Saturday, May 31, 2008

what really happened

Okay so maybe it wasn’t an alien invasion. I apologize to myself and to my readers for not believing in my own abilities. The dry run was well worth it, as it reminded me to keep my information brief and to the point, ie tell the point of each slide if they want to know the details of how data was collected they can ask. My labmates also provided very good suggestions on how to (1) re-organize my slides for better flow and (2) which slides to add to also improve the flow. Our two female post-docs were amazing mentors as per always, one reminded me to be careful of my word choice so as not to give ammunition to the ‘dragons’ of our buildings, while the other reminded me that (a) I knew what I was doing and (b) it was not my comps, I have only been a student for 5 months if you take away my 1 year mat leave and I can not be expected to know everything. So Tuesday night I came home, fixed up the presentation slides and went to bed. Wednesday morning I woke up, got dressed, took monkey to daycare and then came home to practice. I had 2 hours to practice a 20-minute presentation, I got through one run as I found errors on my slides and couldn’t quite get the transitions correct, had to re-read some papers. You would’ve thought that the need to double check date would’ve freaked me out, and it used, but I just didn’t care. Its not that didn’t want to do could, but I realize I can’t know everything, and I don’t care if people think I am smart or not. At least that morning I did not, which is not necessarily how I feel all the time. When I arrived at the lab, FPD1 & 2 reminded that I knew my stuff and FPD1 verbalized my sub-conscious lack of stress. This talk will not change the most important things, Mr. SM and monkey will both still be home when I get there and will still love me. Everything else is just icing. Even 5 minutes before the start of seminar, I was amazingly not stressed and my stomach was not churning at 100 cycles/sec. How did the actual talk go? IMO it wasn’t too bad, when I started talking, I was going a bit last made the realization and slowed down. During the body of the talk, things I could’ve improved on: talk slower, and look at the audience more. I found myself scanning the audience, wasn’t seeing ‘friendly’ faces and would then move my attention back to the computer screen and / slide screen. Questions I think I handled OK, still have to work on not interrupting people, but didn’t get too defensive. Almost did but I stepped back and calmed down. I presented 2 projects as part of my mini-proposal, the one project I explained and executed quite well, the 2nd completely fubarred. However I somewhat blame my PI – should he not have noticed I fubarred it during the dry run? Mr. SM has severely pissed me off by claiming it is my responsibility to know everything, which is fine especially further in to my career. But right now, I think PI should’ve noticed and pointed out that I had made a flaw – he didn’t have to design the experiment or tell me how to do it, but he could’ve pointed out that it was designed incorrectly and that maybe I should think about what I was doing BEFORE my presentation. Which once again bring up the question of what is the role of your advisor? I don’t believe in having my hand held, but hey maybe throw me the ball?? It would be different if I wasn’t trying to get the PI to look at it, but I was. Oh well shit happens. I guess I will get post-docs to look before the day before.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A little bloggy help

I'm a bit late on posting this, but the more blogs out there with it, the better our chances.

The day that Allison lost Zoë is forever marked her "best day ever" on Wordpress because it is the day that the most people visited her blog. For her own emotional well-being, she needs this post to be taken off her blog dashboard. The way to do that is to create a new record for visits to her blog.

On Thursday, May 29, please click on Allison's blog, Our Own Creation, and help replace that post with whatever is currently up on her blog that day. Everyone needs to visit on the same day--May 29th--because if we simply click throughout the week, it won't bump the day she lost Zoë from that section of the dashboard. I am writing this now to give us time to spread the word. Take the graphic I created and place it on your own blog. Don't worry--I'll remind you to click that day.

We need 2,350 people to visit Our Own Creation on May 29th. We need 1,785 people visit Sweet Zoë.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Alien Invasion???

Apparently an alien took over my body a few moments before my seminar began. Lucky for me this alien had an excellent understanding of my project, and its strong points was the how well it answered questions, who knew I would be so lucky.

