27 and a PhD

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Resolutions 2014, almost on month #4

Back in January I made my usual list of resolutions, which besides featuring the usual stuff of weight loss and debt management, had a couple of other things, including wedding stuff. Let’s see how I’ve been doing:

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

  • Not drink soft drinks (Coke, Sprite, Pepsi, etc) for the entire year. This was something I wanted to do as part of my 30-before-30 and I never got the nerve to do it. So I’m willing to take a shot and see how long I can stick to this. – not happening, I started strong, but with the lack of sleep (as usual), this is not going to get done. Fail.
  • Have a stress-less wedding. Note, not stress-free, but stress-less. Thus far things haven’t been too complicated, the people at the reception hall have been very nice, I finally got a wedding dress I can fit into and I got my sister’s dress. While I was home hon an I ordered our flowers and my sister and I ordered the cake. We should be husband and wife for the second time in less than 2 months! As mentioned in the previous post, this was accomplished. We hit a few snags (like my  mom finishing fixing the zipper on my dress less than 24hrs before the wedding, and a tiny hiccups with some of the flowers) but in the grand scheme of things, our wedding was better than expected.
  • Pay off one of the credit cards. I have about 3k in it. It’s one of the smallest debts I have (I know, I’m terrible), but I’m going to try my best and wipe off one of those babies ASAP. The next one is ~$600 behind it, so I hope to tackle that one next.
  • Save about 1k by the end of the year (after paying off for the wedding, and erasing one of the cards).
  • Have a no-new-clothes month. I’m thinking of doing this next month since it’s the shortest one and I’ll be all busy with all the wedding prep. Wish me luck. Didn’t happen in February, or March. Hoping that it will get done in April.
  • Be 10lbs thinner by December 31st. I started 2013 at 206.4. I’m down to 198, which I’ve been consistently at for months. We’ll see if I can achieve this. I didn’t gain all the weight in 2 days, and I won’t lose it in 2 days either. So long as I can keep going down and maintaining it, I’ll be a happy camper.
  • Get a kick ass haircut after the wedding. I’m hoping to chop off a few inches before the summer! So very done!!!! And I effin love my hair. Currently I’m still dragging my feet to donate my hair, but I have over 12in of hair ready to be made into a wig (I’m donating it to Wigs for Kids, not Locks of Love. WFK doesn’t charge kids for the wigs).
  • Fix up an issue with my car. I already bought the part, now it’s a matter of having the time and money to take care of it.
  • Save some money and get a new lens for the camera (more than likely this will happen towards the end of the year).
  • Be an author in at least 2 publications. I appeared in 2 new ones last year, so I don’t see why not, with all the effort and data I’ve collected for a few labs. There’s one manuscript in preparation. I hope to have another by year’s end.

Job-wise, I’d like to have a good 1st year end review. Even if I do, because of money constraints at school, I don’t anticipate getting a raise, though that would be cool. This one is happening in April. We’ll see if I get to keep my job and how well my bosses think I’ve been doing this year. I’m not counting on a raise, since the Uni is looking to cut costs everywhere they can think of. And although there’s not a raise freeze in place, I don’t know how my department will deal with the funding cuts yet.

Too busy to write

For the last 3 weeks I’ve been on data collection binge. I’m not complaining. But it is a lot of work. A LOT. And I’m only one little person. I can’t believe how much data collection I need to do. And I am thankful I have the skills to do it. But sometimes it feels like it’s too much. So, I’m designating one day a week a no data collection day (well, at least a day where I’m not parked in front of an instrument for hours on end). It’s OK to help users out, but no data collection. I have more and more admin things that need to be taken care of, SOPs to write, files to upload, people to help write blurbs in proposals and progress reports. And I can’t keep leaving every little thing until the very end, so that I feel even more overwhelmed at the end of the week or month.

A few weeks ago I even got to present something in one of our lab meetings. Since I’m considered part of a few labs (a few PIs pooled their money to help bring me here), I get to attend, and on rare occasions present, little things about the lab, the instruments or new stuff. I got to present a paper on one of our instruments and it was very fun … though I left that presentation until the very end, and didn’t practice it much … something that’s highly unusual for me, given that my PhD boss wanted all presentations, regardless of how informal, to have some level of professional, practiced-quality to them.

I’ve gotten much better since my PhD days (though the ghosts of bosses past are still there) in terms of presenting things to my groups .. but it still worries me, mostly because I don’t want to do a crappy job and I want to show respect to my audience, regardless of how many beers we down when we’re sad or pissed.

