27 and a PhD

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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??

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.

Is this enough? Can I still blog? Anyone out there?

It feels like it’s been forever since I last wrote something with some substance. Other than sharing some links of some of the places I’ve been, I feel tired. Even after going back to my medicine, I still feel overwhelmed by life and work. There are lots of things going on at work, many projects, much testing of instruments, lots of data to collect and process, seminars, webinars, workshops, etc. I’ve definitely neglected the blog, though I try to write something every week, a promise I made as part of my resolutions for this year. One of the things that pains me the most is that I’ve been missing the wonderful and informative discussions on Twitter. I still don’t know how come I get new followers every day, especially when I’ve been tweeting and sharing less and less. In part, I feel overwhelmed, both by the good and the bad of science and life. Has this ever happened to you? I’m reading blogs even less. I’m sorry for that. I guess I have internet overload. And I’ve had it for a while. Also, I feel like I’m out of ideas/topics to write about. Everyone I follow and know seems to write things much more eloquently than I can … or at least that’s my perception. It’s hard to juggle life, science and my online persona at times.

Honey spent a few days with me. It was awesome. We got to celebrate 7 years together by going to DC for a weekend. My apologies for not contacting anyone in the DC area. We only spent a little over 24hrs there and wanted to make the most out of it. It was awesome. I’d been in DC for a day earlier in the year and I definitely enjoyed the vibe of the city. Though the subway system is fantastic, it was ouch-tastic compared to NYC. Seriously, 14$ for a 1 day pass? And pay by distance may seem great, but in NYC I can take a bus and/or subway and ride from Queens to Coney Island for 2.25$. Granted, the systems is much cleaner/better kept, but still. It was awesome. We went to a few museums, ate yummy food, stopped by the Eastern Market on Sunday, which we greatly enjoyed. In NYC we walked tons, ate tons, and laughed even more. I miss living with my honey, I miss his touch, his smell, his sense of humour, his smile, and how he takes care of me. I just want him to find a job, a good job where he can grow and use his talents and see if we can be together at last.

I got an email yesterday from someone from the HuffPo … they wanted me to participate in this panel. Nothing ever materialized, but it was nice (if is was indeed from the HP) to reach out and try to get me out of my job shell for a little bit. It’s nice to see that people in different areas read what you write and find that you may have something to contribute to an even larger audience.

Finally, my phone died. I’ve hate the piece of shite since I first got it. It’s been a pain in the ass and I’ve saved enough money to get me some shiny piece of technology that it’s worth my time and money (hopefully). I’m finally purchasing my first piece of Apple technology. Yes, I know, incredible. I’d been resisting Apple until I started in my postdoc lab, which was full of Macs. I guess I had to learn UNIX/Linux to fully appreciate Apple. Though I’m not an expert by any means, I find that the phone I’m getting is in tune with my needs, more so than my current choice. So we’ll see how this goes. In the meantime, I still have to survive with my piece of crap for a few more days.

For now, that’s it. I just had to get some things off my chest. At times I’ve gotten so discouraged by the internet overload that I’ve felt like everything I have to say has been said, and that maybe I should hang the blogging gloves once and for all. Let’s see what it takes to get me inspired and on track. Have you ever been in a blogging/Twitter funk? What got you back into the rhythm of things? Any advice?

And we’re back

After a crazy, lovely and #winning weekend, I’m back. And hon is back at home. As you know, we’re back in this long-distance thing. It’s not easy, especially after sharing living quarters for the 2 years I was a postdoc. I’m already looking for the next time we see each other. Hopefully in the next few months we’ll be seeing a bit more of each other. Seeing him was amazing, and sharing this special thesis-defense occasion was awesome.

I remember my own defense, and how he was my biggest cheerleader, and how we embraced and kissed after I passed. The same thing happened in his defense. So much emotion, and happy feelings. He has a few corrections, but nothing too terrible or time consuming. We ate, and drank and we’re merry while we celebrated his triumph. Now he can focus on the job search.

It was also a small break away from the usual crazy/busy stuff in the lab. I didn’t have my phone on, and I only tweeted a bit here and there from the hotel room. I didn’t even check my work email until we were back in the States. We went to one of our favourite places to have dinner the day before his defense, and I got some great tea, and the usual soap I get every time I go back. I also stopped by my postdoc lab to say hello. Some things have changed, but a lot of the people who were in the lab while I was there are still present. I’ll probably write an entry on that experience soon enough.

For now, I have to catch up on my emails, do some of the usual things I do at work, and deal with some rather craptastic unfinished stuff in my neighbourhood. It was good to be back in Canada and in familiar territory, and it was weird to be in a car, and drive around, and not have to worry about alternate side crap, and people honking their horn, and the usual city buzz. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I’m in the city, but there are definitely elements of suburbia I miss. In fact, I think I’m equally happy in either environment, I guess it’s more of the type of work I do and how happy that makes me.

