Wednesday, August 31, 2005

How feminine should I be?

Maybe I'm a little too fashion-conscious, but when I go to meetings I'm always faced with the same problem. Dresses are fine for some occasions, but mostly I have trouble taking myself seriously in a skirt. It's especially weird since, where I live, women tend to wear very little clothing, and everything very tight-fitting. So it's a strange place to be a scientist. I can never seem to really strike a balance between dressing appropriately for work and wearing something that's not too frumpy.

I had a friend in grad school who always wore short skirts, and you can bet that everyone noticed and nobody took her seriously. I tended to go the opposite direction in that environment- baggy sweatshirts and jeans, mostly. But I'm tired of being a slob, and where I work now is less male-dominated, so I feel like I should be allowed a little more self-expression. But that's at home, where I have options.

When I go to a meeting, I have to decide ahead of time what to bring, and I'm never sure about the weather or how formal people will be. I feel more confident in pants, maybe because I lived in a pretty dangerous city for a few years, and I prefer to wear comfortable shoes. But at these meetings where it's all men, I feel like there's nothing I can wear that will help me blend in while still feeling confident. There are definitely some weird identity issues associated with this phenomenon of having a bunch of men in suits visibly notice that you're not one of them.

I have never been one of those people who wanted to flirt, or manipulate the situation by looking a certain way. I guess I have been lucky, for the most part I've worked with people who looked me in the eye when we were talking. But having a PI who perpetually addressed my chest has made me much more self-conscious.

I read a poem yesterday by this guy James Tate, it's about how his friend's breast falls out of her shirt at dinner and he has a polite little conversation with it, how nice it is to see the breast, etc. It's kind of funny, because it's surreal and somehow he manages to make it almost respectful, but it still made me squirm. I can't help thinking that all of these guys, despite being scientists, are still thinking that way about every woman they meet. I know this isn't true because I'm certain that my boyfriend, my thesis advisor, and most of my co-workers are not that way. At least, I don't think they are. Maybe I just want these older men to learn to be more discreet!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005


well, I didn't want to be awake but we have the room by the elevator, overlooking the street and apparently very close to the laundry room, so it was very noisy very early here.

I noticed that the last blog I did received a "support our troops" ad from Google. I don't understand how that happened and I'm pretty disgusted with Google. Just for the record, I hate the Bush administration and I think the war should end. I mean, these people can't get their constitution together and still include all the factions... clearly they have a lot of issues they need to deal with and I don't think our being there is helping at this point, if it did at all. I actually read very few articles from Iraqis who were talking about how much better it was to have us destroy all their cities with bombs. And I'm paranoid enough to wonder if the ones about help from the US weren't somewhat staged?

So the recruiter guy I talked to yesterday was right, there is a position open. But on the page describing the position and how to apply, they want transcripts from undergraduate and graduate school. What the hell is this?? Bad enough that I had to submit them to apply for my postdotoral fellowship. But I'm suspicious about what kind of place this is, that is so concerned about what classes I took 10 years ago. Like I remember anything from any of them, even the good ones??

Besides, I looked at the webpage and they did this thing, maybe you've seen this, where they used very old photos, even if they completed their PhD in 1970. It makes the faculty look young, which almost makes up for them being almost exclusively white male. There are only something like 3 women in the whole department, that's out of 25+ people total. But I mean, come on. We know you had to scan them all in and you did it sometime in the last 10 years or so. You could have updated the photos to actually reflect the real demographic.

I'm wondering about the point of applying someplace like that. Even if I got an offer, which I doubt I would since everyone looks to be pretty top-notch, I don't know if I'd want to work there. And transcripts??? Are they kidding???

Anyway now I have to decide if I want to use the hotel gym one last time, I feel like I should since I'm not sure if going back to sleep is even a possibility.

Monday, August 29, 2005

My stupid poster. Or, I've been better.

So I ran into a couple of old friends at the poster session tonight. They asked me how I was doing. This was not a question I wanted to be asked.

Let's put it this way: we changed our travel plans so my boyfriend could give a talk for his boss, who had to cancel at the last minute. We all know that PIs frequently have their postdocs do a talk in their timeslot, but usually you get more than 48 hours notice.

