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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.

I dated a Christian Grey once …

******* Trigger warning *******

This entry contains a sexual coercion situation. This is sensitive stuff for lots of us. Please,  I don’t want you to end up in therapy because of whatI wrote. If sexual coercion situations upset you, please read with caution.

*********************************

No, no, not someone into BDSM. Someone abusive …. like Christian Grey.

So, no big secret, I decided to get out from under my rock and read all 3 Fifty Shades over the weekend (honey was our of town for a bit, so that gave me plenty of free time). I’d heard all sorts of comments about it, from love to hate and everything in between.

This is by no means a comprehensive discussion (and I may spoil it for some people); I just want to get some of my impressions out and share some of my thoughts.

I didn’t want to pay for a book that a) was originally conceived as fan fiction of Twilight (and I am against Twilight), b) had been e-published, c) probably depicted violence against a female based on comments I’d read.

Lucky me, I found the pdfs of it and read it on my iPad gratis.

Some aspects of the book I enjoyed, in a weird way, I guess: I’m a brunette, so seeing having one as the main character was somewhat good (but she’s a while brunette, not a latina like me) . She was interested in British Literature, as I used to be (somewhat) at her age. She met her “prince charming” at nearly the same age as I did meet and date my Mr Grey. I did find erotica appealing and the fact that in some way, the main character, Anastasia owned her sexuality, her desires and (eventually, somewhat) asked for what she wanted.

That’s the extent of what I found “positive”. Everything else, from the writing, the plot, Christian’s attitudes and behaviours … it all made me shudder.

Nope, not the supposed BDSM scenes (which I kept waiting for and never really got … sure, a butt plug here, a whip or flogger there … that’s about it). So, the comments I’d read about people turning bright red upon reading the sex scenes were … overrated, IMO. The true problem is Christian’s abusive, manipulative behaviours and the fact that the same “prince charming” crap keeps getting bombarded to us. That we need a man to complete us, to validate us. But above all, that with just love and patience and submission, we can fix what’s wrong if we end up with a physically or (in this case) mentally abusive partner.

Having said all that, and somewhat setting the stage, I want to share my story.

_________________________

In 2001 I was a sophomore in college. I had my life planned out, I was going to start applying for med school in the fall of 2002 and life was going to be awesome. In March or April of that year, at the last minute, I decided to apply for a summer research program out on the East Coast and was accepted. That summer I ended up going to a well known public school in New England and doing a project which I hated with passion. That same summer, I met my very own Christian Grey. He was a bit taller than me, a bit pudgy and very smart. His smarts and looks instantly attracted me and I was taken by his smile. I could see a lot of pain in his eyes and I wanted to heal him, to make him smile for me and for the world (sounds familiar?). We ended up dating for almost a year, then he broke my heart the first time, but we patched things up. I will spare you most of the details, but he was very controlling (what I could and couldn’t wear; my contact with my family (eventually I turned against them)). It all started slowly, with a timid but forceful ‘If you break up with me, I promise you I’ll disappear, you’ll never find me and you’ll never, ever know about my whereabouts and it’s going to drive you crazy’ spiel. But I just shrugged and continued with our relationship. He was the first boy I’d ever let into my heart, truly into it, and I didn’t want to give up on the promise of a bright future (I was 19 at the time and I’d lived a very sheltered existence up until that point, I thought the first man I’d kiss would end up being my husband). We did many things together, from studying for exams (he was in the same school as I was), to going to family functions.

Then the summer of 2002 came about. We ended up in separate states and he promised to visit.

In one of those visits, a friend drove him to the dorm I was staying for the summer. We went out for dinner and then hung out, and because my room had an extra bed, they spent the night there. My sweet Mr Grey slept in my bed and our friend slept in the bed across ours.

We’d ‘played’ with each other, gone almost all the way, but I’d been able to stand my ground and avoid having intercourse. Up until that night.

