27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: January 2014


The other night, while hon and I were having our usual heart to heart conversation (as part of his therapy), I mentioned that I’d talked to an outreach and postdoc issues person at school. This person was a tremendous resource to have when I was a student. The great contributions of her position were made even clearer when I moved to Canada and took up a postdoc and was like a chicken without its head while trying to get everything sorted out, from my ID to my status (or lack of it) as an employee, to getting keys and access to buildings and instruments, etc. At the time, my postdoc institution was just getting started on having a point person for not only grad students but postdocs, and also getting a postdoc office in place and a postdoc group. Before I joined the lab, I found the beginnings of a postdoc group and their postings on some obscure corner of the University’s site. There, I read about some of the issues and difficulties that the postdocs were experiencing, along with things to know before and after the move to postdoc town, and a  few other tidbits, like getting a social insurance card, provincial healthcare, etc. To put it in context, my postdoc boss had no idea whether or not I qualified for provincial health insurance (I did, after a short waiting period), whether I’d be issued a social insurance number (I was), or where the office for dispensing lab keys was located (in their defense, the place had changed and no one other than the lab manager had been able to locate it).

That’s when it dawned on me how important it is to have dedicated people in the university to help postdocs navigate those waters. I remember feeling so lost and I had to go to 15 different places, but there was no order to do things and more than once I found myself going to the key office without the paperwork, or trying to pay by cheque when it was only cash, or the other way around. My boss had no idea because there was no centralized effort to tell him what to do and most of the people in the lab were locals, so he had no frame of reference to guide me through.

The other topic the outreach lady and I talked about was how much I was still frustrated by my postdoc. It’s been almost 3 years since I left. I had decent success in my first job out of the postdoc, and that landed me where I am today, managing a lab. I can’t complain. In fact, I don’t. I’ve been extremely lucky, or blessed, by all the moves I’ve made since I left my postdoc. Somehow I’ve always have food on my table, even when I was so stressed out and thought I wouldn’t make it to the end of month. Even when it seemed as if all the cards were stacked against me, I made it by some miracle or coincidence.

But even after all that, I was still frustrated by my postdoc. Sometimes I think back and realize how miserable and depressed I was. I can’t understand how I kept going. Many times, even with what I considered a good paycheque, even with the ability to have money to go on a small vacation (or at least a trip to Niagara), I was so very miserable. I think back and can’t understand what kept me afloat. Because I hated it all. I hated my lab, my boss, myself. Myself more than everyone. I had no mercy for myself after making what seemed like the worst mistake of my life. I could see no point to having done a postdoc.

I mentioned this to honey and he reminded me (as he always does), that things happen for a reason. Perhaps the resilience I had during my two years in postdoc hell were necessary, not only for my own growth, but for the series of other postdocs and grad students that have reached out during and after that time. He reminded me of the somewhat mentori-ish role I’ve had for a few of the readers that find me while doing a google search for ‘frustrated postdoc’ or ‘I have my postdoc’ or ‘living with a lab bully’ and a few other terms. I posted what I did to move to Ontario and not have my stuff confiscated at the border (little chance of that happening). I wrote about taxes and the lists of things to know and do when you’ve landed said postdoc.

Every time I see those terms my heart breaks. My heart breaks because I know what it feels like to be there. To feel trapped and the ensuing depression. I’ve been very fortunate mentor-wise. My PhD boss was really good, and while I hated postdoc lab, my PD boss was a good person. My NYC boss was a hardass, but the people under him (which I saw and interacted with more than with the boss) were (are) excellent. My current overlords are pretty neat too (which is one of the reasons to take on this job). But I know that not everyone is that fortunate. That I’ve been privileged to have pretty standard circumstances, no major deaths in the family, decent health, a husband with a flexible schedule that has allowed us to be together, or at least have good communication when we haven’t been able to live together. I’ve been privileged to speak the language and not have to learn a new one, to live within the same hemisphere as a family, to call as needed, without long distance charges. But other can’t, others don’t have it like I did. Others have vindictive bosses, or more than one lab bully, or bosses that leave them hanging after getting a cushy position elsewhere. And in a small way, I hope I’ve been a mentor, even if online.

