Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Taking Over From the Bottom Rung

Ok, so lately I feel like I am falling back into the same pattern I've been in every lab I've worked in so far. I'm one of those people, I hate running out of stuff. I hate it when stuff breaks. I really do think that productivity comes directly from not having to worry about the stupid little shit, so you can direct your brain cells to bigger problems.

So I am always the one ordering things, the one autoclaving tips... even though it's not my job, and just because we ran out.

So far, no one has ever given me any kind of award for this type of behavior, but I try to think it has its own rewards, which is to say, it helps me. And I'm not the kind of person who is going to hoard disposables just so I don't have to tell anyone we ran out. I hate seeing other people go through the same irritation I've been through, it's just a waste of everybody's energy.

But, it's not my job, and it's not my lab, and I resent having to do it and never getting any credit (and by that I mean, more salary or specific mention of my incredibly hardworking and conscientious nature in my recommendation letters). Sometimes I pretend it's my lab, or that it's good practice for having my own lab. And some days, like today, I go to a crappy seminar and come out afterwards thinking, not only will I never get a job, but I'm not sure I want these people as my life-long colleagues anyway.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wait Your Turn

"Wait your turn" is what my advisor said to me yesterday when I told her I'm not sure what to expect from the job search business.

She was complaining that one of her former postdocs- and this is a very common complaint- doesn't want to be bothered finishing up some publications since he left. I told her there's no incentive once you get out, unless you actually think you're contributing to society or the general progress of scientific knowledge. If it doesn't get you anything immediately and personally, most people just don't care.

Anyway it took most of the day for her comment about waiting to sink in.

She meant it in terms of her own grants- everyone knows now that most grants don't get funded on the first try, but that perseverance counts for a lot. So I think that's what she meant- just keep trying.

But. I also think this betrays a certain female attitude, that good things will come to those who wait patiently, fold their hands prettily in their laps and smooth their hair.

Screw that. Men aren't going to wait. Men say, "Give it to me!" and they get it. They go out there and they demand a job. They're never going to assume it will eventually come if they're just... what, passive enough? Give me a break.

Yeah, yeah, some men are passive too. But women are usually terrified to be aggressive, because we're usually punished if we stand up and insist on being counted.

I just think this is something my advisor doesn't even realize has hurt her own career. I can think of all kinds of examples where a little more assertiveness on her part would have helped, rather than complaining after the fact that nobody noticed that she was doing a good job and deserved more, or whatever. To me, this is a trap women always fall into, and I'm trying to learn how to avoid doing it myself.

I think we have to start by getting rid of the attitude that waiting is a worthwhile activity- sometimes it's just not worth the wait. I decided a long time ago that I'm not going to stay a postdoc for 9 years just to get a faculty position. To be honest, I don't want one badly enough to do this for that long. I think I've paid enough dues, and if I don't fit the profile of what most search committees are looking for at this point, I give up. They want to complain that there's not enough innovation in science, but they're looking for the wrong thing if all they're hiring are people who did 8 or 9 years of postdoc.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I'm the right color after all

Your Blog Should Be Blue

Your blog is a peaceful, calming force in the blogosphere.

You tend to avoid conflict - you're more likely to share than rant.

From your social causes to cute pet photos, your life is a (mostly) open book.

Vacation alter ego

So I've been back from 'vacation' for almost a week, but I'm still recovering. I've been having lots of comings-and-goings of achy pains, which I'm blaming on a variety of things. I've been doing yoga for my back, drinking lots of water, and taking various herbs and vitamin supplements, but so far nothing is consistently helping. I'm sure they'll all be gone by the time I see my doctor in February, only to return sometime in late March.

Sigh. It's good to be home.

This was a strange trip for me, because I effectively had no identity. We went to the wedding of my boyfriend's friends, with their family. I didn't know any of these people, and I didn't get the impression any of them wanted to know me, either. And I didn't have the energy to be Ms. Outgoing Girl. I'm saving that, perhaps optimistically, in case I get any job interviews.

I realized my world is usually divided into two kinds of people: my fellow scientist/academics/researchers/friends who already know what I do on one side, and on the other side, people who don't know the first thing about it but who are generally pretty impressed to be talking to a 'cancer researcher'. And both kinds are typically full of questions.

But the people at this wedding didn't know, or didn't care, and didn't ask what I do. And I had to admit, a lot of my identity is wrapped up in what I do. I found myself wishing I had the kind of job that included a uniform, or television coverage. Some kind of visible reminder that I deserve some credit, some respect. Gosh darnit. This was an interesting thing to realize: my persistent craving for feedback. It never really goes away. And it's not that I would really want to be an actress and hounded by the paparazzi, I just wish scientists were viewed as more valuable members of society.

