27 and a PhD

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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.

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The day I became ‘previous studies in our lab …’

I knew it would happen, I knew my name wouldn’t be first on papers and posters, or referenced fully at some point. The day came, it is here, upon me. I’ve officially become the ‘previous studies in our lab/by our group/previously we showed’ line. I’m still processing it, but I knew it was coming.

It is no secret that I’ve had a difficult time moving on from my PhD lab./experience I felt like a bit of a star under the direction of my watchful mentor. I flourished under her care and guidance and gave birth, or completion, to a few projects. I started helping someone else, eventually became the senior graduate student, then moved on, and now I’m a staff scientist. I don’t regret any of it, but I’m now facing the reality that I’m not a star anymore, that whatever little memory of me was in my PhD lab is gone, that new blood has come in, and that much like I did, they’re giving birth, continuing or even closing chapters of my previous research life.

This week I got some sad news from my lab. My PhD mentor is going through some rough patches, and the lab as a whole has gone through even more changes in the last year. The last person that was part of my original group moved on to bigger things and my PhD mentor made some changes which surprised many. A student I met while on my last year has inherited my projects and he’s doing a fabulous job, but he’s had to face many challenges that I didn’t and sometimes gets discouraged. I feel sad about it because he’s super talented and much like me, depends on the upbeat attitude of the boss. He’ll do alright, but I feel a bit of known growing pains that I wish he didn’t have to face. I guess I’m thinking like a mother, because those are the words I’ve heard my mom use too (she’d say one day I’d understand).

This student is about to get a publication out the door, from one of the projects I gave birth to and did some of the ground work on. I can’t wait to read it, and I’m so excited for him. But with that I know that the words ‘previously, our group found …’  are coming. And I can’t help but feel a bit of pain, or whatever it is. I feel  as if a memory I was holding tight is being yanked out with much force, and I can only see how it goes away and become someone else’s dream (or in this case, project).

I know it’s silly of me to feel this way … but sometimes I think that I got out of my PhD lab without saying my goodbyes properly, I didn’t mentor enough people (OK, just two, one just a tiny bit and he’s the one that’s in charge of two projects I started), that I didn’t do things I wish I’d done. I kept working until the very last afternoon I had and then left. I was relieved that the defense, the thesis and everything was handed in. I was ready for a new life. And what a life it was! But I keep going back, and thinking and feeling as if something was/is incomplete. It’s probably that I haven’t cut the chord completely. My PI and former labbies have moved on and are happy elsewhere, even during the current rough times. I guess I’m just more emotional and attached.

It pleases me to see though, that the projects I started are being cared for and nurtured, and one of them is in the process of being published. I am happy that my results weren’t just a fluke and that they’re being built upon. I know I’m not the star anymore, and that I’m now buried in the list of references, probably not remembered much. I wonder if anyone else has ever felt that way after leaving their labs (whether as an MS, PhD or postdoc). I wonder ….

The moving boxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…)

Graduation

It is with great pleasure that I, Dr. 28 and a PhD, announce that graduation weekend came and went beautifully. Graduation was at the beginning of May and the weather was lovely, on the hot-as-hell kinda way, ha!

The BF and I flew in (as driving would have taken us nearly 2 days). Rented a car and headed for a friend’s house who, together with her boyfriend, put up with us for a little while (Thank you!). They live 20 minutes away from school and I remember helping them move and visiting once or twice before my defense. The BF and I were dog tired but there were so many things to catch up on that we stayed up close to 1am the day before graduation. Dear friend picked up my gown (after having to do a bit of arm twisting at school) and on graduation morning we all headed out. I was storming across campus as the designated parking area was ages away from the graduation grounds. But I made it safely and bid farewell to my BF and company until later. And later was later. Tons of students had to walk the walk, and eventually all professional and grad school students walked.

It was exhilarating. To see so many people, all celebrating us. YAY! I looked particularly HOT (not!) in my gown. Turns out 10 or so classmates were also walking, including a few from my old department. We took pics and then settled to do the walk. The graduation ceremony was like nothing I was expecting. It was brief (I guess since it looked like it was about to reach over 100F degrees at any moment). The protocol things were over soon enough, and then the presentation of students and degree-granting  and diploma-handing parts were on their way. That was very beautiful as students from different faculties stood up and were applauded by all. Eventually the MA’s and PhD’s were granted, at which point it was almost midday. I almost got a lovely face-tan (if it weren’t for my trusty SPF lotion and makeup). By 1pm the whole ceremony was off and off we were to take the traditional pics around campus and return the rented gown (the thing costs upwards of 500 USDs …. seriously!).

Once the gown was returned, the BF and friends headed over to my old lab where more pics were taken. I then said a quick hello and goodbye to old friends and profs. And told them how much they’re missed. We headed out of school after 4pm, and finally had lunch (I only had a bit of toast and yogurt in my stomach). We had lunch at a cool eatery close to campus and I got meself a beer or two, hehe. I was on cloud 9. I also got to see some of the places I hung out, and reminisced of how much fun I’d had.

The rest of the weekend was spent shopping (or stimulating the local economy as my friends put it) and meeting up with whoever was available to meet. We headed to church early Sunday morning before leaving town and made it safely to Canada later that day. Church was good and it was great to see some old friends there too.

