Sunday, July 27, 2008

Alot on my mind

that I should be blogging about but right now I have to finish cleaning the house while the monkey is sleeping. Workshop was great, it really opened my eyes about a lot of stuff especially the lack of merit based assessments in science the supposed "epitome" of meritocracy. In the meantimes here is a link to a great post by physioprof on the reporting of blogher. Many of the "mommybloggers" went and had great things to say about it, too bad it was subject to the same treatment as Harvard's Athena report.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

And then she soared

I met with Program Chair yesterday, who advised to run as fast as I could from the Institute. He was extremely helpful and sympathetic, not at all the evil evil man that was described. He listened and provided recommendations on who to approach, who was capable of combining good science with good mentorship, a rare find in science. I was honest about my desire to have another child and to be successful. And then I told currentPI. He did not see it coming, he does not want me to leave. I said I would think about it, but really I won't. He had to talk 2 other students off the ledge, perhaps he needs to have student go over to realize the changes he needs to make. The most frustrating part of this situation is that he has the potential to be a great advisor, he could be so amazing because he is an intelligent individual and a kind person. But he doesn't want to grow and I won't not be a situation that is about training and organization. Like a good friend said, labs need to be run like small businesses. They need processes and checks. Program Chair gave some really good hints, and I will check them out. First I will take a break this weekend. Clean my office, paint my house, play with my monkey. Next week is a full week intensive workshop on Molecular Biology Skills. Then I will read the publications of those PI's, I will go and visit all the labs, then I will make a decision. Hopefully the one that I want to go to will want me as well. If not, then I will make a decision about grad school. I will have put me first. I will have put my family second and science third and I'm ok with that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Different stages of a new journey

I was over at DrDrA reading this post about pregnancy and I got angry. Angry that I am disillusioned, angry that I looked at myself to blame, angry that I was lied to. I tried to believe that PI was not a bad advisor. He reacted well to my being pregnant and I thought (because he told me) that he believed in training students. In reality he had no choice but to react well to my pregnancy, seriously what was he going to do, kick me out of the lab? Of course he had to be supportive, and in all honesty he is a caring individual. But he has no patience and can not be bothered to teach. I fully expected to be able to say about him what doubledoc said about her advisor. I can not belief that those expectations have been shattered. I feel like I am in mourning. The good thing is that this is happening now instead of 3 years in, but it still hurts.

Obviously I am happy that I made a decision to move forward and away, scared but happy. I spoke with a few more people, was told that I am good at doing the work, but not so good at the planning and designing. I agree with that assessment. It shows me that I can do this with the right fit. I will give this grad thing one more try in one more lab...

My apologize for nattering on about the same thing. I need to constantly think about and talk about something to get over it...thanks for being here blogosphere

Monday, July 14, 2008

happiness post

I'm taking a cue from mel and writing a happiness post because all this lab shit is depressing me:
  1. monkey loves me! Really he does, he is such a mama's boy and I am loving it. He won't always want to show me everything and talk to me so I'll enjoy it
  2. loves me and supports me. Regardless of what choose he will be cheering me on
  3. I may not have many friends at work, but I have a ton at home and in the blogosphere
  4. I am healthy and intelligent person with many skill sets outside of science
Thats it for now, but its a start....
Thank you to everyone that has posted / emailed advice and encouragement. Your words have been so helpful.

