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Back in January I made my usual list of resolutions, which besides featuring the usual stuff of weight loss and debt management, had a couple of other things, including wedding stuff. Let’s see how I’ve been doing:
Years ago I thought doing resolutions was pure BS. I still have my doubts. But I sometimes like to challenge myself and see how I do. Here are in no particular order 10 things I’d like to accomplish by the end of 2014:
- Not drink soft drinks (Coke, Sprite, Pepsi, etc) for the entire year. This was something I wanted to do as part of my 30-before-30 and I never got the nerve to do it. So I’m willing to take a shot and see how long I can stick to this. – not happening, I started strong, but with the lack of sleep (as usual), this is not going to get done. Fail.
- Have a stress-less wedding. Note, not stress-free, but stress-less. Thus far things haven’t been too complicated, the people at the reception hall have been very nice, I finally got a wedding dress I can fit into and I got my sister’s dress. While I was home hon an I ordered our flowers and my sister and I ordered the cake. We should be husband and wife for the second time in less than 2 months! As mentioned in the previous post, this was accomplished. We hit a few snags (like my mom finishing fixing the zipper on my dress less than 24hrs before the wedding, and a tiny hiccups with some of the flowers) but in the grand scheme of things, our wedding was better than expected.
- Pay off one of the credit cards. I have about 3k in it. It’s one of the smallest debts I have (I know, I’m terrible), but I’m going to try my best and wipe off one of those babies ASAP. The next one is ~$600 behind it, so I hope to tackle that one next.
- Save about 1k by the end of the year (after paying off for the wedding, and erasing one of the cards).
- Have a no-new-clothes month. I’m thinking of doing this next month since it’s the shortest one and I’ll be all busy with all the wedding prep. Wish me luck. Didn’t happen in February, or March. Hoping that it will get done in April.
- Be 10lbs thinner by December 31st. I started 2013 at 206.4. I’m down to 198, which I’ve been consistently at for months. We’ll see if I can achieve this. I didn’t gain all the weight in 2 days, and I won’t lose it in 2 days either. So long as I can keep going down and maintaining it, I’ll be a happy camper.
- Get a kick ass haircut after the wedding. I’m hoping to chop off a few inches before the summer! So very done!!!! And I effin love my hair. Currently I’m still dragging my feet to donate my hair, but I have over 12in of hair ready to be made into a wig (I’m donating it to Wigs for Kids, not Locks of Love. WFK doesn’t charge kids for the wigs).
- Fix up an issue with my car. I already bought the part, now it’s a matter of having the time and money to take care of it.
- Save some money and get a new lens for the camera (more than likely this will happen towards the end of the year).
- Be an author in at least 2 publications. I appeared in 2 new ones last year, so I don’t see why not, with all the effort and data I’ve collected for a few labs. There’s one manuscript in preparation. I hope to have another by year’s end.
Job-wise, I’d like to have a good 1st year end review. Even if I do, because of money constraints at school, I don’t anticipate getting a raise, though that would be cool. This one is happening in April. We’ll see if I get to keep my job and how well my bosses think I’ve been doing this year. I’m not counting on a raise, since the Uni is looking to cut costs everywhere they can think of. And although there’s not a raise freeze in place, I don’t know how my department will deal with the funding cuts yet.
Besides collecting a LOT of data for my PIs, one of the other hats I get to wear as a lab manager is the training one. Before I arrived in the lab, people had been somewhat trained by the senior peeps in my PIs labs, but some of them moved on right before I started, so I was handed over the task of observing and retraining people and standardizing procedures so that when something breaks we’ll know (or try to) what happened, on what step and what was not done (or what was done in weird way).
That gives me a break in the sense that I don’t have to spend every waking moment in front of an instrument (well, not every waking moment, but you catch my drift) and instead I get to sit back and show the tricks of the trade to a newer generation. Most people have a pretty good knowledge of the instrumentation, and how to get going, so I do give them a few pointers, then let them go on their way. But new people are also in the labs, especially rotations students and I get to spend some QT with them while they learn.
