Friday, March 10, 2017

Some credit, maybe an "attagirl" might be nice...

Time flies when you're not having fun, doesn't it? I have mixed feelings about writing blog posts as of late. On the one hand, I believe that it's good to get my complicated feelings out on "paper" to maybe help me work through them more effectively. On the other hand, I'm so afraid of offending someone that I often just keep my thoughts to myself. Perhaps I'm doing myself a disservice by holding everything in, just to spare the feelings of a person / people who may or may not be reading what I have to say. I don't know. Perhaps I'm deluding myself into thinking that I'm so important that everyone is hanging on my every word. Ha! Who knows?

So the thing that's bothering me the most today (it disturbs me that I have to triage what's bothering me on a given day. It can't ever just be one trivial thing. Sheesh.) is I just learned a few hours ago that my boss was finally awarded an RO1 grant. This is the gold standard of federal science funding. It's an awesome accomplishment and I'm really happy for him. So what's the catch? Well...the catch is that the project being funded is basically zebrafish as a natural host model for cholera - my project and the basis of the dissertation that I am struggling to write currently.

What's wrong with that?? On the face of it, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It validates everything I've worked so fucking hard on for the last several years. And that should be a great thing all by itself. The problem is that I was the last fucking person to know that he got the grant. Even though the RO1 is based primarily on all the work I've done since about 2012 (presumably, since I've done about 95% of the relevant fish experiments in the last 3-4 years). I also got him the collaborator who I think is named on the grant (I don't even know this for sure, which is crazy!).  No acknowledgement, no thanks, no fucking notice at all. The only thing I've gotten is admonishment that I'm not writing my dissertation fast enough. And yes, I agree that I'm not writing fast enough (after all, I want to get the fuck out of there as of yesterday). But still...

My paid appointment as a graduate research assistant ends on March 31, and that's only after I raised a stink about the department planning to terminate me at the end of December 2016 (which I only learned about at the departmental Christmas party, two weeks prior). After that date, I will not be getting paid, but I will not yet be done with my dissertation. I know this. Yes, I suppose it's my own fault that I'm in the situation I'm in. Funding is damn hard to come by and there simply aren't enough funds in the department or in my own lab to keep me on. I understand that. It sucks balls, but I get it. What I don't get is why my boss can't throw me a fucking bone and help me not feel like the scum of the earth because I'm not a fast writer or because I wasn't able to complete all the experiments we both wanted me to.

You know, I had a rough time at the start of my PhD studies in the fall of 2011. I thought that as time went on, things would get easier. Unfortunately, they never did. It's rare that situations align with the worst possible scenarios I have built up in my mind. These last six years have been the most difficult six years of my entire life to date. And if I had known at the beginning what I know now, I would not have continued on. Sometimes, the not yet tired trope of "she was warned, nevertheless she persisted" isn't a good thing. The process of going for a PhD has broken me. I don't yet know if what is broken can be fixed.

We shall see...

Friday, December 9, 2016

Writer's block and sleepless nights

I find it interesting that I can whip up a reasonably intelligible - and sometimes even witty - blog post in less than 30 minutes, but I can't seem to write a Kindergarten-level sentence having anything to do with my dissertation. Or the journal article I should be writing right now, and honestly, that should've been finished quite a while ago.

Why is that?

I've been working on the Word document for weeks with not much to show for it. I toggle over to it every day and my mind instantly goes completely blank, except for a general sense of terror and certain doom. This feels so uncomfortable to me that I will literally do anything - anything - to escape it.

The trash needs taking out you say? I would be happy to do that in the freezing cold! Wind chill? What wind chill?? Oh darn, I dropped some crumbs on the kitchen floor. Let me just get a bucket of hot soapy water and a scrub brush and spend the next several hours on my hands and knees scouring the linoleum. What better way to spend a Friday night? Why just run a load of whites through the washer when you could be IRONING ALL OF YOUR KITCHEN TOWELS??? No, seriously, I really do this. Actually, I do all of those things.

