Monday, June 30, 2008

Abandon Ship?!

I have talked before about lab politics and trying to stay out of them, but I feel I can no longer do that. Information has come to light and things are happening that will affect me. I have to make a decision on how to deal with these issues. The question is should I jump ship or not?? and if I jump ship, do I jump to another lab or leave the whole Phd thing?? The answer to the second question is an easy one. I will no quit my PhD. I started my PhD for personal reasons, not to become a great scientist or PI but to learn about science, and to know that I could do it. I have said before that fear is never a good reason for not doing something and one of the main reasons for not doing a PhD was a fear of failure. When I came to this lab, I really enjoyed coming to work, talking with the people in the lab and about science. That has slowly changed. Our institution is half empty and full of people that our unhappy with either their PI or ours (my lab mates), which is sucking the life out of me. Within the next 2 years all the senior people in our lab will be gone, which means I will not have any mentors to teach me. My advisor has been struggling to balance work and life, as he has a new baby and partner, so he has not been around for a long time and when he is around he is stressed out, distracted and uninvolved. I firmly believe that my performance reflects not only my work ethic and intelligent but also upon the ability of my advisor to prepare, teach, and guide a student. So far PI has been failing at that miserably, as evidenced for his lack of assistance with my seminar. But mentors can be replaced, and I can find someone outside of my PI and lab to assist. I've said before he's not the worst. But today I had a very long conversation with female post-doc1 (FPD1). Someone I really really admire, and for the second time she has told me to seriously consider leaving and this time she recommended it. I should point out that our very experienced tech that just left also said do not stay. I need to do a pros and cons list so here it goes:

Reasons not to jump
  1. I get along with my PI, he genuinely cares about me as a person, can be kind and compassionate.
  2. I also feel loyal to him. He understands work-life balance, he was very good about my having a child and going on leave, paying me as tech even though I wasn't so I could collect mat leave benefits.

Reasons to leave
  1. He's passive-aggressive and unhelpful with conflict. When I had a problem with male postdoc1 (MPD1) in conversations with me, he said I was correct, with conversation with MPD1 he told him he was correct - that does not help solve the problem. If I am wrong tell me!
  2. He can be manipulative - giving away projects to suit his needs not the students
  3. He puts himself before students - as in student has enough to finish, would like to finish, he stands in the way until student does what he says
  4. Funding is becoming an issue
  5. He has poor scientific standards - as in not always worrying about correct controls
This last two bug me because my last PI had very high standards and at the time it drove me nuts, mainly because no body else seemed to care. Now I care. What is the point of doing all this, getting results analyzing and publishing IF you can't be certain that your conclusions are based on solid repeatable data??
Furthermore if you are willing to publish and make conclusions about the role of a protein when you know that effect was due to an effect of the experiment not the actual protein, what does that say about your ethics? Some of his issues (passive-aggressive) be worked around IF he had good lab management skills, but he doesn't, He's all over the map, asking 4 different people to work on the same thing, takes students off task on a regular basis and then re-assigns projects because student is not focusing on them! And if I am not sure about being a PI does scientific standard matter? I think if they matter to me I can do my science well but that may make me run about against him many a day.
The feminist in me is screaming to run. Staying means I am condoning his behavior, something I spend a lot of time working to clear science of. If so how do I leave? What do I say? How do I approach other PI's???

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dr.Jekyll why have you gone!!!

Dear Dr. Jekyll & Mrs.Hyde,

I have only been reading your blog for the last 3 months, and I probably shouldn't be asking you in the front of the whole wide blogosphere but I beg you either open your blog to all again or to please, please invite me to read! I loved your blog, your honesty and of course your wit, advice & humor. I am so so sad to have navigated to your blog to find that permission has been denied for viewing. Please don't deprive us poor struggling students your wisdom!


A very sad grad student

The winner for best drama is....