Looking back at the first weeks at work

Konichiwa bitchez, to borrow my new favourite phrase. How are you doing? I’ve been busy and doing tons of new things at work, trying to find my place within a new organization and trying to keep up. Though lately it’s been very quiet, so I’m hoping to have some time on some of the instruments in the lab that I’m not familiar with and see what they’re all about.

Work is good, I can honestly say that almost two months in I’m feeling happy I made the move (except for the fact that honey and 27andaphd-kitty aren’t with me). I try to spend most of my day thinking and focusing on work, because I may burst in tears if I think too much about missing hon and kitty. I know sacrifices have to be made to move forward, but it sucks not to have your best friend by your side at home (well, the apartment, home is still Canada for me), or in school.

I’ve been trying to keep busy by signing up for discussion groups, training sessions, etc. I’ve been trying to do the same with my life outside the lab. I’ve gone to a couple of small, but very interesting events, like a film festival (featuring robots!!!), getting to know the city and my surroundings, getting used to taking public transportation and living on a whole lot less.

In a strange way I feel happy (well, except for when we have staff meetings, which are long, and boring, and sometimes tense, but heck, something had to give right?). I’m getting used to talking to vendors, asking technicians how things work, and helping users. It gets crazy at times, especially when someone new comes in and they want all your time and attention, yet you have to answer the phone, and remember to send the chemical inventory to the main office, oh and sign up people for an instrument because the scheduler is down and you’re one of the ones who has behind-the-scenes access to things.

Things feel rewarding and I hope I go up from here. I still have to learn to get out of my shell in the lab and ask my (extremely nice) co-workers to show me equipment they know, especially all the bugs and ways to work around. The only person that worries me a bit is my boss, and that’s because there may be some micro-managing issues that may not go as well with me. My guess is that I have to learn to tame that lion, much like I did in school back when I was a student.

I like the city and sometimes I pinch myself thinking that I’m a short ride away from several awesome places. Food is good, I’ve made friends, and I found an apartment (with a roommate, let’s hope I survive, I’m extremely picky but she seems nice). Now my next big hurdle is saving $$$ to move my things from Canada to here. We’ll see when that happens.

Another cool thing is that social media is super awesome, so I’ve been able to meet with tweeps I’d known for some time, or just met. All of them, in one way or the other have been instrumental in helping to adapt to a new environment, from extending an invitation to dinner, to opening their houses (or balconies) for a beer and a BBQ during a holiday weekend. I’m humbled by people’s kindness and concern for my well-being.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I know this update is kinda lame, but I’m taking one day at a time, and enjoying and learning as much as I can, hence my absence from the blogosphere.

One last (but not least) note is that I’ll be guest blogging over at 1DegreeBio. My second entry is up, where I discuss my experience losing a good friend while in grad school and overcoming her death. I hope to write some more on my experience looking for work, what I did, what I didn’t do and other tidbits of life on the fringes of academia.

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.

I’m back

Somewhat. I was finally able to sleep until almost noon on Caturday. After a month of waking up, every weekend to read, read, ask questions, prepare presentations and worry, ad nauseam, about interviews, I can finally sit back an breathe, and not worry that I’ll be gone for half a week and that again I’ll have to switch my time for this or that experiment. I’m not complaining about having interviews, it’s just that the schedule of said interviews has made me crazy for the last few weeks.

I had a wonderful time at the two places where I had physical interviews. I also had fun at one of the phone interviews I had, and the second one was a bit … boring, but pleasant.

On to the point. As regular readers and tweeps know, I’ve been looking for a staff position in my former field of study. The many frustrations of my current position (postdoc) and some of the comments from one of my coworkers, along with the fact that I just don’t enjoy this much snow have been instrumental in the job search. I also have the two body problem. It’s no secret that hon prefers Canada to the US. I have to say that if it wasn’t for the fact that I just don’t enjoy my job, I’d probably prefer Canada over the US. Canada has been very welcoming, and I like the way science if done here. Also, this much snow makes me stabby. So, some of the jobs I applied to in my former field, or a close approximation to it, were in Canada. It seems as though Ontario, where I currently live, doesn’t have many of these positions. I would have loved a job in Toronto, or even Ottawa. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Here’s a summary, with some details, of where I’ve interviewed and what’s happening with that.

The only solid offer I have is from a very, very important place in another province. The problem is that it is far away from major cities and it’s very close to the arctic, meaning, I wouldn’t get rid of snow … which is quite frustrating. The job also opens competitions for the position I’ve been offered, so there’s no guarantee I’d be able to keep the job after the 1st year. There is room to grow, so there’s a chance to move up the ladder too. People publish (usually in technical journals) and attend conferences regularly. And they’re going into more biological problems, which is why they want to bring me in. It would take me a day (at the very least) to get to see my family, since there are no direct flights from there to where my family lives … which is quite frustrating. But I’d have killer health insurance, access to major research institutions, and would serve a variety of clients, and I could probably develop my own methods, since none of the peeps in said lab know biology. Which could also be problematic, since they don’t do the exact approach I became an expert in and I don’t know whether the PI would be open to challenges posed by me if something is far away from what he and his lab know and do. There’s a lot to consider. I’d totally say yes without a doubt … if it wasn’t near Santa Claus’s house.

