Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Still around...

Well, somehow the last several months have come and gone with nary a post from me... I cleaned out my bench, handed over my projects, and, I'll admit it, cried a little over the past 5 years as I did my last experiment - both in a happy and sad way all at the same time.

And on October 26, a full two weeks early, after 25 hours of labor (!) my little boy entered the world. And I haven't looked back. He is, by far, my greatest piece of work, and my most important project. WAY better than my C/N/S paper. Hands down.

I've been back to visit the lab twice now since LittleOne was born, and have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity and support from my supervisor and lab mates. If you'd asked me a few years ago how any of the people in my lab environment would react to me having a baby it would have been the total opposite of what I've experienced. I never thought I would say it, but I LIKE, almost LOVE, my lab mates and I kind of miss seeing them on a daily basis. Some of them even showed up at the hospital to visit me, flowers in hand, the day after LittleOne was born. Living away from home, they were my first and nearly only visitors in my whole 5 day long hospital stay. I was so touched that they would come.

Professionally, there have been no changes. I sent some data to a collaborator a few days before LittleOne was born, and I'm receiving regular updates from the PhD student who took over my project, but otherwise I'm on total professional hiatus. I even stopped reading Science blogs.

But here in LittleOne's 6th week of life, I'm starting to feel a bit more like myself and starting to think more about how to go on from here. I've given myself permission to NOT look actively for something new until Easter. My maternity leave benefits here in PhDCity allow me a full year with great financial support so I don't have that pressure pushing me to find something new, and can really take the time to enjoy LittleOne's earliest days. But still, I'd like there to be a future for me professionally. I'm just not sure what that future looks like anymore. If you'll bear with me (and I find some time during naps) I'll be trying to figure that out in the coming months.

Happy December everyone!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who'd have thought?!

So, since I'm leaving the lab before my project is finished, I am hoping to hand it off to someone else in the lab. I had a meeting yesterday with one of the other PhD students to give hir a rundown on the whole thing. To prepare for the meeting I actually went back to read portions of my PhD thesis where I had written a discussion about what I thought might be going on and how to proceed and test those ideas. Now, I think 99% of people probably never open their thesis again after the exam, unless it's for a method or something. Usually if I hear someone re-read their thesis they find a load of errors/typos/things that just don't make sense, so I was expecting that. So I was pleasantly surprised to find I still liked what I'd written. It made sense, was well thought out and made some great points that I admit I'd kind of forgotten about over the last year or so. Who'd have thought? I worked really hard on my thesis when I was at a very difficult low point in my personal life. It was a major accomplishment for me to finish it and hand it in. I even had it bound in beautiful linen fabric cover in my favorite colour of sky blue. I'm so pleased to still like it.

On the experimental front I managed to confirm *most* of my antibody/construct results yesterday, just a few things to tweak a bit before I can move on to new things. I'm leaving for 10 days starting tonight so I'm looking forward to the break and coming back refreshed and ready to start fresh with new experiments.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Data outliers....

We had an interesting discussion this morning in a group meeting. Say you do an experiment on 5 independent days. Each day's data consists of multiple parallel replicates for each experiment, including an internal positive control. If one of the days shows that the internal control was actually negative, is it ok to throw away the whole data set for that day (because something was wrong with the assay?)? What if the other days showed a lot (or very little) variation? Does it make any difference if the experiment is a Western Blot, versus an immunostaining, versus a quantitative measurement (like cell proliferation values, or a luciferase reporter)? To be honest, I think I'd throw out that whole day as an off day and repeat it or use the n of 4 days... What say you?

In other news, I got wicked nice looking data with my new antibodies yesterday... today I'll try to reconfirm with antibodies against the tags instead of the protein of interest. AND I think there might be someone to take over my project when I leave, and s/he'd be the PERFECT choice - I'd be so happy to have this settled and start some work together before I have to leave. So, yeah!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Nothing works :(

Well, like the title says, nothing works! I feel like I've been busting my butt trying to get experiments to work. I'm trying to characterize a totally uncharacterized protein picked up in a loss of function screen with a super cool (if not so penetrant) phenotype. I made an antibody. And I'm trying (desperately) to figure out if it works, and where my protein is expressed and localized. Nothing works. Or it half works, or it just doesn't make sense and things are conflicting. Or the controls don't even work in the experiment. *sigh* So much for my group meeting/progress report this week. Summary: no progress made, oh except for the realization that I screwed up the cloning of my overexpression contructs and had to remake everything (at least I think I'm mostly caught back up with completed constructs). Not the best way to end my nearly 5 year stay in the lab (it's likely to be my last presentation before I leave in September). I am bummed. Why won't SOMETHING, ANYTHING work?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


OK, it's been a while again. I'm having a bit of an identity crisis. I always thought of myself as part of the "women in science" set, but these days, with my career on hold for my family, my project rapidly headed down the crapper, and my motivation dwindling to a near all-time low, I'm even a bit more saddened that 9 times of out 10 when I interact with someone else from the lab they ask me about my pregnancy and not about my work :( Is it because they think it's not worth talking about any more? I'm not one of them anymore? Or just an innocent curiosity about pregnancy?

I'm trying hard to make an effort NOT to bring it up myself because I don't want to be one of those women who can only talk about babies when they're pregnant. Of course it is an important part of my life now, but it's not the only part (or is it?) Most days I'd just rather go back to being "one of the guys".

I feel rather out of the loop though, in between PhD and postdoc, without any meetings/conferences coming up (except a talk I'm giving Friday at a local symposium), no manuscript I'm working on, a project I won't be able to see to its finish... I'm reading lots of other blogs out there with people counting down to defense, waiting for reviewer comments, writing grant applications and I just don't fit. I feel like I'm already "out" of science. And I'm sad about that. And I don't see when or how it's going to get better. I think back to the very kind email I got from one PI whose lab I applied to for a postdoc and she wrote that science will always be there for me when/if I want to come back, but I haven't even left yet and I still feel like it's already gone.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A little light reading....

I ordered new books last week and they finally arrived in the mail for me at work today! I'm so darn excited.

At least I have something to browse during all my washes and incubations this afternoon :p I think I have 4 of the 7 constructs and got halfway toward the other 3... I'll test digest and sequence today and I should have them finished up in time to transfect next week.

There is also some progess in getting approved to do some lab work (not that it's really stopped me from doing much so far...). A construction date for installing extra ventillation for the pregnancy lab is set for Tuesday next week, funding from the institute for buying some more equipment for the lab was approved last week and several things ordered, and a meeting with government officials is also set to happen next week. Yeah for progress!

Friday, May 29, 2009


I realized yesterday while staring at yet more totally un-interpretable results that something must be not quite right. I went back through my notes and eventually, after some detective work I realized that I made a mistake. Months ago. A fundamental mistake. I mis-ordered two primers, one contains a stop codon, one does not (for making C-terminal fusions to my favorite protein). I copied and pasted the wrong sequence to the wrong primer name... and so I made all my constructs backwards. All the N terminal constructs aren't in frame with the tag and the C terminal ones are not fusions at all - they're untagged since the stop is intact in my protein. Crap.

