Thursday, January 29, 2009

What would you do?

So, I have a dilemma. It's not really such a bad one to have. I got (an unsolicited) job interview offer today. From someone big and famous, in a somewhat related field to my PhD work. It's even close to husband's family. AND well funded (really well funded). The project sounds potentially interesting. I would learn a lot at least. And the PI was even nice and easy to talk to! Perfect no?

BUT, I had kind of decided that I wanted nothing more to do with my current work and wanted to switch to something not even remotely related to it or to the project on offer. I wanted to learn a new model system, and tackle more applied questions. The PI invited me to come and give a seminar and meet with the people currently working on aspects of the project. So, I said "Sure! That would be great." (I'm not crazy enough to turn down something that could be great on the spot without thinking about it!) The PI had to leave the meeting today, but told me to expect an email with details for the invited seminar soon. I'm not 100% fixed on exactly what I want to do for my postdoc, but I'm not sure I really would take the job (but it might be cool)... is it wrong to waste the group's time/money to visit if I'm not sure?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I'm far far away from the lab, at a fantastic and inspiring conference. I gave my talk and poster presentations already and both were a huge success! I shook the whole time of the talk, but thankfully there was a nice tall podium (I'm slightly vertically challenged) that hid me basically from the neck down so I don't think the others could tell! I had no idea how HUGE the room would seem from the podium. I also had no idea how great it would feel to actually hear people tell you that they loved your talk and think your work is really exciting. I'm so flattered. I've even had PIs offer me postdoc jobs! What a contrast from my home institute where nothing is ever good enough and others are always held up as soooo much better than you and told that no one will hire you until you get another (fill in here... result, award, talk, paper...). It makes me feel like it IS actually all worth it. That other people are actually interested in my work too. It's been a great experience. I'm glad there are still a few more days of talks to go... speaking of which, the next session starts soon....
Blogging will still be scarce for the next week or two, since I'm headed home after the conference for a visit with the fam.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


So, still no word on the final manuscript decision... It's been a week, I have no idea how long it should take! In the mean time I've had lots of distractions to keep me busy. There's bench work for the new project (which I'm finally making time for - it feels good to be "back"), seminars are back at pretty regular intervals after the Christmas lull, and I'm leaving on Friday for a conference, where I'll give my first truly public talk (outside my research institute) about my PhD work. It's helpful to know that the data is *so close* to being accepted for publication, so I'm not worried about criticism, but I AM worried about fitting everything in within the time allowed for the talk.... I met with my PI this morning to go over the slides, and every time I tried to cut down the amount of data or things to say, he added 2 more images/sentences/points. It's soooo going to be too long. I have a practice talk with the rest of the group soon, but before then I need to get my slides to 1 minute each (I'm sticking to the 1 slide per minute estimate, and hoping I can manage that without losing half the audience). Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On manuscript submission....

It's getting late, into the double digits of the pm (and I'm not using a 24 hour clock!). Dinner tonight consisted of a chocolate-banana flavored granola bar and a coffee from the vending machine. Healthy?! Not exactly. The reason I'm here is the manuscript submission process. I have decided that Murphy's Laws apply more and more strongly the later it gets and the more hungry the scientist becomes....

It started this morning with that oh so long anticipated email in my inbox.... "After careful consideration and consulting with our referees we are pleased to offer...." Publication! Success! Hooray! Finally, 4 years of work in print, finished! But, wait... there's just that small matter of forms, signatures, scans, document conversion, CMYK vs RGB.... and suddenly something you think will take a few hours maximum has you sitting at a computer late into the night, eyes glazed over just wanting it all to be finished!

So, with that, dear internets, I'll return to check the upload status and conversion progress one more time... So close... and yet so far! Sleep will be sweet tonight....

...if I ever get there...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

That's so cool (but I wouldn't want to do it....)

First, a quick accountability note: I spent a solid 4-5 hours yesterday on the reagents. They're almost in shape to hand over. I would have spent more time, but yesterday I attended two great seminars, which brings me to today's post...

Our institute has a regular seminar series Thursday afternoons that brings international scientists to campus to tell us all about the latest greatest things they are working on. It's usually quite impressive, but more often than not the invited scientists work in fields related to those already present on campus. I'm sure it works the same in many places.... PIs tend to invite their friends and responds to invites from people they know. It makes sense. But still, every once in a while it's nice to get beyond the same topics and hear something completely new. So, a new seminar series started specifically to bring highly influential speakers from other scientific fields. Yesterday was the first of those lectures for 2009, and the topic was pretty distant.... a kind of molecular anthropology lecture. And the hall was PACKED. We were treated to a sweeping view of the field, from the methodology, to quality control, to large scale data set generation and bioinformatic analysis, to specific experimental models. It was fascinating. It was so cool. But I left the lecture hall with the unshakable knowledge that I wouldn't want to work on it myself.

I find this happens to me a lot. Some of the problems or questions that I find the most interesting in science just can't get me to the bench like others. I guess that's a good thing in that it confirms the fields I actually AM working on (or would like to enter for my next "real" postdcoc) are a better match for me. But if I sit down with a cup of coffee to read a journal or have to select which of the many seminars I can fit into my day, I'll nearly always pick something outside my field. I always feel like this can't be a healthy (or sustainable!) practice (but might actually be good practice if I eventually have a career in something like professional journal editing).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Down time and productivity

I've taken quite a lot of time off over the year end holidays. This year, husband (who needs a pseudonym but I'm still working on that) and I decided to stay in PhD city for Christmas. It's the first year in a long time that Christmas wasn't linked to hours in a car/train/plane. And that meant that it was actually quite relaxing. We worked all the official working days and stayed home (or spent the day with friends) for the official holidays. I had planned to get a lot done both at home and in the lab, but it didn't really work out that way. To be honest though, I don't really mind. It was great de-compression time. With no pressure to achieve it was easier to take it easy, only work on things that really NEEDED to be done and pretty much ignore the rest.

