Consistency, or a lack thereof

For the past month or so, I have had very little stability as I have been in a state of flux and unknowing. Will I get the job I interviewed for and finally get to officially settle down and start a permanent life? Finally live together with the Grackle and all of our little fur faces and have a consistent life instead of the temporary one I’ve been in for most, if not all of my adult life?

Well, although I don’t have official confirmation, I am 98% sure that isn’t happening. It has been pretty difficult to deal with and pretty depressing. All of my 1 out of 200 rejections are accepted almost as a given but to be 1 out of 5 and get rejected after they meet me, hear about my research and enjoy my sparking personality (to say nothing of my cute shoes) is getting me down about my prospects in academia altogether*

In addition to the soul crushing job market, the snowstorms in my area and a faulty transmission in Grackle’s car have conspired to keep us apart for most of February. I was able to get home this weekend for the first time since Feb 3rd…. but am leaving for field-work on Friday so it will be at least 6 weeks till we see each other again. The whole point of taking a geographically close postdoc was so that we didn’t have to go 3 months without seeing each other!

Given all this, it doesn’t really seem like anything is consistent these days. Who knows what I will be working on come next year, where I might be in 18 months, if I will ever get a job, etc etc. But then as I contemplated just how much of a pity party my writing about continuity really was turning out to be, I thought about what it was we did this weekend.

We sat around our house and were completely boring. We watched sports and worked and played backgammon. The most exciting part of the trip was a visit to the antique mall where we found a three-faced dog planter (see below). Despite the snooze factor, the weekend was exactly like most weekends and has shown just how much consistency/continuity there can be in the mundane aspects of everyday life. This is actually quite comforting. The pets will always provide entertainment, Grackle will always do something sweet** and we will never get as much cleaning done as we plan.

This perspective is helping me accept the results of this years job search and remember that nothing is really so bad. It is fine I didn’t get what I thought was the perfect job and it is fine that weather and work and cars all seem to be working against me. The fundamental aspects of my life remain consistent and that is more than enough.

*I know that on my first year on the market that I am very lucky to have even gotten an interview and am grateful for the experience. Also know that search committees make decisions for all sorts of reasons and it shouldn’t be taken personally. Rejection still stinks, though.

**While out for dog food, he bought me an office chair so we can both sit comfortably while working/watching tv.


My new minion

I have a new undergraduate to help keep me busy in these dark days of waiting. She has worked 3 days this week so far and I am beyond impressed. My previous student was awful. Didn't even know how to set up an Excel spreadsheet. I had to sit next to her every minute in the lab to keep her on task. She was uninterested, unengaged and I'm not sure why she was there. New student (I'll think of a name soon) picks up quick on data analysis, cares about what it is we are doing and wants to go to grad school someday. I could see her taking a major part of a project, doing the analysis and making it into a longer term project than just one semester.
After holding the last students hand through everything she did, I took a new approach with this student. We started small and she completed a small project in one day. Previous student would've taken 1.5 weeks! Now I am throwing things at her just to see how much she can handle. She is mastering everything well so far and I think we will actually be able to trust her to generate important data.
Now I just hope she doesn't get bored with the analysis and decide to leave!


perfect timing!

Of course, I returned to the blog just in time to travel with no internet and unbloggable activities. Until I know more, I'll say that my interview is over. Also, wow. And finally, holy shit!

Now I get to return to regular lab life and trying to keep myself busier than ever to get my mind off of the waiting game. If you click through, you might have noticed that none of my goals or tasks in the list on the right have changed. That is because none of them have actually been completed. Still. So it is time to do something about that.
In addition to the personal motivation, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (the postdoc advisor) has declared the next 6 weeks the time for "Manuscripts, manuscripts, manuscripts!!!" Even the grad students are all chirping away with this new mantra. Hopefully this will be productive and distracting enough to keep little ol' anxiety-ridden me in a sane state of mind...


