27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Do you like your job?

That is the question my dearest husband asked me yesterday. He wanted to know what are my impressions after being at the new job a few weeks in. First, I want to tell you that this week I’ve effin’ earned my salary. The first few days I was dealing with a lot of admin stuff, but this week started me off with finally getting my hands on instrumentation and working on it and through my frustrations with it for the first time since I left NYC. And gosh darnit, it has been tough. As I get familiar with one of my toys again and show a new crop of grad students and postdocs how to work with said toy, I realize that what I’m doing is hard work and I hope I can make it work and keep people happy or at least keep the instruments working so they can get the science done. And that’s is one huge responsibility.

But that aside, being at the new job has been interesting. In my previous entry I mentioned how people at work seem overly nice and concerned about keeping me happy. And how that freaked me out. Truth be told, I’m happy they’re making an honest effort to keep me happy and to make sure that everything I need, from office supplies, to gadgets for my toys … that every need for the lab (and for me) is covered so I can do my job. During the new employee orientation I heard someone say that one of the mottos  of the organization is that they will give you the tools to get the mission accomplished, it is up to you to pony up the man/brain power. And I’ve seen that in full display during these last few weeks. This is something I definitely lacked as a postdoc, and in some instances missed in NY due to budget constraints (well, a stingy boss, truth be told).

With that said, I do miss NYC and my coworkers greatly. I’m still not over it and I don’t think I will for some time. In weeks like this one, where I get battling with an instrument and a specific piece of software I didn’t understand, I really, really missed them. I don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of here, other than grad students and postdocs, and they have their own labs, projects and responsibilities. I’ve been told this week, on more than one occasion, that I’m putting too much pressure on myself. That I’m starting and that they don’t expect me to know everything, but that they know I’ll grow into my role in time. For now they’re happy to have someone full time and available when there are questions about how a particular piece of equipment. But I can’t help but feel the pressure, since I was in their shoes and in the lab I’m running a long time ago. I feel like it is expected of me to know they little details and the big picture that are needed to keep this core lab running.

Then, on the rare occasion I venture to Twitter, I see this and this. And it makes me think about my own career so far. My 6 years as a grad student, my two as a disgruntled postdoc, my almost two as a staff scientist, and now as lab manager.

During that disgruntled period of my life, many times I asked myself if I could see a career in the TT as my ultimate goal. My answer was always no. I’ve seen the sacrifice that many people make, from singletons, to people in committed, long term relationships, with and without progeny. I simply realized that if I felt overwhelmed, exhausted and pissed, without having kids, or writing R01 apps lefts and right, then the TT was definitely not for me. And I can say, with an honest heart that I don’t regret my decision. I still work my tail off, like this week, but I don’t depend on grant money to feed both my lab and the mouths of those that work with me. That is a responsibility I cannot see myself fulfilling. And I am more than OK with that. That isn’t to say that I do not admire PIs, I seriously do. The more I see the hurdles they have to jump through to keep a lab running, even when facing lack of money or publications, while maintaining a relationship with their families outside the lab, and attending recitals and soccer games, and dealing with admin bullshit and government cuts. My admiration for PIs knows no bounds.

And I can tell you that even as a staff scientist, I’ve pondered, like Isis has done, whether I see myself doing this for the rest of my life …. being a staff scientist, a lab manager, for the next 30 to forty years. That people, is a shit ton of time.

My own path into academic research wasn’t all straight all the time. Sure, I finished my undergrad and quickly started in a grad program. But during the years I was in grad school, I asked myself questions as to what I’d do in the future, once I stopped being a grad student. But I didn’t really face that beast until my very frustrating postdoc. And joining my previous job was an amazing eye opening experience that showed me that my love for the field of structural biology is real, that my PhD wasn’t a fluke (even when during weeks like this one I question whether I learned to do stuff right), and that I can help steer a lab in the right direction, with the right PIs above my head.

But still, I do on occasion wonder if I’ve made the right choice, and whether, should honey and I ever reproduce, my job career will be compatible with said choice. Even without kids, I wonder whether my job, with all its responsibilities, is compatible with hon and I hopping on a car or plane and going away for the weekend to explore a new city. I consider that an important part of our relationship, and something I want to continue to do. But as a lab manager, and as the first point of contact between the university and my PIs and the instrumentation and the service people I’m basically on-call 24-7, I’m kind of the emergency physician of my lab and should something go wrong while we’re away enjoying Charleston, or Lexington, or New Orleans, I can’t simply forget about my responsibilities as manager.

