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.

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.

Vacaciones 2010 – Madrid – Parte 2

In our last installment I showed you the first couple of pictures of our first couple of days in Madrid. Today I’ll show you what happened next. We had a really packed schedule, as we wanted to take in and experience as much as possible of gorgeous Madrid. The night of July 11 the Spanish team (La Roja) would face The Netherlands for the final  game of the World Cup. Ages before I had booked my ticket for Madrid, I remember joking with honey that it would be fun to watch the game there if Spain made it all the way to the final. As time passed and my ticket was booked, and we were there, on July 11, 2010, I couldn’t believe it. It’s not that I’m a die-hard fan of soccer (futbol), but it was a nice coincidence to be there while Spain got to the finals and I am thankful for being able to experience the entire game and aftermath with a vivacious Spanish crowd.

We had a couple of things planned for that day. Early in the morning we went to El Rastro, Europe’s biggest flea market. You can find many things here, from cheap and colourful espadrilles, to decor, shirts, food, jewelery, etc. It’s best if you get there early, so that there’s time to wander around, look at the booths and do some shopping. We didn’t have a problem walking around and shopping, but we were ready and careful as there are many stories of people being robbed at the flea market. I think we got there between 8:30-9am and left right before noon. It is amazing the amount of people who show up at El Rastro. And it’s only open on Sundays.

On our way back to the hotel we started to get a feel for how happy and eager the Spanish crowd was getting for the final game.

Metro during the Copa Mundial

As we were walking close to Plaza Mayor, we saw that the game would be broadcasted at one of our favourite spots, Mercado de San Miguel. We thought it was an awesome venue as it had many little spots for food and drink, so we thought we’d try our luck there later (we weren’t sure if there would be crowds, and if so, whether we’d need a contingency plan).

Our next stop was the Thyssen museum. The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza’s collection was started by the Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon, who married a Spanish woman (a former beauty queen) who influenced which pieces were acquired by the Baron after their marriage. Like the Reina Sofia, this museum showcases modern and contemporary pieces, as well as art from the 14th and 15th centuries and completes the Golden Triangle of Museums of Madrid. At the Thyssen you can admire works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Degas, Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso and Monet … it is well worth the visit. I especially liked the layout of the Thyssen, and it was definitely less crowded than the other 2 museums.

After the Thyssen we still had a respectable amount of time left before the game, so we came up with the idea than since hon’s birthday was coming up, we’d try our luck and visit the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium as part of his birthday celebration. The Real Madrid plays at the Bernabeu Stadium. This was very fitting for the day. Turns out you can tour almost all of the Stadium, from the very top seats, all the way to the turf and even the lockers (which OMG are amazing!) … but it’s a pretty penny (~16€, or over 20$ depending on how the market is doing) … It was well worth the splurge. We opted for the self-guided tour (as guided tours started at over 30€). You get a map which helps guide your tour and there are selected areas in each level where you can take pictures and take in the views.

Estadio Santiago Bernabeu - Real Madrid

I won’t spoil the experience for you, but I’m including a couple of pics hon and I took while at the Bernabeu Stadium. If you want to see more you’ll have to go ;-).

Bernabeu from the top

Bernabeu mid-level

Bernabeu ground level

We toured the whole facility and even had a granizado … a delicious crushed-ice beverage with a fruity flavour that is so refreshing (like an Icee, but with a fruity flavour, I usually go for citrusy ones). The tour starts up at the top where you get the full view of the stadium and the nearby area. The sun and the heat were in full force. Luckily, many of the areas selected for the tour are shaded, and some are indoors. At one point, between the mid and ground levels there’s a museum showing different artifacts, trophies, and memorabilia from the team from its early days. From pins, to shirts, to shorts, to photos, to shoes … you name it, it’s there. You can go to the mid-to-lower level seating area, very close to the field (if I’m not mistaken you can touch the turf, if you’re so inclined). It must be an amazing feeling to watch the team play from that area.