And if those things fail, my brain makes sure to remind me how much writing this paper is going to suck and that I should've done it by now. And WHY ISN'T IT DONE YET?? Which is fine, but not at 3:00 in the morning (okay, it's not really fine). The panic comes complete with that shot of adrenaline you feel in your stomach, which tells you that you're done sleeping for the night. I can get by on three hours of sleep every night, right? Trump does it and he's a perfectly balanced, reasonable, and tremendously calm individual. Oh, he's not? Well, shit.

And everything needs to be done right this second. Chop chop! No time to waste sitting on your ass just working on the most important assignment of your entire life to date! Oy vey.

I've been told - often, repeatedly, and by many people who are often repeatedly telling me - that I need to just let go and write down any piece of garbage that floats into my head. Just. Write. Down. Something. If you've written something, no matter how shitty, it can be edited and made better. If you've written nothing, well, what's there to edit? Yeah, I get that. I KNOW this. Really, I do. How do I make myself do it??

I think the answer might be to just fucking do it already. Take a deep breath or two, grab a cider, stop dicking around with this blog post, and start writing. Just. Write. Down. Something...

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The boys' club

I guess that I've been relatively fortunate in my graduate school career not to have experienced any overt sexism in lab. I think that streak of relative good fortune has come to an end, as all good things must I suppose.

There is a new postdoc in the new lab in our department, whom I will call "D". For several weeks now, he's been popping into my lab looking for our new second year PhD student, whom I will call "P". At first I thought nothing of it. But as I eavesdropped on their conversation one day, I learned that D wasn't looking for any kind of specialized expertise or anything, just an odd reagent here or there.

There's nothing weird about that on the face of it. However, what did begin to strike me was the fact that if P or my boss, J, (both male) weren't around, he would just leave. He wouldn't bother to ask me whatever asinine question he had. I can assure you that, as a sixth year PhD student, I am fully qualified to answer the question of whether we have some spare taq polymerase in our -20 freezer.

So yesterday, D comes in looking for P (I really should've chosen different initials, but my second choices turned out to be just as suggestive), who had just gone to work out. D leaves. D comes back a short time later asking if J is around. Nope, he's not in. D leaves again. D comes back yet a third time. This time he finally asks little old me if we have any samples we'd like to have shipped off for microbiome sequencing because they had some extra space. Why, yes! I can dig something up by tomorrow, no problem!

WTF????? Why didn't he just fucking ask me the first time he came down??? It's not like P is the only member of our lab he knows. D and I have chatted and acknowledge each other when we pass in the hall. Even if P was the only person he knew, so what? I have never been known to bite anyone (not in public anyway) and I'm reasonably approachable - at least by science standards. I can't help but think that it's because I don't belong to the penis owner's club for manly man stuff.

I normally brush aside thoughts of discrimination against me, but this has been kind of gnawing at me for weeks. On the one hand, it's not a big deal, but on the other hand, it really IS a big deal!! Not only is sexism stupid and wrong, but I am my lab's oracle. If you want to know where something is, how something works, why didn't my experiment work, how do you make all this shit work, why is the fucking sky blue, WHATEVER - you come ask me. I am the keeper of the knowledge here. Even my boss defers questions to me because I know what I'm doing.

The only thing that makes me feel somewhat better is knowing that he wasted a bunch of time and trips up and down the hall by not consulting the oracle first.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hello again

It's been a while since I've started and abandoned a draft of a blog post here. Even longer since I actually posted one. It's been a rough year since the last time I wrote. After a long time of turning inward and panicking, I've decided to try and chronicle what has made this the most difficult year of my life. Getting a PhD is no joke and it certainly isn't for the faint of heart. In the blog posts to come, I hope to tease apart the factors that make this so painfully true.

I've come to realize that no one goes through life in a vacuum and I'm sure there are others who are struggling with the same things that I am. There must be, right? I mean, I can't possibly be the only one.

