Sunday, June 30, 2013

What is it about Mondays?

I hate Mondays. It's gotten so bad that I start feeling depressed in the middle of the afternoon on Sundays. Just in the last five minutes, I've apparently let out so many long heavy sighs that even Chris noticed and gave me a quizzical look.

Tomorrow is orientation day for the undergrad IMSD summer program. This takes place in a room on main campus that is about 5 times too small for the number of students, parents, and the rest of us who will be crammed in it. As a graduate IMSD student, I'm required to spend a week in August teaching these incoming freshmen some biology. I guess the idea is to kind of give them a taste of what they'll encounter in their intro classes in the fall (they will also have physics and chemistry modules). Additionally, us older students tell the younger ones what not to do and the mistakes we made on the way to getting a bachelor's degree and beyond.

I don't know how useful I will be tomorrow. I just feel emotionally drained. For the last several months, it just seems like I have to keep giving and giving and giving. Giving instruction to various minions, giving my extra time (of that, there's been damn little), my love, and every last ounce of patience to Elliot, and just generally expending all of my energy on preparing for lab meetings, a conference, and my committee meeting. What I haven't done is give so generously to myself. I don't sleep well, I haven't been eating well, I don't really engage in any relaxing hobbies or go anywhere but the bar with friends. And sometimes I go weeks without having any significant social interaction outside of the lab and home. There are times that I feel excruciatingly lonely, even when I'm surrounded by people. I'm just tired. I really need a vacation. I think the last time Chris and I went out of town alone was when Elliot was two or three and we went to a wedding in Ohio. I had such a bad respiratory infection that I was convinced I had whooping cough. Even now I'm not sure that I didn't. That didn't make for a relaxing time at all.

Goddamn it! I just took a sip of beer and realized that I've been sharing it with some kind of insect for the last few minutes. WTF?! I give up. I'm a fabulous complainer - I like to do it and I've become pretty good at it too. Now I just have to figure out how to make things better for myself. I'm not so great at that yet, but I'm gonna keep trying.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Minioning leads to wacked out poo brain

I am exhausted. Just mentally spent. Thinking for myself is taxing enough, but having to think for myself and another person every single day is really wearing on me. A little background is called for here.

At the beginning of May, I was given an undergrad student. It kinda sounds like a late birthday present, but I assure you - an undergrad with no real lab experience is no gift. Particularly in advance of my first national ASM meeting representing the lab and my first committee meeting. My PI ultimately wants her (my undergrad / minion-in-training) to have her own project investigating whether quorum sensing is important for V. cholerae colonization of the zebrafish gut. However, there's a TON of work involved in teaching her the stuff she needs to know (what I call "minioning") to become even semi-independent. She's really smart and asks good questions, but she mumbles like crazy, sneaks up on me, almost never shuts up, has come down with some form of selective deafness, and is generally irritating the fuck out of me. Let me break this down point by point:

  1. "mumbles like crazy" - I have auditory processing issues that make it hard for me to understand speech when there's a lot of background noise. Even giving myself slack for that, it makes me feel SO OLD having to say, "what?" or "I really can't hear you" 50 times a day. When I've had enough, I'll just smile and nod or run off to the bathroom and just sit on the toilet, not to pee, but to hide.
  2. "sneaks up on me" - She doesn't do it on purpose, but she has walked up behind me so silently that I have literally jumped at the sight of her on least 5 separate occasions. I told her to cough or make a noise when she's about 10 feet away, or I'd have to start calling her The Sidler.
  3. "almost never shuts up" - today out of the blue she looks up from her reading and says, "I do Tae Kwon Do on the weekends" - I think that's what she said anyway, because she was mumbling. I said, "really?" to which she replied, "no, not really. But I want to." I think it was at this point that I got up and went to go hide in the bathroom.
  4. "has selective deafness" - Lately, I'll explain to her why we're doing something or I'll show her how to do ethanol precipitation, for example, on a few samples with her doing the remainder of the samples. As soon as I tell her to go ahead and finish the last few, she says, "okay, what am I doing now?"

There's more stuff, but I think you get the idea. It has recently come to my attention that she annoys everyone else in my lab and the fish lab too. <face palm> My description of her really sounds bad, but I'm pretty sure most of the annoying things she does are unintentional. Unfortunately, that only makes it worse in that this is just her personality. Granted, she is only 19 and likely just acting her age. I've been asking myself if I was that annoying when I was 19, and I'm fairly certain that I was not, although I may be somewhat biased.