We concluded our visit by walking close to the turf and the seating area for the visiting team. It was H-O-T, but I still got to sit where the other team sits, and OMG those seats are amazingly comfortable. After, we went to the lockers/washroom area. It is beautifully equipped, with many shower stalls, a jacuzzi, boards to discuss game strategies (we wrote our names there, I think, hehe) and finally you emerge where else? but the store. We bought a couple of souvenirs for the family. Needless to say, the authentic shirts and tees and jerseys were extremely expensive which we obviously couldn’t afford, but it was nice to see it all.

Back at the hotel we got some rest before the game. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the Mercado wasn’t too full. There were customers, and most of them had taken up all the seating available. We found a spot near one of the booths and tried a couple of things. We were on out feet for a little while and eventually decided to just sit on the floor and watch the game like that (something which I wouldn’t recommend at the Louvre, since the guards get all pissed, trust me, I’ve tried it). A couple of people followed our lead and eventually more and more people joined. Thankfully it wasn’t to difficult to move around and there were a couple of TVs at the Mercado, so there weren’t any turf wars. After a couple of scares courtesy of Team Netherlands team we joined the celebration and jumped up like crazy with all the Spanish peeps and some of the other tourists who were at the Mercado watching the game. It was truly magical. I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed that the city didn’t have a couple of jumbotron screens at the main squares. Spanish people are jovial and fun and it was a bit sad not to share the moment with more people. Luckily,, after the game, many fans started coming out of the bars and apartments and started flocking the streets. It was amazing to see people of all races, languages and origins join in the celebration. Below is a photo from when we got to Puerta del Sol. We found Canadians, Asians, Latin Americans, Spanish, all united, all celebrating and partying, smiling and greeting each other.

Fiesta en Puerta del Sol

We finally made it to the hotel really late and it was fun to see and hear people around hugging each other, celebrating and just plain having fun.

The next day we walked around a bit, had some western food at this cowboy-ish/old west looking place (it was yummy, and it was nice to have free refills of pop!) and then patiently awaited to see the team. Since we were staying to close to the Gran Via, one of the main arteries of Madrid, we wanted to make sure to catch a glimpse of the team as they greeted the fans. The team got to our area sometime after 7pm (probably 8), and we were at Gran Via from 4pm on (we wanted to make sure we had good visibility and luckily we found an area to recline/sit as needed). Little by little more and more people started filling up the avenue, up until there was enough space for the buses with the team to drive around. It was so cool. Below are some pictures from the celebration at Gran Via.

As people started filling up the Gran Via

La Roja and the adoring fans with only enough space to accommodate the bus, all rest is filled with excited fans

And we got to see the team kinda close. See? We saw the coach, and the trophy.

La Roja - World Cup Champions 2010

Up next is Toledo and Cuenca!

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!

Twelve months of 29 and a PhD

Last year, one of my fave bloggers wrote about a year in recap and since I love to talk about myself incessantly I copied the meme, made changes accordingly and posted it here. Now that another year is coming to an end I decided to do it again and adapt it to the crazy and sometimes wonderful things that have happened since Jan 1st 2010. Here’s a very short recap on some of the things that happened to 29 and a PhD during the last 11.something years:

