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Been meaning to write for a while

But between the hectic schedule and instruments breaking down, and my energy levels at an all time low, I’ve been putting it off. Then I remembered how good it feels to let things out and feel like I’m coming up to the surface to get some air.

Earlier this year my husband and I came to the realization that moving for this job was a BIG mistake. Neither one of us is happy or feels like we’ve had some of our dreams come true. On the contrary, between health issues that send hubs to the hospital more than once, and my inability to submit and find a way to click with my boss, the heartaches and headaches have been enough. Earlier last week I realized that the only reason I took this job was because it paid more. Nothing else. My benefits at my previous job were comparable and the company ponied up the money for my retirement up front, instead of waiting 6 months or whatever (like my current job does) and deduct it from my paycheck. I know, this is silly. There are a host of other things that I’m not at liberty to discuss that make the job even less appealing, but that’s one that really pisses me off.

And sure, I butted heads with my previous boss on occasion, but he didn’t meddle in lab affairs, or wanted to control my every move, something that I’m constantly fighting against at my current job. The pay isn’t worth the heartache. The city is boring beyond compare, and the stress it has put in my marriage is simply not worth it. I’m a (semi) godless liberal … and this is most definitely not my turf.

Because of those things and more, I’ve decided to start looking for a job. I haven’t warned the boss and I don’t plan to until I have to … ie. until someone asks for recommendations specifically from them. I know it’s a huge gamble, and I’m banking on some of the senior people that I’ve worked on here to help offset my current bosses low opinion of me, the rebellious bitch.

Some of the things I’m thankful for having learned at my current job are that money will not ever buy me happiness. It certainly hasn’t alleviated my feelings of inadequacy, hasn’t funded long vacations home to decompress, let alone freed some time to spend with my husband away from work. I have learned that I’m not willing to submit to an asshole no matter how much money they throw at me (oh, I’m, starting to sound like a high paid escort). And that I was trained well and know my shit, even when the asshole boss is fixated on proving me wrong (time and time again I’ve proven them wrong, yet they continue to give me the evil eye). I’ve learned that I like the fixing part of the instrument more than I thought possible, but I would have to go back and earn a BE in mechE or EE to even attempt to apply to their company. I’ve learned that I love training students and that I can train them faster than I thought possible. I’ve updated web pages and lab protocols to help run things smoothly. I have created databases and started ways to document things that weren’t in place before I got here.

But even with all those little goals met, it’s still not enough. I’ve been asked (forced) to mold into something I’m not, into something that I thought I’d left behind. There’s a reason I didn’t pursue the academic dream, and I’ve been forced to stare at those demons in the face and reiterate that I’m not going to compromise. Academia is not for me. Never was, never will.

I’ve experienced some of the growing pains I’d faced before … when I was a postdoc. And while it hasn’t been nearly as devastating (possibly because I’d faced those demons), it has hurt, it has been painful anyway.

Sometimes I beat my chest and ask the universe, why, why didn’t I stay where I was. The comfort of what was known was reassuring. The demons I battled there were known and I could handle them. I gave myself the freedom to dream and think that I could still make it in academia, well, in the fringes. But I was wrong. There are things I knew I didn’t like and still came back … mostly because I wanted to feel needed. I wanted to know what it was like to go back to a place I’d been and dazzle everyone with my mad skillz. And that pride came to bite me in the ass. And in a way it is OK, because it means I have a couple more notches on my belt. I can lick my wounds and try to fight back. That I have a clearer picture of what I want and know my limits.

Growing pains, being an adult, being a facilities coordinator (my official title), they have all sucked pieces of me. But today I’m making the decision to stand up, to use the knowledge and skills learned and perfected over the last 1.5 years and fight back. I vow to not settle again, to not be dazzled by supposed past glories and by other people’s judgement. I vow to listen to my inner voice, the same one that warned me loud and clear that my boss was trouble; the same voice I ignored in favor of more money and prestige. Take it from me, apparent more money and prestige aren’t always what they are said to be. You need to be true to yourself and embrace your quirks and respect yourself enough to say enough, to walk back, to try to not burn bridges but still be willing to move away, for your family and your sanity.

I’m done.