As it is I’m now carrying my phone with me everywhere I go. I answer emails while eating at Chipotle, text students and postdocs with answers about equipment, and have had to juggle meeting with three people in a time span of 5 minutes, all wanting something different from me. If this is a preview of what’s to come … then I’m in it for quite the ride of my life. And while I have the stamina right now and the drive to go from room to room, instrument panel to instrument panel and sit down and babysit students and instruments, there will be a time when I won’t be enough for it all. I saw it with my supervisor in NYC. The man could do 15 things at a time, yet he faced our boss who always had a complaint or issue, who had a particular vision on how to do things, but hardly any grasp on the difficulty to set them in motion. All while having a small kid and a baby and a wife to take care of. I saw the bags under his eyes and I tried making him laugh as often as I could … but even then, he wasn’t enough and it was/is hard on him. Am I just as strong and driven as he is? Do I care enough about my new lab and my fellow users to make sacrifices? And will my honey resent me, should I choose them over him on occasion? Is this a lifestyle I can thrive in and be successful for years to come?

I have no idea and I am scared. I know that the pipeline is leaky and I don’t believe in the work/life balance. To me that’s simply BS, something always gives (or has to), and most of the time it ends up being the family. And I don’t want to see that happen. I don’t want to be like one of my last mentors who would show up at home at midnight, then be back in the lab by 9am, not have dinner with their spouse, only to end up divorced.

These are all important questions to answer, I just don’t know how for now. I hope I can figure some of it out, and that when it comes to choosing work or family, I will find a happy medium …. if that is possible at all.

They really want me … or they’re really crazy

Have had that on repeat in my head during the last two weeks. People here are weird … it’s as if I’d joined one of those crazy happy churches where people look happily stoned and … crazy.

Well, it’s truly not that bad. I just feel … weird. I’m happy to be back, don’t get me wrong. Every time I look around and see green and pretty streets and empty trash bins I’m reminded of how different it is to live in suburbia once again. We’re not in NYC anymore, Toto!

I think that, for now, I’ve made a sensible choice. I’m happy to be here and I’m honestly surprised and humbled by people’s response to my coming. I’ve seen lots of old friends and acquaintances around, everyone acting more surprised than the next person. But it’s good, it feels right.

And I’m definitely noticing the difference from when I was here as a trainee. Some of the benefits are better, people treat me different, with more respect (not that they were disrespectful before … it’s just different. I feel like I can talk to my PI (or PIs, every day I keep getting a new one added to the list, ha!) and they value my input, more than when I was a student or postdoc). The admin people are very nice and helpful and they’ve showered me with attention, wanting to find out if all is well, if I need anything, if I’m being taken care of. This is certainly something that lacked in my life when I did my postdoc (it was so disorienting, no one knew where to send me next, no one informed me of issues and I ended up paying more than I should have for an initial health coverage before provincial healthcare took over, it was disorganized). People here have apparently been getting ready for my coming for weeks, from procuring office space, computer resources (I get a few big monitors, woo-fucking-hoo), office supplies, keys and forms that give me access to the bowels of the building I’ll be working in. I’m simply amazed. Oh, I guess this is sort of a white whine on my part …. well, la dee da

I’m also amazed that stuff is still working and that instruments I’d used in another life are still around and functioning. Lots of good data have come from them. But I’m afraid they’ll go once I get my hands all over them. Who knows. For now I’m tailing people like I’m a first year grad student who knows nothing.

In addition, I get a lot of autonomy. This is something new … and a bit scary too. I’m afraid of making decisions that will make me look like a total bitch in front of the PIs, grad students and postdocs that have been using the instrumentation since I’ve been gone. I don’t want people to think I don’t respect what they do, or that I don’t want their business …. and I would hate to turn into one of my previous PIs who kept everyone out of their lab and even though I’ve been gone from that lab for years, people still relish in mentioning how exclusive said PI was and how they kept their instruments away from everyone.

I’ve been getting calls about consultations with people, nothing terribly involved … just people wanting to get my opinion on things. It’s weird. I feel as if whatever I say now has more weight than when I was a postdoc or a grad student. NYC certainly showed me that some companies care about keeping their customers happy and value their input. It certainly feels like that here too.

Next week I’ll start hands on on the instrumentation. I have to do weekly check ups of certain things to see if they’re within spec. One of my PIs mentioned that whatever I need to do, just go for it, because they want the lab to run smooth and for me to make things easy when it comes to equipment, handling samples and certainly dealing with users.

This is all so new. I don’t want to screw things up.

