Friday, December 19, 2008


Overall, I'd say this week was good for experiments, and good for my personal life, but I had a hard time maintaining a positive attitude about career stuff.

Today I did not finish everything I wanted to do, so I have to work part of the day tomorrow to finish today's work and a few hours on Sunday to set up experiments for next week.

Tonight I would like to try to decompress a little after running around all day, but I'm afraid that if I let my guard down at all I will have to admit that I burst into tears in the middle of the day (in the bathroom, at least not in front of anyone) and that I really don't want to be around people or talk to anyone at all.

I would like to do what I did in grad school and have a stiff drink for courage, it always made me feel tough to have a scotch neat, but the last couple of years I've found that most grownup alcohol (wine, beer) tends to make me feel worse, not better (because it's a depressant, duh).

I would like to make a pot of herbal tea and hide at home on my couch, but I promised myself I would try to go out and "have fun", or whatever the kids call it these days, because supposedly that will make me feel "better."

I'm wondering if it would be bad for me to also promise myself I will try for a few hours and if I am too tired/depressed it is okay for me to leave early? Or would that be equivalent to going with a negative attitude and dooming myself to have a bad time?

Lately I'm just fed up with trying to maintain my network, I feel like there are a lot of people I am supposed to hang out with at least a little, and some of them I find very hard to respect.

I used to say about some people that I liked them as people but not as scientists, but the longer I stay in science the harder I find it to talk to people whose work or career strategies I don't respect.

Maybe it's because they're always trying to give me unsolicited advice that they themselves have clearly not followed? Or anti-pep talks about how they assume I'll be happier in industry (not that they would know, they've never worked there?).

I guess I am in one of those moods right now, I don't want anyone to ask me how I am, and I don't want any advice unless it's from someone who has actually been there and done that and can say they found a unique strategy I haven't already considered or tried.

So maybe when they ask how I am, I will just say "I am fine"?

Except most everybody knows I'm not.



At 11:56 PM, Blogger NJS said...

I've decided that most people who ask how I am are trying to say hi and don't really care how I am. Unless it is a close friend, I reply "fine" unless I am about to collapse. Most of them can probably see through it, but I don't care because they don't really want to hear about it.

At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if it would be bad for me to also promise myself I will try for a few hours and if I am too tired/depressed it is okay for me to leave early? Or would that be equivalent to going with a negative attitude and dooming myself to have a bad time?

I know what you mean. I'm going through that myself right now. I've been unemployed for about two months, my advisor simply announced one day he was no longer paying me because he is on soft money too and there wasn't enough left for him and me. So i had to be sacrificed. but he still lets me come into the lab if I want to work for free. For the last two months I've still been coming into the lab every day as if all is normal, and forcing myself to do work like normal even though I'm no longer getting paid. I just need to do something while waiting to hear back on numerous job applications (in industry) , which so far has not resulted in anything, or waiting for new job openings to appear (which has been dwindling recently due to this tanking economy) or while waiting for my 'network' of contacts to do what they said they would do but never actually do. I'm just trying to keep moving and stay busy and trick myself into thinking I still have some purpose in life. But it's getting increasingly difficult to trick myself into thinking that.

After two months I reached some breaking point. I just couldn't bear to keep going into lab and on top of that hearing my former advisor brag about his new piece of equipment that he just bought for $75K - um, right, you stopped paying me because you supposedly didn't have even enough money to cover your own salary so I had to be sacrificed, yet you do have money to buy $75K worth of new equipment. Right.

So I took that week off, not by choice but rather because I simply couldn't go into lab anymore without feeling like I was going to throw up or do something I would regret. (but hey you can't officially be taking time off if you are not employed to begin with right?) At first I thought that it would be really bad like maybe I would spiral downward from here and not be able to even get out of bed, but instead it had the opposite effect and I actually felt a bit better from it and able to get back to job hunting (even though still with no results)and 'working' . Overall life still sucks right now though, as I don't have money to buy christmas presents but I don't want my extended family to know I've been laid off.

