Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taking the bad with the good

Disclaimer: There's a reason I haven't blogged in a while. My break was so good that I just wanted to savor it. And life in the lab has been so bad since Monday that I'm not sure I'm even now ready to talk about it.

I'm trying to be even-tempered, though, so we'll see how it goes.

First, the good. I loved my break. Everything about it was awesome. Thanksgiving I got to see a bunch of family I haven't seen in ages (minus Amy, Jason, and Kim, which was too bad). I had amazing home cooked food. I don't really eat the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, so it's wonderful that I have my mom's Slovak side to cook. We always eat there first. After homemade cabbage rolls with Slovak sausage, creamed peas (don't knock 'em till you try 'em), garlic carrots, and homemade bread, I basically don't eat for the rest of the day. It's awesome.

Thursday was totally relaxing. We only had time for my mom's side and Tim's family, so while I missed seeing my dad's side, it was nice to only drive to two places instead of three. And we got home about 9 and went straight to bed.

We were up at 4 AM Friday morning to do the Black Friday shopping. I've gone almost every year, but I don't think we'll go again. I'm not even sure why we went this year. We've decided to not buy any gifts for Christmas this year. We did this sort of halfway last year, but we've totally committed to it. We're buying N-O-N-E. Ok, we'll get gift cards for the two grandmas, but they need it. Otherwise, no gifts. We've asked that no one buy us gifts in return, and I'm really hoping people stick to it. The biggest gift I can get is to spend time with my families. Plus, last year we took the money we would've spent and divided it in half. Half we saved away (and boy was I glad we had it later in the year), and the other half we gave to charity. We'll probably do the same this year.

Anyway, you might ask, if we're not giving gifts, why get up ungodly early to shop? Simple. I love the adrenaline rush. Plus, we decided to only do one store instead of the usual five or so. I didn't think it'd be that bad. I was wrong.

We decided on Ciruit City as the store. They had 1 GB memory cards for $3, 50 pack DVD-Rs for free after rebate, and $4 movies. We weren't in it for any big ticket items. Plus, Amy and I did Circuit City a few years ago, and it was by far the easiest Black Friday shopping ever. We thought it'd be easy.

Umm, not so much. What I didn't realize is that since the Circuit City by us closed, as did one about 20 minutes farther west, there was only one store serving a large area. We got to the store at 4:30 AM. By then, the line stretched down the store, down the long Marc's store (like a grocery store), took a turn and went down the long side of the parking lot, then turned again. We were far down this last turn, and the line was building behind us. We later learned people had been camped out since the afternoon before. And the ambulance came while we were in line because some woman had passed out.

Tim, having more common sense than me, asked if maybe we should just bail. Me, I thought I could take it. We had passed Best Buy on the way in, and despite the fact that it opened an hour after Circuit City, it was about twice as packed. I decided to stay.

Well, the store was packed. Packed to the point that you couldn't turn around. We got maybe a third of what we were looking for, and we headed for the line. Of course, only four lines were open. Smart. So after waiting in line for an hour and a half, we were out of there with four movies, two SD cards, and two packs of DVDs. So not worth it. But, I'll probably do it again next year.

The rest of the weekend was spent alternating with house/yard work and just relaxing. It was in the mid 60s every day, a total rarity for Cleveland, so we got a walk with the small dog every day. For once, coming off of a break, I felt totally rested. I was recharged and ready to head back to the lab.

This is where things go downhill.

Dr. B and I meet every Monday morning at 9 AM to go over the previous week's data. Since we went over it late Wednesday afternoon, and we had the holiday, I thought our little chat should go pretty smoothly. I was wrong.

I'm going to try to type this as rationally as possible, but please understand that even after four days have past, I'm still completely livid and pissed. If it doesn't come off that way, then I've done my job. But I am absolutely enraged.

