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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Musings, and internet overload

Hey y’all, here’s my usual weekly most. Today I’m feeling mostly weak. I’m tired, I’m not sleeping well. I’m missing my boyfriend, I don’t feel successful at work, I’m frustrated, and above all, I feel like I’m overloaded with the web.

You may have noticed that I enter Twitter sparsely these days. It’s not that I don’t like y’all, I really do. But sometimes it feels a bit overwhelming. I look at my stream and there are so many interesting stories and bits, and I’d love to stay current. I have a million tabs open on my browser, I don’t know when and where I started. I feel burned. I haven’t felt like that in a while. I like you all, I do, I’m just feeling a little restless and overwhelmed. I try to answer my @’s and emails and other forms of communication, but I’m mostly out of the loop, as I just feel a little overpowered by the web.

I’m shopping for a doctor, I need a prescription for my PMDD pills.

I’m missing honey like mad, and his job search is going much like mine was last year. He really, really wants a TT position, and it breaks my heart that he gets promises, but little on the side of an actual job. I feel his pain, and it feels like I’m being suckered punch every time he gets a negative, or worse, gets ignored.

At work I’m feeling accomplished on some things, but not others. I’m bored at times, and extremely busy at others, some things are becoming repetitive and I sometimes feel like I’m not doing my best, or contributing or doing my all. Truth be told, some of the new projects coming in do not use my expertise at all. I’ve been doing some work for some profs, but they and their students are doing most of the processing and writing up, so I’m not contributing much in that area either.

It’s not that I don’t like what I do, it just feels like I don’t have enough to do at times. There are changes happening soon which will mean being busier than usual for a few months. There are possible projects coming, but they’re far in the future (at least looking at them today).

I was also under the weather, which may have to do with the overall feeling of bleh I’m having. I’ll be back with more good stuff, but for now I need space, I’m tired and uninspired.

Absence

I know I’ve been MIA for a while. I rarely get on Twitter these days, and I forgot to blog last week. In fact, I’m forgetting a lot of things these days. My apologies, it’s not on purpose.

It’s been crazy busy at work. There have been a few workshops and seminars to attend, followed by lots of data collection, instruments going down, my boss not getting one of his grants renewed. Oh, and the pesky impending move. In case you don’t know, one day I was happily typing away while I get an email from my roommate. The soon-to-be-ex-roommate says she’s pregnant and that her fiance is moving in, so I need to pack up an leave. In her defense, I’d only signed a 1 year lease. In my defense …. WTF? In case you can’t tell, changes send me into a panic and end up with me in a foul mood for weeks (ask honey … also, poor honey).

I wasn’t looking forward to moving for the 5th time (yes, fifth time) in less than 12 months. I finally found something, of course with roommates because who on earth can pay NY prices! Even the boroughs are shitty expensive, unless you move to less than reputable areas. Instead, I’ve moved into a truly tiny room, in a 3BeR/2BaR apartment where my cat can stay legally and I get to enjoy cable, dishwasher, on suite washer/drier and apparently less parking issues, though we’ll see about that. Yes, I still have my vehicle. Why, you ask? Because it still has ON tags and because of all this craziness, my always depleted savings account is now blank. It doesn’t cost too much to register (well, certainly more than in ON). I’m not looking forward to the colours of the stupid NY tag, crappy mustard and blue (what a crazy combination, it looks horrible!), but I have to do it by August, so it’s happening. After that, I’ll try to fix some minor things and hopefully put it on sale.

Also, this week I’m turning 31. I hate numbers that don’t end up in 0, 5 or are repeats (22, 33, 44, those are cool). I’m a foul mood, but it’s not your fault. I don’t hate my age, I just don’t like the 1 (I hated being 11, 21 was not so bad .. hello beer!).

Rambling, rambling, rambling. I know, that’s exactly how it sounds. All this to say that it’s not that I don’t want to blog, it’s not that I hate you all, I don’t. I seriously love getting comments and questions, even if it takes me forever to answer. I apologize.

I decided to go back to my mood meds. While I was in grad school I was diagnosed with severe PMS, or PMDD. I seriously had the most miserable two weeks before my period (seriously, 26 weeks out of every year, for the last few years). I got depressed, my chest was extremely tender, I would cry or fight for no reason, sometimes I even got a cold beforehand (for a whole year while in grad school I got sick every single month, the issue would resolve once my period was done … WTF?). I tried the birth control patch and a few other hormonal solutions to skip my period, but I only got shorter periods and my boobs were untouchable. I guess it’s some sort of sensitivity to birth control? I don’t know, all I know is that the Pill didn’t work for my period.

