27 and a PhD

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Why I did a PhD and why I may not become a faculty member, like, at all

A day or so ago I had an interesting conversation via DM with a lovely girl I met at one of my previous schools. I am protecting her identity, but suffice it to say that we’ve known of each other for a while and connected via Twitter not so long ago.

This conversation was very empowering, because I found someone who shared similar ideas about a) being a woman, b) being a woman in science, c) liking our former school, d) loving science, and last, but definitely not least, e) knowing that a careers as a PI may not be the best fit for us.

Why is this important, you may ask? Well, it is because, as I’ve shared before, I may leave science, or at least science in academia if things don’t go as planned. In my last post I said that I’ve done whatever type of science I wanted for the last 10 years. When I wanted to do cloning, I did it (thinking I’d end up with a baby-sheep, my own cute little Dolly, by the end of my summer internship, only to be greeted by a bunch of stinky bacteria and tons of plates, oh, I miss being that innocent. This gives you an idea of how I hadn’t taken an advance molecular biology/techniques class at that time, nor looked at my biology book in too much detail). When I wanted to work with translation, I did it. When I wanted to work with what I did for my PhD, I did. You get the idea. So, in part, my postdoc has been less than thrilling because I’m still not drawn to the topic. Sure, cancer and memory research are cool, and extremely important. But my heart is not really set on it. This, coupled with the fact that I admire every one of my previous (and current) bosses lives, but can’t bring myself to having the kind of life they have, and doing what they do, that I think being a PI is not right for me. I feel like it would be a disservice to science.

You may be asking why would I be doing a disservice to science by entering the TT. I’m sure you might say something like, “oh Dr. 29, don’t be so hard on yourself, we all have moments of doubt.” But hear (or read me) out, OK? Even though I have a good publication record, pretty and shiny research skills and enjoy talking about science, research-wise I’ve never really had a wonderful, life-altering idea. Sure I did help test the boss’s super cool ideas. But, none of the projects were really conceived by me. I didn’t have a problem with that because it meant that there was a plan I could follow, troubleshoot if needed and it would be smooth sailing. And in a way, it was. I did have to suggest things here and there, but in my opinion those weren’t really huge, life-altering decisions.

When it was time for my qualifying exam, one of the main reasons I was scared out of my mind was the possibility of choosing a topic that no one had explored. I needed to dissect it, rip it apart and then design my own way to prove or disprove whatever I had chosen.  And I wasn’t sure I could do it.I did, and the committee thought it was cool, but it wasn’t really something glamorous or sexy. I didn’t mind the grant-writing part …. but the testing, the thinking on my feet, the defending of my points. That scared me. This coming from a person who a) love to talk, b) loves to do presentations (I LOVE IT!) and c) isn’t that scared anymore about thinking on her two feet.

To some people, like all of my previous bosses, researching on a topic and going into a new direction are THE thrilling part of research. This is life, this is the air they breathe. For me? Not so much. I like the manual labour, not so much the designing part. I can’t design my own experiments. Well, not really. But I’m afraid of doing something stupid, like mixing CaCl2 in a phosphate buffer, just 100X worse. Don’t get me wrong, I can think about how I would do something, and suggest a thing or two to try.  And I know that some PIs didn’t start in their TT paths being all awesome and Einstein-like …. but after 10 years to trying my hardest, it’s not coming to me naturally in the way I see it emanating from others. This may not seem like a huge obstacle to some. But to me, it means the world. To me, this is my kryptonite. I am more of a follower, not really a leader. And when I am a leader, I can be a bit Sheldon-like.

