27 and a PhD

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Boundaries and priorities

I’m feeling much better, compared to when I posted this. I went to my initial visit with a new PCP in new job city and it went well. In fact, I didn’t want the visit to end. The doctor is about my age, female and explained everything in detail and in a reassuring manner and tone which was super helpful. She asked about all meds I’ve taken and what I needed refills for and I’m happy to report that I’m back on my PMS med and, while still adjusting, I feel like it’s making a change. I know, it’s a bit too soon to celebrate and it could all be related to having my period (which usually sours my mood even more a few days before and once I get over the initial cramping, it’s all smooth riding). But I am glad I’m back on my med. I’m also seeing her in about a month to get my annual pap-smear and I just learned that school offers free mammograms to staff, so maybe I should take advantage of that … even though it’s not necessary at my age, I would still like to have some sort of baseline and just check that everything is normal.

Thinking back to how I felt on Thursday and Friday night, I felt so defeated. I’d spent Monday, Thursday and Friday working non stop trying to get some preliminary data for a project. One of my many supervisors (I have more than one, all with similar opinions on some things but most definitely different priorities) needed some data and I agreed to give it a shot. What I should have said and remembered based on my experience from NYC, was that this would really be very tough to work on, especially with only a month to really evaluate things. Little by little I became more aware of the mounting difficulties and finally on Friday, something broke in the lab, and that was definitely the end of trying to collect the data for said grant. My next supervisor in line is somewhat of a nazi. In the month or so I’ve been at work he’s already caused problems that have found their way into my ears and I’ve really come to know that this will be a very difficult person to work with (I already told hon I regretted coming back based on the bit of drama this person initiated). My other PI is very chill, though can be demanding. This person is also very hands off and seems to have respect and trust in my abilities. As long as they intervene I can keep doing my job just fine … but who knows how much this person can protect me and how long they can be that way without getting their asses in trouble.

Here’s the thing … in NYC my immediate supervisor absorbed a lot of the heat if my coworker or I got in trouble. But here I am all alone and I am in the same position as my supervisor, and the lab I’m working in is in worse shape than I thought. And there are things I don’t know how to do and I’m learning … but nazi PI wants them done yesterday. And that has caused a lot of trouble and stress I wasn’t ready for.

Now, my husband is kind of a genius, but sometimes can say things too bluntly and in his interest to preserve my sanity and well-being, he can get riled up. So he’s trying a new strategy of communicating his concern for me,  and it’s sort of working. On Friday night we were talking about how much of a frustrating day I’d had. Not only did I have to see my PCP and try to work on the prelim data, but I also had to work with nazi PI and make sure that some plant services people fixed something in the lab. In other words, I was being stretched to my limit .. and I was running low on patience, plus I was feeling a little (or a lot) out of it … I was out of my mood med and I didn’t know it, but my period was rearing its ugly head. It was the perfect storm. I spent exactly 12 hours at work trying to fix problems, either on the phone, in person … hell, I even emailed a coworker to place an order while my doctor was getting some paperwork done outside of the exam room!! In what world is that acceptable? Couple that to the fact that I’m supposed to have a 40-45 min break during the day (by law, if the uni found out I didn’t take  it I could get in trouble) … all while trying to remain sweet and competent.

By the end of the night I was shot. I was looking at my blog stats and saw that more people kept coming, that more people were following on Twitter … and that while both the blog and Twitter are great outlets, I just didn’t have time to sit down and write my story …. this, plus all the bullshit at work, plus the PMS combined to make me feel down, depressed … like I was out of hope. My incredible super husband came to rescue, reminding me that I had to set boundaries and rules, that it is OK to take time to enjoy these outlets, that I’m better and more relaxed when I take time to focus on myself and that if my PIs have my best interest at heart, they’ll understand that you can’t keep going 24-7. And that yes, I have a laundry list of things to do to keep the lab running … but it’s not a sustainable model to stay in the lab for 12 hours straight, most days of the same week, having worked for 13 days before that non-stop. The way he said it sounded different than other times. Other times he’d let his frustration out and I felt like he was picking a fight, rather than being supportive. He said that talking with his mom had given him the idea to approach things differently … and it did go differently and it did sink in.