Friday, July 11, 2008

And a new journey begins

Although I have started to look into other labs and have voiced / written about my frustration, I hadn't made any concrete moves. Which means that if stuff started to improve slightly it would've been easy for me to stay. But doing the easy thing may have been what got me here in the first place. I looked around and researched other groups before joining this lab, but I only interviewed here and made the decision to stay because the reviews were very good, the lab members seemed nice and PI was really really nice. What I should have done was interviewed at the other places that I researched, done a comparison and then made a decision. But it was easier (less time consuming)to go somewhere that appeared to be a very good work environment. Which it was until the whole funding crunch in science happened and one lab in the building collapsed so that all the really good people left. Now there are just big gaping holes. The good people are gone and the lack leadership is front and center. Don't get me wrong, there are things that are very very good about my lab. There is (or used to be) an attitude of learning by doing, mistakes are OK its how you learn. There is the requirement to give a seminar on a regular basis to the whole institute. This not only keeps you on track, but it teaches you to present, take criticism and forces one to be upto speed on their literature, but also exposes you to different research. Its an open concept building which is supposed to foster communication between labs. The labmates (and building members) are kind and caring individuals. The PI is kind, caring and compassionate, but his inability to lead and yes his selfishness has forced lab members to become introverted and disconnected (this is rampant in all the labs in our building). They, along with the whole building, are disillusioned.
PI ultimately does want his students to be happy. Unfortunately his desire to be seen as the nice cool guy, conflicts with his responsibility to be a manager and leader. Managers and leaders have to make decisions that are hard to make, that upset people, that sometimes leaves people shafted. The good managers and leaders are adept at making the decisions quickly, communicate the decisions and follow through. They are able to see the longer-term implications and are able to make the moves that may cause short-term pain, but pay off in the long term. They are able to temper difficult decisions with kindness and respect. They communicate in an open and transparent manner. If PI could put his responsibility to be a good manager / leader ahead of his desire to be liked, he would be an excellent grad advisor. He would then make the decisions that need to be made but because he is genuinely a nice guy, he would naturally temper the difficulties with his kindness.
Unfortunately that is not going to happen, especially because he is not acknowledging his faults. No one can be perfect, however if we can acknowledge our weaknesses we can strength ourselves and grow. If he could take responsibility and make a genuine effort to improve, I could stay. But he won't because this has been an ongoing issue for 2 years.

Our whole building / institute is in shambles. We have really really smart grad students and some good post-docs. The whole situation that his going on in my lab is a product of the greater environment. The pressure to publish, the lack of mentors, the lack of training, lack of trust.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The learning curve apparently equals a flatline

**warning long long post

Or possiblely a line with a negative slope?? I am not quite sure which is more telling of the complete absence of a curve. Maybe that is a sign I should not be in research? The other possible title could be fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

This blog started after a really really horrible lab meeting where I thought I was being personally attacked. I was feeling very alone in my lab and feeling like I had to prove that I could 'cut' it, that one could be a mom and a scientist. At the time, I interpreted the negativity was stemming from a dispute that I had with MPD (male postdoc), he had been handed my project and we had a big blowout about it. I now have come to believe that although that dispute may have been a contributing factor, the truth of the matter is that most of it stemmed from frustration with our PI and the anger that he was about to repeat the same things with me again. I am starting to believe this because additional information has come to light about the history of what is going on, there is danger in keeping your head down - you don't know when you're about to get run over.
Before I continue, I will apologize. In looking over previous posts, I am realizing that although I had composed wonderful posts in my head, I had not actually posted anything online. So really you my reader as no idea where I am coming from, no context for what is happening. Here is all the gory details:


I became a graduate student in sept06, though I was working as technician in the lab prior to that. During my time as a technician I interacted primarily with a now former postdoc (FPD), M3, and male postdoc (MPD). PI was not around but I was not frustrated by the situation because there were senior individuals willing to train and as long someone was there to work with, it was fine. FPD was hard to work with but I did learn from him and took his criticism with a grain of salt. If he was being an ass I told him so, but I needed to learn molecular cloning techniques so he was going to be the one to teach me, along with very nice graduate student in another lab. The project that I had was to create a tool that we could use to study protein X and Y. This tool required a considerable amount of molecular biology. I started working on designing a construct but was not able to get very far in 3 months. I had a plan, purified DNA and tested some digests. Then I went on leave for 1 year. In that time a student came in and worked on the construct day in and day out, practically 24-7. 12 months later she had created a vector, sent it for injection into ES cells and completed southern blots. Now we were just waiting for the mice to be born. Which is when I came back from leave.
Rightly or wrongly this project was supposed to be handed back to me. I was not happy that someone else got to do the vector work, it was what I really was excited about and wanted to learn how to do, but I did go on leave and the work needs to get done. I was firm that the student would get full credit for creating the animals.
Once founders (the initial transgenic mice) were born, they had to be screened and crossed onto the correct mice species. Furthermore, we had to make plans about what to do if the mice went germline. Since I had other projects to work on simultaneously, I figured I would not expend vast amounts of time (all day everyday) designing experiments for an if, especially since we had some basic experiments and testing that we wanted to due if these mice were successful in becoming germline (>6month process). Breeding mice and thinking about if projects does not take alot of time (few hours a week), but apparently I was not able to handle it and the project was handed to MPD. I was extremely frustrated by this because (1) PI did not inform me of this (learned about it from MPD) and he did it right when I came back from mat leave (2) he did it because I was not around for the first 2.5 weeks that I came back even though I specifically told him I would not be around because monkey was transitioning into PT daycare (3) he did not even give me an opportunity to try to learn how to do the work (ie to breed mice etc) (4) when I spoke to him about it, said it was because MPD has had bad luck and needs to have a project he can take with him if he wants to be a PI. This was extremely extremely frustrating because I do not trust MPD. I felt that MPD was jumping onto yet another project, trying to get onto something that would give him a publication / project stream as opposed to developing his own. Furthermore I trust MPD's ability to teach or do science. MPD has a hierarchy which goes PI, postdocs, grad student, technicians (top to bottom). MPD has been in the lab as long as I have and has not been successful scientifically speaking, ie he has no publications, he has not established research themes / projects successfully, little effective mentorship / training of students. The two female postdocs have done that. I trust their ability to do and teach science.
So that is why I started this blog. I felt alone, frustrated and angry. But at the time I took responsibility and felt it was my fault for going on leave, and then only being around part-time due to a combination of being sick, lack of daycare and monkey being sick.