OK. Here's how it went: I showed him the same blot I had showed him on Wednesday afternoon. On Wednesday, he said to run the samples over--they weren't resolved well, so I was just going to re-homogenize the samples. No biggie. But he was otherwise positive and liked where things were going.

Monday morning, he was a different guy. He said that I wasn't moving fast enough--in fact, he made it a point to say that I was moving at a below average speed. Forget that I had lived up to his timetable for these experiments, even with a full-day diabetes retreat, multiple days of trouble with gels, and the Thanksgiving holiday. He even said that if it had been him, he would've cut his holiday travel short to be in the lab each day over the break. I tried explaining that I wouldn't have had anything to do, since my cells weren't ready till Monday, but he wasn't having it. Despite the fact that I am already working way more that 40 hours a week, and getting my work done (and then some), he says I should be in late every night (like 10 or 11 o'clock late) and here every weekend day.

He mentioned again that he was having funding issues. No surprise--we had this conversation a few months ago. He said I had till July 2008, and we agreed I'd be done by then. This time, he said his current grants run out in summer 2007, but he thought he could stretch them till November 2007 (what happened to July 2008?). He had applied for two other grants, but they didn’t look good. And he hadn’t submitted his renewal for his R01 in October. He was planning to do it in February 2007, and then at best it would start January 2008. However, with Ming out on maternity leave, he may not have the data to submit in February.

He did say again that his first obligation was to me. Valerie leaves in June, Nadia has been applying for grants, and he told Sriram to find another job. While I’m glad Sriram is leaving, the thinning of the herd doesn’t bode well for me. Dr. B said that really, my experiments need to be done by summer 2007 so I can write for the fall. Never mind that I can’t go back to med school then (I can only go back once a year, in July). And he’s counting on this paper from Frank’s lab. There’s no possible way that I could get two papers on this project out in that time.

Long story short, he thinks I don’t spend enough time in lab. He always qualifies it by saying he knows that I have a family, etc, but he really doesn’t care. He said I need a sense of urgency. Like when I run a time course, I should run the gel that day. Hmm, one hour prep, four hour time course, one hour homogenization, one hour protein assay, half hour setup, two hour gel, one and a half our transfer, and an hour blocking. 12 hour days. Awesome.

I was upset. Not crying upset, but pissed. When I was looking into the lab less than a year and a half ago, he said his money was fine. Six months into the lab, he said he had funding till 2008. Now it’s 2007? What’ll it be next?

Dr. B said I need to make some decisions. He was even talking like I’ll have to end up in a third lab. If that’s going to happen, I’d like to learn from my mistakes and switch out sooner rather than later. I’d even switch departments at this point.

Now, after I calmed down, I went to see my MSTP advisor. He said that there's no way the MSTP would let me switch into a third lab, and they have money to support me if Dr. B. can't. I'm already on a training grants, so Dr. B doesn't even pay my salary. I'd just need money for supplies. And my MSTP advisor said they'd cover that. He agreed that July 2008 should be my goal, but he also agreed that it was unreasonable to expect me to be done for this July (2007). He thought Dr. B. was just being extreme to make a point. I hope he's right.

In a way, for as pissed as I am, I think Monday was a really good day for me. It pushed me over the edge. I had been trying so hard to do every little thing my boss asked of me, and then some, and it was never enough for him. I realized that it's his problem, not mine. I can work efficiently and get my experiments done mostly during the week. He just wants face time in the lab. Forget that he leaves by 5 every day. The one day he doesn't, and if I'm not here, all hell would break loose.

So I've been doing monster hours in the lab this week. And I will this weekend too. He wants face time--he'll get face time. But that's all he gets. He doesn't get to mess with my emotions any more. My thesis committee doesn't think I'm incompetent, my MSTP advisor doesn't think I'm incompetent. If he thinks I am, I know better (or at least, I'm trying to believe that). This is how he treats everyone.

At worst, I only have 19 more months in the lab. Hopefully, the last few months when I am writing my dissertation will be more flexible. I've been in this lab for about 14 months now, so I'm almost half way there.

