Friday, September 26, 2008

Money maker

Ok, I have all sorts of other things to talk about later, but I just scored a big deal at Walgreen's, and I had to share: (terminology: MQ manufacturer's coupon, IVC: instant value coupon, found in the Walgreen's monthly easy saver catalogs in the store, ESR: easy saver rebate--you put in the rebate online at walgreens.com)

Here's my double dip I did this morning (double dips happen once a month when the easy saver catalogs overlap; now it's the sept/oct catalogs overlapping today and tomorrow only):

Scotch bubble mailers x3: 4:50
-3.50 Wags circular coupon (not a double dip, but I needed some)

Garnier fructis family size x3: 20.97
-9.00 Wags October IVC x3
-2.00 MQ family size
-1.00 MQ any garnier
-1.00 MQ any garnier

Rimmel foundation: 7.49
-1.00 MQ Rimmel

Loreal face wash: 7.99
-1.00 MQ face wash

Pert plus x2: 6.98
-5.00 Wags Oct IVC x2
-2.00 MQ
-1.50 MQ

Bic reaction pencil: 4.99

Other coupons: -5/20 Wags coupon (today and tomorrow only, you can print it online from walgreen's website)
-5 register reward (i got this from my last purchase)

Tax: 3.44
Total out of pocket: 20.36

And then I get:
$10 Garnier easy saver rebate from September
$7.49 Rimmel ESR from October
$7.99 Loreal ESR from October
$3.49 Pert ESR from September (it says 4.29 online, but I think they adjust it down)
$4.99 rebate from the pert plus/school supplies rebate form from the paper (I can't believe I still had this!)

So I spent 20.36, and I am getting back $33.96 in rebates! I never do this well! Even with the $5 register reward I used, I made $8.60! And, if you had multiples of the garnier family size $2 coupon (I didn't), you could make another $2.
And, since I put my Walgreens rebates on a gift card, I get an extra 10% back, which is $2.90.

I love deals. I've got more free shampoo, makeup, toothpaste, mouthwash, lotion, body wash, and face wash--I've been passing it out to my family!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Decision--I think

Let me first say that I've changed my mind about a billion times over the last few weeks. I've been trying to figure out what I want, and that hasn't been nearly as easy as it sounds. Up to even last Wednesday, I was leaning in one direction. And then, last Thursday, I had a bunch of doors open up to me. I felt like it was the first time I truly had multiple viable options. And once I had those options, figuring out what I wanted was much easier.

Last Thursday, I had three things happen. Here are the three scenarios:

1. I got my financial aid package from the medical school.

2. I spoke with a woman in pharmacology who would basically co-mentor me (with Dr. B the other co-mentor) on the project I am working on now.

3. I spoke to two women on my thesis committee who offered me a co-mentorship new project in their labs.

And here's the way things shook out:

1. I got enough financial aid to cover med school tuition and daycare. It's still a drop from what I bring home now, and it's all loans, but it means we could make things work.

2. I spoke with the woman in pharmacology. She was very nice and very on the ball. After explaining my project to her, she said she could supervise me in more of a genetics-type angle to the project, or she could give me an unrelated new project that was more contained. Honestly, if I am going to start a new project, I'd rather have nothing to do with Dr. B. I told her I really appreciated her input (especially after never having met me before--she was very generous), but I was thinking that I'd rather just abandon the project.

3. I met with M (the woman from my committee I've known a long time), C (another woman on my committee), and George (the MSTP co-director). I filled them in on the meeting I had with the pharmacology woman, and I also told them that I decided I didn't want to keep my current project. There are just too many issues with it. We talked about the previous project M and I had talked about involving the new faculty member. We all agreed that while it sounded interesting, I couldn't wait around for a few months until he got set up. Instead, M and C had been talking about collaborating for a long time, and they thought this could be the opportunity. I would do more rat heart stuff (like what I did in my first lab) and tie it in to C's insulin studies (which is what Dr. B's lab does, even though it's not what my project has been about). The nice thing is that all of the methods are established, I'd be well supervised by two mentors, there are a lot of people in the labs that I could bounce ideas off of, and the project is publishable whichever way the results turn out.

