’t read a single paper a week, and haven’t done for a while. There, I said it. I know, I’m a failure. But hey! isn’t admitting one’s shortcomings the first step?

When I was an undergrad I usually read a couple of papers a week papers, just because I was trying to make sense of what I was doing. In grad school, my FFT was somewhat small, and whenever a new paper came out, the boss would automatically email  it to everyone. We wouldn’t usually discuss it, unless we specifically used it in a paper or grant. Nor did we have regular journal clubs. And I was thankful for that (I know, bad, bad, horrible habit). It wasn’t part of our lab culture (I know, lame-ass excuse for not having regularly scheduled paper discussions). And eventually I understood when one of my fellow labbies said (to my question about reading papers in the lab) that she barely had time to  read, after the insane amounts of data she was churning out (I became like her after she left). We would occasionally, over lunch or sometimes via email, mention some brief points, about new papers and we always made a point of stopping by the sections/talks of people in the field (regardless or how hot or not was their research) during society meetings. But other than that, there wasn’t as much emphasis on reading and discussing papers. Same thing when I was an undergrad, though that apparently changed a couple of months before I left.

Then in my (rather brief) postdoc, my boss set up keyword alerts for the papers in our field, which he would forward to lab peeps, depending on the project. Our lab had at least 3 different areas of research going on, so he would forward said papers to the interested subset of labbies. We did start to have lab meeting soon after I joined (a tradition which had not been going on for a few years) and the boss encouraged peeps to present summaries of papers or present recent results during the meeting. I can’t remember if I ever presented a paper, I mostly talked about failed experiments and crappy results, up until the week I was gone.

Institutional access at my current place of work is rather limited. Thus, I can’t always count on having the latest available research at my fingertips. And I can’t even do an #Icanhaspdf, because the last 6 months have been mostly a blur (between people quitting, new people wanting to start projects and requiring more time than we have, it’s a miracle I get to sit sometimes).

I did audit a class last year and attended a couple of paper discussions, but some of the papers were methodology-type papers, and that would cover a wide range of time, from the very first papers published about the techniques (my parents were probably not even born) to some somewhat recent ones. I did try to read them as much as I could (starting with the abstract, reading all the figures and conclusion, and if I had enough interest, I’d check out the supplementary materials (holy crap Science, why the hell is more than half of your papers published in the supp. materials, WTH???).

I didn’t include catching up with the literature this semester, because we’re still short-staffed … hopefully if/when we get a new staff minion I’ll have some time off to check out my fave journos and catch up on what I’ve missed.

*Le sigh*

Sleepy

My apologies for not writing earlier. As always, it’s been incredibly busy. I had a couple of days worth of data processing and that’s kept me busy and away from Twitter and blogging and commenting. That, and all other lab related things that no one but me takes care of and get totally ignored, until something breaks, or needs to be re-stocked. Oh well, that’s life in the lab, no?

The boss decided to ring in the new year by taking everyone out for night of fun. I have to say, it was a very nice evening. But then the dreaded lab meeting came a few days after, and I felt like a tiny speckle of shit, stinky and undesirable. I know I have to learn to stand my ground and fight back when the boss is on the other side of his bipolar personality (if that makes any sense, I’m halfway asleep while typing this; I’ll explain this at a later time). And I know that not every single thing he says it’s a personal attack. But still, I’m still the new person and I feel the extra burden to prove myself worthy of my position.

I did manage to accomplish a couple of little things, including getting a permit required to work in the lab after-hours. That was a bit stressful. I also finished processing data for a professor and he sent a nice email thanking me for effort I’ve put in. I hope he likes the end result. Little notes like that make my day.

I’ve been trying to stay on top of a couple of different orders for lab supplies and stuff. We have a big instrument installation in a few weeks, and we’re busy purchasing all sorts of nuts and bolts to make sure the engineers have everything they need at hand.

My computer broke, because I accidentally dumped some of my breakfast on it. Basically parts of my keyboard are not functioning, and since I don’t have a lot of money to dump on a new computer (and I have enough empty USB slots) I bought a tiny keyboard, and I can *finally* type, tweet and answer and check emails. I had to do a full wipe-out of the system. Luckily I did manage to save important pictures and documents, which I need to restore. But I’m very lazy at the moment.

I’ve been getting only a few hours of sleep, especially on the day before lab meeting. I managed to submit a couple of entries to the blogging gig. I also got my W2 and now I’m waiting for my Canadian tax documents so I can file taxes in both countries. I’m not expecting a refund, and we’ll see how much I can deduct for the moving expenses and some work-related costs (if I decide to anally itemize everything).

Hon has been here for a couple of days. Looks like he’s finally catching a break on a few things. He submitted his completed thesis to be reviewed, and so far two of his committee members have given him some good critiques which are easy to fix (yay!), no life-altering changes thus far. He had a chapter proposal accepted today and hopefully he’ll appear in the author list, in his discipline, soon enough. To celebrate we went to one of our favourite southern spots, which has an branch in midtown. Then we took a stroll in the freezing cold weather and saw some of the usual touristy things, took pictures, and felt like our cheeks and hands we’re going to fall off. We also saw the hotel were we stayed during our first date. Oh so romantic. Now he’s right next to me reading ESPN, he! I love having him around. In a few days he’s returning home, and hopefully the next time we see each other I’ll be able to call him doctor 😀 .