I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with most of this first crop of rotation students. Most seem enthusiastic and eager to collect data, and like I said before, it frees some of the time once they set up their experiments. I can sit back … and write protocols and procedures for the lab (I truly don’t have much time free these days).
I’ve discovered that I enjoy guiding people through a process, seeing their face light up in amazement when they get to *see* something they’ve heard in class but never witnessed happen. I live for those moments of discovery and amazement. I do like documenting things in the lab too … though one of my (500 million) PIs is too keen on writing everything down … which is a pain because we get into this back and forth corrections loop. But that’s somewhat minor when you compare it to all the other things I get to do.
I’ve collected (what I consider) a ton of data for at least 4 labs now … hopefully some of those will lead to papers in the future. We’ll see. And there may be a collaboration in the works too. We shall see how things flow.
For the last 3 weeks I’ve been on data collection binge. I’m not complaining. But it is a lot of work. A LOT. And I’m only one little person. I can’t believe how much data collection I need to do. And I am thankful I have the skills to do it. But sometimes it feels like it’s too much. So, I’m designating one day a week a no data collection day (well, at least a day where I’m not parked in front of an instrument for hours on end). It’s OK to help users out, but no data collection. I have more and more admin things that need to be taken care of, SOPs to write, files to upload, people to help write blurbs in proposals and progress reports. And I can’t keep leaving every little thing until the very end, so that I feel even more overwhelmed at the end of the week or month.
A few weeks ago I even got to present something in one of our lab meetings. Since I’m considered part of a few labs (a few PIs pooled their money to help bring me here), I get to attend, and on rare occasions present, little things about the lab, the instruments or new stuff. I got to present a paper on one of our instruments and it was very fun … though I left that presentation until the very end, and didn’t practice it much … something that’s highly unusual for me, given that my PhD boss wanted all presentations, regardless of how informal, to have some level of professional, practiced-quality to them.
I’ve gotten much better since my PhD days (though the ghosts of bosses past are still there) in terms of presenting things to my groups .. but it still worries me, mostly because I don’t want to do a crappy job and I want to show respect to my audience, regardless of how many beers we down when we’re sad or pissed.
On more than one occasion I’ve caught myself saying to honey that I greatly enjoy the work I do. I get to spend more time on the instrument-side of things, compared to NY, and I also have a variety of very interesting projects (lots of receptors and membrane stuff), which is definitely different from my time in the City. I do miss my former co-workers. But I think I’m finding my niche here … regardless of how boring this new job city is (you win some, you lose some, eh!). I feel more grown up than ever before. And I get excited about the science … something which I truly haven’t felt since my grad student days. I guess it’s the different level of involvement I have, compared to NYC.
Overall it feels nice. It’s different, but nice. And I am so happy I took a leap of faith 2 years ago and left the tenure track. But, I’m busier than I ever imagined!!!!
Seriously. So much to do. And I’m only one person.
This month has shown me that my poor former supervisor in NYC had it (and still does) tough when trying to get actual research done. This month has been crazy in terms of the amount of work and the amount of admin stuff to do. I’ve had to arrange for a meeting, get the data put together for it, email and call people to make sure they can all attend … all while trying to collect data for 3 projects and also fixing broken things in the lab. It is a lot of work. I’m having to just say no or book things for other days so I can get some pieces of software functioning. And the days where one of my superiors comes to collect data and calls me a grand total of 15 million times … it’s really exhausting.
But I’m happy in the sense that people (students, postdocs and (hopelly too) their PIs) are seeing what I do and get to see the value of it. Doing some back of the envelope calculations, I’ve managed to increased productivity of one of our toys by more than 50%. And I’ve got a good relationship with the guy who fixes it, so I feel confident in asking him for tips and little things to extend the life of our toys. But I’ve also got two other toys I need to tend to, yet other stuff in the lab seems to be chewing off most of my time. I guess my problem is time management. I feel like sometimes I’m in damage control mode, trying to get the bigger toys to continue churning data day and night, and the poor little guys get neglected. But I’ve got to practice the art of saying no and of saying ‘you know what, today is the little guys turn to get dusted off and have my entire attention … so shush it and let me work on my thing.’ It’s tough though … I feel guilty when I’m not tending to the bigger instruments, then I look at the pile of little things to do and I wonder how can one person do it all.
