27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: June 2012

One year

One year ago I had my life turned around. I left Canada for the new and unknown world of NYC. I left everything I loved behind, my boyfriend, my kitty, everything but the clothes on my bags, my car … everything. I left it all to come to NY. I was scared beyond belief. It had been 8 years since I’d done something similar. I’d left my parents’ house to move to grad school city. I had a lot of energy and I was in desperate need of change. I wanted to be independent.

But this time things were different. Hon and I were finally in the same place, in the same school. We slept in the same room, played video games together, watched reality shows, had lunch at school.

Then I couldn’t take one more day of being a postdoc. And it was a tough decision. I’d been dreading getting out of the tenure-track, but I knew it was necessary. I wanted to see the fruits of my labour today, not 5 or 10 years down the road. I wanted to go back to my field of study in grad school. I just didn’t picture that this would take me away from the little life hon and I had built and into the unknown away from everything and everyone.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t last under my boss’ reign. I knew he was going to be hard to satisty … I just didn’t know how much. I knew I’d be facing many of my fears, being alone, living from paycheck to paycheck, not having my best friend and companion holding my hand and giving me the reassurance I so needed to do tough things … being apart from him once again.

Life conspired to bring us together at different times last year. We shared time, love, and bites of dessert in the city that saw us come together almost 7 years ago. He liked the city, more than he expected. And I did too, I still do, despite the noise, the smells and the crazy busy subways.

I met some of the pioneers of my field. I’ve gone on workshops and mini-symposiums. I finally got my NYS driver’s licence. Thai food in the city still sucks (sorry, it does, not everything in NYC is always yummy). I learned to work on other instruments, interact with people from different fields of expertise and different levels of training. I watched as the Empire State Building changed colours to celebrate marriage equality.

I can’t say where I’m going to be in a year. Ideally, I’d be in a place where I can still work with similar instrumentation back home, though I know it’s hard to come. I’m not afraid of admin work anymore, in fact, I kinda like it. Who knows, maybe I’ll switch once again to something more managerial/admin. Lord knows higher ed places need better admin people .. it wouldn’t be too bad to have a PhD here and there that can communicate with scientists effectively and watch out for their interest, in ways that perhaps HR or bookkeepers may not relate.

I’ve also been punched and kicked to the ground by life in more ways than I can count. I try to get up, but it’s tough. Thankfully, I have great co-workers who have my back. I try to be as nice and accommodating to them as I can.

I’ve met wonderful people all over the city, friends from Twitter, readers of the blog. I’ve gone out of my comfort zone on a few occasions to try and meet other people, be social, find new friends.

It had been a tough and rewarding year. I’m happy I made the change. It was just what I needed. I feel I fit once again, like I’m in my turf, with my people, my own kind of structural biologists. And that feels great. I look forward to what’s next, yet I’m a bit apprehensive. Life had been kind in some ways. I just don’t want to be kicked and punched anymore. A break from life’s asshattery would be nice.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support. I couldn’t have made it this far without all y’alls help. Thank you. Here’s to the beginning of my second year at work. Cheers!

Projects on the intertubez

I’ll be in your intertubez, clogging them ;-).

So, a couple of entries ago I mentioned that although life in the flesh in 2012 sucked, life on the web was more promising. Now that some of these projects are live I can talk a bit more and share with you what’s going on.

Almost every week I get at least 1 email from a young person, be it an undergrad,  grad  student or even postdoc, with questions about life in academia. Some are not sure of where to go, or what to do, or whether to stay in the lab, move on, or else. Others simply need encouragement to make a decision.

Some of these emails break my heart, some situations are plain unfair (bad mentors, vindictive labmates, crappy school), others are part of a general lack of mentoring. I had an awesome mentor in grad school … in fact, pretty much all my mentors have been very good. So I feel like in a way, I can give something back if I can answer a question, provide insight or be a mentor in a way.

