27 and a PhD

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When idols fall

I used to be dazzled by superstars … be them in sports, music, movies .. even in my own church. It probably stemmed  a bit from my mom being enchanted by them, and looking up to them. They were out super stars. They were blameless, and in a different sphere. Special. Spotless. Pretty much non-human.

I can’t remember the first time it happened, but I do remember that a decade or so ago, as my faith in the Catholic Church was crumbling, how the accusations of pedophilia within the ranks of the church still managed to surprise me, to upset me, and to horrify me. Surely there must have been some mistake. How can people that vow to be celibate, even consider a sexual thought, let alone an action. I now realize I was sorta brainwashed. I tried for a long time to reconcile being a strict adherent of my faith, while still trying to make excuses for the horrible, horrible acts that happened for god-knows-how-long to hundreds of thousands of kids and adults. How people in positions of power abused that power, took advantage of their position within the church, and moreover, the faith that people had (mis)placed in them, and caused so much hurt. It was a rough awakening. I learned that idols do fall. When they do, it’s painful. For them and for everyone that vouches for them.

It took me years to process and to try to reconcile the faith I grew up in, and the horrible acts that had been committed (sometimes) in the name of Jesus. Today I consider myself a (very) lapsed Catholic. I hurt every time a new accusation comes up … not because of the damage that it (supposedly) inflicts on the institution, but because that institution has some really well paid devils that will try to quench the desire for justice for all the victims. I hate that people have lost their faiths, not only in God but in the goodness of the human spirit whenever you see the snakes (ie. lawyers) try to defend the indefensible.

The next big blow came when an ex I dated throughout my last few years of undergrad, broke not only my trust, but my faith in him and in everything that I thought we’d built. Many things happened. And just recently I realized that some of what had been done to me had a name … it was called sexual coercion. When that “idol” fell, my soul was crushed. I was crushed yet again. Some I trusted, love and who had some power over me had again broken that trust, and broken something sacred within me.

Sadly, I’d been, slowly but surely, trying to desensitize from the hurt it causes when someone I admire, someone I look up to, falls from grace.

The most recent events are (very sadly) one of the few things that has caused me that pain, that feeling in my stomach, and reminded me that no matter how much or how hard you try to suppress a feeling, or how much you want to be “ready” (if you can even be ready) for when the next wave of idols fall, you never truly are. The blow to your trust in that person just breaks.

I don’t know what to think, other than I feel truly, deeply sorry for each and every one of the women who in one (or more) instances have been affected recent events. I can’t begin to wrap my head around how uncomfortable they felt and feel, the guilt, the pain. Because no matter how much you try to repeat it to yourself, somehow, you’ll feel guilty, when you did nothing, nothing to bring unto you the treatment, the harassment, the moment or moments of inappropriate behaviour. Sadly, as women, we’ve been socialized to feel guilty each and every time someone breaks our trust, someone interferes or invades our personal space and boundaries. It is yet another way in which society, our parents, our community, still fail us.

I also feel sad for his family (esp. his wife). I know I’d be devastated if someone ever divulged very personal and private information about my relationship with them … especially if that someone were my spouse. I know that if honey every talked about our intimate details I’d be broken, sad beyond belief. I know how frustrating and painful it can be to deal with issues our spouses have … and I recognize that I am not perfect. And that sometimes you feel a link to someone, a special connection and you want to unload some of what feels like a burden. That said, it is never, ever correct to do so in a professional setting, especially when you first meet the person. It is not right. It hurts. It traumatizes.

I’m saddened by it all. I’m saddened by the other people out there who may have experienced the same treatment. I’m saddened for the pain and hurt this is bringing to each and every woman that was harassed.

I can only hope that in this same SciX community, they feel welcomed and cared for. There are lots of people who want to offer a sincere shoulder, and all of our support, to help in your moment of need.

I know what it is to have your space invaded, to have an unwelcomed hug (or heck, even a kiss planted on you on Xmas day, at church!), your trust broken. I can only tell you that it will get better. It won’t be easy, but it will get better.

I am sorry. I am here for you.

Tell Someone “No”, Get Called a “Whore” – #StandingwithDNLee #batsignal

This is in support of dear tweep @DNLee5

This entry is partly a repost of Dr. Isis’ batsignal, but also I wanted to add a few words of my own. Even if I only get 100 peeps to read my blog on a regular basis, at least those 100 will get to see what to do when you get a request for guest blogging that for one reason or another doesn’t really jive.

I’ve gotten a few invitations to guest blog here and there. One of my fave ones was with the peeps of Scientopia. It forced me to write more often than I’m used to and I got lots of really great comments (I still do!). I love my Scientopia folks. I’ve also appeared on a few other forums (here and here), some which pay and some that don’t. But since I’ve now changed places to a position that’s keeping me super busy and on my toes more often than not, I don’t blog as often … and I haven’t guest blogged for anyone in a bit.

