Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Notes from Idiot Land: I'm in a bad mood.

Days like this, I know I would rather be at home, but I can't leave yet, so I'm going to try to stay at my desk and not interact with anyone for as much of the day as possible.

Woke up after having paid my taxes thinking it really sucks that I make ~ $40,000 a year for this nonsense and work 10 hour + days during the week, and usually come in at least half a day on the weekends.

I wouldn't care much about the money, except when my clothes look crappy because I bought the shirt and pants for $20 each at Mervyn's, my shoes are totally scuffed and down at heel, and my house is a mess.

Then I wish I had a personal assistant to do the shopping and clean the house if I'm going to work this much.

But I can't afford that!

Then I got several emails this morning, including:

-A protocol from someone asking why this prep isn't working. The protocol makes no sense whatsoever, and I'm disgusted that this person doesn't know better than to waste time throwing good samples down the drain. I'm also disgusted that I now have to tell them EXACTLY what to do. This should be the PI's job, but as usual, I am doing everyone else's work and getting nowhere near as much credit as I deserve. I should be senior author on this paper for the amount of guidance I have given, but I will be lucky if I get 2nd author.

-A comment on some data from someone who is apparently blind, since everyone else who saw it agreed that the result was pretty obvious. I don't know what to say to them except, uh, look at it again with your eyes open??

-A letter I'm supposed to edit, asking for funding. The letter is written as one giant paragraph that even I don't have the patience to read in that format. I don't know why they think anyone would want to read it like that, much less give us money.

Then I walked by another lab having their lab meeting. We all know each other and are usually at least politely friendly, but everyone pretended like they either didn't see me, or their arms are broken. Hello, I am apparently not just grouchy but also invisible!

Then everyone in lab was crowded around some samples, arguing about what was going on, and it was clear that none of them knew what they were talking about. But I really don't have the patience to try to explain it to them today, partly because I know they don't care at all what I think.

Then a piece of equipment was broken that I needed to use, and I had to hack something together to make it work well enough for what I needed (my samples being rather labile, I couldn't afford to wait around). I have no idea when it will get fixed, as there's nothing I can do to speed the process.

And it's only noon.



At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just finished my PhD, thinking about getting a postdoc.

But I'm afraid I wouldn't survive!!!


At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to dislike your job and your co-workers. Your PI seems to be a jerk, although I do think that you have some unrealistic expectation of what should be the "PI's job". Personally, I don't think one has to be miserable to do good science, and from some of the other things you've posted about, it sounds as if the lab atmosphere is even a bit prohibitive to doing good science.

Why put up with this?

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Kate said...

I wish it were that simple, Anonymous.

I was just at a talk a few weeks ago where the advice to women having a hard time in science was to just get out of the lab they didn't like. But all that does is open up the chance of entering into another lab as bad, or worse, as the one before. And I don't know how I could have left my PhD lab without going to another university, because the lab I was in was the only one in the whole university that had the resources to do what I wanted to do.

It's not about why we put up with it. It's about us all getting together to think about HOW to CHANGE what we're currently putting up with, before we all step away from our benches and start a riot.

At 1:13 AM, Anonymous JaneB said...

Ah, the joys of academe!

Wouldn't it be nice to have a PA or a 'traditional wife' to do all the crap? (and ring the repair depot every week until the equipment works...).

Tax time is always one of those 'the bad outweighs the good' times of year - but it will pass, there will be good data (yay for data junkies, at least our fix is (mostly) legal) - and one day you will resolve these questions and find a job where you are fully appreciated...

At 7:21 AM, Anonymous The Chemist said...

40k doesn't sound too bad to me. I am also a Postdoc and make $27,500/yr and live in a major metropolitan city. Although I've been a Postdoc for a much shorter amount of time, 10h/day and half days on the weekend sounds pretty good to me. However, I definitely think I'd work less if my lab environment was as bad as yours seems to be.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Thanks, Kate.

And thanks to JaneB, who is already a few steps ahead of me. Lead the way!

to the chemist,

starting salary from NIH is now $36k. You should be able to negotiate for that.

also, you will find that you are more efficient the longer you do science. that is the one (!) advantage to having been doing it for so long.

At 1:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Chemist,

$27,500 in a major city is a joke (people who are currently PhD students in my old program are now making 28k). Of course, it depends upon your definition of "major metropolitan area". Minneapolis/Memphis/almost any other city in the US is not equivalent to Boston, San Fran, or NY in terms of cost of living, not even close. You are definitely getting screwed, especially if you work 10+hours/day, 7 days a week.

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you leave the bad lab you're in, you opne up the chance of going to one as bad or worse?
Are there no good labs?

Best way to change what "we're currently putting up with" is to either decide to put up with it or to get out.

The postdoc time is very hard, and postdocs can be very miserable people-I know, I was one, but I still put limits on what I was willing to put up with. I'd deal with a jerk if I had all the resources I needed and at least had good colleagues, but when I was in a situation where the boss was not only a b*tch but also mismanaging things to the point of getting in the way of doing the science, I got out. It helped having fellowship money and a bunch of high profile papers to my name already, but I got out, and the lab I went to had a much better climate, the PI easier to deal with, and, the lab being smaller, I had better access to everything. I had to work a little harder and I left the lab of a well-known person to work with a rising star, but I checked out the situation beforehand, and it worked out. Also, as the PI was young, and I was an experienced postdoc, he treated me much more like a colleague and less like a domestic servant.

We don't need riots to change things, ladies. We just need to put ourselves in situations that will enhance our chances of getting into positions where we have some power.

The women in power are changing things. If you want to change things, be one of them. If you want to be one of them, do what you have to in order to get your work done. Turning everything into a gender conflict is a soul-sucking distraction.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I agree that sometimes leaving one lab can take you to a better one. But there are a limited number of times you can change labs before people start assuming the problem is you, not just your bad luck.

Acceptable number of lab changes = 1

Red flags go up after that, no matter what the circumstances.

The key to knowing when to leave? When ANYTHING seems like it would have to be better (than this). Then you know you've got nothing to lose. When you're facing the choice of quitting science or switching labs, SWITCH.

Anonymous, your prior accomplishments clearly made it all easier, and you obviously got lucky with your second lab (because face it, you never really know what you're getting into it until you've been there a year). So, that's great for you. And in principle I agree with your idea that being in power will make it all better.

I don't think we're TURNING anything into a gender conflict when it isn't. I don't think most of us were raised to be hyper aware of these things. I think I'm pretty average in the sense that I became aware of it gradually as these things started to happen to me. They're real.

Maybe you've been pretty lucky, maybe you're good at just putting your head down and ignoring it.

Some of us are neither of those things.

At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Some of us are neither of those things."

Well then, good luck with the science thing. It can be pretty brutal, even for those who are not convinced that the world is agaist them because of their gender.

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous The Chemist said...

Boston is the major metropolitan area I am referring to and you would be surprised (to put it mildly) which Ivory Tower is providing me with said income. But I live just fine and have no complaints. I work 7 days/week in order to get away for a weekend every few months :)

I once asked my advisor if I could teach a lab course for extra income and he "strongly urged" against it.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Bill Hooker said...

$40,000 a year

About $7K/yr more than me, and I think I've been a postdoc some years longer than you. But I bet you feel the same way I do, and every postdoc I've spoken to -- it's not the *amount*, but the *insecurity*. My current salary would be fine if it were not going to be yanked out from under me every 1-2 years without fail.

As for "negotiating for NIH scale" -- BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! With what leverage?


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