27 and a PhD

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Resolutions: 2012 edition – three months in

Here’s how things are going two months into 2012. The changes are crossed and have a comment. Enjoy!

Even though I complain all the time about hating to do resolutions, I still manage to make a list. I like lists, I enjoy making them and I enjoy crossing stuff off. So, without further ado, here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2012 (in no particular order):

  1. Get bangs. I love bangs, but after a while I get tired. I found a haircut that I love and back in October, I found a stylist that I like, so I hope to get into the spirit of spring with a new haircut and bangs to match. Finally sporting bangs, a little long, but that’s better than ending up with Audrey Hepburn’s bangs on hair that’s thicker than thick. 
  2. Sell my car.
  3. But first I need to *finally* get the papers in order. It still has an ON title.
  4. Ask for a raise, because I deserve it, and I want it. After having the results of my year end review, I ended up with a few more pennies in my pocket. Not too shabby 🙂
  5. Visit the family and stay a few days without worrying about money. Possibly attend my nephew’s birthday.
  6. Attend hon’s defense and graduation.
  7. Make a dent on credit card debt #3, the smallest one (thought it’s still pretty significant).
  8. Attend a national meeting of my discipline or at least sub-field.
  9. Appear on a publication, even if it’s in the acknowledgments.
  10. Write an entry once a week.
  11. Make dinner at home, at least 1 week of every month (it costs me as much to dine out as to buy groceries and cook, so I opt to (mostly) eat out and work late).Woo! Achieved. I’m cooking most days in, not 7 days a week, but most days a week, every week. Not too shabby here either. I’ll take eating in most days, rather than cooking for 7 days just one week a month.
  12. Tell annoying family member to fuck off if he keeps harassing me.
  13. Try a few new places to eat, especially around my neighbourhood (not that I don’t love you y’all, but you know, I need variety).
  14. Walk more, eat less, drink more water. Not eating less, but I’m opting to walk more whenever I can (and soon I should be getting my orthotics! finally done, yay!!!) and I’m drinking water most days at work.
  15. Find a good, local brewery and try a new beer every month (suggestions are more than appreciated, also #drunksci).

I’m employed, the process and the wait (Act 2)

This is Act 2, recounting how I got my new job. Act uno is here.

So, I swallowed (some of) my pride, emailed the guy from the ad and, in a couple of sentences, talked about my training and some details about my previous (and current) scientific life. I asked if the search committee would even consider someone like me (because I was/am still new(ish) research wise), and waited, and waited and waited. The guy wrote back, asked for a full application packet, but couldn’t make any promises. That was enough for me to get a glimmer of hope, maybe all was not lost. One of my 2011 resolutions was to get out of my postdoc lab, with or without a job. I didn’t want to go back to the lab after new year’s, I wanted out.

While waiting for signs of life from the search committee, I probably filled more than 50 applications to all sorts of jobs in North America and parts of Europe. After one particularly discouraging bout, I was ready to give up. I hadn’t been updated from any of the jobs I’d applied which were in areas compatible with my training and I didn’t know what was going on. Then out of the blue, I got a call from the ad guy. He wanted to see if I’d be up for a phone interview. I did, of course and we spent almost an hour talking about my previous research experience and accomplishments … but it felt as though all I’d done was babble on and on (brings to mind an entry from Dr. (now Prof) Becca). I was out of breath for the first 10 minutes, and my hands were shaking uncontrollably, I thought I’d hang up accidentally or something worse. Of course I didn’t hear from the guy for sometime, again. Eventually I got an email from a place in the south …. and on that same day I also got an email from the ad guy at new job city … somehow I’d convinced people at new job city that I was worth the invitation. After a few weeks of non-stop interviews, and considering the possibility of moving to Rainbow Lake, Alberta, I went for my interview at new job city. I’ll spare most of the details, but basically I had a full day of one-on-one interviews, a job talk and dinner (please be gracious and accept any sort of EtOH they provide, it will help calm your nerves, trust me).

I got back to Canada, and waited, and waited, and waited. Hon kept saying that I should email the people at new job city. I’d gotten a very generic email from my (now) new boss thanking me for my visit, and he mentioning that the committee still had other candidates to interview. With every day that passed a little bit more of hope kept fading. By this time I’d learned that I wouldn’t be moving to Rainbow Lake, or anywhere else for that matter … all my offers had fallen through. I was very sad and angry. I also made my mind, I wasn’t asking my boss for an extension. I was ready to go, with or without a job offer.