But, even if I'm not talking science, I can list off a long reel of hobbies that usually provide interesting topics of conversation. To be perfectly honest, I didn't want to be too pretentious, so I mostly kept mum. This was, after all, a Walmart-shopping crowd, or as I euphemistically like to say, "they're pretty provincial." A couple of times I made the mistake of mentioning some of our recent travels, and was met with blank expressions and awkward silence. I really think these people don't believe other countries actually exist, much less that it is possible to actually visit them -- and find good things to eat there.

In that sense, it was useful, I think, to be reminded what the rest of this country is like: when we went out to eat, the waiters had my boyfriend taste the wine and pay the bill (where we live, things are bit more evolved than that). A long time ago we jokingly agreed that we would take turns paying when we eat out, but if they give the bill to him, he has to pay (pay for the sexism of the world, that is). So in more than one way, for this trip, I was The Girlfriend.

I hate being The Girlfriend. Hence my not rushing to be The Wife. Granted, we will be two PhDs if/when we get around to making an arrangement to be recognized by the State, but I'm sure we'll still get mail addressed to Mister and Mister's Wife. I'm just not ready to go there yet. I'd honestly like to wait until gay marriage is legal - or until we move to a country that recognizes it as legal. Canada, anyone?

So when the bride and her sister-in-law-to-be were talking about changing their names to match their husbands', I was thinking, "GET ME OUTTA HERE." They talked about pedicures and shopping in excruciating detail. (I've never had a pedicure and don't plan to ever need to pay someone to paint my toes, thank you very much, I can do it myself and no one is going to examine them with a magnifying glass, anyway.) And so on. The bride kept mentioning her ring, and her dress. She was no Bridezilla, but I was suprised she wore a veil, since the ceremony was pretty secular.

Having said that, I continue to be astounded at how many women seem to enjoy the ritual without really thinking about what it means historically: women as property. Preferably virgin property. (Her dress was ivory, btw, not white.) I found myself wondering, am I the only one who finds it supremely offensive to see people carrying on these customs? I guess I tend to be that way, since I'm atheist to the point where it makes me physically ill to sit in most churches anyway, nevermind if there is a wedding going on at the time.

Sadly, it was pretty clear that the bride is much smarter than anyone realizes, including herself. She clearly was raised to believe that being smart, especially for a girl, was 'nerdy' -- and therefore uncool.

In the middle of all this, one of my best friends called to ask me a question about some cells she's growing. Or not growing. The was the problem: she was calling to ask me to help her figure out why they seemed sick. I asked if she had seen any dark specks in the culture, so we decided it might be contamination. Et voila! I felt a little bit smarter and more useful, even if I was beginning to wonder if I shouldn't charge some kind of consulting fee for these questions. Of which there have been many since she started her job in industry.

Sigh. And the career crisis continues. Did I mention I'm up to four rejection letters?

Along those lines, I managed to mostly undo my general need for geekiness by going to brunch at a friend's house today. The conversation included quite a bit about computers and video games. I spent most of this last week alternating extreme fatigue with obsessively cleaning the house and trying to avoid going back to work. This morning I woke up and realized I'm kind of looking forward to starting some experiments again, finally. If nothing else, I'll feel like I'm earning the credit the world will never accord me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

to Zuska, you are not an idiot


I like you so I will avoid being rankled by your obvious defensiveness. I'm not being dismissive, nor do I think you have any disabilities re: reading. But. I guess you just missed my comment.

Here is your quote: "I am wondering if part of the reason why you find that female faculty or AWIS members or women in industry are of no help to you as mentors...might be because you are dismissive of anything they might have to say?"

Here is my quote: "I read Ms Mentor's Impeccable Book a while ago, and although I found most of it interesting and much of it amusing, it didn't really tell me anything new."

And here is the link to the comment where I posted it (scroll down and search for the word "Mentor"). 3 posts ago. Anyway, not for picking nits, we both have better things to do. I just wanted to post this here because I had to check myself that it was really there. Since it was in a comment, rather than a main post, I can see how you might have missed it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

More ethical woes

Random Asides:

To Zuska: as I mentioned in a previous reply to one of your comments, I already read Ms. Mentor's book. It didn't solve all my problems. Sorry.

re: recent discussions about the Pill, etc. I heard on CNN this morning that the makers of the Patch are now admitting users are at a higher risk of blood clots because of the high dose of hormones in it... really glad I got off it. And I have to wonder if there's a connection there with the onset of my migraines- there definitely was a correlation with the timing.


So I have two really frightening stories to tell today, assuming I have time to type them before my timer goes off. I'll try to make it brief.


1- Regarding the job search. A friend of mine told me recently that the reason her husband got a job at Well-Known University is because she happened to know a guy from her company who knew a guy on the search committee, whose wife wanted to work at their company...

and voila, everyone scratches each other's back, and two days later, he has the job.