This is big. I mean, it's easy to fix. I've already re-run the PCRs and will have the cloning completely re-done by the end of next week, but it means that all the experiments I did (and all the transgenics I made) since, oh, say, January or so have been completely and totally useless. I am so pissed at myself. How could I have made such a stupid mistake? And not noticed it? Yes, I checked all the sequences before using the constructs. They aligned perfectly with the vector files I had made, because I also made the vector files with the mixed up primer sequences. (D'Oh!)

I'm so embarrassed. And now I feel like trying to cover my tracks and hope no one finds out... that could be difficult seeing as I now have only 15 weeks left before the kick me completely out of work and I have to re-do about 20 weeks worth of work... of course at least this time around maybe things will actually make sense and won't have to be repeated 10 times before I can get some sort of interpretable result. This was not the brightest shiniest day in the history of my scientific career.... on the bright side at least it's me that found the error and not some poor project successor that got handed a bunch of reagents that don't work.

There go my plans for a relaxing weekend break from the lab....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


So, to update from my post yesterday, I was going crazy with all the what ifs, and so I knew I just had to take action... I'd been thinking for weeks and weeks, and it was getting worse, not better. So I sat at my keyboard and I typed out emails to each of the PIs that offered me an interview. I told them I was sorry for causing any inconveniences, that I had postponed my interviews earlier because my doctor had asked me not to travel until a safer point in pregnancy, and that now that it was becoming clear this little person was pretty darn likely to show up in November I was really not in a position to make decisions about big moves and new jobs. So I told them I decided to stay put for now, cancel the current interviews and re-apply for postdoc positions next spring. I heard back from 2 of them so far, both invited me to let them know if I wanted to re-apply whenever I was ready.

I'm still alternating between feeling like a huge disappointment to myself, my PI, and my colleagues, and feeling relieved that now I can just shift my focus to the work I have at hand in the lab, and staying healthy and reducing my stress level. Husband found a promising job ad to apply to and has spent the last few days re-vamping his CV and putting together all the other paperwork they're asking for. Let's see how that turns out.

I wrote a long time ago that I was reading the books Mama, PhD and Motherhood: the Elephant in the Lab and that I would post reviews when I was done. I finished the books ages ago, but haven't been able to gather my thoughts enough to write a review. Maybe I'll still get to that. But for now, let's just say, when I first read the books, I was so disappointed. So disappointed for the women who couldn't have it all, who made major sacrifices, either in their career or in the way they raised their families to try to just do the best they could... and now I feel like I know a bit how hard those decisions must have been and how complex. And I have new-found respect for those brave enough to contribute their stories.

Monday, May 18, 2009

another monday

I've been quiet. I know. There's a lot of stuff going on, but I'm just not too sure what (if any of it) I can share on the internetz.... I was going to write that I'm pretty down at the moment, but really, it's just certain (granted, important) things that have me disappointed and confused. Most of the rest of life is pretty darn ok. Summer has (nearly) arrived in PhD city. I even (stupidly) got my first sun burn yesterday during a great 10-or-so-km walk in the country side with Husband. The major mess comes in my professional life.

I officially informed the administration here at Research Institute last week that I am indeed expecting my first child... for "safety" reasons I've been kicked out (by the administration) of the lab and am forbidden from entering all lab-related areas of Research Institute. I'm officially not allowed to work with anything considered hazardous, flammable, poisonous or toxic (have you checked the contents of a molecular biology lab lately? There are approximately zero things in there that are "safe"). That makes it a bit tough to do experiments. I'm confident that we'll manage to work something out. But it still sucks to be banished from your lab colleagues and stuck alone in a little corner by yourself. On a more positive note, I got a super cool and promising result last week that I want to follow up on ASAP. There are a ton of new experiments just waiting to be run (or finished - I got new samples for 2 experiments last week and should have a few more for other experiments this week) and I think this is a critical point in the project. I just hope I get to do them....

But looking past my current situation and to the future, I also have to take action about those currently postponed postdoc interviews... I just don't know what to do. My PI is pushing me to go interview this summer and negotiate a moving/start date for a very flexible "sometime next spring", but I just don't think I can make those kind of decisions now. And we have some savings, but I don't think a year of two people in the household being unemployed is a great idea. Husband and I have discussed this endlessly, and the consensus we always arrive at is that he will find a job, we will move there and when I'm ready I'll look for something. But I don't want to be the trailing spouse (although, secretly, some days, I think I'd really like that). And what if I regret not going to visit these incredibly awesome places? What if I go and I love them so much I resent Husband and his job for being more important that mine and taking this opportunity away? What if I go and realize I don't want to go there anyway and then feel relief that the what ifs are gone?

So, I have all these thoughts and worries running around my head all day and I just don't know what to do. I think if I knew Husband had a good job somewhere it would help, but I kind of feel like I'm giving up a fairly safe bet for an income (it's not so hard to get a postdoc position, relatively speaking) for the unknown (Husband finds a job doing something non Academic (since he's already tried that route), someplace).

On top of those things, what if there are some complications or the little one arrives needing extra health care or treatments and we can't move on time? I just keep picturing this situation where I take a postdoc job... our housing, health care, etc is all tied to that job and whatever start date I give. And then I figure out I can't start? We'll have given up our apartment in PhD City. Have no income, no health insurance, and a few months old infant to look after. I have nightmares about it. I just don't think I can do it. I feel like such a drip from the pipeline, but I really just can't deal with this right now.

But what if I cancel everything now (with an honest explanation) and if Husband hasn't found something, I re-apply next spring, when I have a better idea of how things are going, what a reasonable time line might be, and where in the world our family will be based (if Husband does find a job in the mean time)? Will I remember anything about the project to be able to give a great interview seminar? Will it just be old news that no one cares about anymore? Will no one want to hire someone with a career gap on her CV? My PI has said he will support my application now or anytime in the future when I want to apply. But I'm worried I'll be letting him down. But I'm more worried that I'll be letting myself down. What if I never go back? What if this is the killer to my career? What if I don't care about a career after all?

This post has been one giant mess. I'll stick it out there anyway, but might need to come back and revise it in coming days. Internetz, I'm confused.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

June Scientiae Call: Moving Forward

ScienceWoman and Alice are hosting the next edition of Scientiae at their place. The theme this month is Moving Forward. I'm going to try my best to actually make a contribution for this edition. Scientiae is always a great read. Go read the Call and start writing.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reason 5967 why I hate this place

OK, OK, really, I know PhDCity is not so bad. Actually it has a lot of redeeming qualities and *most* of the time I enjoy living here. It's really true that wherever we go next, it will be hard to top the quality of life we've enjoyed for the last nearly 5 years... but there are some things that just drive me crazy and make me really hate this place.