I did accomplish one great thing today, which will (hopefully) add to the capabilities of our lab. I’m very excited and by the end of the month I’ll have a user meeting to show how this thing works and how can people start using it. It took me a lot of effort and a lot of emails, but I feel confident that we’re in the right direction. And all because of me. Phewww. If I don’t have anything else to feel proud of during the rest of the year, this is the one thing I’m most proud of work-wise.
That’s what’s going on in the life of this lab manager. What’s new with you?
Just realized I’ve been at work for 4 full months. It feels as though a lot longer has gone by. The more time passes, the busier I get. And I can totally understand more and more how my poor former supervisor scheduled one thing and ended up fixing others, usually all unrelated to his original plans. Since July started I’ve been troubleshooting tons of things, from computers going down, to electricity problems to taking care of new samples and broken equipment. And I just added one more thing to my list.
Just as I did at my previous position, I have to call people, follow up on quotes and send along specs to people that know a lot more than I do, so they can make a decision. My bosses also recognize my training, so more often than not the 3 of us brainstorm about how to implement things in the lab or how to tackle one of their problems. I’ve had some success in preparing SOPs for equipment in the lab and I’m working now on user policies and procedures, so we can ensure that if something is broken it’s either to a regular malfunction or to a user’s maverick spirit (which we don’t encourage, this shit is expensive, yo!).
On a personal level, hon and I keep getting things in order in our apartment to make it look less like a grad school pad and more like a grown up place. His parents have helped us immensely, buying things like a microwave and beautiful chairs for our dining area. We’re still missing a comfy couch, a dining table and a couple of minor items, but most of the big ticket items have been acquired. We also recently completed prepping our guest room/hobby room and my inlaws are there while in town for a few days. It’s comforting to have them here, we get along pretty good.
Hon and I hope to go somewhere for the weekend in August, as we haven’t had much of a break to get away since we moved from NYC. I’m looking forward to that.
I was finally able to afford changing the tires on my car. There are a few other things to do, but this is good. They weren’t much more expensive than the previous ones were 5 years ago in the same tire shop (woot woot!!).
Each day I feel like I’m gaining more confidence and standing in the lab. I feel that the students like me and my PIs respect me. But I’ve had a few missteps, which I’m hoping won’t weigh in too much when the time for evaluations comes. I guess it’s all part of the learning curve, figuring out how to navigate things, understanding that there are lots of things I can’t control, putting things in order so that my bosses will understand usage and how time is allocated and also collecting quality data to make their lives (and projects) move forward. It is challenging to be a lab manager … very challenging, and so far I don’t have many role models (other than my previous supervisor), so it’s interesting to navigate these waters and figure things out. I hope to compile a list of things I’ve done throughout my first months here .. in case there are other newbies out there like me. But I’m very happy I decided to steer clear of the tenure track and am now on the managerial route.
This week has reminded me that there are things, besides being smart and doing awesomesauce science, that appear to matter more, in order for people to take you and your job seriously. First, I saw a former classmate who’s migrated to the clinical side of things and is doing some sort of special clinical postdoc and wears a robe and everything at the beginning of the week. Said classmate (let’s call her Suzy) looked great and very different from her days in grad school, you know, no ragged jeans, Old Navy basic tee, running shoes and a ponytail with a pencil hanging around. Suzy finished around the same time I did and then decided to do a clinical postdoc (didn’t even know these existed) and has been here since then. Apparently she sees patients because her work is related to epidemiology, so she wears a lab coat, has her name embroidered on her coat and gets to wear cute dresses, nice jewelery, make up and lots of Tory Burch flats. I’m happy for her and in a way I sort of envy how she gets to meet patients and dresses like a resident of internal medicine. On the other hand, I do pretty awesome research in structural biology and get to come to work in casual wear, unless I’m presenting or have to meet a high up in the organization (almost never happens).