I am going to decompress, drink some beer and play with the monkey. Thank you to everyone for the words of encouragement, they have meant so much.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sweaty Palms

As much as I am/was frustrated with my MSc thesis adviser, there are a few things that I appreciate about him. He always read and returned my thesis proposals, committee meeting summaries, conference abstracts, scholarship apps, thesis etc, before the deadline . We would sometimes be emailing copies back and forth every hour, till 12 midnight. In the end, I always knew my submissions were rock solid. I miss that with new adviser. Also, I was rarely stressed about presentations. Actually, that is not true, I was always always stressed about presentations. My PI would make me present everyday the week before, criticizing all the time, asking me different questions every time, which I would never know the answer too. I would leave those dry runs freaking out with a list of 20 papers to read (which I sometimes did), finding the answers to those damn impossible questions. I hated practicing with him. Funny thing, now that I have my first talk as a PhD student on wednesday and my current PI is awol due to the birth of his baby, I am freaking out because I have not been put through the winger so I don't feel ready! Strange I know, but my presentations were never as bad as the dry runs, and everyone used to say how amazing my talks were. I was so good because my PI forced me to be on the top of my game AND how to think about what others would find interesting, not just the questions I would ask. I miss that. I think he could've prepared me without telling me I had only one neuron, but right now I would prefer his horrible negativity to the silence I am getting.

I am diligently responding to comments from NaComLeaveMo. I will be a bad NaComLeavMo participant until after said talk on wednesday. I will post an outcome of the talk and then make up from my lack of commenting on new blogs.

Friday, May 23, 2008

More bits and bobs

A lady scientist led me to stirrup queen's comment marathon, and I think its great! I've made a diligent effort to list on the blogs I read, but admit to not delurking from many of them. This will force me to introduce myself to a whole cast of bloggers and in the process hopefully I will get to know few more of you. I will give myself till after the 28th to start though, as I really should not be adding to my procrastination enabling tool box.

I was at the park the other day when a friends son starting hitting the monkey. Monkey gets beat up on a regular basis by my niece, and I don't interfere because I want monkey to learn to interact with his peer group. However at the same time if he was hitting another kid, I would stop him to teach him that it is not appropriate behaviour. Why is it okay for me to interfere when he's being bad but yet not to want other moms to correct their kids? How do you find the balance between correcting behaviour and encouraging them to stand up for themselves??

Yet another depressing report about women leaving science, this time leaving industry for a variety of reasons, including lack of life / work balance and a macho culture. I heard about this article from a yahoo story sent to me by Mr. SM. He read the article and thought, my wife has been making this point to me all year, wow she was right and they are finally listening. I love Mr. SM for being all optimistic for thinking hey they're listening and doing something about it. But thats not how I read the article. I think some companies are recognizing the challenges and embracing policies the address the concerns, but what stuck out the most to me was that major companies were not looking at the root of the problem and trying to establish HR policies that would enable highly intelligent, well-trained women to not have to choose between family and work, but were instead lobbying the US congress to enable more foreign males / females to come in. I will say more foreign trained women will also be coming, but both genders will be making significant sacrifices to come to a "better country". They will be leaving husbands/wives, children and extended support system to come to the US (and / or Canada as I am sure we are facing similar challenges) with the hopes of gaining citizenship. I have seen the emotional toll its has taken on these individuals and its not right. Here in Canada, there have been numerous studies done in the Filipino community examining the challenges faced by the women who left there homeland (and children) to care for anothers' family. I am sure these challenges and repercussions are felt regardless of skill level. Work - Life balance is a gender neutral issue, my own PI is failing amazingly at balancing after meeting a women, falling in love and having a child. Its great because he recognizes why I'm struggling but it sucks because why do we expect such crazy long hours?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A new joy

has come in the world. I would like to congratulate HBM and her family on the arrival of their new addition. HBM has had a horribly long labor which we are all so happy is now over.


Congratulations to the winners of ISEF, ScienceWomen has been covering the event very well, so I suggest you mosy on over to her blog to hear about the amazing women you placed in the top three, thats right the TOP three. And they say women can not do science.

It was the beautiful long weekend this past weekend, and although I am suffering seasonal allergies, I am trying to be upbeat. I have lots of bits of different post swirling in my head, but do not have the energy or desire right now to formulate them. so sorry. will try to get something intelligent going soon.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lesson #432859 & 432860 for first-time moms

