Not so long ago, I wrote briefly that I had made some progress with my advisor. I knew it was a fragile momentum, but I thought it was at least a step in the right direction.
But as often happens with these things, before I could gain sufficient momentum in that way, we hit a roadblock and the momentum got lost.
It's frustrating because the roadblock is also a wake-up call for my advisor.
In a way, this was exactly what I needed: an outside Voice of Reason to say
"Hey, MsPhD wanted to do THIS and you told her to do THAT and she did because you're the PI, but you know what?
She should have followed her own instincts, and done THIS instead.
You should have listened to her."
[Those of you who have been reading this blog know that the subtext is
Since PI accused her of ignoring all PI's suggestions, MsPhD had to do THAT to show she can go with the flow (or whatever)]
The trouble now is, this wake-up call has already had a variety of undesirable consequences.
(1) PI feels doubtful.
1a. PI is self-doubtful (because THAT was not as good as THIS would have been)
1b. PI feels guilty about feeling doubtful.
1c. PI feels doubtful of MsPhD (even if that might be unfair, PI is human and that is how PI feels, and it shows)
(2) MsPhD is doubtful too.
2a. MsPhD is questioning her abilities and desire to keep on this path
2b. MsPhD is questioning whether she really has sufficient spine to stand up to PI as much as necessary
2c. MsPhD is doubtful of PI for pushing THAT when it wasn't the right thing
2d. MsPhD is also pissed off because she KNEW it wasn't the right thing but felt like she had to do it anyway, for the reason mentioned above (and previously on this blog*).
2e. MsPhD is doubtful that she can figure out how to get past this roadblock, and that it won't happen again, and that if it does it won't eventually push PI to conclude that MsPhD is not worth it.
*[The damned-if-you-do-or-don't reason, which has all along seemed like something of a sexist problem to begin with. The male postdocs who ignore everyone's suggestions somehow still manage to get jobs. A guy can be a Troubled Child and get away with it. They get to be Mavericks. When women do it, we're difficult, we're Bitch.
Yes, I am Bitch. But lately I am just Tired. It takes a lot of energy and confidence to be Bitch. Right now I am 'haggard', as someone said in a comment. I love that word. Somehow I always pictured haggard as a tall, skinny guy with stubble. See? I'm sexist! Can I be haggard too?]
So because of what should have been only a momentary loss of momentum, although we have a plan for what to do next, PI's current response, despite agreeing to this plan, is to stall everything.
In other words, PI has chosen to procrastinate.
Procrastinating is the WORST possible thing we could be doing right now.
But what can I do. PI is out of town again.
In the meantime I am trying to think.
Lately I have felt like I can't. Think.
The last couple of weeks I've been trying hard to clear my head enough to figure out what I want to do next. It hasn't been working. I make seemingly endless, nested lists of things I want to do... but lately there are too many things, and I can't prioritize them by the main criterion of Things I CAN and absolutely SHOULD do HERE AND NOW.
My favorite organization tool, Omnifocus, isn't helping, because the whole point of scheduling things is that you have to know how long things are going to take, and be able to break them down into predictable units of time. So it's kind of a joke for research anyway, but it can be helpful...
I guess I need to spend some time figuring out how many units and how long each one would take in the perfect world (multiplying by factors of 3-10x for conversion to the research world)...
At one point I was thinking of things I should do to get preliminary data for grant application(s). Then I was thinking maybe I should focus on things I can do while PI is paying for it (as most of the other postdocs who got jobs did before they left). Maybe some of those things are the same?
Maybe instead of making lists, I should be making Venn diagrams?
The wake-up call just reinforced once again how important it is for me to have my own agenda and push it hard, even if it means risking pissing off PI because really, what's the worst that could happen? I need to buy something to do the experiments I decide on, and PI says no? Not that that's ever stopped me, I can always go do it in someone else's lab...
Meanwhile, I've tried soliciting feedback from numerous people on the work I've done so far, and all the questions everyone would like to see answered. To try to figure out what to do first.
But beware this approach. Although it has helped in the past, this time it has not helped. The suggestions I've gotten are range from boring to bizarre to bewildering.
Most people, I've realized, only suggest what they know best, which tends to be whatever model organism or techniques they use in their own research.
I guess because I have so far been somewhat fearless about trying new things, people seem to assume they can suggest anything and I will try it. Which might be true, but, um, this is really not the kind of suggestion I'm looking for right now.
So the suggestions I've gotten range from testing my models in 3 different organisms (none of which I have worked with before, and all of which have their own set of methods and problems I only know about from a distance) .... to learning really cutting-edge new techniques, some of which can't be done at my university or even in my town ... to backtracking to methods I've used in the past but with a new twist ... to doing experiments completely in vitro with only purified components.
And it's not clear that any of these will work faster, be easier, or more informative than any of the others.
Or that any of these would be guaranteed crowd pleasers (where crowd = search committee and/or paper referees and/or study section).
So you can see how I'm feeling like gee, maybe input is not what I needed after all?
Maybe what I need is some time to decide for myself what I think is most interesting, and then do that.
Trouble is, I don't have a lot of time. Time is the one thing I do not have.
Here we are, it's almost July, and despite my gently reminding PI (which doesn't seem to be helping since guilt seems to feed the procrastination response)... for me to apply for jobs this year, we are already several months behind. Maybe already too far behind.
So I guess that's what I should be doing.
1. Build Time Machine.
2. Make all new mistakes this time around.