Position #2, to which no offer has been made, is back in the US. Of all the PIs I talked to, this PI was the best (or at least it seemed to me that way). Said PI reminded me of my grad school PI, but even more fun …. which I never thought would happen. This PI has a huge lab, divided into 3 major projects. I was interviewing for a staff/manager position. But, I have zilch managerial experience. They’ve interviewed 2 other people in addition to me, and I’m the only girl they’ve interviewed. But, I overheard someone saying that one of the other applicants has a lot of managerial experience, which places him way ahead of me. My only advantage, I think, is that the problems I studied during my PhD are very similar to the main project they’re trying to develop locally (they have a collaborator in another state). During my job talk the PI kept asking me really great questions about stuff they were trying to answer in the lab, which I kept answering like it was nobody’s business, and the PI kept pointing this out to the committee, how I was an expert in all these things they’re looking to answer. But, like I said, somebody else has experience in the techniques AND managerial experience too. I think I also identified someone who could be a potential source of discomfort (I’m amazed at how people seem to show their true colours when you’re not interviewing as a trainee anymore) … which may be hard to work around. The answer regarding who gets the position is happening soon. I’m not so positive …. but chances are that if the PI liked me as much as I think they did I may get an offer for an associate something, something, which will be more like a postdoc, but with better pay and benefits. PI said that their lab was very adamant about making sure that people in such positions were paid fair and square and that they know postdocs get paid and treated like shit (their words), so they’d be changing the position to non-postdoc research something to accomodate me, if I wanted … but then again, I didn’t get a formal offer. We’ll see. Also, this would be the closest I could ever be to my family out of all the 4 ones I’ve interviewed.

Position #3 is in the midwest. This was the phone interview that was kinda boring. It’s more of a technical position, and it is for a lab that is mostly into material sciences but is hoping to beef up the biological side. This one pays the least, but it’s in a really good place. I’m not so sure what to think of this one.

And position #4 is where I’ve always wanted to live for a really long time. I love this city, and it’s also a close ride to where my family lives. The people who work in the particular division I applied to are few and seem to get along well. They’re understaffed, so there’s a definite need for hands and experts. The PI is the one I called fancy-pants PI in my tweets. This is the person I couldn’t read for the life of me. I didn’t know if he hated me or if it was just the way he was. I met him and he was very pleasant. These people have dumped some serious money on equipment. I met with a few PIs who work in different areas, different problems and different instrumentation. All of it very kick ass. Data that is generated here normally goes to Glamor-Magazine-type journos, though it doesn’t always means that I would be the first author. The job would align pretty closely to what I know how to do and consider myself well-read in. People usually don’t get too attached to their projects, since some are very transitory. People tend to stay for many years, and they seem happy …. meaning, that this position would provide me with the stability I’m yearning for. Even when I met the PI face to face I couldn’t tell whether he liked me or whether he’s just shy … or Sheldon-like. In some ways he reminds me of my postdoc PI … and I’m not sure if that’s what I need right now. But, I was told he’s very involved in the projects. He runs other labs, including an academic one. People attend conferences and publish regularly and attend courses to improve and learn methods. But … I don’t know what to expect. Since I couldn’t really “read” the PI I don’t know whether he liked me, and whether he thinks I’m a good fit. I seemed to get along with the group, and in some ways it felt like some of us were old friends. I think that’s good. But, then again, it could all be a facade and a fake. I think I also identified a potential source of trouble … a lot of trouble, which I’m not sure the PI could ever remedy, since this person may be higher up than he is. People here were very candid, which I found reassuring because I’d hate to have it all painted in the warmest, nicest light, only to find out it is all shit. And I know two former members of this facility, both of which seem to praise their former place of work.

In conclusion, I’m just holding on, praying, asking all the questions I can to find out what’s life at all these places. I would truly hate not making a good decision, for me, my career, hon and the family. There are many, many factors to consider.,

For now it looks like I have hope. I told the current boss how things have been going and he’s been giving me advice and ideas of what to consider and ask …. it feels like I finally found the caring mentor I was yearning for. Maybe I was wrong all along, and it should have been me pursuing his advance, rather than waiting to see if he was interested in me. Who knows. I’m (hopefully) heading towards the end of this run and maybe the wisdom and hindsight of the years will help me see things under a different light and appreciate all the lessons I’ve been given while doing this postdoc. For now I have hope. Hope that even though time has passed I can, maybe, make a comeback to my former field of study and feel productive once again.

I’ll keep you posted. But now, I have to return to my experiments. Cheers!