Are any of you old enough to remember the craze for tear-away track pants? They are track pants with buttons all they down both sides of the legs that let you literally tear them away. Most basketball teams and soccers teams wear them on the sidelines to keep warm and they are easily removable, again you just pull and tear them away - no shoe / cleat removal required. Well I have a pair, which I have had for years more years then I have been with Mr. SM. They are my comfort pants, my lounging pants, my I want to roll up in a ball and cry pants, my only pants I will wear after giving birth pants. In case that last sentence did not make it clear, I LOVE those the pants. I can no longer wear those pants. Lesson #432859 for first time moms - do not wear pants that are easily removable in public. Why? because while you are carry your 24+lbs son his hands or feet will said pants, pulling them so that they tear away - leaving you with the option of dropping your son and grabbing your pants or standing at the daycare in nothing but your (thankfully clean!) underpants.
Lesson #432860? Always, always hold your monkeys hand when walking - especially if its raining and you were planning on going to the gym after you picked him up. What harm is there in letting the monkey run about in a safe area? puddles. Kids are drawn to puddles like a moth to a flame (janet jackson anyone?). So unless you have a spare pair of clean pants - really that should be lesson #4 but I think Lesson # 432860 is ALWAYS have a spare pair of pants, even if you haven't used them in 4 months - you must go home to put the monkey into a dry pair.
I know girls can be a handful as well but seriously this boy is such a boy!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Remind me why evolution has not eliminated guilt?

The post about the validity of leaving academia will have to wait as I am still contemplating its layout in my head, along with 12,000 other posts. In the mean time, I will mention that once again I must remind myself why I am doing this whole PhD with baby, instead of job that requires no brain power. I am reminding myself that I actually enjoy thinking, and that I could not be a stay at home mom. Not because there is anything inherently wrong with that choice, just it is a choice that I could not handle. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED being at home with the monkey while I was on leave, and I hate leaving him…but I also find he drives me freakin banana’s on most days. I find him exhausting with his energy and mentally boring. I remind myself of this today, because yesterday I got the dreaded call from the daycare saying the monkey had fallen and hit his head on the sidewalk, the concrete sidewalk. When I spoke to them on the phone they told me what happened, said that he was upset but that they’ve been monitoring him closely since it happened and he seems fine. He ate well and slept well also. Why had so much time passed between the incident and me actually speaking to someone? The beauty of not having a phone attached to my hip and not checking messages frequently. So this is the wave of emotions I felt, panic, relief, anger (how closely were you watching him?), and guilt. Why I feel guilty I have no idea. Its not like he doesn’t fall and hit his head on my watch, there is a reason he’s referred to as the monkey. Would it have been less traumatic to him if I were there? Probably not, when he falls off something, he usually cry’s more out of annoyance / frustration than pain. Once he done expressing his irritation with not being able to climb up particular stairs/ fence / window / chair he will proceed to attempt it again. Its not like I kill myself in the lab either, really I am writing a blog post once again instead of my proposal. Mind you I have planned a transfection / infection protocol to be carried out this week and did summarize the structure of protein X – now if only those notes would transform magically into a coherent paragraph. I think its more the general guilt of knowing I’m not one of those mums who wants to stay home with kids and actually enjoys it. I don’t know, I just know that guilt is a useless emotion - now if only my heart could be as logical as my head.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Validity of Leaving Academia - Part 1

The other day I was over at Mother of all Scientists, when I became really really frustrated with science and academia as a whole. MoS is currently struggling with the idea of leaving “the bench” to explore other career options, yet when she went to speak to her supervisor, she was given the gloom and doom scenario that once you leave lab work, you close the door on the ability to come back blah blah blah. I am annoyed for many reasons but for two main reasons. The first reason is for the simple fact that the idea of leaving academia is thought of as a sign of failure when in reality it is a very legitimate choice. Secondly I am annoyed by the very thought that once you leave the bench that you cannot come back.

I will address the second point first. Mos’s PI demonstrated the severe lack of imagination that many PI’s suffer from when it comes to career paths (surprising since we’re supposed to think outside the box). Many (not all) think that in order to be hired as a faculty member, one must go to grad school, continue on to 1 or more post-doctoral positions before being hired on to a professorship. In reality, this is one of many paths a person can take. Some will get their MSc, leave to work in non-research role in academia, work in industry, with not for profits etc before coming back to complete a PhD. This is the route I have taken. A professor friend of mine, completed his MSc, travelled and worked for a year or two, came back to the same the same university for his PhD. He then went onto two post-doctoral positions (in the USA and Italy) before coming back to his / our hometown for a faculty position at Small University. After a few years at Small University, he was recruited to Big Research University in the same city because of leading edge research. Just two examples in from my small world, one clearing demonstrating the ability to be a successful scientist. I know of others who did not complete a MSc, but went straight into a Phd, thought they hated science by the time they finish, left the bench for awhile before deciding they missed research. They also came back to become faculty members, after completing a post-doc position or two. This route has many advantages; mainly their decision to continue on the academic route was wholly their decision, not one that they fell into because they were scared or unaware of the ability to do other things. They were really there because they wanted to be. The other advantage is they gained training in skills that are difficult to achieve in graduate school – mainly people management but other like effective communication, conflict management. As dr. Jekyll and mrs. hyde pointed out, most PI’s are passive – aggressive, in my opinion its they have not been formally trained in managing people. Heck McDonald’s sends their managers through management training programs, but you’ll never get a PI doing that. Scientist who have left the bench, only to return bring with them a wide ranges of skills and experiences that a graduate student straight to post-doc may not have. Any PI with half – brain should be able to realize the value that has.