I was approached by the folks of biology-online sometime ago. I thought it was pure spam, since I’d never heard of them. I didn’t reply on their first try. I’ve been approached once or twice more, again. I still haven’t replied. And definitely, after DNLee’s experience with them, I ain’t giving them the light of day.

Whether your write about pure research, or share your experiences in grad school like I did, and others do, you should never, EVER, feel pressured or bad for saying no to a gig. Since I switched jobs earlier in the year, I made a point of not taking more unpaid gigs (unless the organization or group is something that truly aligns with what I believe and how I feel) … regardless of how awesome they sound, or how many viewers they promise to expose to my (not so awesome) musings. People and companies will approach you. And you are under no obligation to say yes … regardless of how much pressure they put or how flattered you feel. You have to do what helps you feel good, and comfortable. And more than anything, you can’t let people try to insult you or call you names, just because you say no.

Without further ado, here’s a repost of @DNLee5’s experience with a site no one has ever heard of, which tried to intimidate her and did insult her for saying no.


wachemshe hao hao kwangu mtapoa

I got this wrap cloth from Tanzania. It’s a khanga. It was the first khanga I purchased while I was in Africa for my nearly 3 month stay for field research last year. Everyone giggled when they saw me wear it and then gave a nod to suggest, “Well, okay”. I later learned that it translates to “Give trouble to others, but not me”. I laughed, thinking how appropriate it was. I was never a trouble-starter as a kid and I’m no fan of drama, but I always took this 21st century ghetto proverb most seriously:

Don’t start none. Won’t be none.

For those not familiar with inner city anthropology – it is simply a variation of the Golden Rule. Be nice and respectful to me and I will do the same. Everyone doesn’t live by the Golden Rule it seems. (Click to embiggen.)

The Blog editor of Biology-Online dot org asked me if I would like to blog for them. I asked the conditions. He explained. I said no. He then called me out of my name.

My initial reaction was not civil, I can assure you. I’m far from rah-rah, but the inner South Memphis in me was spoiling for a fight after this unprovoked insult. I felt like Hollywood Cole, pulling my A-line T-shirt off over my head, walking wide leg from corner to corner yelling, “Aww hell nawl!” In my gut I felt so passionately:”Ofek, don’t let me catch you on these streets, homie!”

This is my official response:

It wasn’t just that he called me a whore – he juxtaposed it against my professional being: Are you urban scientist or an urban whore? Completely dismissing me as a scientist, a science communicator (whom he sought for my particular expertise), and someone who could offer something meaningful to his brand.What? Now, I’m so immoral and wrong to inquire about compensation? Plus, it was obvious me that I was supposed to be honored by the request..

After all, Dr. Important Person does it for free so what’s my problem? Listen, I ain’t him and he ain’t me. Folks have reasons – finances, time, energy, aligned missions, whatever – for doing or not doing things. Seriously, all anger aside…this rationalization of working for free and you’ll get exposure is wrong-headed. This is work. I am a professional. Professionals get paid. End of story. Even if I decide to do it pro bono (because I support your mission or I know you, whatevs) – it is still worth something. I’m simply choosing to waive that fee. But the fact is I told ol’ boy No; and he got all up in his feelings. So, go sit on a soft internet cushion, Ofek, ’cause you are obviously all butt-hurt over my rejection. And take heed of the advice on my khanga.

You don’t want none of this

Thanks to everyone who helped me focus my righteous anger on these less-celebrated equines. I appreciate your support, words of encouragement, and offers to ride down on his *$$.

Training peeps

Besides collecting a LOT of data for my PIs, one of the other hats I get to wear as a lab manager is the training one. Before I arrived in the lab, people had been somewhat trained by the senior peeps in my PIs labs, but some of them moved on right before I started, so I was handed over the task of observing and retraining people and standardizing procedures so that when something breaks we’ll know (or try to) what happened, on what step and what was not done (or what was done in weird way).

That gives me a break in the sense that I don’t have to spend every waking moment in front of an instrument (well, not every waking moment, but you catch my drift) and instead I get to sit back and show the tricks of the trade to a newer generation. Most people have a pretty good knowledge of the instrumentation, and how to get going, so I do give them a few pointers, then let them go on their way. But new people are also in the labs, especially rotations students and I get to spend some QT with them while they learn.

I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with most of this first crop of rotation students. Most seem enthusiastic and eager to collect data, and like I said before, it frees some of the time once they set up their experiments. I can sit back … and write protocols and procedures for the lab (I truly don’t have much time free these days).

I’ve discovered that I enjoy guiding people through a process, seeing their face light up in amazement when they get to *see* something they’ve heard in class but never witnessed happen. I live for those moments of discovery and amazement. I do like documenting things in the lab too … though one of my (500 million) PIs is too keen on writing everything down … which is a pain because we get into this back and forth corrections loop. But that’s somewhat minor when you compare it to all the other things I get to do.

I’ve collected (what I consider) a ton of data for at least 4 labs now … hopefully some of those will lead to papers in the future. We’ll see. And there may be a collaboration in the works too. We shall see how things flow.