Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pulling Science (aka Shite) out of thin air

Its what I love and what I hate about this lab. We’re working on protein X that has been well characterized as a cell marker, but its function remains enigmatic. Which means that I, who must try to provided some insight into function, have NOTHING to base a hypothesis on. Which is great, in that any result is a result but crap in that how does one figure out where to start. Well you start by choosing a system (a cell type) and start with basic questions about protein x, where is it on the cell? is it homogenous? is organized into compartments? Does it colocalize with other proteins? Then you choose a functional assay, how I wish my protein transported ions!! But there are other choices, migration, adhesion, cytokine stimulation assays etc. Choose an assay and then become a biochemist and fack that shite up and see how the results of the functional assay change. There you go, there is my thesis project. Oh how I hope it does not fail.

Which is why I need your help. any ideas on good functional assays? how should I f*ck that protein up?

I know short post, but what can I say, I am a woman of few words.

PS i realize I am not keeping up my promise to be a thoughtful, coherent, well written blog. My bad but really I have like 10 minutes to post.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I've fallen and I can't get up

A new week and a new focus?? I was bit sparse on posting last week. I would like to say it was because I was diligently reading research papers and composing a mind blowing thesis project, but really it was because I was reading a lot of cool science blogs (see new blog roll) and because I was procrastinating. I am notorious for avoiding the whole concept of research, which makes me wonder why I chose this field, but that’s another post. Its not that I don’t enjoy, when I am doing the work – oddly, I enjoy it emmensly. I used to strongly dislike (hate is such a strong word) the actual lab work part of research, but now I dislike the research part and I am not sure why. Actually I do know why, its fear. I am scared to start this thing and I don’t know why. I mean the sooner I start, the more focused I can be, the quicker I can get done and move on with life.

Some of you will say its probably the fear of having to do real work that I am scared of. Fear of that far off future where I have to decide what I want to do with my life, but that’s not it. I am scared of coming up with a proposal that doesn’t make sense, that is illogical and screams that I should not be here. I have lost the self-confidence that I had built up after completing my MSc and I don’t know how to get it back. Well that not entirely true, I do know how to get back, get focused and show progress…but I am stalled. My brain is telling me to get to work, to focus because that is the key but my heart is not letting me. Why??? I need to focus. URGH!! I have a huge amount to learn and feel that I must learn it all in the next 3 weeks. But I cannot do that. I cannot know everything and I have to stop caring that others think I must.

I will get there, slowly I will get there again. The next few week will be slow on the posting side as I try to get ready for the big proposal on May 28th. Wish me luck. Oh and if you have any great ideas on how to find ligands or determine the function of a random protein, shoot those over to me as well.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is ignorance really bliss?

Embarking on the path to a PhD was not my first foray into research. I have experienced the world of condescending, non-assisting, all powerful supervisors. The frustration of working in an environment where you are desperate not to be the least productive and afraid to make mistakes due to the onslaught of ridicule from colleagues. It is not a happy place to be or one conducive to learning. When I finally defended my thesis I swore I would never do research again because of the scarring nature of the experience. Then the unthinkable happened, I realized that moving ahead in the world of science is greatly hindered if you do not have the letters PhD, behind your name. I know, I know its not impossible, its just more difficult. I am lucky enough to know many successful individuals who have gotten quite far with a masters degree, thank you very much. Unfortunately, they all tell me that it was hard and to this day they get quite frustrated. They, along with Mr. SM, continue to push me to continue on the path of research. Surprisingly I also realized when I was away from it all, that I missed research, I missed learning and I missed being my own boss.

