Thursday, November 29, 2007

Paper pieces.

Somebody really needs to write a science-specific program for compiling papers. Soon, please?

Here's what I'm doing right now, and I'm not joking about this:

Step 1: Drafting using Scrivener . Scrivener is great, I love it. But it can't do references or formatting.

Step 2: Export from Scrivener into a word processor, e.g. Pages or the trial version I downloaded of Nisus Writer. But neither of these can do references.

Step 3: Attempt to create new library of references in Endnote. I used to be able to get it to connect to Pubmed and download the papers into it that way, but for some reason today the searching function wasn't working and the program kept crashing. After 5 tries, I gave up because I didn't really want to use Word anyway.

Step 4: Rapidly and easily create new library of references in BibDesk. Yay! I love BibDesk. I love the new search function, it's super-fast and way better than Endnote. The only drag for me was I had one paper from pre-1968 and the search function couldn't find it. It's online but apparently not in Pubmed. So I had to put it in by hand. Yippee.

Step 5: Convert paper to LaTeX by hand using old templates from last (still unpublished) paper and (still unfunded) grant application. The good news is, the program will automatically put in all my references, format everything, etc. when I TeX the paper. The bad news is, the intermediate version looks like a computer program, and my co-authors will panic if I give them that.

But overall this is pretty ridiculous. While Scrivener can import other file types, there's no linkback to let you open and edit your figures easily in their native applications, e.g. Photoshop or whatever else you use.

And I don't really like the solution that you can export your text as an .rtf file from Scrivener or Nisus and then run it through Endnote after the fact- that's just lame and you have to do it over and over if you change anything?? Not gonna happen.

I love the corkboard feature in Scrivener, I use it a lot. But they should give you the option to write in corkboard mode instead of having it be separate from the text.

Scientific writing is basically always the same. Even the paragraph format could have a template. Why don't we just use templates? It's so ridiculous that we spend all this time on formatting, especially if you're going to submit a paper and then rapidly resubmit to other journals if it doesn't go out for review! Somebody needs to make an easier WYSIWYG program that can let you make custom templates and share them. What do you think? That would be a lot easier and a huge timesaver, right???

And differences that really waste your time are things like whether figures are labeled Figure 1. or Fig.1 and whether the components of figures are labeled with capital A , B, C or lowercase a, b, c and whether they're bold or not or (in parentheses) or not.

Personally, I don't care much about typesetting unless it's inconsistent. But I know some reviewers (and editors) get ticked off about stuff like that.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why I hate being a postdoc.

And here I thought I had nothing to blog about today!

I'm working on a couple of manuscripts and naturally it's excruciating. There's nothing like going through the list of what I've done, what worked and what didn't, to piss me off.
Want to know why?

Well I'll tell you why. Because the stuff that didn't work is mostly based on other people's premises. Their previous publications (mostly unrepeatable). Their reagents (mostly crap). Their assumptions (mostly wrong).

The stuff that did work was mine. It was my idea, and I did it, and it mostly worked exactly like I thought it would.

Well that would be great except for the postdoc part. Because I know what else I should be doing, that will also probably mostly work. But I can't do most of it.

Want to know why?

Well I'll tell you why. Because I don't have the money for the reagents I need. I'm not eligible to apply for the money to get the reagents I need. Because I'm a postdoc.

Also because they won't listen to me. The people with the money. I have to spend most of my time, wasting my time, doing experiments that I know won't work just to prove that they won't work, because they don't respect my considerable experience. Because I'm younger than they are. Because I look younger even than that. Because what do I know, I'm just a postdoc.

So I waste my time and my energy just to prove that I should be allowed to do the experiments that I know will lead to progress and new information. And I'm bored out of my skull doing these other experiments that are uninteresting and uninformative.

What really kills me is, I have tons of ideas for things to do. I'm pretty sure a lot of them will work, would work if someone could actually work on them.

Meanwhile, John Q. Jackass from my lab is going off to start his very own faculty position. He doesn't have any ideas of his own. His entire postdoc project was a me-too project. There are some techniques that are so hot these days that you can just follow a certain formula and get a paper in a High Impact Journal just for showing that A+B still equals C so long as you do it with the latest hot techniques.