Today's example: the city's overabundance of quack medical doctors. Seriously, there are soooo many doctors here in this city, and based on my experience, at least 50% of them have no clue. Zero. Once you find a "good doctor" you stick with hir. Unfortunately, my doctor is on vacation so I was left searching for a new one. I've been having trouble with my eyes since the beginning of the week, and last night, the eyelid on the painful one started to swell... this morning it was worse. So I decided I should go get it checked out. I searched the city's (actually extremely useful) online doctor database for someone in my part of the city that (claims to) speak English (also based on my experience, this is only true in less than 50% of the cases).

The doctor's office consisted of a desk and a chair. No medical-type equipment, no exam bed, nothing. The Dr's desk was covered in plants, a collection of plastic alien-looking toys and a computer. I told her about my eye (she didn't even look, and stayed at least 3 feet away from me at all times), she guessed at a few causes, but offered no solution... so I pressed her for some kind of something to help with the pain. She got out her book of medicines, looked up eye medications (this took at least 5 tries to find the right section), then recommended a very good eye gel that would at least lubricate and might help. She prints out a prescription for me, but with another patient's name (oops!). I asked her how to use it (how often, how much, etc), but she didn't know and tells me I should just read the instructions in the box. Tells me if that doesn't help, not to come back to her. She instead gives me a card for an eye doctor office and tells me I shouldn't have to wait more than a few weeks for an appointment. Helpful, huh?

So I left, went to the pharmacy and asked for this eye gel. Turns out they don't carry it and it's not even possible to order it anymore because the product has been discontinued. Nice. So I asked the Pharmacist for something else (she anyway thought the doctor was wrong and it wasn't what I needed to use - when I told her about my experience at the doctor's office she just nodded and agreed it was all too common here).

Why, why, why is this person allowed to practice medicine?! Shouldn't there be some sort of quality control to sort out the helpful people who actually know what they're doing from the quacks? What a waste of my morning. I'll spend the rest of the day trying not to scratch my eyeball out and hope this pharmacists suggestion might work...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Science Flick

Once again, a lesson for you this fantastic Friday..... this time, it's Meiosis! Get ready to swing your partner :)

For a shorter version with just the danc-ey bits, you can go here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mothers in Science

I'm going to echo several other bloggers, including Mrs. Comet Hunter and mrswhatsit in pointing out here and here a link to the free online publication/book from the Royal Society. You can download the .pdf file (mine is downloading as I type) here. It's called Mothers in Science: 64 ways to have it all and it looks great! Can't wait to start reading. Go check it out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday afternoon flick

Another great cell biology demonstration movie for you on this fine Friday. They're kinda fun, maybe I'll make it a feature?! If you know any good ones, send me an email or leave a comment... enjoy!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Whenever I think of spring, I think of lilacs. My grandmother's house was surrounded by and the whole long driveway lined with lilacs, purple and white. My mom's house also has lilacs, and that heady smell wafting in through the windows in the evenings is just about paradise for me. My grandmother passed away last year and her house was sold. I'm really missing her these past few days, since the lilacs started to bloom in PhDCity. So Nanny, these are for you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Privilege Meme

Privilege Meme
I saw this over here at Chick with PhizzleDizzle and how she reflected on the current trials she's going through... when you look back on your whole life it helps you realize how much you've had it easy and makes the rough spots seem more manageable and way less dramatic/important. So I thought it would be a good exercise for me too. So here goes. I should start out by saying that my family was not rich by any means, but we were also not the worst off in our community either. Actually I think that challenges faced growing up helped make me a stronger person (albeit one who is rather paranoid about not having enough money to make ends meet, like we might be facing in the next year or so.)

The items that apply to me are BOLD

1. Father went to college

2. Father finished college

3. Mother went to college

4. Mother finished college (I'm the only one in my immediate family who went to college)

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor

6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers

7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home (books were very important to us growing up and we were frequent library goers)

8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home

9. Were read children’s books by a parent

10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18

11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 (swimming, piano and one summer with a canoe/kayak boat club)

12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively (? no idea, I guess so)

13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18 (my parents didn't even have a credit card - I got my first when I went to college)

14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs

15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs (I paid every penny with scholarships and student loans - all of which I paid back just before defending my PhD thesis)

16. Went to a private high school

17. Went to summer camp (I was in guides/scouts and spent a few weeks over the years at few geek camps that I won scholarships to)

18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18 (I worked as a private tutor for others...)

19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels (never! We went to grandma's house)

20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18 (I was the hand me down and second hand clothes store queen!)

21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them (I've still never owned a car)

22. There was original art in your house when you were a child (my aunt and uncle were art dealers and gave my parents a painting)

23. You and your family lived in a single family house

24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home

25. You had your own room as a child

26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18

27. Participated in a college entrance exam (eg. SAT/ACT) prep course

28. Had your own TV in your room

29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College (I still don't own anything like this!)

30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16 (To go to the aforementioned summer camps)

31. Went on a cruise with your family (never been on a cruise)

32. Went on more than one cruise with your family

33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up

34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family (no way, that we all knew, and I helped pile the wood for the winter!)

From "What Privileges Do You Have?", based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you please acknowledge their copyright.

So nearly a third were true for me. I don't think I was really so bad off though. We managed to have a lot of fun without a lot to live off. Still, I think a lot of my drive to get an education etc comes from wanting to be more financially secure than my parents. I'm already there so I think I have a lot to be thankful for, and I feel privileged.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Husband finally heard back on Friday from the second and last interview he had for a Tenure Track job. He didn't get it. It wasn't so much of a surprise, since the successful candidate was supposed to hear back nearly a month ago, but I guess I figured as long as he didn't hear no, there was still a chance. Now, it's really final. There won't be a tenure track job for him. So now what do we do? He tells me that actually the longer it went without hearing back from them, the less convinced he was that he actually wanted the job, so the final decision actually comes as a bit of a relief, if for no other reason that now he's no longer stuck in limbo and can move on to something else. Sure he could stay in his current toxic environment longer and squeek out another paper, sure he could take a 2nd postdoc and try for TT job again in a few years. But he's already in one of the top labs in the world in his field and has a C/N/S paper from him postdoc. If that's not enough, why would he expect it to get better? I totally understand that, and acknowledge that there aren't enough TT jobs out there for everyone, and even that maybe it's not the path for Husband. I just wish he/I/we knew what WAS the right path and how to get there. So now we're facing a two body problem of totally different conditions than I thought we might... two unemployed at least temp stay at home parents-to-be with no health insurance does not a healthy family make. I'm stressed, the bad dreams have started again and I'm trying to fight the anxiety but I'm just not sure how. ugh. what a way to start the week huh? I'm sure it's just a bad day, and things will get better. I just wish I really knew that 100% for sure.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Not much to say...

Hi there
Not much to say these days... mostly I think my brain is too foggy to actually string enough words together to make a post... I don't know if the little one is going through a growth spurt or what but I'm exhausted. And I slept 10 hours last night. I'm so fortunate not to have any real problems so far except for this extreme tiredness, but damn, I want my mind back!
In other newz, my paper was published online recently, I've had several emails from old friends and colleagues with their congrats and got our first reagent request today. Finding your name on Pubmed kicks a$$. :)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Well that's artistic....