Dear Science Career Blogs … no. Just … NO

Today the always awesome Dr Becca and DrugMonkey (and a bunch of other awesome tweeps) noticed this little gem from our frenemies at Science Careers: http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2014_07_21/caredit.a1400184

The gist of it is that one little study at one university apparently found that if you think positive thoughts, not only can you handle stress better, you can magically fix the world, end hunger, solve the conflict between Israel and Palestine and end global warming!!!! Insert sarcasm here.

Look, I’m all for having a wonderful outlook and all. I know that a positive attitude can help in overcoming difficult situations.

What bothers me tremendously is that the way things are phrased in the little gem above, it makes it sound like postdocs have the answer to solve ALL their issues and that it’s in their hands to fix everything with just a tiny attitude adjustment.

This couldn’t be further from truth.

I’m not the only disgruntled doc here. But since it’s already past my bed time and I’m battling the beginning stages of a cold (and I’m lazy beyond belief), I’ll do Science Careers a big fat favour and point out to some of my most downward ass posts from 3 years ago.

See here, here and here. Apologies for the shameless self promotion, but like I said, my nostrils and sinuses are filled with yuck and I’m too lazy to link to others.

You see, Science Careers, thinking happy thoughts it’s all fine and dandy, until you find yourself in a horrible situation, with an abusive PI, or a bully labmate (like I did, the labmate, not the PI, thankfully, though I did see one of the PIs in my former PD department beat the shit out of a postdoc, emotionally speaking). Or you or your significant other are let go of the lab because the funding dried up and none of the 1500 grant applications you wrote and the endless nights of running FPLC columns, or counting fishies or measuring how high bunny rabbits jump, added up to 0 because the lab can’t keep running without money. Happy thoughts can totally help you console your sick child, help deal with your cancer or that of a loved one, or help you deal with death, divorce or marriage. You just have to find your happy place, cross your legs and think of how come you’re still in a dead end postdoc, in year 4 with 0 publications and you’re dealing with a sexist collaborator, or department head, or an ultra competitive postdoc and just breathe in and let it all go.

Truly, SC, truly. That is a bunch of bull.

Thinking happy thoughts didn’t save my dying friend, or helped me pay my bills, or drove my husband to the ER during a panic attack. Happy thoughts didn’t help shit when I was being bullied by the star student of the lab. Happy thoughts didn’t keep me fed and clothed, let alone warm during cold Canadian winters.

You know what kept me alive? A supportive husband (then boyfriend), friends from home that kept in touch, Skyping with my mom while witnessing my baby nephew grow in front of a camera. Whatever kind of career counseling I could get, be by the school or by a support network built on Twitter.

Those things kept me from jumping off of my apartment’s balcony on the 11th floor.

Not happy thoughts.

So, I hope you can pat yourself on the back for telling postdocs (current and prospective) that all they have to do is man/woman up and think positive thoughts. That that is all it takes to deal with stress. And that those happy thoughts will magically bring food to the table, a dental plan, retirement accounts and savings. They totally will (insert major side eyes here by me and a bunch of my tweeps).

K3rning and the token latina

I just found out today that, in more ways than I thought, I’m the token latina at work. I’m still in shocked and confused. I’m very disappointed, at being silly enough to think that at some point in my life I’d stop being looked at as more than a token. I need to think a bit more about this, but with cuts happening left and right, my job may be in jeopardy even with the token latina tag on me.¬† I know a lot of this doesn’t make sense. Like I said, I’m still processing things. I learned many things today about one of the people high above me and it has a direct impact on me. I’m not sure how to handle it. All I can say is that it became clear that if I do not conform to being more “American” and less uppity, I’m getting canned, and fast. I’ve been deep in thought since the news this morning (try getting that instead of a good morning when you first come into the lab). That, plus some family problems, and my poor hubby’s bad luck on the job front, have made me realize that perhaps I haven’t deviated as much as I’d hoped for from academia. That whatever love and respect I had for my institution and some of the heads above, is be forever lost. To the point that I’m finally ready to accept that my link with academia may be severed for good. And that I don’t need to be deep in academic research to be of value and to feel like I have value to myself and to the society at large. My job and what I’ve done in the last 10 years cannot define me. And I have a year or less to make peace with it. And I may be facing economic hardship by this time next year. And while I had lots of fears and doubt about what I would do, I am not my job, I am not my publications, I am so much more than that. It is sad the way things have transpired, how things have changed in just a few hours. It saddens me, but my mental well being and my ability to take care of my family, without being judged, without invoking the token latina tag, take precedence over my job. I am not made for academia, and the news this morning only served to cement that knowledge.