That night my very own Christian Grey used all his power and charm to subdue me and beg coerce me into sleeping with him. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were in bed fooling around and I was half naked. He drops his pants, drops his undies and starts asking. At first he asked, that he did. Then he used a bit more force. I was still saying no. I said no … so many times. I said no. Eventually, after much begging, bargaining and promises (that we’d get married, that intercourse would help me get rid of my painful periods, ha!), I relented. I said yes. In a soft voice I agreed to let him in. I cried. What convinced me was that he said he wanted to lose his virginity with me. He wanted to be my first and only. He knew that was my weak point. And I relented.

I was in pain. I wanted him out. But I had just agreed to go forth. I couldn’t turn my back, could I? This is the first time I’m openly admitting it. My heart is racing as I type these words … I couldn’t back out. I’d already given my word. Who was I to back out?

I can’t remember how fast things happened. But I remember the tears. I had a bit of pain and discomfort … but more than anything, I couldn’t believe that the special moment I’d been told about by my mom and by movies and magazines had a) gone that fast and b) gone so awry. I wanted hearts and flowers. And I got none of it. I had a friend passed out in the bed across mine, I had a very hormonal boyfriend who had just convinced me by breaking my will, that it was OK and that we’d be OK. That sure, it wasn’t romantic or special, but it happened. I was his. I remember him saying that, I was his, I was all his.

Throughout the year before that night I’d been systematically broken down. He always complained about my big mouth and about not being able to keep it shut when I was with his family. I’d begged him to correct me. I wanted to avoid pissing him off, causing any sort of issues or conflicts. I begged to be disciplined so I could become the perfect girl he wanted. I opted not to wear certain clothes, for fear that he’d have a hissy fit and accuse me of being a slut or of capturing the attention of other guys and make him look like an idiot. Christian Grey did that. His weapons of choice, of power, were his penis .. having sex … and the mind games he played. And it was the same with my Mr Grey.

I eventually learned to like sex, to use it as a weapon to quiet my Mr Grey whenever I pissed him off.

Eventually his promises died. He cheated on me (I only learned about it 3 years after we broke up … but as usual, I suspected it). He eventually got married and I believe he’s had progeny. I pray that his progeny will never meet someone like him. He’s still probably not aware of the damage he did to me or how he broke me down.

I wasn’t aware of it until I learned about sexual coercion and about how I had the power to say no, but I didn’t use it. Because I didn’t know that it was a possibility.

I had all these patriarchal ideas in my head, and that didn’t fit into what I was experiencing. In a way, I felt like I deserved it, because I was being a ‘slut’ in the eyes of my family and my church. I was throwing away everything that was good and wholesome … thus I deserved to have my first sexual encounter be one in which I was coerced, in which there was another person in the room, someone that could wake up and perhaps could have stopped. But I was afraid of disturbing his sleep with my cries.

_________________________

Reading 50 Shades helped me realized that having someone controlling, someone exerting power over you, especially if you’ve not given your consent, is toxic. It is damaging.

I applaud that we’ve made progress into helping women own up their sexuality, say what they want and under what conditions, and hopefully be respected. But I do not applaud the glorification of a control freak, a stalker, as Christian Grey is, and how many of us swoon over this “ideal” man.

My ideal man listens to me, rubs my back when I’m tired, is my nurse when I’m ill. My “prince charming” loves hearing me laughs and hates when I cry, and does everything in his power to make me smile. He cares for me and for our cats. Helps me with the dishes, offers to cook for me, and washes my clothes when I’m out of time. He’s a good, respectful sexual partner and is interested in making me feel like a queen. He doesn’t stalk me, or disrespects me, and would never belittle me … and I am so glad I married him instead of my ex, Mr Grey.

_________________________

This clip is very awesome, and is one of the few that help put everything in perspective when it comes to 50 Shades and how the relationship of these characters is.

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).

Do. NOT. Be. A. Creep. You, idiot!!!