  1. January – came back from a vacay with my vision settled on making progress on my project and taking on another one. My project was kind of stagnant after the first few months of my postdoc, and I was learning a whole lot of techniques and protein biochemistry hadn’t had to do before. I finally got some of the proteins that I needed and started doing those darn assays (which didn’t work). Also,  I blogged about my defense in as much detail as I could.
  2. Februaryblogged a whole lot about grad school, my grad school experience and … well, grad school. Experiment-wise, not much progress.
  3. March – Had a problem with one of the purification columns  but eventually it was fixed. Figured out that 150 mM salt was needed for my favourite tagged protein to bind to another column (I learned about how important it is to read the data sheet for each and every column).
  4. April Paid taxes, in BOTH the US and Canada. Wrote a little “guide” about it … though not sure if it applies to everyone, but what they heck.
  5. MayGRADUATION!!!!! Went back to my lovely school, met with former PI and current rotation students. Saw old friends, grads and PIs alike. Stimulated PhD-citys’ economy by going to Target a grand total of 4 times in ~3 days. I know, crazy. But Target is yet to open its doors in the Great White North. Had some awesome food which I’ve missed everyday since I moved away. More importantly, my lovely baby nephew was born. A healthy, little blue-eyed prince with chubby cheeks and blonde  hair ….. awwwww. I learned that the BF and I would be visiting Spain for a few days for a little summer getaway (and graduation gift, yeepee!).
  6. JuneGot back on my PMDD medicine, blogged a bit more frequently and got some good bits of data, not enough to put into a new paper, but enough to show that this part of the project is far too time-consuming and needs a shit-load of tweaking … which I won’t do. Also, started new project, yeepee!! I think it was during this month that I joined twitter to try to connect with other science peeps. These connections would prove a great source of support later on.
  7. July – turned 29 and went to Spain. I still owe you the entry. I hope to post it before the year’s end with some pics and all. It was AWESOME! Oh, and we were there for the final, so we got to party on the streets the Spanish way. Priceless.
  8. August – Started recovering from the post-vacation funk and talked about how United Airlines is THE suckiest airline ever! Wrote about the overproduction of PhDs. Also, this marked the beginning of my second year as a postdoc.
  9. September – Went to the 35th Toronto International Film Festival. IT WAS AWESOME!!!!!!!!111111eleven11111!!!!!  Did a bit of shopping, a bit of dining and had a great time in this lovely city (the big TO is like NY, but cleaner and without the insane amount of people). Started to seriously question if I really want to stay in academia, and whether I could overcome my frustrations with how things are going in the lab, research-wise and mentoring-wise. Also, completed my series on “Nightmares while traveling with United Airlines.”
  10. OctoberStarted to seriously look at other jobs, both within our geographical area and close to where we hope to be after hon’s defense. Learned that the BF may need to push things back because of some unscheduled changes to his thesis. Joined the gym, which I promptly left 3 weeks down the road.
  11. NovemberWrote about a student in my department, and his going MIA without his PhD and the measures taken by his PI to try to get him back on track. Wrote about whether faculty should put all their materials in a class/databank to make things easier for their undergrads. Hon and I bought tickets to go home. Figured out what happened with one of my constructs and why it was being anal … huzzah! But, that cannot take away the feeling of scientific inadequacy. Made a new friend in the department who offers a hand and a shoulder to use if I need to cry or talk about current lab frustrations. Said friend gives me some good career advice.
  12. December – Not even done with lab work but every day I need to do manual lab work I see it as a punishment for sucking at doing the bench. I HATE bench work, HATE it with passion. But, 3 days before Xmas I’ll be home hugging my little nephew. I can imagine his delicious baby smell and I can see myself playing with him on the floor, buying 10000 ridiculously lovely things for him and taking as many pictures as I can, savouring every moment. Next time I see him he’ll be 1, and he won’t remember me, of course. This is one of the main reasons I want a new job, one where I’m closer to my family and things are more flexible so I can see him more often and I don’t miss the rest of his childhood. The sacrifices we do for science. Also, blogged about another student and his quest to finish the PhD …. maybe.


Traveling nightmares, or why is United Airlines against me? – Part 5

Y’all, here’s the last installment of my United Airlines saga while coming back to Canada after my wonderful Spanish vacation. This concludes my rant on how much united airlines sucks … but it may not be the last. Because they suck. And I fall over and over again in their trap (for now I don’t have anything planned, but just in case).

For your entertainment:

I barely make it to my connecting flight to DTW with  a mere second to spare. At this time I’m 100% sure my bag didn’t make it. And I am in the same state of mind as on that Christmas morning 2 and 4 years ago. But I am also hungry. I decide to take UA’s offer of a complementary can of pop and that injects some much needed sugar into my bloodstream. When I make it to DTW it is after 10pm and I head down to baggage claim, crossing my fingers that my bag, by some miracle, has made it. But it didn’t. And now I have to head to the UA baggage claim office and file a form to try to get my bag delivered to Canada (which I’m not sure how that’s going to happen seeing as .. you know, there’s a border and stuff and UA, in my book, has a terrible communication record within their company and others). I meet this very serious blond woman, who files the paperwork and tells me that maybe my bag will make it tonight. This is the first glimpse of concrete hope I get on this hellish day. She scans the sticker that contains my bag’s info and sees that at least it made it to Chicago, but there’s no telling when or if it will come tonight. I lucked out in that there was one last flight getting to DTW via Chicago and my luggage made it.

