27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Sadness

As some of you know, yesterday my college BFF died of brain cancer. I don’t know the specifics, but apparently it got to the point where my friend refused treatment. The family is keeping things as private as possible and I have no way of communicating with them. It appears she will be buried  back home. I’m hoping that my new job will have some grief procedure or time allowance, because I owe her that much … to be present at her funeral. I’m very, very sad. But I’ve been reminiscing of the times we spent together … how we planned to yell at the top of our lungs ‘FUCK YEAH WE”RE GRADUATING’ (we never did, I was afraid I’d get expelled) from undergrad … or when I moved to the South, how excited she got when I told her I’d be visiting Graceland for the two of us. Every time I think of her, a smile comes to my face. She was awesome and hilarious. I in turn, became distant when she got ill the second time. I called her in December, hoping we’d see each other at home … but she had treatments to go through. She sounded hopeful, happy, but also tired. I never told her honey had proposed, or about our City Hall wedding in NYC. I feel horrible about this. I woke up yesterday thinking about giving her a call to tell her I wanted her to be at our wedding next year … and then I got the text from our third friend .. the three inseparable girls … telling me we’d lost her. I can’t believe I’ll never see her smile, hear her jokes, high five when we tell a dirty joke. I have wonderful memories of her. I hope to never forget her voice. It is difficult for me to cope with her death … mostly because it is so unexpected … to think that I won’t see her having kids, hear her laugh, have her tell my mom that she loved my dad more than my mom did (an internal joke) ….

I haven’t cried much. I only cried when I told my mom. I feel numb. I feel tired. I hate cancer. I always will.

But, blessings keep coming my way. My honey tried to make me smile yesterday, so many times. He took me to have my fave breakfast yesterday, we did a bit of shopping for the apartment. He took me to the movies. I was distracted, if only for a few hours. At night when I couldn’t sleep, he made me tea, comforted me, held my hands. Had those beautiful, loving eyes, showing his love, understanding and compassion in this moment of grief. I’m thankful for this wonderful man, that my friend got to meet him, that his parents met her and could tell how much we loved each others. She was a sister to me. And now she’s gone.

I may take a break from blogging or something. I’m sad, and tired. Thanks for your good wishes. Your support is great and much needed.

27 and a PhD: the lab manager

At this time last year I was returning to NYC from visiting my parents, my (then) boyfriend (now husband), and celebrating my nephew’s 2nd birthday. I was happy to be back in NYC. But sad to leave my heart behind. It wasn’t in my mind that one day I’d be working away from NYC as a lab manager.  NY happened and I couldn’t have asked for more. I met top-notch scientists, and I worked along them and their groups to try to elucidate structures, or sometimes make sense of what was happening with their samples. I spent almost two years in the city that never sleeps. Some days were busy, others were meh, but I learned so very, very much. And I couldn’t know it at the time, but the contacts I made and the people I helped would be of great impact at my current position.

I moved from NYC almost 3 months ago. It seems like forever, though I can still feel the city, the people, the streets, food and everything in my mind. I hope to be back, even if only to visit at some point. But this is my new life and I’m slowly getting into a new rhythm. I wake up at 7:30, get my sorry ass to the gym (or as I call it, the torture chamber) and get to the lab before 10am. Most days there are lots of issues to tend to, from broken equipment, meeting new users .. but mostly I’m collecting data for other people … something I did quite a bit in NY. I have to check on the instrumentation once a week and do some performance tests to check that everything is in order. I didn’t do that in NYC, my former supervisor did and I’ve been texting him every now and then to check that I’m doing things fine. I have various bosses, at different levels, and most weeks I meet with one or a couple of them, to go over things like usage, instrument performance, data collection for different groups … etc.

Overall I’m pretty busy, especially now, when it seems as if all of my PIs want data now. It’s not bad. I’m just trying to be cautious and always check in with them to see if my methods of data collection align with what they know and expect. So far the feedback has been positive, and one of my bosses made the comment to one of their trainees that it was a relief to have me here to help collect data. That feels awesome.

I also get to hunt down the people who provide us with quotes, so I can send those to the powers that be and have them place orders. I’ve done my fair share of cleaning, both floors and lab fridges. I’ve tried to do some mingling when I can, as that is part of what I was brought back … to get more users into the facility. I haven’t had to do a journal club yet … since technically I’m part of no one’s lab .. but I do attend some of their lab meetings (and even practice talks) to get a feel for what it is that I am collecting data for. Some people argue that it is isolating, but I actually like it, as I am not bound to a single lab, yet get to work on a variety of projects and samples, which I believe to be a positive thing for my CV and my careers.

In general I really like what I do. But I am scared to death of making big decisions. And though I am not shy about voicing my opinion, it is weird to be though of as an expert in my discipline. That is still shocking to me.

That’s it for now. Do you have any questions about being (or becoming) a lab manager?

