27 and a PhD

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Science or unemployment, where I ponder which scenario is the best

Continuing with my posts about things that drive me crazy about grad school, or make me question why the heck did I do a PhD, etc, today I’m writing about a conversation one of the grad students in the lab and I had a few weeks ago.

This girl is brilliant. She can think things through, come up with a very clever experiment, go for it from DNA to fully-functional protein and everything in between. This girl is super savvy and can get you out of a pickle in no-time. But at the same time, she’s has her doubts about academia and what to do after she finishes her PhD. She’s aiming for a defense in early December, is planning to start a family soon, has some money and has a good list of publications.

For simplicity’s sake I’ll call her Grad-friend. Grad-friend and I share a lot of the same views on almost all things science.  She’s naturally curious and constantly asks questions about my background (science-wise) and about how I see myself in a few months once this post-doc stint is over.

I was mentioning some of the recent articles about the overpopulation of PhDs and she is in complete agreement over the amount of grad students, work, and especially job prospects that aren’t out there (unless you’re a stats wiz or a computer geek, or a neuro-awesome-freak (don’t mean to disrespect any discipline here)).

Grad-friend started college barely knowing English a little over 10-years ago and excelled in math and science. Originally a stats major, she took a bunch of electives in natural sciences, eventually switching majors. One of her profs at her previous university (one of the top 100 World Universities in the World, and one of Canada’s most prominent institutions) asked her why she did it. She said she thought science was cool, and she was thirsty for knowledge and thrilled to help find a cure for cancer or something just as awesome. Though she liked math, statistics bored her to death.  She didn’t feel as passionate towards math, as she did for science. Her prof mentioned then that she would/could make an insane amount of money as a statistician and that she may regret the switch later rather than sooner. (more…)

Returning to “normal”

So …. the BF and I will start our trip back to our canadian abode in a few hours. We will say our goodbyes and see you laters. It’s been a good and not so good vacay. Two major things have happened in the last few days. A family member died on my side, and the BF is having to deal with a difficult professor. I can’t give too many details, but these last few days have been hectic. I only had 1 meal today since I was at the funeral home and then burial for most of the day, and I spent a few hours with the BF before our return “home.”

I have to say that though I’m excited for the new year, the last few days have drained my energies and  I don’t have the slightest desire to start working. I’m comfy at home, with my parents, my family, my surroundings. It hasn’t been cold at home, so I can walk around with a lot less layers and such. But I feel like it’s too soon to go back, like my time at home just went whoosh, and disappeared. I have yet to say hello to 2 good friends from school, and I’m owing a 3rd one some dinner, but again, time has been all whacked out lately.

I think that I’m resenting some things from the lab, like all the people and having to go out of my comfort zone to accommodate my experiments. On the good side, I don’t have a thesis to finish, on the bad side, I don’t see a clear delineation of my project and I know I need to take the lead, I just don’t know how … and that irritates me. Also, the BF’s situation has me wanting to slap a certain faculty member of his, luckily he’s got some friends that know some ins and out on policies which hopefully will be enough ammo to shut the hell up with that certain ass-wipe prof.

That’s all the venting for now. Hopefully soon I’ll be blogging from my own PC. I hope to purchase or craigslist a new monitor for my home computer.

Happy 2010. Best wishes 🙂

Some things to expect during your “firsts” in grad school – Part 1

Hi there!!

So far I’ve entertained you with a few posts about what to expect or consider before, during and after you apply to grad school. I’ve mentioned some of the good things, the bad things, the waiting, the answering, etc. You can check those posts here, here, here, and here.

Well, now that the process of applying and accepting or rejecting and interviewing is through you are getting ready to pack up and move to the city (or continent) that will serve as your scientific home for the next few years. Like I’ve said before, I did my PhD in the States, so I cannot speak about what to expect if you move to Europe, or Australia. My guess is that some things will be similar. So here I’ll discuss some of the things you may encounter at your new school when you start your PhD (by the way, congratulations on getting here, this is 1/4th of the battle).

What to expect in your first day of grad school:

  1. You are not a kid anymore, so I’d say it’s safe not to expect people to hold your hand and do everything for you. You will more than likely receive a packet of info on where to get ID card(s), key(s) and all sorts of odds and ends. Chances are you’ll spend your first day finding classrooms, meeting profs and setting up your ID and email … if the program has not done this yet. Typically you might have a class, be handed out a syllabus, meet and greet important people in your program.
  2. You’ll walk and move like crazy … meaning that you’ll probably be going to way too many places, and will have a crash course on how to move about your new institution. It might seem overwhelming, but soon you’ll be able to guide other new comers around.
  3. Get ready to work. Yup, that’s right. More than likely you’ve had the graduate program coordinator(s) contact you asking who would you like to do rotations with. And rotations will start ASAP. If not on your first day, probably in the next few ones.