It's enough for him to work on for the rest of his career, but I'm not convinced he'll know what to do with it. He'll probably do what most PIs do with their territory: sit on it and prevent anyone else from actually learning anything new.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Coming out ahead?

This morning I had one of those moments where I was first in line at a red light with a lot of other cars around me, and then the light turned green.

So I went.

Nobody else went. There was this weird long pause, like in slow motion, where I could see the heads of the other drivers turn to look at my car and then look at the light.

I could almost hear them thinking, "Where's she going? Oh, is it green?"

And I had that moment of doubt like, "Wait a minute, did I just go on a red light?" but I looked up and no, it was green.

I thought this was a nice little analogy for how I feel in science. To me, it's obvious where we should be going. So I'm going. Even if nobody is going with me yet.

But for my colleagues, there is this long delay where they always think I must be imagining things, because it takes them a while to catch up.

And it does cause a lot of self-doubt. When you're out there dangling on a limb by yourself, you sometimes have to wonder if you went the right way.

Today I got an email that basically said, "Hey, we didn't forget about you." Which is sometimes all I get.

Good thing it's all I really need.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, November 26, 2007

That's why they call it work.

Yeah, I didn't want to come in today, but I had to.

I have a list of things I need to do. Usually it helps to have a list, to just go down the list and check this off as they get done.

Some of them are less painful than others. Some can be put off, but a couple can't.

I can cross one off the list so far, and now I have to go do the other one.

Then comes the hard part: getting through the rest of the afternoon.

I am so tempted to go home.

Some of the things I need to do today I could do at home. Sometimes I find I get more done at home than in lab anyway.

But if I go home today, I won't do any more work. I'm sure of that.

The weekend was unsatisfying. It wasn't relaxing and I didn't get any work done, so all in all it was just kind of a waste of time.

So I dragged myself in today, expecting the whole day to be one big long battle to get anything done, since none of the things I need to do are fun.

That's what they call it work.

Then I ran into the Tormentor and didn't manage to escape without getting some bullshit on me (out out damn spot!).

I also ran into someone who has been serving on a search committee here, who started to rant at me (at me! Holy crap if he only knew) about how they can't get any "good" people for their department.

I started to tell him there is no shortage of postdoc talent, and the real problem is with how they choose who is "good."

Luckily someone interrupted before I gave him a big piece of my mind (!).

I'm trying to shake it off. I wasn't in a good mood to begin with, and really didn't want to come in, but now I'm angry on top of it.

Grrr. I know this is why it's called "work", and the fact that I'm redoing experiments because they didn't work is called "re-search" for a reason, but gosh darnit I could use some more fun.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mental masturbation.

Yup, working on the holidays really drives home that point that we work in a vacuum, and nobody cares.

While I love that it's quiet right now, I feel like the tree falling in the forest. If my experiments work or don't work, will anybody notice that I was here?

It's not like I get any credit for working hard unless I have data figures in hand, and even then nobody is impressed by how hard I had to work to get them.

This brings me back as usual to my conundrum about how our acceptance of the scientific method demands that we trust each other's results. But we also have to trust our own. And we have to test, test, test to see what's really true.

I'm thinking about this because I had another disturbing run-in with one of the people that I'm pretty sure is using what I would consider unethical methods to manipulate his data.

In this case it was very clear that he was lying, although I've learned there's no point in trying to confront him about it. That and I was so stunned by his blatant untruths that I didn't think fast enough to call him out on the spot (for once there would have been an actual witness, although not anyone with any power).

This run-in also confirmed that he is not above allowing, if not outright encouraging other people to misinterpret his data. Especially if it works out in his favor (and they don't go so far as to try to repeat his experiments).

So I was talking to a friend about my suspicions and he said, "Yeah, but what would be the point of him doing that?"

All I could come up with was "He just wants the attention?" If people mistakenly believe his data to be better than they are, he gets lots of positive feedback and opportunities he would otherwise miss out on.