So someone showed me this video yesterday... it's a long one, but worth the watch. Stanford sure was on special kind of place in 1971. Enjoy! tRNA! :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tracking progress

Katie over at Minor Revisions just wrote a post about Guidelines for managing work/life/sanity. It's a great post, I'd recommend checking it out. I was especially interested in her guideline for tracking progress/Keeping records.

I'm working on a presentation for a few days from now and I was dreading it because I felt like I didn't have anything to show... until I started outlining the slides and realized I'll be fine. There aren't any major breakthroughs of mechanistic insights into how protein X does function Y, but there are some smaller steps of progress along the way.

Keeping track of small step progress is a weak point for me, I feel like I'm working but like I have nothing to show for it. And since the past several weeks have been a challenge in all sorts of ways, I know for a fact that I'm not being as productive as I should be. I'm setting up experiments that I never take the time to finish, or I'm counting on one or two key things for making a figure for the presentation, and when they crap out on me and don't work (trouble with transfection efficiency it seems, they're experiments that I have very little past experience with, and I think I'm struggling with some technical issues) I'm feeling left stranded. Still I am getting some things done. I'm in the tool building stage of this new project, and I've prioritized tool making over hypothesis testing because of the time frame invovled in making the tools. I'll get my part of the construction out of the way and by the time the finished product is ready, I will have had some time to test out a few more functional experiments. It's a logical decision, but I just wish I had more to "show". It's hard to make a figure of your midi-prepped DNA constructs...

So how can I make it better? I'm already constantly making to do lists, but I find myself adding more to them than I am crossing off, so rather than help me see my progress, they add to my stress level because it looks like I've done almost nothing because what I can cross off the list is so much smaller compared to what I have left to do. I think I should start making a slide whenever I have a finished product to hand off or work with. These are obviously never going to be paper figures, but they will help me for things like group presentations and progress reports. We'll see... for now, I have to get this presentation ready and then get back to the bench for more of those little steps.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday morning lab time

While I'm quite persistent about taking Saturdays off from the lab (I basically never come unless it's really really urgent and/or husband has to come to do something really really urgent and I tag along), I actually really love to come in on Sunday mornings, direct from Mass. Especially one like today, with the lab quiet except for the hum of the fridges and freezers and the sunshine streaming in through the big windows. It's so calm here, and it was such a beautiful trip to get here. I won't stay very long. Normally I time my exit just as others start arriving, but I have some cells to passage and plate for transfections tomorrow, and a few protein gels to pour so they're ready to run first thing in the morning. Hope everyone is having a nice Sunday.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Well, there's that change....

Thanks for the comments and concerns about my last post. Everything is indeed ok, just that life looks a little different than I thought they would be a little while ago. The news I got on Friday is actually very good news, it just means I have to re-consider my next career move, or at least its timing. Now that I've told my PI in real life, (even though it's pseunonymous I have no idea if anyone I know reads this) I can tell you...

Shortly after I sent out my postdoc applications I found out that one of my big dreams just might come true. Friday we went to the doctor and so far, so good. It's still early, things could still go wrong (my other 2 pregnancies ended around the 12th week), but Husband and I are both feeling positive and hopeful. Unfortunately for the career side of my life, my doctor has ordered me not to travel until well into the second trimester, which means I have to cancel the interviews I had scheduled for not so far from now... I was super worried and stressed for a number of reasons, not least of which was that I thought this might have been my one and only chance to go to interview in my favorite dream labs. I had hoped to interview before anyone could tell about our upcoming addition, but now it will likely be obvious as soon as I walk in the door. I wanted to have a chance for the labs to see me just as me the scientist without any other distractions. It's been suggested that, all things going well on the reproductive front, I put off interviewing until after the birth. Then I'll be able to have a better idea of a start date that will work for me, and (barring lactation problems) have my body (mostly) back. We'll see. It sure adds a whole new dimension to the situation of looking for a postdoc.

I was super scared to talk to my PI earlier this week and tell him that I have to cancel my interviews, but things actually turned out surprisingly positive. He seems really supportive of me, and realizes how important this is to Husband and I. My contract in the lab runs out about 2 weeks after I would start maternity leave (PhDCity land has great family leave policies) so I'll finish out my time here and see how it goes. I've assured him (also as a way of trying to assure myself) that this is not the end of my postdoc search, and definitely not the end of my career. But I have no doubt that things might progress a bit differently than originally planned. And I'm (trying to be) ok with that. This is something I've wanted my whole life. I can't really say the same about my research career...

The main complication to the whole situation is that Husband's postdoc funding runs out in the summer time. We have some savings, but it would be much nicer not to have to exhaust them (was hoping they might be useful when we move to a new city, maybe even towards buying a condo or small house). So Husband's job search has taken priority again. Maybe this will even turn out to be good for him, as it gives him a bit more time to search while I'm on interview hiatus. I have to admit that it would be nice to not have the sole pressure of finding a job to cover all our expenses in new place and settling on a start date when I have no idea how things will go as a new mom... But I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first, focus on a healthy pregnancy, and trust that things will fall into place somehow along the way.

In unrelated news, we now have a publications date for my PhD work article. I can't wait to see it in print and be able to download it. How exciting!

Friday, March 27, 2009


For unbloggable reasons, I'm completely and totally distracted from work this morning, and quite literally shaking in my boots. I have an meeting in a very short time that has the potential to drastically change life as I know it, or to potentially send me plummeting off the deep end (again). I get anxiety attacks sometimes, and I think I'm having one now. It's a bit like I feel before I have to stand up and give a talk, I can hear the blood rushing and pounding in my head, chills run continuously down my arms and legs, little black dots start floating in my eyes and my heart is racing a mile a minute. I'm a wreck. It's a kind of go, no-go announcement and I'm not even sure 100% what I want the outcome to be. I have to get myself together and get to the meeting. I hope my legs will carry me....

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Too close for comfort?

I'm trying now to schedule the geographically similar "clump" of interviews that's rapidly approaching. I have arranged to visit 5 places in 4 cities... only one of the cities is dramatically distant from the others, but the minimal travel time by commuter train between cities is 1.5 hours. Can I do 3 interviews in 3 days? (two in the same city plus one in the city 1.5 hours away?) Is that just asking for trouble? Should I space them out with a one day gap in between? Ideally I'd like that, but there are some scheduling conflicts and I have to look after finding a place to stay in between which I wouldn't have to if I did them all in a row... My mind feels like mush and I'm having a really hard time trying to work this out. Advice?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

traveling is exhausting

It's been 3 flights, 1 car ride and a journey by bus (plus countless trips by other means of public transport) since last Wednesday, and I'm still not home... I am enjoying (for the most part) the interview process, but feeling a bit stressed at the upcoming decision making... I'm pretty sure I DON'T want to go to one, possibly 2 places I've visited, liked the most recent place a lot, but still have to weigh the pros and cons and visit other places before making a decision. Mostly right now I want to curl up in a ball and just take a break. I think I caught Husband's cold that he's been battling, and I have a throbbing head and queasy stomach to show for it. I'm going to try to explore potential new PostdocCity today, there are actually breaks of blue sky out the window, and the promise of a nice spring day (between bouts of rain). I think I hear a sidewalk cafe calling my name before I have to head back to the airport.... more when I'm back in PhDCity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

All but one...