What to expect during your first week of grad school:

  1. You are starting to get a bit of the hang of it now. It’s been a few days but it probably feels like you’re just coming back from war … seriously. You won’t believe how many little things you need to take care of to start getting an identity at the new place.
  2. You’re probably exhausted. And that’s fine. The weekend is coming, and you may be lucky enough not to have school or lab chores to do.
  3. But expect to attend tons of conferences, workshops or tutorials (mostly if you are in a) an interdisciplinary program, b) have a super eager to work PI, c) both a and b, d) you’re a nerd.
  4. You’ll probably go to a gazillion welcoming sessions, wine and dine thingies and maybe a get together with other grad students. Feel free to eat as much as you want or can (it will sadly come to an end all too soon). Engage in conversations, ask questions, leave shyness at the door. These are (or will be) your future peers, so better suck it up and interact.
  5. You’ll probably head over to the bookstore (physical or online) and buy books. Places like the NCBI site have ebooks available. These sites are great to start browsing and checking alternate methods of explaining things. Check out various sites (not just the recommended ones) … I found out books at other places besides the ones the program recommended at sometimes half the price. Upper level grad students are also a great source of books, so see if you can borrow books from them. There may be a website from the graduate program which contains various sources of info on where to get your reading and class materials, so ask and take full advantage of that.

What to expect during your first month:

  1. Besides what I’ve mentioned for the first day and month (which of course are not a super comprehensive list), here are a few additional things:
  • Opening and squaring out how much, when and where you’ll get paid. At my school you were paid a physical check at the end of every month for the 1st year of grad school. After you joined a department you then could fill out info for H&R to put you on their roll so you’d provide your bank info and your check would be deposited after midnight of the last or 1st day of the month. Things might have changed since, thus, feel free to ask (to the grad program personnel, or upper lever grads) what to do if they don’t have a standard way to do things.
  • Parking, email, ID and all sorts of things related to IDs should be sorted out by now.
  • You might be attending seminars on a weekly, biweekly or any other form. Seminars could be about progress reports on people from your lab, or related to your class(es).
  • I happened to dislike the institution I did my PhD both at the beginning and at the end, so expect to get a bit discouraged … especially if a lot of work starts piling up.
  • Know that feelings of happiness or disappointment are normal, we all go through it … it’s more normal, more common than you think. I think we all have these feelings at one point or another, so don’t feel like you’re alone.
  • I happened to have lots of unresolved issues at the beginning of my grad school experience .. ranging from rage (at life, family, war .. you name it, I had it) to feelings of loneliness, despair, depression, inadequacy …all of that packed into one crazy 23 year old. If it gets too tough, know that there’s a counseling center, or service at hand, so do not hesitate on starting on a regular schedule with a psychologist or career counselor. Know that there are many resources available to you to help you keep your head straight and clear and learn tools to deal with anxiety, and other feelings.

This is a very preliminary list, I plan on writing a second entry related to what to expect after your first year and the following years up until the end of your career.

Best wishes … and have a happy thanksgiving.

Unloading the truth … and feeling old

In previous posts I had mentioned that the BF didn’t know about my debts, how I got into debt, how I want to get out, how much, etc. Today the BF seemed a bit cold …. honestly, he felt a bit cold at times during the last couple of days. A few years back, while I was dating a college BF I remember getting that cold feeling along my spine, and bracing for a hundred thousand tears, and for an imminent breakup. I tell you, it was NOT fun. Feeling alone, breaking up with someone who’s been your best friend, your life, your everything for a few years hurts. And I am scared of feeling and being that hurt again … of not coming back from that kind of depression. That’s why, when the BF said we needed to talk I braced myself for the worst. And in a way, the best possible thing happened.

When I started writing here, a few months back, I vowed to be very honest about debt, finishing the PhD, etc. I’ve said how much I owe (23K), and how scared I am/was of people I know and love finding out about it. I didn’t want the BF to read the blog, especially those entries. But I realized that I needed to come clean. That if we were/are to have a future together we must come clean, unload our baggage and enlist each other’s help to overcome hardships.