Which brings me to my post today... starting tomorrow, things need to get back to normal. To do that, I'd really like to break out of this cycle of just getting the minimum done without letting everything fall apart, but never actually getting things to move forward... I think a big part of that is procrastination, especially in the form of the internet (it's one of my greatest weaknesses). And when the rest of my lab members return from their Christmas holidays as the week progresses, there will be a whole new set of distractions! Even though I KNOW I would feel "better" after doing something on my list, because the world won't end if I don't move my butt and do it, I'm having a hard time motivating myself to step away from the keyboard today and go put in a load of laundry, go through my closet to find donations to charity, pack up the Christmas decorations, or even start preparing something for dinner. So I think I'm going to institute some reward system... I might even have to resort to a timer. I'll reward "real" work with procrastination time, and hopefully try not to feel so guilty about it. If anyone is reading, do you have an motivational strategies for breaking out of a productivity slump? I'll try to post some accountability here and see how that goes.

Part of being accountable and thinking positive is to track my progress. So I'm please that I can report that yesterday I managed to devote the entire afternoon (5 straight hours) to cataloging reagents from my PhD project. There are still many hours to go, but it's a big chunk of what needed to be done finished, so yeah me! My goal is to start productivity working first thing tomorrow morning, before getting sucked into desk work. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get these reagents sorted out by the end of the week.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A theme for the year....

Over the past few days I've been reading the blog-o-sphere's collective resolutions for the new year and see that many have been giving, instead, a theme to the year. I think it's a great idea! I've never been much for specific resolutions anyway (I know that if I won't stick to a new exercise program that I start in the middle of June, I probably won't stick to it at the beginning of January either...)

2008 was a year full of not so nice things. And I got myself into a major rut of negative thinking, so I think I'm going to declare 2009 the year of positive thinking. I'll try everyday in little ways to turn my thought patterns around and try to see that glass as half full!

For some inexplicable reason, I'm already feeling quite positive about this year. I think I'll make a list of the positive changes to make and keep some running updates on them in the coming months...

For starters:
In professional life:
1. Finish up PhD project in the lab, mostly tying up loose ends, cataloging and handing over reagents
2. Test cool hypothesis for current project (it's crazy, but if it turns out to be true it could be HUGE). Thanks Candid Engineer for the challenge :)
3. Make a finalized list of where to apply for postdocs (I'm so darn excited to do something different!)
4. Update CV (I did this when I printed my thesis, but I have a new invited talk to add and *hopefully soon* a publication from my PhD) and secure those reference letters
5. Write those application emails and send them with lots of positivity that I'll hear back and one of them will turn out to be *the* place to go.
6. Spend more time on experiments that take me forward rather than just treading water.
7. Prepare and deliver a killer talk at that conference coming up soon....

And in my personal life:
1. Treat my body better. Make it run, jump, skip, laugh, sing and feed it good things. I haven't been taking care of myself in the last while, and I need to realize that I'm worth it and the time it takes to care for myself properly.
2. Hold onto that hope! I've mentioned that we've been trying to extend our family and haven't been so successful to date. But I have a feeling this time around will be better (and to show it I even bought a beautiful little 2-4month outfit on Saturday to use for our future little one)
3. Move us into an environment with a better support system. I'd love to be closer to family and/or friends, but that might be tough, so at least find somewhere that feels more like home, and less transient that the usual grad school, postdoc length temporary home feeling.
4. Work on that cognitive training workbook I've kept neatly tucked in a drawer for the last half year. It's time to work on those skills

It's going to be a great year!

Friday, January 2, 2009

And so another year begins...

I've always liked New Year's Eve... but I like New Year's Day better. It's like turning the page, starting over fresh, gives you that new, unexplored feeling. What will 2009 be like? How will things change in the next year?

When I was in my early teens, I started a writing tradition. Every year on December 31 I would write a letter to my older (and presumably wiser) self. I'd write about the little things that happened in the last year that I wouldn't want to forget, about the things, people and places I loved and my dreams and hopes for them in the coming year. And I'd always wonder what my older self would think of me. Would she be happy with how I'd turned out? Wish she could go back to that New Year's eve many years ago and try it over again? Set things right? Would she think I was so foolish and naive and laugh at the small things that seems so large at the time?

I know those letters still exist. They're in my childhood room. I haven't looked at them in ages. I can't really even remember what they say, but I'll go back to them some day.

In the mean time, I want to return to writing. I want to have a place to mention the little things I won't want to forget, to chronicle my hopes and dreams and the path I took to get there. 2008 was one of the hardest years of my life. In other ways, an to an outsider, it might have been one of the best. I hope that 2009 can bring my outside and inside lives a bit closer together. And so, here I am. I'll start this blog off quiet, no promises of posting intervals. I'd like to keep it as anonymous as possible. Let's just leave the details at: I'm a postdoc living away from home, I'm happily married to another scientist, and we're trying to institute some major changes in our lives. First and foremost, to find new jobs, ideally closer to home, and a close second to add a new member to our family. This is life as I know it. I hope it's about to change. For the better.