Now I'm going to badmouth Kinko's a bit here. THEY SUCKED. The last time I printed my poster at Kinko's it sucked, too. I don't think I would go back there again. Can anyone recommend a good alternative besides not doing posters??? Last time we did it at home and they were just incredibly slow, every step took 24 hours, and it took multiple tries to get the poster looking halfway decent... so even though we started a week before we left for the meeting, we barely got it done in time.

This time they were faster, but the proofs looked crappy so we touched it up and re-sent the file. But, their website was down. Their email address bounced and the server claimed the file was too big... it wasn't. We finally got the file there.

So we went to pick it up and it was actually worse .... I just stood there, I was too frustrated to make any decisions or say anything, I just said "I can't use this."

Finally they gave me a discount and the manager said they could print it yet another time... that was when we went back, checked the files and realized it was their fault.... It's incredible that they don't even look at it on the screen before they print it, much less check it on the paper before they put it in the bag....

It's incredible how much time I wasted on their incompetence.

But wait! That was just the first half of the day! The poster session was at night and it was supposed to be one of those mixer things where recruiters come by. Well, I had only one recruiter who actually wanted to hear my spiel. It was a royal waste of time considering what we went through to get the stupid poster. My boyfriend's talk went the same way, nobody asked him any questions afterwards. But, later we saw a few people in the hallways who said they thought he did a good job. So that was good for him. A little exposure never hurts.

So I still say posters are pointless and it's not worth going if I'm not giving a talk. At least, the meetings I've been going to, it has been several years since I've had more than a handful of people come to my posters. Plus I suck at making posters, I'm never happy with how they look. And it's really time-consuming, not to mention expensive, compared to doing a talk.

So I will make a vow now, no more posters this year... I've made this vow every year for the last 3 years...

Anyway there were almost 200 people in my session, all of them looking for faculty positions. Granted this meeting was not really my field, I was an outlier and I knew it. But they claim they want more people like me, ha ha ha.

I don't know how they could possibly know I exist if they don't even come to my stupid poster.

After last week and seeing my actor friends, I have to quantitate how this is all going. Am I really enjoying any of this? Because much as they say it's a hard life being a performer and they hate trying to get work, when they're working they're having a great time for at least the 2 hours a day that the show is going on, and maybe more than that if the rehearsals are fun. Can I honestly say I have 2 hours a day when I'm really enjoying my work? I'm not sure it even averages out to 2 hours a day. Lately it's just work and I can't seem to get far enough away from it to actually feel like I'm on vacation. I just end up feeling guilty.

In NYC they have this phrase they use a lot, they say that these new kids who come in and take the shitty jobs are "hungry." I heard musicians say it, and I heard film editors say it, "they're just really hungry." And it builds the CV. Those people make contacts and eventually they get good jobs. But I feel like I've being doing the shitty jobs for 10 years and I'm just not hungry enough to do it anymore.

It helped that I ran into a couple of other people who said they feel the same way. They said they're tired of being at the bench, that they have students who do the technical stuff and they enjoy directing the research and they're ready to move up. And they're the same age as me. So I felt somewhat vindicated.

On another note, I saw a friend who got married last year and he said his advisor was very unhappy about it. His advisor was afraid he'd spend all his time worrying about mortgages. Well now his wife is pregnant and he's afraid to tell his advisor. I guess I find the whole thing ironic because he's an evangelical christian, yes you wouldn't guess but we went to high school together. Anyway his wife doesn't have a job, nevermind a career... of course this guy is worried, he has to bring home the bacon after all. But the world I live in, where the woman actually has a career herself and wants the chance to consider children without sacrficing her career is something that doesn't even register with people like him. Needless to say, while I think it's really sad that his advisor is such a jerk, it's hard for me to be too sympathetic.

That said, I should go take a shower and go to bed. I haven't slept nearly enough, which is another reason I'm frustrated nearly to tears by this whole trip. But one final note: this meeting was vastly a white male majority. I forgot how bad that could be. It was totally alienating, and it didn't help that most of the older men were blatantly scanning me up and down. I wasn't wearing anything remotely sexy or revealing, but they were definitely checking me out as if I were anything but a scientific colleague.

Hard to take yourself seriously when you're alternately ignored and objectified. Definitely not a recipe for recruiting more women to science.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

it's like, art, dude

So, I'm still in NYC, a little drunk right now, waiting for food. Went to a Film Screening tonight, including the After Party with Free Drinks.

Let's just say, the whole week has been very different than our usual.

