Monday, January 29, 2007

T minus 1.5 hours...

I've got my thesis committee meeting at 3, and now I'm in the holding pattern. I came in all day yesterday to run 4 gels, and I did the blots this morning. Some time analyzing the blots and re-doing a few figures with new results, and here I am waiting.

I'm not as nervous as I have been in the past--each committee meeting gets easier, really. The part I was most nervous about is the part my boss doesn't want to address.

I've had my basic slides and figures for several weeks now, so when my boss asked about the presentation, I told him I'd rather talk about my timeline in the lab. I think he was a bit confused, so I mentioned that, since he was worried about his grants, should we talk contingency plan at my meeting? He said no, he thought I made a lot of progress the last six months, and as long as this paper with Frank comes through, he thought I should be done with experiments by the end of the year and writing a paper. I disagree with that--it always takes longer than he thinks it should--but we both agreed that I will definitely be done by July 2008.

This is such a weird change from the last time he talked timeline with me. He said that I had to be done with experiments by this July to defend and go back to med school this November. That was never going to happen.

I still feel like he's keeping secrets, but if he can support me till the end of this year, I can cope.

Really, it's too bad I've been so crazy busy the last few weeks. I've really had an interesting period of growth and acceptance about this whole lab thing--it would've been good blogging material. I was so freaked out about trying to be done, having to switch labs again, etc. And when I heard that he was stepping down as endocrine department chair effective July 1, 2007, I knew something was up. That was my major freak-out point, I think. In the few weeks since then, I've sort of accepted that something is likely to happen, but now I am far enough into my project that I could continue it in another lab. All I need is some cell culture space, a gel rig, and a few supplies. I could take care of the rest. And since I am on a training grant, no one would have to pay for me. So I think I could go anywhere.

Really, that's been a huge step for me. I still don't like the lab, and I hate spending so much time here, but in the big scheme of things, I won't be here too much longer. That's a nice feeling.

So yeah, not so miserable. A bunch of us were talking at our annual MSTP retreat last week. It's amazing how even people who you thought had a great setup are struggling with one thing or another. Ok, there is one woman in my class who is the envy of all of us--great lab, awesome PI, stellar project--but everyone else has issues with something. And some of the students a few years ahead of me have gone through tough labs and made it out. It gave us all a chance to vent, and it also helped me understand that my trouble in lab isn't necessarily about me.

I take it so personally that I am struggling through lab. I mean, not to sound egotistical or anything, but people in my program were the top of their class in high school, the overachievers in college, and have generally always sailed through without too much trouble. Plus, you're always told by your teachers how you can do whatever you want and be successful. I didn't think med school was that hard--you have very clear benchmarks set, and you are told what you need to know by when. Simple, really--I'm great with clear expectations. The PhD is not clear cut--there's little direction, hardly ever a timeline, and the only way you know if you are making progress is by what other people tell you. If you have a cheerleader boss, then you feel like you are moving forward, even if you can't see it. But, if you have a boss like mine who only focuses on the negative, you feel like crap.

That was my big realization: I'm just as far along as other people in my class. I'm not a failure. Sure, my project isn't tremendous, but few people's are. I felt like crap because my boss made me feel that way. I realized that says more about him than it does about me.

I'm still not confident or anything about my capacity as a scientist, but at least I can go to work everyday without being so hopeless. I'm working to understand more and more that this is how science works. It's not about me being a failure.

We'll see if I can let that sink in.

So I probably won't get much of a chance to post right after my meeting, but I'll be on again soon to let you know how it went. It'll hopefully be better than last time. Ahh, last time. Boss loves talk and project before meeting. Boss disagrees with everything I say, in front of my whole committee. Boss beats me down in summary, has committee feeling like they need to stick up for me. I walk out of meeting with boss, who tells me what I good job I did and how he likes my progress. Boss likes project so much, in fact, that he wants me to have a rotating student work on project with me. Crazy, crazy boss.

So far, he's been uber-positive about everything this time. We'll see if he stays that way.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Still here

Just a quick note to say hey, I'm still here. I'm working like crazy to try and get everything together before my thesis committee meeting on Monday. It doesn't help that Dr. B wants me to redo a bunch of figures and re-run a ton of gels, even though last week he said he liked where we were at. Oh well, that's what PIs are for.