Thinking about interesting questions to ask by the end of a talk, even in my field? Hasn’t happened. Not because I am scared of asking the likes of Sidney Brenner or Paul Greengard about what they’ve done (I am less than shy on a personal level …. like when I asked Eric Kandel if I could have his sandwich or what he and his wife did in their free time. I did have half of the sandwich, only because he offered and the rest of the audience was shy. I let him have all his fruit. And he and his wife play tennis). But, I simply cannot formulate something interesting, smart, kick ass, to ask. I attribute it to not being too smart (though people think it’s silly, since hey! I have a PhD proving that I’m smart. Whatever!), or maybe I’m easily distracted, or really didn’t understand the talk. Or maybe I’m afraid to even dare to think outside my box, and look way stupid in the meantime. But I like my box, it’s pretty, secure. I feel comfy in it. I am a type A. I am a control freak. If I don’t see a promising future, and I know I need to take charge of it to happen, I get a bit less than thrilled. The TT, with all of its unknowns and ins and outs, and papers and grants, and mentoring 10 students, is not appealing to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m Jenny McCarthy dumb. Sure, I cannot derive the quadratic formula, but I can think of things from a structural biology point of view. I can ask little things, but I cannot design, nor formulate these convoluted concepts, ideas, and questions that PIs, even young, budding, ones ask. I simply cannot. Sure, I could practice.  But I feel like I’ve tried it, and failed. Failure is something  that makes me very afraid. And I feel like pursuing a career in the TT would make that failure not only a real possibility, but an immediate one. I can’t bear to do that. I like science. But I’m simply not willing to go that way. Sure, it could happen in any other role I take in science …. but, if I have a sounding board, a boss, a leader, I can do marvelous things. Like I did for my two previous bosses. I need a strong mentor, and I like having a boss. I’m OK being in a technical/supporting role, and not being the main show (ie. the boss).

Hence, why bother writing a grant when once the reviewers see it they will be ROTFL? Seriously? Why try to take away the spot for peeps like Dr. Becca? Peeps who are genuinely invested in this, who will most certainly succeed, who want it 100%? Why then, when I know I’m not a good fit for it, why push myself to do it? Really? It’s like putting myself through an eternity of my current situation. I’d be better off learning French! This is what my postdoc has taught me. It has given me the certainty that the TT is not for me, and that really, I don’t think I’ll find a fit in it.

With this comes the inevitable question of why, then, did I enter grad school. Sure I could go all philosophical and shit, that’s what a PhD is for, right? You develop and fine-tune the ability to think, to philosophize, to question. But I won’t bore you with that. Suffice it to say that I’ve wanted to do cool shit for a while. I wanted the freedom to “play”, in a controlled environment, with kick ass stuff. I had heard of the technique and critter of choice that I ended up doing my PhD in, and I thought it was super cool. I was barely 22 when I started my PhD, and thought that I’d eventually develop a love for academia. Even at that stage I was in doubt about the TT. Fast forward to 2009, when I completed my studies and got my shiny, new diploma with the “Doctor of Philosophy” title and my name on it, and well, it was well worth it. Honey always says that if I was so sure about not being a prof, then why on Earth did I continue with the research? Surely you couldn’t put yourself in the position of being in school for almost 6 years to then run away from becoming a faculty member. I loved collecting the data, filling up computer after computer with data.Processing the data, overheating computers with that, buying RAM to make it bigger and better. And in the end, pop-up those programs and contemplate the data, see it improving … in the end, seeing the structure of something that wasn’t seen before. Proving to the big guys in the field that I had done that beauty, and that it could be done.

I’ve said on a number of occasions that I wanted to be a scientist. I knew that not all scientists needed to become profs. That my success in science didn’t necessarily come with a TT position. I wanted (and still very much like it) to become a teacher, partly because of some of the good one I’ve had, because I wanted to inspire people, to draw them to science, to help take something convoluted and apparently terrifying and make it accessible, understandable. To tell them that as much as that shiny picture on the cover seem hard to get, they could do it too. That was my driving force.

As you know, the job search right before my defense wasn’t the piece of cake I thought it would be. I ended up with tons of debt due to my own lack of control, and now I am stuck in a place I don’t want to be, yet trying to make the most out of it. I’m beefing up the parts that need to be beefed up, and looking elsewhere to try to do some science, even if it’s a little. Somewhere where I am not a postdoc and can enjoy doing science once again. Some  poeple say it’s industry, others say it’s community college, others think it’s by becoming a tech or staff somewhere. So, I am looking at those places, and beyond, to see if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not entirely sure of what I’ll become. But I am sure that becoming a PI is not what I want.

And then, I had this conversation with dear friend. She put some things in perspective. Like, how being a PI doesn’t seem like the ideal fit for us. But most importantly, that there are areas I haven’t considered,where scientists or people with an advanced degree and the brains for it can be of good use. We all have had good teachers, who inspired us to get where we are. Some of them are retiring, and we could try to fill in those shoes. There are peeps who runs cores, facilities and labs in non-academic settings. Sure, grant-writing people are needed, but also the hands to do it. People are needed to accredit those facilities. People with advanced degrees. Regulatory agencies, like the FDA, have people with our degrees. They may not all be doing the sexy science they did at some point. But they are putting to good use the literature, evidence and advances created and developed by bench science to make sure that devices are OK. Or that a medicine or treatment is approved and won’t turn you into a rabbit (though, if you’re cute I’ll consider adopting you).

