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.