27 and a PhD

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The thesis defense – after all this I’ll be a PhD

As promised before, I’m going to conclude the series on what to expect when you’re applying for grad school, once you get in and how things look toward the end by posting this entry. It’s about how my thesis defense *day* went, starting the tale from a day or two before. I’ll conclude with thoughts and a little on what transpired after, though I mentioned some of it before.

***Disclaimer: I won’t reveal too many intimate details, as I prefer my identity to remain hidden.

On we go:

I don’t remember if I’ve said this before, but attempting to schedule my defense was c-r-a-z-y …. some of my committee members were out of town, some were too busy to even bother to schedule. I had to put my foot down, write an email without my boss’s “permission” telling them I was more than ready to defend, and it was now or never. I also mentioned that I had to extend my job offer and keep being paid by my boss’s grant if they wanted to prolong the agony. It worked, and less than 48 hrs after sending that email (or ultimatum) I had 2 possible defense dates.  But this didn’t mean that life was fine and dandy … having a defense date made the whole process real … it was happening sooner rather than later and I was a nervous wreck in the works … I had to practice the lecture, pack all my things, and staying  on top of things almost proved too much to handle (I also had to pick up family at the airport, make sure they were all comfortable, even if all I wanted to do was cry). My only glimmer of hope was that after all this ordeal I’d be a PhD.


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?

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.

Visiting: Family, friends & drama

Hey all! It’s been almost a week since I’ve been home. The BF and I had a 2 hr delay, but made it safe.  I really wanted to get home, eat home food, talk with my parents and sister and see friends. I’ve done a few of those things. And before I left my Canadian home I knew I needed to brace for drama. I’m a liberal, so a few of the reasons for the drama bother me, and yes, I know we must learn to respect other people’s opinions and convictions, but it kills me to see how some of the drama could be avoided if some of the conservative ways of thinking were not there.

My mommy and daddy are VERY conservative. My daddy despises church, my mom goes to it several times a week. Now she’s organizing a retreat and has to call and follow-up on people who supposedly will co-operate with her … but sometimes I think they just lean on her. Also she’s a retiree, and though I know church makes her feel useful, she’s not earning a dime, or at least some sort of physical reward for printing hundreds or documents, follow people up by phone and such. It bothers me too because she’s involved with a very conservative flavour or branch from the church, which in my opinion is giving her an extra (unneeded) headache.

Earlier this year my sister became pregnant. She called me as soon as she found out and she was literally scared of my parent’s reaction. To make the long and painful story short my daddy has embraced the situation and the new baby a LOT better than my mom. My mom went to talk to a priest from church who luckily told her to NOT marry my sis just to cover up circumstances. But I’m sure in the back of her mind, she still wants to try to marry her because a “good” girl should not have a kid out of wedlock. Mommy has times when she cries because my sis just moved in with her boyfriend, and though she’s 10 minutes away my mom totally feels alone (I’ve been trying to tell each side to be a little more understanding, to mediate and to not shun each other from their lives).

This whole situation has opened old wounds in me, things that I thought I had left behind. Also, my faith is in shambles, and sometimes I feel like I don’t care much for the church and even God. I’m pissed off by how conservatives in all branches of all churches had taken bits and pieces of the bible to justify hate, shunning people out of “God’s house” and do many other things that I thought Jesus had said not to do (remember Matthew 25:36 anyone). But this is partly besides the point.

I used to have a real close relationship with my mom. She’s ALWAYS been very supportive of me, and my school decisions. Boyfriend-wise my parents we’re not to keen on my dating many guys (because that’s only done by sluts … something that can be traced to ultra-conservatives views of people in any church). They wanted me to pursue a career (a very progressive thing to do in my view), but to eventually return home and get a job, a good husband and have kids. I’ve done some of those things. I finished my degree, moved to where the man I love lives and works, and hopefully in 2-3 years I’ll be doing a real-intensive job hunt to hopefully work close to everyone, BF included.

