27 and a PhD

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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.

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What a month

I’m looking around and there’s still stuff in boxes in my house. I got my moving expenses reimbursed and between registering the car in the state and sending payments to my credit cards for the expenses I went into to get here, I feel that whatever momentary riches I got are already gone (not all of it, but sheesh, moving sucks, and not only physically, but the actual cost). At least I’m fed and clothed. Some of the money has been spent on updating my wardrobe, even though I haven’t gotten to the point of actually wearing the clothes because I’m at my fattest once again. And then I read this in the morning, and all I can do is nod in agreement and almost cry because I feel the exact same way. I know that as director of my lab, I need to play the part and act like it. In fact, I’ve been gently reminded that I am not a trainee anymore and that I must look and act professional, because I am one of the first faces PIs, students and postdocs (not to mention all the MDs that hang around my neck of the university) see. But I’m tired as hell and I don’t feel like ironing. And I have to get on my hands and knees a lot, and change pump oil and dust stuff and install stuff and move stuff. And slacks just don’t cut it for that. So, between being fucking fat (trademarked) and not having time (or inspiration) to iron, my new managerial acquisitions are just sitting pretty in my closet.

Besides that, I’ve started going to the torture chamber (aka, g-y-m). I refuse to say the g word for fear of sounding like I’m training for a marathon or something. And for fear I’ll give up. I’m sure I will. I always do. I’m pretty sure I’ll also be fired from my job because I just have too many things to do, too many expectations to meet, and not enough hours in the day. In fact, after spending almost 12 hours at the uni today, training and helping collect data non-stop since 10am, as I sit here in my chair, at 10pm, I don’t feel anywhere close to being accomplished or done. Yet I have to project a confidence and a light that will attract new people to my corner of the struct bio world. Maybe I’m just tired, or frustrated of being fat, or missing my husband too much while he’s somewhere else for 1 more week, or maybe it’s the lack of PMDD medication … or a combination of all. I feel trapped, like I left this cushy place in dreamy NY, to come to bible-carrying folks territory, while having to meet everyone’s expectations and also keep sweet while doing it. It is hard. Being a director of lab is tough stuff, especially when you’re supposed to be working on your own on 15 different projects at the same time. I now understand my poor previous supervisor and why he took 30 minutes as his lunch break on most days, why his eyes look tired and why he tried to smile, even when he was facing too much stress and too many demands. This job is fucking hard, and I am all alone doing it. And it warms my heart when grad students come and visit and when they see what I do as the greatest help and training they’ve ever had and the individual attention I give them … but it is tough people. And because of all this I barely tweet … even when I consistently get new followers. I’m amazed people still come and read … even when it is rants like this one … I guess there’s an interest in seeing how your next door lab manager falls apart not one month into her new job. Maybe I’m too close to my period to feel happy … or maybe I just need to let it out somehow. Dear God, when I look at the mountain of work ahead of me all I want to do is cry. And I also want to ask other lab managers and directors … how do you do it? How do you stay sane and meet expectations? Is there such a thing as balance? How do you handle the stress and not feel down when you can’t seem to get ahead on things, no matter what you do?

Sorry for the sad note … good things have happened, I guess I just want a bit of the weight off my shoulders … and to let you know that this is tough stuff. Being a lab manager is the biggest, scariest battle I’ve ever faced … and I don’t know if I’ll make it through it while staying sane and providing consistent results.

PS I’m seeing my doctor tomorrow to perhaps rethink my PMDD medication or adjust dosage. I’m being a total wimp and also a bitch and I don’t like it. And I know that something’s off and I need to fix it, so tomorrow I will see the doctor (not only do I promise I will, I have an appointment confirmed and a reminder set on my phone). Despite the guilt I feel about not being in the lab for more than 10 hours a day, I try to make time to take care of me, of eating a bit better, going to the g-y-m and seeing a medical professional about my emotional issues. Perhaps with the right dose and treatment I won’t feel as down and my judgement won’t be as clouded by mental bullshit.

