27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Shit/Fuck

This week has been hell. My experiments and those that I was in charge of, and the time that some people had booked in the instruments at my core went to shit. It all went to shit. We had some major breakdowns and interruptions throughout the week and I’ve had to place 3 calls for the service engineers in charge of all of our instruments to come and help me figure out how to unfuck everything that manage to get fucked up during this week. And I’m fighting back the tears and frustration because there is so much work to do and so many things I had planned, and it all went to shit. I’m afraid that the students and postdocs that depend on the instrumentation will get fed up with my constant updates and cancellations due to so much stuff breaking down at the same time. I feel guilty for having to cut people’s vacation time short to get this shit fixed and settled, and I’m afraid this will reflect bad on me. Sure, things break down … but I’d been doing the numbers for the last 6 months and during my time here, a lot of shit has broken. Some of it is due to normal wear and tear … but it happened under my watch. I even had to call my boss to see if he could lend a hand and not even him could figure out how to unfuck things. I’m just so frustrated (it could also be the PMS speaking, I hate that shit). But I’m very pissed and sad … I like my job, I just don’t like when everything breaks at the same time and people have to wait (or worse, take their samples elsewhere) for instruments to be back and data collection to resume.

Aaaaargh … this is something I was definitely NOT looking forward as a lab manager.

If you dress nicely …. and other gems

This week has reminded me that there are things, besides being smart and doing awesomesauce science, that appear to matter more, in order for people to take you and your job seriously. First, I saw a former classmate who’s migrated to the clinical side of things and is doing some sort of special clinical postdoc and wears a robe and everything at the beginning of the week. Said classmate (let’s call her Suzy) looked great and very different from her days in grad school, you know, no ragged jeans, Old Navy basic tee, running shoes and a ponytail with a pencil hanging around. Suzy finished around the same time I did and then decided to do a clinical postdoc (didn’t even know these existed) and has been here since then. Apparently she sees patients because her work is related to epidemiology, so she wears a lab coat, has her name embroidered on her coat and gets to wear cute dresses, nice jewelery, make up and lots of Tory Burch flats. I’m happy for her and in a way I sort of envy how she gets to meet patients and dresses like a resident of internal medicine. On the other hand, I do pretty awesome research in structural biology and get to come to work in casual wear, unless I’m presenting or have to meet a high up in the organization (almost never happens).

Suzy greeted me warmly on Monday or Tuesday … can’t remember, and asked why I was back in school. She remember I was doing a postdoc in Canada and we hadn’t seen each other since that time. I summarized what I’d been doing since graduation and mentioned that I’d been head hunted to be a lab manager. She congratulated me and then decided to give me the up and down look. I admit it, I was dressed even more casually than ever (jeans, a teenage looking hoodie and pink sunglasses). Then she questioned why the casual look … as if to say, ‘girl! you’re a lab manager now, get your act together.’ I was so surprised that all I could muster was a ‘great to see you Suzy, we’ll catch up later’ … and quickly walked away to have lunch.

Since that day, her comment has been in my head, on repeat, every few seconds. I remember her being so well put, and me looking so frumpy, and I realize that yes, I am a lab manager … so what? Don’t I get to dress to work in whatever way I see fit to do my job? If my job allowed me to wear a cute dress and flats, by God I would wear those … but I’m in a lab with machines working every day, churning data at all hours and said machines break down. I have to get on my knees and look at stuff. Measure stuff, clean stuff, oil and grease stuff. I have to polish things and dust off others. I have to clean the lab at certain times and in certain ways, so as to not upset the equipment (or risk my life doing it … well, not that serious, but you catch my drift). I don’t see patients. I live in a basement, in a lab, shut off from everyone. I see the light of day when I get out to have lunch and that’s it. Windows covered, doors closed. That’s how I conduct my science.

I’d mentioned before that I do feel bad for dressing like a soccer mom, but at the same time, I feel like I can because I need to get on top of things, crawl on all 4 behind machines, use water, alcohol and nitrogen to work … and I don’t want my nice clothes ruined, or worse … to put my life at risk because I’m afraid of staining something or because I’m wearing something that is not safe.

I do believe that nice clothes help you feel better,  look put together. And trust me, I do clean up nicely. Then I look at my PIs, who wear clothes just as casual as mine … and no one is questioning their science or talent! Not a single person (well, at least that I know of). Is it because I’m a woman (though I do have a female overlord, and she dresses casual too)? Is it because I’m hispanic? Or is it just another way of showing your superiority and that of your discipline? I dress like a peon, you work with patients, thus it’s OK to question my commitment to science based on how I look?