And so I am doing a PhD, with the benefit of knowing what mistakes to avoid. I interviewed the individuals working in the lab before agreeing to be a student, I interviewed the supervisor and I interviewed past students. He wasn't perfect but I liked him, I still like him. I like that he believed in learning by doing, in trying different things, and that he understood that research was not my life. That is not to say that I was not terrified of telling him I was pregnant within three months of working for him, before I was even a student. But his first reaction was to jump up and give me a hug, to be happy for me and to tell me not to worry about the timing. Overall he has been great, again not perfect, but great. This does not seem to be the general view of my fellow lab mates or others working in our research building. A couple of my labmates are frustrated, disgruntled and dis-illusioned. I understand and empathesize with them, but I don’t blame my supervisor for their situation only because I know how bad it can be. I have been there. But which makes me wonder, is my supervisor and my situation not great, just not as bad? How do you know if your work environment is dysfunctional? I am not so na├»ve to think that everyone will like you or that you will be friends with everyone you work with. But I do think that you can be and should be civil. I know I sound so different from my original post. That is because I am still learning. I am still learning to not take criticism personally, to interact with different personalities and to be a good scientist. In recognizing that I am still learning, I must also recognize that others are also learning, how to critique without attacking, how to translate information and how to communicate. More importantly I do not care what others are or are not doing. I do not care about the lab gossip or the building gossip. I am just trying to avoid getting hit with shrapnel? Totally. is it possible to have a good, productive relationship with your supervisor without getting involved in all the drama and/or behind the scenes issues?? I sure hope so.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I've come clean

As I mentioned in my introduction, I did not tell Mr. SM that I had started blogging...I know a very dangerous game to play with hubby. The problem was that I really feel an inner need to do this blogging thing and was not sure he would understand or appreciate it. Since I am already struggling so much with the being back in the lab and trying to excel, I really did not want to fight with him about the blog. I have only been blogging 1 short week and I've received comments and more importantly support. Its sounds cheesy but knowing that I can talk online about issues I find difficult to share is taking a burden off my shoulders, its enabling me to focus. So I didn't tell him because how was I supposed to deal with that inner need to express myself with the knowledge that doing so was making him unhappy? Not to sound like a stereotypical Indian woman from the 18th century, but I have an inner to need to make sure my husband is happy. In 7 years of marriage making me happy and making him happy were not two mutually exclusive options, choices that take in me exact opposing routes.

I am happy to say that I have once again underestimated Mr. SM - that man continues to surprise. This past week I have broached the topic of starting a blog and he was totally on board. He thinks its a great idea!!! Talk about putting me in shock. He even thinks that I should tell everyone I know about. You know I am not going to do that, but I will tell him that its been started. Which may mean that he will start reading it (yikes!), actually not a biggie because other then this blog I have no secrets from him.

So now that I have come clean with him, I must also come clean with you folks, the ones who take the time to read this rambling. I have been rambling. I wake up in the morning and I think about everything I want to say and I write it out and click publish. Just like I am about to do now. But that is not fair to you and it does not live up to the blogs the example that has been set for me by some amazing bloggers. Take for example yesterdays post by Backpacking Dad, what a thoughtful and insightful post. He obviously took time and effort to compose that essay. After todays post, I promise to do better. I will actually proofread, edit and come back to the post BEFORE clicking publish to ensure that my thoughts are articulated clearly to you folk in a coherent manner.

Happy Vaisaki to everyone!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Its a monster mash

Todays post is going to miss mash of thoughts. First-lets give a welcome to Melanie, who has decided to jump from blog reader to blogger. It wasn't an easy decision for me to start blogging, as is evident from my first posts. Once you start blogging its a delicate balance between sharing enough so that readers are able to understand the nuances of what you are thinking/feeling, but not sharing so much that you take away the privacy of your loved ones. I am sure that it is a effort that many bloggers have dealt with. So congrats Mel (you don't mind if I call you that??) for taking the plunge.

Second - I would highly recommend that whomever is reading this post (outside of the one known reader) to take a look over at Rednecks' post today. I have been reading Red's blog regularly for about 6 months. I've known about it for longer, but hers is definitely an outback humor that takes a bit getting used to. Mr.SM is from farm country and forced me to live out in the sticks for the first 3 years of our marriage (he would move back in a heartbeat). I am not a farm girl, but once you live in the hicks - you become a bit of a redneck. So this brown city girl has red ring around her and busts a gut reading Red. But today, I was in awe of how well Red demonstrated what it is to be a responsible, respectful adult in the face of extreme assholeness. Its hard to believe that parents like the one she encountered exist - but they do and my heart goes out to their kids. Way to go Red for reacting so well - because if it was me I would've been throwing some punches and knocking out some teeth.