I guess this all just comes back to the question of, if nobody is looking, and there are no rewards for being careful and honest, how often are people really faking it? I've never seen any statistics on what percentage of reports in Pubmed turn out to be false. I just really want to see this guy get caught.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I love my collaborators.

As you all know, I mostly hate my lab.

But I sometimes forget how much I love my collaborators.

My collaborators are smart. They are open-minded. They respect me and treat me as a colleague. They share ideas and reagents freely.

So, pretty much everything I'd want my labmates and advisor to be, but they can't seem to manage it.

In all fairness, it probably helps that I don't see my collaborators in person very often. I love how over email even the most surly, socially inept people can manage to be politically correct, even downright polite.

I love how you can have these amazingly focused scientific discussions over email on any random day, and each one can contain as many as three huge epiphanies.

I love that.

Today was a good email day. Something about the holidays and everyone wanting to catch up on their email before they go out of town always works out well for me.

I also love that I've been getting enough sleep this week, which is helping tremendously, and my friends all seem to be having crises, which amuses me. Sometimes it's just really nice to know I'm not the only one who has bad job days, or gets annoyed about stupid little things not so much because of the things themselves but because they happen repeatedly and we have no say in changing them.

But today, my biggest battle is with computers, and I am okay with that. Maybe because they aren't sarcastic, egotistical, competitive, and they don't constantly put me down. Yes, today I am fond of computers, even if they are sometimes slow and stubborn.


Monday, November 19, 2007

The drugs don't work.

Hey y'all, and especially to the ones who wrote the impassioned "Get on medication now!!" diatribes, I'm feeling a lot better this week.

Know what I did?

I went to two yoga classes this weekend, instead of one.

Or worse, like last week, none.

Yup. That did the trick.

(Note to self: make time to go to extra yoga if regular class is canceled due to pointless federal holiday. )

I know I'm supposed to have faith in science and all that. I do and I don't. Allergy medicine helps me a lot. Birth control medicine had a lot of nasty side-effects so I got away from that.

I'm sure for some people antidepressants are the greatest thing ever, but I still have no interest in taking mind-altering drugs of any kind.

No matter how depressed I get, I would rather get a new job (yes, plans B, C and D are being investigated) than take medication just to deal with the one I have now.

Btw I've tried taking fatty acid supplements and while they sometimes help me have more energy, I find that I get a lot more impatient and angry about little things on the days when I take them. I can't afford to be angry before I even leave the house! It makes it even harder to deal with the major annoyances that are an almost-daily occurrence in lab.

So, to sum up, I like the yoga solution a lot better.

Still up in the air about the hair, but thanks for all the comments on the do's and don'ts of showering, that amused me a lot.

Labels: ,

Friday, November 16, 2007

It always happens in the shower.

Yesterday was a typical day. All the equipment was working fine.

And then later in the day, it died. I don't know why.

I had good samples, I thought I might actually get some useful data. So I fought with it for a while, but I couldn't figure out what was wrong.

Then I sent an email to the repair person, shut everything down, and went home. Today I will try again to see if it is really broken.

I hate how these things can spontaneously blow up in your face, and this could happen at any time, but it always happens at the worst time.

So anyway I came home last night and I was pretty annoyed, but I sat there and said to myself,

"This is stupid. You should be grateful because things could be a lot worse."

So I sat there and made a list of how it could be worse.

I said to myself,

At least I'm still getting paid (for now). So I can pay my rent.

At least I'm inside, and warm, and have a cup of tea.

At least I can watch tv for an hour before I go to bed.

At least I have a nice comfy bed, and it's quiet here.

At least my car is still running, even though it's old and that reminds me, I really need to get the oil changed.

At least I'm not in jail.

At least I'm not pregnant.

And so on.

I was glad to go to bed because I didn't sleep at all the night before. I kept waking up and realizing I was doing experiments in my dreams.

So again this morning I was in the shower, thinking about blogging and why I blog, especially why I blog anonymously, and whether I should continue to blog.

And I realized I always get depressed in the shower.

