Power trips of the powerless

As part of being a post-doc in a new institution, I need to undergo training for equipment, procedures, etc. that I am already quite familiar with.  But, because of historical issues, my new department has put in place training modules that require assessment and approval before I can use their facilities.

One such area that I’ve had to address recently is the use of the microscope facilities.  Having limited experience, I welcomed the idea of actual microscope training by a qualified instructor.  Instead, the “training course” was a series of videos that identified each part of a microscope and the general turning on/off of each instrument.  That’s all acceptable, if unsatisfactory.

EarlyMicroscopeMammoth

The problem began when the assessment course was administered by the “Department Engineer”, essentially a glorified technician. (I went to an engineering college, and you sir, are no engineer.)  This “engineer” feels the need to exert his unfounded power on helpless post-docs and students to make himself feel better, all the while holding us captive because we can’t move on with our research until he says so.  The assessment course was written in broken English by him, of course, and he feels the need to lecture you on the questions you got wrong before allowing you to use the facilities.

Let me be perfectly honest, there is nothing that makes me twitch and shake with anger faster than being condescended to.

phd-frustration-072707s-crop

It is impossible to relate here the manner in which he corrected me on the room number (seriously, I know where the room is, why do I need to know the room number?), the fact that he is the department engineer responsible (with illustration of his “title” on his email signature), and that I underestimated the magnification required to see bacteria on a tape strip.  I doubt he could tell me the difference between bacteria and viruses, but that’s beside the point. Unfortunately, I did not meet his criteria for passing, he categorized my performance along with a specific racial group (so not cool, dude. way to be racist.), and I had to take the test again.

Luckily, this time, I did pass, but still with a few answers wrong, including, again, the room number. Ha!  Take that! He didn’t miss the opportunity to be condescending again, even in an email (highlighted):

microscope results

At least today, I can respond to this email with laughter instead of angry eye twitches.  My boss offered up a bottle of champagne to celebrate, or to use as a weapon, my choice.  At least my boss gets it.  I was this close to making Mr. Engineer address me as Dr.!

Juggling Act

doing it anyway

As a post-doc, wife, and a mother of two (2.5 years old and 9 months old), I’m often asked “How do you do it?”.

The truthful answer is – barely.

I’m certainly not excelling in any area of my life, whether as a post-doc, wife, or mother.  I’m really just getting by in each area. On top of that, I have no life.  Seriously, if you asked me today what I do for fun, I would have no idea how to answer you.  I used to do lots of things – go out with friends, go running or hiking, read a book, sew, go shopping, go to the movies, etc.  My weekends are now filled with laundry, errands, and wiping bums.

I love it.

You might not have expected that, right?  How could that be fun?  If not fun, it is incredibly fulfilling.  I have a job I love, a supportive husband, two beautiful girls, what more could I ask for?  Ok, maybe more sleep.

towel10 years ago, when I was struggling with the decision to go back to school or not, the lingering doubt in my mind was whether there would ever be a “good” time to have a family and would I be willing to make sacrifices in order to “have it all”.  Luckily, a good friend and colleague of mine had just finished her post-doc, was just starting her family, and wished she hadn’t waited, telling me that grad school was the most flexible time of her life.  I took her advice and experiences to heart and had my first daughter a few months after proposing my thesis research and my second just one month after defending that research.

In order to make it all work, I need support in every aspect of my life.  I need a husband that is willing to step in and assume some of my roles/duties when I need to go to work at midnight for growth curve media collection, and I need a boss that understands that daycare closes at 5:30 and I need to be out of here in time to pick up my littles.  It’s definitely a juggling act and one slip could cause everything to crash.  I live in a constant state of anxiety and guilt, feeling that I’m not living up to expectations.  But those expectations are only imposed by me.  If I stop to listen to the people around me, asking how I do it, it’s because we’re succeeding, somehow.

sleeping children

Somehow, my experiments get done.

Somehow, my children are clean, fed, and well behaved.

Somehow, my husband and I have 30 minutes each night to crash on the couch together and just catch our breath.

I tell myself, over and over, that all things are temporary and this crazy phase of life will soon pass…, only to be replaced by new kinds of crazy (think ballet lessons, grant deadlines, etc.).  But it’s working, and I have so much to be proud of.  So, while I may not be winning prestigious awards or getting nominated for Mommy-of-the-Year anytime soon, I am awarded with happy kids and a husband that love me, and slow-but-steady progression of research.

rosie

Also posted on my mummy blog at http://ticklebugz.blogspot.com/2013/01/juggling-act.html

Selecting a Mentor

Plan B, in case grad school didn't work out
Plan B, in case grad school didn't work out

When I started graduate school, I had been working for 6 years in the biotech industry.  Having had a handful of bosses during that time, I thought I knew how to choose a mentor.  In fact, I put much more weight on choosing the project than on the mentor itself.  I had it all wrong.

I’ve mentioned how my thesis mentor was less than traditional.  When I joined his lab, I hadn’t even rotated with him previously.  But I was infatuated with the project and the science and thought that would carry me through.

Read moreSelecting a Mentor