**Due to the length of this post, and the fact that I really should be working on my thesis proposal while the monkey naps, the post on leaving academia being a legitimate choice will have to wait.
**Mel - I think its an annoyance with PI that is being taken out on me, so yeah long term plan is to do my work and keep being professional, along with building contacts outside lab.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Jealously? How do you deal with it?

I took great care and time to choose my PhD supervisor. I wanted to make sure that I was working with someone that I could talk to, who would understand my work / life balancing issues and who would, overall, be a good mentor and friend. Having already done a MSc. under someone who was a very good, thorough scientist, with high ethical standards, I wasn’t worried about working under a great scientist. I know what it takes to do good science. I am doing my PhD to expand my skill set and learn how to do research, which is different from doing good science. Knowing how to do research, to me means learning how to ask questions, formulate hypotheses that provide interesting answers regardless of whether the null hypothesis turns out to be correct. I know how to do good science. To have the proper controls and to know how to do the stats a priori. My current supervisor may not put importance on those things, but I do and I am doing the work so that’s okay. I also choose not to bitch and complain about his imperfections because quite frankly I’m not perfect either, and as I’ve said before I’ve seen worse. This attitude means that I am perceived as having things handed to me. I am perceived for having it easy, because I have a good relationship with him – which means others are not so forthcoming with assistant or knowledge. Being of a more mature variety, I don’t care that people are jealous but it does bug me that they are taking their frustrations out on me. If the PI is favouring me (as they perceive it) it is NOT because I am sucking up or not being independent so why are they punishing me by being stingy with their expertise? Who know, all I know is that it just means I will go elsewhere looking for it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I was angry.

Yesterday I was very fortunate to attend a 1 day conference on Career Mentoring in Graduate School. First, I would like to give props to the organizers of the conference for providing childcare. That options made it a lot easier for those of us with kids. Kudo’s to you. This conference was quite helpful in providing encouragement, inspiration, and most importantly tools to succeed as women in science. One of the more interesting workshops that was on making transitions in your life, analyzing beginnings, and endings. For me it was a very emotional workshop as I admitted, possibly for the first time even to myself that I was angry that I was pregnant.

Yep I said it. I was angry. I was resentful that having finally found a lab and a supervisor where I could learn and grow as a scientist, I would have to leave. Worse than that, I had to admit that I did not want to be pregnant or had not even wanted to start trying to be pregnant. But it was the only thing Mr. SM had ever asked for. Mr. SM had been very supportive of my education career paths, when contemplating on whether to do a phd or not, he not only encouraged but pushed me to do it. I would not be here if it were not for him. He had only one wish / request – we didn’t put starting a family on hold. So despite my lack of desire we started trying. I hoped it would take a while, and tried minimizing the chances, but it happened right away.

I don’t know why these feeling came up, maybe writing about being a mom, remembering what it was like to be just me – non-mom, is what flooded back the true emotions I felt when I found out I was pregnant. It was not happiness, it was frustration, anxiety and sadly anger. Anger at possibly losing my project (I did), anger at not being able to work as hard or long, anger at having a baby interrupt MY LIFE. There was also a hope…and this the hardest to admit – there was a hope that it would not go through. Maybe I would be the 1 in 4 whose first pregnancy is a miscarriage. I hoped for a miscarriage. Its is not easy for me to write this, it is not easy for me to bring out my darkest secret into the light. I am ashamed because God still gave me my monkey. I did not, I do not, deserve the perfectly easy pregnancy and wonderful baby that is the monkey. If I knew then what I know now, I doubt I would’ve had those feelings, but what right do I have to be so fortunate when others, others who would not have been angry or hopeful for the bad, are not so lucky. What right did I have to the wonders of motherhood, that others had ripped from them? Would I have mourned the shadow baby? I do not know. I just know all day I count my lucky stars and am grateful that God does not listen to all our prayers. Congratulations to Kate on her amazing new blog that I am sure that will help so many. I apologize for not knowing how lucky I was. How lucky I am.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A 2 post day