I've also got the VA tomorrow morning and the MSTP retreat all afternoon and evening tomorrow. I've got to throw a poster together today. I guess when it rains, it pours! But I am glad that all of this stuff will be done before we leave for Aruba. I definitely don't want to be working on lab stuff while I'm down there. As soon as my committee meeting is over Monday, I'll let you know how things are.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Happy talk

As promised, I'm not Debbie Downer all the time. There have been some high points recently:

1. My PI has been in a better mood. I presented my project last week in a lab meeting, and he was all happypants. He hasn't mentioned his desire to have the lab empty by summertime, and I have to bring it up to him this week, but overall, he's in a better mood (note though: he's got free time this month, so starting today, he's DOING AN EXPERIMENT! This is the worst thing--he hasn't lifted a pipette in 30 years.)

2. I've scaled back slightly on time in the lab. I didn't come in at all this weekend, despite having a few gels to run, and it was nice to kick back.

3. I got a ton of sleep this weekend because of the no-lab policy, and I think it was enough to kick my chest cold.

4. My time off also included a lot of Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for GameCube. This game freaking rocks, and I'm so addicted. I stayed up until 1:30 AM one night, playing for five straight hours. I love me some Zelda time.

5. Tim is home from his business trip in Virginia. Woo hoo!

6. I'm leaving for Aruba three weeks from this Saturday. Tim's parents have a time share down there, and they go three weeks a year. We try to make it down one week every 2-3 years, and this is our year! No phone, no internet, no way for my boss to harass me for a whole week.

7. Of course, on a down note, the thought of being in a bathing suit sends me back to my body image/eating issues. I was in crazy talk the last time I went to Aruba, and she talked me through it. Not having that time to decompress makes it a little tougher to deal with the "beach clothes anxiety" I am having.

8. On an up note though, I am just way too damn busy to dwell on my boday image/eating issues. I know this isn't the healthy way to deal with it (putting myself first and all that crap), but I'm just too busy to dwell on it. I'm eating as best I can, I exercise whenever I get the chance, and beyond that--well, it'll have to take care of itself. Sure, I'm sure I'll feel inadequate when I'm actually down there and get a chance to realize things, but by then it'll be too late to change anything. So being busy has actually been a good coping mechanism, I suppose.

9. Only a week and a half till my next committee meeting. I am nervous, but I am also hopeful that some of the lingering lab issues will get figured out by then. Plus, I can take more of a breather after the meeting, since it'll be six months until my next one.

10. I have another clinic at the VA tomorrow. I saw two patients on my own last week, and I'll probably see another few on my own tomorrow. I've forgotten so much, but it's slowly coming back.

So there are ten happy thoughts for the day. Really, time just seems to be flying recently. Tim has class four nights a week, and the one night he doesn't have class is the one night I'm volunteering at the barn. So I don't see him much. Lab is keeping me insanely busy. The weekends are pretty well booked for the next month or so. It's amazing how life can be so calm for a stretch and then things just go kerblooey. I'm just trying to hang on until after my committee meeting on the 29th, and then I'll take a break in Aruba from February 10-17. And, Jen's going to stay with the pets, so we don't have to kennel the little dog. Another plus.

That's life for now. If I haven't touched base with you in a while, I'll catch up in a few weeks, I promise!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Yahoo has my number

This was on Yahoo this morning. It's very appropriate, I thought, to what I am going through. My comments are in italics.

I have some happy stuff to post later when I get a chance (happy as in not negative, not as is I won the lottery or anything. Didn't want you to get too excited.)

Ten Ways to Know It's Time to Go
A Job-Change Checklist
By Caroline Levchuck

No matter how much you love your job, you may not love it all the time. Folks with the most fulfilling of professions can still find themselves battling a case of the "Sunday Night Blues." And, from time to time, we may all feel a sense of disenchantment with our employer or our co-workers.

But how can you know when it's really time to go? Here's a hint: If more than half of the following statements ring true for you, get your resume ready and start connecting with new opportunities today.

1. You start to dread Monday as soon as you leave work on Friday. (Or, in my case, dread Saturday and Sunday because you should be coming into work then too.)

2. It becomes more and more difficult to get up for work each day, and tardiness becomes a way of life. (There really isn't a "tardy" in the lab, but when I mean to come in at 8 and I mosey in at 9, I think that fits.)

3. You cannot muster enthusiasm for anything related to work -- other than your paycheck. (Umm, and I'm a grad student, so I wouldn't say I'm enthusiastic about the paycheck either. But, at least I'm not paying them.)

4. You spend most of your time complaining to colleagues or about your colleagues. (Check. Valerie and I spend a good part of our lunches doing this every day.)

5. You act defensive and even hostile in company meetings when there's little cause for it. (I don't have company meetings, and there's no way I could ever be openly hostile to my boss, but I dream about telling him off.)