Early in the morning today (too early to be exact), I had a convo with my husband re: nerds and creepy people. We were talking about whether when we were in school, we knew someone like Howard or Raj (from Big Bang Theory), or a creepy nerd. We talked about how we tried to be nice to everybody (though 16 yrs have passed since we left high school … oh dear God), but we probably were assholes at times. Not very proud of that. We couldn’t remember specific examples or Howards or Rajs in our classes … until it hit me. I did have someone like Raj .. and even though 16 years have passed, it still creeps me out.

The story goes like this:

I was 17, and we were near the end of our last semester in high school. School had approved a local reggae band to play at school for a day-time celebration and we were able to dress casually (uniforms were the norm). I remember wearing my “cool” jeans, my sunglasses, sandals and a cute little tee with some design in aqua. All I remember is the colour. Anyway. We took our classes, and after that, the band assembled in the yard and started playing. The way my high school was built, it had an inner yard surrounded by classrooms, offices and the cafeteria. There was this big tree that blocked the view from one side to the next and on the top level of our school, the were hand rails … giving the look of a balcony surrounding most of the inner yard.

Long story short, the band starts playing, we start dancing in little groups. I had a biggish group of friends and we made a circle and danced and it was all in good fun. For whatever reason, even though I’m very absent-minded, I noticed that there was a guy on the top floor with a camcorder (remember those?). I thought he was filming the band, which was popular in those days, and it didn’t bother me much. Until I started paying attention and noticed that every time I went out into the yard to dance with my friends, they guy seemed to be zooming in (my sister had the same camera, thus I knew what he was pressing and the motions he had to do zoom in). And when my friends and I moved, the camera moved in our direction.

I noticed that if my group broke down into smaller groups, he seemed to be pursuing the same little group with his camera … and I was always in that little group.

Then it started bothering me.

I remembered that a few weeks before that, we’d had an international celebration/day at school, and I was collaborating with one of my teachers in making a display. At some point I walked out of the classroom to get some fresh air and wait for some glue to dry and the guy that had the camcorder the day of the reggae band was waiting to talk to the teacher that I was helping. I’d seen the guy before. He was friends with some friends but we never hung out in the same group. He was a bit of a car nerd, and while I did like cars and nerding about them, I didn’t hang out with his all-male clique. I stroke up a conversation with him, very short and was able to sell him a chocolate bar to raise funds for our international day celebration. I can’t remember if I was flirty, or anything. I don’t think I was. Plus, guys in school didn’t find me particularly pretty (I was a geek, recovering from years of having acne and wore too-high socks), so I had no inkling that our little convo over him buying a chocolate bar would give him any sort of ideas that I was interested in him.

Whatever.

Fast forward two months, and the reggae band is playing, creepy chocolate guy is recording our group of friends with his handheld camera and I ask one of my friends to tell me what she notices if I hide behind a wall at school. I start dancing with her, and slowly walk behind the wall. My friend keeps dancing until the song ends, and I’m hiding and she says that creepy guy lowered his cam. When the next song begins, I walk out to dance with my girlfriend, and the camera goes up. This goes on and on for the rest of the mini-concert.

At one point I was so bugged that I stopped dancing and just hid behind the wall so he couldn’t record me. Eventually my friends and I switch places to another part of the school yard where there’s the big tree I mentioned earlier and the guy gives up. But I had to get on top of a bench at school, hide behind a big tree so he couldn’t find me, let alone film me.

And it dawned on me … this guy was a major creep that felt entitled to film me, to record my every move on a casual dress day at school for God-only-knows what purpose. I felt dirty, creeped out, used. I still feel it to this day.

My husband couldn’t believe it.

And this was not illegal (probably isn’t to this day either) back in 1999. It would have been dismissed as just a boy thing.

But I felt like my privacy, my right to be a regular 17-yr old, dancing with her friends to the rhythm or a popular reggae song was invaded.

I felt dirty, disgusting for inciting those desires in another 17 yr old (I was extremely conservative at that time, as in, if the guy was filming me it was probably for dirty purposes and I’d be going to hell for (in Duggar parlance), defraud him).