I'm determined not to break. I think he's trying to break my spirit--that's how he controlled his last graduate student, and it's why he has a hard time retaining people in the lab. I'm determined to cut myself off emotionally and just do what I need to get done.

That's the good from Monday's meeting. He's back to being all happy-pants again, but I'm not getting sucked it. I'm trying to move up my thesis committee meeting by a month to see if we can resolve this, but at worst, I'll have one in January.

So that's what I've been up to. And it's what I'll continue to be up to. I'm frustrated, angry, feeling betrayed, and disheartened. But I'm determined to find the strength to get through it.

(oh and PS: it's only 4:30, and the rest of the lab has already left. I'll be here for several more hours. If he's going to demand face time, it'd be nice if he demanded it from everyone.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

At least we tried...

Well, we spent about $300 trying to clean the carpets. And really, it doesn't look much better. The problem is that the people who owned the house before us put down white berber carpet in the living room/dining room upstairs. They didn't have kids or pets, and apparently they never walked in the room. Why else would you ever put down white carpeting? I have a home carpet scrubber, and once or twice a year I'll scrub the carpets myself (and I think my scrub job looks about the same as the professional one). However, with two cats, a dog, three people using the rooms, and the occasional spills of coffee by Tim's cousin's kids, the carpet has seen better days.

We also scrubbed the downstairs carpet, which is only about a year old. However, our stupid, filthy cat took to peeing in two particular areas. We got the smell out, but the carpet is now a little discolored from all of the applications of pet cleaner. The carpet scrubber man didn't really help that out much either.

But at least we tried. We'll know better than to spend that sort of money again. When we move, which is probably a few years off, we'll end up definitely replacing the upstairs carpet. Add that to the new roof, new siding, redone bathroom (another one), and cosmetically redone kitchen, and we're looking at a huge chunk of change in order to sell the house.

Tim went for a walk yesterday with his dad, and they have a good point (one I initially brought up, thank you very much). The real estate market is pretty stagnant right now, although it's not plummeting like other areas of the country. In any case, it's a great time to be a homebuyer and a bad time to be a home seller. If we were buying our first house, I'd definitely do it now--good interest rates, motivated sellers, lots of options. However, with our current situation, we'd need to sell our house.

The idea is that we will lose some money, let's say $10,000, in selling our house (we'd probably be able to sell for more than we bought it, but after realtor's fees of 6% and the money we've already put into it, we'd lose). However, if we moved to a bigger house that is currently $30,000 below its value, one that doesn't need fixing, and we stay in that house a few years, we've actually come out ahead in terms of appreciation. I hate losing money, but it's a valid point.

The other comment Tim's dad made yesterday is that when you live in a house, you see every flaw. And I do. With the market being as tough as it is, I want the house to be perfect so that it sells relatively quickly. The thing I need to remember though is that this house is in really good shape for the neighborhood. We live in Parma--it's not a city full of mansions and granite countertops. We were attracted to the house in the first place because of how much nicer it was compared to everything else in our price range. It needs the most help outside--it's fine, but you might drive right past it--there's nothing particularly eye-catching about it. If we could do some basic fix-up outside, really, we could probably sell it now. We wouldn't get top dollar as compared to as if everything was perfect, but we'd probably end up the same in the end (considering the money we'd have to put into it to make it perfect).

This is all a moot point now, really, since we are leaning towards not moving. But it is an interesting perspective for when we do move. We've already put about $10,000 into the house, and we could easily put $20k or $30k more. But what does it do for us? This is a starter home, we bought it as a starter home, and the people who will some day buy it from us will buy it as a starter home. We'd have to live in the house for fifty years to get $50,000 back in appreciation. We've probably overimproved already. It's time to just let the house be lived in.