Finally, I may at some point close the shop here and on the Twitts. I love you all very much, but I am tired. I am tired of a system that sees in me $$ signs, and that the moment I raise my voice, or say ‘hey, this is not fair’ the “safety” of my job is threatened. That is not kosher with me. Forgive me if I’m silent … I’m not brave enough to call bullshit and out people for being unfair. What I fear is that the women behind me, the younger generations, will see me as a quitter, not as someone who stood up for injustice. I’m sorry. I’m just not powerful enough, american enough, and brave enough to make a statement. It’s bad when the ripples of doubt finally hit you. I’m sorry.

Questions on leaving my current job

I had a friend email me to say hi and congrats on the last few cool things that have happened (engagement, new job, move out of NY). In addition she asked a couple of questions about leaving my current job. Below are her questions and my answers. If you have a different perspective or would like to share your own experience, please share in the comments. This is aimed at people transitioning from one staff scientist position to the next, but is perhaps useful when navigating job transitions in other areas of academia.

Q. How did you justify going/flying for an interview somewhere else?

A. I told my immediate supervisor the moment I was asked to go on an interview. I consider him a friend. He has kids and occasionally has to take afternoons off, or come in late in the morning, so it wasn’t hard to justify in that sense. In addition, he understands that opportunities like this don’t come about just every day, so he was very supportive in that sense. But even if I didn’t consider him a friend, I still get personal days off at work, so I would have just said that I needed to solve a personal matter and gone anyway. I’m surprised I didn’t spill the beans sooner on both the blog and Twitter, but I was so concerned about making sure that the whole new job thing happened, that I didn’t want to jinx it, or get excited for no reason. If you’re not sure of whether you can confide in people, or about the results of the interview/visit, then there’s no harm in keeping it on the down-low. I know that other people would say that you have to tell someone, but I’m more of, if I’m not sure about something working out, I’d rather keep it silent in case it doesn’t come true. I didn’t tell my boss, just my supervisor and fellow staff peeps because I trust them. I don’t know how differently I would navigate the situation should I work in a different place or with different peeps.

Q. How did you tell your boss and coworkers?

A. I told my immediate supervisor and my fellow staff members. I warned them that I wouldn’t come for 2 days so they knew how to do the bookings and tend to the users. I definitely didn’t book my usual users on those days and even had to turn people down. I didn’t tell my boss-boss. I waited until I came back from the interview with an offer to spill the beans to him. And I did tell him then because a) I was sure I was moving from NYC to new job city and b) people are a bit hard to come by when it comes for interviews at my current place of work. My boss is special when it comes to offering interviews to people, and people above him can be hard asses when it comes to approving job searches. I wanted to make sure he had time to go through the proper channels and could start advertising to replace me ASAP. I know what a nightmare it was just to have my supervisor and me handle a ton of users 2 years ago, and even though we have more people now, it still gets chaotic at times, so I wanted to be considerate towards them and ensure they’d have someone ASAP.

Q. Was it understood that you might be able to leave when you wanted (like a postdoc kinda)?

A. Sort of. When I first got my offer it was understood that they’d want me to try to stay for at least 2 years. I’m not under contract but I do have to give sufficient notice before leaving. I’ve been at work for 20 months, so close to the 2 year mark and in that sense I don’t feel guilty about it. And though I’ve had a great time at work, if I’d found something similar that paid more, I would have left before. I did apply for a job back home and almost got it at around the one year mark, so I would have considered leaving sooner. I guess it all depends on the terms of your hiring, if there’s a contract, if there isn’t, whatever expectations are set before you sign. I’d just make sure that you talk about this topic with any future/prospective employers, just for peace of mind. And most importantly, have it in writing, because you never know if HR or the dean or your boss will harp on it to hold on to you for a little longer. That is one thing I’ve learned at my current position, be vigilant, be a hawk and have everything in writing.

Do you have a different perspective to add? Do you think my answers are how you would conduct yourself or what would you do different?