Suzy greeted me warmly on Monday or Tuesday … can’t remember, and asked why I was back in school. She remember I was doing a postdoc in Canada and we hadn’t seen each other since that time. I summarized what I’d been doing since graduation and mentioned that I’d been head hunted to be a lab manager. She congratulated me and then decided to give me the up and down look. I admit it, I was dressed even more casually than ever (jeans, a teenage looking hoodie and pink sunglasses). Then she questioned why the casual look … as if to say, ‘girl! you’re a lab manager now, get your act together.’ I was so surprised that all I could muster was a ‘great to see you Suzy, we’ll catch up later’ … and quickly walked away to have lunch.
Since that day, her comment has been in my head, on repeat, every few seconds. I remember her being so well put, and me looking so frumpy, and I realize that yes, I am a lab manager … so what? Don’t I get to dress to work in whatever way I see fit to do my job? If my job allowed me to wear a cute dress and flats, by God I would wear those … but I’m in a lab with machines working every day, churning data at all hours and said machines break down. I have to get on my knees and look at stuff. Measure stuff, clean stuff, oil and grease stuff. I have to polish things and dust off others. I have to clean the lab at certain times and in certain ways, so as to not upset the equipment (or risk my life doing it … well, not that serious, but you catch my drift). I don’t see patients. I live in a basement, in a lab, shut off from everyone. I see the light of day when I get out to have lunch and that’s it. Windows covered, doors closed. That’s how I conduct my science.
I’d mentioned before that I do feel bad for dressing like a soccer mom, but at the same time, I feel like I can because I need to get on top of things, crawl on all 4 behind machines, use water, alcohol and nitrogen to work … and I don’t want my nice clothes ruined, or worse … to put my life at risk because I’m afraid of staining something or because I’m wearing something that is not safe.
I do believe that nice clothes help you feel better, look put together. And trust me, I do clean up nicely. Then I look at my PIs, who wear clothes just as casual as mine … and no one is questioning their science or talent! Not a single person (well, at least that I know of). Is it because I’m a woman (though I do have a female overlord, and she dresses casual too)? Is it because I’m hispanic? Or is it just another way of showing your superiority and that of your discipline? I dress like a peon, you work with patients, thus it’s OK to question my commitment to science based on how I look?
I do have a closet full of nice clothes. Clothes I mean to wear someday, yet when I think of the day ahead and who I have to work with or what samples I’ll face that day and whether or not I need to pH something or make 3 gallons worth of a buffer, I just shrug it off, dust off my jeans and put them on. I don’t mean to say that you can’t dress nice for the lab. I admire people who look put together and get to wear cute AND functional clothes … but in my case, I prefer not to risk them. I do wear a lab coat, don’t get me wrong … but I’ve been known to get stains even when wearing a lab coat … and I hate stains, let me tell ya.
What made me sit down and devote a whole entry to the subject of dressing for work …. what really pushed my buttons was this .. a PI saying to her students that if you dress nice, you won’t be taken seriously. Seriously? I mean, that’s the other extreme of my situation. And I especially dislike said comment because it implies that you have to look like a mad scientist, with you pocket protector and big ass calculator and crazy hair to be taken seriously. What I consider even worse is that a female PI is telling that to her female students! Seriously!! With how fucked up this world is and you have do drill into your minions that if they dress nice they won’t be taken seriously? In Dr. Isis’s wise words … it makes my ass twitch.
Just as bad is when you have to dress in a particular manner because you work with say … human tissue and good God you have to protect yourself from getting infected with whatever … and when you mention you’re done with your work session and your scrubs are covered in yuck, you get assholes saying that that’s not very sexy sexy (check this). Do you mean to tell me that ladies should stay out of the clinic/lab/field because when they need to wear work clothes to ensure safety in their jobs, that wearing less than anything showing skin, or pretty or sexy, those work clothes make them look less than a hot piece of ass? Seriosly?? I’m just throwing my hands up in the air.