———

There are many issues in the story I have shared. From how the very patriarchal culture I grew up in made me feel guilty for being a regular 17-year old girl who just wanted to have some fun with her friends while in a school function that had been approved by the principal and teachers.

This same patriarchal society that protected this young man. I’m sure that if I’d opened my mouth, my teachers would have just shrugged and said that in 4 more months I’d be in college and that I could forget all about it and just dance.

I then remembered how one of my oldest cousins had to have campus police escort her to and from her car and to and from every class when she was in the same college as she was a few years prior, to protect her from the creepy stalker she had.

———

I can’t remember the creepy guy’s name. And maybe that’s good, because I would like to know if he has a criminal record or something for being a creep. I worry about what he did and if he did it to others.

My sense of security felt violated that day. How could I trust that other guys at school, or in college, could keep their pants on and their cameras away from me or my friends?

———

So that’s my creepy story, or memory of the day.

If I had a daughter, I’d make sure she feels comfortable coming forward and saying “hey mom, this happened, can we do something about it?”

If I had a son, I’d say, don’t be a creep, see how this behaviour makes women, or just people feel. It is not right.

To both I’d say that whatever they do, dancing, sharing with friends, going to the movies, whatever it is … they have a right to feel secure, protected, and not be filmed by creeps. They have to be sure that they are safe, and if they are not, they need to speak up, and know that they can and will make friends, or talk casually with someone, and that it is not OK for someone to stalk them, even at a distance, with a recording device. It is wrong and it must be stopped.

———

And now, back to work. I just wish I could take a cold shower.

Demotivation

It’s been forever since I last wrote something.

Ever since the incident with my boss, I’ve been keeping busy and making sure that everything I do is well documented, so as to avoid getting k3rned by them.

But something that a friend posted today reignited all those feelings of frustration. See here:

The lovely fianinros wrote what I couldn’t very well articulate back in April. See, I’d been given the impression that I was doing things right, keeping the boat afloat and then when I got feedback from my department, my boss had all these complaints about me and my work. I felt like I’d been stabbed in the back and I felt like I was out of breath for a week. It’s was terrible. Then, during a meeting last week, the darned PI took credit for something I’d remarked a month before! I mean, seriously. It wasn’t a big deal (the type of info they informally took credit for), but I felt like I’d been stepped on, yet again. See, this is one of the things we get when we’re staff scientists or research associates, sometimes we have to put our head down and keep going despite having the air taken out of our lungs by the actions of our superiors.

Someone asked on Twitter why we weren’t looking for another job.

It’s a multi-pronged situation, you see. I haven’t been here long enough to make a mark. I’ve already been in a situation where publications didn’t come out of my efforts (ie, the postdoc from hell). Despite what some may thing, publications, even if you’re the 17th author, are still currency for staff scientists. Not only that, but because I’ve moved on to bigger and “better” things, there are certain milestones I would like to accomplish that I hope will give me more leverage to negotiate a better offer in the future. I’m going to a conference in the fall and I’m hoping that by that time there will be papers out (or at least submitted) that I can use to attract some attention and put out feelers and see if I happen to land somewhere else. So for now my strategy is to keep my head down, be the obedient, submissive sweetheart I can be and slowly plan my exit. In addition, there aren’t that many jobs out there as there were when I got this one, and this one came because a former committee member of mine saw the opening, contacted other faculty and said “hey, let’s see if she’s willing to relocate.” Said former member of my committee knew the types of experiments I was able to perform, but was/is far too removed from the field to truly get a deep understanding of the technical challenges involved in it. I feel a bit bad about leaving this person hanging … but they don’t know all the drama involved in being a staff sci.

It has been frustrating to hit myself against the walls of people who think they are too big, or too perfect, to do anything wrong. And sadly, I’ve developed a taste for proving them wrong but being a bit … confrontational about showing them where they messed up.