So that, my dear reader, is why I don’t want to become a PI. I am OK with being a follower, and not a leader. I am perfectly capable of doing some aspects of science. Friend and I seek fulfilment in something other than the TT. And quoting a part of our convo: “The fact that a different path is better for you makes you no less.”

I think we are all one in this, whether we are PIs, students, techs, whatever. I know I wouldn’t be happy as a PI, and I’d rather know that now and accept and embrace it than turn into an embittered person who keeps a student for 9 years in the lab and is an ogre all around. I know I couldn’t bear kicking people out for lack of funding, let alone, lack of securing even my first grant. I can’t understand how all my PIs have done it. They have my utmost respect and admiration. They are my heroes. Because they keep doing science despite all the difficulties, fucktardery, cuts in funding, Kerns, and all that. I know I’d explode under that pressure. I know it is not for me. And I admire those who seek to enter it because they will inspire and train a new generation in way in which I may not.

So, for all these reasons I think I am not fit to become a PI. It’s been a long road of asking, of looking for validation elsewhere. But, with all the soul-searching I’ve done, especially during the last year, I think I am finally ready to accept that I don’t want to enter the TT, and that my talents may (hopefully) be put to use somewhere else. That I am no less for it, and that I have some good in me to offer.

For further reading:

Choosing your battles and getting your PhD ASAP

We’re told from day one that we will learn a TON of skills while in grad school. These bits of knowledge come in the form of things that happen to us, or others, advice that’s passed down from one grad student generation to another, or via the PI, among others. We learn about when to talk to our boss about vacation, or ask for money to go to yet another conference this year, or what’s the best way to get that secretary or admin person to show you some mercy when you’re submitting documents for whatever even though you know she/he hates students, especially you. We also learn about where to get lunch for free almost every day of the week, and who to choose for your thesis committee (or not).

But one of the main skills we learn (or develop) is which battles we choose to fight, and which are just worth abandoning. In particular this was very helpful when I had to submit one of my papers and also when it was time to leave (though my boss was extremely supportive of me getting out ASAP, so it wasn’t like I was fighting a lost cause, it was more of getting the stupid committee together for a few hours … the bane of every grad student’s existence).

Through the years I’ve met people, at different stages of their graduate careers, who know when it’s worth doing something, and when it’s best to just leave. And I’ve tried to learn from what they’ve experienced. See, I ‘ve  never a quitter. When my 4th grade math teacher hated my guts, I could have switched teachers but did’nt. When the choir director wanted me to sign as an alto, when I’m clearly a mezzo, I kept doing the alto part, or when the boss wanted me to try a program I knew people before me had tried for months on end without a positive result, and I thought I had the magic touch, I kept at it. Luckily I gave up on this quickly (by some miracle of nature or something) and thankfully that was one of the first battles I decided not to keep fighting. This entry isn’t that much about me. It’s about how people I know have chosen to quit, or stop fighting (while in grad school) to either get their degree, whatever it is, and one who hasn’t. (more…)

How much do you want that PhD? Part Deux

The other day  I talked about a grad student I know (Grad Student X, or GSX) and how, for some unknown reason, and even though his data is all collected and analised and he’s got no funding, he still  hasn’t defended, let alone handed his thesis to his supervisor.

Today I want to go deeper into possible reasons for why this is happening, what GSX could do to be in the good graces of his boss, and get out soon … and offer my opinion on people who seem to hit the grad school wall and, in a way, avoid writing the thesis and getting out sooner rather than later.