6. You interact less and less with co-workers, shutting yourself away in your office and avoiding opportunities to socialize. (Well, I was never chummy with them outside of lab, but I definitely work my lunch schedule around who else is eating at the bubble room at the time. I've been know to wait to eat until 3 PM just to avoid Sriram.)

7. You've used up all your sick, personal, and vacation days -- and the year isn't even half over. (I don't really have days that I schedule--I'm supposed to get two weeks off a year, total, which is usually a week of vacation and a day off about every other month. I do start to get sick, though, if I've been working a long time without a day off. Hence the chest cold the last few weeks.)

8. You're constantly putting off until tomorrow what you could (and should) do today. When you do actually commit to doing your work, you feel resentful. (Oh man. This is absolutely me. I hate every minute I spend in the lab and wish I was doing pretty much anything else. And I'll put off running my batches of four gels at a time as long as I can. However, I don't end up procrastinating too much just because I want to get the hell out of here. So it's putting things off by a day, not a month or a year or anything extreme like that.)

9. You're bitter about the company's success or that of a co-worker. (Umm, not really applicable. The lab has not found so much success recently, and if we did, I'd be happy, because maybe my boss would be in a better mood.)

10. You have no professional goals related to your job, and you have a hard time even making some up at your obligatory performance review. (Ok, I have one goal: get the hell out. I do have a hard time setting up mini-goals that aren't experiment-related. We have to do a self-evaluation and personal goal setting before each committee meeting, and I have a hard time not laughing when I make up some crappy self-growth ideas. Any faculty member who thinks that a junior or senior graduate student doesn't just want to do the minimum to get out is crazy.)

***It makes me wish that I could find a new job by posting a resume, but unfortunately, that's not how grad school works. There are instances where I am reminded that I still like science--I really enjoy catching up on literature or seeing interesting speakers. I just hate my particular lab experience. If I had the option to find a new lab without losing time, I would, but as I've mentioned before, there are few options available to me, and all of them would cost me at least two years. So for now, time to suck it up and keep going. I'll post happy thoughts later, I promise.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I have clinic now at the VA hospital one morning a week, as I think I mentioned earlier. I just got back from it. It's amazing how liking what you are doing makes all the difference in the world.

Case in point: I've had a wicked chest cold that has turned into bronchitis for the last week or so. Last night I was up at 2:30 AM with an intestinal bug. I've slept like crap for days, and I'm stressed because of my impending thesis committee meeting. Pulling into the VA parking lot, I wondered how I was going to keep it together. Pulling out of the parking lot after four hours of clinic, I felt rejunvenated.

Fifteen minutes later, I'm back in the lab. Within a half hour of being in the lab, I'm feeling miserable again.

I'm not saying my bronchitis and intestetinal stuff are psychosomatic, but I do think that the stress I feel at any moment in time compounds things dramatically. And heaven knows I'm feeling stressed.

I am just so glad that I enjoy working with patients in the clinic. How bad would it suck to hate both the lab and the clinic?

I'm just trying to keep happy thoughts. The lab won't last forever, and once I'm done, I can decide how I want to spend my time. That's what I am looking forward to.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


So my department ranked second in the nation for best physiology programs from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Second. Ok, I expected somewhere like Johns Hopkins to be first, but we're second? Really? Are you sure you don't want a recount?

I don't know, maybe the impossible requirements for graduation, the inability to attract new faculty, and the capability to drive current faculty away are all good things. Who knew?

Monday, January 08, 2007


Just a warning (in case you haven't guessed already) that this blog will likely be sporadic for the next few weeks. I have my thesis committee meeting on the 29th (it got moved back a week due to my advisor, which is a whole different story). I've got to put all my data together, figure our how the hell to make it a cohesive story, write my report, make my presentation--and deal with my boss. That last part will likely be the most stressful. We've got to come to an agreement on how to approach his whole funding/stepping down/leaving or not leaving/general rumor mill stuff. I'd like it all to be out there, but I'm sure he's going to want them to know as little as possible.

I'll still try to post periodically if I get a minute, but if you don't here from me until after the 29th, you'll know why.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I know, I know

It's been a while. I know. I could give a ton of excuses--I've been working like a mad woman, I've had an intestinal bug, I forgot how to type--but in fact, I could've made the time to blog. I'll catch you up, and then I'll explain why I didn't blog.

The lab: Lab is going downhill quickly. We’ve been meeting weekly since November, and Dr. B doesn’t like how slowly things are moving. I really am doing my best to speed it up. Heck, I was up at 6 AM on Sunday (New Year’s Eve) to be into work to do a time course experiment. He’s been in Iran for a week now, but he gets back today. I’m sure he’s going to be unhappy with where I am. And, I have a thesis committee meeting in three weeks. It’s going to be ugly.