A few busy weeks await me. I hope I can endure them. This is looking like an insanely busy year, and we’re not even a whole month in! How’s your 2012 looking like?

The best thing about me is you

Almost 13 years ago I met a cute, nerdy boy at a nerd competition. Said boy and I started college at the same time, majored in two completely unrelated areas, but had many friends in common, so we’d see each other every now and then. I liked said boy, and said boy liked me. But neither said anything, and it went silent until almost 7 years ago. On a whim, I made a called to said boy, he wasn’t supposed to pick up,because my number had changed, and he never picked up calls from numbers he didn’t recognize. But he did pick up, and we set out a date, in The City, while the two of us were living many miles apart. A year after that, the cute and nerdy boy moved in with me. I was in my second year in the lab, my third in school. We went through some difficult times, like failing my qual, getting the severe PMS diagnosis, losing family members, finishing his masters’ and trying to adapt to each other.

A year after that, Mr. Cute-Nerd decided that he wanted to pursue a PhD … in another country. Our hearts had been broken by long-distance relationships previously … we didn’t want to embark in one, but we loved each other dearly and we thought we could make it.  I didn’t want him to miss the chance of a lifetime just to be near me. So on a sad September day we kissed goodbye, our noses snotty, not only due to tears, but also because of matching colds, which had kept us in bed for our last few days together.

During those first years of being long-distance, we managed to travel and see each other more times than we thought possible. We spent holidays together, summers, we even traveled to Europe!

He saw me grow and become an expert in my favourite structural bio sub-field. He provided comfort, even if from far away when I wasn’t feeling well, or when I was having a rough day in the lab. He got to “play” with one of my favourite instruments, and later that day we tried the Tango.

I saw him take classes, teach stuff he’d never seen before, become friends with many people, from different backgrounds, and find an “enano” best friend which we both love (and miss dearly). I saw him fight the system sometimes, and become good friends with some of the best professors I’ve ever met. I also saw him fight against the very worst that academia has to offer … and he came through.

We then moved in together at the end of my PhD.We spent two years in the tundra, and managed to visit Niagara twice … always in the winter 🙂 . We drove past little Canadian towns, crossed the border with a packed car (twice) and share many special memories.

Mr. Cute-Nerd is at the end of his stint in school. Today, he handed his thesis, all finally done and ready to be critiqued by his committee before he starts the defense process. There will be more changes to make, there will be an examination committee to assemble, and people to meet, and documents to sign. We’ll finally kiss grad school city/postdoc city goodbye.

Mr. Cute-Nerd: you have made me very happy since that late summer day in 2005. I’m a better person for having you in my life. I’m in awe of your accomplishments, and I am so very proud of knowing you and being able to be a part of it all. You’ve grown immensely and I can’t wait to see you become a TT-beast (fo shizzle). I love our internal jokes, our little gestures of love, and our (somewhat daily) WTF links (awesomesauce). I’m incredibly blessed to have you in my life and I know you’re destined for wonderful things. You can do it, I know it, you’ve done 90% of the job already … the rest (even if it doesn’t look like it) is a piece of cake.

I can’t wait to kiss you and hug you and do something fun to celebrate this accomplishment. I know it is only the start of something wonderful. I am so proud of you, and I can’t wait for you to be (officially) a doctor.

Thank you for saying that your reward for the last couple of intense writing weeks is being able to spend time with me …. it makes this nerdy girl feel like the luckiest gal ever. Te AMO!

Sci resolutions for the new year

Last week I made a list with personal and professional resolutions for 2012. While most of them are good, and possibly achievable, I thought it would be good to set some goals for 2012 on the work/science front. There aren’t that many, as I prefer to be conservative, but I think there’s a decent chance of crossing off a few of these puppies by the year’s end. Here’s (a very short) list of my science resolutions for 2012. Let’s see how I do over the next 366 days 🙂 .

  • Attend a field/sub-field meeting by the end of the summer.
  • Renew my membership to said society.
  • Attend a couple of local meetings to get myself known (and avalable) to the community here in The City.
  • Attend a few training sessions/workshops on equipment or software used in the lab.
  • Appear in a publication, somewhere in the author list. Since I’m staff, and I don’t really have a project of my own yet, I probably won’t be a 1st author any time soon. Still appearing in a publication will help gain some recognition in the field and keep my publication juices flowing.
  • Learn to use, with confidence, all major pieces of equipment in the lab. In last 6 months I’ve learned how to use 2 machines that no one else knows how to use (and they seem to work!), along with other pieces of equipment. I’ve even taught a couple of people how to successfully operate them. Hopefully by December, or sooner, (knock on wood that I’ll still be employed!) I’ll master the other beasts in the lab, or at least know enough to teach people how to collect data without having me hold their hand.
  • Get a good evaluation and a decent raise. I’m convinced I should be earning a wee bit more (2-3K more would be wonderful, per year, not monthly (I wish!)) based on the amount of hours, training and independence I’ve gained, while in an understaffed lab. Let’s hope I can walk confidently into the boss’s office this spring/summer and convince him that I’m a) worth keeping, and b) worth the extra money.

Stay tuned to see how many of these I can cross off by 12-31-12.