I hope the act of (non-academic, non-forced) writing will help lift my spirits a bit. If nothing else, I would love for it to make my smart-ass tweenage son quit fucking calling me Eeyore. A girl can dream anyway. So stay tuned!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Enough social faux pas to go around...

I debated whether I should even write this post because it's...honest. Honest in a way that might hurt someone's feelings, although I doubt the people involved would read this. Let me preface what I'm about to say with this - it's not my intention to hurt anyone's feelings, quite the contrary. I'm going ahead with this post because it exemplifies some of the unspoken social difficulties of being a PhD student who, as a matter of course, interacts with other graduate students/postdocs/academics in general.

One of the senior graduate students in my department successfully defended her thesis yesterday, so two of my former lab mates - I'll call them "T" and "P" - were coming back for her defense and the reception afterwards. I hadn't realized they were coming until the master's student - I'll call her "D" - in my lab said so when she came in this morning. I guess they all communicate via texts, which I'm not included on. I felt a knot twisting in the pit of my stomach - I was dreading this.

Let me back up a bit. Both of my former lab mates are more than 10 years my junior and, although we got along well, I knew they weren't "my people", you know? The people with whom you develop fast chemistry, an easy rapport; it's something you recognize when it happens. T was good friends with another graduate student in a different department, "B", who would visit our lab a lot and we would drink with him in the lounge. It was fun. Fast forward somewhat and B gets engaged to his long-time fiancee. After a period of time, it becomes clear that I am not invited to the wedding. I get it, I've planned a wedding before. No big deal, right? Well, it also became clear that everyone else in my lab at the time (T, P, and D) are not only invited, but are hanging out with the bride and groom after the wedding. Um, ouch. That hurts, but after a while of feeling butt-hurt and not being able to talk to anyone about it, the feeling fades a little.

Until yesterday. So the whole fucking lab has been reconstituted for the day and guess what they can't stop talking about? How much fun they had at the wedding I wasn't invited to. I almost said something about it to explain why I wasn't being very sociable, but I just went to the other side of the lab and did some work instead. I don't think anyone was terribly bothered that I didn't want to talk. P was cordial enough, T was his usual friendly self, and D was just really excited to see them. I have no idea if they knew I wasn't invited or if they thought I was and had declined, or if they just didn't give a flying fuck about it altogether. But wow, that really felt shitty all over again.

I didn't handle it very maturely. When the newly minted doctor arrived at the reception in the lounge, I wasn't there to congratulate her. No one texted me to tell me she had come down, but I did hear the loud cheer come from the other end of the corridor. Granted, I'm not a baby and I could've - and probably should've - just sucked up my hurt feelings and gone down there to wait along with my lab's in-crowd and everyone else. I eventually sulked my way down to the lounge, grabbed a champagne, slammed it, had an awkward conversation with my boss for about two minutes, and left. Didn't really say anything to anyone else, either.

I left the lounge, I left the lab, I left the building. I just left. I went and picked up Elliot half an hour early because I couldn't deal with how I was feeling. I can't even name the feeling, really. Kind of rejected and unwanted, but those terms seem too strong. Feeling sorta kinda less than everyone else; feeling like the past illusions I'd had about fitting in were just that - illusions. This was the reality. I don't fit in here, I never have, and I never will. It's too late now anyway - I mean, there's no one left to fit in with. Whatever. It'll be okay, but the social crap has been the hardest part of the whole PhD experience. It casts a pall over everything - even the things I thought I liked - like doing science. I used to love doing science! Now I just want out. I just want to be done and move the fuck on.

If there's anything I've learned, it's this: it's not enough to love what you do to make it gratifying. It's not even enough to like the people you work with - I did. Someone has to like you back. It's about cultivating satisfying relationships. I don't know if other people have the same requirements; I have come to accept that I am high-maintenance. When I was at Eastern, my emotional needs were met, and I feel like I was at my best. I was probably the best student I've ever been, the best teacher, I was funnier, happier, thinner (not that looks should be important, but hey, they are). I felt needed, and important, and at the top of my game.