I emailed a guy at school, asking him if he was looking for someone. He was, but the guy was very busy, so we never got to talk about anything concrete job-wise. A part of me wanted to stay close to honey, be at the same school, just for a wee bit of extra time. I had some pretty good ideas for experiments and approaches I could try if I joined this lab … but a part of me really didn’t want to go back to protein biochemistry. It was as if my love for computer-controlled everything won over biology and biochemistry (apparently this is more common that I originally thought … especially if all you do is purify protein, after protein, and set up trial, after trial). I really couldn’t see myself holding yet another flask full of 2XYT, making another buffer, or running 6 gels at once.

I’d also given up hope from ever hearing back from new job city. I decided against writing a desperate email or something similar. All I wanted from them was to write back with the negative, I needed an answer to put this all behind me. 

I’m employed, the present (Act 1)

It’s no secret that I’ve been looking for work, and throughout the last couple of weeks I’ve mentioned bits (or tons) regarding a certain position in a cool new city. I’m happy to report that it is now official. I have a job. Though I’ve been carrying a letter bearing my name, a certain 5-digit figure and info regarding this position … it simply didn’t feel real until I had my papers signed and an ID with my name and picture on it. I have a job, it’s a real job, not another training position. It’s loosely academic, in the sense that I will work with a sort of core lab, serving various users. People at this place expect a couple of years worth of commitment. I’ll have an annual evaluation, a retirement account, health coverage, personal days off and some vacation time (not as much as I’d like, but it’s negotiable). I’m very happy career-wise. This position closely aligns with my grad school training and career interests. As far as I can tell, my labmates are very nice people, and I’m part of a small group, which increases in size upon meeting with collaborators and other interested parties. Small groups are my thing. I’m happy because I’ll be working again with Linux (yeepee!!!!) and with some kick-ass instrumentation. The group goes to a national/society meeting every year (or so I’ve been told), and there’s a possibility that I’ll be part of some search committees in the future. I have a BOSS and I also have a more immediate boss, whom I’ve been in constant communication since before the offer was made. This person has a similar background to mine (with, of course, a shit ton of experience), and seems to be easy to work with (at least judging by our emails). I met all my labmates during my interview, and I instantly liked them. We’ll see if this holds true after a few weeks/months. I hope I can make it work.

On to the details on how this position came about. As far back as October and November of last year I was very pissed off and tired of the situation in my postdoc lab. I had the relentless comments from my dear gossipy labmate going on for a weeks (at that time they were only directed at me, and a student that was finishing, but later it involved every single member of the lab). I was tired, I wanted out. It appeared as if my postdoc boss was uninterested in my work (or that’s how it felt), and had me going on and on with some experiments which I was convinced wouldn’t work (but hey, I had to test that to back it up, right?). I started looking for positions back then, though I had no clue of where I’d end up, or if I’d be in science at all. I contacted a prof at my college Alma mater, and got an interview pretty quickly, but the prof offering the position to somebody else. I felt terrible, and judging by this prof’s language in the emails (prior to my interview), it seemed as if he was just waiting for me to say yes (suuuure, right?!). I didn’t want to look any further. I felt defeated. I’d been so psyched imagining a way out of the lab (sooner rather than later) being close to my family, etc, but it wasn’t meant to be at that time, I still had lessons (and workshops) to learn/attend. Now I’m glad it didn’t happen. Most of the work involved cell culture, which I didn’t feel like learning (I’m a bad biology major, OK?, what can I say), and would have used very little of my manual/technical training (something that was also a problem in my postdoc lab).

One night I was particularly pissed (though hon might have a different opinion on the exact length of time) and I had a conversation with Genomic Repairman. We talked about my previous experience, ideal geographical location (one of the coasts) and other details. I’d seen an ad for a position at new job city, but it seemed like too big of a risk to even attempt it. But after talking to GRM, and re-reading the ad, I thought “well, maybe this is destiny telling me to give it a shot, worse comes to worse I don’t ever hear back from them and that’s it.”

To be continued ….

The moving boxes

I’ve got a little less than 2 weeks to leave everything packed before I move to uber-cool-city-with-small-apartments (or UCCWSA). Today hon and I went to get the boxes that made it alive during my move to Canada. Some of the boxes carry the names and addresses of people in my previous (read, grad student) life, while a couple carry my postdoc address.

Kitty is currently sleeping next to the boxes. Whenever something new comes in she sniffs, marks and usually sleeps in or around it. It’s happened with chairs, the sofa, our rescued recliner, and more.