The new job

My goodness everything here is new. I swear. Well, not everything. But, I feel like everything’s new. I can’t believe the move is done and I don’t have to worry about roommates, alternate side parking or crazy cab drivers anymore. That said, I *freakin’* miss NYC. I really do. For a moment now I thought about hopping on the train to go to Whole Foods and get something to eat. Then I remembered that I’m not in NYC anymore. Sigh. <Insert another sigh.>

The place is bare bones. We have a lot ahead of us in terms of furnishing the place and making sure we make it our own. I am happy we kept some of the things that made our beautiful place in Canada our very own lovely dwelling. But we’re in need of pretty much everything, from a microwave, to more pots and pans (not too many), to a BED, tables, etc, etc. I’m sure we’ll make it happen as time goes by. It just looks SO bare.

So, I guess I should back out a bit. I’ve been in new job city for two weeks now. Most of our stuff was in storage and what wasn’t was in my tiny little room in NY. I’d tried packing as best as I could and then hon helped finish it off. Early on a weekend two weeks ago we went to our storage unit, took out all of the boxes that had been sitting pretty since September of 2011, packed even more boxes at home, took the cat and left the wonderful world of NYC. Hon was awesome as a co-pilot trying to get us out and safe of the craziness of Brooklyn and Manhattan, and then off to cross a bunch of states.

It seemed as though we had to drive forever (it sort of did at times). We drove for a couple of days until we got situated into a small hotel room in new job city, waiting for our place to become available. Hon had to go and finish some business at home, so I spent the rest of the time alone until¬† days later our new dwelling was ready. I paid the first month’s rent (thank goodness they don’t require 2 or 2.5 or heck! 3 months to rent a place here), took my keys and off I went.

While hon and I did all the manual labour in NY, here I contracted some guys to unload the boxes. I counted and there were over 30 boxes of stuff. Stuff I hadn’t seen in 2 years. Stuff I didn’t even remember I had. That should tell you how much I need the stuff … but, all of the places I lived in NYC had everything (except a bed) and I had roommates. Never once did I get to live alone in the city. Ugh.

There are still about 15 boxes around the apartment. We have some closet space, so I’ve been trying to make the most out of that. Some boxes didn’t survive the trek (or dare I say, 3 treks) to new job city, so out the door they went. I’ve decided to keep some (I always do) because you never know. I do hope we get to live at this place for a year.

The place we’re renting is in a community we’d lived before, so I was familiar with the layout. I get giddy every time I open the door and see space and don’t have foul smells courtesy of my roommate cooking crab or shrimp (hon is allergic and I can’t stand the smell of seafood, yuck).

Right now I’m living on nothing, courtesy of spending the money on the move and on gas and other expenses. Hon is letting me borrow some money until I get a deposit back and my reimbursement for moving expenses gets approved. Even with that, I’m happy we have a roof above our heads and food on the table (or floor!) and that life seems a bit less stressful (for now).

Tons of different places have opened in town and some old staples have new locations. I’ve taken public transport a few times and it is great to leave the driving to someone else (thanks NYC for getting me used to taking the bus and subway!). I have taken the car to work a few times and for some reason I have the same classification as faculty for parking purposes, so as soon as a faculty spot opens, I can get it. Woohoo!

Benefits are good, though a bit different from NYC. Hon and I are still navigating¬† the waters of health, dental, eye and other types of coverage. And I think I’m opting in for life insurance … because you never know and I’d hate to leave my hubby penniless (he doesn’t like to talk about the subject).

The job is … well. Technically I just started. I had to endure a long ass orientation cycle. Got my ID, got an email, met with a bunch of people from the school, saw my boss (an old prof of mine) and have met one of my supervisors (I have a couple of ’em). I’m looking for things to do. The lab has some equipment that I know how to use,¬† and some I don’t. I’ve answered a few questions for my previous co-workers (I’m missing them a TON), and planning how to tackle this new lab, with all its intricacies and issues and stuff. I’ve started contacting people and I’m hoping that the sequester won’t do a whole lot of damage (Damn YOU Congress). We’ll see.

I hope to continue posting once a week, usually on Mondays. We just got internet.

I hope to write some more about the lab, my responsibilities and my impressions on coming to this place as an employee, not a trainee. We’ll see how this goes.

Changes, so many changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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