Oh yeah, HerBadMother is always courageous and so thoughtful in her writings. Today is no different.

So whats been going on with me for the last couple days? After venting online about feeling like my lab meeting was a personal attack, I swallowed my pride and asked those individuals for some help. I still think that I was not wrong in thinking there was some maliciousness to their critiques, but some of the stuff they said was helpful. Since I do not want to spend 10 years doing a PhD, I would rather swallow my pride and move forward then be in the same spot 3 years from now. I also must spend some time reading those pesky journal articles and design a preliminary project so that I can get "something on the board" as on labmate said. So that is the lab front, a cycle of up and down.

Mostly today, I want to talk about family. As I have mentioned before I am a first generation Canadian, both my parents immigrated here from India. In indian culture family is HUGE, but growing up we did not have alot of family around. Both my parents came from small families that stayed back in India and I always dreamed of marrying in to a big family with lots of siblings, cousins and grandparents. How I missed having grandparents around! Luckily for me Mr. SM has a whole bunch of cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings and grandparents. Which means the boy will grow up with great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles galore! It also means that my parents don't get the access to the boy that they feel is their right - we're not even going to go on about the fact that they think it is their right as apposed to a privilege....
It doesn't help that my relationship with my parents is strained. I know my parents love me and ultimately they want me to be happy, but things have happened that I have not been able to get over and I have changed in ways they do not accept or like.
I grew up the youngest in my family, a constant people pleaser that avoided confrontation. Since I was a people pleaser, I tended to do well in school but it also came easily to me. I always knew I would extend my academic career beyond a BSc; at first I thought about med school, then physio but in my last year of my BSc I discovered research. I started my MSc right before I got married and had a good first year. And then it went to hell in a hand basket. Like all new grad students, I had to learn that I wasn't always right, I didn't alway know what I was doing, and I had to learn how to take constant failure (experiments usually demonstrate that your hypothesis is wrong). These lessons can wreak havoc on ones self-esteem. About half way through my MSc I hit rock bottom, I had never quit anything in my life before but I was about to walk away from the lab. On top of those horrible lessons about myself that I had to learn, Mr. SM and I were going through our own adjustments of being married, dealing with a mortgage, and dealing with my parents who were never happy with the time we gave them and who I felt were not supportive of me. I just couldn't deal anymore, I had knot in my stomach at the thought of going into the lab. Mr. SM realized that the only way I was going to get through that MSc (especially with a supervisor that liked to make inappropriate comments) was if I learned to put myself first, if I learned to say No, and most importantly if I learned to stand up for myself - ouch those are even harder lessons to learn! But I learned them all and finished my thesis in one piece. That Mr. SM knows hows be a rock, I would never have survived if it wasn't for him. But that experience changes a person, I cam out stronger, more assertive and not afraid of confrontation - all things my parents did not appreciate or understand. Even worse, as opposed to try to understand how the dynamics of being a graduate student in science can lead to these changes, like typical Indian parents they blame Mr. SM. Instead of recognizing that I was putting myself first, they saw everything as Mr. SM putting his family first and himself first (shouldn't he be before my parents????).
Now that I am back in research. I am again walking the long journey to a thesis, which means the lab will consume HUGE amounts of time. Mr. SM is also finishing up yet another post-bachelorate diploma while working fulltime to pay for our mortgage, groceries and other living expenses. What that means is Mr. SM only has the weekend to play with the boy and to spend time with us as a family. Free weekends will be far and few between because Mr. SM has a large family with many functions. I love his whole family, they have been nothing but supportive and encouraging to me (unlike my parents). Apparently that means nothing to my mom, she thinks she has a right to take the boy to quote "if not every weekend, every other weekend as Mr.SM is always studying anyway". Am I unreasonable? how do you deal with meeting the needs of grandparents with your busy lives? I know I have not given all the background on why my relationship is strained, it would make this post too long, I am sure it will come out eventually.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wow I have a reader!