But anyway my point is, I finally allowed myself to take time off when I reached my breaking point. the result was that I felt a teensy weensy bit better for having done it. Certainly I did not end up feeling worse. I think that if you feel a little crappy, then forcing yourself to push through it is good because then you are steering your emotions rather than other way round. But.... if you feel really, really, really awful AND have been feeling this way for a prolonged time whereby it accumulates every day, then you are now in a different world entirely, and continuing will only push you toward a nervous breakdown. (I've had friends who had nervous breakdowns before, like when they were in med school and totally stressed out. I've not had one, yet. and I hope to not reach that point) Allowing yourself some time off can break you out of that downward spiral of negative thoughts/behaviors/emotions and push back the breakdown point a bit, at least temporarily...!

if worse comes to worse, tell yourself, at least you still have a job and don't have to worry if you will be getting paid at the end of this month or not! (or next month, or the month after...!) Hang in there!!

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Wow. And amazing to me that a week off made you feel that much better.

It is true that equipment money is separate from salary money, but yeah for $75k he could have kept you another year if he could have moved the money around. If it's a soft money position he's on, it's hard not to wonder if he couldn't have done that with a little finagling (soft money places tend to be somewhat malleable in terms of those kinds of rules).

I hope he's the sort who feels terrible about you working for free, and not the sort who thinks he is so clever for figuring out how to get you to work for no pay. (or that he gets hit by a bus because he has it coming!). But I can see why you're going to work and not telling your family yet. A few years ago, I would probably do the same thing. But really, in the current climate, you're not alone and there's no shame in it.

re: your network, I know what you mean, but just keep asking. My guess is that they're trying to look on your behalf, and there just aren't any openings.

One friend of mine who recently landed an industry position did it right before the last round of stock market rollercoasters (before the auto industry news).

Everyone is hoping it will improve next year when Obama takes over, but in the meantime I have one friend who went back to take another academic postdoc position because she couldn't stand waiting for the economy anymore (even though she, too, really wants to be in industry). And I am worried about her being miserable as a postdoc, but if it makes her feel better to have money coming in, I will support her in that because it makes sense to do whatever you have to do, you know?

Hang in there and feel free to write more here, and thanks for the kind words. You're right, at least I still have a paycheck for now.

At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is incredible that a PI would essentially fire somebody and then 'allow' them to stay on and work. And by incredible I mean incredibly horrible.

At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi I'm anon@12:37 from before (the one who wrote the really long post)

to anon 12:06PM: That is incredible that a PI would essentially fire somebody and then 'allow' them to stay on and work. And by incredible I mean incredibly horrible.

You think??! actually..let me clarify, I am coming into lab of my own free will, the PI himself thought it was weird but since I wanted to he let me. I just figured I would try and get something out of it for my own gain while I"m still unemployed and twiddling my thumbs waiting for my job hunting efforts to lead to something. I can't be sitting on my ass all day waiting for the phone to ring or I'll go crazy. (and there's only so much job applying, resume-writing, networking, phone-call making, that you can do day after day, week after some point you have to wait for someone to respond to you)

However, I am pretty mad that the PI stopped paying me in the first place. Like MsPhD said, soft money can usually be shifted around. I saw other PIs in the department also have drastic funding cuts and yet they shifted money around to keep their postdocs paid first before other purchases were made. My PI refused to do this. He gave me this sob story about how he can barely cover his own salary so that's why he is laying me off and how actually I should be feeling sorry for him. and then next thing I know he's bought $75K new equipment that's not even essential!! and since I've been one of his most productive postdocs I fail to see how his reluctance to pay me could be due to me being a bad employee. I think it boils down to some PI's simply not caring about the people they are supposed to be mentoring. They only take on postdocs for personal gain but are quick to get rid of them when it becomes convenient. I've already served my purpose to him - got his name on many publications, helped him get new grants funded in the past, built up his lab, so now he doesn't need me anymore.

Anyway. I do think it's weird too that he would allow me to come into the lab now. I mean, in industry once you get laid off they immediately take away all your access because they don't want you to jeopardize company secrets or assets out of anger over being laid off. but I guess here the power balance is different - my PI knows that I still will need him to write recommendation letters for me in my job hunt so he knows that I won't sabotage his lab out of anger...well maybe not anything that can be traced directly to me, hehe!!


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