the present
Since that day of the lab meeting, I have been trying really really hard to keep my chin up, not blame my PI or others, and to take control of the reins. I found the money (by denying myself everything) to send the monkey to daycare fulltime. I spent a bunch of time doing background reading and prepared a mini-proposal. Since my presentation of mini-proposal and I have been working on learning the techniques / protocols for the proposed projects. I am currently setting up 3 different projects. PI specifically asked me to tackle all 3 at one time. (I personally would like to get one going, while it is in the collection phase start the next one). One project involves growing up ex-vivo cells, it takes ~ 1 month for those cells to mature, so I learned how to extract those cells and started to grow them. While they were growing I started on the second project which involves getting a cell line to express a protein (via a retro-viral infection) and running a bunch of assays. I have been working on that. The process to get the cell line to express the protein is about 7 days, we can not run the assays unless cell line of interest expresses the protein. I did some readings, figured out how to do it, and tried it. My control worked (empty vector) but the experimental (vector with protein DNA) did not. This was OK because I knew that I was able to do the protocol correctly because both my cell line of interest and my control cell line (3T3's) took up the empty vector but neither took up X (neither 3t3s or cell line of interest). I went back to beginning to find sources of error (not a good DNA prep??), then came in last week on a holiday (a long weekend) to clean the incubator (not my job but I did it) and to start the experiment again. Came in the next day (near the end of the week) and had an bacterial infection. I chose to start over this week instead of coming in all weekend.
Met with PI on monday, updated him with what happened, told him I was starting again that day. Next day PI tells FPD to get the cells expressing proteins of interest. I can learn by watching her or by doing it in a side by side project - we both do it, if hers works great we have what we need and I've walked through a protocol but never actually got it to work independently. I have very good relationship with FPD according to her PI told her she has to do it but she is not keen and told PI that. PI came upto me and said "FPD is very very keen to help you get this infections working, she can teach you this and you can teach her your technique."

I could take it that he's trying to ensure that I have training and mentorship but it strangely feels like having my project shuffled off me yet again, and I am sure he will have very valid reasons. He wants the data now, I will take time because I am learning. I have tried it 2x before I have been told that I can no longer to keep at it. So I guess my learning curve is n=2 which is staight upwards? I would like to point out that prior to this incident, I had been talking to FPD, discussing my steps going forward and asking her input. You learn science by doing it. Why would I do experiments that don't count? What is my motivation then?

In case it is not clear, I am done. I am leaving this lab asap and possibly the PhD path. I want those letters, PhD behind my name but I must assess if it is worth the cost. I am 31 and have an 18 month old. I would like to have another child in the next couple years. We are not yet going into debt but we're not moving forward either. It take 4-5 years for someone straight out of undergrad to finish a Phd. I have an MSc, so I am not taking classes and that should shave at least one year off the time, making it 3-4. I almost 1 year in and am no where near 2-3 years from being done. I have been trained in science, know how to trouble shoot. I can use a pipette. I know how to ask a question and design a hypothesis I should not be having the rug pulled out from under me all the time. But he's done it to all the other grad students so why am I surprised? Oh yeah they weren't allowed to tell me until after I started.