Is it just my research institute or is every research institute all about the drama?? I normally try to keep head down so that I'm not swept up into the vortex, but sometimes I just want to spank everyone. I don't know if its because I'm old compared to some of the people, or because I am a mom but I have zero patience for hyperbole coupled with hypocrisy. A new PI will be joining "great" institute, this as been common knowledge for a few months now, however our brilliant leaders have failed to figure out where new PI (NPI) is to go - as in NPI currently has no designated office or bench space and there is currently no empty bench or office space. No problem for our fearless leaders, they simply choose to ignore the issue until NPI come by to scope out the place and figure out exactly what will go where and what they need to apply to granting agencies for. Obviously some moving is going to have to take place and those pions on the lower end of the ladder (post-docs in this case) are going to be the ones moving, which everyone understands. So lets be clear, no one is upset that they have to move, they are upset that NPI came told them they're getting kicked out of there as apposed to our fearless leaders. I agree that this is annoying and proper communication leads to better work environments. The post-docs are now kicking 2 grad students out of another office so they can take it over, fair enough if you believe in the whole place in the ladder business, however one of those grad students is a visiting student - co-supervised by one of the PI in the building but not officially a student at our university. This is where the hypocrisy come in, grad belonging to our uni was approached about being kicked out prior to the decision being made, but apparently visiting grad student does not need to be communicated with because he/she is not part of our institute (despite working here for 2 years and being co-supervised by a institute PI). I'm sorry but apparently I have forgotten that I am attending high school. Geez seriously people am I CRAZY for thinking intelligent people can actually behave intelligently???!!!!**

If either physio prof or drug monkey are reading this - I guess your answer would be yes?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Maybe I should ask the magic 8 ball?

You Should Get a PhD in Liberal Arts (like political science, literature, or philosophy)

You're a great thinker and a true philosopher.

You'd make a talented professor or writer.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Dear MSc Grad Advisor, I am sorry

I feel like I owe my MSc thesis advisor an apology. Which is a huge thing for me to admit, and I am not sure if I am completely correct in thinking that he deserves a full "I'm sorry", but he definitely is not as much of an ass as I previously thought. Two posts in particular are making me think this, but so is my current experience as a Phd student in a new lab with a younger PI. Furthermore, my own experience with PhD GradAdvisor, also makes me appreciate that asshat wasn't completely evil.
I quite enjoy Ms.Phd's blog. She is completely honest in expressing her perspective on her experience, but reading her blog and reading how bad she perceives her supervisor to be, I think crap, asshat wasn't that bad. Don't get me wrong, he is by no means a great supervisor or even a good supervisor, but he also was not evil. After reading many of the science blogs listed on the sidebar, I've realized that MSc Advisor has some really great points that have been fundamental to my success as a PhD student. The current discussion between Ms.PhD and PhysioProf (at DrugMonkey), seems to focus on the difference between a senior post-doc and a junior PI, but also on the issue of PI's knowing the technical details of experiments. Other posts on both blogs have focused on things like PI's responding in a timely manner, providing feedback and acknowledging the work of trainees during presentations. I for one have been reading these posts and have been in shock. I may be naive but I have not worked with a PI that did not know the details of projects / experiments intimately. Neither my current advisor or my MSc advisor were control freaks, but they paid attention and knew / know what I am/was doing and why. MSc advisor wasn't the best when it came to troubleshooting my immunocytochemistry but he knew quantitative imaging very well. He had very very high scientific and ethical standards, comparing to the proper controls was very very important. He also made sure we were very well prepared for any talks or presentations we had to give. He made sure to go over all proposals with a fine tooth comb. He may not start till close to the deadline, but there was not paper, committee report, poster, abstract, proposal that he did not review and revise at minimum 5 times. Even if all 6 grad students had deadlines for the same conference, he aimed for perfection. When he presented work, he always gave credit to the students who collected the data but always knew the why and whats of all experiments. My current advisor does the same (in regards to acknowledgements) and I have to say that I have not attended a talk where the PI has not expressed their utter and complete dependence on their trainees for the data and the success of their labs. To read that others are not so transparent is a bit shocking because to me it seems like common knowledge that a PI is only as good as the trainees working for them.

The point is that MSc. advisor is not evil. He is still an asshat for his inappropriate sexual comments, but on his ability as a supervisor I am not so sure, horrible mentor but maybe not horrible supervisor. Does admitting that he is not evil mean I can forgive him for destroying my confidence and self-esteem, I'm not sure. But I do not think that I would be able to whole heartedly discourage students from joining his lab. Over at Dr.drA, a commenter described strong, independent, confident female scientist as a ball busting bitch (BBB). I was a BBB when I started my MSc, and he killed that. He called me catty when I stood up for myself, made me self-conscience for disagreeing with a stated opinion and I am still working on getting over that. He was a bad mentor, but I have to admit, he is a good scientist, and he taught me how to do science with high standards.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Validity of Leaving Academia - Part 2