After sending off my last batch of geographically-similar applications, I've now heard from all but one place. And all but one of those I heard from (including the phone interview first lab) offered me an in-person interview! I'm so excited, but getting nervous too. As you may have guessed from my last post, I've been having some issues with my PI over how to treat the travel required for visiting potential postdoc labs... personally, I think that interviewing for a postdoc position should count as an official business trip. In my mind, it's really part of the job, and the final steps in completing a PhD enroute to an academic research career. Everyone I informally surveyed (and those of you who voted on the sidebar) seemed to agree with me, so at least I was confident I wasn't a totally wacko with completely off-base priorities when discussing the issue (yes, for the third time!) with my PI. I think the PI wasn't too pleased but in the end, signed my travel permission forms... I have a feeling I'll have to battle it out again when I get the largest trip planned out in the coming week or so. Why must it be so unpleasant? I really hope I manage to find a postdoc PI more grounded in reality.

My first 2 interviews are in the next week... My talk is *almost* ready and I have a few more reviews I'd like to read through before my visits, but otherwise, I just have to pack my bag and go. Blogging will be sporadic at best for the next week, but I'm hoping to contribute something to Mother of All Scientists weeknight recipe carnival (unfortunately I'm not so sure frozen pizza would qualify....hmmmmm....).

In the meantime, Happy St Patty's Day everyone!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Let's put it to a vote

So, in the institute where I work, it is important to have an official form signed whenever one takes a trip away from the lab. Such trips are divided into "vacation" and "official journey". My trip with best friend to a near-by locale while she was here to visit was most definitely "vacation" while my trip to a conference where I gave a talk was an "official journey". Where would you classify the travel for postdoc interviews where you give a seminar on your work and visit another lab? Vote in the comments (and on the side bar if I manage to figure out how to add a poll...)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reflections on the big 2-9.

Today is my birthday. My 29th. I have to admit, I was really not looking forward to this day for ages now.... but now that it's here, it actually doesn't seem so bad. I've never been afraid of getting older, wrinkles and gray hair to me are beautiful and I've never planned to try any stay young creams or dyes... of course, all that might change when the gray comes more often than one or two strands at a time, who knows?

I think the reason I've been dreading this day is because by this landmark point in life I thought I would be in a lot different situation. I'm a small town girl at heart, I'm the the only one in my immediate family to go to university (although one aunt and one uncle have, and my younger cousins are approaching or already working on their undergrads). Doing crazy things like going to grad school (twice!) or moving to far away places were never EVER part of my plans growing up. Where I come from, people marry their high school sweethearts and friends I grew up with have been working the same jobs now for more than a decade. People back home (including many family members) just don't understand moving, changing or how academia could possibly be appealing (and sometimes I agree with them).

In lots of ways, I feel very much behind in life. It's not so much about material things like owing a house or a car (though that would be nice, some day), but more in terms of feeling settled, "grown up", having a family, and knowing what I wanted for the future. Of course, if Husband and I had it the way we planned, we'd be parents by now, but some things don't always go according to plan. Things, like my whole way of life. Now, I don't want to be all melodramatic. I'm feeling reasonably accomplished and well traveled, I'm married to a wonderful man (who was NOT my high school sweetheart) and I've made some incredible friends along this crazy journey. But there are still days when I feel disappointed with my life, not unhappy exactly, but more conflicted because of the contrast in what I thought would be and what has actually come to pass. And I'm not even sure I would really want those things I feel like I'm missing...

I spoke with my mother recently about furniture (of all things!). She always dreamed, when she was younger, of having a four poster bed. They were all the rage when she got married, but at the time, my parents relied on hand-me-down furniture and couldn't afford to buy something new. She told me now she often thinks of re-doing her bedroom and how she thinks about that four poster bed. She's not even sure she wants one anymore, they're no longer in style and really not so desirable, but she feels like she SHOULD still want one because that's what she dreamed of having... and that's a bit how I feel about my life.

I dreamed of the small town home with several kids running around, a husband and friends I would have known my whole life, with my family and my in-laws close by and seeing my kids grow up in the same kind of environment I had. There would be a small town 9-5 job, or maybe I'd stay at home. Evenings and weekends would be full of BBQs with the neighbors, trips to the lake and local community volunteer groups. It's a far cry from my current life, living far away, with a husband that comes from even farther away, having no family close by, living in a rented apartment in the middle of a large city, going to concerts and operas and eating at restaurants with exotic foods I'd never even heard of before my 20s on the menu. And I think I just might suffocate in that small little walled-in life I had planned for myself. So why do I still mourn its loss? It's ok for plans to change, there are many points in life when you have to choose between two or more paths and backtracking to take the other just isn't possible.

I've always loved Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken. Apparently there are two main interpretations to the poem, and I think it's appropriate in my life at the moment. Either, it's meant to be inspirational, telling people that on that journey down the road of life, to choose the fork in the path that is less traveled, be different, be an individual, break out of that small town mind set and you'll see how it's all so different in the end... or, it's ironic, about rationalizing our decisions (actually made about two things that were really, not so different from each other after all). One critic writes that the identical paths in the poem,
symbolize for us the nexus of free will and fate: We are free to choose, but we do not really know beforehand what we are choosing between.

As if we'll know later in life, when we look back that the choice won't have been so important, but that we'll still pretend, for the effect of the story, that we took that road less traveled... in other words, how we'll
need, later on in life, to rearrange the facts and inject a dose of Lone Ranger into the account.

I think we could think of science career decisions in a similar way. When an older mentor gives advice to someone young, about to make a career path decision, he might be like the narrator of the poem.
The speaker will not, in his old age, merely gather the youth about him and say, "Do what I did, kiddies. I stuck to my guns, took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Rather, he may say this, but he will sigh first; for he won't believe it himself. Somewhere in the back of his mind will remain the image of yellow woods and two equally leafy paths.

I find this interpretation interesting, and, in a strange way, much more inspiring that the typical interpretation.... It tells us that the
speaker knows that he will second-guess himself somewhere down the line--or at the very least he will wonder at what is irrevocably lost: the impossible, unknowable Other Path. But the nature of the decision is such that there is no Right Path--just the chosen path and the other path.

So, knowing that I have merely selected one of the paths, no better or worse than any other, I'll leave you with Robert Frost's words... interpret them as you will. I'm headed out for some food I can't even pronounce but know I will love!

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Give me a call!