So, after all of this, I decided: I'm going to go into M and C's labs. We're estimating that we can crank out enough rats to get data in about 6 months, so ideally the project should take a year or a little more. Considering that I wasn't planning to go back until July 2009 initially, this means I can either go back November 2009 (but still graduating at the same time as July 2009) or, worst case scenario, go back to med school July 2010. It's only a year beyond my initial plan.

And for the first time, when we were all talking about the project, I got really excited. I've already started reading literature and planning experiments. Both M and C have good labs that are scientifically active. They have lab meetings, go to national/international scientific meetings, and network with other labs. And I really feel like they both want me to succeed. It's what I've been missing since I started the PhD. My first boss would just leave for weeks at a time, and I struggled on my own. At least I eventually got things working. In this lab, it's been a struggle to get anything to progress. And I've had a boss that alternates between micro managing and disappearing for weeks.

I was really leaning towards going back to med school and just being done. But I had a big part of me that didn't want to give up on the PhD. Ultimately, I moved past keeping the PhD just to finish--whether it was to keep my ego intact or to not have loans. Once I got past that, I was able to dissect out what it is that I really want. And I wanted the chance to be in a good project. I told myself that a project would have to fulfill certain requirements, or else I was just chucking the PhD and going back to med school. I wanted a well-defined project in a scientifically active lab that involved a good mentor and a topic that I could get excited about. I wasn't convinced I could find that. Until I talked to M and C, I hadn't found it yet.

M, C and I met on Friday morning to hash our some initial ideas. I really think this could move quickly. They will both be gone this week at seperate scientific meetings, but when they are back next week, we plan to flesh out very specific aims. I'll write up a brief proposal to send out to my committee, and then all we need is final approval from the physiology graduate education director (who basically has already given it unofficial approval).

I'm dreading dealing with Dr. B. He thinks that he will be my co-mentor no matter what. Both M, C, and George agreed that it is George's job to explain the situation to him. Until we get final approval, they all said to keep him informed but not to tell him that this plan is set in stone. I just can't wait to be done with him. And I think next week, I will be.

So, for now, that's the plan. I really appreciate all of the support and encouragement I've gotten. And I know that most of you are probably thinking, "what an idiot--just go back to med school and be done!" And I've had that thought too. But I've really done some soul searching, and I still like science and research enough that I'm consider having some involvement with them in the future. I do want to see patients--I love that aspect. But I just feel strongly that my calling lies partially in research too. Goodness knows that a more sane person would walk away--three labs for a PhD? That's crazy!

I just feel like this is a real opportunity for me. I'm excited for a fresh start. And I know that M and C won't let me slip through the cracks. The only sad part is that poor Kim is by herself in the lab now, and I'll miss being able to chat with her all the time. We'll still probably try to do lunch as much as we can. But other than Kim, there's nothing I'll miss about this lab.

I guess that's it for now. I know it sounds crazy that I am not just going back to med school. I wish I could explain better how I feel. There's just a part of me that really feels like going to M and C's lab is the way it is supposed to be. I hope I'm not reading the wrong signals--I guess we'll know in about a year.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Uninspired update

Well, I had a long and emotionally charged update written for last week, and then as time went on, I got less and less interested in rehashing everything. So, instead of pouring my guts out, here's a facts-only version:

-Wed, 9/3: met with Tom and George in the morning. Both had good things to say about me, and both were encouraged when I told them that I was considering both returning to med school and finding a lab. We talked about a few potential lab options, and they both sent me to the same person: M, who I have known for about 10 years (she was a postdoc in the lab where I did my undergrad research). And, since she's on my committee, she knows the details. Problem: she was out until the following week.

-Wed, 9/3: I was all jazzed after talking to Tom and George, and I felt like I was going to find a project in a new lab and not lose too much time. And then I heard about what actually was said at my meeting while I was gone. I won't divulge my source, but it is as close to 100% accurate as they come. And basically, Dr. B trashed me the whole time. Looking back now, I'm not shocked. He's done similar things before. But he kissed my butt the whole time I was in the room at my meeting--why bother? And there were a few comments made by some (though gratefully, not all) of my other committee members that made me question whose interests they really had in mind. After hearing this, I called Tim in hysterics and said I'm out--I want nothing more to do with an atmosphere that encourages backstabbing. I was set on returning to med school.