Yeah, random tangent. I didn't figure I'd be back to talking about house stuff. But I guess it's been on my mind more than I've let on. It's amazing to me that I can be so strict and disciplined when it comes to every other area of spending in my life. But when I start thinking houses, I get all starry-eyed and irrational. What's the point of me clipping coupons and shopping sales to save $20 every week when I want to buy a house with a mortgage that costs $700 more a month? Totally irrational. And I know it. But I keep house lusting.

Oh well, I'll get over it eventually. I do think it's financially smarter to stay in our current house if there is even the slightest chance we will be moving for residency in four years. I know this. Has that stopped me from looking? Not so much.

In other news, I can't believe tomorrow is Thanksgiving already. Where did this year go? And we're only a month from Christmas? You have got to be kidding me.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Long time no blog

Yeah, I guess time flies. Things at work have been insanely busy (although that doesn't mean experiments have worked). I only have time to blog today because three of my gels leaked, thus meaning I will have to push them back till tomorrow, which pushed four gels back till Wednesday, which means I'll have to come into work on Thanksgiving to finish my blot. Awesome.

Anyway, other than general work craziness, there isn't too much else going on. My Friday night co-ed soccer league (supposedly for age over-30, but no one has carded me yet) finally won our first game Friday night. These old people are crazy, and the older, the more aggressive they are. Nothing like a fifty year old woman giving you an elbow to the face to really get my competitiveness ramped up.

The only other news is that Tim and I finally joined the 20th century. Last weekend we got new phones (same phone number). I showed the salesperson my old phone, and he actually laughed. He said they hadn't made those in a long time (I knew it was being discontinued four years ago when I bought it, but hey, that's why it was so cheap).

So I went from this:

To this:

It's a pink RAZR phone. I'm not much of a pink girl, but I dug it. It's like a new world to have a phone that actually works. And there are colors on the screen! And pictures, not just alphanumeric text! Amazing stuff, really. They were saying that I can take video and download music and movies to my phone. Umm, yeah, we barely use 200 minutes a month between the two of us, we don't text, and I'm just excited to be able to talk for more than five minutes without my phone dying. Anything beyond that is just crazy technological fluff for me.

And yesterday, we finally got satellite TV. It's amazing. We hooked it up to two TVs, and the DVR system means we can record 100 hours of stuff per tv. We can be recording on both tvs and watch something different on one of the TVs, all at the same time. A far cry from the five blurry channels we've had for the last four years. Tim's addicted to the Sirius music channels. I'm just pumped that when I get home today, I'll have South Park, Rachel Ray, and Oprah waiting for me on the DVR. Like I told Tim last night, having this makes me wonder how we ever got by before.

Other than the technology upgrades we've had in the last week or so, there isn't much else going on. We are still trying to debate if we want to move or not. It wouldn't happen until after the holidays, and since we're going to Aruba with his parents in early February, it probably wouldn't happen until after that too. There are so many pros and cons to the moving stuff that I have utterly confused myself. We're just laying low now, and we'll see how we feel in a few months.

Lab is still being a total pain in my behind, but I'd rather be busy and have nothing work than be slow and have no experiments to do (because nothing is working). At least being busy makes the time go faster.

Tim took off all this week, so he's manning the fort at home. He's studying today, and then he's hanging around while the carpet cleaning people work tomorrow. I know he'll be bored out of his mind (although I'm hoping the new satellite TV distracts him). Bored Tim equals Tim finding something to do around the house. Sometimes it's good, like when he ripped the shower doors out of the bathroom so we could put in a regular rod. But I'm waiting for the day that I come home and there's a hole in the wall because he thought a window would look nice there. He's really not that bad, but he gets it from his dad. However, his dad's a retired carpenter and built their house by hand. Tim, not so much. He's handy, but he has yet to understand that carpentry is learned, not genetic.

I'm looking forward to some time away from lab. I still have to come in Thursday to do my blot, and then I'll have to come in over the weeked to change my cells, but hopefully they won't be long days.