I'm usually okay when I first wake up. I'm usually okay through breakfast.

And then when I'm in the shower, I get depressed. Sometimes it's subtle, but sometimes it hits me like a ton of bricks.

Sometimes I stand there in the shower thinking, if I don't get out of the shower, I don't have to deal with the rest of the day.

But I don't linger. I force myself to get out. I ignore the thought that I'd much rather go back to bed.

I go to work, and I'm usually still depressed when I get there.

Some days it goes away, some days it doesn't.

I don't know why this happens, but it's like clockwork.

Is it a side effect of my allergy medicine, that just takes about that long to kick in?

Is it something in the water?

Something about drinking my 1 cup of coffee?

Probably not. But I wish I could skip that moment of the day when I realize, yup, nothing bad has happened yet today, but I don't want to go to lab, and I have nothing to look forward to.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Response to comments on last post

This got to be pretty long and I think it's important so I'm putting it here.


I think you're mostly right. It's sad but true. I'm definitely taking the hard, unrealistic road.

FSP and Dr. J,

Perhaps I misunderstood your post. I thought you said you had more than one bad experience where you'd had someone in your lab (or maybe you meant in class?) as an undergrad and then took them on as grad students only to find out they didn't have the right stuff.

I guess I think rotations are good for this if the students have already arrived.

If you have to judge them in writing, here's what I think.

I think you can tell a lot from the authenticity of written statements of research interests.

I had already been a co-author on two papers by the time I applied to grad school. I think this is a good way to tell if the students are really getting into the lab in college, they won't be able to get on publications without the passion, the street smarts, the work ethic, the communication skills. They should be writing about their research experience to date, and their future interests. At least one letter of reference should be from someone they worked with in a lab. To me, letters from people who taught them lectures are usually not informative, unless the main quality that stands out is, "They asked a lot of great questions." Anything other than that is not going to speak to their potential in research.

If the student can't say why they're interested in certain areas of research and convey a unique, thoughtful perspective, then they don't know why they're applying to grad school and you don't want them.

While definitely more important than GREs, I'd take anyone with a B+ average and above. Grades are more important because it's the best reflection of work ethic in learning.

I'd also look at what they took. Did they take the default pathway to a major, or did they go out of their way to take relevant courses that fit in with their stated research interests? Did they pick challenging upper level courses and get lower grades in them, or did they pick easy courses and get straight A's? I'll always take the ones who are looking for the challenge, not the grade.

If their grades are crappy but their GRE scores were overly good, you have someone who's smart but lazy. Then you go back to the research statement and the letters. Does this person have the drive to do research? Probably not. I would avoid these students.

If their grades are good but their GREs are bad, either they went to a school with extreme grade inflation (should be well known if that's the case) or they have test anxiety. Test anxiety is not an obstacle to doing well in research, so I would ignore bad GREs if that's the case. Otherwise it doesn't tell you much since most people do okay on the GRE. You're not going to differentiate good or bad researchers from those numbers.

If you're really having a hard time choosing, and you don't get any applicants who did undergraduate research, look at what they did in the summers. You want the ones who had jobs or did volunteer charity work. Even better are the ones who worked all year, even while taking classes.

Another variation are the people who worked as technicians or in industry before they applied to grad school. Usually they really have the drive to get the PhD, but don't want to stay in academia. Most of the ones I've known have toyed with the idea for a while, maybe even did a postdoc, but ultimately ended up back in industry.

As ivory tower as academia is, the best researchers I know are not just smart, they're hard workers. They can definitely handle the commitment, they clearly have the drive, they're willing to make the sacrifices and take the risks. But also make sure they're aware of their future salary prospects. You don't want to bring them in for grad school and then have them leave because they can't stomach the low wages long term.


I have this blog because I think advising is generally inadequate in the world.

If you read back through my posts, I've written quite extensively on the things I had to figure out the hard way because nobody told me.

I think I'd be a great advisor because I know what not to do.

So yes, I think advising is incredibly important and I take it very seriously.

Having said that, you can have all permutations.

Bad advisors whose students do pretty well anyway.