Another try

I've been a busy little beaver but really miss blogging. So let's do this, blog! Here is a quick run down on my last 6 weeks...
  • Thanksgiving was nice with Grackle and the pets but tinged with sadness due to good friends husband passing away that morning.
  • After the wake the following week, I cut my thumb very badly and ended up in the ER. It wasn't too serious but a real annoyance. Most lab work requires two working thumbs. Plus, I couldn't get it wet for 2 weeks so washing my hair and doing dishes were real adventures.
  • Went to the midwest for the holidays. Always nice to see family and friends. We were relaxed and happy because I had just found out that....
  • I got an interview for a tenure track position. It is coming up soon and seems too good to be true. I'd really love this position.
  • Been busy at work! I now have multiple major grants pending for more money than I can imagine. That jump from small student grants to big grants just happens- like magic- and I know funding rates and resubmissions and everything but just having it out there seems like a good accomplishment in itself.
  • I started running again with a goal of 100 miles by April 1. I'm at 16.3 so far.

Ok! All caught up! Back to regularly scheduled blogging!


Thanksgiving plans

With our families a 13 hour drive away, Grackle and I haven't been 'home' for Thanksgiving in about 5 years. Our second date was Thanksgiving dinner at a friends' house so we typically use it to celebrate our dating anniversary*.
The day is usually pretty relaxing. Grackle makes sure the kitchen is filled with good music so I can dance around while I cook, we eat our big meal (and usually too much pie), watch football and I usually do some crafting. It was after a particularly wine filled Thanksgiving meal that I decided to knit a cat sweater**...
Our menu is always filled with standards and Midwestern favorites: honey-brined Turkey breast, stuffing, green bean casserole and mashed potatoes. This year I am also making a butternut squash side dish, baking bread from scratch for the stuffing and trying out a new pie. It is the first time I'm making pie crust from scratch. I doubt I'll knit anything crazy, as a friend has a baby on the way that needs a finished blanket. But I also have a strange desire to do some Origami...

I hope everybody (if there is anybody still around reading this) has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

*Despite being married we still celebrate this in addition to our wedding anniversary. I'm not one to get rid of celebrations.
**turns out, cats really do not like wearing sweaters.


Dr for a year

Saturday was the first anniversary of defending my dissertation.

This milestone seems pretty unreal but also worth mentioning. I never had any expectations that finishing my degree would translate into anything meaningful in my day to day life and it hasn't. Even in my daily life doing science. Compared to the last year or so of grad school, my first year as a postdoc has been more challenging intellectually and I've become more convinced than ever that I really know very, very little.
This isn't surprising given that I made a pretty big leap in subfield between grad school and postdoc. And I know that my degree gave the experiences and knowledge necessary to be able to forge ahead in these new areas.
But still, there is some sort of dark humor in that getting the phd establishes me as an expert of some sort in what I worked on but my postdoc requires that I become incredibly comfortable acknowledging my vast intellectual shortcomings in the new field.

At least it gave me a good excuse to cook a fancy dinner!


Ball dropped, again.

Alright! 21 days into InaDWriMo 09 and I have yet to update. It might not turn out so well this year. But things are still getting done- just different things!
The official update on projects:
1) Decent progress made. I've got 1700 words or about 5 pages of...stuff. Hopefully by Sunday night it will be in some sort of readable form since I am sending it to Rt-H at that point. It is really similar to a proposal that was funded a few years ago and I am struggling to make mine different at least in wording and structure. The best argument is x, y and z. But I have that other grant, which also sets it up as x, y and z. I feel like I am copying but there is no other way to say it!
5) Since this is the same as 1, I have made 1700 words of progress! Woo!
2 and 3) Haven't touched them.
4) Also haven't touched but should get to it this week.

So, what HAVE I been doing? There was another writing task that didn't make my list. A revision of 'paper with too many authors.' I am first author on this thing but my PhD advisor wrote it and is last/corresponding author. It is a weird situation but he doesn't want to be first and out of all of us, I had invested most in it. I get the paper, thinking that I would have to add a couple references and that would be it. Nope. It took over a week of re-writing to make sense of some new data that he added and negotiate how to say many of my critical comments in a way that will hurt no ones feelings. 'Paper with too many authors' indeed.