-Thurs, 9/4: I got all of the financial aid paperwork for medical school. And I had a bit of a panic attack. After looking over the info, I don't think we'll qualify for all of the loans we'll need to have me go back to medical school and make the house payment. I'm still waiting on that.

-Over the next few days, I kept going back and forth. I'd change my mind every few hours. It's really exhausting.

-Tues, 9/9: I had my weekly clinical tutorial with Dr. P. He was still upset that they wouldn't just give me my PhD. He did have a very insightful comment: if doing the PhD doesn't help my ultimate career goal, then why spend two more years doing it? That's exactly the heart of the matter: I have no idea what I want to do.

-Wed, 9/10: I met with M, who was back from her trip. We hadn't spoken since my meeting. Our chat started out as a conversation as to what went down at the meeting, but by the end, we were talking science. It was very iffy, but there was potential for me to meld the project I did in Frank's lab with what she is doing now. It all hinges on a new faculty coming to the med school that has equipment similar to Frank's (no one else had the machine I needed once Frank left). It was all very tentative, but I left the meeting feeling really excited about science. I hadn't felt that way in a long time.

-Thurs, 9/11: I went to an all-day cardiovascular retreat. I was using it as a litmus test for science--if I was more excited about science when I left, then I'd think about staying with the PhD. But if I wasn't, then I was headed back to med school. Well, I was jazzed. The combo of a day of interesting science plus the talk I had with M the day before really had me thinking that the PhD was a viable option.

-Thurs, 9/11, evening: I had an email from George. He said that the
MSTP steering committee had met and discussed me (I knew this ahead of time--I filled out my annual review even before my thesis committee meeting). He said that the committee was behind me. He also suggested a woman in pharmacology who may be able to help me finish my current project with Dr. B. I also had an email from Cliff, the MSTP head, who was very kind and encouraging. I wrote them back a very detailed email that basically said thanks for the support, and I'll keep you posted.

-Fri, 9/12: I came into lab in the morning, and Dr. B came by. I really dread dealing with him now. Anyway, he said that he and George had talked about me working with this woman in pharmacology, with Dr. B acting as a "consultant" to the project. Dr. B also mentioned that George had said he was not real keen on the potential project with M just because it involved a faculty member who wasn't coming until October. I basically just nodded along until Dr. B left me alone about it. I really am emotionally done with this project, but I also understand that any project I do needs to get me done in a decent amount of time. So I have to be open-minded.

That takes us to today. I am home, although I didn't plan to be. The high winds knocked out power to our area, and the daycare had no power. They were technically open, using emergency lights, but they had no fridge and no way to heat food. So I dropped Sophie off just long enough to head to the lab and bring my computer home. And with Sophie's doctor's appointment tomorrow morning and VA clinic Tuesday afternoon, I probably won't have any more info until Wednesday.

I am still waiting to hear about financial aid. And I need to talk to a few more people about lab stuff. But ultimately, I have to decide what I want. So far I've figured out that generic science isn't the problem; I just hate my boss and my project. I've hated my situation for a few years. I really
should've spoken up louder before now, but whenever I brought it up previously, I was always told to hang in there. People said it would get better. It hasn't. And my biggest fear is spending two more years in the same situation.

Ultimately, two years isn't the end of the world. If I go back now, I graduate in 2010, finish residency in 2013, and finish fellowship in 2016. I'll be 36. What's the big difference between 36 and 38? Not much.

Having said that, I'm not going to stay in the PhD just to finish. I have to have a reason to stay, whether it be because I want to do research or whether it is simply that I have found a project that has me interested. As Dr. P asked, why do the PhD if I'm not going to use it? If that's what I decide, then I'm going back to med school.

I can't believe all of this has been going on for almost three weeks. I haven't slept a full night since it happened, and I'm exhausted. I'm also extremely confused. Once I have the financial aid info, that will help me fill in the med school details. And once I've talked to a few more labs, I'll have more PhD details. So, once again, I'm in a holding pattern.