I started this post awhile ago but never really had the energy put together a thoughtful post. Today, however, I had the displeasure of finding out that another really awesome FPD (female post-doc #3) has decided to venture off the path of academic scientist. Note that I said she is venturing off, key words there. She is not quitting but choosing to leave a path that she could come back to if she chooses to. Back to my point, today I found out that FPD3 has won a full ride to attend a very prestigious business school. FPD3 was very well respected at our research institute for both her scientific abilities and her leadership. I am sad because although her choice is a legitimate one, it is one more person (and lets be honest another female) that is leaving academia partly due to the lack of mentorship and leadership she experienced at two different institutions.
I mentioned that I started this post awhile ago and I did, almost a month ago on the first long weekend of the year. I had gone into the lab on a Friday (I normally stay home on fridays to spend time with monkey) to set up cells so that they would be ready for a transfection on Sunday. SUNDAY people. I came in on the SUNDAY of the FIRST long weekend of the year. Don’t start leaving comments on how everyone has done that. I know, I worked many stat holidays and weekends while doing my masters, but that doesn’t make it OK. It is not OK that we are expected to put in >60 hours a week on a regular basis. I understand that I will have to come in on weekends to do 15 minutes jobs so that an experiment can be done quicker / easier (I did that on fathers day, yes we were at my research institute on fathers day!). I understand that I will have to be here for 20 hour days on weekends because an experiment needs to be done and we’re working with animals in a time sensitive experiment. Even with the best of planning, coming in to do stuff can not be avoided. But we should not be coming in all weekend for full days on a regular basis, yet we do or at least some of us do. I refuse to, probably to my detriment, but maybe not. This is the reason that men and women leave science, because the expectations are crazy, because we think scientists should be chained to the bench and enjoy only science. When in reality most of us want to spend time with friends and family, we want children of our own, and we want to read to our children before bed. Not unreasonable requests. If my colleagues in the science sphere think my science is less than theirs because I work on the bench only when I have to and because I enjoy social stuff then I guess its their loss. Not to beat a dead horse, but the culture must change in order for us to keep the best and the brightest.
If we want to be perfectly honest, science suffers when people like FPD3 leave. She is bright, intelligent, and has the skills to succeed in whatever field she chooses. It is people like her, the bright ones with multiple skill sets that are so critical to helping solve what is broken with system, that find it easy to leave. It is easy because she is intelligent and because she does have multiple skill sets. She is able to freely move into biotech, government, or anything else. Whereas those that maybe should leave, may not leave because they don’t have the transferable skills to make it possible. We, as a scientific community are losing valuable people because of “traditionalists” that don’t want to see change in the system.
Traditionalists - male and female, yes there are women scientists that suck ass as mentors, shocking I know, that make comments "children are closer to their moms", "its biology deal with it" "you made the choice, deal with it" basically ignorant asses that don't realize that without children we would not continue our species, and that having children is not mutually exclusive of having a career - dumb asses.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Procrastination, thy name is ScientistMother

Mr.SM has taken the monkey to his parents for the day. He wanted me to go with them, but I listed off the numerous things I had to get done today, go the gym (finally!), get to Costco for some groceries, put in a load of laundry, try to get the weeding done and oh yeah, make an appearance at a family function, and oh read 2 nature reviews articles. The mister and the boy left at ~10am. It is now 11:20am, and I have sat my arse on the couch to drink some coffee, read some blogs and watch the football (soccer )game the entire time. BTW did you see the goal in the extended time? I used to be a go getter, hated sitting on the couch and I loved working out, but since the monkeys appearance, once I am home alone I'm like "oh my god I'm home alone I can watch tv and surf the net while drinking coffee and do not have worry about the boy hitting the tv, breaking computer, grabbing /spilling / drinking my coffee, or getting into some other mischievous trouble aka the toilet". Then I complain about how I have no time to focus on school, when the real problem is that when I do have time I want to enjoy the solitude, the peace, the ability to not have to be unfocused on tv crap. Seriously, we finally have some sun in the city of ours and I'm sitting on the couch watching crap television and writing a blog post, must get my head examined. Actually the bright light is that I am aware of my problem, and admitting you have a problem is the first step in recovery right??
On another note, the monkey is doing well. I think it was one of those random puking events, that little ones like to have.

Friday, June 13, 2008

are we sure the earth is round

because I seriously feel like I feel off the edge. I have just gone a whole week without a posting. My apologizes to readers, I have no idea why. Well actually I do, Mr.SM wrote his exam for his course on monday night, so I was in burnout mode from coming home from work and dealing with monkey AND house stuff all by my lonesome. The rest of the week has been spent enjoying the fact that Mr. SM has been home before dinner, and isn't studying after dinner. I figure I should enjoy this time, since he's not registered for another course until september which means that I should be doing the whole reading papers after dinner thing now. Lab has been busy trying to set up multiple experiments for multiple projects. However that may all come to a crashing halt as monkey threw up at daycare and now he's awake, heres to hoping to its not a flu

Friday, June 6, 2008

Why am I doing this?