I also started working on a new project to get preliminary data for my grants. It has been so long that I forgot the voodoo that is bench work. It is really cool when it works though! I also gave an invited seminar (more on this later), spent a weekend doing awesome-physical-activity in a wild and wonderful state, applied for a bunch of jobs and am now working from PhD Town home for the rest of the month. Writing is always better when surrounded by pets, right?


Writing Month returns!

That's right it is InaDWriMo 2009! Last year was pretty awesome and it helped me graduate in time to start my pretty, pretty postdoc.

This year, I am going to
1) write a fellowship proposal- Due Dec. 1. and is 10 or so pages.
2) revise chapter 1 of my dissertation for publication- yikes! After writing it last year it is still not out. Been submitted and rejected once. Gotta get this baby out again this month!
3) revise chapter 2 of my dissertation for publication- Needs a few things- a new graph, an new spin and some references. Should be a gimmie!
4) write first major postdoc paper- I am working on analyses right now but that shouldn't keep me from getting the methods, and intro done!
5) write small grant- this will be very similar to the fellowship proposal so shouldn't be too big a thing

Even though it is the 3rd, I haven't done much. A page of #4. Hopefully I will rock some of this out the rest of this week!


Also in my absence

A few other things that happened when I was gone:
  • I cut my hair. Probably about 10 inches off and above my shoulders for the first time since my first year of grad school. I had a serious case of hipster-hair and needed some new (although belated) postdoc hair. Of course, it has been 2 (+) months and I haven't had it re-cut but I want to keep it short and sassy for a while!
  • I started getting into awesome-physical-activity in a more serious way, getting all my own gear and making a commitment to a year of partaking in the fun. A-P-A really requires a lot of focus and thus, is worthwhile pursuing while I am in Postdoc City. Often I come home from lab, eat and open my computer to work some more. Now at least there are a few hours every few days that I am completely away from the computer and restricted from even thinking about work. It is good for non-work related life difficulties as well. Working through my A-P-A related goals helps keep me positive despite missing the Grackle and Company. Plus, my guns* are as sweet as ever!
  • I got a Mac. It was time to finally make the switch and time to have an apple in the family. The switch itself is still underway. Two important programs are missing from the new machine and I need to secure them asap. Other than that, I love the design and how it works. Luckily, my MS lab was mac and I use them currently in my lab so I am familiar with the finer points of using these things. My machine is great!
  • I got an iPhone. Continuing with the materialistic theme, this phone is amazing. I'm still in the honeymoon phase and hope that I don't continue to be that obnoxious girl with her phone. Or at least I hope I stop being self conscious about it. The best thing yet- I use it to take notes during seminars and lab meetings. My handwriting is atrocious and it is so nice to be able to make sense of my notes post meeting!

*'Please stop referring to your arms as guns'


Questioning your research

Today one of the senior grad students in my lab asked me if, when I was a grad student, I ever felt like my research was crap and questioned if the hours, weeks, years of effort put into the research was really worth it.
Obviously she doesn't read any blogs.
My answer was a resounding yes. Having not yet published my dissertation, I'm still half convinced that it isn't good enough! Anyway, I tried to reassure her that pretty much all grad students question their decisions and research at one time or another. Even the confident, brilliant, successful ones (I'm lucky to count some of them as my friends). At this point, another grad student, a 2nd year who is just starting to figure out his research plan, skeptically asked, 'Everybody? So you think I will too?'
Seriously, does no one read blogs?
My answer was, again, a resounding yes and that it would probably be when he and his fiance want to start a family but he has 2 field seasons left that will require long trips and long hours in the lab with no weekends off. The look on his face told me I nailed it.

Having dealt with impostor syndrome, questioning my research and thinking it is crap is pretty second nature to me. I want to know what these students are doing to get through grad school without second guessing themselves!