Fantastic advisors who get lazy, stupid students who don't take all the good advice they're offered. I think that's less common, but it happens.

Personally I think that with a bad advisor, it's impossible for even the best, brightest, most hard-working students to be superstars. Just impossible.

I think that with a good advisor, even mediocre students can do very well.

Take that as you may. Nobody's perfect, and it's very subjective. Some people like hands-on advising, some people like hands-off. What works well for me might be horrible for the guy at the bench next to me, or vice-versa.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On failure.

This post was inspired by FSP's post of the same title, about the difficulties of spotting future researchers at the early stages.

Basically, FSP says it's hard. I say it's not. But I'm also the kind of person who would rather have no one in my lab than have the wrong people.

Here's how I describe the qualities of good researchers. I think these qualities are evident good researchers of all ages, even pre-PhD (note the sarcasm).

1. Good bullshit detector. Critical thinking. Objective thinking. Unwillingness to take anything on faith.

How to spot it: Journal clubs. If a student at the undergraduate level can't stand up and critically assess a paper, it's unlikely they will suddenly acquire that ability in grad school. If you don't think undergraduates can handle journal club, think again. They can and should be reading and discussing primary literature.

2. Creativity. Someone who is looking for what hasn't been done, and how it might be done in the future.

How to spot it: Do they ask good questions in class? In lab meeting?

Yes, I think undergraduates should volunteer in labs or work there in the summer at least once before applying to grad school. I would NEVER take a grad student who had not worked in a lab at least for 1 summer before applying. EVER.

3. Spine. You want someone who has their own opinions, will stick up for themselves, and will persist through the usual level of obstacles.

The last thing you want is someone who is book-smart but caves at the slightest setback or panics when things don't match exactly with the textbooks/journal articles.

How to spot it: This is the kind of thing you can tell from two tests if you know what you're looking for.

First, the interview. Ask this person if they've had any obstacles in their life. It could be anything. It will be illuminating.

The best student I ever had came from a family that ran their own business. She had a fantastic work ethic, and a fabulous no-nonsense attitude about everything.

More recently I had a prep-school student who knew the value of hard work through her sports training. She wouldn't take any crap from anybody, and she was always willing to speak her mind.

Second is in the lab. I've written before about how I think it's absolutely necessary to give undergraduates real projects, not pre-cooked kits like in lab classes (I think lab classes are worthless, and have blogged about it before).

Real projects are the best. This will tell you how they handle problem-solving and give them a real taste of what grad school will be like. You might not expect them to actually be able to solve any problems on their own at this stage, but watch for their reaction to the inevitable setbacks.

If they want to do something only once and then move on, beware! If they want to quit after 1 try that doesn't work, there's your answer! And theirs, too. The ones who can't handle failure cannot handle research, and they usually figure this out once they've had a taste of it.

4. Street smarts. By this I mean, someone who has common sense, who already has basic study skills, is at least somewhat organized, pragmatic, and not likely to get hung up on doing something one way when there are a variety of tools within easy reach.

How to spot it: Do they take notes? I require my students to take notes. That is non-optional. If they are not okay with that, they don't work with me. And I check their notebooks. The good ones grasp the concept that they will not remember everything. Even better are the ones who care that their notebook is the only record I have of what they did. The notebook tells you a helluva lot.

Are they willing to go look things up if they don't know them? One student really impressed me with this. We had a long discussion about how to do a calculation, and my way just was not working for her. The next day she came back and told me she discussed it with one of her instructors and came up with another way that would also get the job done. Bravo! I say. This is exactly what you're looking for in a researcher.

I also file a certain amount of maturity in this category. Do they keep a calendar? Are they always late and always making excuses?

Experiments are not forgiving of sloppy time management, and you shouldn't be, either.

5. Attention span. Most of the people I know who left research quit because they got bored easily. They enjoy the constant flow of new ideas that they get in patent law and science journalism. They did not want to work on the same project, or aspects thereof, for the rest of their adult lives.

How to spot it: Extreme cases are obvious when you've had a student in the lab for the summer. Here again, as with the question of 'spine', they will usually self-select when given the experience of having a project and being told to work on it exclusively for 3 whole months (!).