That does not piss me. What does is something my mom said the other day. She was saying how many people could or have criticized her in terms of how she’s not accepting of my sis’ decision and her baby because of her religion and mostly her conservative beliefs. I kind of agreed, but didn’t say anything. She then said that her faith in God is what’s kept her afloat. But for a minute I wonder … if she didn’t believe in God but was a moral person (like SO many non-believers who in my opinion are better at adhering to Mat. 25), would she have had such a hard time accepting the baby, or the act that lead to the baby?

The BF and I had an interesting discussion about this. I told him that I firmly believed that if my mom’s conservative “values” and beliefs weren’t there, if she was more chilled out, she might have had a different reaction to my sis’ pregnancy. My BF disagreed, he exposed his points and then the situation changed into why am I so mad at the church and it’s leaders, and why I’m opting out of participating in some sacraments. He said some very valid things (like why a sin of the “flesh” seems to be more frowned upon by some than say … homicide, etc … this goes to the point of why some commandments seemed to be viewed by some as more important than others). And then we both remembered something a few priests have said before, how the most important commandment can be summarized in “Love your God above all and your neighbour as much as you do yourself” … which I think is genius, because if we love our God and love each other the way we are supposed to love ourselves, wouldn’t the following the commandment parts be easier, or accomplished by “default.” We decided to stay true to that “summary” of God’s commandments, because if we do then accepting others won’t be as hard of a job as it’s been, we’ll hopefully tolerate each other more easily, and above all, learn to love God even is those who deliver His message are wrong sometimes.

This is not to say that I’m not pissed at having to deal with the drama. Especially when all I want to do is just watch TV, talk to the parents drama free and enjoy my new nephew.

It scares me (and I told my mom this) that because she’s so consumed on the act that led to the baby’s coming it might just kill her because of all the worry. And I went a step further by suggesting that if she lets her health decline and get all beaten up by this, what’s going to be God’s opinion about her taking care of his temple (her body, the Holy Spirit’s temple). I don’t know if something I’ve said will do any good, if it serve to help her tame her fears and worries …  but it’s not easy, and I’m not sure it will happen, but all I can do it try. And it pisses me off that these toxic thoughts and such are taking over my mom’s head, and that sometimes she might not tell people about my sister because of fear they will judge her (which they will do … now, when she need soup or a lift to the doctor or the hospital, they do not support or help in any way … not very Christian in my book …. remember Mat. 25?).

All in all it’s not been as dramatic as I thought it was going to be, but I’m not sure the storm is over just yet. For now all I can do is try to stay the course, talk to people and hope for the best. I still have almost 13 days left, so I’ll try to make the most of them.

How have your Xmas vacations been? Happy New Year!!

Vacay Time and Other Topics

Hey y’all! Some of my southerness had to come up at some point, ha!

So, today I’m concentrating protein and hopefully freezing it soon in liquid nitrogen (I hope the campus LN2 facility is not closed for the holidays yet). I’ve had a couple of my labmates saying their good-byes and merry X-mas for a day or two, and our next door neighbors brought a card and freshly baked cookies to lift out spirits. I’m concentrating and maybe this might be the last step of purification and storage I’ll do until next year. The BF and I made arrangements for transport to the airport and soon enough we’ll be on our way to see family and old friends. I can’t wait to be home (though I’m sure some drama will happen due to events that occurred earlier in the semester). I’m not sure how much of it I’ll post, but I’m sure I’ll have some disagreements with a few family members. But whatever, eventually things will settle, they always do.  Mmmm, I dunno. But in any case, I may or may not be able to post more frequently than I’ve been doing now. My parents have internet and a PC, but my mom will be using it a lot to do church related things, so bear with me if you don’t see much of me around the blogosphere.

On a slightly different note, I’ve been thinking about a couple of posts I want to write about. I want to finish the “series” I started on what to expect while in grad school, I also have a post planned on undergrads, undergrad research and grad school and relationships in grad school. I may post something about the break, but I don’t want too many specifics so that anonymity is kept and the universe retains its balance.