It does feel wonderful to not be dealing with this project anymore. I'm writing up what I have now. I miss productive experiments--I would like to feel like science is working again. And I think that's why I'd like to get on a new project. I'm just so emotionally beat with the one I have.

Long story short, I don't have an answer yet. I didn't figure it would take this long to get enough information.
Hmm, sounds like the story of my life.

(PS: Sarah--I asked the same question about amoxicillin/augmentin. The ped's answer was that since there isn't really a toxic dose of amoxicillin, he wanted to increase the amox concentration as much as he could by doubling up and seeing if that took care of the infection. We go back tomorrow to get checked, but by the way she's been pulling her ears, I'm thinking the answer is no.)

(PPS: this type looks really small on my computer, even though the settings are the same. Am I just getting old, or is this tough to read?)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oops--update to be even later

Ok, I left the rough sketch of my update on my work computer, and I have an all-day retreat tomorrow. So the blog update may not be till Thursday night or Friday. Here's the synopsis:

-Sophie still has a double ear infection (same one she's had since the 4th of July). If the amoxicillin/augmentin double up we are doing now doesn't work, we're going to see the ENT about getting tubes.

-Tim's been traveling again, which sucks, but my mom has been spending the night at my house, which helps a ton. And, there's nothing like mom's cooking. Mmmm.

-I still haven't made up my mind about the lab thing. Just when I am sure I'm going to take the master's and go back to med school, something happens and I want to stick with the PhD. I'll fill you in on all the details later. Let's just say I'm very confused at the moment.

This retreat tomorrow may be part of helping me figure everything out. It's a research retreat, so we'll see if I'm energized or exhausted by science at the end of the day.

And I have my first local coupon swap tomorrow. Woo hoo for coupons!

Oh, and Sophie will be a year old in six weeks. How crazy is that? I've been meaning to send out invites to her party (which I have yet to plan), but life's been a little busy.

Anyway, time to pick up the house and take out the garbage before Tim comes home. Talk to you soon!

Update to come later...

I have an update later (not a decision, just a "where am I now?" update). In the mean time, enjoy this t-shirt currently being sold by my graduate student organization (school name blocked out, even though most know what it is):
Front: class of ??



Back: You know if you are a graduate student if:
-You tell children you are in the 20th grade
-No one in your family has any idea what you do
-You "borrow" gloves and parafilm to use at home
-A green laser pointer is considered to be science bling
-You ask your family to "aliquot" leftovers
-You've used kimwipes as kleenex
-You're proud of your "flexible" 100-hour workweek
-You refer to your children as the F1
-Guilt has been accepted as an inherent feature of relaxation
-You are perpetually 6 months from graduating.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Still debating big decisions, but on a lighter note, I wish I could blame this for my weight gain during medical school:

Thinking makes you pig out

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pull up a chair

(Editor's note: this is maybe the longest blog I've ever written. It is very, very, very long. I apologize, but I suggest taking a bathroom break, pulling up a comfy chair, and maybe grabbing a snack. Here's the story, as far as I know it.)

Well, I had hoped to have a little more information on my situation before posting, but with Labor Day weekend and all, I couldn’t get any answers. So, I’ll tell you what I know and fill in the rest as it comes.

Here’s the synopsis, up to last week:

-I entered the PhD part of my MD/PhD career in July 2004.

-My first PI, Frank, moved to the Mayo Clinic in the fall of 2005. I tried to transfer, but there was no system in place to transfer me.

-Because of that, I had to pick a new lab. I had already done my qualifying exam in physiology, so it was easier to stay in the department. However, because of rules such as student ratios and funding, there was only one lab open to me in the department: Dr. B’s lab.

-I had rotated in Dr. B’s lab and didn’t want to go back there, but I didn’t have a choice. So in fall 2005 I started in that lab.

-I was told which project I had to do by an ass of a professor who is no longer at Case. He picked a project that he thought would move the fastest. It was a crappy project. I tried everything I could to get off the project. I at least tweaked it a little bit, but it continued to be a crappy, aggravating project.