I do have a closet full of nice clothes. Clothes I mean to wear someday, yet when I think of the day ahead and who I have to work with or what samples I’ll face that day and whether or not I need to pH something or make 3 gallons worth of a buffer, I just shrug it off, dust off my jeans and put them on. I don’t mean to say that you can’t dress nice for the lab. I admire people who look put together and get to wear cute AND functional clothes … but in my case, I prefer not to risk them. I do wear a lab coat, don’t get me wrong … but I’ve been known to get stains even when wearing a lab coat … and I hate stains, let me tell ya.

What made me sit down and devote a whole entry to the subject of dressing for work …. what really pushed my buttons was this .. a PI saying to her students that if you dress nice, you won’t be taken seriously. Seriously? I mean, that’s the other extreme of my situation. And I especially dislike said comment because it implies that you have to look like a mad scientist, with you pocket protector and big ass calculator and crazy hair to be taken seriously. What I consider even worse is that a female PI is telling that to her female students! Seriously!! With how fucked up this world is and you have do drill into your minions that if they dress nice they won’t be taken seriously? In Dr. Isis’s wise words … it makes my ass twitch.

Just as bad is when you have to dress in a particular manner because you work with say … human tissue and good God you have to protect yourself from getting infected with whatever … and when you mention you’re done with your work session and your scrubs are covered in yuck, you get assholes saying that that’s not very sexy sexy (check this). Do you mean to tell me that ladies should stay out of the clinic/lab/field because when they need to wear work clothes to ensure safety in their jobs, that wearing less than anything showing skin, or pretty or sexy, those work clothes make them look less than a hot piece of ass? Seriosly?? I’m just throwing my hands up in the air.

I think we all need to reevaluate our priorities and realize that in order to move forward, we just can’t keep judging people based on the way they look, whether they dress nicely because their job requires it or because they can, or whether they need to wear less than “sexay” attire to get down and dirty and do their stinkin’ job, whether that involved removing and replacing pump oil, or collecting lung samples for their research. Please be mindful that comments about what you wear (or not) should have no bearing in your capacity to produce science. We shouldn’t look down at people based on their clothing choice (unless said choice involves offensive messages), whether it’s well put together or “frumpy” … especially when you don’t know the kind of science and effort they have to put it, or the kinds of situations they face every day to get to do their research. So back it off … it’s not nice.

Le job

So, a little while ago I wrote about being a lab manager. For personal reasons I decided not to divulge too many details of what I do to earn mah moolah. But I figured it doesn’t hurt to give some info as to some of the tasks I have and get to accomplish in my new position.

You may be asking yourself, well, how is your life as a lab manager different than as a staff scientist? I find that most days my tasks and responsibilities aren’t too different from when I was in NYC. I get to sit down and talk to users/trainees. We talk about their projects, what they hope to accomplish, what they’ve done, their workflow and whether they want to get their hands wet or rather have me collect data and hand it off to them. This is similar to how things were in NYC, except that there were more hands to hand over a project (including those of my former supervisor) and we met as a group with them, all staff scientists and supervisor, plus our PI. Here I mostly work for a handful of PIs, and it’s just me (for now), so I sit down with the PI, discuss general things about their project and they send me off to talk to their student or postdoc and see how we want to collect data. Most people have had some sort of training before we meet, and they know how to use the instrumentation. But sometimes they’ll say they feel more comfortable with me in the room, or with me collecting the data. I also have newer users who have no idea of how to collect data, and they’ll often sit and observe and take notes, and once the data collection is done, they’ll see what’s up and determine whether more purification is needed or they need to do a different type of column or filtration to get what they need. We also evaluate whether we have is a single population of their entity or if things are falling apart or (sometimes worse) there’s aggregation. Aggregation sucks and we can’t do shite with the protein … so back to the drawing board for my user.

So far I’ve collected quite a bit of data for all the PIs I work for, along with a couple of PIs who want preliminary data. It’s been fun and I like their projects more than I did some of the ones I worked on in NY. Don’t get me wrong, I worked on some pretty cutting edge stuff over there, and a lot of the users were doing a combination of approaches, from X-ray and NMR, NMR and cryo-EM, cryo-EM and X-ray, and sometimes all 3, plus some mass spec and even EPR. But, the topics the lab were studying weren’t as exciting as the ones I’m working on here. I get to work with things I learned as a grad student and in pathways I’m interested. I do try to distribute my time evenly amongst the projects, so I don’t neglect people.