I answer questions as soon as I can (though sometimes it’s hard to find time and sit and give an answer that makes sense). All this, and Twitter, provided a platform to make an idea become a real thing. For a bit the good people at Benchly and I had been talking about collaborating some way. After a particularly sad email we came up with the idea of a column to hopefully give a sense of reassurance to some of you out there who may be facing a tough time in the lab, or are maybe thinking about exploring other options in academia or just want to see what others are doing. In it, a few of the most common questions we get are shown together with answers from people who have been there, and survived and are now in a much better place. And if you haven’t checked out Benchfly, you’re missing a lot of goodies. Benchly is “the premiere video platform for scientists designed by research and video experts.” Need a video tutorial on a technique? Go there and check it out. Need advice, there’s a column for that. And there’s also a great blog with lots of great advice.

The first column is up and running. Every few weeks someone new will be showcased along with their answers and individual situation and how they’re doing since moving on from their bad situation. I hope this helps those of you out there with a tough situation and what to do … know that you’re not alone, it does get better. The first column features your truly. If you’ve had a bad postdoc experience and are now doing much better, please get in touch with me or Benchfly. It would be great to see how things changed for you. And on a related note, check this out.

Second, a few weeks ago I was approached by the fine people at Bio Careers. Bio Careers is a site “dedicated to expanding professional options for life science PhDs and MDs.” They feature a great job board, offer career tools and have a blog where scientists from all walks of life offer advice on everything career-related! I’ll be writing a monthly entry on career issues and my experience going from academia to non-profit research. My first entry is up! Check out the blog, and if your institution is a member, you can sign up for an account with them. That is super cool.

I hope you enjoy these entries and that they serve to keep you upbeat when you’re down and give you a sense of hope when you don’t know where to go.

Things I wish I had considered in grad school

This may evolve into a series. I’ll also be crossposting some of these on 1DegreeBio.

Yesterday I caught myself thinking about my first few years in grad school. I was thinking about the interview, my answer, my first year of classes, rotations, etc, etc. I also thought about my qualifying exam and what I would be doing today, had I not passed it the second time around. I also thought about things I learned as I was going, and never asked anyone for, but wish I had.

See, I’m almost always on a cloud, oblivious to whatever is happening around me (apparently, people have been know to cheat on their significant others, in plain view, in front of me, yet I’m the last one to find out). Also, I don’t read instructions, I go and do, and when I hit a wall I go back and re-trace my steps (not very smart, maybe some vestigial cavewoman thing going on). I’m of the school of thought that things should be simple and if I have to spend too much time fumbling around and reading before I get started, I will quickly lose interest (life sci companies, make your instruments simple, and remember KISS).

When I entered grad school I thought things would be simple, just a little harder and faster than college. I thought I’d take classes for 1 or 2 years, be done with coursework and do a ton of research, write the thesis and get the PhD. Then during a recruitment session for my department, I learned that there was this pesky thing called a qualifying exam. My throat went dry, I could hear my heartbeat on my ears, faster and faster. I thought I would die. The qual came and went, I failed on my first try, passed with flying colours on the second one.

Then there were the bits of wisdom my PI shared through the years. Things about writing style, about arranging figures, about making sure figures were informative enough to have people in the audience see your point, even if they couldn’t hear you. Tips about applying to jobs, maybe turning into a consultant, tips about our approach and how to explain it better.

Then there were things I wish I had asked my PI for advice, or my labmates, or anyone else for that matter. In no particular order I hope to share some of those with you, in case you haven’t thought about them, or you have, but have questions. Maybe it will serve to keep you in the lab, or get out and work on something else. It’s just musings on things I wish I’d done more (or less) of to make my grad school experience enjoyable, and gear it towards what I’m doing now.

Stay tuned for those bits to come.


Thank you so much for your sweet comments on the previous post. It has been a sucky first half of 2012. I’m apprehensive about the next six months, to be honest.

One aspect where things are going better is life on the web. I seriously have some amazing contacts, and readers and commenters. I can’t give out many details yet, but a few guest appearances are brewing. I’ll update as they happen, when the happen. They will be good, so if you’re having a tough grad school or postdoc experience, please stay tuned. There is hope. Thanks for those that have helped and expressed interest already!

Hope you have a great week.

PS. I’m seeing my honey at the end of the week. That should be very good.

Oh … and I have tons of work, which is why I’m blogging a lot less and tweeting once in a while.