So, it's been just over a week since I sent an initial batch of postdoc applications. To date, I heard back from all but one lab... my travel plans are all arranged for visits to 2 labs, and I have tentative dates for visits to one other so far... and, I have a phone interview scheduled for this week. I don't think I've ever done a phone interview before. To be honest, I'm already getting nervous about it. I think I'm a good communicator, but sometimes have trouble reading someone's reaction over the phone. I really miss the visual cues that come from sitting across from someone during the discussion. I suppose the usual questions will be asked : something along the lines of why are you interested in this lab? What would you like to work on? What scientific questions most interest you? and also probably something along the lines of, tell me more about yourself... How much can you prepare for these kinds of interviews? I guess about the same as any others. I'll have another read through some of the most recent papers, the lab website, make my list of questions, and sit by the phone. I have to find a place to hold the interview. I'm hoping that a friend might lend me hir office space, because I just don't imagine this is the kind of thing I want to do in the middle of the lab... any tips?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed

I'm struggling this week, partly from lack of motivation to start new things in my "old" lab (ok, this is probably a major part of the problem) but mostly I'm feeling paralyzed because I feel like I have no clue what I'm doing. Pretty much everything on my miles long to-do list involves techniques I have never or only occasionally used in the past in this lab. It feels like even the simplest experiment is super difficult because I just don't know how to do it. I don't even know where to start. I'm completely overwhelmed. Sure, I can find a protocol (if anyone bothered to update the lab protocol collection - most likely not, as I found out already for 2 different protocols today alone), but I don't know where the reagents are kept or how to use the equipment or how much time to plan for completing the experiment. I feel like a brand new person in the lab, completely clueless and utterly dependent on the kindness/patience of labmates to teach me/show me/help me out. And I hate feeling like that. At least in this place. It's not a lab known for tolerance of people not knowing. Period. Not knowing the literature, the technique, where to find things, how to make everything work the first time. It just doesn't fly. In fact, it's usually met with an eye roll, much talking behind your back and treating you like you're totally stupid for not being born knowing. It's not a place to learn, except to learn how to be like the others. And it makes me feel stupid and worthless and like I just want to run away. Not very compatible with being productive. *sigh* I think it's just one of those days.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I'm not a very patient waiter. I know. I've heard back now from 3 of the 6 applications I sent on Monday. I think that's actually pretty good! I have two invitations to come for interviews, but before I make travel plans I'd like to hear back from the others, and concentrate the long distance travel into one big trip. But I don't want to keep the ones who did write back waiting either... How long is acceptable to wait? I wrote back and thanked them for the invitation and said I would be in touch soon, when I'd heard back from some other labs that were close by, but is a week ok? Two weeks? When do I send a follow-up email to the groups I didn't hear back from? I'm thinking all this advice must be out there at SW, Isis or CPP... I should go look. Meanwhile, I'll try to be patient.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Applications are out!

OK, I did it. I sent my postdoc applications. At least the geographically-similar location ones... there's another group or two or three in another area that I've decided to hold off on for a few weeks, since I know from a contact in the *key* lab that the PI is away at meetings right now. But the others are out. Phew! Now I just have to wait....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Update on Postdoc Interview #1

So I blogged a while ago about an unsolicited postdoc interview offer that I got while attending a conference. I'm still very flattered to be invited. And still unsure how interested I am. But, if nothing else, it's a great chance to go talk about my work, meet and talk to great scientists and hear about projects for super cool project. It's fixed for 2 or so weeks from now, now I just have to make the travel arrangements, which I'll try to look after tomorrow.

As my first postdoc interview, I'm getting a little nervous. My talk will be very similar to the one I gave at the conference, so the PI who invited me will have already heard it. Should I try to change things up a bit? Or go with the same talk? I'm waiting to hear the time guidelines which will, of course, influence the contents of the talk. I have some cool unpublished preliminary data that I could add at the end to explain what I'm currently working on, but since the rest of the story was only recently accepted and not yet in print, I'm not sure that's necessary. What do you think?

A visit from Best Friend!

So it's been nearly a week since I last posted... I've had the great happy fortune to have a visitor for the past week and we've been having a great time, but leaving very little free time in the evenings for things like blogging. Best friend (BF) and I met the first week of our undergraduate education... we found ourselves living down the hall from each other in the same student residence and the rest of history. She knows me like few other people in the world know me. We exchange daily emails although we live (very) far apart. It was so great to have her come here to visit PhDCity! We toured historic sites, hung out in cafes, went hiking and skating and even took a road trip. Best of all we laughed. A lot. It was wonderful!

We also talked about lots of things going on in our lives. The things we're happy with and the things we'd like to change. We come from very different backgrounds, work in very different professions and lead very different lives, but in the end, none of that matters. It's amazing how one of us could open up and talk about something and the other was nodding along, knowing just what that feels like. It's one of the reasons we've remained such good friends. Our husbands both seem incapable of planning things ahead (why is that? Is it a general male thing?) while we both turn the thoughts over and over in our heads. We vowed not to stress over future things this week, but confessed to having a few sleepless nights each anyway. Husband's recent interview was in BF's city and it would be amazing if he gets it and we could live closer together again (and manage to see each other more than every 2 +/- 0.5 years.

I took BF to the airport this morning. The hug goodbye was a little tighter and a little longer than ever before. I watched her walk through to the secure area and tried not to cry on my way back into the city. I miss her already.

Monday, February 23, 2009

BBC Book meme

As seen at Sciencewoman.... (thanks for the idea!)

BBC Book List

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read. (I'll bold those I've read and italicize those of which I only read part.)
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling +
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell*
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (I think?)
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - I seem incapable of reading this book I started it multiple times
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger*
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck - I think I may have read in school, but don't remember
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll +
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia
34 Emma - Jane Austen - I'm not sure, I think I have though....
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini*
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Berniere*
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden*
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving ++ (I'm a big John Irving fan)
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery ++ (I've read the whole collection many times, and lots of her other books too... the Emily series, short stories, etc)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood*
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan - I'm about half way through, but started another book and didn't finish yet
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov*
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold*
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac - Want to finish this one someday...
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding ++ (funny stuff! Also read the sequel)
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker (I'm afraid of vampires, no way!)
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens*
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams - abandoned part way through
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute (no, but I read some of his others)
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - started on vacation last fall, but didn't get very far

So that's 28 I've read, and lots more I've read part of... I have a bad habit of starting a book, then remembering I wanted to read another one, then forgetting the original one... I need to start finishing books!

Looks like a good reading list. Anyone have a favorite book that's not on here to recommend?

At the moment I'm reading 2 books of essays from women PhDs about combining work and family. I just finished Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory, and I just started Mama, PhD. I think I'll write a review on these when I've finished both.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pleasing Students?! Or failing them?

There have been some interesting posts lately from FSP and MrsCH about student reactions to lower than expected grades from their professors/TAs... and the comments/discussion over at FSP was up to 32 comments last time I checked. Go check it out, it's worth the read....

Now, as neither a student anymore, nor a prof yet, I think I must fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of opinions. I don't buy this not giving grades thing, nor do I think that trying really really hard is enough for an A. Examinations test knowledge and understanding. If you don't understand and fail to answer the questions well enough to demonstrate sufficient knowledge to warrant getting the points allocated to that question, you get a low grade. Period. How can people seriously argue that someone should get a A just for showing up to class? Doesn't an A mean anything to anybody anymore?