Today was a good day and so was yesterday. I had logged onto write about why yesterday was a good day, and discovered that I have at least one reader! Welcome melanie! Thank you for introducing yourself and for your words of encouragement. I hope that I provide you some enjoyment. Thank you for helping to make today a good day. The other reason today was a good day was because I ran an analytical gel to determine the quality of DNA I had purified earlier in the week and it was great DNA. Yeah me!

Yesterday, I remembered why I thought having a baby while in grad school was a good thing - you can stay home just because. I decided to stay home since the monkey was being a bit out of sorts as he didn't sleep well all weekend, and neither did I. When the boy wakes up in the middle of the night I am too damn tired to sit with him. Which means he comes into our bed, irritating Mr.SM to no end as neither Mr. SM nor I get any rest. Why you ask? Because the monkey sleeps perpendicular to us, kicking Mr. SM in the head while hammering his head into my spine (and we have a king size bed!!!)t. But eh, if I have to suffer, so does Mr. SM :). So I stayed home and had a chit chat with a labmate of mine, we'll call her M3 as she is a mom to 3. M3 is the head technician in our lab and is definitely a mother hen to us all. I think, one of the reasons I am struggling right now is that she is off on sick leave and is not around to let me know that it is OK that I can not do everything right now. She also tends to protect us grad students from our supervisor (henceforth referred to as PI). PI is a great supervisor, very very supportive but he sometimes forgets that the quick little experiment that is going to lead to a wicked paper is not all that quick and is actually unlikely to lead to a paper. But I digress - the point is the boys molars are coming in, he has a bit of a cold and is being sensitive. I kept him home in the morning to keep and eye on him while having a wonderful chat with M3. M3 listened to me rant about the horribly unproductive lab meeting that I presented at last week (that would be the lab meeting that precipitated the beginning of this blog) and tried to remind me that it was not personal. I disagree with her. However after chatting with her and another member of the lab that was present, I have come to the conclusion that although the meeting was unproductive and it was a bit of a personal attack I can not care. I also can not show to the individuals responsible that their behaviour has affected me nor can I let it dissuade me from continuing or alter my belief in myself. I can only work hard and demonstrate progress. I am learning not to care. Again the point is that I was able to stay home and take a 'mental health' day. I didn't have to call in sick or explain where I was because as a PhD student I am in a way responsible for my own progress and my own research. After having the boy all morning and having a wonderful, supportive tea, I sent the boy to daycare and chilled all afteroon. Mr. SM doesn't get to do that. I only get to do that because I don't have "real" job like everyone else. The flexibility of being a grad student is excellent when you have little one(s) that get sick, injured or when you need to recover from a crazy busy weekend. Recommend reading mom101 today and motherhooduncensored

Monday, April 14, 2008

Still figuring this out

Well, I am obviously not very good at the posting everyday concept. But I guess that is to be expected, as I am still wrestling with the question of how much information to put out there. I would like to connect with other women in science, and I could do that if I announced that I was writing this blog. Possible by simply sending SCWIST an email that I am doing this. The problem is that by doing that, people I know will find out about this blog. Labmates and colleagues will know about the issues I am struggling with. Is that good? I don't know. After 5 years in research, I feel that its more about appearances than truths. Especially when it comes to confidence and demonstrating what you know. So many times I have heard that in science its all about what you produce, your data and the quality of the data. However, I find that if you don't have the respect of your colleagues - then your data is discounted. This presents a bit of a conundrum for me as how do you gain respect if not through your work? Is it through your relationships with your colleagues? How do you connect with colleagues if your lives are so different or if there is a 'boys' club that you can not break into? What if you don't care to? That is where I am. If one is not willing to listen, to evaluate without preconceived assumptions then I do not care for your advice or opinion. Yet in research, everyone seems to have an opinion without listening to the question or the scenerio. Or maybe its me...thats the woman in me, wanting to please, feeling guilty and always thinking what did I do wrong. How do you deal with those emotions?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A proper introduction