I do my share of admin-type things, from generating instrumentation time use and availability, to meeting with head honchos to decide how to operate the facility and attract new users. So far we haven’t had much luck with the attracting new users thing, but I try to go to talks, approach PIs or their trainees and alert them to my presence so they know they have one more local resource to use.

I try to keep the lab tidy, so I’ve done my share of disposing of really old samples from a couple of grad school generations ago. I found stuff in a freezer with my new on it … WTF!!?? I also have to certify users, make sure instruments work and things are properly calibrated. Thus, once a week I get on the different instruments and perform said tests and report those results to my bosses.

I get to hear complains about people not being able to use something or how something is out of whack. I’m the first line of defense here, so I try to calmly say that the user must be messing up with something and that they need to get their filthy paws out of my babies (not really). But I do get to sit down and talk to people about different processes and how they can more efficiently use instrumentation time. In general, I just try to keep my instruments happy and my users busy with data processing. So far I’ve been very fortunate that things have gone that way. But we’ve had a couple of engineer visits, so they can check when someone messed up, or when a board on a computer died (ugh).

Finally, I get to answer emails and texts before I even make it to school and sometimes on my lunch break. Things seem to go out of whack just as I enter Chipotle. Oh well. This is what I signed up to do. I just hope my bosses are happy and my users churn out papers (with my name on it, of course!). I like being a manager thus far, but the level of responsibility can sometimes feel like it is too much. We’ll see how the coming months go. I may have a 6-month evaluation coming up this fall, but I don’t know. We’ll see how that goes and then I’ll share my outlook on things. 

Thanks for reading!

Life, lately

I’m back from burying my college BFF. Though I shouldn’t qualify her as that. She was simply my best friend. I haven’t gone through much of the grief I thought I’d experience. I’m numb. Really. Just numb. I’m still in disbelief. Some of the initial shock is gone. But I found myself wondering how she’d feel on that first day of being buried. I worried about her experiencing the hot or cold weather conditions. I cried a little over that on that day. But mostly I’m numb. I keep replaying the news in my head. Wondering if she remembered me, and how … after not calling her on those last months of her life. The service prior to the burial was really beautiful. Mostly it was about remembering her bright face, her smile, her positive look at life … even when faced with a deadly tumour. I just hope to continue her legacy of happiness. I know she was proud of my accomplishments, as if they were her own … and I just wanted her to know how much I admired her and loved her, for helping me embrace my crazy side, the side everyone sees and relishes. The crazy side that’s helped me get to where I am today.

As some of you know, while I was home my mom told me that she and my dad are losing the house. Finally. He’s been beyond irresponsible, and now this. This may also be why I’m numb. I just can’t believe it. They house I grew up in … just gone. This is the second property he’s lost thanks to doing bat-shit crazy things with he and my mom’s money. I wish I could scoop my mom away and bring her to live with us. But she couldn’t just pack up and leave my sister and my nephew. I ache for my family so much. I wish I could do more … and I feel so powerless.

Then on my way back Southwest screwed things up for me … so, so bad. And I got my period while on the plain. I was cranky, uncomfortable, and in so much pain. The whole traveling ordeal went on for almost 24 hours. I’m glad I’m back on dry land, with an amazing and extremely supportive and understanding husband. My bosses have been very accommodating too. I’m thankful and humbled by being surrounded by great people.

My pap smear came back negative (after not having one for almost 3 years, ooops), and I’m negative for 2 STI’s, which is always a great thing. I celebrated someone those news … which were the first good news I’d gotten in a week. Can you believe that? Celebrating over having a negative pap smear? Geez … that’s how bad things have gotten … or how they felt over the last week.

While I was home I got to spend some time with my in-laws, two people who are amazing and supportive. My MIL bought me a pair of shoes for the wedding. They’re orange and beautiful. I bought a lot of clothes for work, hoping to wear them soon. I also bought a table for our place. Little by little our apartment is taking shape. We’re a few things away from getting the whole place to be in shape, like a dinette, a couch and a couple of chairs, along with a small table for our room and a little lamp. But for now honey has a desk and a good chair. I have a table for my crafts. Things are looking good. I love our place, our first home as husband and wife.

Prior to the events of last week, I’d been working very, very hard. I managed to collect a lot of data and my bosses seemed happy with it. I have to get back on the horse and try to collect as much data to make up for the lost time. But, I’m glad the uni has a bereavement policy which allowed me to be by my BFF’s side, with her family, while we mourned her loss.

I hope to get back to blogging about interesting stuff about work … but definitely not this week. Thank you for your understanding and support, both here and on Twitter. Thank you.