I've read the argument that grades are so important for getting into grad school, getting a job, etc. But how does giving everyone, despite drastically different levels of mastering of the subject matter, the same (arbitrarily high) mark help matters? Then the grades again become meaningless. I see grades as a way to rank performance. Of course, at least some component of the marking scheme for a given class/assignment/exam is likely to be subjective and based on the professor's opinion of the student's "quality" performance in that subject, but really, if you haven't internalized the material for the class, why should you get credit for it?

There's a reason you need all As and a perfect GPA to get into top schools.... because so many people have them due to false inflation of grades! If students were assigned grades on a scale that actually reflected performance the overall average GPA would likely fall, and then so would the admission standards. Or not. And then many fewer people would enter graduate programs.

Now, on the other hand, I was talking with Husband last week when he got back from his most recent tenure-track interview when the topic of teaching evaluations came up. They form an important part of tenure decisions and for that reason, it is definitely in the professor's best interest to score positively in the students' eyes. But at what cost? I think this must also be part of the explanation for grade inflation. Profs don't want to be harda$$es and grade tough because they know this will be reflected as a poor score in teaching evaluations, regardless of whether the professor is actually a good teacher/mentor.

This I think relates to the bigger problem of consumerized education systems. Tuition to universities and colleges is not cheap (at least not in North America). And, in my experience as a student and a TA, many students feel a strong sense of entitlement that they are paying for their university degree, and it's the fault of the professors if they don't get it (at the stellar inflated grading level they expect). What ever happened to responsibility for your own actions? Or acknowledging that just because you want to be a (insert highly paid profession here) doesn't mean you have the aptitude to pull it off? Do you want to be treated by your doctor/represented by a lawyer who got As in all her classes just for showing up? Or would you rather have someone who has been judged objectively based on competence throughout her academic career and found to be capable? (Please, understand that I'm not saying the only qualitites required for being a top physician are academic success, personality, dedication, compassion etc are all very important factors as well, of course, and these are evaluated separately by things like recommendation letters, personal interviews and volunteer experiences in care-giving roles).

I think that it is unfortunate that so much in our society is based on numerical evaluations. It's a bit of a broken system, I know. (part of that comes from illogical pay scale differences among different professions and how our consumer society drives people to attain high paying careers over careers more suited to their own unique qualitites and talents, but that's another post) And that must be where the desire not to evaluate based on points assigned to question X lies. But it is also twisted that there seems to be a feeling that time and money (and if all else fails, whining) are enough to get whatever you want.

An inside look at Jenn, PhD

A while ago there was a series of memes with personality tests... I finally decided to procrastinate long enough and do one. I have to be honest that it's a bit scary to read... quite a bit is true. But what happens if you don't like the traits you have? Can you change your personality? How much of "personality" is circumstantial? I think different environments bring out different aspects of a person's personalities, so I'm hoping I can change... What do you think?

For anyone interested here's what Signal Patterns told me about me (my comments in italics):

Your Results You are Passionate, Rash, and Volatile.
More About You: Discover the top 10 traits out of 90 that uniquely describe you
You are in touch with your emotions, and sometimes you react before you think. The good news: you don't tamp down your feelings. The bad news: you sometimes say or do things that you later wish you could take back.

I really wish I could change this and I hate that it's the first trait!

You do not live your life on an even keel; you do not go for long periods without experiencing some mood swings.


You get excited easily, allow yourself to react without censoring your feelings, and sometimes blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.

And this is the second trait?! Aw, man, I'm doomed!

You generally don't consider what you're about to say before you open your mouth to speak.

This I actually have to kind of disagree with, usually the problem is I think too much for too long without saying something and then it explodes out without thinking...


You go with the flow when it comes to your emotions. Whether you're happy or sad, you show it, and when something upsets you, or you're feeling stressed out, those around you will know it right away.

Does anyone else get the feeling I'm an emotional wreck waiting to happen?! Maybe I'm worse off than I thought?

You are not necessarily the one person in any group who can be depended on to stay calm, cool, and collected in a crisis; you aren't known for keeping your emotions under wraps.


You like your own company; you're a very interesting person. Tracking your own mental processes, knowing what you're thinking and why you do what you do, is important to you. Often, what's going on in your mind is more compelling than what's going on outside.

You are not someone who is constantly looking to be among a group of friends; you never feel bored when you are by yourself.

For the most part, those with a high score on the "introspective" trait enjoy reading, taking long walks, learning new things, and other solitary activities.

See the last part of this one doesn't sound so bad... I do like all those things, but I like being with other people too!


You appreciate art, beauty, and design; you know that they are not superficial but absolutely crucial to living the good life. You have good taste, and you're proud of it.

As long as they're not talking about my clothes/shoes/beauty asthetic taste. Maybe I like and appreciate them, but I'm definitely not good at applying it to myself!

You don't think it's pretentious to be moved by art and beauty. You're not one of those who believe it doesn't matter what something looks like as long as it does its job.

I DO like pretty things....

Those with a high score on the "aesthetic" trait are often employed in literary or artistic professions, enjoy domestic activities — doing things around the house — and are enthusiastic about the arts, reading, and travel.

Well, except for the employment part I guess... but I've often felt I don't belong here in this profession.


You are willing to take the time to find out what's going on with other people, especially if they're in distress. You're a good listener, you don't criticize, and you offer unbiased, respectful, honest advice when it's requested.

You don't feel the need to impose your standards on others or say things that, even though true, cause pain.

With a high score on the "understanding" trait, it is likely that you are enthusiastic about charitable work, helping others, and making the world a better place.

I'd like to be more like this... I find it rather conflicting that this trait comes out together with some of the others above...


You very rarely make a move without first considering the pros and cons and, therefore, rarely do anything foolish or extravagant.

...or much of anything at all...

You are not rash; you almost never act before you think and, therefore, rarely end up doing things you later regret.

Except of course for the whole first several traits... see? Conflicting!

Stressed Out

That's a personality trait? Sheesh!

You often feel that there's too much on your plate, that you don't have the strength to deal with the bad hand you've been dealt, or that you're going to lose it if you have to deal with one more problem.

hahahaha, duh! That's the understatement of the year

You don't always bounce back quickly from adversity; sometimes when you get bad news it can hang over you for a long time.

I think that's been especially true during my years at grad school


You like to get to the bottom of things. You're not content knowing what someone did; you want to know why they did it.

You don't simply take things as they are and move on; you're not content skimming along on the surface; you don't feel you're wasting time by digging for the meaning of things.

yes! and yes!


You are an honest, fair person. You don't lie or cheat to get ahead. You treat others with respect and hope for the same in return.

You do not feel that you are above the rules that everyone else follows; you are definitely not willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I also don't think I'm cut out to do this science thing...

What DO I want?

So yesterday I met with my PI to have a chat about my postdoc applications. I had already prepared cover letters for the half dozen or so places I wanted to apply, customizing each based on the reason I was interested in their work and how I saw myself fitting in, based on my previous experience. I had my updated CV ready, and the list of the groups...

