27 and a PhD

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Boundaries and priorities

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.

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I’m feeling much better, compared to when I posted this. I went to my initial visit with a new PCP in new job city and it went well. In fact, I didn’t want the visit to end. The doctor is about my age, female and explained everything in detail and in a reassuring manner and tone which was super helpful. She asked about all meds I’ve taken and what I needed refills for and I’m happy to report that I’m back on my PMS med and, while still adjusting, I feel like it’s making a change. I know, it’s a bit too soon to celebrate and it could all be related to having my period (which usually sours my mood even more a few days before and once I get over the initial cramping, it’s all smooth riding). But I am glad I’m back on my med. I’m also seeing her in about a month to get my annual pap-smear and I just learned that school offers free mammograms to staff, so maybe I should take advantage of that … even though it’s not necessary at my age, I would still like to have some sort of baseline and just check that everything is normal.

Thinking back to how I felt on Thursday and Friday night, I felt so defeated. I’d spent Monday, Thursday and Friday working non stop trying to get some preliminary data for a project. One of my many supervisors (I have more than one, all with similar opinions on some things but most definitely different priorities) needed some data and I agreed to give it a shot. What I should have said and remembered based on my experience from NYC, was that this would really be very tough to work on, especially with only a month to really evaluate things. Little by little I became more aware of the mounting difficulties and finally on Friday, something broke in the lab, and that was definitely the end of trying to collect the data for said grant. My next supervisor in line is somewhat of a nazi. In the month or so I’ve been at work he’s already caused problems that have found their way into my ears and I’ve really come to know that this will be a very difficult person to work with (I already told hon I regretted coming back based on the bit of drama this person initiated). My other PI is very chill, though can be demanding. This person is also very hands off and seems to have respect and trust in my abilities. As long as they intervene I can keep doing my job just fine … but who knows how much this person can protect me and how long they can be that way without getting their asses in trouble.

Here’s the thing … in NYC my immediate supervisor absorbed a lot of the heat if my coworker or I got in trouble. But here I am all alone and I am in the same position as my supervisor, and the lab I’m working in is in worse shape than I thought. And there are things I don’t know how to do and I’m learning … but nazi PI wants them done yesterday. And that has caused a lot of trouble and stress I wasn’t ready for.

Now, my husband is kind of a genius, but sometimes can say things too bluntly and in his interest to preserve my sanity and well-being, he can get riled up. So he’s trying a new strategy of communicating his concern for me,  and it’s sort of working. On Friday night we were talking about how much of a frustrating day I’d had. Not only did I have to see my PCP and try to work on the prelim data, but I also had to work with nazi PI and make sure that some plant services people fixed something in the lab. In other words, I was being stretched to my limit .. and I was running low on patience, plus I was feeling a little (or a lot) out of it … I was out of my mood med and I didn’t know it, but my period was rearing its ugly head. It was the perfect storm. I spent exactly 12 hours at work trying to fix problems, either on the phone, in person … hell, I even emailed a coworker to place an order while my doctor was getting some paperwork done outside of the exam room!! In what world is that acceptable? Couple that to the fact that I’m supposed to have a 40-45 min break during the day (by law, if the uni found out I didn’t take  it I could get in trouble) … all while trying to remain sweet and competent.

By the end of the night I was shot. I was looking at my blog stats and saw that more people kept coming, that more people were following on Twitter … and that while both the blog and Twitter are great outlets, I just didn’t have time to sit down and write my story …. this, plus all the bullshit at work, plus the PMS combined to make me feel down, depressed … like I was out of hope. My incredible super husband came to rescue, reminding me that I had to set boundaries and rules, that it is OK to take time to enjoy these outlets, that I’m better and more relaxed when I take time to focus on myself and that if my PIs have my best interest at heart, they’ll understand that you can’t keep going 24-7. And that yes, I have a laundry list of things to do to keep the lab running … but it’s not a sustainable model to stay in the lab for 12 hours straight, most days of the same week, having worked for 13 days before that non-stop. The way he said it sounded different than other times. Other times he’d let his frustration out and I felt like he was picking a fight, rather than being supportive. He said that talking with his mom had given him the idea to approach things differently … and it did go differently and it did sink in.

In NY my lab stayed open from 9 to 6. Sometimes we’d stay late and I did stay overnight one time. But, it wasn’t the norm, and I didn’t go to the lab on weekends. There were clear boundaries for the times I was expected to work. Here, since the lab is getting off the ground, there’s a lot of stuff to do and make happen … lots of things I’m trying to figure out … all while keeping 3 bosses (and counting, I’m sure there are more to come) happy. This is tough and it gets frustrating, because I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get everything done (I’ve been texting my supervisor in NY, telling him how much more I appreciate all he did for me and for the lab). But now that I’m starting, even if I can’t do everything the overlords want when they want it … to keep some sense of sanity and normalcy, I have to set ground rules as far how much time I can spend at work and what gets solved while I’m there. One of my new job resolutions is to let people know that they can expect to have me present from 9:30am to 6pm, 5 days a week. That I am more than happy to help, but they have to let me know, I have too many things on my plate to just dump everything and come to their rescue at the last minute. I will try my best not to work on weekends, while keeping my cell phone at hand, should someone encounter a problem. I realize that I’m the first line of defense when it comes to instrumentation breaking. I promise to get things done and crossed off my to do list as often as I can, and to ask for help. And also to confront nazi-PI, should things ever get as nasty as they seemed to get this week. If I am to make this place work and people be happy and productive, they need to know that I need to have some control and that there are ground rules … otherwise I’m just their pawn … and then the resentment and frustration takes the best of me.

I also plan to stick to going to the torture chamber (g-y-m), eat a bit better and listen to the hubs when he tries to help out. I’m feeling much better, despite of the coming challenges I’m facing this week. We shall see how things go. Thanks for staying put and for your encouragement.

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4 Comments

  1. sbcvandy says:

    Hooray for you! Boundaries are so important. I’m glad your hon could approach stuff differently this time, and it was a help. Taking care of yourself matters! (says the woman who doesn’t often enough)

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thanks! Indeed, honey rocks 🙂 I do hope I can stand up for myself should I ever be questioned as to why I’m not in the lab before X time in the morning. Hopefully it won’t.

  2. BananaFurby says:

    YES! I’m so glad to read this, I worried about you last week. I often feel that it is up to us, the new lab-generation, to change the 24/7-lab culture. Stick to you boundaries and prioritize your time with yourself and your hon. We all need to do that so science can be a workplace and not an all-consuming life style.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thank you! You’re so awesome. Indeed, I’m feeling better, both by being on the medication and now setting those boundaries. It looks like it’s an uphill battle, but I do hope to stick to them.

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