I think we all need to reevaluate our priorities and realize that in order to move forward, we just can’t keep judging people based on the way they look, whether they dress nicely because their job requires it or because they can, or whether they need to wear less than “sexay” attire to get down and dirty and do their stinkin’ job, whether that involved removing and replacing pump oil, or collecting lung samples for their research. Please be mindful that comments about what you wear (or not) should have no bearing in your capacity to produce science. We shouldn’t look down at people based on their clothing choice (unless said choice involves offensive messages), whether it’s well put together or “frumpy” … especially when you don’t know the kind of science and effort they have to put it, or the kinds of situations they face every day to get to do their research. So back it off … it’s not nice.
So, a little while ago I wrote about being a lab manager. For personal reasons I decided not to divulge too many details of what I do to earn mah moolah. But I figured it doesn’t hurt to give some info as to some of the tasks I have and get to accomplish in my new position.
You may be asking yourself, well, how is your life as a lab manager different than as a staff scientist? I find that most days my tasks and responsibilities aren’t too different from when I was in NYC. I get to sit down and talk to users/trainees. We talk about their projects, what they hope to accomplish, what they’ve done, their workflow and whether they want to get their hands wet or rather have me collect data and hand it off to them. This is similar to how things were in NYC, except that there were more hands to hand over a project (including those of my former supervisor) and we met as a group with them, all staff scientists and supervisor, plus our PI. Here I mostly work for a handful of PIs, and it’s just me (for now), so I sit down with the PI, discuss general things about their project and they send me off to talk to their student or postdoc and see how we want to collect data. Most people have had some sort of training before we meet, and they know how to use the instrumentation. But sometimes they’ll say they feel more comfortable with me in the room, or with me collecting the data. I also have newer users who have no idea of how to collect data, and they’ll often sit and observe and take notes, and once the data collection is done, they’ll see what’s up and determine whether more purification is needed or they need to do a different type of column or filtration to get what they need. We also evaluate whether we have is a single population of their entity or if things are falling apart or (sometimes worse) there’s aggregation. Aggregation sucks and we can’t do shite with the protein … so back to the drawing board for my user.
So far I’ve collected quite a bit of data for all the PIs I work for, along with a couple of PIs who want preliminary data. It’s been fun and I like their projects more than I did some of the ones I worked on in NY. Don’t get me wrong, I worked on some pretty cutting edge stuff over there, and a lot of the users were doing a combination of approaches, from X-ray and NMR, NMR and cryo-EM, cryo-EM and X-ray, and sometimes all 3, plus some mass spec and even EPR. But, the topics the lab were studying weren’t as exciting as the ones I’m working on here. I get to work with things I learned as a grad student and in pathways I’m interested. I do try to distribute my time evenly amongst the projects, so I don’t neglect people.
I do my share of admin-type things, from generating instrumentation time use and availability, to meeting with head honchos to decide how to operate the facility and attract new users. So far we haven’t had much luck with the attracting new users thing, but I try to go to talks, approach PIs or their trainees and alert them to my presence so they know they have one more local resource to use.
I try to keep the lab tidy, so I’ve done my share of disposing of really old samples from a couple of grad school generations ago. I found stuff in a freezer with my new on it … WTF!!?? I also have to certify users, make sure instruments work and things are properly calibrated. Thus, once a week I get on the different instruments and perform said tests and report those results to my bosses.
I get to hear complains about people not being able to use something or how something is out of whack. I’m the first line of defense here, so I try to calmly say that the user must be messing up with something and that they need to get their filthy paws out of my babies (not really). But I do get to sit down and talk to people about different processes and how they can more efficiently use instrumentation time. In general, I just try to keep my instruments happy and my users busy with data processing. So far I’ve been very fortunate that things have gone that way. But we’ve had a couple of engineer visits, so they can check when someone messed up, or when a board on a computer died (ugh).
Finally, I get to answer emails and texts before I even make it to school and sometimes on my lunch break. Things seem to go out of whack just as I enter Chipotle. Oh well. This is what I signed up to do. I just hope my bosses are happy and my users churn out papers (with my name on it, of course!). I like being a manager thus far, but the level of responsibility can sometimes feel like it is too much. We’ll see how the coming months go. I may have a 6-month evaluation coming up this fall, but I don’t know. We’ll see how that goes and then I’ll share my outlook on things.
Thanks for reading!