27 and a PhD

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Training peeps

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.

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.

What’s up?

I know, I know. One of my NY’s resolutions was to write more often. Looking back at my archives I realize that I usually post once a week, and during rough times or when I was doing a gazillion things, it may be once every two weeks. This semester is no exception. By the time undergrads are heading home I’ll be out of work. I’m struggling with the decision(s) of staying in science and doing another postdoc closer to what I know, or attempting to go back home, and hope I can get a job there. But this is no easy feat. I’ve  been looking and looking and looking. I’ve contacted profs, got on mailing lists about job posts, written to department heads. Nothing. I did have an interview while I was visiting the family. The prof was impressed by my previous work and didn’t even bother asking why I wanted to leave my current job. He’s looking for someone with a background in biology to help with a project that’s combining engineering and biomed research (he’s an engineer with some kick ass results in treatments for cancer). The thing is, this type of project is cool, but again, not around my alley. It would pay well, have awesome benefits, and it would be stupidly close to my folks. But based on how bad I’ve felt during this postdoc, this constant worry about not being competent enough (despite my previous boss’s assertion that once you have a PhD you can learn and teach yourself anything), away from what I know and love, I’m not sure I have enough emotional strength to try it. What is I fail like I am now, and I am out of options? I’m also attempting to get in touch with the head of my UG department and see, if by any chance, there’s an opening or a way to get in even if it’s just teaching.

On the other hand I’ve signed up for a few workshops throughout the semester to keep me busy and current with some of the programs I know but haven’t used in a while; continuing-ed or professional development if you will. I figured that since the cover is almost 0,  and things run until a week before my contract expires, I’d better make the best use of what’s available. I’ve attended one of these already and it was rather refreshing. I think that, as much as keeping up with literature, blogging, tweeting, etc, the best thing a scientist, of heck, a professional for that matter should do, is to every now and then refresh his or her mind and step away from all the sciency stuff and go back to the basics. I went to a communications in science workshop and it was very cool. I brushed up on changes in grammar and sentence construction (last time I took a language class was in the winter of 2000), and on how to do better while writing, especially abstracts and sections of a manuscript. Next in line is one on the new Office and then one about project management. I figure that it never hurts to be current on these things, and as much as I like the new software and know how to do with the new one what I mastered with the old software, I may as well see if there are any tips, tricks or shortcuts, or heck, options I haven’t explored. Since I can’t enroll in an UG or MS program at this stage of my life here, I’d better make use of whatever is available.

The last “surprise” is that I may be a guest lecturer in a structural biology course offered to grad students (MS and PhD) in my department. I got in touch with one of the profs here and told him about my former area of expertise. I told him a few things and tricks I knew and turns out he liked the idea (and taking off that burden off of his shoulder for 1 week). I got the syllabus a few days ago and I’ll be doing a lecture in a couple of weeks. You have no idea how exciting this all is. I am attending the class as well and have learned about some techniques or combinations of techniques I’d never seen before.

All these things and more are (hopefully) in store for this semester. I’m very excited, but also cautious because I don’t want to jinx it; hence my silence for the last couple of weeks (and why very few people in my lab know about it). I’m also learning a couple of programs on my own and using a very tiny amount of the stuff I did in grad school to apply to my current project. I’m not sure I’ll finish something meaningful on my project. What I have are scattered pieces which will, in all likelihood, not be included in a paper. So, to compensate, I’m trying to beef up other parts of my life (and resume) and keeping my eyes open for any chances I see in the horizon, regardless of whether they include science.

A few days ago I had a sort of epiphany. Hon had mentioned, in a very heated discussion we had a few months ago, that it seemed as though I was idealizing my experience in grad school and that it all had a beautiful glow and I had no memory of the nights I was too stressed to sleep. Or when I had to answer to the drunken ramblings of an overbearing postdoc from another lab complaining about our use of a shared facility. Or when I logged on from whatever part of the world I was in to schedule jobs, or answer to emails from our IT people regarding a chunk of cancelled stuff. Hon said that is wasn’t all peaches and cream and that I had my bad days. To which I reminded him that I loved my area of research. I loved collecting  the data and showing the stuff at meetings and being proud of my work. Now, well, not so much. But that attitude has definitely had its impact on my current position. All this brought to mind that I’ve done what I loved and truly interested me for 6 years. I studied biology because I liked it. Sure, I wanted a career with a respectable pay, but I liked it. I loved learning how my body worked, how and where things originated, what types of reactions and changes happened all over the place so I could taste, smell, see. And when I did my PhD I did in something that caught my attention as an undergrad. I wanted to do it from the first day of grad school, and I didn’t even know that my former boss had a lab working on the exact two things that I had my eyes set on.  It was bliss. In the purely scholar way of thinking about academia and education, I have done what I love. It is done and over with. I can’t repeat my grad school years.

I hear postdocs and sometimes profs say how much they hated their masters or PhD work and how glad they are they switched fields. I am so happy I did my undergrad in biology and my PhD in one of the many branches of structural biology. But, from a purely capitalist point of view, I feel like an artist who has chosen passion over what really puts money on the table, regardless of how boring or dead-end it is. All these things have led me to the point of being open about moving away from science and consider other areas where I can combine some of the transferable skills I learned and have a better pay and benefits. I am trying to find something related to what I did and loved, but if it doesn’t happen, maybe it’s time to throw in the towel, admits it’s enough, that I’ve fought the good fight and move on. Maybe I can do a master’s in something else that allows me to reach that level of peace, in which I can help get my family out of the hole my dad dragged them all in due to bad financial decisions, help pay off my debts, start a retirement account, take care of my aching feet, be close to all of my family, and help pay for the rest of my dreams. It may or may not be this way, but if I have to kiss science goodbye for help achieve that, then maybe that’s the way to go, and that’s OK. So dear reader, in the next few months I hope we find out whether I can stay in science or not. I hope you don’t think I’m betraying my (possibly former) field or my love and interest for science. I have truly loved what I’ve done. I’m proud of my publications, my covers, the citations and the excited looks I get when I explain what I used to do. I look at it fondly. But maybe, this is it for me. I hope I can live (happily) with that decision, if/when it comes to it. Care to stay tuned?