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.