On more than one occasion I’ve caught myself saying to honey that I greatly enjoy the work I do. I get to spend more time on the instrument-side of things, compared to NY, and I also have a variety of very interesting projects (lots of receptors and membrane stuff), which is definitely different from my time in the City. I do miss my former co-workers. But I think I’m finding my niche here … regardless of how boring this new job city is (you win some, you lose some, eh!). I feel more grown up than ever before. And I get excited about the science … something which I truly haven’t felt since my grad student days. I guess it’s the different level of involvement I have, compared to NYC.

Overall it feels nice. It’s different, but nice. And I am so happy I took a leap of faith 2 years ago and left the tenure track. But, I’m busier than I ever imagined!!!!

Four months in

Just realized I’ve been at work for 4 full months. It feels as though a lot longer has gone by. The more time passes, the busier I get. And I can totally understand more and more how my poor former supervisor scheduled one thing and ended up fixing others, usually all unrelated to his original plans. Since July started I’ve been troubleshooting tons of things, from computers going down, to electricity problems to taking care of new samples and broken equipment. And I just added one more thing to my list.

Just as I did at my previous position, I have to call people, follow up on quotes and send along specs to people that know a lot more than I do, so they can make a decision. My bosses also recognize my training, so more often than not the 3 of us brainstorm about how to implement things in the lab or how to tackle one of their problems. I’ve had some success in preparing SOPs for equipment in the lab and I’m working now on user policies and procedures, so we can ensure that if something is broken it’s either to a regular malfunction or to a user’s maverick spirit (which we don’t encourage, this shit is expensive, yo!).

On a personal level, hon and I keep getting things in order in our apartment to make it look less like a grad school pad and more like a grown up place. His parents have helped us immensely, buying things like a microwave and beautiful chairs for our dining area. We’re still missing a comfy couch, a dining table and a couple of minor items, but most of the big ticket items have been acquired. We also recently completed prepping our guest room/hobby room and my inlaws are there while in town for a few days. It’s comforting to have them here, we get along pretty good.

Hon and I hope to go somewhere for the weekend in August, as we haven’t had much of a break to get away since we moved from NYC. I’m looking forward to that.

I was finally able to afford changing the tires on my car. There are a few other things to do, but this is good. They weren’t much more expensive than the previous ones were 5 years ago in the same tire shop (woot woot!!).

Each day I feel like I’m gaining more confidence and standing in the lab. I feel that the students like me and my PIs respect me. But I’ve had a few missteps, which I’m hoping won’t weigh in too much when the time for evaluations comes. I guess it’s all part of the learning curve, figuring out how to navigate things, understanding that there are lots of things I can’t control, putting things in order so that my bosses will understand usage and how time is allocated and also collecting quality data to make their lives (and projects) move forward. It is challenging to be a lab manager … very challenging, and so far I don’t have many role models (other than my previous supervisor), so it’s interesting to navigate these waters and figure things out. I hope to compile a list of things I’ve done throughout my first months here .. in case there are other newbies out there like me. But I’m very happy I decided to steer clear of the tenure track and am now on the managerial route.

27 and a PhD: the lab manager

At this time last year I was returning to NYC from visiting my parents, my (then) boyfriend (now husband), and celebrating my nephew’s 2nd birthday. I was happy to be back in NYC. But sad to leave my heart behind. It wasn’t in my mind that one day I’d be working away from NYC as a lab manager.  NY happened and I couldn’t have asked for more. I met top-notch scientists, and I worked along them and their groups to try to elucidate structures, or sometimes make sense of what was happening with their samples. I spent almost two years in the city that never sleeps. Some days were busy, others were meh, but I learned so very, very much. And I couldn’t know it at the time, but the contacts I made and the people I helped would be of great impact at my current position.

I moved from NYC almost 3 months ago. It seems like forever, though I can still feel the city, the people, the streets, food and everything in my mind. I hope to be back, even if only to visit at some point. But this is my new life and I’m slowly getting into a new rhythm. I wake up at 7:30, get my sorry ass to the gym (or as I call it, the torture chamber) and get to the lab before 10am. Most days there are lots of issues to tend to, from broken equipment, meeting new users .. but mostly I’m collecting data for other people … something I did quite a bit in NY. I have to check on the instrumentation once a week and do some performance tests to check that everything is in order. I didn’t do that in NYC, my former supervisor did and I’ve been texting him every now and then to check that I’m doing things fine. I have various bosses, at different levels, and most weeks I meet with one or a couple of them, to go over things like usage, instrument performance, data collection for different groups … etc.

