Monday, May 04, 2009

Change of pace

It's really amazing to me how much a change in my lab situation has changed my life. Maybe I shouldn't be shocked by this--my workplace does consume more of my waking hours than any other location in my life. Still, I thought that I could handle a terrible work situation and not have it affect me as deeply as it did. Being in a new place definitely shows me how wrong about that I was.

I've been in my new lab less than six months, and the difference is amazing. I'm not going to say that we'll win Nobel prizes for our research or anything. And any workplace has a few quirks. Still, to be in a lab that I don't dread...astounding. I've got data, I got to present my work at a research symposium, and I got to go to a large national scientific meeting. The lab has people that support each other. We have weekly lab meetings to make sure we are on the same page. My boss sends me papers to review. This is how things were suppose to be.

Part of me (most of me) wishes I could have back the four years I spent in Frank's lab and in Dr. B's lab. I especially wish I could have the three years in Dr. B's lab!! I think about how much of my soul I poured into that project, trying so hard to get it to work. And now, I talk to members of my thesis committee from that time, and they all say how that wasn't a project, how they kept pushing for a plan B, and how Dr. B wouldn't change.

Those were, by far, the worst three years of work life I've ever had. But, I also had Sophie in that time. She was the bright spot, and so I wouldn't wish away those three years if it means I wouldn't have her. And I learned a lot about myself during that time. I learned how stubborn I am, how proud I am, and how much I need to learn to stand up for myself. I was submitted to sexual harassment constantly--not in the "I'd-like-to-be-in-your-pants" way but in the "women-are-worthless-and-inferior" way. When I tell people what Dr. B said to me about being American, being a woman, being married, and then having a baby, they are shocked. But this is routine in the culture around me. Much worse things have been said to other people.

That time last fall, when I was deciding whether to go back to med school without the PhD or join my third lab, was probably the toughest decision I ever had to make. I don't think there was a right or wrong. And I knew there was a lot of risk involved with choosing to stick with the PhD and join a third lab. But, looking back, I am happy with my decision. I've had faculty members from several departments tell me how proud they are that I decided to stick with it. One of my committee members was telling me at my meeting a few weeks ago exactly how things went down. Basically, at that last meeting in Dr. B's lab, my thesis committee knew I was getting shafted, and they knew I needed out of Dr. B's lab. They couldn't tell me to join a third lab--they didn't think it was fair to me after all I'd been through. So, they gave me the option to take a master's and go back to med school.

This means that now, with the exception of Dr. B, every single committee member has told me in person that they wanted me to stay in the PhD but they didn't want to force me into it. I feel very supported by that. And seeing now what I've been able to accomplish in six months--it's an amazing feeling. Three years in the lab from hell made me feel like I was the problem. I'm not.

I'm liking science again. I love to read papers, and I was completely enthralled by several of the talks at my scientific meeting. I love talking science to other people. I love having a project that I am actually interested in. I'm not sure that I am ready to say that I want to run a lab in the future. I think I still like clinical way too much for that. But I am no longer dreading the research time I will have in my clinical fellowship. I hope I get to do something fantastic!

I do wish that this MD/PhD wouldn't have taken ten years by the time it is all done. There's a very slim chance that I would go back this November, but all signs point to next July. That means that my MD class (who graduated in 2006) will be finishing fellowships when I graduate. And my MSTP class will be graduating just as I am going back to med school. Depressing. It also means that I have one year of PhD, two years of med school, three years of residency, and three years of fellowship left. That's nine years from now until I have a real job!

This timeline used to really freak me out. But now that I am enjoying what I am doing, I'm not in as much of a hurry. Yes, it will be wonderful to make more that the graduate stipend I make now. But we are happy and can make it on what we have (it involves avoiding $1500 car repairs like I had to this weekend, but oh well). So we won't be taking vacations or driving new cars any time soon. But we'll be ok. We'll be better than ok.

Sure, I have freakouts. I think about how I am going to have another child in that time. My biology won't let me wait until I am all done with school, and I don't think I want to have 11 years between kids anyway. And thinking about having another baby, which means more daycare, is definitely going to be tough. I had a moment this weekend, after I found out that Sophie's daycare isn't going down as much as we had planned, that Tim's company is giving no raises this year, and that my car needs some serious work done to it. I looked at those numbers and knew we couldn't do another baby in day care. But then I calmed down and realized we didn't have to right now. We're waiting a while, and who knows how things will be then? God has taken care of us this far. I need to learn to have a little more faith--and a lot more patience--about these things.

The lack of blogging recently has been partially due to the insane busyness of working two jobs with a toddler and a busy spouse. But part of it is too that I feel like I just have the same old things to say. When I'm bummed, it's usually due to either my weight, money, or the weather. Same old. And the funny thing is, none of those things has changed in many years. I actually found an excel spreadsheet (go ahead and laugh) with some diet stuff on it from 2004. You know what? My weight then was the same as it is now. I can either be sad that I haven't lost weight, or I can be grateful that I've found ways to cope with stress outside of food.

And I don't have any control over the weather, so that's pointless. As for money, we've budgeted every penny. There isn't anything left over, but we also aren't going into debt. So that is something to be thankful for.

I'm trying hard to not tie my happiness to minor issues. I'm not a number on a scale or a total in my bank account. When I can finally look at the big picture, I'm happier and more grateful. It makes for a better me, but it's not exactly compelling blog reading :) I haven't had as much time for hobbies like bargain hunting or gardening (despite my best intentions), but I'm enjoying the spare minutes I get to spend with family and friends. I've been long overdue for some life simplification. I'm working on it, but hopefully I am moving in the right direction.

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