-I wrote a paper on what I did in Frank’s lab in October 2006. The postdoc from the old lab generously (I thought) volunteered to be in charge of sending it out. It finally went out in May of 2007 to a journal that it had no change of getting into. It got rejected. So, we sent it somewhere a little more appropriate, but still reaching. It was rejected (though not torn apart), and we reformatted it.

-Because I was busy having a baby in October of 2007, the paper didn’t get sent back out until spring of 2008. It became a pattern that I would harass the postdoc via email continuously, he would drag his feet, and it would take months to get anything out. We heard back from the most recent place in June 2008. It was rejected, again, although two reviewers loved it and one hated it.

That about brings us up to this summer. Now, my current project sucks, and it always has, but my committee and my boss both constantly say, “A few more experiments, and you’ll be done.” The rule for graduation in my department is two first author papers, both accepted, before you can write your dissertation and defend. So, with how long that process takes, I knew that there was no way I would defend and be back in medical school this November. I was hoping for July 2009.

Well, in addition to having a crappy project, the lab ran out of money as a whole in May 2007. We lived off of the department until May 2008. And then we were totally out of money. We couldn’t fix broken machines, I had to beg or borrow for any supplies I needed, and all of the techs and research associates were let go.

I had my last committee meeting in June. I had called it because my support on the departmental training grant ran out, and my boss couldn’t pay me. I talked to all of my committee members individually about the issue. I also talked to a bunch of other departmental people. They all told me that finding the money wasn’t my job—they would support me. They all gave me this rah-rah speech about the end game being the hardest, just hang in there, etc.

Well, when my stupid experiments still weren’t working consistently, I decided to call another meeting last week. Here is what I emailed out:

Hello. I would like to schedule a thesis committee meeting as soon as possible. I’ve included the best dates and times below. The focus of this meeting is not primarily on my scientific experiments (although I will give an overview of where we are). It is more to talk about general issues such as lab space, projected dates and funding, and the dreaded “plan b”. Specifically, Dr. B and I have been discussing the following issues:

  1. Dr. B’s lab is closing in the near future. It is currently only Dr. B, me, and a fellow in the lab. We have discussed that I would benefit by moving into a more active lab sooner rather than later. This would not involve switching projects, but physically moving into different space.
  2. I am still struggling with antibody issues. I’ve had some results that look positive, but repeat experiments are inconsistent, even under the same conditions. I’ll talk about what I’ve tried and where I am with things, but we need to discuss what else to try to finish up my current project.
  3. The last, and largest, issue is to talk about my projected path. It is obvious that finishing the PhD in time to re-enter medical school this November is not an option. We need to figure out: how long physiology will fund me; what else I can do to expand my thesis; and what are the potential hurdles I face. Part of this discussion is “plan b.” As I mentioned at my last meeting, my goal is to finish my PhD and return to medical school. Despite all of the frustrating speed bumps I’ve hit in my PhD, I still have an interest in research. I feel as though my thesis is my baby of sorts, and I would hate to abandon it, especially after so much hard work. I am frustrated that so much of what I have done hasn’t worked, and I know that non-productive experiments don’t progress a thesis. But I have worked very hard to get this far, and I am committed to working hard to doing whatever needs to be done to finish.
At the same time, I think we need to have an honest and open conversation about worse case scenario. I am quickly approaching November—if we need to use “plan b” and send me back to medical school without completing my PhD, I’d like to decide that sooner rather than later. Getting back to medical school in November means I graduate medical school in 2010. Waiting after that puts graduation at 2011.

Again, I’d like to say that I don’t want to abandon the PhD. But if the issues mentioned can’t be resolved, I at least need to know what my options are.

So, if we could plan to have a conversation about these issues and others, I’d appreciate it. I know much of this was discussed while I was out of the room at my last meeting, but I’d like to be a bigger part of the discussion this time.

I know this is short notice, and I know it is bad timing with the start of the fall semester. I really apologize for that. But if you could make it to any of these times, please let me know. You can either tell me your preferences for times, or let me know if there are times you CANNOT make it.