This post was supposed to be a thank you to the two random strangers that helped me out when crazy woman drove me off the road and then took off. One stranger chased her down to get her insurance information and the other changed my tire in the pouring rain. To my dear friend JV and sister who pinched in to pickup monkey, hugely grateful. If only I could get into the childcare on campus....

Okay so if I'm not writing an eloquent thank you to these guys what am I writing about? Today a friend asked me why am I doing my PhD? She was genuinely curious because as I have mentioned many times, I had a horrible experience during my masters program. I thought her question was interesting because of the whole Athena report thing and because my friend and I just finished discussing how much cash I would be making if I had chosen to go into sales (after I finished my MSc, I had been offered numerous positions as an imaging specialist). So why did I choose this path? My initial answer was why not? Some may say that you shouldn't do science as a default that you must enjoy what you do because its a hard road, that you must have a passion for it blah blah. Obviously I enjoy it and have a passion for it, otherwise I wouldn't have chosen to do a Masters AFTER slugging out it in the trenches of an undergrad. Obviously there was something keeping me at the work, since I had an ass for a thesis advisor and the most toxic lab environment ever! So again the question is not why to pursue a PhD but why not? The reasons are: its hard work, its difficult to have kids and do lab work, its difficult to have a life and do lab work, and I'm scared because I'm not sure I could do it. But these are not valid reasons, in my opinion. Anything worthwhile is hard work, so unless I want a mindless job, that comes with any career path. The whole family and life aspect? Well, the feminist in me will not let that be a valid reason either. I should not have to choose between having kids and being a scientist. Male or female, doing science should not be incompatible with having a family and a life. Right now, it may be that way for many many people, but if I choose not to continue something that I enjoy and have a passion for because I felt that they were mutually exclusive options well then it is going to continue to be that way for all those youngsters coming after me. To me, that was unacceptable. Science culture will not change unless we (men and women who want to have a proper balance) make it change. We make it change by participating in science, our way and demonstrating that it can be done. We can be role models and a light to those behind us. I am woman scientist, hear me roar!
That last reason, fear, that is never a valid reason for not doing something .

Monday, June 2, 2008

Seriously, can you remove your head out of your ass?

So I have already posted my thoughts on the harvard business report regarding women in science.
I am pissed at what the article has to say about women and science, according to a summary in the globeandmail. First this article was in the life & style section of the newspaper when it should have been in the report on business section. Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) fields are business, human resource issues relating to them are important both for our economy and our society, that however is a different rant. I am pissed because the very group that is supposed to be advocating for the plight of SET is completely ignoring the issue, to the extent that they claim the female brain drain is not an issue in Biotechnology. How can I state this as a matter of fact? Well at the risk of losing my anonymity, I will tell you that I hosted a roundtable at which Colette Rivet was invited to speak, the purpose of the roundtable? To quote my own invitation to Colette:

Panellists on the roundtable will be asked whether the biotechnology industry and academia are facing the same challenges as (in respect to a skilled labour shortage and diminishing populations) other industries and countries? What will the economic impact of these challenges be? Is encouraging professional women to re-enter the job market by improving access to quality childcare and instituting flexible work-hours a solution to the impending labour shortages?

When I asked whether Biotechnology was facing a brain drain, the answer was an emphatic no, biotechnology is all peaches and roses when it come to women’s equality. Really because that is why I picked this topic. I am pissed because that roundtable was hosted by a student organization, it was full of young women who wanted to know what the challenges they faced and what some solutions were, what could they do to make a difference. It was meant to be a worthwhile discussion on what the real issues or challenges were and what were possible solutions. There were NO politicians, the other panelists? a wonderful policy guy, a banker to discuss to the financial impacts associated with HR policies (because Biotech is mostly startups where I am) and the HR council for Canada Biotech Industry. Do you know what we got? Bullshit, nothing worthwhile complete denial of an issue. But as the Harvard report shows the fact of the matter is well qualified women, and men, are leaving SET fields because of an inability to find work-life balance. We are losing talented individuals and we need to figure out how to stem the flow. Sticking our heads in our asses and denying there is a problem doesn’t do anyone any favors.

As an aside Lesson #432861 - if you're going to rant on the phone about heads in asses while trying to cook dinner, make sure the monkey is within sight because you won't notice the silence over your ranting and you will end up with this:

What you can't see, his pants soaked in the water that used to be in the toilet bowl, the bathroom floor covered in the water that used to be in the toilet bowl.