Overall I’m pretty busy, especially now, when it seems as if all of my PIs want data now. It’s not bad. I’m just trying to be cautious and always check in with them to see if my methods of data collection align with what they know and expect. So far the feedback has been positive, and one of my bosses made the comment to one of their trainees that it was a relief to have me here to help collect data. That feels awesome.

I also get to hunt down the people who provide us with quotes, so I can send those to the powers that be and have them place orders. I’ve done my fair share of cleaning, both floors and lab fridges. I’ve tried to do some mingling when I can, as that is part of what I was brought back … to get more users into the facility. I haven’t had to do a journal club yet … since technically I’m part of no one’s lab .. but I do attend some of their lab meetings (and even practice talks) to get a feel for what it is that I am collecting data for. Some people argue that it is isolating, but I actually like it, as I am not bound to a single lab, yet get to work on a variety of projects and samples, which I believe to be a positive thing for my CV and my careers.

In general I really like what I do. But I am scared to death of making big decisions. And though I am not shy about voicing my opinion, it is weird to be though of as an expert in my discipline. That is still shocking to me.

That’s it for now. Do you have any questions about being (or becoming) a lab manager?

Finally had time to write

Not much. Just popping my head to say that I’m alive and well. Have dropped 10lbs in 8 weeks, which is good. But I have a loooong way to go. And it’s getting harder to get out of bed and get my lazy ass to the gym. It’s even harder avoiding snacks, such as brownies, my favourite, since there’s a cafe that sells them just down the lab. Grrrr. Trying to stay strong.

I may have mentioned it on Twitter and perhaps here … my mind is currently all over the place, but a second (and possibly the last) paper out of my previous position is coming out soon. It’s in a journal with a big name, though not a C/N/S one. It’s so exciting to see the fruits of my labour, along with those of the first and senior authors who worked really hard to get a compelling story out the door. I was happy and humbled by the publication, given my not so stellar record during the postdoc. That makes this my 8th publication. Or I should say, the 8th publication in which I appear in the list of authors. I definitely did something good in my first iteration as a staff scientist. And each and every paper, or poster or whatever that comes out and bears my name, makes me happier and more convinced that my postdoc experience was something out of the norm and that though I may take my sweet time to accomplish certain things, I do get it done and do make valuable contributions to science. My hope is to be in a 9th paper, at least in the works, by the end of this year. I was told by my bosses that they hoped I’d be an author, should I help them collect data (which I have … tons!), since they believe it’s important for my name to keep getting out there, for people to notice me, and us and my place of work. We all hope to make this lab a known (and respected facility) .. to attract more talent, and funding and to make sure we can afford the service contracts on our toys.

I hope to write some more about my impressions as a lab manager in a few weeks. Stay tuned! And have a great weekend 🙂

The day I almost died

Another year passes, another accident anniversary.

You see, 9 years ago, while I was in my first year of grad school, I almost died in a horrific accident. I came out of it walking, conscious and well, only some minor bruising and whiplash. But it was hard to believe I made it out alive when people saw pictures and video of the event. It was Mother’s Day 2004 and I was on my way back to my PhD lab from visiting my family. I’d spent a good week with my loved ones, nursing a broken heart. I’d seen my ex, the guy who broke my heart not once, not twice, but three times. I was broken and I wanted to die. I was pleading with God to kill me, or to align the stars so I’d be in a horrific accident and would not survive. I wanted the pain to go away. I was tired of crying myself to sleep for weeks. I think I went to bed crying every single night, from February to April of that year. I lost weight, it felt like I’d lost my reason to live … or what I though was my reason to live.

Eventually I resolved to live and rise from the depths of my depression. Millions of hearts had been broken before. I was not exceptional. I was going through a rough period that a lot of people go through when they’re in middle or high school. But since I wasn’t allowed to date until I was in college (and with restrictions!), I was experiencing my first heartbreak in all of its glory. It was awful.

Seeing my family gave me some energy. But seeing my ex and his new conquest fueled my resolve to do kick ass science. To move forward, to publish, to get my name known by important people in my field. And it definitely fueled my desire to live.

And then there was the accident. And my life changed. I remember as everything was unfolding in the longest minute of my life, asking God for forgiveness. Asking God for a chance to prove that I could do great things. I was afraid to die. I was only 22. It was not my time.