I look at kitty, the boxes, honey. I think of how their lives will be once I’m not here. I think of how they’ll spend their lazy Sunday afternoons once I’m gone. I think of the history that those boxes tell, of old places, and new adventures. I think of how bad I felt during our move. The terrible cramps, no AC, on a hot summer day. I wanted to be done. I remember having things half-packed, and looking for a cheap bed. I think of how happy I was (and am) with my current bedroom, the space, the layout, the dreams I had for my postdoc life. I think of the next time we’ll be together as the little family we’ve become.

I think about how things have changed, how I have changed. I think of the places I’ve been, the memories I’ve (we’ve) made. I think of the snowmageddon we survived, with snow up to our bellies. I think of how honey and I played in the snow, like silly, little kids.

I think of the things that made my postdoc life a living hell. And how I’d love to go back and quit sooner, or at least have a better outlook on things, so I wasn’t torturing honey with complaints about how unhappy, unloved, un-everything I felt in the lab.

I now look back and think of all the things I should have done. I want to kick myself in my invisible balls and turn back time. I want to stay here … but I know I can’t. I know how unhappy my life as a postdoc made me. I brought home all my worries, annoyances, stress and foul mood (among other things). I don’t want to be like that again, it was a dark place and I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want to be that person. Honey doesn’t deserve that. I don’t deserve it. I don’t want to be in a foul mood. I know I’m better than that. I know I can do better than that. I need to do better than that.

So, I’m moving away, again, from everyone I know, everyone I love, everyone that matters to me. I’m turning 30 in another city, away from family, away from honey, even away from kitty. I keep repeating in my head, every day, before I go to bed, after I wake up, when I’m in the shower, that I’m strong enough, that I can do this.

I should be able to do this. I’ve done it before. Except that I had savings in that previous life. Except my mommy was with me, looking for apartments, helping with the deposit, walking with me and telling me that she’d think of me during the morning commute. I was eager to move outside of my parents’ house. I was done with being a child. And now, I want to be a kid, feel sheltered, protected, cover by my family, honey, everyone. I don’t handle change well. I’m scared I’ll fail, I’m scared of the mistakes I’ll make.

It’s really scary, but I know I must do it. I want to be happy, I want to go back to what I know, I really want to be proficient in what I did (and hope to do), again.I should be able to do this. But the magnitude of it scares me … what if people hate me? Whatever I do at the new place will have an impact on whatever I do next. If it’s bad, I’m done for sure. If it’s good, the sky would be the limit.

We’ll see how this goes. I will miss many things, many people, my old life. I’ll miss waking up in the morning and kissing hon’s head, feeding kitty. I’ll miss looking out the window of our high-rise and seeing green. I’ll miss the food, the places, the comfort of it all.

I’m just hoping it’s worth it. I’m hoping my career dreams are worth it, and that somehow, somewhere, I’ll be able to reunite with my loved one, smiling, happy, and fulfilled …. I know it will take time. It always does. I just hope it’s all worth it.

Female, scientist and homeless

Can’t give too many details but, there is a possibility of work in the States. In a couple of days I leave Canada. I’m packing away my life of 2 years in Canada and 6 years in grad school city to move to the unknown. I have to downsize drastically, and sadly I have to move alone, as hon will stay in Canada to finish his studies. I can/will leave my things in Canada and it’s possible I get reimbursed once I’ve completed the move, but first I have to spend money.

I got a call from one of the places I had visited earlier this year. The place was very welcoming and nice. I liked that almost everyone is/was a staff scientist and that I wouldn’t have too many people to share my working quarters with.  I don’t hate people, I don’t mean it like that. But, rather than sharing office and lab space with 15 people, it’s possible I get my own (looooong bench space), and maybe a bit of office space (but the offices and lab quarters are way apart, so people mostly stay at the bench). It’s a science place, but it’s neither industry nor academic.

I’m going back to what I know, but applied to something completely different. I may get a “fancy” title with the word ‘scientist’ in it (it’s true peeps, I’ll get to introduce myself from now on as some sort of fancy scientist). In paper I should be getting more moolah, but in practice I’ll be taxed on 3 levels (city, state and fed), which will invariably have me seeing a lot less money than I would have wanted (I did negotiate, but there’s no way to compensate for taxes, and no, I’m not complaining about taxes, it’s my civic duty and I’m happy to do it).