Monday, July 7, 2008

One step closer, one step farther

After a week full of eye-opening disappointment, this new week promises to bring more of the same....BUT we will not talk about the elephant in the lab. I will not let the assery that is my research institute bring me down. FYI - I have made a decision regarding said assery, but will not chat about it today.

Today I want to say how happy and excited I am that the monkey turned 18 months today. Truth be told, I am not sure if I am actually happy per se, just more amazed. He is turning into such a boy, growing up so fast. It feels like yesterday that I was waking up and nursing him on the couch in the middle of the night, cuddling with him in bed in the mornings. I swear it was just yesterday when we were in the hospital, when I pulled you out of your little crib and next to me. It didn't seem right to keep you all by yourself on your first night out in the world. As soon as I lied you down, you snuggled up against me, falling comfortably, safely fast asleep. It just felt right. Perhaps it was just yesterday.
Monkey has gone back to wanting me to lie with him as he falls asleep and I wonder how long he will let me do that. It was hit and miss there for awhile as he's quite the independent boy. Whenever it happens, it will be too soon for me.

Everyday I think I could not love him more, everyday he proves me wrong. We've been doing pretty good, monkey and I. Despite his lack of vocabulary we seem to understand each other alright. A few grunts, pointing, feet stamping, head shaking, mommeeee's!!! and mama's!!! later he gets what he needs. Soon our game of charades will be over. He is slowly picking up more and more words. One morning he will wake up and overnight have transformed from the boy that does not speak to the boy who does not be quiet. And I will think that I could not love him more.

I alternate between wanting to freeze time, never wanting the tender moments pass, never wanting him to make that next change because I've just figured out this one and being excited about what is to come. It will be fun to talk to monkey, to really know what he thinking when he laughs his bold beautiful laugh as he claps his hands. Does he know that when he looks up at those pretty women and bats those big brown beautiful eyes of his, that their hearts melt? Does he know my heart melts everytime he does it to me? Does he know how much I love him? Watching him sleep reminds me that I can deal with the assery and I can make whatever adjustments are necessary because although science is a big part of me, its not the most important part.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Still struggling to find a direction

Every day more and more information keeps coming out. One of the reasons I'm having such a hard time with this decision is trying to figure out how to not repeat the same situation, which I feel like I have. Although current PI is way better at the personal stuff than MSc PI, he has, I've discovered, some of the same traits that I abhor - passive-aggressive and inappropriate language. Extremely inappropriate, but also some that I have never experienced, unethical behaviour and poor standards.
I thought I put alot work into talking to others about current PI before entering the lab. I spoke to current students, past students, and outside observers. All had nothing but good things to say about him. Of the current students I had spoken to, only one said he was unhappy, but the other 3 had only good things to say about him. I found out that one of those 3 lied because they had been "spoken to" for suggesting to another applicant that they look somewhere else. Does that mean the other 2 may of been less than forth coming. The way I interpret the information is that the students did not say how they really felt because of a fear of being found out. Now what? I'm early enough that I can leave without effecting my graduation time-line. I'm not stuck on the research. I mean I love science, and am happy learning about any ol protein. So, if I leave (FPD1 is leaving asap) how do I assess the next space. What different questions am I supposed to ask? How do I know that students are not telling the truth? The issues I'm bringing up are not new in the lab, they've been festering for awhile - I have tried to stick my head down and not get involved. The hear no evil see no evil mentality. To be completely truthful, I am not being effected by most of this stuff just yet, but I will be in the future. His scientific standards are poor and he knows it. He pesters students to do the data collection his way, but when they present the data and get shit on, he does nothing to protect them. He lets it look like it was their idea. Student that are finishing, post-docs and technicians are telling me to leave....not a good sign.
Melanie hit on the nail in her comments. It comes down to fear. Not fear of staying. I fully know what I am stuck with for the next 5 years if I stay. A difficult absentee PI that claims he wants to mentor but doesn't put in the time or effort. One that will let hang me and then say its because I didn't work hard enough. I would be teaching my self as I did in my MSc. I am scared to leave. Scared of thinking I'm moving to better situation (which I thought I did with this move) only to be in just as crappy but for different reasons situation. Everybody has their faults. Many many student have pointed out my PI's issues, but he doesn't seem to want to change or cares to change. What to do? What to do?