I really appreciate all of your help with this. Please bring any other thoughts or concerns with you to the meeting. I’ll let you know as soon as a consensus on timing is reached.

I got good feedback about the email. I even had an offer from a professor across the hall—who wasn’t even on my committee—for lab space and stipend support until May. Talking to Dr. B, it sounded like the plan would likely be that I take my current project and move into a new space to finish up.

I knew that there were several other scenarios that could play out. And I had a long talk with Tim, God, myself, and anyone else who would listen about what each of those scenarios would mean. Ultimately, I decided to just let go and trust that the right one would work out, whatever one that was.

We had the meeting last Wednesday. As is typical, the meeting begins by me leaving the room and the committee discussing amongst themselves. At my last meeting, they did this for over half an hour. Even though I expressly said in my email that I wanted to be a bigger part of the discussion, they took another half hour to themselves this time.

I went in and gave my overview of current data results as well as my questions. A few of my committee members asked me some scientific questions. Then they asked me what I wanted to do about my situation. My goal was to finish out this crappy project, get my second paper, take the time I had while I was waiting for my paper and start a better project (in a related, but not exactly the same, area) that I could use as a chapter to my thesis even if it didn’t turn into a whole paper. Then I could defend and go back to medical school July 2009, which graduates me in 2011.

This was along the lines of what my committee had been telling me—just finish this up, write it up, and then flesh out the dissertation a bit with either other unrelated projects I’ve already done or something short-term.

I waited for their response. And I didn’t like what I heard.

They all agreed that the lab was not a good environment for me. However, they also didn’t think the project was worth keeping. I’ve been having antibody issues for ages, and they made the comment that even if I get the antibody to work, there’s no guarantee the science will work the way I want it do (Duh, that’s why they call them experiments). So, since there were no guarantees on the project, they thought it was best to just abandon it.

They said that left me with two options: move to a new lab and start a new project, or “cut bait” as it were and go back to med school.

If I started a new lab, there would be no guarantees on my time. It may take me another three years to get a project completed—and really, that was if things went well. And I would be limited in my choice because I needed a physiology lab with enough money to support me. Considering we have lost 60% of our faculty since our former department head left in 2005, that is a tough sell. No one has funding.

Or, if I went back to medical school, I could basically write up what I have, get a master’s, and go back in November. Of course, I would be footing the bill. Which means I go from making $20,000 a year to owing $43,500 in tuition (plus cost of living).

My committee said time and again that they were thinking of my best interest. It was their recommendation to go back to medical school.

I was in a bit of shock. Prior to my meeting, I would’ve put the odds at 90/10 finish the PhD/go back to med school. Nothing anyone had mentioned indicated otherwise. And yet, in half an hour, they had decided this.

They did say that if I wanted to commit to another lab, they would support me. But they mentioned that three labs with three projects totaling 7 or 8 years of PhD alone is a lot to ask of anyone.

I was hurt, but I held the tears in. I told them that I appreciated their honesty, and I would think about it and get back to them. They all had some very nice things to say about me—especially Dr. B, who is the last person on earth I would have expected that from. He went on for a long time about how hard I work and how committed I was. He said he would’ve given up a long time ago. No one said any of this was my fault; in fact, they went out of their way to say it wasn’t.

It’s hard to believe that though. I mean really, they are asking me to give up on my PhD. I’ve slaved for four years—and they want me to walk away? And of course, I am thinking of all of the people I know who have gotten their PhD with much less sacrifice (and not great science, either). I’m immediately feeling like a failure.

My committee dispersed quickly. Dr. B had to go teach a lecture, which was just as well because I wasn’t ready to talk to him. My committee chair hung around and tried to give me a pep talk about how “science is luck” and “only 50% of students make it.” If that 50% number is supposed to make me feel better, he failed miserably.

Margie, one of the professors on my committee, hung around for a while after. She had been a postdoc in Bill’s lab when I was an undergrad, so I’ve known her for almost ten years. When it was just her and I, we both lost it. We’re both crying—she feels terrible, I feel awful. She only joined my committee six months ago. She told me when she joined, she couldn’t believe my committee had let my lab issues go on that long. She felt like they failed me.