So, yesterday I had a few questions about GSX’s situation. I’ll restate them so this enty flows more evenly:

  • If most of your data has been collected, and you should, in theory, be working on the write up, which on average takes his labmates 3 months to complete, shouldn’t most of the thesis be written by now?
  • Shouldn’t you be scheduling your defense already? The way the thesis is written up here is that any papers you have submitted and are accepted can be added as print-outs, no re-writting necessary, which shaves the time of reformatting or re-writing things so that they comply with the grad school’s format/rules. Therefore, if your thesis includes an intro, a brief materials and methods section for the computing part, and a conclusions chapter, in theory … shouldn’t that be in the final stages?
  • GSX is still a student, which means he has access to computer centres on campus, and free internet in the library, so, even if he didn’t have hydro (power) in his house (due to the loss of funding), he could potentially take the bus (which is still being covered by the grad school fees) and write up a bit every day. If these things have not happened, then, what else is going on?
  • Or why has this process taking so long? I know this sounds terrible, but it just blows my mind when I think that maybe, just maybe, you aren’t that willing to get out with your degree ASAP. I mean, come on man, we all go through rough times when it’s time to write the thesis. We have at some point or another dragged our feet when writing. If (God-forbid) something else is going on (say, a family problem or illness), why not talk to the boss and see if funding can be reinstated pending good progress on your writing? Say, a chapter every month or something similar.

All these can be summarized as follows, there is a roadblock, or mindblock, and GSX needs to get in charge of the situation so that he can a) jump start his writing and b) finish the dang thing in order to get out, get on with life and possibly make-up for the time lost with his boss.

I honestly have no clue what’s going on in this guy’s mind. I am baffled. Then again, I do not posess all the facts. I’m simply an outsider. But from experience I can tell you this: when I hit my 5th year in grad school I was SO ready for it to be over and done. I’d had it with the salary, health insurance, city, boss, labmates … everyone. It’s what I tell the grad students in my lab as having the “OMG I hate my life, why on Earth did I decide to go through grad school”-moment. Once you’ve hit that point, you know it’s time to get out. So, it baffles me to think that someone who has all the ingredients to make the thesis work, all the parts are in place, doesn’t want to or can’t do it. I mean, for heaven’s sake! you have performed every single experiment required. You’ve been to every seminar and meeting you needed to be, the boss paid you for 1 extra year to see if you could get your act together and write … and you have nothing to show? What’s the issue here? Like I said, maybe there’s something deeper that can’t be seen or understood. Maybe this guy’s depressed or has fears of being in the real world. Big secret revealed! WE ALL DO! I mean, sure, we’re pissed at the school, boss, lab, labmates,  and ourselves. But we are ready to grab life by the horns and get our stuff together and make something happen. What worries me is that if this student is in a persistent state of funk, he may not get ahead. Or like me, maybe he doesn’t know what to do with his life or career once all the brain work is done.

Here are my recommendations: reach out to your friends. GSX appears to be in a perpetual state of funk. He’s had friends drop by and check on him. But he closes the door in their faces. So, suck it up and reach out. There are peple interested in helping you. All you need to do is ask. Reach out to your boss, or some other faculty person you may be close to. We might think that bosses are out of this world creatures who’ve lost all contact with reality. Sometimes it is like that. But bosses are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends too. Appeal to their human side, with all honesty. Say how you’re feeling. Your worries about finding a job, or switching fields. Just be honest. Your boss holds a very important card in his/her hands. That is he or she can make or break you career by making a phone call, or writing an email or letter to recommend you. Maybe you will shift careers and get away from science. But if you aren’t  then chances are you will need a letter of recommendation or two to get ahead. In this perpetual state of funk you may be burning bridges faster than you can re-build them. Hence reach out to your boss, or to someone who knows him. He/she is bound to be close to another prof who you might know and that may be a way to reach in and get your boss’s attention. If you reach out and are honest, chances are the boss will want to engage in some sort of action/plan to get you on your feet and working again. But unless you say the word … little can be done. Reach out and use the sources you have. Like I did a few weeks ago, go to the psychological centre or career service place and reach out and try to get your head and thoughts straight. What are your fears? Are they grounded? What do you think is holding you back? Talking to professionals who understand might help in developing a strategy to get you back in place and working on what your thesis. Or maybe, they’ll help you find out you may not need that PhD after all. You may want to pursue a different career and writing and defending are not in your cards. But whatever it is, reach out and talk to people. Don’t keep it bottled up. It is toxic and nasty. The sooner you overcome these feelings or funk, the sooner you can focus on your next stage.