I’m thinking of renaming the blog ‘female scientist and homeless’ because I barely have money to move to uber-cool-city-with-great-science-and-too-small-apartments and I may not see more money for a long time. Possible new place of work will provide a roof over my head for a couple of days (read, a couple). I have a couple of (very, VERY) distant family members, and a grade-school “friend” who live there, but (sadly) can’t play hosts for me while I get my feet off the ground (in an ideal world I’d be happy to crash on somebody’s couch for 1-2 months while I get started, but reality is a bitch, and I don’t have any money, for realz). And because uber-cool-city-with-great-science-and-too-small-apartments is cool, landlords need to see a lot of moolah in all sorts of deposits and this and that prior to letting me in one of their (possibly not so fancy) apartments. I won’t have a car, furniture or even pots and pans to survive the first days (or months, at this stage, who knows who long it’s going to be). I’m taking a sleeping bag, and hoping I can pick up enough loose change on the streets of uber-cool-city to buy a pump and sleep somewhere (I’ll investigate whether there are showers at (possible) new job).

So, to summarize, I (may) have a job (I haven’t exactly signed anything, so to me, it’s not real at all, and based on the last 6 months they could back out at the very last-minute) which requires me to move back to the States, to a state I’ve never lived in, to a complete unknown, which is hard for me to swallow since I’m a type-A, planner-to-the-max kinda person. Yeah, I want to pull my hair to say the least these days.

We’ll see how that goes. Oh, and I’ll also turn 30 alone and (possibly) homeless. I am strongly considering renaming the blog female scientist and homeless.

Twelve months of 29 and a PhD

Last year, one of my fave bloggers wrote about a year in recap and since I love to talk about myself incessantly I copied the meme, made changes accordingly and posted it here. Now that another year is coming to an end I decided to do it again and adapt it to the crazy and sometimes wonderful things that have happened since Jan 1st 2010. Here’s a very short recap on some of the things that happened to 29 and a PhD during the last 11.something years:

  1. January – came back from a vacay with my vision settled on making progress on my project and taking on another one. My project was kind of stagnant after the first few months of my postdoc, and I was learning a whole lot of techniques and protein biochemistry hadn’t had to do before. I finally got some of the proteins that I needed and started doing those darn assays (which didn’t work). Also,  I blogged about my defense in as much detail as I could.
  2. Februaryblogged a whole lot about grad school, my grad school experience and … well, grad school. Experiment-wise, not much progress.
  3. March – Had a problem with one of the purification columns  but eventually it was fixed. Figured out that 150 mM salt was needed for my favourite tagged protein to bind to another column (I learned about how important it is to read the data sheet for each and every column).
  4. April Paid taxes, in BOTH the US and Canada. Wrote a little “guide” about it … though not sure if it applies to everyone, but what they heck.
  5. MayGRADUATION!!!!! Went back to my lovely school, met with former PI and current rotation students. Saw old friends, grads and PIs alike. Stimulated PhD-citys’ economy by going to Target a grand total of 4 times in ~3 days. I know, crazy. But Target is yet to open its doors in the Great White North. Had some awesome food which I’ve missed everyday since I moved away. More importantly, my lovely baby nephew was born. A healthy, little blue-eyed prince with chubby cheeks and blonde  hair ….. awwwww. I learned that the BF and I would be visiting Spain for a few days for a little summer getaway (and graduation gift, yeepee!).
  6. JuneGot back on my PMDD medicine, blogged a bit more frequently and got some good bits of data, not enough to put into a new paper, but enough to show that this part of the project is far too time-consuming and needs a shit-load of tweaking … which I won’t do. Also, started new project, yeepee!! I think it was during this month that I joined twitter to try to connect with other science peeps. These connections would prove a great source of support later on.
  7. July – turned 29 and went to Spain. I still owe you the entry. I hope to post it before the year’s end with some pics and all. It was AWESOME! Oh, and we were there for the final, so we got to party on the streets the Spanish way. Priceless.
  8. August – Started recovering from the post-vacation funk and talked about how United Airlines is THE suckiest airline ever! Wrote about the overproduction of PhDs. Also, this marked the beginning of my second year as a postdoc.
  9. September – Went to the 35th Toronto International Film Festival. IT WAS AWESOME!!!!!!!!111111eleven11111!!!!!  Did a bit of shopping, a bit of dining and had a great time in this lovely city (the big TO is like NY, but cleaner and without the insane amount of people). Started to seriously question if I really want to stay in academia, and whether I could overcome my frustrations with how things are going in the lab, research-wise and mentoring-wise. Also, completed my series on “Nightmares while traveling with United Airlines.”
  10. OctoberStarted to seriously look at other jobs, both within our geographical area and close to where we hope to be after hon’s defense. Learned that the BF may need to push things back because of some unscheduled changes to his thesis. Joined the gym, which I promptly left 3 weeks down the road.
  11. NovemberWrote about a student in my department, and his going MIA without his PhD and the measures taken by his PI to try to get him back on track. Wrote about whether faculty should put all their materials in a class/databank to make things easier for their undergrads. Hon and I bought tickets to go home. Figured out what happened with one of my constructs and why it was being anal … huzzah! But, that cannot take away the feeling of scientific inadequacy. Made a new friend in the department who offers a hand and a shoulder to use if I need to cry or talk about current lab frustrations. Said friend gives me some good career advice.
  12. December – Not even done with lab work but every day I need to do manual lab work I see it as a punishment for sucking at doing the bench. I HATE bench work, HATE it with passion. But, 3 days before Xmas I’ll be home hugging my little nephew. I can imagine his delicious baby smell and I can see myself playing with him on the floor, buying 10000 ridiculously lovely things for him and taking as many pictures as I can, savouring every moment. Next time I see him he’ll be 1, and he won’t remember me, of course. This is one of the main reasons I want a new job, one where I’m closer to my family and things are more flexible so I can see him more often and I don’t miss the rest of his childhood. The sacrifices we do for science. Also, blogged about another student and his quest to finish the PhD …. maybe.