At home, where we've been living lately is great. I love it, it's so chill and I can just do my thing and not feel judged about how I choose to live to my life in the day-to-day. But something about the East Coast, I want to write poems about how sad everyone seems and how competitive it is here, and how there are all these people... NYC is really the last melting pot. I kind of miss that. At home, we live in a very white area. Out here people are so much more emotional and expressive, granted some of them have to get drunk to do it, but then they'll tell you their whole life story. Where we live, that just doesn't happen. I don't know if people genuinely have nothing interesting to say or if they're just less analytical about everything. I think there's some minimum amount of deconstruction you have to do to qualify to live in NYC, and if you don't know what that means, they won't let you even rent a crappy apartment in Brooklyn.

Anyway we've been seeing shows and hanging out with actors and prostelytizing about science, etc. We're being Cultural Ambassadors for Biology. Tonight we met a guy who is writing a sci-fi novel and wanted our opinion, that was pretty funny. Don't meet people like that at home! But mostly right this second I am wanting food, a different life, and to do away with this weird restlessness that attacked me over the last week. There's just so much to do here, I'm trying to absorb it all as fast as I can and just be glad to go home, but actually I think the stimulation has been really good in a lot of ways. The problem is now I think I'm going to need a week to decompress before I go back to work. So I'm thinking about taking a few extra days off to meditate on the state of my life and whether I should be pushing for change or just be patient and know that it will come soon enough.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Is it vacation yet?

I was so stressed out and PMS-ing that I decided to work at home today. Needless to say I worked for about two hours on my grant (pretty productive two hours, but still) and then started doing stuff to get ready for this trip.

Traveling stresses me out, especially when I know the weather will be unpleasant and I have no idea what the accomodations will be like. I have this thing about privacy, clean bathrooms, and um, sheets. We're staying with my boyfriend's brother. I may have mentioned this before, but last time we visited him, he was living bachelor-style to the max: he was sharing a loft with four other guys and they had put up their own divider walls. We slept on his futon, which had, and I'm not making this up, no sheets. Gross!! And the bathroom was totally unusable for showering purposes. I have a pretty high tolerance for dirt if I know I'm going camping, but I am too old and too overeducated to be roughing it in the city. This time of month. Ugh!

warning, tiny rant here: I should be getting paid what I'm worth!!!

heh. Ok, I'm fine, really. We're taking him sheets as a 'housewarming' gift, isn't that clever?? I'm also going to bring my own towel, just in case. Supposedly he lives with his girlfriend now, which makes me wonder about the futon some more.... yuccccckkkk.

Then we're going to the wedding of my best friend from high school. It's going to be really weird, since she and all of her friends are professional singers and dancers and actors and clowns. She's sort of my alter-ego: I used to think I wanted to do that stuff, and part of me still does. But at this point I know there's no going back, so the fact that she's asked me to participate in some of the entertainment for the wedding makes it especially weird. Granted, I begged off being a bridesmaid, so it could be worse. But I think it's going to be a depressing wake-up call after all these years.

On the other hand, maybe I'll be relieved that I didn't go that direction. Maybe I'm just too introverted (ha ha, says the anonymous blogger). Maybe I'll be put off by all the diva antics and we won't be able to get a word in edgewise, so we can just go into anthropology mode and laugh about it later. Maybe I'll just think wow, my friends are so much smarter and more interesting than they would be if we were all professional musicians. Or something.

So since I'm going to be confronted with the fallout from this major life choice, music vs. science, I know this trip won't be relaxing.

I guess because of that I feel like I deserve a day or two off at home where I can just chill and have some privacy and do what I want. Is that really so selfish?

Meanwhile, I've sent >10 job applications so far, and got stuck having a long conversation with an administrative person yesterday who seemed to think I was doing "a lot" of applications. Most people just have no clue how competitive it really is. This makes me wonder, since she supposedly helped someone else apply last year (he ended up taking an industry position after having his top school's offer fall through at the last minute because he didn't confirm with them before turning down his other offer). So after this conversation I was doing some calculations, and here's what I came up with:

Average number of applications per faculty position at a research university in the biosciences: 300
Maximum number of people who actually get the job: 1
Chance per position I apply for ~ 0.3%
Number of positions I've applied for times the chance per position ~ 3%
Where I'd like to think I rank in applicants ~ on paper, maybe the top 10% of people at my level of experience, at best

(I'm not going to think too hard about this, since I don't have any Cell/Science/Nature papers, nor do I have a super-prestigious fellowship or a famous boss. I'm also competing with people who have 6-9 years of postdoc experience. Why that looks good I still can't quite fathom.)