And live I did. I only went to the hospital to get a neck brace and some potent pain killers. All X-rays showed no issues or broken bones. I was embraced by my family, with tears running down their faces. They’d seen the news reports of the accident. They could not believe I was alive. They were happy to see me. I was in shock. I felt like God had listened to me. And now I had to face the pain of the broken heart, and the survivor’s guilt and I needed to move forward.

And I went back to school. I dumped all my anger, my rage, my frustration and my despair into working my tail off. And half a dozen papers came out of that. Some with lots of effort and tears, some with seemingly no effort. I eventually went to therapy to deal with some of the survivor’s guilt, with the feelings of anger I still harbored towards my ex, of the feelings of inadequacy, of the imposter. I’m pretty sure I had some PTSD, judging by the bouts of fear I had for about 1.5 years after the accident. They uncontrollable crying and lack of sleep I got moments before facing the same situation that had almost killed me. It was tough. I’m still dealing with the remnants.

I lived through a rough time when my self-worth was shot. I found love again. I found my calling in science. I found two amazing jobs after one bad postdoc. I am married. I’m an auntie. I’m healthy and I’m working on becoming physically strong.

Now, 9 years after, I am happy and thankful for being alive. I’m happy that I didn’t die on that dark day in May. I’m happy to have a family that loves me, a job that needs me and fuels my interest in science, and I am happy I have a better man, a best friend, a wonderful murse ;-). I am resolved to not go down without a fight.

Sometimes life changes in an instant. And what we thought was our happily ever after becomes a nightmare. A broken heart, a cheating ex, an accident. They all happen at once and you’re left considering the what ifs, and now whats. It is worth going forward. It can be one hell of a transforming experience. And I am happy to be able to tell it.

Hang in there …. it does get better. I am living proof of it.

Life lately

The days are busy. My mornings usually start around 6:45, when the alarm sounds. I tend to stay in bed until 7:15. After consuming breakfast, I pack my things and drive to work. I usually stop at the torture chamber, aka the gym, and try to sweat for 30 minutes. The uni has this initiative to get you moving, so I’m trying to log in my workouts and such, and hopefully get a wellness credit, which will go towards lowering my health insurance deductible.

Every week I have no less than 2 meetings and tons of great seminars to attend … none of which I ever get to go to, because usually something poops out in the lab. The joys of managing a lab. I usually have lunch late, or wherever I can fit it. Today is the first day that I haven’t felt guilty about taking 30 minutes to consume lunch in some time. I could complain to HR about the times I get to bite into my sandwich once, only to be greeted by emails from someone in the lab who ran into some trouble. But I won’t … I usually just take care of it after eating, something, anything.

I also started taking the stairs at work, well, the ones in the parking lot. I haven’t taken the elevator up in almost two weeks!

I’m trying to eat better, and for the 4th straight week, I’ve bought lettuce. I’m finally used to eating cucumbers and after slicing them really thin, I eat some with breakfast and also with my usual dinner salad. Even honey, who’s a GREAT eater, is joining me in this endeavour to a) fit in my wedding dress and b) lose a lot of the weight I put in between 2006 and this year. But it is a lot of work. My weight fluctuates, and in the almost 5 weeks I’ve been going to them gym and being mindful of what I eat (at least during breakfast and dinner), I’ve only lost 8 pounds. Granted, I wasn’t expecting to pull a Biggest Loser type weight loss … but I’d like to get into a rhythm where I see steady losses each week. I know it takes time to undo 7 years of crapping out my body. The good things are that, by virtue of waking up early and trying to stay active, I’m sleeping a tiny bit better (not great, but a bit better) and also, the pain on my knees is almost gone. My feet are doing better, but I do need a new pair of shoes. I tried running on the treadmill the other day, but I’m still not in good enough shape, feet-wise, to endure the shock that running does to my feet. Perhaps I should see a podiatrist.

I also got tested for allergies and turns out that pollen is not a biggie, but pups and kitties do a number on my skin and respiratory system. I’m on medicine for that now and it’s possible that I am indeed asthmatic, contrary to what my PCP in NYC said. Since starting to take the medicines I’ve been feeling better and I definitely sneeze less. But I’m also cautious of not being overly affectionate with my kitty (so sad).

I’m still adjusting to getting paid once a month, just like I was in grad school. Thankfully I haven’t gone without food or gas. And I got a parking pass in the faculty side of the lot, which means I won’t need to take (as many) stairs anymore … but I will, even if it’s 7 floors less.

So far so good. That said, I do miss NYC and I do miss my labbies … they’re the best (though most of my users here are on the sane side, and even the difficult faculty member I mentioned before is behaving a tiny bit better).

And now, to continue the lab cleanup.