I hope that having me post my frustrations with my postdoc, my failing the qual in grad school, my road to getting out of the postdoc and into a semi-academic environment, my dealings with people and labs, and instruments, serves in a very small way to help keep some of you afloat, the same way that other did (and still do) for me. I know that I don’t have juicy things to write anymore about hating my lab or being frustrated at my mentor. But, knowing that others are still searching for help is a good enough reason to keep the blog alive, even if my writing is not as eloquent or as interesting as it used to.

Thanks for staying in touch and know that others have gone through similar situations and made it out, and thrived, even after being in labs that weren’t an obvious success in our CVs. Because there are lessons to learned and shared for those in the early stages of their careers.

Apparently it is “cute” to add mini cocaine kilos to your dollhouse

Well, fuck me. Apparently this is the week in which all things stupid and WTF are bound to happen. We’re going 2-for-2.

The wonderful Artologica, artist and curator of the most awesome science art on Etsy and Twitter shared this jewel this am.

Yes, you fucking read it right, a fucking moron on Etsy decided, by whatever messed up idea of what art is, that portraying little kilos of cocaine to add to your dollhouse is … well, cute.


Seriously. Are you even thinking straight when you posted that shit on Etsy? I get that there are lots of things that represent art and what not, and I don’t pretend to be an art connoisseur, but seriously, seriously? 18 bucks to add little cocaine-looking bricks to your dollhouse? You think it’s cute? You think the war on drugs is cute?

I don’t think I’m missing the humour in this.

I mean, did you even think of the millions, MILLIONS, of people, especially in Latin, Central America and the Caribbean that are affected (directly and indirectly) by cocaine trafficking? Are you familiar with the former Medellin and Cali cartels and the trail of blood they left and how its effects are felt even today? Do you have an idea of the amount of Colombians that have left their country, still seeking political asylum because they fear for their safety? The 500 cops killed in 1 year, yes, 1 year, during the reign of terror of Pablo Escobar? And what about the Mexican cartels and the drug wars, kidnappings and associated suffering, all caused by drug trafficking? Did those come to mind?

Seriously? What the fuck?

Drug trafficking, blood wars, increase in drug-related crimes … and you think it’s cute to add little bricks to a fucking dollhouse? Do you have any idea of how disturbing it is, and how it minimizes the suffering of all that have been touched in one way or another by crime?

Like my husband would say, this world is pure shit.

I could say many, many other things, from how I have had a cousin in jail and currently homeless all because of cocaine. Or how many people die every day because of drug wars in my hometown. Or how many of my classmates have seen the inside of a jailhouse because of cocaine and other drugs. But I won’t. I’ll let you Google that and see for yourself. While you’re at it, check the images. It’s a bloody mess. Get a fucking grip.

And finally, for the love of all that is holy and sacred, it is ColOmbia you fucking moron, Columbia is only when you refer to the District of Columbia (DC).

Update … apparently other sellers on Etsy think it’s “cute” to have the word cocaine in their merchandise. Fuck me.

I wrote something! Heroes, wars, Twitter and being free to say/write as we please

I should know better than to check my Twitter stream just as I’m waking up. This am, around 6 or so, I awoke as soon as my husband’s alarm sounded, since he was headed to a study at the hospital my uni is associated with. Hon has had a series of health issues and he was getting a check on it. We usually wake up around 8am. But since his appointment started at 8, we had to get a head start. I guess I wanted to see what was new in the world. And then I found that two people I didn’t know had written some harsh words (to put it mildly) regarding Lisa B Adams’ journey with cancer. That was enough to have me wide awake after the alarm sounded.

I started checking the streams of Xeni Jardin, of Ed Yong, Deborah Blum and others, and was simply appalled that someone would write such seriously stupid comments regarding how another person decides to handle (and share) their journey with cancer.

My first reaction was rage! How dare they do that? Then it morphed into pity and disgust.

Now I wonder, why the Kellers decided to wirte about another person’s journey through the devastation that cancer is, especially since they’ve been affected by it so closely. I wondered if perhaps Emma’s own journey with cancer and her father’s death had prompted the reaction. Or worse, whether someone had had the gull to refer to her or her dad as weak, for choosing a different path to death than what Lisa Adams has chosen. It seems to me that perhaps that could explain (I know, this is weird), their reaction to Lisa’s sharing (or in the Keller’s views, over sharing) her daily struggles with metastatic cancer.