I probably won’t write again until I’m home, so for now I wish my readers, however few or many you are a safe trip, a safe and calm, and relaxing vacation time. And for those of you who celebrate it, a Merry Christmas. Best wishes and much luck on your last experiments of the year. Ta ta!

12 months of change

Following into the footsteps of one of my fave bloggers, I present now a list of cool things …, or just things, that happened during the fabulous 2009 which marked the end of my graduate career … heck! the end of my time in school as a student (oficially; unoficially I’ll never stop being a student and learning). To summarize, here are some of the awesome bits that have made 2009 a great year:

  1. January – came back from a vacay at my parent’s house, in my lovely hometown with my vision settled on finishing the damned thesis. BF and I didn’t get to spend too much time together as he was studying for his version of hell qualifying exams.
  2. February – I think I had a seminar of some sort at the beginning of this month … though my mind is usually nebulous as I had one thing in mind .. well, make it two things which would happen in March.
  3. March – I submitted my application for 2 postdoc interviews, one at a fairly new lab in the field in which I did my PhD, the second one in a lab that has been established for some time but in a completly different topic and technique from the one in which I did my PhD. I nailed one of the interviews and I got the job offer even before I interviewed (at the second lab with the totally unkown technique). Secondly … the reviews from my first author paper came back a month after submitting it, I would only need to wait 2 more months to have it approved and select the date for my thesis defense.
  4. April – Finished up chapter 5 of the thesis, only one more chapter (and the approval of the paper) to poll my thesis committee about defense dates.
  5. May – Got the flu (not the H1N1, thanks), on the same day I think I’m dying because of the coughing, sneezing and pressure on my head my boss calls me to tell me I can schedule the defense whenever the hell I want … the friggin’ paper has been accepted within 3 months of submission and I am finally  getting out! Last but not least, the BF passes his qual .. meaning that he’s well on his way to earn his PhD.
  6. June – Finished writing the thesis, but need many corrections as the last chapter (chapter 4, second thesis aim) is still out of shape … also, polling the committee regarding defense dates yields some uncomfortable results, meaning that I’ll upset a few of them if I want to be out by August. Also … chose the date for the defense by pulling major strings and begging more than a dog.
  7. July – turned 28 (my goal for defending was to do it prior to turning 28); defended, but mommy and BF seemed not to get along very well days before the defense which greatly upsets me. Packed up my things and left for my Canadian adventure.
  8. August – Start in the new lab, realize I have to relearn biochemistry and catch up with years of not doing it. Oh … also we moved twice in a 2 week span … thanks! 
  9. September – got my first paycheck as a postoc …. a-w-e-s-o-m-e. Oh, the boyfriend goes on a school trip and while I plan to clean the apartment, cook him a delicious dinner and be super productive my sister calls me to tell me she’s pregnant … on the same week of my parent’s wedding anniversary. I should mention that said parents are VERY conservative … this move will ensure many, many tears and LOTS of drama just as I’m adjusting to my new job … oh, the joys of having a family many miles away.
  10. October – purifying lots of protein, on my own, using uber-expensive equipment.
  11. November – because the boyfriend is a TA at Big Name Canadian U and because I’m afraid of traveling without him I push him every day to the edge while asking when are we going to buy tickets for our X-mas vacay (he reminds me every time that he has to grade finals and can’t leave until Big Name Canadian U posts exam dates … hate, hate, hate undergrads so much … ok, BNCU for not being efficient). I want to go home and celebrate freedom from grad school.
  12. December – ahhhh, it’s been almost a month since we booked the trip to visit our families. We’ll get home (parents home) at an insanely early time, but hey, we’ll free from school for 3 weeks! Currently purifying tons of protein to stock up for sequencing and future biophysical experiments. I officially have over 70 pages of protein purification profiles, gels and protocols, but really no results to speak for all I’ve been doing during the last few months. This business of being a postdoc is sometimes frustrating … but overall I’m trying to stay positive and remember that it took me almost 6 years to generate a thesis full of lovely drawings, tables and diagrams and I’m still learning in the new lab, so no reasons to be all frustrated … yet.

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.