I ended up spending well over 12 hours at different US airports due to UA’s lack of communication and care for its customers. I cannot believe that a trip that would normally take less than 8 hours turned into this tale of delays and excuses. I am still in shock at how stupid I was be to try and give UA a chance to make amends.

The height of my trip was when my luggage made it to DTW. I finally got to Canada the next morning, when I was supposed to head back to work (but of course couldn’t because I had not had an ounce of sleep). The whole experience, or shall I call it ordeal, has now left its print. And I’ve sworn I’ll never get on a UA flight, or plane, or even purchase a ticket with US Airways (which has a better track record) if it has me checking in at the UA desk. It ain’t happening.  I’ll try my best and fight tooth and nail against falling in that trap. I firmly believe that we all have this one company (in my case, airline), product or business that drives us nuts. For some it’s AA, for me it’s United Airlines. The only two people I found worth my time were the lady that checked me in my home airport and the serious lady at DTW. Other than that I could have had a better flying experience elsewhere. I’ve lived and learned, and I hope to never again fly with United Airlines. I’m also not recommending it to my family, friends and especially colleagues. For sure they would not make it to their scientific meetings and conferences.

Traveling nightmares, or why is United Airlines against me? – part 3

Fast forward to Xmas day of 2008. I made the same terrible mistake of booking my flight back home with UA. Only this time they kept the door open (not just for me I suspect, as several other passengers came after me, including a UA flight attendant). I barely made it, again with the excuse of bad weather (this time at IAD) and they almost left me stranded. There were no apologies from the employees for getting us out the door late again (the same situation that happened above miraculously happened yet again 3 years to the day of my first UA nightmare) The only reason I booked the flight was because there was a 1.5hr layover between my flights, which I thought was enough to keep me covered and ensure that I would make it on time to my next flight and the next trip was not only more expensive, but I thought, even more inconvenient than UA’s flight home. At my home base airport, once I noticed that the plane was not going to be on time, I tried talking to one of the employees at the gate. I told her about my previous experience and that I was sure the plane would not make it on time and I’d again lose my flight. She replied that they’d make everything they could to get us out on time, but this was out of her hands and unless I did make it in to IAD late they would not do a thing for me other than wait and see (I get this and why they can’t rebook you just like that, but when you’ve been through something similar once, you just expect the worst and do not want to re-live it). Once I made it to the plane I was crying uncontrollably as I could not believe it had happened again, even with more layover time. On a side note, if you’ve been to IAD you know how traveler unfriendly that airport is. Not only is it an eyesore, the layout of the airport is most inconvenient. You have to get on those shuttles that look like war tanks and pray that the driver will be on time so that you can rush out the door and attempt to get to your gate, much like I did.

As if this was not enough, now that I live in Canada and use the DTW airport as my home airport they just keep screwing it up to the finest of their abilities. Seriously United, what the f&^% is going on? On July of 2010 I was scheduled to get to DTW at 9:45pm. My day started at 12:51pm, when my plane was to leave for IAD. I had 3 flights with around 45 minutes of layover each. It was scheduled to be a marathon, but I was ready to take it on, and I was also ready to “deal” with UA and their fine way of screwing up my plans. The passengers were in and set at 12:51 pm, then it took 10 minutes to close the door of the plane, and then we were sitting at the start of the runway for what seemed like an eternity (25-30 minutes, actually). While this is happening I’m looking at my watch and thinking that my luck can’t be this bad. I know I’m going to lose my connection at IAD to ORD, I just know it. Also, there are no updates as to why we’re just sitting there, having other planes, big and small, fly all around us while we’re just doing nothing. When the captain finally spoke he said 2 things: 1) that we were about to leave and 2) that the company was aware of the delay and they’d have customer service representatives meet us at the door in Dulles to see who could and couldn’t make it to their connections. Nothing about why we got behind schedule, nothing about bad weather, a missing piece of the plane, or something along those lines. Nada. Cero. Nothing. And it irks me to no end. They plane personnel has changed the speech (to saying things like “the company is aware” and blah, blah, blah) but still, that is of no consolation when you know that you will most likely miss a flight due to unknown reasons. Reasons that this good-for-nothing company according to me, enjoys to no end.