I don't think I'll be looking back on my time here with such fondness. That's being honest.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer (camp) in The D

For the next week and a half, I have to try really hard to act like a responsible adult/parent. Elliot is half-way through the three-week session of Camp Engineering, a summer day camp put on by Wayne State's College of Engineering. Drop-off is between 8:30 and 8:45 am Monday - Thursday, which means that I have to drag my grumpy ass out of bed before 7:00 am, get myself and the boy ready, and be out the door by 8:00 am. This is tough for someone like me, who prefers to keep vampire hours.

Anyway, the program we signed Elliot up for is "Creating Technological Toys". Not sure exactly what that means and I don't feel like trying to find out right now, but I should, since I think that could be construed as part of the whole "being a responsible parent" bit. Goddamn it. I tried asking Elliot what he does every day, but I didn't get very far with that approach. He did tell me that he met an 8-year-old who, at lunch, ate a bunch of corn dogs, pizza, and ice cream. I think this earned Elliot's immediate respect. All I really know is that he likes lunch. The kids go to the fancy dining hall on main campus, which has damn near everything a kid could want.

What I really wanted to write about was the cool swag he got. It's a bag, lanyard, and t-shirt all with pretty much the same logo (he was wearing the shirt and wouldn't stop moving so I could take his picture in it):

They get to walk to the Michigan Science Center, and I think they're supposed to go to the DIA, and maybe the museum of African-American history as well. He complains when he has to walk somewhere. So spoiled.

That's enough for now. I started this post a week and a half ago and just had to finish it already and move on. Take that, ADD!!! <shakes fist like an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn> Mission accomplished.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Writing and...

Writing and what? I don't know. I'm having trouble organizing my thoughts and trying to articulate them in a coherent manner tonight. I guess I'll just keep typing and see what comes out.

Okay, so fairly recently I've decided that I want to get back into writing. Not the please think my research isn't a waste of the past several years of my life kind of writing I'll have to do to publish in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. And not the please, please, PLEASE give me money so I don't have to wash and reuse pipette tips, leading me to subsequently have to quit science altogether for a better-paying job at McDonald's kind of writing that's involved in applying for grant funding. Ooh, I really hate begging for money grant writing. I don't want to get myself more worked up about it, so I'm going to set that topic down now and back away from it slowly.

The older I get and the more stuff I read, the more I think that writing is not only technical (spelling, parts of speech, syntax, etc.), but also an art. Technically correct writing can be taught. The art and the grace of writing, I think, is more innate talent than anything else. At various points in my life, I've been told that I'm a good writer. What the hell does that mean??? It could mean damn near anything, really. One person's definition of good might be that my description of a technique or a situation is clear and concise. Another person might think I'm a good writer because my words read as if I'm speaking and not just banging shit out on a keyboard. I suppose there could be about as many definitions of "good writing" as there are people doing the defining. And the writing, for that matter.

This compliment is one that has been paid to me at many different ages, in many different environments and states of mind, and by many (very) different people. This raises the question: do I now have a responsibility to write because I'm good at it? I don't know. I have the same question about teaching. I feel like it's a shame to waste a talent, but I guess there are so many other factors to consider. "Like what?" you ask. That's an excellent question. I guess liking whatever it is that you're good at is helpful. My problem is that I seem to be unaware of what I like. I feel ambivalence about proclaiming my love for something that could become an integral part of my eventual career. Maybe it seems like a really big commitment or something. That doesn't really make sense though, especially since I've been with the same man for 23 years. That's a bit of a commitment there. Ack, I'm difficult.

To finish off this session of public navel-gazing, here's an article I forgot I had written for my high school newspaper, The Communicator. I was sorting through old papers in the basement (read: doing more navel-gazing) and found some of the stuff I had written when I actually aspired to be a writer. I barely even remember the event I wrote about, even though it seemed to be fairly traumatic/dramatic. Anyway, enjoy.