That's all I've got. Not much new going on, but I promise to keep in touch better. For now, anyway.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


So today, I decided to play hooky and stay home from work. My boss is out of town this week, my cells aren't ready, and since they'll be ready this weekend, I'll likely have to work Saturday and Sunday. Add to that the fact that my whole lab is either not coming in or working 3-4 hour days, and I decided to not go in today. I'm such a rebel! This is maybe the second day in three years that I've stayed home (not counting two vacations, which I requested a week off for way in advance). Considering I'm supposed to get two week's vacation every year, I'd say I'm still under my quota.

So what, you ask, am I doing on my day off? Cleaning. I've already scrubbed my whole kitchen down. And I mean all of it. I took everything out under the sink, scrubbed all the wood and pipes in the cabinet down, disinfected it, and laid down contact paper. When I clean, I really do it. That's probably why I don't clean much.

Add to that the bathroom, the dining room, and the living room, and I'm doing pretty well. I have cuts all over my hands (from what, I don't know), so every time I get some cleaning chemical on them, it burns like crazy. I should use gloves. I do at work. Maybe I'll borrow some from work next time.

Jen was home in the morning, and she laughed at me. She said, "Why is it that when you and Tim take a day off, all you do is work?" She was referring to the fact that Tim took off the Mon/Tues/Wed before Thanksgiving. He's going to study Monday, Tuesday the guy's coming to install the satellite TV, and Wednesday we are having the carpets cleaned. Plus he plans to do some yardwork in there.

I guess I work on my days off because I don't really have the time to do it otherwise. Weekends tend to be so busy. Weeknights we're either busy or exhausted. It's almost like it requires either really advanced planning or a spontaneous day off.

So yeah, I'm headed back to cleaning. I'm totally exhausted. My back is killing me from the way that I had to scrunch up to get under the kitchen sink. I think I bleached my favorite lounge pants when I was scrubbing with Comet. But you know what? I'm proud of my work. Cleaning is one of those rare things where you can actually see the fruits of your labor. And it's nice to see my hard work pay off for once.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I just wanted to pop by and remind people to vote. I don't know about you, but I am tired of all of the whining politicians on the tv, the stupid robotic phone calls, the hangtags on my door and mailbox and windshield. And I refuse to vote for candidates unless I've researched them, which can get tedious (how many judges sit on the Court of Common Pleas? I mean really).

Still, I think voting is a privilege, and it's important to take the time out to vote. I'm not here to tell you who to vote for or what issues are important. It's great that we as Americans have the freedom to vote for whatever we want. Just use that privilege. If you don't, you have no right to complain about the state of affairs in this country (as so many people do). Vote and tell the politicians what you want!

That is all. Maybe I'll ramble more later.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Better already

Lab's not better already--that still sucks--but my attitude is. Instead of driving home, being anxious and stressed during that whole hour-plus commute, I relaxed. Instead of getting home and freaking out about cooking, Tim threw a frozen pizza in the oven. Instead of thinking about how I need to clean the kitchen, scrub the bathroom, clean the bedroom, do the laundry, go grocery shopping, etc, I went to mass (for All Saint's Day, a holy day of obligation if you are Catholic--it's a long explanation) and then I came home and vegged with the TV.

It was awesome. When Tim got home from class at 10:15, I was actually relaxed for once. I usually whip myself into a nervous tizzy while he's gone and then burst when he gets home. Sometimes he adds to this--expecting the house to be perfectly clean when he gets home--but usually it's me thinking that the clean house police are going to come and tattoo the word "bad homeowner/wife" on my forehead.

I know it's just a control thing. When things are bad at the lab (as always), I come home and want to control the house. Last night I decided to say, "screw it."

And besides, if there really is such a thing as the clean house police, they can come and give me that bad homeowner tattoo on my forehead. I'll just start wearing bangs again. Poofy poodle bangs are back, right?