Changes, so many changes

When I moved to NYC almost two years ago, I knew that my position wouldn’t be a forever-type thing. I wanted, I needed to have some security, to get out of the training loop. I wanted to have benefits, to have a job that involved doing science, training, sample prep, and of course, learning new skills to add to my repertoire.

I knew the position would only be a temporary fix to my situation at the time (frustrated with academia, hated my postdoc, etc). I also knew, or at least expected, that the separation from honey would be a temporary one, especially while he finished his PhD. He’d be looking for work, hopefully in NYC or nearby, and we’d reunite after a while.

Hon was struggling for a few months to try to find work. He lived with his parents in the meantime, as my salary could not sustain the two of us. We went back to the long distance thing, with him doing most of the traveling to NYC. We’ve had a fantastic time in this city. This city is amazing. I’ve met some super fantastic folks, I’ve made contacts that I never even dreamed would be possible. I’ve met some of my favourite scientists, connected with emerging ones, in general, I’ve had a grand ole time.

I hadn’t been looking for work, or at least actively, since joining my current lab. Since I did such a short postdoc (in my opinion), only 1.9 years, I was afraid of doing a bunch of short stints at a couple of places, and creating the impression that I couldn’t hold on to something for a while, and improve my publication profile, network, present, etc.

Back in October I was contacted by a somewhat new hire at one of my previous places of training. I know this PI because they started in this place just as I was finishing. This PI’s postdoc lab is rather famous in my field, and has been very prolific in method-development. In addition, this lab has had a shit ton of trainees, some of which I’ve gotten to work with or meet since moving to NYC.

People at this previous place of training have been searching high and low for someone to be a manager of a lab in one of my disciplines of training. There have been some major changes (faculty-wise) and some of the people in power know of me and my work.

A couple of weeks ago I flew in for an interview, not sure of what to expect. I hadn’t seen these people since I left for my current job and I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in (if at all). Granted, I was trained at some point of my career there and people know the calibre of work I did. I was sure that all I’d get would be a free trip to say hello and goodbye and that’d be the end of it. I was oh-so wrong.

A few days ago I got semi-official confirmation that the position has been opened … for me. In essence I was asked to name everything I needed In order to leave NYC and join them. Yup. I’m still trying to pick my jaw off the floor.

I’m switching jobs once again. I’m going back and (hopefully) getting a do-over of some of the things I didn’t get to do, or did wrong. Hon will be relocating also, which means I get to have my cake and eat it too! Yeah, pinch me. I’m still trying to understand how the heck did this happen.

This new job has the potential for incredible amounts of growth. I’d be heading a lab I worked in, not as a PI, but as a bona fide manager. I’d be training people, creating protocols, collecting data, interacting with PI’s, postdocs and students of all levels. There would be no middle man like there is now. I’d basically become the female version of my current immediate supervisor, a person I adore beyond measure.

Yeah. I’m still freaking out. I can’t begin to wrap my head around the whole thing. I’ll be leaving NYC. That saddens me terribly. But what I earn now is not enough to live with hon, let alone cover the debt I have. I’d be getting access to the same level of benefits I currently have, along with more responsibility. I’d have access to a kick ass library, to decent sports teams, good food, and a whole new wave of talent.

I’m both excited and terrified. I’m excited about the possibility of working once again with people I know, but in a new aspect of my career. This is not a soft money position and I’m thrilled that the school/department/faculty kept me in mind when the whole change in faculty/department structure happened.

I also have some worries. I’d be the only woman in the lab, in a conservative environment where most of the faculty are white bearded dudes. And while I’ve been trained well in the science and in some admin stuff, I have no idea how to confront white bearded dudes, should they get out of line. I’m half their age at best … this shit is crazy.

I’ve certainly changed a bit from my old days there, so I don’t know how my “new” personality will mesh. I’m worried about that too. I’m worried about how I’ll be able to head the lab and move things along to show that the lab is self-sustaining and that we can bring more staff to help me. I’m worried about the pace of things, and about meeting the expectations. I don’t want to let anyone down. And of course, my imposter syndrome is acting up.

I’m happy about the change though (well, except the part about leaving NYC), about living with honey and being able to afford a place where we’re each others’ only roommate, of continuing our own little family, mamma, dadda and kitty. I’m happy to be able to drive places once again. I won’t miss living with total strangers (thankfully all of them have been sane!), the noises of the street, the crazy, stinky people during rush hour. NYC has been a tremendous adventure, but it’s my time to go.