I’ve been back for some time now, and I can’t help but feel a pang in my heart, as if I hadn’t said my proper goodbyes to the place that was home for almost 6 years. The city and the people were the same (though the prices were AWESOME compared to Canada, I still don’t get why Canadians pay tons more for stuff and food). I truly miss the good times spent at Big Name U. Now I’m truly an alumna and I look back fondly at my memories and time spent there. In a way it was/is hard, but I also know that it needed to happen. And I needed a career and life shift.

All in all graduation/commencement was fun. And I am SO glad I didn’t miss a second of it. It’s a highly recommended event on my list of “musts” so, if you ever doubt if you should go back and attend graduation (except if your boss was an arse) … don’t hesitate. Just do it!

And to answer a dear commenter’s question about some of the post-grad goodies: my diploma is awesome, but I expected something bigger (after 6 years all I get is something slightly bigger than my high school one … bummer, ha!). I will frame it, but now it’s heading to my parent’s house to be kept safe. I’m now waiting for the graduation photos (proofs) from school and I may even purchase the DVD, even if I only look tiny on the screen, hehe. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

Congrats to all grads!

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 🙂

End of the year MeMe

I love doing memes …. just because I enjoy reading them years later to see how things were in the previous years, and what and how things have changed since. Without further delay, here’s my 2009 meme:

An end of the year analysis… in meme form.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Moved out of my “home” away from home for 6 years and into a different country and culture.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I’m not a huge Resolution person. But I did moved out of the States, into Canada and finished my degree. I also got to learn new methods for doing research (new to me anyways) and moved in with the boyfriend for the second time in my life (well, previously he was the one to move in with me).

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Mmmmm, not that I remember now. My sis did get preggo.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Mmmmm, not so sure, I don’t think so.

5. What countries did you visit?
Canada.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Mmmm, less debt, less weight and more peace family-wise. A better understanding of my research project and expectations from the boss and a happier attitude towards life.

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory?
July X, 2009 …. the day I finished my PhD.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finishing the PhD.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not paying off my debt sooner and not meeting as much with the new boss as I should have.  Oh, and not taking the phone to place a call to a certain postdoc from hell who behaved like an idiot and a selfish bastard with the last paper stemming from my thesis.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A stupid flu that I thought was the H1N1.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Mmmmm, health insurance in Canada …. and my yellow purse?

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
My mom and my BF’s prior to my defense …. too much undeserved patience. Oh and my upstairs neighbour from the States who bought like 130$ in furniture.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Stupid postdoc from hell.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Moving …. and moving related expenses, and starting up in Canada.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
New job, moving and my Xmas gifts. Oh and my new shows and my 89$ Parka from Joe …. Joe I love YOU!

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2009?
A few oldies. I cut cable off at the beginning of the year to save some $ for the move and tuned off VH1 and MTV. I occasionally liked a song or two from watching The Hills.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
1. Happier or sadder? Happier since I don’t have a thesis to worry about.
2. Thinner or fatter? A few people at home have said that I look thinner than last year. I do not believe them, but maybe I am.
3. Richer or poorer? Debt-wise about the same, but my car is paid off and I’m not getting slammed with thousands of $ “health insurance” and “activity and recreation fees” from school … really, do grad students have to pay for a gym while they don’t have the time or energy to lift a finger?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Traveling and photography.  Oh, and sleeping.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Complaining and not sleeping.

20. How will you be spending/did you spend Christmas?
At home with my family, juggling between attending church with my mom, helping my sis move out of my parent’s house, and spending a few short hours with the BF.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
The BF texting, an my mom on Skype.

22. Did you fall in love in 2009?
More and more with the same adorable guy.

23. How many one night stands in this last year?
None; though it would have been interesting to have one or two with the BF, hehe.

24. What was your favourite TV programme?
OMG, Little Mosque on the Prairie and The City.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I dislike a lot of people, but hate is kinda strong.

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
Baking Cakes in Kigali

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Vedera .. from The Hills

28. What did you want and get?
A completed thesis and defense, a first author paper, a successful move and more vacay time.

29. What did you want and not get?
Even more money, tons of undies, more cool music and better spending habits.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?
Mmmm, a few, mostly indie ones. I can’t remember all their names.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 25 + 3, I think I spent it alone since the BF and my mum were traveling to see me a few days later.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Finishing earlier and getting that darn postdoctoral fellowship, also getting the first author place on MY second thesis aim paper.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Sadly none. There are styles I like but probably can’t pull off and I’m afraid of being too out of the box, so I stay with jeans, snickers and a basic tee.
34. What kept you sane?
The BF and my mum.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Mmmm, trying to think … Penelope Cruz … probably.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Healthcare bill in the US and same-sex marriage, both of which should pass because the government shouldn’t intrude in people’s bedrooms and conservatives should shut up, and a supposedly “big” country should have a universal, affordable way of caring for their sick.

37. Who did you miss?
A few southern eateries and the family.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Lab tech, insanely knowledgeable and talented … and patient.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
It’s OK to think outside of the box, and to talk things over before making a huge fuss about a misunderstanding.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

Not a clue. I’m too tired to remember.