Finally had time to write

Not much. Just popping my head to say that I’m alive and well. Have dropped 10lbs in 8 weeks, which is good. But I have a loooong way to go. And it’s getting harder to get out of bed and get my lazy ass to the gym. It’s even harder avoiding snacks, such as brownies, my favourite, since there’s a cafe that sells them just down the lab. Grrrr. Trying to stay strong.

I may have mentioned it on Twitter and perhaps here … my mind is currently all over the place, but a second (and possibly the last) paper out of my previous position is coming out soon. It’s in a journal with a big name, though not a C/N/S one. It’s so exciting to see the fruits of my labour, along with those of the first and senior authors who worked really hard to get a compelling story out the door. I was happy and humbled by the publication, given my not so stellar record during the postdoc. That makes this my 8th publication. Or I should say, the 8th publication in which I appear in the list of authors. I definitely did something good in my first iteration as a staff scientist. And each and every paper, or poster or whatever that comes out and bears my name, makes me happier and more convinced that my postdoc experience was something out of the norm and that though I may take my sweet time to accomplish certain things, I do get it done and do make valuable contributions to science. My hope is to be in a 9th paper, at least in the works, by the end of this year. I was told by my bosses that they hoped I’d be an author, should I help them collect data (which I have … tons!), since they believe it’s important for my name to keep getting out there, for people to notice me, and us and my place of work. We all hope to make this lab a known (and respected facility) .. to attract more talent, and funding and to make sure we can afford the service contracts on our toys.

I hope to write some more about my impressions as a lab manager in a few weeks. Stay tuned! And have a great weekend 🙂

The day I almost died

Another year passes, another accident anniversary.

You see, 9 years ago, while I was in my first year of grad school, I almost died in a horrific accident. I came out of it walking, conscious and well, only some minor bruising and whiplash. But it was hard to believe I made it out alive when people saw pictures and video of the event. It was Mother’s Day 2004 and I was on my way back to my PhD lab from visiting my family. I’d spent a good week with my loved ones, nursing a broken heart. I’d seen my ex, the guy who broke my heart not once, not twice, but three times. I was broken and I wanted to die. I was pleading with God to kill me, or to align the stars so I’d be in a horrific accident and would not survive. I wanted the pain to go away. I was tired of crying myself to sleep for weeks. I think I went to bed crying every single night, from February to April of that year. I lost weight, it felt like I’d lost my reason to live … or what I though was my reason to live.

Eventually I resolved to live and rise from the depths of my depression. Millions of hearts had been broken before. I was not exceptional. I was going through a rough period that a lot of people go through when they’re in middle or high school. But since I wasn’t allowed to date until I was in college (and with restrictions!), I was experiencing my first heartbreak in all of its glory. It was awful.

Seeing my family gave me some energy. But seeing my ex and his new conquest fueled my resolve to do kick ass science. To move forward, to publish, to get my name known by important people in my field. And it definitely fueled my desire to live.

And then there was the accident. And my life changed. I remember as everything was unfolding in the longest minute of my life, asking God for forgiveness. Asking God for a chance to prove that I could do great things. I was afraid to die. I was only 22. It was not my time.

And live I did. I only went to the hospital to get a neck brace and some potent pain killers. All X-rays showed no issues or broken bones. I was embraced by my family, with tears running down their faces. They’d seen the news reports of the accident. They could not believe I was alive. They were happy to see me. I was in shock. I felt like God had listened to me. And now I had to face the pain of the broken heart, and the survivor’s guilt and I needed to move forward.

And I went back to school. I dumped all my anger, my rage, my frustration and my despair into working my tail off. And half a dozen papers came out of that. Some with lots of effort and tears, some with seemingly no effort. I eventually went to therapy to deal with some of the survivor’s guilt, with the feelings of anger I still harbored towards my ex, of the feelings of inadequacy, of the imposter. I’m pretty sure I had some PTSD, judging by the bouts of fear I had for about 1.5 years after the accident. They uncontrollable crying and lack of sleep I got moments before facing the same situation that had almost killed me. It was tough. I’m still dealing with the remnants.

I lived through a rough time when my self-worth was shot. I found love again. I found my calling in science. I found two amazing jobs after one bad postdoc. I am married. I’m an auntie. I’m healthy and I’m working on becoming physically strong.

Now, 9 years after, I am happy and thankful for being alive. I’m happy that I didn’t die on that dark day in May. I’m happy to have a family that loves me, a job that needs me and fuels my interest in science, and I am happy I have a better man, a best friend, a wonderful murse ;-). I am resolved to not go down without a fight.

Sometimes life changes in an instant. And what we thought was our happily ever after becomes a nightmare. A broken heart, a cheating ex, an accident. They all happen at once and you’re left considering the what ifs, and now whats. It is worth going forward. It can be one hell of a transforming experience. And I am happy to be able to tell it.

Hang in there …. it does get better. I am living proof of it.