Of course anybody who knows me knows I'm totally ready for a faculty position. What really blows me away are these people who say they're scared of it. I just can't relate at all. We're 30 years old!! When are you ready to be an adult and get a real job, if you're not ready now???

(But secretly I'm thrilled that they're scared, since it means they won't be applying this year, which means they won't be competing with me! )

mua ha ha...

Grand total number of positions I'd have to apply for to have a 10% chance of getting one: at least 30

So I have 20 to go before I think I can honestly say I covered my bases. I guess I'm hoping some more places will start advertising next month.

I'm also hoping I don't have nightmares about work every single night while we're gone. I actually really suck at taking vacations. The guilt is just too ingrained, plus if I'm bored I find myself thinking I might as well be working since at least that's usually not too dull. I haven't been sleeping well at all this week, which I'm going to blame on the raging PMS that seems to get worse the older I get. Why do I always have to have my period while I'm traveling???? One of these days I will catch on and start refusing to go on trips if they don't fit with my Schedule.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Friday Night In Grant-Land

So, I can see from my window that the sun is out and starting to move towards the horizon. Where did the day go? Why did I spend it all in here? Did I even get anything done?

Had a reprieve from journal club so I worked at my computer ALL DAY. This is very weird for me, I'm starting to get stir-crazy to get back to the bench. But I really have to work on my grant. I finally printed out what I have and started going through it with a ball-point pen. It always looks much worse when I really get into editing mode than if I'm just scrolling back and forth on screen. I guess it's good to be realistic, but I can't believe how much work I still have to do. This thing is enormous, it's a full 25 pages, like an R-01. Ugh!

Sent another job application today. I'm up to 7 now, with 2 more to go next week and still looking for ads or other heads-ups about Assistant Professors in Cell or Molecular Biology or Biochemistry. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Speaking of Bueller, I'm having serious senior-itis here. Every four years or so, in high school, college, and grad school, I get seriously sick of being in the same place. This is my fourth year as a postdoc, and although it has flown by rather quickly and I've been incredibly busy, I still feel like I've been treading water and wasting my life. In all the other cases, I was mostly finished with what I had to do by year four, so I could kind of slack off without getting myself into too much trouble. That's not the case this year. I feel like I'm halfway to nowhere with my project, I just have lots of data that don't make any sense and this feeling that I'm going to be groping around half-blind for a few more years before I start to see enough of a pattern to write another paper. Slacking is not going to help in that department. Hordes of elfin helpers would be nice...

So, to cope with this feeling that I'm too isolated and in over my head, I'm starting to do that thing again where I email strangers asking for reagents. Half of them will think I'm completely crazy and want to know why on earth I would want their plasmid, drug or antibody. Some will make me jump through flaming MTA hoops, but some of them will actually just send the stuff. I've made lots of progress in the past just by reading papers and coming up with ideas and emailing people. Usually I just ask if they want to collaborate, or would they at least send me some stuff so I can try to test my crazy hypothesis. In some cases people have been very helpful but their reagents were crap. But some of these things turned into really productive collaborations and papers. I'd settle for any tiny amount of progress right now. If it gives me some miniscule insight, that would be great!

So I skipped a party tonight in order to go home and work on my grant. Very sad way of life, but maybe I'll make enough of a dent in the first half of the weekend to get a little slacking time in before Monday. Pretty sad when slacking is your main motivating factor. It's not like I have any fun activities planned, since we're going on a trip next week. I don't know how much fun that will be, since it will include visiting various sick relatives and a few events designed to help me attempt to schmooze for jobs. I'm looking at my calendar and freaking out. I can't believe we're almost halfway through August already. What my great-grandmother said was right: the older you get, the faster time goes.

I feel old already.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Motivation from within

I'm writing to you from an ancient computer, so responding to yesterday's comments will have to wait for now.

I'm waiting for my cells to do their thang. They're not being very cooperative. And I'm starving, so that doesn't help my patience.

Had yet another chat with someone today who just can't stand her advisor and wants to switch labs before eventually going to industry or possibly leaving science altogether. She's a postdoc and I guess I just find it kind of amazing how needy she is.