I feel like everyone failed me. I had two programs responsible for helping me succeed, and neither one had my back. MSTP couldn’t support me financially, but they could’ve put pressure on people. And physiology is supposed to help me be successful. Instead, they were the one that put me into this situation when Frank left.

After the meeting, I ran into one of the other PIs. She said that I should fight—I should call everyone I know and complain. She said it isn’t my fault that the department is falling apart, that I ended up in a terrible lab (she had some very choice things to say about Dr. B), and that my committee let it get to this point. In theory, I agree with her. However, I know I am not the only student that had had this issue. The department guidelines are very clear. If they make an exception for me, there will be 30 students in line behind me asking for their own exceptions. I understand why physiology can’t do that. But it doesn’t mean I like it.

And I’m tired of fighting. I’m worn out. Being in constant lab drama for four years has just broken me. If everyone is giving me a pass to leave, I want to take it. They all said positive things, and I think they would all write letters of reference in my favor at this point. But if things are so positive, then why can’t I finish?

I haven’t had a lot of anger, but I’ve had a lot of sadness. I know that mentally and emotionally, I can’t do another lab switch. I still have no guarantee on time—who’s to say that I won’t have the same situation three years from now? That leaves me with going back to med school. Really, I feel like that is my only option.

I have so much going on with me right now. I had this same decision to make when Frank left in 2005. I decided to stay, mostly for two reasons: pride and money.

I’m not proud in the sense that I am pushy or boastful (or at least, that’s how I feel—I could be wrong). I’m proud in the sense that I can’t let people tell me that I can’t do something. When Frank left, I had only been in the PhD a little over a year. I felt like I didn’t know for sure if I wanted to do research or medicine. I didn’t have enough experience in either to make a guess. And I knew I’d probably get one paper out of what I had done. How long could it possibly take me to get another paper in another lab?

Plus, I didn’t want to walk away from the stipend and start having to pay for school. I figured things would work out. So I went into Dr. B’s lab.

Here I am, three years later. I have to abandon my pride and my stubbornness and do exactly what I didn’t want to do three years ago. And what do I have to show for it? Three of the most miserable years of my life. The lab has been hell on earth. The sacrifices I’ve made, the weekends and other hours I’ve lost on a project that didn’t work. I’ll never get that back.

But, I told myself before my meeting even started that I would accept whatever situation resulted. If it’s taken three years of misery for me to realize this isn’t my thing, then so be it. I am terribly pig-headed. If nothing else, this is a good life lesson.

Of course, I’ve already started stressing about the emotional ramifications. I’m no longer an MSTP student, or a physiology student. I’m “just” a med student. As Tim put it, being “just” a med student is hardly inconsequential. But when I’ve had six years of people oohing and aahing over being an MD/PhD student, it’s hard to accept that I now have to tell everyone I know that I have failed. I’m not going to be a doctor/doctor. I won’t have that PhD that I was hoping to celebrate next year. And I’m going to have to relive it over and over again every time I run into someone I haven’t seen in a while.

“How’s your PhD? When are you going back to med school?”

“Well, I decided to drop the PhD and get a master’s degree. So I’m going back to med school in November.”

“Why? What happened? What about tuition, and getting a good residency/fellowship, and . . . "

The list goes on. And I am going to have to have that conversation over and over and over again.

Ultimately, it’s just losing my pride, sucking it up, and telling the truth. It’s going to be an ego bash every single time, but again, maybe that’s the life lesson.

The money is a different story. While the pride is just emotional, the money is a very real concern. We had a baby because we made room in the budget for day care. We bought a new house because we made room in the budget for the mortgage payment. We’ve made every money decision based on two incomes (although mine wasn’t much). There are some things we can cut out of the budget—our one monthly splurge, satellite TV for $60 a month, may be the first to go. But we’ve always lived frugally. There isn’t a lot of fat to trim. If we had known I’d be paying for med school, I’m sure we never would’ve bought this house, and we probably would never have had a baby. But we can’t really take either of them back—not that we’d want to. I’m sure in this market, selling would mean a huge loss, which is an additional financial liability in itself. And I wouldn’t trade Sophie for anything.

