27 and a PhD

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Be kind to those who stay behind … and those who come after you

This business of being a lab manager? Yeah. Real tough here, real though. I feel close to the students (in age and, sometimes, maturity) yet I’m not one of them. I can hang out with them when I’m outside the university walls … but I cannot badmouth their asshole PI(s). Just to be clear … most of the students (and the occasional postdoc) I’ve dealt with thus far, and their PIs seem pretty sane. But there’s this PI (who I mentioned in my previous post) who will give me headaches … and this person is the reason behind trying to set some boundaries for myself so that I don’t give them the impression that a) I’m slacking off because I decide NOT to work on a weekend like people in their lab do, and b) let this person understand, very clearly, that  I’m not one of their students or postdocs. Things have gotten a tiny bit better, but for every step forward, we go 3 more backwards. It’s a work in progress.

Besides that, one of the tasks at hand now is to make sure that when we open the lab, it is ready to receive people and be in good (safe) conditions. This lab I’m working on used to be BSL2 lab. Some pathogens (mostly inactivated ones) were worked on here, and while the previous group cleaned up some stuff, it seems as if every time I open a shelf or drawer, there’s some … “surprise.” I went looking for some hazardous material tags the other day … and all of a sudden I find some corroded shelf with bleach and some other stuff, and no sign of the bags … well, they were there, but there was a mess. There’s also a mysterious (and kinda scary)  -20 freezer that has samples from the early part of this century ie. from more than 10 years ago.

It had been my understanding that when the previous tenants of this lab were here, they had cleaned up everything, disinfected surfaces and gotten rid of all the samples and crap. Pretty much no one paid attention to freezers and other sample storage area, just to pumps and other mechanical stuff that other labs were eager to get their hands on. And now I’m stuck with a bunch of machines that don’t work, that environmental health has to cart away, and I have a couple of PIs over my shoulders, saying that it is my responsibility to clean up the lab and make it pretty for when they new users come. Yeah, that in addition to preparing samples, writing standard operating procedures for everything that has a switch or a light of some sort and stock it full of pretty little things for their trainees to play with, I need to clean up the lab. Now, I probably sound like a baby … but it is a lot of work that I have to get done … and it must be done by myself alone as no one else will pony up time to help or sort through things. I know, I know, I signed up for this … but it is truly a pain that the previous tenants only cleaned up the surface of things and left everything else to be taken care of by the new tenants. I think it’s pretty inconsiderate. Also, it makes me wonder why environmental health (or if) they have some sort of procedure for situations like this. If they’re supposed to certify labs, then I wonder if someone is slacking off somewhere.

This business is tough, and I’m the face of my lab, according to all sorts of letters and emails circulating amongst my gazillion bosses. I’m glad to make this lab look awesome, but it takes time. So, I beg you dear reader, should you be a PI or fellow lab manager and are about to move elsewhere, take time to walk around the lab and make sure that everything has been properly disposed of before you leave. Make sure things are bagged and tagged. I don’t know if you get charged or not, but please don’t leave your previous lab space looking like a pig pen. It is not a nice, or safe practice, especially for those before you. And for the love of all that is good and wonderful, have some policy as to what happens to reagents and crap people need to make to get their science done and they leave. Whether is not signing off on their thesis until they’ve bagged and tagged stuff or have at least left some record of where the samples are and are mindful of stuff they may leave behind .. have something in place to take care of the insane amounts of buffer or reagents that accumulate through the years. There’s nothing better than seeing a semi-legible tag on something and find out that it’s from 4 generations of grad students before your time. NOT!

Now, off to clean and cart stuff off. Ugh

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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.

Leaving

It is with a heavy heart that I leave my first post-academic job in search of something new. Many feelings are in my head and my heart now. Did I make the right decision? Will my family survive yet another move? How will honey fare in new job city? Will I be able to deal (or avoid) all the knucklehead republicans I will find in this city? Will I deliver they way people envision I will?

I feel small, inadequate … like it’s Imposter Syndrome x100. The responsibility of a whole lab rests on my shoulders (no, I’m not becoming a PI). I have to make sure my instruments run, I have to train people, analyze data, help calm nerves of both students and postdocs … this, 4 years after I was last a grad student, and 2 after I left my postdoc to work in New York.