Granted, he got the interview all on his own, but he hadn't heard from them in months. The friend wrote a somewhat misleading recommendation letter (he had actually never met the husband), and all is taken care of.

This is the stuff that wakes me up in the middle of the night.


2- Apparently a National Academy of Sciences member who works in my area has been sexually harrassing- actually, attacking- women for decades.

It's one of those stories that comes out when women admit to each other that it happened to them, "Oh, it happened to you too???" is how it goes.

I want to know why the National Academy condones this kind of behavior.

The worst twist in this story: one of the women on the Misconduct Oversight Committee said the women who complained "shouldn't rock the boat." Thanks a lot, lady. We really want guys like this in our midst!

I have a feeling I would critically injure anyone who tried a move like that on me, and I would be the one to end up in court for assault and battery. But it would probably be worth it. I'd rather be the one who takes the guy out for good than the one who is supposed to be in charge of Oversight, and chooses instead to Overlook. Shame on you!

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On headaches, daylight spendings, and mentors

1. Creeping headache has been off and on most of the day. It's not quite of migraine proportions yet, but I suspect I should go home and take some of that Zimorg, or whatever the hell it's called, that my doctors have been shoving at me. I haven't tried it yet- anybody want to warn me about scary side-effects now??

2. I hate daylight savings time. I cannot wait until it ends in 2007.

Got another rejection letter... I'm not heartbroken, since in a way it confirms that the committees are actually looking at applications now. It wasn't a top choice or even a place I thought I had a good chance with, but. But. It's been such an irritating few weeks, I could really use some good news, rather than the very brief "we have decided not to go further with your application." Oh well. Fortunately my years of writing poetry got me relatively inured to rejection letters. I know that on some level it's just a statistics game, like cloning: you only need one to say yes.

And don't get me started on all the other irritating things that happened today. Let's just say they mostly comprise other people not doing their jobs, in such a way that it has only contributed to my growing headache. And, the headache being what it is, I'm not inclined to expend the energy to fix any of these problems today!

My only good news so far this week: I finally managed to talk to my best friend, after playing yet another week-long round of phone-tag. Yay.

The news from all my friends in a nutshell: our parents are getting old and sick. One has a depressed mother, one has two parents with cancer, one has a parent with Alzheimer's, another has a parent with Parkinson's.

I know I'm supposed to be glad that I have my health, or whatever, but the headache is preventing me from believing it.

3. Someone brought up a good point in the last set of comments about meeting older, more experienced Academic Warrior Women. Here is my experience in a series of stereotypes:

1- the Women Studies professors kick ass, but I never see them. (see also 3 below for why)
2- Bitchy Prof, whose mission appears to be to step on anyone who tries to follow them up the career ladder.
3- Strong Leader Prof, who is too busy writing her grants and paying attention to her own people to mentor me.
4- Nice But Clueless Prof, who looks at me blankly when she asks me how things are going and I try to tell her anything that isn't 100% positive and professional.
5- Socially Inept Prof, who won't even look me in the eye, much less have a conversation with me.

So far, the best I can do is scramble from crumbs, a few minutes here and there, or emails, with #3 up there. Despite numerous efforts to be friendly and outgoing with #5, I haven't made much progress there, because even when I can convince them to talk, they're typically unwilling to cough up anything about their own lives. Although I think some of the things I say do eventually sink in with #4, they either take forever to process in her very slow brain, or she has no experience of her own to draw from to be supportive. Either way, I don't get much out, even though I am still holding out hope that I am at least contributing to her education!

Sigh. I think the headache is winning, so I should probably go home. Anyway just wanted to say thanks again to all of you who are offering encouragement... blogs are so weird since we have this little ethereal community of virtual strangers... but it really does help a lot to combat the isolation.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Sick with dread

So yesterday and today I am feeling ill. I'm pretty sure it's from stress, fear that this experiment didn't work, compounded this morning by what I perceived as an absence of a friendly greeting from my advisor, prompting all kinds of paranoia that I think is mostly post-traumatic stress leftover from my previous two advisors. And it's Monday, so I'm also feeling guilty about not really wanting to run all the samples I collected over the weekend, even though I have no way of knowing whether the experiments worked until I do, and no way to decide what to set up next until that happens, so it will delay everything this week if I don't get off my butt and start doing it.