Once you have a plan in mind, if you decide to go through with writing and defending, get on with it. Maybe you want the document to be the best thesis ever. We all want that (some may want it more than others, depending on how soon you want or need to get it done). So, try to look for a job, or set a goal, whatever it is. Find something to motivate you, have a concrete plan. Talk to the boss about it and deliver. Whether it is a new chapter a month or every two weeks. Find something that fits and stick to it. Right now you may want/need structure, so try to make a list of immediate goals to jump-start your writting. Nothing is stopping you. And since you have the example of previous students, try to aim for the same. The mind can play a ton of tricks (mine did, making me think I couldn’t possibly finish before the end of my 5th-going-into-6th year of school). Chances are, the more you talk to people, the more you’ll see the different hurdles they faced, and how they confronted them and moved on.

Find out what’s blocking you. Be honest with yourself and your boss. If this is something you want to have done by the end of the year, open the lines of communication with the boss, or chairperson and establish a plan. Go for it and trust me, it will be less painful once you’re going trough it than you envisioned.

I wonder what’s the cause of your delay. Is it family problem? Are you in need of guidance your boss can’t give you? There are postdocs and other PIs in the department who probably know you enough to lend a helping hand. What are you waiting for? Are you afraid or is it just laziness? Figure out what it is. Talk to a shrink, your family doctor, a trusted friend. Maybe you need a pep talk or someone to sit down and tell you straight to your face that the more you prolong this, the worse it looks on your resume. If you aren’t working, or consulting, or volunteering, then how are you going to explain the obvious gap in your timeline? If you want to stay in the field and go for a job with one of your boss’s collaborators, then you need to open those lines of communcation  fast. Chances are they know the turnover for peeps in your lab and when the see a gap in it there might be questions.

Finally … it maybe be that you are depressed altogether. We’ve all experienced it at some point, be it the seasonal blues, or something more serious. You’d be surprised how many people (including profs) are in some sort of medication, therapy or both. This is very important and it shouldn’t be neglected. I was very skeptic about using medication. Not that I don’t believe that they work, there’s a good body of work out there supporting some of these medications. I sought advice and got on sertraline. And OMG it did wonders. I thought it was just a behavioural problem, but it was that and much more. You may need to visit a few doctors until you find someone who listens and understands. It took me only 2 tries until I found a guy who really knew his stuff and was also into listening to me, how I felt and how serious it was. Some peeps out there are just into writing prescriptions and not listening to you. But someone who truly cares and shows concern about you and your individual situation can help steer you in the right direction. I did try several meds until I found one that was good for me. It takes a bit of effort, but it’s worth it. Seek guidance, visit your student health facility and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist or physician. It will more than likely change your life for the best, or at least, get you out of the funk.

Ultimately, whatever issue or hurdle GSX is working through, it will only be resolved when he takes the first step. I can offer insight and even offer to edit his thesis before the PI sees it … but he needs to make a decision to get out of the funk, in whichever one of the ways I’ve mentioned before, and get out. If/when I learn how GSX is coping and/or defending I’ll do another entry. I hope this serves to get some of you peeps motivated and moving toward a goal, whether it is the defense or an alternate career.

How much you do you want that PhD?

** Disclaimer** The situation I write about is from someone I know, and is similar, in some aspects, to that of others I’ve met in the past. This isn’t meant to reflect the situation of every student that’s still in the lab in his/her 5th, 6th, + year of grad school (I got my PhD after 5.5 yrs in the lab). This is just about this person’s current situation. I don’t believe it’s a one-size-fits-all-type thing, and I only offer my honest opinion. While I do not posses all the facts, I think that given the current information this person should get out ASAP, and push his writing into high gear before it’s too late.

I’ve been meaning to write this one for a while, and since I have a bit of free time between experiments, here it goes.

Part 1

Most of us have seen/heard or been in this position. You or someone you know has been in grad school for over 5, 6 or (insert whichever # you like here) years doing the PhD. Things aren’t going as planned, or you’ve switched projects a few times, or you switched labs because a) your boss died (happened twice while I was in grad school, but no, not to me!), b) your boss moved somewhere else where you didn’t want to move (happened to a girl I know, and to some of the 1st students my previous boss had), c) your boss and you aren’t on friendly terms anymore, d) insert your own situation here.

It seems as if the data from years 2 and on sucks, or is inconclusive, and you are at your wit’s end. Life generally sucks, and then the bomb drops, your funding is being cut or eliminated, depending on which institution you go to (and their rules), which fellowship pays you (and/or for how long), your adviser is running out of money (and/or patience), or your grad funding has an expiration date (like it does in ON, and I don’t know who many other provinces).  It could be for something totally different or a combination of the above.