My heart feels heavy because I’m leaving NYC, the city of dreams. I’ve met so many wonderful people, I adore my co-workers, they’re seriously the best scientists I’ve worked with in some time. They’re patient and funny and I feel like I’m letting them down by taking another position.

In these last couple of days the most common words coming out of people’s mouths are: are you excited? how does it feel to be a manager? how does it feel to leave NYC?

While I am relieved that I don’t have to worry about alternate side parking again, or that I can kiss goodbye to overcrowded buses and trains, everything else about the city, from the good food to the great science, from the noises that make NYC well, NYC, to the ease of finding everything, at all times of the day, and everything you get to do here … all of it I will miss. I guess besides the worry about being able to produce and delivery, I am most afraid of adapting to a city I haven’t seen in a couple of years. I’m afraid I won’t mesh and that I’ll be bitchin’ about how great things were in NYC (even if I occasionally disagreed with my boss).

I’m afraid of change and I am afraid of me. Of being so scared out of my wits that I won’t move, won’t decide and will let a whole lab and a whole lot of users crash down and fall. I am not excited … I am terrified. The possibility of change and more money cannot shake the terror I have of looking like a complete idiot, and of making the profs that vouched for me, afraid and sad that they chose me and that they offered the job to me, instead of someone more experienced. My smile and excitement about science cannot, or are not, enough to keep a lab running. And I am once again afraid of not being competent enough.

When will the imposter leave my life for good??

Resolutions 2013 – revisited

As usual, I wrote some NY’s resolutions for this 2013. The first quarter of 2013 has been packed with lots of excitement and changes, and I’m hoping that things will settle a bit after that. Today, I’m pleased to share a little bit on how one of my NY’s resolutions went down. This one involves Mr 30 and a PhD … and the day we got married.

After honey proposed at the end of 2012, we discussed several things, including how to celebrate our union, our vision for our wedding day, and of course, the change in plans brought about by the new job which I’m starting in two weeks! One of the things we talked about was how the new job has similar benefits to my current one, which going from a postdoc to a staff scientist meant the world to me (hello vision and dental care, and oh, I have a 401K *finally*). In addition there are other benefits, including a reduced rate at the school’s gym, life insurance benefits, etc. And since hon will be freelancing while we get our act together in new job city, I want him to be able to take his meds and not worry about going to the hospital or paying retail price for meds.

I was also enamored with the idea of getting married at City Hall in NYC and we agreed to get married before we embarked on our new adventure. We looked into the possibility of getting married at home, but there are blood tests and things to sign, same thing in new job city, and it was more cost effective and shorter to do it here in the city. First we had to get our marriage license, which had to be signed by the two of us. I started that process a few weeks ago and printed my confirmation number to get that out of the way. We wanted to get married a wee before the move, to have some time as buffer in case we forgot our IDs or something worse. Hon then planned to get here for Valentine’s week so we could spend a few days together, pick up our marriage license and get married. But, winter storm Nemo delayed our plans, threatening to keep honey away from NYC. I was crushed.

Thankfully the storm didn’t wreak havoc in my neck of the woods, and hon was able to get here, the day after he was supposed to. That delayed our plans a bit, but we managed. First we picked up the marriage license. We stopped at my borough’s local office, waited, and waited, and waited and then chatty guy called our number. That’s when things started feeling real for me. The moment I saw our names printed out on the paper … that’s when it hit me. We were getting married in 24 hours!!!!!

The next day we woke up early and took a subway all the way down to City Hall. The area around City Hall is very pretty, with lots of big buildings, and the Brooklyn Bridge as its backdrop. We got there on time, me dressed in a borrowed dress, him in a new shirt and comfy shoes. The weather was cooperating a bit, meaning it didn’t rain or snow, but it was windy.

Then our witness and a friend who served as photographer, met us, and in we went to *again* get a number, wait for our names to be called, and wait some more. After checking our IDs, paying the ceremony fee ($25, in addition to the $35 we paid for the license) and checking that all the info was correct, we waited. And waited some more. And waited even more. After, our names were finally called, and we were ushered to the area near the chapels, were ceremonies are conducted. One cool thing I noticed was that many couples, both straight and gay, were getting married. I never imagined, not even in my wildest dreams, that the day I got here (which was close to the day that same sex marriage was recognized, *finally*, in NYC) and looked outside my window at the Empire State Building, beaming with the rainbow colours, that I’d be able to see any willing and able couple get married … or that I’d be married here too.