I'm glad for the chance to vent. Fortunately, we have lab meeting tomorrow and there will be no real time to do benchwork with her. She comes in the afternoon Monday - Thursday because she has class in the morning on those days. My feeling of dread is only slightly diminished though. I have to come up with enough stuff to keep her busy, yet out of my hair, on Friday. I forgot to mention - she has no classes on Friday so she will be in the lab with me all. day. long...

Friday, June 21, 2013

The bitch is back!

I've finally gotten around to updating the blog. It's funny, for weeks now, I've been thinking of all kinds of great things to write about. Now that I actually have time to write about them, I can't think of a single thing I want to write about. I guess I'll just give a rundown of what's been going on since my last post.

The biggest change is that I've advanced to PhD candidacy (I'm not waiting for the paperwork to go through to claim the distinction. God only knows how long that will actually take.). ABD, baby (thanks, Jamin)! So, I had my first committee meeting last Thursday to present and defend my research proposal. I was a little surprised at how long it took. My committee and I were holed up in the department library for nearly two hours. I only had 35 PowerPoint slides in my presentation, so I figured I would spend about 40-45 minutes presenting my stuff. No. When I finally reached my last slide, it was an hour and 26 minutes after I had initially opened my mouth to start speaking. Holy shit. Thankfully, I was only stumped by one question: what is the conductance of the water the zebrafish are kept in? No clue. I still don't know and, at this point, don't much care. Even better is that the PI of the fish lab (where I do my zebrafish experiments) didn't know either. I didn't get any criticisms and was told that I gave an "excellent" presentation. My PI said that it was obvious that I had read everything he thought I needed to and he said I did a great job. That made me feel awesome - almost embarrassed. This project is my boss's "baby" and I really wanted to make sure that I represented the project and him well. Comments from other committee members like, "you're a really good speaker and you gave a great presentation," and, "you didn't just tell us about your project, you taught us," told me that I nailed it. I feel like I have finally earned my place in the lab. All the teaching I did at EMU and WCC has really been advantageous to me. I am comfortable speaking in front of groups of diverse educational backgrounds, I know how to tailor a presentation for a particular audience - what background to include and details I can (and sometimes should) leave out. I've also gotten good at anticipating what questions might be asked of me. The one thing I really need to improve on is time management. I always wait until the last damn minute to do everything - to the point where it isn't unusual for someone to get pissed at me as a result. Oddly enough, putting the finishing touches on a presentation just minutes before I'm scheduled to give it seems to work for me. I prefer not to practice beforehand - I feel like my talk will be too rehearsed and lacking in spontaneity. I feel like I express enthusiasm more authentically the very first time I give a talk. Don't get me wrong, I don't go into a presentation unprepared. I scrutinize every image and line of text on every slide. I know exactly what information needs to be conveyed, but my preference is to figure out how exactly to convey it while I'm in the moment. I think many of these idiosyncrasies can be blamed on my attention deficit disorder. For optimum performance, it seems that my brain requires an absolutely ridiculous amount of stimulation. This comes in the form of pushing the limits of my superiors (how much will they let me get away with before they get pissed?), seeing how long I can put off a task before it becomes impossible to do by a certain deadline, things that cause me almost crippling levels of anxiety. It drives me nuts and I absolutely hate this about myself. However, I'm at a point in my life where I wonder if it's too late to "fix" me. I feel far too old to keep getting chastised like a small child. I also wonder if faculty would respond to me differently if 1) they knew I have ADD (I don't make this known because I'm convinced it will be perceived as a "convenient excuse" for why I  sometimes don't perform up to expectations), and 2) that I am actually 37, not 27 - also something I don't tend to publicize.

One more bit of self-reflection before signing off. Here's an enlargement of my new profile picture:
An early iteration of my "bitch face"
I'm three (possibly four) years old in this picture. Something I've been reflecting upon lately is that fish  have been a consistent thread running through my life - especially now. My astrological sign is Pisces, in this picture I'm wearing a swimsuit with fish on it while holding a dead bluegill that my dad - an avid fisherman - had just caught, and now I'm sitting here writing about the zebrafish project that has gradually come to consume me. A little freaky. While my father was alive, I never shared his love of fishing - although I did love to eat what he caught and cooked for me. When I was pregnant with Elliot, it was so hard to have to keep telling him that I couldn't eat his fish. Even with that temporary abstinence, I'm sure my body is loaded with enough mercury to make even the Mad Hatter cringe. Man, were those fish delicious. I miss them. And him. Now, I essentially go fishing in a barrel every week for my job - with a net in a full aquarium in a lab. I sometimes like to think that maybe, just maybe, he still hasn't given up on trying to get his youngest daughter to love fishing the way he once did. She's working on it.