Apparently her thesis advisor was really awesome and she's having a hard time adjusting to the concept that most advisors are not like that. Perhaps most irritating for me is, her advisor is actually pretty good. All of her horrible stories about this advisor involve things the advisor said to other people . This postdoc wasn't even a witness at any of these events. So I have to wonder why she's so upset about it? Granted, you'd like to think your advisor would treat everyone the same way, but I've never met one who did.

But you can't tell people to just quit whining and realize that we're 30 years old, for chrissakes, and guess what? Your heroes aren't perfect. You can't expect your role models to be perfect at everything, you have to piece them together from bits of everybody you admire for different reasons.

I guess what bugs me most is that instead of just admitting that she's not motivated without outside encouragement, she's instead trying to blame her advisor for sapping all her optimism, or something. These are really two entirely different problems: lack of encouragment is not the same as someone degrading you as a person or telling you your project will never work.

Sigh. Well I sent out a couple more job applications today, and I have a few more in the pipeline. I finally got my research proposal and cover letter into semi-decent shape, after wringing some feedback out of a couple of young professor friends of mine. Of course they totally disagreed on what I needed to do, so I had to aim for the middle. But this is something I should have learned in grad school.

Where I went to school, if you did exceptionally well or exceptionally badly, there would be hell to pay. Doing too well meant everyone would expect you to be productive and generally ingenious about everything. And since nobody is good at everything, that inevitably led to disaster. Doing too badly on exams betrayed what everyone already knew: that they were bullshit and not worth the time. But no one wanted their faces rubbed in it. So we were told to aim for the middle. Doesn't really sound like a recipe for success, does it?

As someone who grew up watching Sesame Street, Fame, the Great American Hero, and all those tv shows that raved about always doing your best, it's hard for me to aim for the middle. I always tend to overcorrect. And wonder what would happen if everybody quit aiming for the middle and actually just pushed as hard they could in the same direction at the same time? Would we have cured cancer by now?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Movies Meme

Well kids, I am very tired today, due to a massive dose of antihistamines the last couple of days. Don't ask. Anyway since utenzi tagged me, I will try to think of a few movies for you to munch on, in semi-chronological order of when I saw them and liked them. I don't necessarily still like all of these as much as I did then, not by a long shot. And I'm sure some anal-retentive person will correct me if I list them in the wrong order of when they were made:

The Wizard of Oz
The Muppet Movie
West Side Story
Top Gun
The (original) Star Wars Trilogy
Lorenzo's Oil
Medicine Man
the Indiana Jones movies
Dead Again
GI Jane
Sliding Doors
Fight Club
Minority Report
Along Came Polly
Bend it Like Beckham
The Truman Show
The Sixth Sense
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I'm sure I'm forgetting many movies that deeply influenced me, or at least that I wanted to see more than once, but right now I'm mostly just trying to stay awake. I spent most of the day re-writing cover letters and research proposals for job applications. To the person who commented that maybe I should just go to biotech, the answer is no thanks, I don't want to go there. Maybe when I'm sufficiently beaten down by this whole process. Give me at least another year, and about a week of solid sleep.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Science in times of famine

So, our lab budget has gotten tighter but we still have the same number of people. So in honor of that, a few of my least favorite human behaviors:

1. Hoarding. One person takes a tube of enzyme buffer, so the next person can't find it. So the next person realizes they better take some too, or they'll be stuck without it next time. This behavior tends to propagate, resulting in many many overlapping reagents that will all go bad before they get used up. It's a royal waste of money, nevermind the irritation factor for the people who would rather share than hoard.

2. Useless equipment purchases. Some things got broken in the move, plus we had to buy some new stuff since we can't share with the same people anymore. Well, at least one thing needed to get fixed and our advisor thought it looked old, so we were told to buy a new one. It would have cost $100 to fix it, but our fearless leader spent $1000 on a new one, and we'll still get the old one fixed. We don't need two. Does this sound like a logical use of resources?

3. Pass-the-blame. We have a new person doing ordering, so of course when stuff doesn't get ordered, it's not the fault of the person who used the last one, it's the fault of the person doing the ordering (whom no one told). Poor kid doesn't know which way is up.

Part of me thinks if we had a stronger PI, who was more in touch, this stuff wouldn't be happening. Another option would be to have a stronger lab manager, whom people respected more. Instead we have burgeoning chaos and diminishing funds. And a meeting planned to 'discuss' some of these 'issues.' Oh, I'm so looking forward to that!