In NY my lab stayed open from 9 to 6. Sometimes we’d stay late and I did stay overnight one time. But, it wasn’t the norm, and I didn’t go to the lab on weekends. There were clear boundaries for the times I was expected to work. Here, since the lab is getting off the ground, there’s a lot of stuff to do and make happen … lots of things I’m trying to figure out … all while keeping 3 bosses (and counting, I’m sure there are more to come) happy. This is tough and it gets frustrating, because I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get everything done (I’ve been texting my supervisor in NY, telling him how much more I appreciate all he did for me and for the lab). But now that I’m starting, even if I can’t do everything the overlords want when they want it … to keep some sense of sanity and normalcy, I have to set ground rules as far how much time I can spend at work and what gets solved while I’m there. One of my new job resolutions is to let people know that they can expect to have me present from 9:30am to 6pm, 5 days a week. That I am more than happy to help, but they have to let me know, I have too many things on my plate to just dump everything and come to their rescue at the last minute. I will try my best not to work on weekends, while keeping my cell phone at hand, should someone encounter a problem. I realize that I’m the first line of defense when it comes to instrumentation breaking. I promise to get things done and crossed off my to do list as often as I can, and to ask for help. And also to confront nazi-PI, should things ever get as nasty as they seemed to get this week. If I am to make this place work and people be happy and productive, they need to know that I need to have some control and that there are ground rules … otherwise I’m just their pawn … and then the resentment and frustration takes the best of me.

I also plan to stick to going to the torture chamber (g-y-m), eat a bit better and listen to the hubs when he tries to help out. I’m feeling much better, despite of the coming challenges I’m facing this week. We shall see how things go. Thanks for staying put and for your encouragement.

They really want me … or they’re really crazy

Have had that on repeat in my head during the last two weeks. People here are weird … it’s as if I’d joined one of those crazy happy churches where people look happily stoned and … crazy.

Well, it’s truly not that bad. I just feel … weird. I’m happy to be back, don’t get me wrong. Every time I look around and see green and pretty streets and empty trash bins I’m reminded of how different it is to live in suburbia once again. We’re not in NYC anymore, Toto!

I think that, for now, I’ve made a sensible choice. I’m happy to be here and I’m honestly surprised and humbled by people’s response to my coming. I’ve seen lots of old friends and acquaintances around, everyone acting more surprised than the next person. But it’s good, it feels right.

And I’m definitely noticing the difference from when I was here as a trainee. Some of the benefits are better, people treat me different, with more respect (not that they were disrespectful before … it’s just different. I feel like I can talk to my PI (or PIs, every day I keep getting a new one added to the list, ha!) and they value my input, more than when I was a student or postdoc). The admin people are very nice and helpful and they’ve showered me with attention, wanting to find out if all is well, if I need anything, if I’m being taken care of. This is certainly something that lacked in my life when I did my postdoc (it was so disorienting, no one knew where to send me next, no one informed me of issues and I ended up paying more than I should have for an initial health coverage before provincial healthcare took over, it was disorganized). People here have apparently been getting ready for my coming for weeks, from procuring office space, computer resources (I get a few big monitors, woo-fucking-hoo), office supplies, keys and forms that give me access to the bowels of the building I’ll be working in. I’m simply amazed. Oh, I guess this is sort of a white whine on my part …. well, la dee da

I’m also amazed that stuff is still working and that instruments I’d used in another life are still around and functioning. Lots of good data have come from them. But I’m afraid they’ll go once I get my hands all over them. Who knows. For now I’m tailing people like I’m a first year grad student who knows nothing.

In addition, I get a lot of autonomy. This is something new … and a bit scary too. I’m afraid of making decisions that will make me look like a total bitch in front of the PIs, grad students and postdocs that have been using the instrumentation since I’ve been gone. I don’t want people to think I don’t respect what they do, or that I don’t want their business …. and I would hate to turn into one of my previous PIs who kept everyone out of their lab and even though I’ve been gone from that lab for years, people still relish in mentioning how exclusive said PI was and how they kept their instruments away from everyone.