Really, the only thing I did last night that I'm not proud of was get into the leftover Halloween candy. I had a few pieces last night, which I'm not proud of, but I did stop. The stopping I am proud of. Really, a few pieces of candy won't kill me, I know, but I had been trying to avoid it completely. I am proud I stopped before I had eaten 20 pieces of candy without knowing it, but I did decide today that the candy needs to leave. Tim and Jen can split it up and take it to work/school, or else it's going to get pitched. I don't need to torment myself like that.

Anyway, today is a better day. Yes, lab sucks, but I know that isn't going to change. I'm just going to work on being more relaxed and calm about the whole thing. And I am especially going to work on how I talk to myself. No, not like mumbling under my breath talking; how I self-talk. I've been the only one telling myself how worthless I am. Outside of the lab, everyone is very supportive of me. Instead of listening, I tune them out and tell myself negative things. No more. I'm the only one setting unattainable standards for myself. So the house isn't perfect. So I don't cook every night. So I'm a little heavier than I want to be. You know what? That's ok. I don't need to be perfect at everything.

That one phrase is going to take years to sink in. I don't need to be perfect at everything. I've lived the last twenty-six years of my life trying to be perfect at everything. It's time to enjoy the imperfection.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I don't really have anything new to say. It seems like the issues I'm having in lab have seeped into all other parts of my life. I doubt everything I do now, every decision that I make, just because I'm not sure I'm capable. It's not any fun at all.

I've always struggled with things in life, none of them life-threatening or anything, but enough that it's affected me. Generally, as time goes by, I look back on challenging life situations and appreciate how much it's caused me to grow as a person. A long time from now, I'm sure I'll feel that way about my PhD. But in the meantime, I've never had something difficult invade the rest of my life so completely.

I didn't expect this to be easy. I thought it'd be hard--I expected the medical part of it to be the hardest, since I had been in labs before but never in the clinic--but I think I was way too naive.

And now, I've let the doubts I have about my capacity to be a scientist creep into all other thoughts. My struggles in lab only intensify my struggles with my self-image, my weight, my dreams and aspirations, and my role as a wife, homeowner, friend, sister/daughter/relative, etc. I feel completely unable to be good at anything. And while I've never had overflowing self-confidence, I've always had enough to do what needed to be done. As time goes on in the lab, I feel more and more incompetent and useless. I hate that. I know I'm not a worthless person. Mentally, I know that, and I know that there are things I am good at, and that I have value. Emotionally, I find it impossible to believe that.

And that's why I really need to do something about my lab situation. I'm angry that I've let my job/education take over the rest of my life. The lab doesn't deserve to have that power. And I need to take the power back. It may be as simple as adjusting how I approach things. My boss may want me to be here all day and night, seven days a week, but I need to set boundaries. When I leave the lab, I'm done. I have a family, a house, hobbies, friends, and things I enjoy outside of the lab. I need to draw the line--the lab doesn't get to affect those things.

Sometimes I have days, usually weekends, where I can do something and completely forget about my struggles with my PhD. On those days, I'm back to being myself--goofy, optimistic, and relaxed. Unfortunately, most times I'm thinking about lab somehow. Evenings I think about how tough the day was and what I have to do the next day. Friday nights I'm exhausted from the week of mental stress and I just want to sleep to recharge. Saturdays are usually my best time, although I feel guilty about not being at work (like my PI wants me to be). Sundays start off ok, but as the day goes on, the dread about going back to work returns, and I can barely sleep.

I know that there are people who have worse lab situations than mine (although it is hard to believe). The differences is that they are mostly guys, and they just don't let it affect the rest of their lives. Some of them get screamed at on a regular basis, which I definitely couldn't handle (my PI likes mind games better), and yet they go home and enjoy their time away. That's what I am going to shoot for.

I'm tired of giving my PI and my lab mates the power to make me miserable even when I'm not in the lab. I think it's going to take some time, but I am going to work hard to take back my life. I've survived over two years in the lab, and I have less than two more to go. That's more than 50%. I know deep down I've got the strength to do this. I just have to have the courage to use it.