Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Not really an update

I've got a lot on my mind, but I'm in a weird place with a lot of it. So, I've been journaling privately, but I'm not sure this stuff is totally appropriate for the web (not like I don't blog about all sorts of other random things usually).

It's nothing bad or earth shaking. But it's some things I need to sort out for myself. Really, things overall are pretty good. I'll give you the quick run-down:

-The old house is still up for sale. Nothing ever came of that girl who said she was interested about a month back. It's been slow everywhere, and we're just hanging in there. We knew it'd take a while.

-Pregnancy is going well. We're 35 weeks today. The baby might've dropped Sunday night, but I'm not positive about that one. She might've just changed position. All I know is that now I can't sleep at all, and my hips/pelvis and lower back are killing me. I've got a thorough exam coming up next Wednesday, so we'll know her positioning for sure then.

-Lab is lab. There are ups and downs--some days experiments go well, some not so much. And we're having a real problem with incubator contamination again. I think I know who's responsible.

-I'm having a hard time reconciling my personal lab frustrations and issues with the excitement I have about the pregnancy. I don't want my memories of this time to be all about how stressed I was in lab. I'm thinking of her impending delivery more in terms of how it'll affect my experiments and maternity leave timing instead of how exciting it will be to finally have this little girl in the world. That's not right. And it's something I'm working on.

I had a conversation yesterday in the lunch room with a younger student in the department. She's not MSTP--just a straight-up grad student--and we were talking about the hoops people in our department have to jump through versus other departments. We both agreed that bench research hasn't turned out the way we thought. It really got me thinking about what I want from all of this. And that's what I'm going through now.

I'm really struggling mentally and emotionally with my lab situation now. It's no worse than usual, but my regular method of coping--just put my head down and plow forward while ignoring the bigger issues--just leads to these big buildups of frustration like I am having now. I guess I'm just frustrated with how I'm treated by my PI, my department, and my committee. I feel like everyone else has these secrets that I'm not privvy to, even though they affect my future. And I am frustrated with the lack of respect towards my situation.

I don't want to get into it too much, but I'll set up a brief example. I entered Frank's lab in July of 2004. He moved, and I entered into Dr. B's lab in the fall of 2005. I haven't been in my current lab for a full two years yet. There are people in my program, in other departments, who have been in the same lab for the last three years and aren't even close to a paper. But they are still planning on finishing and going back to med school next summer, the same as me. Many of them need only one paper, or for a few, a paper is suggested but not required for the thesis. Now, the MSTP wants you to have at least one paper, and most get two or three by the time things are all done, but they can't mandate those requirements for graduation--it's up to the PhD department. Four years in the PhD phase is pretty typical for the MSTP--a lot do 5, a rare few do 3, and occasionally there's a 6 year or longer. For regular graduate students in my department, where two first author papers must be accepted before you can even apply to defend your dissertation, I think the average PhD is 6 years. There are two people now who are in their 7th year and don't have one paper accepted yet. Now, they are both close, and I think they will have both of their papers out nearly back to back, but still. Seven years.

I am getting one paper out of the 14 or so months I was in Frank's lab. And I'll have hopefully another paper written on this crappy project I've been on after a little over two years of work, hopefully. Really, that's pretty good. Especially for how bad the lab situations have been. Could it have gone faster? Absolutely. But I'm better than average time-wise. These aren't going to be earth-shattering papers, by any stretch, but they'll count.

So, if this is the case, why do I get so much crap from my PI and my committee about my time line? Even if I went back to med school in the summer of 2009 instead of 2008, I'd still be not much beyond average. And that's with me switching labs, which usually sets people back a year or two. So why all the pressure?

I have to believe it's because of the lab situation. I really get the impression that my committee knows Dr. B is shutting down. The only grant we had left expired in May, and we're living off of that. And it doesn't look like he's going to write a renewal. But he won't tell us what is going on, even when we ask. I've heard rumors we'll be out of money as early as November. I've also heard he's planning to retire as early as this spring. But again, they are all rumors. He won't give us an answer.

I think he's talked to my committee, and I think they know his plans. But they won't tell me either. And that's frustrating to me. I'm not four years old--this is my life. If there are things affecting my timing, I think I deserve to be told about them. But apparently the faculty don't feel the same way.

I can go back to med school in July 2008 and be right on track with the med school class. Or I can go back in November 2008, still graduate in 2010, but be a little more squeezed for time. Otherwise, I've got to wait till July 2009, which would have me graduating in 2011. Really, we know we're staying here for residency. Fellowship and beyond is open. In the big scheme of things, another year is no biggie. But if things are going down in the lab the way they sound like they are, I may not have the option to push things back a year.

I don't know. This whole thing is really only the surface. I'm really struggling with a lot of life decisions related to lab/school/future plans, etc. I've been really good about keeping myself so busy that I don't have the time to sit down and think about it. But I'm going to have a baby. Soon. Really soon--unbelievably soon. I know that will change everything. I always knew I wouldn't stay home full time, but I also thought I could balance work and home. I knew clerkships and residency would be tough, but I also knew those were temporary. I've been putting off thinking longer term because I thought I had time. I do, technically, have a few years to decide, but I also need to be ready to start thinking about this stuff soon.

Yeah, anyway. Like I said, I'm in a weird place right now. I'm far from having all the answers. I'm frustrated. And I'm angry. I'm angry at myself, for allowing work issues to have more importance than my pregnancy. I'm angry that I've let myself be treated the way I have, like I should be ashamed that I've let a pregnancy interrupt my research. I'm angry at the culture of academia, that a major life event like the birth of a child can be looked at so negatively.

I want to get rid of all of the anger and frustration I have and just be happy. I'm so excited for this baby, no matter what other people might want me to feel, and I want this to be a happy time. I know the first six weeks home with her will be exhausting, and stressful, and emotionally draining. And I couldn't be more excited to go through that, because I know that I'll be home with my child. I know my priorities will have to change once she's born. Really, it's probably a good thing if they do. I need to be better about setting personal boundaries in my work life. Having a baby will force me to do that. When she's here, she's my number one priority. And everybody else can kiss it.

Ok, enough random rambling. I'll work on sorting this stuff out on my own time. Meanwhile, I do have experiments to do. Lab won't last forever, I keep telling myself that. I also remember that I use to love being in lab. My, how things change.

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