Well, today was the day. I don’t know the exact details of how the BF got the idea, but I had been hinting about things and ways in which he could find out the name of this blog and such. And he did. I was so scared of letting him down, of showing him how irresponsible I’ve been. Of alienating him and going down a path without a way back.

We sat down, he started talking, he asked me about it …. and if felt almost as relieving as when you get the absolution of your sins by a priest (hey y’all, I’m a catholic, so this is the best example I could come up with). We talked about how and when it started, how it spiraled down and what I can do now to avoid making it worse. My worst fear was of a breakup, not only because we’ve been together for a long time, or for my fear of disappointing him, but because I had been and have been irresponsible, and in a way, I felt like I was cheating. He could not hide the sadness, but he offered his help in any way he could. Together we are coming up with ways to funnel money into the debt, and still living a decent life together. The best is yet to come, and the start of it seems good.

On a different side of life, today the undergrads started. I cannot help but wonder if I looked that young and fresh when I started college. I look at myself in the mirror now and feel kinda old and run down (it could very well be PMS-related). But anyhow, the kids just look like that, kids. I feel like I’m from a completely different world.

Seeing those undergrads walking around, some of them scared of the new environment, some of them over-confident, made me go back 10 years in time, to 1999 when I was an undergrad. I felt so scared, but in a way I also felt powerful. I remember cramming down for projects, exams, labs, etc. It was so very fun. Sometimes I feel pain in my heart, an ache for the times by gone. But I’m glad for all of it. FOR ALL, yes, even those undesirable professors (may they rest in peace), even the bad dates, the crazy hairdo’s, and the silly projects. They all helped me in my way to get a PhD. Here I am today, 10 years after first stepping in my school. Here I am, a victor, not a victim, still wanting to learn, to grow, to experience.

Losing and acquiring a new identity at school

For 6 years I’ve had this email account at my (now) old school. The first thing I did in the morning was check my email. When I joined my lab I kept a window opened so that I could check for new messages from my (now) old boss, since she would email updates of papers, procedures, ideas for experiments, etc on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.

Even though it’s been a little over a month since my defense I still check that email regularly. Even more regularly than my new email account. It seems as if my current boss does not send updates as regularly as the old one. I’ve only received 2 messages from him, both about BBQ’s or get togethers for the lab.

I started grad school right off of college, and I would only check my personal email while in college. But once I started grad school, my email account became my link to everything and everyone related to school/work. Now, it feels as if a part of my identity will be forever lost.

I know I sound like an idiot for saying this, but it feels as though a part of me is dying. I should see it more as a migration towards a brighter future, but somehow it hurts not to be part of the old community from that grad school.

I compare it (though on a much smaller scale) to when I was 13 and my grandma died. I would catch myself dialing her number after she died, and little by little I had to stop thinking about her number, or trying to dial it. I need to detach, to distance myself from the old place, to get a somewhat temporary new identity at this place where I’m doing my postdoc, and which I see as an even more temporary place than grad school.

I do need to share my new email with old contacts and collegues, for you never know where your future position will come from.

For now it’s an adaptation process I need to go through. I need to “divorce” from the old place, and plant myself in new soil. This is the beginning of a new me, and a new identity.

Reflections on my 1st week as being a PhD

Well, here I am. It’s been exactly 1 week since I got my degree. All members of my thesis committee signed off and I still need to revise the last 2 thesis chapters, but overall, I’m done.

My mom and BF are in town. But for whatever reason things aren’t going as “perfect” as I thought they would. My mom sometimes interrupts my BF to talk. My BF and my mom are very polite, but for whatever reason she just interrupts, doesn’t apologize and my BF just puts his head down, kind of defeated by it. My BF says I need to talk to my mom, since this is not the only display of weird behaviour. My mom is very critical of me. I know she loves me, and she wants what’s best for me, but sometimes it gets to a point where I feel like I will explode if I don’t say something.

The day of my thesis my mom could not be happier for me. She was shining with joy and pride. I’m the first person in my family to hold a PhD. I never “strayed” from my goal, and 22 years later, here I am holding a degree from a prestigious US institution that has broken my heart and spirit many times. But I’m no quitter, and I endured the slaps to my self esteem and soul to get to where I’m at. So at church the other day I had this friend who said so very many times how proud she is of me. I said thanks a few times, but after a little while it was getting kind of repetitive. When we said our goodbyes my mom was quick to point out that I had not said thanks to her remarks (when I did, my BF and another friend can bear witness). Things like that have been going on all through the week.