... Note added in proof: meeting took 1.5 hours. Same 3 people volunteered for most of the lab jobs, what else is new?

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Waiting for the autoclave

So this is the first time I've had a few uninterrupted minutes at the computer today. I'm feeling pretty frazzled, and I still have to pour plates before I can go to the gym.

This morning was spent trying to communicate with my advisor via email (she's out of town). At first it went rather badly, but then I think I got my point across, finally, although I'm not sure if that accomplished anything. I'm still trying to unlearn the instinctive response to freak out when I get emails that look important. After my thesis advisor, I realized I had post-traumatic shock from exchanging really evil emails with him. Then the last person I worked for tended to be very discouraging in a very passive-aggressive way, so it took me a while to catch on, sometimes days after I read the message. My current advisor means well, I think, and doesn't realize how she comes across sometimes. And my communication skills have definitely improved to the point where I can usually manage to explain myself, if I don't let myself get paranoid or defensive.

Anyway I still have to send another semi-important email, but I think I'm going to put it off until tomorrow in the hopes that I will be calmer then.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Science Utopia

So many people agreed with me about the time & money thing, here is my vision of utopia:

Once upon a time, there was a place called Bell Labs. They gave their employees food and caffeine whenever they needed it, a place to sleep if they wanted to work late and crash, and plenty of toys to stimulate the imagination when they got stuck. They had great benefits and understood that their scientists would get more done and be more creative if they didn't have to worry about grocery shopping, commuting home, or looking busy just to look busy, nevermind paying the dentist or ferrying their kids back and forth from childcare (I don't actually know if Bell labs had any childcare, since I'm not sure they had many women working there, but we'll overlook that as a historical oversight).

I really do think that every lab should have a couch, if not several, a kitchen and a living room for breaks. There should be a television so we can watch the news- I have horror stories about people who went to work on 9/11 not knowing what happened because they never turn on a radio or tv, nevermind reading a newspaper.

The people who have vision and want to ask questions will give ideas to the people who are happiest just running the gels and getting the answers. All journals will be free and of equal quality, since peer review will be on the internet and open to everyone. Order of authorship won't matter. And tenure won't be decided by how many papers you publish or in what journals.

I actually kind of like the self-selecting model of science: the people who want to do it will do it because they want to, not because it has better benefits than any other job. So in my version of utopia, all jobs will have to have these perks, so people can pick their career for the right reasons and not feel like they're sacrificing anything. Instead they can choose based on their personal intellectual satisfaction with science vs. law vs. whatever other profession.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Jealousy and Nebulosity

So, nebulosity first. My advisor just sent me some info about something she wants me to apply for. It's not a faculty position, but when I tried to ask her more about it she got all snippy, even though they really don't describe what it is on the website. I think it's a glorified posdoc position, which might be fine and probably a step up from a glory-free and thankless postdoc position, but it was the snippiness that really pissed me off. God forbid I should ask for more information and a tiny bit of communication! It would be really funny if they invited me to visit and I had to ask them at the interview just what it is they think they're recruiting me for! Somehow I don't expect that this will be any different than applying for faculty positions, though, so I'm not expecting any phone calls.

Next, on to jealousy. So I just got one of those 'change of contact info' emails from a friend from high school who just got a faculty position. Granted, of all the people I know, she will be the perfect young professor, works really hard and totally deserves it. But it makes me ill anyway.

Meanwhile, it looks like this other guy I know is going to get a publication in a really top-notch journal, just because he's connected to one of the editors and the timing happens to be right. It's just one of those things, I'm not sure he deserves it, but I'm not sure I should be surprised, either. We all know this is how it works now, so I should probably just be happy for him that he has the opportunity to take advantage of the system. Or something.

Monday, August 01, 2005

What is my job?

In the old days, people would just send their CV around to a bunch of schools, regardless of whether there were any job ads that year. Nowadays it seems like you have to know where the openings are, because by the time the ads are out, you missed your chance.

But I'm looking at ads for faculty positions nonetheless, mostly because I don't have enough useful connections. The pickings are pretty pathetic. I don't do pharmacogenomics, I don't do systems biology, I don't do stem cell biology, I'm not an expert in mass spec or NMR, and I've never taken any anatomy, pathology or histology courses (I wanted to take pathology and histology, I just never had a chance). I certainly couldn't claim to be able to teach these things!