Less extreme cases are harder to spot, but easier to treat. Sometimes they don't know it themselves until they're mostly done with graduate school and thoroughly sick of their thesis project. Vacations help. Meetings and positive feedback help. If they get through all of that and decide to stay in research, usually finding the right postdoc project will cure it. Again, most will self-select after grad school since they've had the experience and a glimpse of the road ahead: more long-term, delayed gratification projects.

6. Big picture, little picture. The best researchers understand that sometimes you can fudge it, and sometimes you can't. It's like the difference between stir fry and baking (respectively).

Ideally you want people who can grasp the big picture, but still pay attention to the little picture when it matters. You want someone who is meticulous, but you don't want the fantastic technician who doesn't see that she needs to be reading several journal articles a week now that she's in grad school.

How to spot it: This is the tricky one. I myself am not meticulous by nature but rather by training. I've worked with some who are meticulous by nature but who learned to appreciate the big picture during grad school.

The most successful researchers I know are big picture people who take care of the forest and hire little picture people to take care of the trees. Unfortunately most graduate schools are selecting on criteria (like grades and GRE scores) that have more to do with meticulously trimming the trees and nothing to do with locating the forest.

7. Politicians. I wasn't going to include this, but on second thought I think I should.

If you want your students to go on and be successful in academia, better to pick the ones who are charismatic, good at persuading others to do their work for them, good at self-promotion, and unlikely to burn bridges. You know the type I mean. And yes, you can spot them as undergraduates.

Labels: , ,

Another shitty day, and I still want to quit.

This morning in the shower I had all kinds of ideas for things to blog about, but now I can't remember what they were.

But here I am at work and I'm really tempted to just grab my purse, get in my car, and never come back. I don't care about abandoning my computer or all the hard work I've done here. I want to go somewhere tropical, assume a new identity, and work as a bartender. Nothing that has to do with science whatsoever.

I have lists of things I "should" be doing, but again today I'm flattened by the cumulative effect of feeling - nay, knowing - that nobody notices or cares what I do, that none of this suffering seems to add up to anything, that it has been getting worse and not better for a while now, and I can only expect more of the same with a very small chance of future improvement.

Nevermind that I actually made some progress on writing yesterday. Nevermind that I'm supposed to get excited about results, about reading other people's publications, about new ideas. It's not enough when it's in a vacuum.

It's definitely sucking the life out of me.

Except for one or two people, at this point my family and even my friends would rather see me quit. I love that they care more about me as a person than about, you know, anything I might contribute to science, but in a way that's like a vote of no confidence.

All I really need is someone who actually cares about my results to say, "But you can't quit now! We really need your contributions!"

I definitely don't hear that often enough.

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hope for the future?

Maybe it's my idealistic streak coming out again, but last night I watched the 60 minutes report on what they call the Millenials, where they were talking about the New Generation.

You know, the kids.

Keep in mind, lately it seems like 60 minutes gets it name from the average age of their viewing audience, not from the length of the show.

So when they say kids, they mean the ones in their 20s now. The ones who hate sucky jobs and say so, because they actually want to have a life, not just a career.

Those crazy kids!

It was a very interesting report, and kind of related to what FSP blogged about ambition recently.

The part that gets my hopes up is where they talk about all the baby boomers who will be retiring and how there will be more jobs than people to fill them.

Can you imagine?? It sounds like utopia.

But that is 5-10 years down the line, and most academic scientists don't retire at 64 if they can help it, so it's probably longer before it would help someone like me get the kind of job I want.

Come on, old guys. RETIRE. You know you want to.

I have also been reading several articles on the new generation and new ways of teaching these kids who are real technophiles, the ones who grew up with Google and text messaging. The ones who aren't content to be spoon-fed information and actually want to direct their own education (that was me, wayyyy ahead of my time).

You know, the ones who would actually rather do real research than sit in a lecture and memorize, and then sit in an exam and spit back out "facts" that will turn out to be false by the time they graduate.