I’m physically and mentally exhausted. Yet everyday I come to work as usual because I need to start with the corrections and revisions to my thesis. My move to Canada is planned for the end of this month. My mommy goes back home on the soon, leaving me little time to pack, clean and get on my way with the BF. I have to take care of several things, including changing the name of the owner on the title of my car (my car is paid off, THANK GOD), I need to take kitty to the vet for shots and documents to say that she’s healthy and will not mess up Canada when she enters.

I’m tired of the stress, of coming here to “work”, of enduring criticism by my own family. I’m tired of thinking about how I’ll pay for the 22k I’ve run up in debt trying to cheer myself up and live up the american dream (I have a good paying job in Canada, but it will take a while to get paid, we move to a new place in about a month and there are things to be bought and sold, packed, dumped, or donated). Most of all I feel like sleeping, like going to sleep and not wake up for a few days, or if I do just veg out.

I love my mom, my BF and my family and I know that their comments are out of love, concern for how they used to think of me when I was living with them (especially my parents). I’m grown up now. I have not lived in my parents house in over 6 years. I’d love to sleep in the same bed with the BF, but since our parents’ generation sees that as wrong because we are not married, we cannot do it.

I’m tired of pretending, of covering up who I am because I need to keep up this image of a “good”, conservative, christian girl. I’m a really good person (even though I do not agree with some views of the Faith/Church I go to/profess), I’d love to get married, someday, but now right at this second, I’m a liberal person. Yet I have to hide my true-self so others don’t get mad, sad or disheartened by my choices, but the way I’ve chosen to live my life, which makes ME happy.

It’s interesting to have the degree, but ALL I want to do is sleep.

Things I will miss about grad school

I’m two weeks away from defending. I’m still in disbelief after all the trials and tribulations I’ve  through. I never thought I’d get this far. Through the years I thought of how much I wanted to quit at times (when a breakup almost had me smash my car and kill myself … not good I tell you; when I failed the qualifying exam and felt like pure crap; or when problems with co-workers had me at my wit’s end). Here’s a list (in no particular order) of some of the things I’ll miss about grad school:

  1. I won’t be a student anymore. I don’t think my new ID card will say postdoctoral student (more than likely it’ll say something like postdoctoral trainee or just say I have a PhD). This means I won’t get student discounts. I guess I can always carry my old student ID from here … we’ll see how it goes. But this means that after almost 23 years in school non-stop (yes, that’s right, I’ve never taken a year off, it’s been a continuous thing since 1986 when I started in kindergarten) I won’t be an official student anymore. Whoa … that’s impressive, I mean, I am no longer a student.
  2. The food. Though the hospital’s cafeteria (I work at a med center) used to have super amazing chinese food (I used to get the fried vegetable rice and a hot & sour soup, yum!) they changed their recipe and now it’s not the same taste. I still miss it, and the super nice ladies that served the food. But now they are serving really yummy burgers (I did not eat sirloin burgers … and now I love them … at least the cafeteria ones).
  3. I’ll miss my co-workers and just the feeling of knowing people. Of saying hi and bye to known faces. When I say goodbye to a bunch of them this summer I may not see them ever again 😦
  4. Since I live close to a bunch of states it is really easy to just hop on the car and go places .. now I’ll be closer to other places, interesting cities, etc, but it won’t be the same. Then again, a bunch of the states I visited were breeding grounds for conservatives, so I won’t miss it.
  5. My friends, current ones and past ones. No explanations needed here.
  6. My apartment. I love where I live. It’s mostly quiet, super close to school and the airport (meaning I don’t pay a fortune for getting to the airport or park my car at the airport when I travel).
  7. The early start of spring. People, I’m moving to the Canada … the spring there starts somewhere around June … JUNE!!!!! (OK, I’m exaggerating just a bit, but still).
  8. SEC football games … best conference ever, no question about it. Go Gators!
  9. Getting up really late in the morning and feeling guilty for not getting to the lab earlier. Not too much. I guess what I mean so say here is that I’ll miss my old routine somewhat.
  10. The nice secretaries in my department. Always taking care of students and making sure all things are paid and registered for and what not .. who knows who’s going to be when I move to the new place.
  11. My boss. Sometimes you might disagree with the boss, but I can honestly say she’s looked out for me and saved my tail many times … I’ll miss her and having tons of resources just for me 😀

I may add more as needed. These are just here to start the mood. What are the things you miss most about grad school (or will miss when you’re done)??