On a non-work related thing, I want to take a moment and thank you all for your support during the move and especially when my honey got sick. He’s doing much better, out of the hospital, and soon his stitches will be out. He’s lost some weight and is very tired, but recovering more of his strength every day. This last week has been draining. I can only hope we go up from here.

What’s new with you?

The new job

My goodness everything here is new. I swear. Well, not everything. But, I feel like everything’s new. I can’t believe the move is done and I don’t have to worry about roommates, alternate side parking or crazy cab drivers anymore. That said, I *freakin’* miss NYC. I really do. For a moment now I thought about hopping on the train to go to Whole Foods and get something to eat. Then I remembered that I’m not in NYC anymore. Sigh. <Insert another sigh.>

The place is bare bones. We have a lot ahead of us in terms of furnishing the place and making sure we make it our own. I am happy we kept some of the things that made our beautiful place in Canada our very own lovely dwelling. But we’re in need of pretty much everything, from a microwave, to more pots and pans (not too many), to a BED, tables, etc, etc. I’m sure we’ll make it happen as time goes by. It just looks SO bare.

So, I guess I should back out a bit. I’ve been in new job city for two weeks now. Most of our stuff was in storage and what wasn’t was in my tiny little room in NY. I’d tried packing as best as I could and then hon helped finish it off. Early on a weekend two weeks ago we went to our storage unit, took out all of the boxes that had been sitting pretty since September of 2011, packed even more boxes at home, took the cat and left the wonderful world of NYC. Hon was awesome as a co-pilot trying to get us out and safe of the craziness of Brooklyn and Manhattan, and then off to cross a bunch of states.

It seemed as though we had to drive forever (it sort of did at times). We drove for a couple of days until we got situated into a small hotel room in new job city, waiting for our place to become available. Hon had to go and finish some business at home, so I spent the rest of the time alone until  days later our new dwelling was ready. I paid the first month’s rent (thank goodness they don’t require 2 or 2.5 or heck! 3 months to rent a place here), took my keys and off I went.

While hon and I did all the manual labour in NY, here I contracted some guys to unload the boxes. I counted and there were over 30 boxes of stuff. Stuff I hadn’t seen in 2 years. Stuff I didn’t even remember I had. That should tell you how much I need the stuff … but, all of the places I lived in NYC had everything (except a bed) and I had roommates. Never once did I get to live alone in the city. Ugh.

There are still about 15 boxes around the apartment. We have some closet space, so I’ve been trying to make the most out of that. Some boxes didn’t survive the trek (or dare I say, 3 treks) to new job city, so out the door they went. I’ve decided to keep some (I always do) because you never know. I do hope we get to live at this place for a year.

The place we’re renting is in a community we’d lived before, so I was familiar with the layout. I get giddy every time I open the door and see space and don’t have foul smells courtesy of my roommate cooking crab or shrimp (hon is allergic and I can’t stand the smell of seafood, yuck).

Right now I’m living on nothing, courtesy of spending the money on the move and on gas and other expenses. Hon is letting me borrow some money until I get a deposit back and my reimbursement for moving expenses gets approved. Even with that, I’m happy we have a roof above our heads and food on the table (or floor!) and that life seems a bit less stressful (for now).

Tons of different places have opened in town and some old staples have new locations. I’ve taken public transport a few times and it is great to leave the driving to someone else (thanks NYC for getting me used to taking the bus and subway!). I have taken the car to work a few times and for some reason I have the same classification as faculty for parking purposes, so as soon as a faculty spot opens, I can get it. Woohoo!

Benefits are good, though a bit different from NYC. Hon and I are still navigating  the waters of health, dental, eye and other types of coverage. And I think I’m opting in for life insurance … because you never know and I’d hate to leave my hubby penniless (he doesn’t like to talk about the subject).

The job is … well. Technically I just started. I had to endure a long ass orientation cycle. Got my ID, got an email, met with a bunch of people from the school, saw my boss (an old prof of mine) and have met one of my supervisors (I have a couple of ’em). I’m looking for things to do. The lab has some equipment that I know how to use,  and some I don’t. I’ve answered a few questions for my previous co-workers (I’m missing them a TON), and planning how to tackle this new lab, with all its intricacies and issues and stuff. I’ve started contacting people and I’m hoping that the sequester won’t do a whole lot of damage (Damn YOU Congress). We’ll see.

I hope to continue posting once a week, usually on Mondays. We just got internet.

I hope to write some more about the lab, my responsibilities and my impressions on coming to this place as an employee, not a trainee. We’ll see how this goes.