I’ve been getting calls about consultations with people, nothing terribly involved … just people wanting to get my opinion on things. It’s weird. I feel as if whatever I say now has more weight than when I was a postdoc or a grad student. NYC certainly showed me that some companies care about keeping their customers happy and value their input. It certainly feels like that here too.

Next week I’ll start hands on on the instrumentation. I have to do weekly check ups of certain things to see if they’re within spec. One of my PIs mentioned that whatever I need to do, just go for it, because they want the lab to run smooth and for me to make things easy when it comes to equipment, handling samples and certainly dealing with users.

This is all so new. I don’t want to screw things up.

On a non-work related thing, I want to take a moment and thank you all for your support during the move and especially when my honey got sick. He’s doing much better, out of the hospital, and soon his stitches will be out. He’s lost some weight and is very tired, but recovering more of his strength every day. This last week has been draining. I can only hope we go up from here.

What’s new with you?

Admin stuff

Dear profs and techs (all other staff people that fall in this category) everywhere:

You have my admiration, really. You are awesome for dealing with all this admin crap in order to keep science running smoothly. No, really. I’m not being sarcastic, I promise.

DFS, the last two weeks have given me an ulcer (well, almost, thankfully no, but mentally at the very least). The boss went to a conference and left me in charge of tracking down some piece of equipment that was coming from a foreign country. Said piece of equipment went through a company that takes care of all sorts of importation issues (customs, paying duties, dealing with all that). But that still didn’t let me off the hook. We had some engineer coming to install said equipment, and the poor guy got here a whole day ahead of the piece of equipment, since this import/logistics company had to file a bajillion forms of crap to declare and bring the equipment legally and have everything in order.

At the end of these two weeks most of the admin people in said company and I were on a first name basis. I had to bug them so much, it was amazing they were still smiling and courteous.

In addition to that I had to get approval to have the equipment shipped from said foreign country on time, arrange for payment, for delivery to our lab, and a bunch of other stuff.

I’ve been trying to keep my boss, the admin people, and the engineer happy. It’s been tough. I’m exhausted. This is why I’ve been away from Twitter and the blog, and why have I been barely responding to emails. It’s been incredibly draining. Dear PIs and other people that take care of every single piece of equipment that comes into a lab …. I admire you, and I have even more respect for you guys.

It’s been an uphill battle. And hopefully after the installation and some testing, the equipment will be signed off and ready to use by the rest of the lab peeps, and that will be the end of it. But OMG what a nightmare it’s been. And on top of it all, I’ve also done my job, from collecting data to dealing with 4 broken pieces of equipment, and booking people, and all the other tasks that come with the job.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to have things moving, and I love seeing new equipment, working in order and all signed off. But it’s an incredibly long, hard process. Especially with non-US based purchases.

If doing all this has a name, let me know. I think I’ve mastered it and need to include it as one of the new skills I’ve acquired at work.


My apologies for not writing earlier. As always, it’s been incredibly busy. I had a couple of days worth of data processing and that’s kept me busy and away from Twitter and blogging and commenting. That, and all other lab related things that no one but me takes care of and get totally ignored, until something breaks, or needs to be re-stocked. Oh well, that’s life in the lab, no?

The boss decided to ring in the new year by taking everyone out for night of fun. I have to say, it was a very nice evening. But then the dreaded lab meeting came a few days after, and I felt like a tiny speckle of shit, stinky and undesirable. I know I have to learn to stand my ground and fight back when the boss is on the other side of his bipolar personality (if that makes any sense, I’m halfway asleep while typing this; I’ll explain this at a later time). And I know that not every single thing he says it’s a personal attack. But still, I’m still the new person and I feel the extra burden to prove myself worthy of my position.

I did manage to accomplish a couple of little things, including getting a permit required to work in the lab after-hours. That was a bit stressful. I also finished processing data for a professor and he sent a nice email thanking me for effort I’ve put in. I hope he likes the end result. Little notes like that make my day.

