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.