This weekend

I barely had a wink of sleep. On Saturday the BF woke me up at 6am because he was not feeling right. After taking a walk (in freezing cold weather) he seemed to be doing better. Then, after lunch we had to go to the ER. He had a series of panic attacks, mainly due to grad school. After checking that everything was well we were sent off with a prescription for a tranquilizer, and an appointment to see a psychiatrist about these anxiety issues.

Since I get VERY protective of the people I love, I went into a mothering mode, and much like my own mom did when I was sick, I spent every second worrying that he’s wake up in the middle of the night with yet another panic attack. Luckily is hasn’t happened again, and he’s been taking the tranquilizer every night, and yesterday we finally had a more or less full night of sleep.

In addition to that I’ve had a series of dreams regarding what to do with this postdoc. On Friday I came to the realization that part of the reason I hate my current job is because I spend way too much time bored. Why you may ask. Well, because I am not good with the techniques I’m using, and I honestly don’t really care for them. I am as far away from doing structural biology as one could get, and it is/was wearing me down. On Thursday we had a long overdue talk. I didn’t mention my current plans of looking for a job elsewhere. And we did address the issue of me getting the heck out in less than 8 months. So, he finally realized that the project I was originally put in requires a grad student with 5 years-worth of time to do and that it would have been better all along to assign a quick project to get me going and  then see how I did. Needless to say he asked me to a)work more, b) give up on that pesky project with I’ve been working half-heartedly on for well over a year and c) we’ll get my hand dirty with structure determination by 2 methods, which are quick to do and generate a boat-load of data. Now, I should be excited about this, but somehow I’m not. It may be because my heart is far gone from this type of work, or because apparently, everything I touch in this lab turns into shit. Hence my hesitation.

But there’s a bigger issue, which I do not know how to solve. Last week I contacted a person I met through a friend back in grad school. Said contact just started his lab and is looking for a postdoc in my previous area of expertise, ie. the technique I loved and did well in grad school. I was inquiring about his need for a postdoc, and he replied, very graciously that my CV and the names of 3 referees would be greatly appreciated. Here’s where things go …. well, I don’t know, iffy. I know that in less than 8 months the BF will be out of school and looking for a job. The state of this new lab is far away from our target area … by almost an entire continent (kidding, but I’m just illustrating my point). I don’t know whether is it worth abandoning everything, if I know I’ll be in need of a job in a different geographical area sooner rather than later. Do I just suck it up and hope I don’t get fired even if things continue to go downhill here? After having lunch with the BF today he seemed So excited about me learning this new struct. bio technique. And if I do learn it well, it will make my resume stellar. But what if I again, fail in this? Do I hope for the best, dust off the failures and try to ace this? I don’t know. I guess, part of me wants to keep on going. And I know that this current situation has an expiration date. Do I venture into the unknown, go deeper in debt to try to get back to my roots?

So, I promised this contact that I’d have my CV and referees ready early this week. I don’t know what to write back. I’d hate to turn down a possible good opportunity, but at the same time, I don’t want to go through all the trouble knowing that in a few months I’ll be off. I do not want to burn bridges. I guess that having all these unknowns means I have to dig deep and really ask myself what do I see or how do I see myself in 3, 5 or 10 years down the road. At this point I am ready to forget all about academia, and try something new. This is solely based on my current postdoc situation. I do not want to do 2,3 or 4 postdocs and then still not have a clue about what I want for my future.

So, these are the things that are currently the subject of countless hours of thought and search, and questions, and lack of sleep.

On a good note, I am going back to the gym today. So hopefully all these things will not affect my tiny drive to take care of my physical health and start losing weight. At this point in my life all I ask is for one small victory, just one.