The point is, you’ve made it past a bunch of hurdles and you’re at the stage where all people ask you is when are you going to defend, not so much the “how’s your project going?” And all of a sudden you have no money, nothing to live on. No stipend. Nada!

Meet grad student X (GSX for short). GSX is 35, single, and in his grad school year #6. GSX worked as a tech for a while, was a DNA machine and then, after a while decided to give grad school a try. GSX has a few papers, some from being a tech, 2 or 3 from his PhD work. GSX is hard working … in his own way. He shows up to the lab anywhere between 10am and 2 pm, and is usually in until 9pm most days of the week. GSX is well versed in current politics, religion, cooking, wine and coding, in addition to being a biochem/cell/mol bio machine. And when he’s not doing DNA or protein work, he’s enjoying his non-lab activities. A bit of a renaissance man if you would.


And it keeps me awake

Things keep me awake at night. I am sure more than one scientist gets this. Or you’ve had a partner who does. After my defense I thought I’d be able to sleep better. Since I kept working right after my defense (as in, I was back in the lab less than 24 hrs after my defense) I was still carrying the stress from that. And since I only took 7-10 days (or so, I can never do the math right) between grad school and postdoc, I never really got to wind down, go back to ground state, then get back up on the science horse.

Ever since the second of third month of work at my current lab (postdoc lab) my stress levels have been through the roof. Not only did I had to read and learn a gazillion things in a matter of weeks days, and get my hands dirty and …. deal with a ton, I mean, a TON of gossip.

I hadn’t been in the lab for a full  month when I started hearing rumours afternoon after afternoon about who had a beef with whom (and after that it magnified to lengths you would not imagine). Who didn’t like the boss, who worked his/her tail off, yet never got the recognition they deserved, or their 1st or 5th paper published. Or how it seemed as if nobody except the lab’s tech got the boss to expedite things no matter how many time you asked the boss directly to do it. I thought this was normal since I know that when tons of people are put together in close quarters, drama is bound to happen.

What surprised me was how soon it started. How soon I was in all the “juicy” details about how X has a beef with Y, Y is against the whole lab because of a misunderstanding with B, B is the boss’s favourite … and, you catch the drift. Or how this person who was the labs fave for who knows how long is going to come back and take my job, or the other postdoc’s job because he/she knows how to get shit done and all I am is a mess (these are pure speculations from a person in the lab, who I think gets a sick pleasure of telling others what to do with their time, and speculate on how many people will leave/join the group).

For the record, I did inform the boss, in more than one ocassion about my shortcomings, and how I had tried doing some of the basic stuff  they did and it really never really worked. And how I had published papers in a lab that was basically a factory of structures, where other people (techs, or postdocs) made samples, studies them by non-structural methods, and left the structural goodies for us to figure out. I do not hate bench science, I just can’t deal well with it everyday, and the troubleshooting (cloning, transformation, which IMO should be done by the lab’s own tech).

In the midst of all this, several people defended their thesis, and moved on to good paying jobs south of the Canadian border. There was a good amount of shuffling around and now I share my quarters with 2 people, one of  them who I shall refer to from now on as the emotional-terrorist. This person, like I said, not only has time to do his/her experiments, but also has time to tell others what and when to do things, and criticize their work, and guesstimate how long will the boss take to figure out how inadequate we are before we are kicked out (most of the time is just reserved for me). This person phrases the “judgements” as advice, as in, “when such and such were here they got a paper out in less than a year, and they worked day and night and got so much accomplished, you ought to be able to do the same.” To which I reply, I am trying my hardest and best, but it isn’t always easy, especially when you have not touched or seen this equipment/techniques …. ever. This keeps me awake, and causes me to question, at my every waking moment if I’m meant to be a scientist. I also question whether I am being fair and balanced in criticizing the lab when this person is obviously the one that may make me feel as if the whole lab was hating me. It keeps me up at night.

I’m struggling with these feelings of inadequacy, of not belonging, of realizing that I may not be as passionate about science as I once thought I was. That keeps me awake.

The fact that my project is stalled. And that everytime I need to grow something, even after taking all the precautions, it fails, or when it does, my yield is so low it’s barely visible on a chromatogram. This keeps me awake.