The mood/physical issues were serious enough to interfere with my life, to the point that I had to be out of the lab for a day or two every month. I took escitalopram, and it worked wonders, but that stuff was expensive. Then I switched to sertraline … it sort of worked. Then I got off completely. It wasn’t fun. Now that I have a FSA account and a non-crappy, non-grad school insurance, I can finally afford meds, and I’ve been back on escitalopram for a few months now. One of the side effects is loss of interest in things that I used to like … that explains (partly) my absence from Twitter and from the blog. I feel like I’m in a constant writer’s block. It’s not fun, but I prefer that to having the shitty feeling two weeks out of every single month be almost unlivable. (In case you’re curious, I did try fluoxetine …. I wanted to kill myself two weeks in … yeah, not fun to want to jump off buildings and bridges just because).

So, there you have it. It’s not that I don’t love you. It’s not that I don’t care about blogging and tweeting. I love you and love interacting with you, but while taking care of my well-being, I get some of the side effects, which in turn affect my creativity a bit. I will continue to blog and tweet, and answer questions. It just may take a bit longer than usual.

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 ….

Today I cried at work

I knew my job would not be easy. I knew my boss was a tough person to work for, and I knew I needed to let go of old attitudes which, combined with the lack of mentoring during my postdoc, made for a lethal combo that I sure didn’t want to bring into my new job.

I thought I was doing well. I’ve been working full-speed at my new job since day one. On my very first day at work I was hands-on, knee-deep doing stuff in one of the old instruments I was trained in.It’s been intense since day one. And because I like the technique and instrumentation, I’m happy to do my job to the best of my abilities.

I knew that my boss would never praise anything I did, and I was ready for that. I’m starting to grow accustomed to that, and I know that the quality of my work speaks for itself, and I get thank-yous and great job from everyone else I work with. And that is enough.

What I wasn’t counting on was that most of the pressure at work wouldn’t really come from my boss, but from the people who depend on me and my coworkers for their projects, and they’re not necessarily PIs. I came in and was told to be ready to get a wide range of attitudes and aptitudes, from people ready to go as knee-deep into the technique and instrumentation as I do, to people who were too afraid (or “too good”) to even touch their own samples. What I wasn’t counting on was that I’d be the sounding board for some students and postdocs, and that some of the people would not only be needy, but complain (a lot) when I was too busy to give a hand.

We had a sudden departure in our group. As it is, our research group is really small, yet we provide help and expertise to many, many people. One of my responsibilities is to set up equipment so people can use it, either alone (if they know how to and won’t screw things up), or with myself or the other members of the staff. We’ve been teaching a course, AND working full-time in the lab. All while having one less (and critical) pair of hands. We have needy students and postdocs on both sides. And today, one of the postdocs was complaining about not having a dedicated staff person to spend time on the instrumentation, supervising their work. As much as everyone in the lab would love to sit down and really explain things and do things, we just don’t have time. And ever since this sudden departure, it’s worsen.

What I wasn’t counting on is that, after this person unloaded their frustrations about not having staff at hand, I would greatly upset another person and all the weeks of little sleep and running around the lab fixing problems, and picking up the slack of others, would come crashing down and send me on a crying spree. Yes, a crying spree at work. I don’t know what happened, but it’s as if all the frustrations of the past few weeks, the being understaffed, the having to deal with incompetent and sometime irresponsible trainees, and the fact that I offended (without intending, I swear!) another staff person in another area, that all that would make me cover my face, hunch down, and cry like a little girl who just wants to please everyone, and make people happy.

I realize that it is stupid and not at all realistic to feel that way. And that if my happiness and sense of worth depend on pleasing everyone, then I really need to examine my life and get on some medication pronto. And I know it’s not a personal attack when someone just vents about how unfair it is that we don’t have enough dedicated hands at their disposal. And I know that if I repeat these things enough times to my tough boss, maybe he’ll act on it and tell people to chill the fuck out (and hire a new pair of hands). But somehow I let the worse stay and the best to leave, and I end up a crying mess.I know I need to pick up my battles and I just can’t take it personal when someone makes a comment about not having enough staff. It’s just too damn hard and too frustrating, because I know the feeling, and I sincerely wish I could help. I just don’t have time.