The loan, while sucky, isn’t the end of the world. If we live frugally for a few years once I am practicing, we can pay it off. I’m worried about getting the cost of living money covered by the loan. We need $1000 a month for daycare and baby expenses. We could let the rest go (somehow…). But the med school website says that if the med student is married, they expect them to cover all of the living expenses. Plus, they may even expect us to kick in a little money for tuition.

This is where I haven’t gotten any answers yet. I’ve sent some emails out, both to the registrar about returning to the curriculum and to financial aid about the loans. There are still a lot of ifs out there. I’m hoping to have more answers soon.

I’ve so far only managed to tell some people at school (basically, Kim plus whoever ran into me in the hallway after my meeting) and our immediate families. We had dinner with my parents on Wednesday night, and dinner with Tim’s parents on Thursday. Basically, they want to beat the crap out of everyone involved. It’s very sweet how protective they are of me. I think they understand my fears pretty well. They are doing their best to be supportive.

Tim’s been great too. He was most worried about the money, but once I explained about the loans, he’s calmed down some. We’re also a little stressed about if and when we’ll have another baby. The thought had been to have the next one January 2011 or so—a little over 3 years apart. That way, the baby would be 6 months old when I started residency. And hopefully I’d have some free time in 4th year to spend at home. Now, we’ve either got to bump that up to January 2010—a date a little too near in the future for us—or wait until 2012 (I do not want to be pregnant during my first year of residency). 2012 means Sophie is 5—that’s a bit more of a gap than we want. So, that’s an entirely different issue we need to resolve.

I’m hanging in there. Besides the initial cry fest I had with Margie after the meeting, I’ve been pretty stoic. When life events happen, I either go into crisis management mode, or I have a total freak out. The crisis management happens much more often (unless I am pregnant, then it’s freak out time). And that’s where I’ve been—making lists, developing plans, and trying to be rational and calm. I’ve had a few moments of despair, little to no anger, and most of the self-pity/anxiety I’ve been able to hide under the surface pretty well.

I know I’ll need time to mourn all of this sometime in the future. But with November coming up fast (and hopefully starting in October, if I can swing it), I’ve got to get things figured out. I can have a nice pity party sometime in the future.

I guess that’s it. I’m going to ask a few more people for suggestions, but barring some kind of miracle, I’m going to quit the PhD and go back to med school.

It’s going to be tough, but there is a part of me that’s happy to at least have a plan. So much has been in limbo during the PhD, and up until this last meeting, I feel like I’ve never been able to get straight answers. This is going to be tough for a million different reasons. But I have to ask myself: twenty years from now, is this going to be a big deal? I am counting on the answer being no.

Sophie’s been sick and fussy the last few weeks, so Tim has been staying home with Sophie while I go to church. This was the first week in a while we all went together. We were sitting in the cry room when the homily started. The priest started by saying, “Have you ever felt like life was unfair? Have you ever done your part, fulfilled your responsibilities, and not had things work out the way they were promised?”

I looked at Tim, then I looked up. “Ok, I get it,” I said.

Tim thought it was actually a bit creepy how much the sermon applied to me. The punch line was that things don’t always work out the way you want them to, but everything happens for a reason. If you stay on the path, despite all of the injustices that come your way, things will work out in the end.

I’ve got a lot of questions I need answered. And my first one to everyone I talk to will be, “Is there any way I can salvage my PhD and be done in a year?” I figure it’s a long shot, but it’s worth asking.

If the answer is no, which I expect it to be, then I will move ahead with planning to go back to med school in November with a mountain of loans.

I’ve had a few freak outs this weekend (things like, “I own two pairs of dress pants and one nice shirt. How am I going to be able to afford dress clothes before med school starts?”). They’ve been mostly inconsequential, but last night I didn’t sleep at all. It wasn’t so much anxiety about the med school issues. It was knowing that I have to come back in and face my committee members—and my boss. I’d be happier just walking away and never seeing any of them again. But that isn’t a very adult way to handle things. I will hopefully talk to more people and get more answers in the coming days. For now, you know as much as I know.