Tuesday, May 19, 2009


As of next week, we will have two new graduate students joining the lab.  I have decided to call them my little ducklings, since they’re each going to be taking on about a third of my projects.  (Which is indicative of how insane my lab life has become.  That’s right…I have enough crap going on to happily split between three of us with very, very little overlap.)  Of course, they’re also going to be my little ducklings because other FGS will be on maternity leave soon and the golden child is clearly too important to help lowly new graduate students.  Which leaves me. 

I feel like I should be a touch upset about the whole situation.  I have no doubt that it’s going to be a lot of extra time and effort for me.  Duckling 2 is fairly independent and I trust her to do most of the experiments I think she should be doing in the next month or so.  Duckling 1, however, may be a bit high maintenance. 

When Duckling 1 rotated in the lab, Post-doc Friend was supervising her.  After Post-doc Friend left the lab, Duckling 1 was sort of left to me, but I did a horrendous job training her.  It was just an out and out failure on my part.  She learned really only one of the many techniques that we use, and it’s one that any monkey with a pipette can handle.  This coupled with her personality as well as the pace at which she works have led me to believe that she will be a bigger drain on my time.

When Duckling 2 rotated in the lab, I did a much better job.  I learned from my mistakes with Duckling 1, and she had a very successful rotation.  She generated some really cool data that I’m excited about, and I’m really glad that she’s coming back (and not just because despite thinking the data’s cool that I really don’t want to go there myself).  I think she’s inherently more independent than Duckling 1, which is why I think she’ll be less of a time sink.  She also learned many more techniques when she rotated, so there will be less introductory time required.

Despite knowing that supervising these ladies is going to be a drain on my time and resources for a while, and despite my general bitterness about the golden child and his contributions and focus, I’m excited.  Duckling 2’s rotation was the first time I had really mentored someone, and I am realizing that I really enjoyed it.  I’m hopeful about the ducklings starting in the lab.  I’m hopeful that I will be able to teach them and train them and help them avoid mistakes that I’ve made along the way. 

More importantly, the hope that I’m feeling is also for myself.  It’s another little bit of warm fuzzy goodness that makes me think that I really do want to be a PI.  Science has got me down lately, but I’m trying my best to retake control.  I keep trying to remind myself why I’m here, why I love this and where I’m going, but that can be hard.  It’s little tidbits like this that are keeping me afloat right now.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Identity Issues

Last weekend we traveled back to the old home place for Mother’s Day and to celebrate TM’s grandmother’s 90th birthday.  G-ma’s birthday party, a little afternoon reception, was at her little church in this little town* in the middle of nowhere.

It was lovely, and there were a substantial number of little old southern ladies, and I was on my best little southern belle behavior.  I was raised to be a good southern girl, and I can rock that role with the best of ‘em.  Heck, TM’s aunt (that has a degree in home economics from a large SEC school but doesn’t know how to pin a corsage or cut a cake properly) complimented me on it!  I had some serious lulz over that.  

So when I was in between being introduced to every little old lady in the southern half of the state, I was sitting quietly acting like the nicest, loveliest lady in the place* and clutching my pearls as appropriate** and whatnot, I got to thinking.  I was astonished by how different the person I was in that setting is from the person I am most days. 

For that audience, if anyone had asked what I do, I would have simply said that I was a scientist.  My feeling is that would be frowned on.  Maybe I’m wrong.  However, it wasn’t an issue then, and I doubt it ever will be, because none of those little old ladies would ask me what I do.  For some reason, that leaves me with a sense of loss.  I do still have some love for small town life and southern gentility, and I suppose it makes me a little sad that I’ll never really fit into that world again. 

On the flip side, it also makes me wonder what tiny bits and pieces of myself I’ve lost to get to where I am now.  I wonder if scientist me and southern belle me are just different sides of the same coin, or if I’m just playing the roles as needed.  Neither feels fake in the moment, but when they’re juxtaposed so closely it makes me wonder if either is real.  Perhaps I’ll make like Scarlett O’Hara and think about tomorrow at Tara when I can stand it. 

*Population 5000.

**Which I’m SO not—I wasn’t even wearing pantyhose!

***No I’m not making that up.  

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Me and the boys

It’s not at all unusual for me to have very vivid dreams that I remember very clearly.  The dream I had this morning set me to thinking.  In my dream, I was celebrating my 50th birthday, although I looked like I do now.  I was celebrating by going around some sort of outdoor market or festival type thing with a bunch of guys I knew from high school.  That’s the part that got me started thinking.  (The weird part was that I was filling my pockets with honey, there were some amazing sesame meatballs and I was renting a chainsaw for some nefarious purpose.)