But I feel ill and anxious, so I am trying to remind myself to breathe, etc. and think good thoughts. Nevermind constantly having to push bad thoughts about the job search out of my mind. On the way in this morning I was thinking I should do more networking today, and maybe that would make me feel better, or something.
This weekend we had lunch with an old friend of my boyfriend's, and by old I mean he's older than our parents. This guy is my worst nightmare- the old fart of science. He thinks he knows everything, it's his way or the highway, everyone is an idiot or a feminist (bad) or a foreigner (also bad). My boyfriend knows him from work, and he finds all of this guy's offensiveness amusing, probably because none of it is ever directed at him or any minority groups he belongs to. And he figures he's harmless... but I'm not so sure. Who knows what kind of crap this guy perpetrated on his students and trainees over the years??? Based on the stuff he says, it's hard not to fear the worst. I find it especially frightening that this guy is still teaching classes: these poor people sign up and pay money, and probably have no idea what they've gotten themselves into.

Anyway I guess part of my panic at the moment stems from worrying that I might- god forbid- meet more people like this guy, and worse than that, have to work with one someday. This guy, and guys like him, are a definite dealbreaker for me when it comes to the workplace. I think having to face up to the fact that people like this actually exist is probably good, it keeps me from being too naive. But I have to wonder how many of them there are out there?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Still Struggling

So, I felt a little better this morning after resting up last night. Then I got here, and ran around dealing with finishing experiments from yesterday and setting up experiments for the weekend- yes, the weekend. The experiment from yesterday didn't really work, but we already knew that. Needless to say I'm not overwhelmed by optimism right now.

Then I got another email: my friend has already gotten his second job interview.

I got - drumroll please- another affirmative action form last night. Yippee.

This afternoon I have to go to a seminar, so I am pretty much planning to slack off until then. It would be nice to think positive, and all that, but I just don't have the energy. The title from today came from a grad student in my lab. I asked how she was doing, and that is what she said: still struggling. Amen.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Going home early

So I think for the good of myself, my experiments, and everyone, I am going to go home early today. This morning I dropped a full ice bucket and lost a sample... had to retrieve the mop from the lab that had 'borrowed' it... I knew that was a bad omen already. Then I ripped the gel... you know what kind of day I'm having.

Research project for the next generation: find the klutziness gene and figure out how to turn it off.

Yesterday I took everyone's rather vocal and unanimous (that never happens! ) advice that I contact some people, and sent out about a dozen emails. I figured that was enough for a first run.

Everyone said sure, they'd try to remember to mention my name when they figured out if they actually knew people on the search committee (or even anyone in the department).

If nothing else, I got caught up with several people I hadn't heard from in a while (since they don't email me, I have to email them). Anyway most of them responded in the affirmative, but some had bad news to share, which they wouldn't have done if I hadn't asked how they were doing. Kind of sad, and it makes me wish more of my friends lived nearby (and that they would actually keep in touch...).

Today everything aches, my advisor is out of town, and I really wish we had a couch in our lounge space. But we don't. The medical part of the building has couches, but they're not the sort that interns nap on, so I think I would be presumed a sick patient if I crashed out on one of them.

My friend who got the interview says he is scrambing to put together a one-hour talk about his proposed research, so he encouraged me to start on that ahead of time with the assumption that I will need it sooner or later.

So I figure it will be one of those Powerpoint-couch-TV afternoons. So I don't know if I will get home in time for Oprah or Ellen or any of those. I'm still pissed they moved the Buffy rerun timeslot. In some ways I find it a lot of fun visualizing the presentation and making everything look pretty, so hopefully I will come back tomorrow all refreshed and bouncy (!). Or, at least not feeling as yucky as I do today.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

To network or not to network

So today I got yet another letter someone had sent to my advisor requesting applicants, and it's a good place, so I figured I should go ahead and do it. They asked for some information that none of the other places asked for, as such, so I was going through some old material I had from when I met with a (mostly useless and extremely overpriced) career coach.

One of the things she had me do was make a list of potential contacts at various places where I was considering applying. I was supposed to then actually contact these people and make sure they know who I am, so when I applied they would help me out (because, the theory goes, they would have been immediately won over by my obvious charm and be glad to help).

Anyway so I ended up actually contacting only a few of these people, but those were all for purely scientific reasons and all turned out great. Looking back at this list, a lot of these places aren't advertising for someone like me this year, yada yada, so there are reasons why it makes no sense to contact the people I originally had listed.

Now I'm wondering if I should be looking up more appropriate people, banging on doors and saying, "Hey, heads up! I'm applying to your department!" .... or something to that effect.

Thing is, it's really not in my personality to self-promote quite that much. My cover letter comes across as confident, that's true. But cold-calling (even over email) seems a bit much to me if I can't come up with some other relevant excuse. Sure, I could do it, but I would feel squeamish and otherwise embarrassed at being so incredibly pushy.

Wouldn't I? Isn't it pushy?

I'm thinking about this because I'm a bit sick of doing experiments that are mostly frustrating, and not hearing anything back about the (gigantic pile of) applications I already sent. Should I be doing more? Will I hate myself more if I do it, and play politics (or attempt to, anyway) or if I don't do it (and miss the chance)?

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