Take it from an over-worked, underpaid, and always eager to help staff person, your staff people don’t hate you. We work really hard to have things working, to have instruments in top shape, so you can run your experiments smoothly. But sometimes they will break, they’ll have a bad day, and no, we won’t know every single inner working to make it all better and make the boo-boos go away so can go back and keep on working. Instruments break, our help and knowledge has a limit, really. And sometimes, we simply don’t have enough time to help you. I’m sorry.

When we tell you that we’re understaffed (seriously understaffed) and we warn you not to come and use equipment we can’t supervise you working on … please, take a moment and really evaluate whether you want to spend 3 days complaining about our absence, and how bad it is we can’t assist you, and think a bit about how we’re trying to do our damn best to keep things alive and working, even at the risk of our health, well-being and even our families. We also have a boss, who gets pissed off, and if you run to them every single time something breaks, or during crunch time, and complain, we will get a call, and be asked questions as to why is it we’re not performing all our duties. It’s not that we don’t want to … we simply can’t. I know it’s hard, and I know your boss is pressing you, but we swear, we’re not doing this on purpose, and we don’t hate you. There aren’t enough of us to cover every single detail at the moment, and when we say we can’t help, we really mean it. Don’t take it out on us and call us incompetent, bad mannered or uninterested …. we simply can’t stretch that thin.

I don’t hate you and I want your project to work. I really do, but today I simply cracked under the pressure of trying to perform every task, and not being able to. I’m sorry.

I’m employed, the process and the wait (Act 2)

This is Act 2, recounting how I got my new job. Act uno is here.

So, I swallowed (some of) my pride, emailed the guy from the ad and, in a couple of sentences, talked about my training and some details about my previous (and current) scientific life. I asked if the search committee would even consider someone like me (because I was/am still new(ish) research wise), and waited, and waited and waited. The guy wrote back, asked for a full application packet, but couldn’t make any promises. That was enough for me to get a glimmer of hope, maybe all was not lost. One of my 2011 resolutions was to get out of my postdoc lab, with or without a job. I didn’t want to go back to the lab after new year’s, I wanted out.

While waiting for signs of life from the search committee, I probably filled more than 50 applications to all sorts of jobs in North America and parts of Europe. After one particularly discouraging bout, I was ready to give up. I hadn’t been updated from any of the jobs I’d applied which were in areas compatible with my training and I didn’t know what was going on. Then out of the blue, I got a call from the ad guy. He wanted to see if I’d be up for a phone interview. I did, of course and we spent almost an hour talking about my previous research experience and accomplishments … but it felt as though all I’d done was babble on and on (brings to mind an entry from Dr. (now Prof) Becca). I was out of breath for the first 10 minutes, and my hands were shaking uncontrollably, I thought I’d hang up accidentally or something worse. Of course I didn’t hear from the guy for sometime, again. Eventually I got an email from a place in the south …. and on that same day I also got an email from the ad guy at new job city … somehow I’d convinced people at new job city that I was worth the invitation. After a few weeks of non-stop interviews, and considering the possibility of moving to Rainbow Lake, Alberta, I went for my interview at new job city. I’ll spare most of the details, but basically I had a full day of one-on-one interviews, a job talk and dinner (please be gracious and accept any sort of EtOH they provide, it will help calm your nerves, trust me).

I got back to Canada, and waited, and waited, and waited. Hon kept saying that I should email the people at new job city. I’d gotten a very generic email from my (now) new boss thanking me for my visit, and he mentioning that the committee still had other candidates to interview. With every day that passed a little bit more of hope kept fading. By this time I’d learned that I wouldn’t be moving to Rainbow Lake, or anywhere else for that matter … all my offers had fallen through. I was very sad and angry. I also made my mind, I wasn’t asking my boss for an extension. I was ready to go, with or without a job offer.

I emailed a guy at school, asking him if he was looking for someone. He was, but the guy was very busy, so we never got to talk about anything concrete job-wise. A part of me wanted to stay close to honey, be at the same school, just for a wee bit of extra time. I had some pretty good ideas for experiments and approaches I could try if I joined this lab … but a part of me really didn’t want to go back to protein biochemistry. It was as if my love for computer-controlled everything won over biology and biochemistry (apparently this is more common that I originally thought … especially if all you do is purify protein, after protein, and set up trial, after trial). I really couldn’t see myself holding yet another flask full of 2XYT, making another buffer, or running 6 gels at once.

I’d also given up hope from ever hearing back from new job city. I decided against writing a desperate email or something similar. All I wanted from them was to write back with the negative, I needed an answer to put this all behind me. 

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.