Finally, our names were called. The justice of the peace checked in with us and asked whether he was saying our names right, and off we went. The energy in that chapel was positive. Hon and I were holding hands, looking at each other, looking at our two friends, trying to soak it all in. The ceremony was short, sweet and funny. After saying our I do’s and exchanging rings, we finally kissed and embraced. We were husband and wife, at last.

I stopped for a second and reflected on how sad this day had been in the past. Almost a decade ago, my college sweetheart broke my heart, on the exact same day hon and I got married. My heart was broken, I was shaken and sad, and angry. And all those not-so-wonderful feelings we experience during a heartbreak. I remembered how sad I was at the prospect of spending time on my own, of being alone … and how sure I was I’d never love again, and of course, how I’d be single for the rest of my life. Oh the joys of being 21, right? And now, here I was, holding my hon’s hands, calling him my husband. Life indeed turned around, and happiness had come back into my life, even after some heartbreak.

I looked at my hon and realized how blessed we’ve been. How the city that reunited us, served also as the backdrop to the beginning of our adventure as a family. I’m truly blessed to know this man, to call him my husband, to be his wife. I’m still getting used to the words husband and wife. I can’t believe we’re married and that in two weeks we’ll live in another city, away from NYC, with new responsibilities … but we’ll be together at last. I’m delighted to know that I married my true best friend, my companion of 7 years (and counting) and that we have each other to lean on. I am also happy that one of my resolutions, the best one, is now off the list.

How are you doing resolution-wise?

New habits (in the making)

Based on my NY resolutions, and how much I (sometimes) suck at keeping them, I’m trying to work on making sure I meet (or exceed) them. I’m trying to work on forming new habits, things that help keep my mind in order, my wallet and spending in check and will contribute in the long run to make my life happier and simpler.

My mom bought me a planner for Christmas. It has a motif I like and it has lots of space to write stuff. I love making lists and I decided to try, for the very first time in a long time, to fill that planner and keep it right next to my phone. I remembered that that’s what my PhD mentor did. She had her weekly planner next to her phone so that when she had to schedule a conference call or seminar or let us know when NOT to book a committee meeting, she didn’t keep us waiting. I’m also actively using Notes and Reminders on my iPhone (what a time saver!) and to keep my wedding inspiration in one place (or two) I decided to give Evernote a try, along with Pinterest (though I keep my account with just private boards to share with honey). These apps and measures are sure to help me stay sane in a year that’s looking nuts, between our wedding (civil ceremony, making sure we have a pre-nup to separate my debts from honey’s), the move, starting a new job and making sure that when I leave my current one things are in order, to paying the gazillion deposits for the wedding and the move.

And since one of my resolutions is to get active and eat better to hopefully lose the bulge, I hope to incorporate healthy things into my diet, avoid eating out for dinner and finally eat my fruits and veggies. I’m trying to find out if there is an app or two that would help. And I’ve been tempted to re-join WeightWatchers, which helped me lose almost 20 pounds a few years ago … but I’m worried that I’ll forget to log in and add my meals and my points … plus at times it felt a bit restrictive. Just like 4-5 years ago when I joined I did it while seeing a promo to join for free, that promo is running once again … but, I’m struggling with making the decision and sticking to it.

It looks like I’m also writing once a week, like I did last year and how I tried to do it in 2011. I’m afraid the blog is turning into a sort of diary, instead of just talking about my life in academia (or the fringes). But I’ve said before, (thankfully) my job is not nearly as stressful as the postdoc (or perhaps it is that I simply like doing what I do), so there’s not much to tell job-wise. I don’t want the blog to turn into a Save the Date thing, but inevitably I will gravitate to share wedding stuff here, just as I do on Twitter. The move will be stressful, that much I know. And I’m sure that while I get my footing at new job university once again, I’ll share my adventures and missteps. I guess is the natural progression of a staff scientist, you’re no longer a grad student, nor a postdoc.