I’ve been trying to stay on top of a couple of different orders for lab supplies and stuff. We have a big instrument installation in a few weeks, and we’re busy purchasing all sorts of nuts and bolts to make sure the engineers have everything they need at hand.

My computer broke, because I accidentally dumped some of my breakfast on it. Basically parts of my keyboard are not functioning, and since I don’t have a lot of money to dump on a new computer (and I have enough empty USB slots) I bought a tiny keyboard, and I can *finally* type, tweet and answer and check emails. I had to do a full wipe-out of the system. Luckily I did manage to save important pictures and documents, which I need to restore. But I’m very lazy at the moment.

I’ve been getting only a few hours of sleep, especially on the day before lab meeting. I managed to submit a couple of entries to the blogging gig. I also got my W2 and now I’m waiting for my Canadian tax documents so I can file taxes in both countries. I’m not expecting a refund, and we’ll see how much I can deduct for the moving expenses and some work-related costs (if I decide to anally itemize everything).

Hon has been here for a couple of days. Looks like he’s finally catching a break on a few things. He submitted his completed thesis to be reviewed, and so far two of his committee members have given him some good critiques which are easy to fix (yay!), no life-altering changes thus far. He had a chapter proposal accepted today and hopefully he’ll appear in the author list, in his discipline, soon enough. To celebrate we went to one of our favourite southern spots, which has an branch in midtown. Then we took a stroll in the freezing cold weather and saw some of the usual touristy things, took pictures, and felt like our cheeks and hands we’re going to fall off. We also saw the hotel were we stayed during our first date. Oh so romantic. Now he’s right next to me reading ESPN, he! I love having him around. In a few days he’s returning home, and hopefully the next time we see each other I’ll be able to call him doctor 😀 .

A few busy weeks await me. I hope I can endure them. This is looking like an insanely busy year, and we’re not even a whole month in! How’s your 2012 looking like?

What’s new

So peeps, what’s new you may ask? With so much negativity in the last posts I really need/ed a pick-me-up or something. I’ve been trying to juggle 20 things at a time. I joined the gym to try to get some quality time with the BF  while taking care of our bodies. I’ve been trying to work on a better attitude, but that isn’t going great. I’ve tried to keep my options open and not let my current job situation put me down, but it’s hard when every single experiment I’ve done for the last month has not been working … like.at.all. I’ve been intensely looking at jobs, specifically that use my old trusty grad-school talents, and some newly discovered ones (more on that below). I’ve applied to 5 places so far, two of them have been offered to other people, one didn’t bother to reply, one (possible one, nothing final) I had to turn down due to time constraints and one where I got an interview. That last one was/is my hope for now, but I was told that although I was a good fit, it may not happen because of a merger and they may shelve the job until further notice.

Yes, the job market for is very, very bleak. And things aren’t looking too bright these days. I’ve had a lot of doubts, anything from my smarts, abilities, interests to why/what am I doing on God’s green Earth. Seriously, it’s been brutal.

Due to all these events, and my constant frustration, I decided to take the strong interest test and the personality one (you know, the one based on Jung). I got the results today. They are both encouraging and scary. Science is still one of my highest interests (I’m somewhat surprised, given how  much I’ve been hating it lately), along with computers (something that sort of surprised me, in a very pleasant way). My artsy side, which I cultivate through endlessly browsing Etsy and getting inspired scored low, as low as my interest in sports and business (that last one is true because if I was an accountant/business something or anything business/marketing related I’d probably get a brain hemorrhage).


This weekend

I barely had a wink of sleep. On Saturday the BF woke me up at 6am because he was not feeling right. After taking a walk (in freezing cold weather) he seemed to be doing better. Then, after lunch we had to go to the ER. He had a series of panic attacks, mainly due to grad school. After checking that everything was well we were sent off with a prescription for a tranquilizer, and an appointment to see a psychiatrist about these anxiety issues.

Since I get VERY protective of the people I love, I went into a mothering mode, and much like my own mom did when I was sick, I spent every second worrying that he’s wake up in the middle of the night with yet another panic attack. Luckily is hasn’t happened again, and he’s been taking the tranquilizer every night, and yesterday we finally had a more or less full night of sleep.