A bit of “over sharing”: in early spring of 2013, my dearest friend from college, someone I’d known since 1995, died of brain cancer. What started as a non life-threatening mass in her brain, quickly morphed into cancer. She had at least 3 surgeries, she lost all her hair twice, had 2 scars in her skull, was going to be taking medicines for the rest of her life to treat some of the effects of having a mass so close to her pituitary, but kept a smiling face through it all. We never cried together, whether in person or over the phone, she never complained. She just did what she thought would prolong her life, and did it with a smile. Then in 2012, as I was getting the news that I’d be moving again to grad school city, another friend called to tell me that her cancer may be terminal, but she wasn’t telling anyone yet. I respected my friend’s decision and didn’t prod or ask, I just let her be. I called her for the last time on December of 2012. That was the last time we talked. I didn’t call her for her birthday, or to find out how things we going. She died in May. She’d made the conscious decision to stop taking medication once it was obvious it wasn’t doing anything. She agonized, she died. A smile left on her face.

Every cancer patient and their families is unique. Cancer is a very, very complicated disease, with many complicating factors, things that as scientists we still don’t know, to treat every patient and their reaction in the same way. My issue with the Keller’s is their criticism of how Lisa and her family deal with and live with her diagnosis. My deal with them is that I feel they should know better, especially having lived through cancer in one case and having lost a loved one in another way.

It still baffles me that people try to mansplain their way out of it. It still baffles me that cancer patients are seen as warriors and heroes, instead of human beings, with thoughts, families, experiences. It reduces their pain, it minimizes their suffering, it creates division.

I am no one to say to the Kellers that their father was a coward because of his CHOICE to stop treatment and die … the same way that my friend decided to stop treatment and die. I am no one to criticize Lisa for how she deals with her diagnosis and treatment. I am no one to determine whether an insurance company, a hospital or a volunteer is providing therapy dogs (or llamas) to her or anyone living with metastatic cancer.

The Kellers are free to write as they want. But they should also realize that this is 2014. Mansplaining and calling into question how someone decided to handle their disease and live with it are SO out of date (they were never in fashion to begin with). And while it is fine for them to ask questions, the way in which their editorials tried to start a conversation … well, it just imploded.

And while I am all for freedom of press and for not censoring things … sometimes what you write in what could have been a moment of frustration, or a moment in which you were dealing with your own loss, can make you look like an ass in front of a very, very large audience.

My dear friend S was a hero in a way. She was always independent, took decisions with care and took advice from her doctors and family. She thought about things and weighted the evidence and decided, on her own terms how to respond. That’s not what makes her a sort of hero. What makes her a hero is her capacity to love, to accept, to not condemn, to smile and joke, to be a wonderful source of calm in the midst of my thesis, or when my heart was broken (and she wanted to give my ex a swift kick in the nuts). But her battle with cancer was hers and hers alone. Who am I to judge her for not staying with me longer? I am no one. I love her and miss her, regardless of her decision. I miss her and always will, but I am no one to condemn how she lived, how she reacted and what she chose to share so other could learn from her and her disease.

Resolutions 2013 – revisited. What did I accomplish?

Seeing as I did pretty good (IMO) with last year’s resolutions here’s a list, in no particular order, of this year’s resolutions:

  1. Get new tires for the car that (thankfully) I didn’t sell and will need at new job city. A few months back hon drove to the tire shop and we got the same tires I got 5 years ago which lasted through 2 winters in Canada and 2 in NYC. Nuf said.
  2. In addition, get the title of my car from new job city as soon as I can (ie. within 30 days of moving) and not delay it like I did in NYC (still waiting on the stupid title, oh how I dislike NYC’s bureaucracy). Super done the month after I moved to the new city.
  3. Pay off credit card #3 (the one with the lowest balance, which is still pretty high, IMO) while saving money for the wedding (and perhaps the honeymoon, though for now we’re not counting on having a honeymoon immediately after the wedding). Didn’t happen, though I reduced 2 debts by 1k each and paid off a whole year of the debt my dad got my into (just 3.5yrs to go … crap).
  4. Marry Mr 30 and a PhD in City Hall before we embark on our new adventure in new job city. We did. The magical date was mid-February!
  5. Leave everything I need to in order at my current place of employment so my labbies feel a bit relieved that I didn’t leave them hanging. My former labbies recorded me doing a few things around the lab which they hadn’t seen me do and we stay in contact my email and text. We’ve been able to help each other out and I’m thankful for good work relationships.
  6. Take advantage of the free public transportation initiative that new job institution offers; hopefully I’ll save some money by not filling up my tank as often, keeping the environment cleaner, and of course, avoiding cursing others as if I still lived in NYC. I did take the bus a few times, like when my in-laws were visiting and while I waited to get my parking sticker, but now in the winter, I haven’t taken the bus a single time.
  7. Attend a conference, workshop or some such networking thingie outside of new job city. Didn’t happen 😦 but my boss did tell me to stop being shy and go to one this year so I can bring some new things to do to our lab. This felt awesome and little by little I’m setting the wheels in motion. Mid-summer of 2014 I should be freezing my ass for 3 days at a whole-field conference. Yay!
  8. Get my tubes checked. Once and for all. I hate having painful periods. Grrrrrr I got an IUD and I still get periods, but they’re much milder, almost non existent and the pain is under control.
  9. Lose 20 pounds, no more, no less, so I can fit in my wedding dress. Didn’t happen. I did lose 10lbs, but it wasn’t enough to help me fit in the dress (in fact, I would have needed to lose 35lbs to fit in it).
  10. Cook at home as often as possible. I’d lost some weight in my previous apartment and with me previous roommate, who was never there. At the new place I have more roommates, and they’re almost always there. I hate not having a kitchen for myself. I’ve tried my best to eat at home with some success. I’ve tried making new dishes for hon (not too many). I did perfect the art of making great sirloin burgers at home, which I tend to do in the summer (that way all the windows are open and the stench of beef goes away faster). Still a work in progress.
  11. Appear in a paper coming out of the new lab. Still in the works.
  12. Prove that my new lab is essential for the institution and hopefully score a tech, even if it’s just part time. I know I’m going to be a busy bee. Still in the works.
  13. Start saving for a DSLR or a Macbook Pro (I know, with the wedding and the kicking a debt in the groin it seems almost impossible, but even if it’s just 300$, I want that money put away for just that purpose). Got a new DSLR and I LOVE it!!!!!

What are your resolutions?

Resolutions for 2014

Years ago I thought doing resolutions was pure BS. I still have my doubts. But I sometimes like to challenge myself and see how I do. Here are in no particular order 10 things I’d like to accomplish by the end of 2014:

  • Not drink soft drinks (Coke, Sprite, Pepsi, etc) for the entire year. This was something I wanted to do as part of my 30-before-30 and I never got the nerve to do it. So I’m willing to take a shot and see how long I can stick to this.
  • Have a stress-less wedding. Note, not stress-free, but stress-less. Thus far things haven’t been too complicated, the people at the reception hall have been very nice, I finally got a wedding dress I can fit into and I got my sister’s dress. While I was home hon an I ordered our flowers and my sister and I ordered the cake. We should be husband and wife for the second time in less than 2 months!
  • Pay off one of the credit cards. I have about 3k in it. It’s one of the smallest debts I have (I know, I’m terrible), but I’m going to try my best and wipe off one of those babies ASAP. The next one is ~$600 behind it, so I hope to tackle that one next.
  • Save about 1k by the end of the year (after paying off for the wedding, and erasing one of the cards).
  • Have a no-new-clothes month. I’m thinking of doing this next month since it’s the shortest one and I’ll be all busy with all the wedding prep. Wish me luck.
  • Be 10lbs thinner by December 31st. I started 2013 at 206.4. I’m down to 198, which I’ve been consistently at for months. We’ll see if I can achieve this. I didn’t gain all the weight in 2 days, and I won’t lose it in 2 days either. So long as I can keep going down and maintaining it, I’ll be a happy camper.
  • Get a kick ass haircut after the wedding. I’m hoping to chop off a few inches before the summer!
  • Fix up an issue with my car. I already bought the part, now it’s a matter of having the time and money to take care of it.
  • Save some money and get a new lens for the camera (more than likely this will happen towards the end of the year).
  • Be an author in at least 2 publications. I appeared in 2 new ones last year, so I don’t see why not, with all the effort and data I’ve collected for a few labs.

Job-wise, I’d like to have a good 1st year end review. Even if I do, because of money constraints at school, I don’t anticipate getting a raise, though that would be cool.

What are you hoping to achieve by the end of the year?

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 96,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.