So I think I'm screwed. Cancer seems to be totally out of vogue as diseases go, or the med school market is just swamped with cancer researchers, and that's why they're not advertising? And I don't want to be in an Evo/Devo style Bio department. I never took Evolutionary Bio, how could I possibly teach it?

I'm wondering if this is the real reason people do 9-year postdocs: how else do you learn whether to market yourself as a pharmacogeneticist or not? Or is that what they're doing for the last 6 years of postdoc- making themselves ridiculously qualified for positions nobody could possibly be qualified for? Where are all these people? I'm thinking most of them must be MDs, because I have yet to meet any postdocs who work in the fields I'm seeing advertisements for now.

I have this funny feeling everyone is advertising for people who don't exist, and everyone is studying things that no one wants to have in their department. Seems like a little bit of planning would have helped us all out of this mess, but now it's too late.

Mommy Dearest & the Princess Syndrome

So this weekend I was thinking about parental role models. I was having one of those we-might-become-actual-friends conversations with someone who is leaving. She said she thinks it's very important who your parents are, whether they were the oldest or youngest sibling in their family, that those kinds of factors determine how you handle responsibility, compromise, all those kinds of interpersonal skills you need for working on teams and getting along with friends.

So I was thinking how, the last couple weeks, I've definitely been having doubts about my wanting to do science badly enough. My generation is the first one in my family where the women have had a chance at a Career. My mother was psychologically abused by her parents, which she then proceeded to do to us. Telling your daughters they're stupid does not make for future confidence and success in competitive academic careers.

Anyway I've more or less forgiven my mother, who never did have a career. She has mellowed and so have I. And she can't influence me the way she did before. But there is still the influence of genetics on my philosophy. My mother is not the sort of person who handles interpersonal interactions well, she finds them stressful and tends to burn her bridges too easily when she gets fed up with people. Obviously I have the same tendencies, but I'm trying to practice my Daily Tao and cope better with these things, not be perpetually paranoid, etc. I've definitely made some progress in the last few years.

But part of me just thinks, well maybe the women in my family are just not cut out for this career stuff. Maybe we all have this kind of Princess Syndrome: I'm ready to retire now. I have a really hard time feeling sorry with these people who are retiring and talking about how they're terrified they'll have nothing to do.

I feel like I've already been working so hard for so long, with no payoff in sight. By the time my mom was my age, she already had kids, and that was really all she had to worry about. I don't want kids, and I'm not saying being 'just a mom' is easier than being a scientist, but sometimes I think getting to stay home every day would be a pretty cushy set-up. To some extent you'd have more control over your environment, whom you have to interact with and when, more control over your schedule. Lately coming in and putting in the hours seems incredibly taxing, and I have a really hard time picturing myself doing this- or any other professional job- for the next 30 years.

It's the whole idea of having a full-time job and constantly worrying about doing well enough to keep that job, and still having to be a grown-up and take care of all those grown-up things, like dentist appointments, car insurance, hair cuts, shopping for clothes.... Especially for girls. We are just expected to do so much more to look the right way, and it's a lot of work to look good! It just seems like too much to keep on top of it all.

I guess I was thinking about this because this weekend we bought something for our house and it was missing a part. So we had to take it back. The time it took for us to exchange it seemed like a gigantic imposition, it screwed up our whole schedule. I was thinking about this friend of mine who has a 9-to-5 job as a technician and is constantly shopping, returning, exchanging, and shopping some more, for clothing and house supplies. I was thinking about how many hours of your life that adds up to. I'm just amazed by people who can be so organized and on top of all these things, and they never seem anywhere near as tired or fed up as I am, and I'm neither organized nor on top of all these things! How do they do it???

I was talking with my boyfriend about how we don't have any time, and how we both need a wife (or a mom). It's funny, it's only dawning on him now that it's nearly impossible to work this many hours a week and still do laundry, go to the grocery store, cook something occasionally... there just isn't enough time. Of course I knew this already, but he was always willing to put up with eating out, doing laundry last-minute, and cleaning only when absolutely necessary. Needless to say we're both growing out of our tolerance for that kind of lifestyle. And I'm starting to wonder if I don't need more help. He doesn't have time to pick up the slack at home, either, and we can't afford a maid or grocery service. But sometimes I wonder if a big pile of money wouldn't solve a lot of the stress I'm feeling right now.