We had a PM done in one instrument recently and while talking with the service person about the challenges of being at the helm (for only some things) of a lab, he casually mentioned that I should totes apply for a job in his company. But his company doesn’t have any openings and the two geographical areas where the company has plants are too far from anywhere I’d like to be.

But, I keep, we keep, moving forward despite facing challenges and even sexism at times, because we love the research. Isn’t that what all PIs have to do when dealing with admin BS, or institutional stupidity?

I am committed to my job, mostly because of future prospects. But it is disheartening to encounter attitudes that extinguish your fire for a field one loves. Yes, people are difficult to deal with .. but honestly, it shouldn’t be this complicated.

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.

On not being good enough, my response to @edyong209

So, over the weekend, the much beloved Ed Yong tweeted this. That’s why we don’t put people on pedestals. Undoubtedly, they always end up falling (remember Borazgate?).

I want to take a few minutes and write to Ed, and to however out there reads me. I may be considered a failure. If I was being judge by the standards of 2003, when I entered grad school, I’d be (or am) a total failure in science. A waste of a PhD. Why? Because I’m not a tenure-track professor, or at least a postdoc on her way to PIdom. I am a lowly lab manager.

In 2001, after finishing an internship, I took Physics 101. I hated every second of it. Physics didn’t make any sense. And I was pretty sure I was going to grad school to do a PhD in mol bio or biochem. Truly, physics would be useless for those two, right? I got a B, and I hated the class. Plus the prof was a misogynistic ass who was always being accused of harassment, but was never actually prosecuted. Every time I went into his office, I cringed. Luckily for me, I was not his type. I was not blonde, I was average and had short hair. Lucky me. When physics part deux came about, I hated it even more. Optics? Magnetism? What in the world? I got a D. I had to take it again. I aced it. I don’t know how, probably it was because the prof was young, knew what he was talking about and was enthusiastic about teaching physics. He helped me achieve the impossible, enjoying physics. But still, I was pretty sure physics were useless and I’d be a damned biologist for the rest of my days. Oh ignorance is bliss.

Come 2004, after finishing all my rotations, and I ended up doing 3 of them in a biochem and biophysics department. I joined what could be considered an applied biophysics lab (VERY broadly speaking) and off I went. I failed my qualifying exam. I eventually passed it. Oh, and physics was pretty important here. I sucked at my defense (or at least that’s how I felt). I went to do a failed postdoc in biochemistry. I went back to my field of study and joining a lab as a staff scientist. I was most definitely out of the tenure track for good. And I was (am) to this day, eternally grateful that I got out.

I’m not smart enough or clever enough to write grants. I suck at reviewing papers, and I still suck at discussing them (unless they’re in a subset of very specific techniques and even then, some of them go way above my head). But I am good at collecting data. I’ve kept a lab running, and people doing for over a year. And I am enjoying it. I’m trying to learn a lot of things that I only skimmed when I was student, thinking that I wouldn’t stay in the field for long and that there was no use learning stuff I’d soon forget.

I just had my first year review and it went well, considering some of the obstacles I’ve faced throughout my first year as a lab manager. I still consider myself a pretty dumb biophysicist. I still roll my eyes when I see derivatives and currents and all that stuff. I still don’t understand much of the math. But I understand well enough how to collect the data, process it and prettify it make a compelling story, a story that helps my PIs craft scientific poetry around it, and make it a storybook.

I am happy and fulfilled with what I do now. I don’t know if or how long I’ll do it. But I am happy knowing that I’ll never be a PI. I was never interested in being one to begin with. And it took me a LONG time to open up to people and show them my true colours. I’m still in academia, but at the fringes. I have a PhD, and I could very well try my luck at being a PI, but I don’t want to. I don’t feel like putting myself through that. I’m happy being in a supportive role, to PIs, to students and postdocs. I still get my chance at mentoring them a bit, and that is OK with me. And I teach them, one-on-one, my favourite form of learning.

By old standards I may be a failure. But since I’m content with what I do and the TT was never my dream, I ask you Ed, am I really a failure?