Now, it should be said that PI is actually a pretty nice guy (deep deep down inside), but in (I'm guessing typical) PI fashion, he expects a lot from his people, and wants them to go on to bigger and better places... I, on the other hand, was trying to find a more supportive environment (in terms of many factors like male:female ratio of colleagues and mentors (tipped heavily in the male direction in my current environment), geographical and cultural environment, and potential family-friendliness (just in case things ever actually work out on husband and my side project)) and a new topic/field/model organism. In other words, NOT the kind of places he would pick for himself... so I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me that he told me he was disappointed in my choices, that I was aiming "too low", that he saw me as someone who had be quite ambitious while here in his lab and that he thought I would be disappointed by the environment of smaller, perhaps less ambitious places.

Now, I know that it's MY postdoc and I can apply where ever I want to, and don't have to apply anywhere I'm not interested in, but his point was, if you don't go try it (at least apply/interview) then I'll never know... he's challenged me to re-write my list, dropping those labs I'm least convinced of myself and replacing them with "big shot" postdoc factory style labs in places that least-well fit my criteria.

I guess I understand why in a way, I mean, who wants to live with all the what-ifs and could-I-have-made-it type questions. But honestly, I'm not so sure I WANT to "make it". I'm so exhausted from this place and my time here that most days I just want to crawl up in a little ball in the closet and ask the world to leave me in peace. I just don't think I have the energy to go sell myself to the sort of super star places he wants me to go.

Before I talked to him, I was quite sure I had figured out what I wanted out of a postdoc, and now, I'm all confused again. It seems like a big decision... something you really only get to choose once (or maybe twice, but gosh I hope no more times than that!). And I can't help but think that his advice is also in *his* best interest, since so often PIs are judged based on the kind of pedigree their lab gives rise to. I've spent a great deal of my time here pretending I'm someone I'm not, and I don't like that person very much. I was really hoping for a chance to start again and be more true to myself. Not to say that such an endeavor means I can't be ambitious, just not in a ultra-competitive arrogant way that is all too strongly encouraged in this place.

So, what DO I want? Where should I apply? What should I do? ugh. I better figure this out soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Oh Dearest Internetz,
Today I am happy... the email I've been waiting for for weeks just arrived and my PhD paper was (finally) accepted. We'll celebrate this afternoon with champagne with the lab. It's perfect timing as I want to send out my postdoc applications (no I still haven't sent them... still waiting to hear back from one potential reference) and will feel much better now saying that it was accepted for publication. It's been a long haul (this is the same project I started working on day 1 in the lab many moons ago) and actually, I'm quite proud that things turned out as well as they did. I couldn't really ask for more.

Of course, in my PI's typical style, he came to the lab after forwarding the email to praise the paper, but then proceeded to tell me how it's amazing because, unlike all the other papers from the lab which were great intellectual pursuits with eureka moments and great thinking/reasoning/genius hypothesis-testing experiments, this story is only successful because of organizational skills, persistance and the insanity to try crazy things that he never thought would work. Ummmm, gee thanks boss. Hope he doesn't write that in my recommendation letters! "While she produced a fantastic paper, it's not because she's intelligent or a rigorous scientist, it's because she's stubborn and crazy." riiiiiiiiight.

But in tune with my positive thinking, I just chose to say "Thank you" and leave it at that. Good thing I can spill to someone (that's you) how he yet again managed to pat me on the back with one hand while slapping me in the face with the other. I can't wait to get out of this place! (edited to add that I know he doesn't mean it in a bad way, it just somehow comes out the wrong way almost every time we talk about some achievement)...

Anyway, what's important now is the party! I've got stinky cheese on my desk, champagne in the cold room and 10 more things on my to do list for the day. Better get to it!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Well, I for one am flattered

While poking my head in over at Isis's blog I saw that the good people over at the Health Zone Blog just compiled a list of the Top 50 Women in Science Blogs. So I followed the link and imagine my surprise and delight to be included along with my blogging heros including Sciencewomen, FemaleScienceProfessor, The Happy Scientist, A Lady Scientist, Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde, A Natural Scientist and many others... well, go read the list! :) These are the women who inspired me early on when I was even too shy to comment, and continue to inspire me daily with their scientific prowless, sharp wit, dedication and senses of humour.
So a big thanks to the Health Zone Blog for the thumbs up and for including this humble little blog in their list. I'll try not to disappoint!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Interview Meme

Mrs. Comet Hunter recently posted a fun meme where she was asked 5 questions by another blogger and answered them interview style. I thought it sounded fun, so I signed up for an interview with her.

Here are the rules:
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me" AND leave your email address (or blog link) in the comment! I will interview the first three commenters to ask for it.
2. I will respond by emailing you (or commenting on your blog with) five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions. (If you don't have a blog, I can post your answers here).
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Here goes!

Mrs CH: If you could no longer do "science", what would you do as a career and why?

Me: Husband and I have this crazy dream to open a small inn and restaurant. It would be near the ocean, or in the mountains in an old house... we'd grow fresh herbs and veggies in the garden and cook everything fresh from scratch. *sigh* maybe someday

Mrs CH: How did you meet Mr. Jenn, PhD?

Me: Well, as science geeky as it sounds, we met in the lab.... I was a summer student during my undergrad and he was a new PhD student. I was dating someone else at the time though, so we were "just friends" for the summer. I went back to school in the fall (1500km away) and sent him my phone number for the heck of it, figuring I'd never hear from him... he called the same night and the rest is history :)

Mrs CH: How are you doing on your general positive thinking resolution?

Me: Well, to be honest, not so great. But I do catch myself smiling more often, and being generally more enthusiastic about (some) things. I feel pretty stressed out by the total loss of control over my future (I'm a bit of a control freak, and a major planner, so it drives me kind of crazy to have so much up in the air). At least if I knew what Continent I'll be living on it would help... I'll keep trying though!

Mrs CH: Where has been your favorite place you have traveled and why?

Me: Ooooooh. That's a tough one. I love to travel and am not often disappointed by a place, because each is nice for its own reasons. I think I'd have to say hiking in the Alps. I first visited (another set of) mountains when I was 17, and I've been hooked ever sense. I love the openess of the sky, how you feel like you can see forever, and the fresh, clean air. And the colours of the mountains, lakes, wild flowers, sky! And the snow in summer! And the cows. I love the bells :)

Mrs CH: If you could give one piece of advice to a new graduate student, what would it be?

Me: Get yourself a hobby! Seriously. Build a life outside of the lab, because if lab is the only thing in your life, it's so much harder to face those inevitable days when nothing is working and you feel like a failure. Sometimes just having something else to look forward to, a reason to leave the lab by a certain time or get away for the weekend is what held me together. Husband played a big role in that, but it was also nice to have non-scientists/colleagues to talk to about different things as well. I'm sure there are lots of other scienc-ey suggestions that I could give, but that was one key to surviving grad school for me.