The thought that the boss might hate me, and might be/is questioning why the hell did he listen to friend of friend of friend to bring me here … that keeps me awake.

Knowing that my parents are struggling, and because I cannot send them money because I am swamped with my own debts. That keeps me awake.

The thought of being a horrible GF, a terrible partner … it keeps me up. The not being grateful for who I have next to me, and how his sweet eyes meet mine and melt all the crappiness of my day, yet I return this favour by criticizing the lab, and the way it’s managed at every moment. The thought that he might/will leave me because of all this negativity. That fucking keeps me up.

The fact that I let this person in my lab talk shit about how I am not productive, and how the boss has fired others for less …. keeps me awake. You betcha.

The fact that I hate confrontation, and cannot begin to describe the rage it produces in me for not being able to stand up and say that if I had half of this person’s data I would not be blogging mid-afternoon and I’d be applying for several conferences …. that keeps me up. The fact that I hate to ask for help, yet I’ve followed almost every tip that has been given to me by the people who’ve worked on the fringes of my project. That keeps me awake.

Those things and more keep me up. It’s sad, and my body aches for it. All this stress, all these feelings of inadequacy. All of them cause me to feel low and worthless. And to think that I am not made for anything other than what I did before, and nothing else will succeed like what I did before. All this, and more, keeps me up.

The common factor in all this is me. And it makes me feel like a sucky person. Like an incompetent, an idiot, not worth of a job, and only worth of pity and pitiful looks from my co-workers. That …. all that … keeps me up and struggling. This is why I don’t know if quitting and trying my hand at something else will be the answer. And it keeps me awake, and in fear.

What’s new

So peeps, what’s new you may ask? With so much negativity in the last posts I really need/ed a pick-me-up or something. I’ve been trying to juggle 20 things at a time. I joined the gym to try to get some quality time with the BF  while taking care of our bodies. I’ve been trying to work on a better attitude, but that isn’t going great. I’ve tried to keep my options open and not let my current job situation put me down, but it’s hard when every single experiment I’ve done for the last month has not been working … like.at.all. I’ve been intensely looking at jobs, specifically that use my old trusty grad-school talents, and some newly discovered ones (more on that below). I’ve applied to 5 places so far, two of them have been offered to other people, one didn’t bother to reply, one (possible one, nothing final) I had to turn down due to time constraints and one where I got an interview. That last one was/is my hope for now, but I was told that although I was a good fit, it may not happen because of a merger and they may shelve the job until further notice.

Yes, the job market for is very, very bleak. And things aren’t looking too bright these days. I’ve had a lot of doubts, anything from my smarts, abilities, interests to why/what am I doing on God’s green Earth. Seriously, it’s been brutal.

Due to all these events, and my constant frustration, I decided to take the strong interest test and the personality one (you know, the one based on Jung). I got the results today. They are both encouraging and scary. Science is still one of my highest interests (I’m somewhat surprised, given how  much I’ve been hating it lately), along with computers (something that sort of surprised me, in a very pleasant way). My artsy side, which I cultivate through endlessly browsing Etsy and getting inspired scored low, as low as my interest in sports and business (that last one is true because if I was an accountant/business something or anything business/marketing related I’d probably get a brain hemorrhage).


A dream

As you know I’ve been feeling pretty darn low these days. I’ve felt worse than when I failed the qual … seriously. I’ve been beating myself over and over again for not being  a fantastic scientist, for not being thankful about the job I have now (I blame this partly on my catholic upbringing, this martyr mentality you know) and being close to my honey. Most of all I feel pathetic about  not pushing myself further, or removing myself from the lab sooner. The boss is out for the week due to a conference, and I don’t know what to do once he’s back. I don’t know if he’s pissed off by my inability to carry out some experiments he left me to do in his absence or whether he’ll take it in patiently and let it run its course.

I wrote an email to a dear friend from grad school who suggested I go back to my roots and apply for jobs directly related to my former disciple. That sounds tempting, sadly there aren’t jobs like that in my current geographical area. I’ve been scouting the web for hours on end (due partly to those 5 pesky columns I ran this week) trying to do a soul search at the same time I search for a job, in something that sounds remotely like what I used to do.

There are some of those jobs, but in the UK, Australia and maybe even one in Germany. I don’t want to go that far. At least not now. (more…)