In addition to that I’ve had a series of dreams regarding what to do with this postdoc. On Friday I came to the realization that part of the reason I hate my current job is because I spend way too much time bored. Why you may ask. Well, because I am not good with the techniques I’m using, and I honestly don’t really care for them. I am as far away from doing structural biology as one could get, and it is/was wearing me down. On Thursday we had a long overdue talk. I didn’t mention my current plans of looking for a job elsewhere. And we did address the issue of me getting the heck out in less than 8 months. So, he finally realized that the project I was originally put in requires a grad student with 5 years-worth of time to do and that it would have been better all along to assign a quick project to get me going and  then see how I did. Needless to say he asked me to a)work more, b) give up on that pesky project with I’ve been working half-heartedly on for well over a year and c) we’ll get my hand dirty with structure determination by 2 methods, which are quick to do and generate a boat-load of data. Now, I should be excited about this, but somehow I’m not. It may be because my heart is far gone from this type of work, or because apparently, everything I touch in this lab turns into shit. Hence my hesitation.

But there’s a bigger issue, which I do not know how to solve. Last week I contacted a person I met through a friend back in grad school. Said contact just started his lab and is looking for a postdoc in my previous area of expertise, ie. the technique I loved and did well in grad school. I was inquiring about his need for a postdoc, and he replied, very graciously that my CV and the names of 3 referees would be greatly appreciated. Here’s where things go …. well, I don’t know, iffy. I know that in less than 8 months the BF will be out of school and looking for a job. The state of this new lab is far away from our target area … by almost an entire continent (kidding, but I’m just illustrating my point). I don’t know whether is it worth abandoning everything, if I know I’ll be in need of a job in a different geographical area sooner rather than later. Do I just suck it up and hope I don’t get fired even if things continue to go downhill here? After having lunch with the BF today he seemed So excited about me learning this new struct. bio technique. And if I do learn it well, it will make my resume stellar. But what if I again, fail in this? Do I hope for the best, dust off the failures and try to ace this? I don’t know. I guess, part of me wants to keep on going. And I know that this current situation has an expiration date. Do I venture into the unknown, go deeper in debt to try to get back to my roots?

So, I promised this contact that I’d have my CV and referees ready early this week. I don’t know what to write back. I’d hate to turn down a possible good opportunity, but at the same time, I don’t want to go through all the trouble knowing that in a few months I’ll be off. I do not want to burn bridges. I guess that having all these unknowns means I have to dig deep and really ask myself what do I see or how do I see myself in 3, 5 or 10 years down the road. At this point I am ready to forget all about academia, and try something new. This is solely based on my current postdoc situation. I do not want to do 2,3 or 4 postdocs and then still not have a clue about what I want for my future.

So, these are the things that are currently the subject of countless hours of thought and search, and questions, and lack of sleep.

On a good note, I am going back to the gym today. So hopefully all these things will not affect my tiny drive to take care of my physical health and start losing weight. At this point in my life all I ask is for one small victory, just one.

A dream

As you know I’ve been feeling pretty darn low these days. I’ve felt worse than when I failed the qual … seriously. I’ve been beating myself over and over again for not being  a fantastic scientist, for not being thankful about the job I have now (I blame this partly on my catholic upbringing, this martyr mentality you know) and being close to my honey. Most of all I feel pathetic about  not pushing myself further, or removing myself from the lab sooner. The boss is out for the week due to a conference, and I don’t know what to do once he’s back. I don’t know if he’s pissed off by my inability to carry out some experiments he left me to do in his absence or whether he’ll take it in patiently and let it run its course.

I wrote an email to a dear friend from grad school who suggested I go back to my roots and apply for jobs directly related to my former disciple. That sounds tempting, sadly there aren’t jobs like that in my current geographical area. I’ve been scouting the web for hours on end (due partly to those 5 pesky columns I ran this week) trying to do a soul search at the same time I search for a job, in something that sounds remotely like what I used to do.

There are some of those jobs, but in the UK, Australia and maybe even one in Germany. I don’t want to go that far. At least not now. (more…)