So last night I posted my first ever blog and it was random must jump in or I never will moment. However, in doing that I failed (a) to set up the blog well and (b) to introduce myself or the purpose of this blog in a coherent manner. My bad. Who am I? For now lets keep the name to pseudonyms, as my DH probably would not appreciate the public nature of this blog. I have chosen the name ScientistMother as I am pursuing my PhD at a university in Western Canada (oh the vagueness, what a way to connect with potential readers!). I guess that leads to the first question, why the anonymity? There are a few reasons: (1) Mr. ScientistMother (Mr. SM) is a very private person and I have not yet told him I'm starting this blog as I'm not 100% sure he would like our lives on the web, actually I am 99.99% sure he would not like it one bit. (2) As I mentioned yesterday, I am a indo-Canadian, and there are not alot us of studying for a PhD in my field, at my university, especially ones that started 6 months pregnant, therefore providing innocous information like my university or program of study would well make it easy to figure out who I was. This would not be a happy situation because of reason 1, but also because of the purpose of this blog. I guess this is a nice transition point to introduce the purpose.
Why am I starting a blog, especially when I know mr.sm would not approve? Well because as I mentioned last night, I have been reading the posts of some amazing women, here, here, here, here and here, over the last 15 months, and I have used their tales as a way to get through my days. Occasionally I have left comments, but they have been anonymous as I was not ready to delurk. However in reading there back-stories, I've realized that the blogosphere has given them a community of support, when they have felt alone. One of my colleagues in my research mentioned that her sister used blogs as a way to connect to other moms. Her sister was living in turkey and was feeling very alone because of the cultural and language barriers. Blogs gave her a community and friends, that she visits regularly when she comes home to Ireland. As I stated in my first post and earlier in this one, I am feeling alone. There are not many first generation indo-canadian women pursuing PhD degree's in the various realms of science, let alone ones that started pregnant. Although many women are pursuing PhD in science, again not many have kids or at a point in there lives where they can contemplate. This is what I get for taking the long route on everything, I am at least 5 years older than mos of the students starting, and older then most of those that are completing there thesis. But I can not be the only one doing this. There must be more of us and I am hoping this can be a forum for us to connect. So what will I talk about? Alot will be about my thoughts on dealing with the life in a research lab (hence the anonymity), the challenge/barriers, the frustrations of being an a field where being a mom (and sometimes a women) and doing good science is thought to be mutually exclusive. It won't be all doom and gloom, it will also include bits and pieces about my personal life, the joy and inspiration that is my son - who shall be referred to as B, the boy, the monkey - and the love of my life Mr. SM who encouraged me to pursue this crazy dream, who tells me I am able to do this, who loves me and carries me through some of the hardest times....and who drives me crazy the rest of the time. I hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I've finally done it

Wow! I am finally posting a blog! I have been reading mommy blogs for the last year and a bit; I have commented a few times, anonymously, when some of the women were going through tough times. I have never had the courage to reveal myself the way these women have. These women helped me through my first year of motherhood by letting me take a peak inside their windows, and now I am asking to be let in the door. I can no longer just be an observer. I have seen how the web has embraced these women and supported them, laughed with them, and just plain old experienced life with them. I promise I will link to these amazing women in my next post. At 11:20pm, I just don't have the energy to figure out how to do that. So why am I posting now after all these months? Well...I feel alone. I am a 31 indo-canadian female who started her PhD while 7 months pregnant...I know sooo smart, eh??? That translated into me having a total of 4 months in the lab before being out on mat leave for a year. I've been back for 4 months and its been a struggle. I feel alone. As much as women have entered the realm of science research, the number women having babies and completing a PhD are few and far between. I feel that I must constantly prove that I can 'cut' it, that I deserve to be there, that I can manage. So here I am, turning to the world wide web to find out if there are others out there. How do you do it? Help me, just tell me I can do this. My son needs me to do this...