The good news is, we finally have the technology to be able to help students direct their own learning, instead of making them wait until grad school or postdoc or god forbid, until they have their own labs.

So it's pretty inspiring. And in theory this trend should only help me get a job, right??

Unfortunately I don't think most search committees are factoring these sorts of things into their searches.

I definitely don't know how to effectively highlight my techie bent in my applications. All I can think of is to try to work it into my teaching statement somehow (?).

Anyway if there's one thing I've always had faith in, it's nerdy kids. I especially liked the report I saw the other day about tv shows like Chuck and how geek is the new cool.

Labels: , , , ,

An inauspicious start.

I packed up my lunch
And charged up my phone
And then I left them
Both at home.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Time wasting monster quiz.

You Are a Werewolf

You're unpredictable, moody, and downright freaky.
You seem sweet and harmless, until you snap. Then you're a total monster.
Very few people can predict if you're going to be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.
But for you, all your transformations seem perfectly natural.

Your greatest power: Your ability to tap into nature

Your greatest weakness: Lack of self control

You play well with: Vampires


Yay, productivity.

Had a great venting session with a friend last night, who sounded equally frazzled as me. It was a comfort to us both.

And then watched Bionic Woman and Southpark, both of which were lame, but it gave me an excuse to sit and sip tea.

Got a lot done today so that managed to push off the bad mood. I really do love feeling like I'm getting things done.

Finally got around to analyzing some old data and found that it was good.

Phew! Gotta love that.

Got some new data that will sit on a pile for a while until it can be analyzed, but it looks good enough that I'm pretty sure it will serve for what I needed.

Also phew!

Put in face time at one of the gigs I was supposed to attend (skipped the other in favor of doing actual experiments).

Check, face time.

Did not have lunch at all again today, was too busy, but dinner is soon.

Yay, dinner.

Did not do everything I wanted to do today and will not finish it all tonight, but I am getting better at not stressing about leaving some things for the weekend, they can sit in the cold room and they should be okay.

Yay, for four degrees and slowing things down.

What's the rush, after all?

Was surprised though when somebody told me that Monday is a holiday. Am 99% certain everyone in my lab will be here plugging away as usual.

Can't quite bring myself to plan for the next few days yet. Maybe because plans for this week proved a bit overambitious - can only be in one place at a time, after all.

Week 2 and I do think the light box therapy is helping. I don't know if I'm really seasonally affected or just chronically starved for light, but it helps me wake up in the morning and I think I have more stamina, oddly enough, during the day. At least I don't crash in the afternoons like I used to. Which is pretty critical when you really need to be working at least 10 hours a day.

Here's hoping I can finish the bare minimum tonight without fucking anything up and go home before midnight.

Seriously though. Dinner, any minute now. Yay. I am starving.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mood swings.

Yesterday I somehow got out of my inertia and got a lot done. I ended by feeling virtuous and productive. So that was good. Unfortunately I know it's not a robust system: not very easily reproducible.

This morning I dragged myself out of bed. I've been feeling, as I have ephemerally earlier in the week also, like I'm on the verge of tears.

The last couple of days I have been okay because nothing has happened to push me over that edge. Yes, it's that time of month, and I am doing all the things I usually do to try to feel better or at least functional. And mostly it is working.

Today I am at that point again, and trying really hard to shore up the walls of my protective bubble to avoid bursting out crying if someone says the wrong thing or my experiments aren't working.

I never used to mind if my experiments didn't work, I would just try again until they did. Lately I've had less patience for that, maybe because my impostor syndrome is restricted to my wondering if I would be done being a postdoc by now if I just had better hands (or a technician to help me). I'm still doing it, but it bothers me a lot more that it takes so long.

I know my project is harder than most, but that it's not obvious until you actually try to do these experiments. I also know that I have higher standards than many. I wouldn't want to put my name on something sloppy or publish something no one else could reproduce.

Unfortunately this also means that my advisor seems to expect more from me, and it feels like too much pressure sometimes. Pressure without any pep talks (while watching certain coworker morons publish absolute slop, get jobs, and leave).

