Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lies, lies and more lies

I vaguely remember promising to (1) post more often since I've been saved from hell and (2) to do the hockey pool update this week.  Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

yeah right. I'm a PhD candidate with a bun in the oven and a 4 yr old running around! What was I thinking! Actually, I'm busy analyzing all that confusing clear data. I've come up with a funky theory to explain what could be going on except for the crucial piece of data that I need to support said theory is not of the clear and convincing variety...URGH science...

Anyways, I'm up for lab meeting this week, and am trying to get a story put together so the hockey update will happen after said meeting, but since I had a crappy week, do we really care if its a bit late? Nope :) 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Data oh Data what are you telling me

Last year I spent a considerable amount of time writing up a mock grant. It had to contain all the thing a real grant would contain, objectives, rationales, specific aims, hypotheses etc. It was a challenge, but won that really helped me to learn more about my subject area and more about what could or could not go wrong. Painful as it was, I did learn something from it. The last few months (since my comps), when I wasn't suffering from nausea, pregnancy induced sleepiness, or crazyness I have been tackling those specific aims. Much to my PI's delight, I have very clear and convincing data. My images are beautiful.  Except the data isn't showing me what I predicted. Yeah, yeah I know cry me river! Hear me out thought

Based on in vitro vertebrate data, I hypothesized I would see a particular phenomenon, in vivo, in my invertebrate model.  (We should all know that I work on the most amazing and wonderful mode organism, the venerable Drosophila melanogaster.) Thing is, I'm clearly not seeing the phenomenon seen in vertebrates.  So WTF is going on!!!

I know I shouldn't complain I should be happy on multiple fronts. The main thing I should be happy about is that  the data is clear and convincing AND more importantly my PI happily accepts clear and convincing data, regardless of whether or not its what she wanted to see.   This is huge, because I have worked for the PI that just had me redesign and redesign the experiment to get the result he wanted. Not. Cool.

Secondly, my treatment is having an effect - I do something to protein X and I get a phenotype. My phenotype is very clear and unique to my protein of interest.  The question is, what is the mechanism of the phenotype? What is the function of X, such that its loss is causing A?  We / I though it was due to a mechanism hypothesized to occur in vertebrates, based on similarity of our proteins and the structures they are involved in. But as I just said that is not happening.  Which means I have to come up with a new theory....which is painful and hard for me. Luckily, I don't have to do it right away. I want to confirm that the phenomenon does not occur by doing some additional controls. These will not take alot of time and will confirm that the phenomenon does not occur vs my assay not being sensitive enough to detect the phenomenon.  No, I'm not beating a dead horse. The mechanism I am looking at is a signalling pathway and I've only looked one step down. There might not be enough of a change to detect, so I'm going to look further down the pathway to be sure that there really is no change.

I shouldn't say I've been in data hell. Since its good, clear data. But something is going on with my Filezilla **such that its downloading files off the server at extremely slow rates (30Kb/s vs its normal >150Kb/s). Considering I have image files near 1G each, its been a frustrating few days. Slow and frustrating because it takes forever for me to get a file, but only about 10 minutes to analyze it. 

But I guess I get lots of time to think about what is going on.....

and PhysioProf, if you're reading this dont freaking tell this is what science is.  Just. don't.

***if anyone knows what could be going on with the Filezilla please let me know.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Importance of Communicating with your PI

I have probably lost a ton of followers and readers over the last few months.  Which saddens me, but eh, what can you do when life gets in the way in of blogging. I still have to write an ode to my little monkey for his fourth birthday, but since I'm over a month late whats a few more days right?

So this post is to shine a light on the good PI's. Yes I know, its hard to believe they exist, with the blogosphere filled with tales of woe (justifiably so).   Heck, I originally started this blog because of the issues that I was having with my original PhD advisor. However, the stars deemed me lucky enough to land me in my current lab, with my current advisor that you are all sick of hearing how wonderful she is. 

Not to say that we haven't had our issues, for which a lack of communication was the core issue.  You would think that would've taught me a lesson but you know, I"m a slow learner :)

My goal for 2011 was to not sink and more importantly to not be feeling like I'm constantly struggling against sinking. I want to swim this year.  Being pregnant and not wanting to spend years getting this PhD, I need not swim. 

I was not swimming this past January. Mostly because the PI for whom I was TAing for was a completely unreasonable douchnozzle. S/he had extremely high expectations for the amount of work I was supposed to be doing, expected me to not only apply course content but to also help create it. I would speak to my PI about it periodically, who would rea-affirm that no SM you only work 12 hrs/week, no you only apply course content, would you like me to say something? Tell PI, you can not do x and y because I, your supervisor, need you to do z. Always supportive.  It didn't matter what my PI said, this person I was TAing for was a controlling bully that refused to understand that my priority is research and helping the students, not being his/her bitch.  At the end of January, I broke down in our lab office, to our Research Associate. I had been up since 3 am trying to figure out how I was going to get all my TA duties done and get enough data for a paper by the time Parasite decides to come out, while actually being a good mom and wife as opposed to the stressed out exhausted person I was. The DemandingPI was not listening to anything I was saying. The students were complaining to me and asking me to do something. It was just a bad situation.  One that I never openly talked to my PI about.

I didn't come in to the lab, the day after I broke down as we were going on a short family trip but I received an unexpected email from my PI. She told me to enjoy my weekend and relax.  WTF, why was she emailing this?  I may not always succeed, but I try my damnest to a mature, independent student. And I try to solve my problems on my own, which is always the smartest thing. Our amazing RA had recognized that I was being bullied by the other PI, that is was neither fair or healthy to be in the situation that I was. S/he also recognized that I wasn't going to ask my PI for help. So she did.

I don't know all the details, other than my PI was not impressed when she found out the details of what was happening. She got on the phone with our departmental advisor and with the PI I was TAing.  Found out what was happening, through various sources and made it clear that the treatment I was receiving was unacceptable.  She stood up for me. She protected me.  To say I feel like a weight as been lifted is an understatement.

I've since had a meeting with our Graduate Advisor to determine what I should've done, where I went wrong etc. It was great to have that meeting as s/he, very diplomatically, assured me that I wasn't crazy, that I did the right thing, and yes I was in the right.  I've been sorta vague on details but through the whole situation I was being made to feel like I was not in the right that I was supposed to be doing these duties etc.

My point is that had I actually openly talked to my PI earlier, I could've saved myself weeks of grieve. If it wasn't for our RA, I would probably still be struggling not to drown. Power differentials can wreak havoc on someones ability to stand up for themselves. The fear of financial are huge to grad students. I did not / do no want to be the "problem TA". I did not want to cause any waves that would make it hard for me to TA in the future. These fears, prevented me from standing up for what was right. Thankfully I have a PI and RA who saw this and stood up for me.  I am also thankful because I don't think my PI is unique in doing what she did. For all their faults, both my MSc and my original PhD supervisor would've gone to bat for their students.

Now that I"m getting closer to a strong swimming stroke in lab and life, hopefully I'll be back posting more regularlys.