Once I have some idea of how much my take home pay will be, I’ll try to start a regular schedule of saving some pennies, for when I want to go home, but especially for the wedding. I will try to save, damn it!

What apps or other resources do you use to help stay active and on track?

Fitness, the elephant in my room (or my belly)

I guess like most people everywhere, one of my new year’s resolutions is to lose the bulge, get fit and look awesome once and for all. But this year this has a special meaning. I’m getting married next year and I want to look (and feel) awesome on the special day. I want Mr 30 and a PhD to look at me and see the same girl he asked to be his girlfriend 7 years ago. I want my dress to fit (a dress I already bought and I’m not planning on altering it much, ie. letting out), I want to not have a belly that makes me look preggers ( I wore a dress for my interview back in December and one of my dear friends from back in the day commented that she was so happy I was pregnant … FML).

I hadn’t realized how fat I’ve gotten in the last 6 years until my friend made that comment, and I realized that no compression garment could hide the bulge. I’m tired of feeling tired, of the jiggly this and that, or wearing compression garments and of course, of the double chin.

I want to do something, but gosh darnit, it is so damn tough to get out of bed and to eat right. Ever since taking the job in NYC I’ve been fighting money problems, and part of making sure that there’s something in my stomach while the debts get paid is to get as much food for as little as possible. Fast food has become a staple of my diet (or lack of it) and although I don’t drink coffee, the daily shot of caffeine courtesy of my regular Coke or Pepsi is something I look forward to help combat the post-lunch slump.

I do get to walk quite a bit in NYC and I adore it. Now that I have my feet in better shape thanks to the custom orthotics my podiatrist made, walking is a lot easier. But that’s about it. I’m eating worse, and with this winter weather in full swing, I don’t like walking outside. I do my bit of walking to the bus in the morning and to work and from work to the subway station, but that’s the extent of my walking. Paying for a gym is out of the question, and living with multiple people who like to cook food I hate (yuck, seafood) makes it harder to eat at home.

I know. Excuse after excuse after excuse.

With my upcoming move in a month I’m looking forward to the new job and especially the benefits. As a student, and later a postdoc, I had access to pretty darn good gym facilities, a pool, and running/walking areas. There were also lots of chances for intramural this and that. I’m not such a huge team player, so I prefer to mind my own business and get on an elliptical, which helps my knees, and burn 300 calories.

I’m surprisingly looking forward to having access to a gym once again (especially one for employees, not crowded by valley girls in skimpy clothes), and heck! even paying for it so I can battle the bulge. I’m not getting younger, and should hon and I decide to conceive, I want to have a healthy weight before we have a baby (though as I’ve mentioned before, we would  be cool with adopting).

I don’t cook meat at home (though I’m open to the option of hon making burgers this summer at the grilling area near our future home). And watching The Biggest Loser the other day (I know, shallow of me, but hey, I get inspired by the show) I realized that I’m not a vegetarian so much as a carbotarian. While you’ll never see me doing the Atkins diet, it’s time I reign in my non-stop consumption of empty calories and carbs. I’m looking forward to making tons of veggie-filled soups, including my new fave lentil and my trusty hot and sour soup with tofu. I’m looking forward to making spring rolls at home once again and definitely eating lots of fruits and veggies. That has me excited. And I definitely want to create a schedule where I incorporate physical activity and strength training (who knew that wedding dresses are SO heavy!).

Let see how I stick to this. I’m currently at 195lbs, jumping all the way to 200lbs before my period. I’m tired of being a size 14 and the XXL tops, the granny undies and the 40D cups. I’m tired of the pain on my knees and perhaps losing the weight will help with my flat feet. I’m tired of being tired and I want to look beautiful on my wedding day and feel totally hot on my wedding night. I won’t turn my blog on a weight-management journal, but I do hope to chronicle my weight loss, perhaps posting a photo of when I finally fit on my wedding dress (because damn it, I’m fitting on that bitch!).

Let see how this goes. As soon as I get my hands on a measuring tape I’ll post my current digits along with those of my wedding dress. Here’s to being below 170lbs before Spring 2014 and fitting on my beautiful wedding dress!