So today I sucked it up when I found myself doing something that gave me graduate school deja vu in the worst way, that took what seemed like forever and made me feel like I've made no progress whatsoever in all these years, and I will never, ever get out of here.

And I sucked it up when the postdocs who got jobs last year started talking about their plans for leaving.

And I sucked it up when a couple of former postdocs were in town visiting, glowing and agreeing that yes, it is better when you get your own lab.

I am going to try to get some work done, since that usually makes me feel better.
I have to admit I'm not sure it's going to do the trick today. All I want to do it go home and go back to bed.

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday Inertia.

I have plans for things to do today.

I mean, I had plans. So far I'm not doing them.

Lately I notice that when I run into a friend and they ask me how I'm doing, it depresses me more to stop and talk to them than to just mumble something about being busy, give the fake sucking-it-up smile, nod in a friendly way, and keep going wherever I'm going.

This doesn't mean I don't wish I had more friends or that I didn't get to talk to them more. But talking about how work is going, especially while I'm at work, seems to be de-motivating.

I'm really feeling a lot of "damned if I do and damned if I don't" lately. I'm doing a lot of things for show that I know are a waste of time, scientifically, because they're supposed to help me politically. But there's no guarantee that they will.

I was talking to a grad student this weekend who is depressed by the lack of guarantees. She said if things were more finite, if her advisor were capable of devising a project that had a practical chance of working and of helping her when she got stuck, she would be more likely to want to stay. But the lack of job prospects afterwards makes her think it's not worth it.

Amusingly, there is a seminar series here designed to raise awareness of 'alternative careers.' This sounds like a great idea in theory, but she said every single speaker seemed miserable in their job. The patent lawyers, the people from industry, the science journalists, all of them. So none of the alternative uses for a PhD makes it seem useful to finish getting a PhD.

So she wants to quit. She's already been here long enough that she should have a paper, if not at least a good start on one, and she has nothing. She's been frustrated for a long time, and things haven't been getting better.

Her advisor is one of those, you know the type.

Gradstudent: "My ___ isn't working."

MsPhD: "How are you doing it?"

Gradstudent:"I'm using the A-B."

MsPhD:"Why are you doing it that way? That will never work."

Gradstudent:"I know. It wasn't working using the X-Y, so I told my advisor, and he said I should use the A-B. But I know the A-B won't work, and I tried to tell him why, but he doesn't believe me. So now I have to do it just to show him it won't work."

MsPhD:"Well, here's my protocol. Do it this way, I promise it will work. Then it's up to you whether you want to tell your advisor what you ended up doing. You can still pretend you're doing it his way if you have to."

Gradstudent:"Thanks, yeah, I think I will."

MsPhD:"Will what?"

Gradstudent:"Do it your way, but pretend I did it using his."

So at this point her options are to a) switch labs, b) suffer through, c) quit. Sad to say but she's so miserable, I told her that if she wants to quit now, she should quit.

I couldn't honestly tell her that it gets better. I told her that it doesn't, and that the reasons for it sucking won't change anytime soon.

The irony of all this is that one of the most important things to me is to be a role model, to boost up my female colleagues when they're down, and set a good example. However, as I've mentioned here before, on at least one occasion I was rebuked for being 'too honest' with some of the younger women about how hard it is and how you shouldn't do it if you're not sure you love research. It was a male professor who told me that I shouldn't discourage these poor girls, but I found out later that his behavior toward me is more discouraging toward the women around here than anything I've said about my frustrations.

As much as my failures depress me because I'm not meeting my goals and because much of it is out of my control, it's even more depressing to see these younger women quitting because they're watching what is happening to me. I'm a negative example without wanting to be. But I don't really see any alternatives.

All I can do is a) fight back (tried that, it doesn't work), b) quit, c) try to rise above it all.

Unfortunately both (b )and (c) end up being bad examples, and (a) is a trap that will end up getting me forced out of here.

Hmm. Happy thoughts for a Monday.

Time to go redo the experiments that didn't work over the weekend.

1. Place forehead against brick wall.
2. Push.

Labels: , , ,