We’ll see how things happen. But rest assured, I’ll keep writing about life in school, and life as a staff scientist, now loaded with moar responsibiliteez. Omai. I hope the new job, and the new me will still shed some light on the post-academic life. I hope y’all hang in there while I figure out my new roles, as a wife and lab manager.

Oh!? Did I mention that honey proposed and that we’ll be getting married in NYC before the move? Yeah …. totally. But that’s for another post, hehehe

Much love from my family to yours and a very merry 2013.

Updates and links

I keep having a hard time coming up with original content to write every week. Partly, it’s due to the fact that the semester has started, we’re teaching a course and there’s a lot of organization and planning to do. In addition, because we’re still a user-driven facility, we get requests to do set up experiments and equipment all the time. I’ve become the go-to person in the lab in terms of knowing where everything is, asking for quotes, helping to process data that only my immediate supervisor and I know how to process. While it is all good, it’s a lot of work. I’m barely thinking about academia these days. But I’ve kept writing here and there and now I’m sharing those links, in case you’re interested. As you may have noticed I’m also not tweeting as often, this is part of the whole “not having a clue” about what to write. I feel like I’m out of ideas, and/or fresh content. I find it sad. I wish I could talk in more detail about what is it that I do and what my job entails … but I’m just not ready to say who I am to the whole world. Anyway, here are some links of some of the other places I contribute to. Enjoy!

My reasons to move elsewhere in academia – over at Bio Careers

Little things I wish I’d known in grad school parts 1, 2 and 3 – over at 1DegreeBio


People that know me well know that I thrive in when things are in order, organized. The move threw my whole world upside down, especially money-wise. I was lucky enough to have good weather and low-traffic weekends to move everything. After handing over the keys to my old place, I haven’t hear from my roommate. I count that as a good thing. I left my room in pristine condition.

Now I have to shop for new doctors. I moved so far away from my former neighbourhood that it would be silly to try to keep my old doctors. Hopefully I can get a less creepy podiatrist. I am keeping my dentist though, she’s awesome. I’m back on my mood meds, which is partly why Twitter felt overwhelming. I’m still not 100% myself, but I’m definitely more hopeful now that the meds are back in my system. I also found out I’m not really asthmatic, though I do have that horrible allergy to NSAIDs. I’m getting some allergy-test results this week, let’s see what happens.

Work-wise, I’m getting involved in some new projects. I got some cool preliminary data and I want to show it to my boss to see what he thinks. I also want to show the data to the collaborator and see what he thinks. This is somewhat related to one of my areas of expertise, and while I was collecting the data I kept smiling, I felt like I was back in my good-data days of grad school.

But as much as I like my job and co-workers, and as much as I enjoy the instrumentation, things will have to change at some point. Honey is back in our hometown and is actively looking for work. We’ve talked more seriously about family, our future, and the word marriage has come up. We’re still poor from our grad school and postdoc days, so of course nothing is going to happen any time soon, but in preparation for what could happen I’d like to get my ass down home sooner rather than later. The prospect of starting another job search seems daunting, especially during an election year, with a bad economy to boot. But, I’m positive that it will happen and I need to prepare for that. It’s hard to network when you’re far away from home. This job search would also entail working on something different as the techniques I’m an “expert” in are not used at home. I could bring that expertise with me and start things myself, but again, I don’t think I’m ready to become a TT in said area. But one aspect I’m positive about is that even when I was away from my field of training for 2 years, picking things up again wasn’t as terrible (or as slow) as I made it out to be, so once I’m back in my home turf, I can start exploring options to see if I can get my hands back on the instrumentation I like so much. I know that what I know how to do would be a great tool to have at hand in my home institution, but right now they’re going through some tough patches money-wise, which is why I think it’s best to wait. We’ll see what happens. I’m giddy at the idea of living with honey once and for all, of going places together, having a regular life as a couple in the same place, planning vacations together, exploring things, enjoying working on what we like without the pressure of being students/postdocs. I’m looking forward to that. In the meantime I need to work my tail off to hopefully have my name in a few proposals and maybe even a paper or two so I have a bit of a bargaining chip¬† when the interviews (hopefully) come.