Anyway, I was thinking about the fact that here were 6 or 8 smart guys that were good friends of mine and none of my girlfriends.  That’s a little weird, right?  So I got to thinking about which of my girlfriends I would have expected to be included in that particular group.  The conclusion I came to was none of them. 

I almost feel bad for even saying this, but there just weren’t any girls that I went to high school with that were very smart and ambitious.  There were a few that were bright, but me and the boys, we were on a different plane all together. 

Once I got to thinking about it though, I realized that it really always was me and the boys.  On our quiz bowl team in elementary school, it was me and 4 or 5 of the boys from my dream.  In middle school it was me and a couple of those same boys fighting to win the spelling bee or the geography bowl or whatever.  In middle school and high school it was me and a couple of those guys on the math team. 

At the time, I never really thought that much about it.  Those guys were my friends.  Heck, I dated several of them along the way and ultimately married one of them.  Now I think a bit more about gender issues and disparity since it’s such a part of where my life has gone. 

Now I’m trying to decide if growing up like that has helped or hurt me, as far as my ability to handle gender issues in science.  I almost always feel reasonably comfortable being the only woman in a professional gathering.  But I wonder if that level of comfort causes me to overlook some things. 

I also wonder if those experiences have conditioned me to expect less from other women because that’s really all I’ve ever known.  Growing up I never really questioned it.  It just was.  I had female role models that were strong and amazing women, but never anyone that was truly bright and ambitious.  I know there are plenty of brilliant women out there.  That’s one of the biggest reasons I initially fell in love with the blogosphere.  Sometimes I just wish there were a few more brilliant women scientists in my real life.  

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Clawing my way up and out

Things had been going really well for a while.  I had a great talk with Crazy Man about  a paper we’re trying to get out.  For the first time ever I felt like he was actually talking to me as a colleague, and I really liked it.  I even started writing a blog post about it, but that got abandoned mid-sentence a paragraph in, and for the life of me I can’t remember why or bring myself to finish it.

I had also put together a plan to finish experiments and start writing papers.  I’ve been working on a lot of related but distinct projects and I thought things were finally going to start to coalesce.  So I had outlines and timelines and I was really excited.  At some point that all fell apart too, and I haven’t been able to regroup on all of that yet.

I’ve been feeling pretty down the last 3 weeks or so.  I don’t feel like I’m in control.  I’ve been gradually realizing that I have stopped doing little things that make me feel in control.  Little things like cleaning the house and doing laundry and working out and reading blogs that give me a sense of control and accomplishment.  I’ve simply been letting essentially everything go, which is doing nothing but making me feel worse. 

I’ve been trying to make a summary/model figure that Crazy Man suggested for this paper and I just can’t seem to make anything I like.  It’s frustrating me. 

The Golden Child and I have been on the edge of a knockdown drag out for a while now.  Crazy Man came in Friday while the Golden Child was gone and told other FGS and me that we should try to be nicer to him.  I almost lost it.  I don’t get angry often, but I was beyond livid then.  Ugh…that’s another story for another day though.  At the end of the day though, Crazy Man finally realizes why I’m so frustrated and how far my frustration has progressed, and he doesn’t seem to think I’m being unreasonable.  I’m going to try to be more patient with the Golden Child.  We’ll just have to wait and see how that goes.

I’m still not feeling super, and baby fever has been flaring up a bit, which doesn’t help.  I’m trying to get things under control.  I finally folded the month’s worth of laundry that was on the couch.  I scrubbed the bathrooms.  I scooped the litter box.  My calendar and my outlines are in my bag.  I found some new papers I’m excited to read.  (I actually started reading a review yesterday and got a new idea for a mechanism to explain some very old data.)  Honestly, I don’t feel motivated, and I don’t feel very excited about science right now.  But I do still feel driven.  I have a lot of data that I hope is going to translate into a lot of papers.  There is still a flicker of excitement in me somewhere.  Now I just have to keep pushing through and find the motivation to do what needs to be done and fan those flames.  If for no other reason than I want to have 3 times as many publications as the Golden Child.  Hehe…I guess I’ll take motivation from wherever I can.