There’s something weird going on with him though. Since November, he’s been on this kick that I need to be out by July (yeah right--I'd have been in the lab less than two years by then, and I should have my entire PhD in that time?). He’s been trying to say it’s because of his grants, but there’s more to it. He won’t even hear about his grants until the end of this month, and already he’s told Sriram he’s got to go. Ming and Nadia are on maternity leave, Valerie leaves in June, and he wants me out in July. So theoretically, if he gets his grants, he’ll have to hire a whole new lab. Weird.

Then yesterday morning, Valerie told me that as of July 1, he’s stepping down as the chair of the endocrine department. He said it’s so he can do more research, but he’s getting rid of his lab. The announcement is hush-hush right now, but it’ll be out soon.

I have the feeling something’s up. He was campaigning for the physiology chair job, but it sounds like they are really after this guy from Yale. He’s got no grants renewed yet, and he’s giving up his clinical duties. He swears he’s not ready to retire. Hmm. My money’s on that he’s either retiring or moving to another job. Either way, I’m screwed.

I mean, if my project was working, that would be one thing. But I lost a whole month of time course experiments because the anisomycin was bad. And even with busting butt till my committee meeting, I still have only three weeks to try and progress. And it’s not looking good.

Anyway, that's lab in a nutshell. It's been really bad, and it seems to be getting worse.

But, my new year's resolution is to not take it home with me. I mean, I always take it home--I'm constantly thinking about my experiments, I've got piles of papers to read. I mean taking the misery home. I think there isn't a way to make life at the lab better, but I can resolve to leave the stress there. I tried this yesterday, and while it wasn't easy, I think it's something I can work on.

Other than lab, there hasn't been too much else going on. It was nice to see my family over the break, and we actually saw all three sides of the extended family between Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. The non-present-buying treaty of 2006 was a mixed success. Most of my sibs followed the rules, or maybe only got something symbolic, but both sets of our parents bought us gifts. That was a strict no-no, and as expected, we felt bad that we hadn't bought anything for them. This is why everybody has to follow the no-gift rule--the guilt of receiving without giving defeats the joy from not having to buy in the first place. But, our bank account thanked us.

Hmm, other than that (and the stomach bug, which I really had for a few days), life seems to be moving along the same way in 2007 as it did in 2006.

Now, for the non-blog reasoning: I just hate being so negative all the time. And lab makes me feel negative. I use blogging mostly as a place to vent, since yelling at my boss won't help matters. But even then, I get tired of all of the negativity.

Thank god for Tim. I've really been venting with him a lot lately, and he's gotten much better with listening instead of feeling like he has to fix things. I feel like a wimp saying that this PhD is the hardest thing I've ever done (and there have been other hard parts, trust me), but it's true. Is it physically demanding? Only when I have to be in by 4 AM, or I don't leave until 11 PM. But those are the rarities. So physically demanding=no. But the mental and emotional toll is insane. I can't not think of lab all the time. When I'm home, I feel like I should be there. When I'm there, I feel bad that I'm such a slacker at home. The harassment, the constant feeling of never being successful, the failure time after time, the boss who constantly changes his mind and it's my fault--it's unbelievably tough.

I was telling Tim last night that, if Dr. B leaves and I am faced with a decision, I might again consider just going back to med school. I'd be less than a year away from my PhD by this July (hopefully), so if I could find a better lab with a better project, then maybe I'd try again. But that's what I wanted in the first place, and look where it got me.

I would feel like a failure if I left. There are so many people that put me getting my PhD on a pedestal that telling them I'm quitting would make me feel even crappier about myself. I know they'd get over it, and I know that what other people think doesn't matter, but the truth is, I hate giving up. And to let go of this PhD is giving up to me. If I had done it when Frank left (which I wish I would have, now), it wouldn't be so bad. I'd only been there a year--that's not too much time invested. But now, having three years invested by this summer, I'm so close. I should be able to stick it out for one more year.

This is all hypothetical right now. Who really knows what's going on with my boss? Not me, that's for sure. Maybe things will work out, and all of this hypothesizing will be for nothing (funny, I feel like the last three years of my scientific hypothesizing have been for nothing).

For now, I've got to keep plugging away. And I'm not giving up on the blogging, but I am going to try and not make every post about how awful lab is.

Thing is, I don't have much going on in my life beyond that.

But my life isn't all negativity, and that's what I am going to focus on in 2007. Although I'll still probably vent fairly often.

Happy new year. Here's to a year of health, happiness, and personal growth.