Today is going to be a two post day. Mainly because I didn't get around to finishing my ramblings on negativity in science until this morning, but mostly because I didn't realized that the virtual shower for HBM and Mrs. Chicky had already begun. I have already delurked with HBM, but have not gotten around with delurking with Mrs. first hey ms.chicky! SOOO happy for you and Mr. C! Have you thought about the name Jasleen? Talk about different and so not a typical name in New England. Sorry, started off on a bit of tangent, lets start fresh...

In honour of HBM, Mrs.Chicky and Mrs.Chicken, who are all expanding their families with child #2, we are writing our favorite advice about having 2 kids. Unfortunately, I have only 1 experiment going on right now so I can not give any advice on dealing with 2 little monkeys. I will, however, expand on a wonderful little bit of advice that I heard yesterday.

It is normal to want to throw both your children out the window.
It is not normal to actually do it.

When I heard this I could not stop laughing, mainly because all week everyone in the research facility has been coming by to tell me what an adorable little guy I have and how they can see he just oozes trouble. (The monkey came to the lab with me last Friday, where he proceeded to charm everyone with his good looks, but also demonstrated what a little imp he can be.) I think there is this belief that 'good' mums are always patience, caring, and nurturing and I think one of the the biggest challenges in being a new mum of one or a new mum of two is dealing with the guilt of not always liking your baby. For me, I can still remember what life was like before the monkey showed up. I don't spend all day and night longing for the time when I could do what I wanted, go skiing every weekend, work late on an experiment, get drunk if I wanted to. But there are days when I want to get drunk, when I want to go out for dinner and not worry about how we're going to pay for it, buy a new pair of shoes or designer jeans. There are times when I think, if I didn't have the monkey, I would have $1000.00 / month of disposable income, but I don't because I pay for full-time daycare. Like I said, I don't spend days and nights regretting or thinking what if. But on those days, when the monkey has tried every last gram of patience I have, pushed and tested every boundary that has been set, I do remember for just a moment. Then he smiles that big smile that melts my heart and all is forgiven.

The spawn of negative results

The other day I was reading a very interesting post by Mrs. Hyde on negativity. Science is by nature a negative field, which some of us deal with better then others. As scientists we are trained to analyze, question and critique. When we are giving presentations, whether they be in a lab meeting, at departmental seminar or at a conference, the purpose is to present our data for others to critique. Some (a few rare exceptions) know how to ask questions or provide critiques in a constructive manner, but the vast majority know only how to criticize without providing any positive re-enforcement. To add insult to injury, getting to a point where one actually has data to present usually involved months of failed experiments – troubleshooting and optimizing an experiment until it actually worked. The basic cycle is that you spend months trying to get an experiment to work, when it finally does you present it and it gets “critiqued” aka the shit slammed out of it. Although the slamming and the criticism is directed at the data or “the science”, if you’re the one who designed the experiment, trouble shot and collected the data its not hard to take the words “that data is shit/crap / incorrect because” as being personal. If the experiment approach or design is crap, you’re the idiot for designing it that way. THAT is NOT TRUE. ITS NOT PERSONAL. And its not, in an abstract sort of way, disliking the science does not equate disliking the person. I can say that objectively when its not me on the hotseat. But really how do you not take it personally since it was you that spent the days, weeks, months working designing and trouble shooting. To you it is personal, you don’t graduate or finish a post-doc without it. To top everything off, throughout this process a grad student or post-doc has probably no heard the words “you’re a good scientist”, “what a good thought process”. Surrounded by failure and criticism it is no wonder that grad students – male and female suffer self-doubt and become bitter. It is no wonder that many people (again male and female) leave science after completing their PhD’s or post-doc positions.

The ones that stay in science, tend to be very thick skinned. They don’t give a shit what people say because you don’t survive if you care. Which is why many (not most or all) PI’s have limited interpersonal skills and limited teaching / mentoring skills. The process of Science selects for those type of people. The self-doubt, negativity, and bitters is gender neutral. Bad mentorship, poor PI-student/post-doc relationships are gender-neutral. Perhaps the issues arise from the way men and women react to the issues? Not quite sure and I think that is a different post.