27 and a PhD

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Review, one year and passion

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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It’s incredible to think that just a year ago I left everything in NYC, new hubby in hand, and moved back to grad school city. I remember lots of details, like the interview and how excited the faculty was at the prospect of seeing me again. I was really happy because, to be honest, I’d missed them too. I was scared, very scared, because I was taking my first job as a manager and I wasn’t sure if I would click with the whole managerial thing. I never envisioned being a manager of anything, not even a soapbox, and here I was, being thrown into the whole managerial business. Scary, I tell you.

Luckily, I’ve made pretty decent choices, mentor-wise, and my mentors here didn’t fail (some were a little too detail oriented for my taste, but there’s always a type-A everywhere we go, no?). And just today I had my review. Like my performance review. Like, my first ever manager-type performance review. Shizzle. I’m still in a daze. I’ve been sleeping bad lately, and the review was one of the reasons why. I was sweating and nervous before my meeting and it took over an hour. Overall is was very positive and I got lots of great feedback. The boss and struct bio labs are happy with my performance. That was a relief, because the impostor syndrome is still here and it makes me doubt all the decisions I make from making small repairs myself, to calling the big guns when something goes wrong. I get along with all the labbies and all the PIs I’ve interacted with so far, same with service people from the instruments who do PMs and come and rescue us when we’re in trouble. I do have areas to improve but the research output of the lab has increased quite a bit since I started and I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing, just better and with more confidence. My fave moment was when we were discussing time response when a repair is needed and my boss smiled and said they were very pleased with how that’s been going and how I keep everyone (boss, uberboss and labbies) updated on instrument times and availability. It was cool.

This all brings me to a point, masterfully captured by Hermitage on their blog. If you’ll remember, a few years back a fella named something Kern, got all high and mighty about how multimillion dollar buildings sit empty on weekends, while grad students and postdocs and even PIs do things like, you know, take care of their families and relax, when, you know, there’s cancer to cure. Because you know, cancer will be cured if all of us scientists get off our lazy asses, and miss the first steps of our kids, or not support our spouses when they’re in the middle of a depression and spend a night at the psych ward, or if we get sick. F that noise.

I have worked a lot this year. Like, more than when I was a grad student. I have collected a fucktillion data points that have gone into proposals, posters, and heck, one is already in the publication pipe! I have had to come to the lab to do a weekend fill on instruments (because that’s they day we do them), I have cut my hands, bled, burned myself with liquid nitrogen, consoled grad students, edit papers, been to seminars. I have also dealt with the loss of my BFF to cancer, my husband’s job and emotional crisis, broken instruments, broken parts, and I still get to take time off every weekend, I drive places with my love, we got married, he’s applying to jobs. But I won’t spend a night in the lab. No sir. I have not spent a night in the lab since 2007 or 2008, the last two years of grad school, and even then, I never came to work on weekends. Sure, I did submit jobs to clusters, did fills every now and then. But even now as a manager, when my job description has a line that specifically says that I’m a first line responder for the lab, still, I refuse to (in fact, I’m not supposed to) spend a weekend in the lab. I’ve been known to leave the lab late during data collection binges with inexperienced grad students. I get how important these projects are to them and the livelihood of their bosses. If their bosses are happy, they will (somewhat less reluctantly) pay the fees that keep my lab running and food on my table. This is a cycle. I am an important part of this chain. And I will gladly work with you to make sure that at the end of the day we’ve done everything to get you and your lab the data points you need. And I am no less committed to science than when I was a student. But my commitment to science is not directly proportional to how many late nights I spend in it.

I am thankful for my job. I love what I do. I love the lab, the instruments. I appreciate the people that brought me here. But I am sick and tired of this mentality that you have to sacrifice everything and everyone, including your self, your sanity and your loved ones, to make a project work. I get it that I may be perceived as being in a cushy position, that I don’t have to feed cells, or count progeny, or have proteins that degrade the moment they come off the column. I know what it is to have to come on weekends to purify proteins because every single Akta in the lab is booked from 6am to midnight every regular working day. But I didn’t get to where I am because I’m pretty and nice. I got 6 papers out of my PhD and a few from my time as a staff scientist in NY and I’m well on my way to being in a few here too.

I don’t need to justify to Kern and the likes that I love to spend time away from the lab. That even when I love what I do so much, I still dread a bit Sunday night (mostly because it means that I won’t get to sleep in the next day). But I am opposed to sacrificing time with my hubby, my kitties and our marriage to be a science’s bitch. There’s a lot of science out there that shows that it is beneficial to step away from work, take a break, spend QT with family, friends, significant others, or at least doing something other than pipetting and writing papers.

A lot of times, the discussion about time away from a lab is framed by bringing to the conversation people with kids, or sick parents. But there are those of us too far from ailing parents, or without kids, who love to spend time alone. People that value time away from the lab. Time spent hiking, dancing, taking pictures, going to the mall, etc, etc. But I haven’t seen that many of us raise our voice and say, “I too am a scientist and deserve time away from the lab to recharge.” One does not need to have a family or kids to just take time off and enjoy life like any other regular person out there.

I am passionate about what I do. But so I am about photography, Twitter and knitting. And while science is what brings the beef home, I do treat it as a job, with my time focused on doing good while I’m in the lab. I will always be one for more free time away from the lab. Cancer hasn’t been cured for lack of passion, and passion isn’t directly proportional to hours spent in the lab. Cancer hasn’t been cured because each type is different and required a different approach. And there are many types of it out there. And just like families of cancer patients deserve a break from all the intensity that treatment for a loved one brings, so do the people that are doing their damn best to find a treatment to eradicate this terrible disease.

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4 Comments

  1. TellDrtell says:

    Great post. I don’t know you, tho we do occasionally interact on Twitter. But this post adds hope, good, and realness to my world today. Thank you. 🙂

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thank you for your visit Tell!! Indeed, there is hope and things do get better! I hope I didn’t sound like a total idiot. Thanks again for your kind comment!

  2. Carly says:

    Excellent post! I’ve actually had certain people inform me (all matter-of-fact) that sleep and free time are “unnecessary.” It’s a lovely change to hear your (actually realistic) take on the topic 😛

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Anytime, Carly! Those people are stupid, truly stupid. If you don’t rest, physically, mentally and spiritually, how can you do truly kick-ass work? Take it from a staff scientist, it’s OK to take breaks, sleep, hike, knit, disconnect. Thanks for stopping by!

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