Monday, April 7, 2008

I'm Back

It’s been over a week since I have simultaneously had both the time and inclination to write a post. I feel like I have been riding some white-water while building the raft along the way.

About a month ago, I decided to repeat some of my experiments because I was not satisfied with the quality of the data, APA (Against PI Advice). I had wanting do this for some time, but my PI had been, to put it mildly, less than enthusiastic about it because he felt we were “close” to being ready to publish, and this would only cause a pointless delay. But I felt I knew better, having lived in close quarters with the data, and decided to do it anyway, and try to smooth any rift this may cause by making sure to have the experiments done and at least partially analyzed before meeting with my PI. I also designed a test of the data, using criteria that we had agreed upon, which showed that the new data set was of much higher quality than the initial set. Happily, the new data was still consistent with our hypothesis. So, when I presented this to my PI, he was only slightly miffed, but suggested that, since I was repeating things anyway, maybe I could try changing just one thing…

This time, I took my PI’s advice, but when I started analyzing the new data, I realized that while most of it was still consistent with everything I had seen before, there was also a small population within the dataset that did not seem to fit into our hypothesis. Outliers? At first I thought I had a new problem, and was dreading my next meeting with my PI. Forget about the fact that it was my turn to present at the next group meeting. I kept analyzing data, and realized that it wasn’t just a few outliers, but over 10% of the measurements! So I looked at that 10% really hard, looked over my background literature and came up with a new hypothesis which could both explain its existence while allowing for the overall consistency of the majority of the data. And, after discussing this with a post-doc in the lab, came up with a couple of tests for this hypothesis that were direct, and relatively easy to do. So, that’s where I was at the time of my last post, and why I was so happy to be analyzing data next to a feverish Thing 2.

But my group meeting was scheduled for Monday, and I could only discuss this in a qualitative way on Thursday. Besides, I was chomping at the bit to take the next steps. So, I talked hubby into staying home with a nearly all better Thing 2 on Friday, so I could try to get something ready to present. I chose to spend Friday doing the simpler test of my hypothesis, foolishly thinking that I could have everything ready for Monday. Oh, I am so, so foolish. Saturday, I pulled an all-nighter, trying to finish analyzing the data with all the outliers AND the test data from Friday. Not humanly possible. I walked home at about 5:30 am, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep before the kids got up. I still needed to put together a coherent presentation for group meeting, but at least I had as full a dataset as possible to support the discussion of my hypothesis. Hubby took the kids out for brunch, and I dragged out my laptop to try to finish up. It wasn’t happening – by the time they got back, I still had a LOT to do. And there were still the demands of the regular Sunday preparation for the week to come. I finally got everything together late Sunday night, after the kids had gone to bed.

The presentation went pretty well. Discussion was lively, and the general consensus was that I am on the right track, and that this new development is, in fact, interesting, and not just to me. I spent the rest of the week picking up all the things I had dropped the week before, while trying to get the new data, since the experiment I did on Friday was not conclusive. Of course, this is when everything began to fall apart. My experiments began to fail, necessitating repetition of things that shouldn’t need to be repeated. Thing 2 became exceptionally needy, crying at the drop-off for daycare and clinging to me in the evening at home. Thing 1 had two doctor appointments, one a check-up for her asthma and the other an eye appointment and fitting for contacts - turns out it's really hard to learn how to insert and remove contacts. Plus, the condo association has decided to hire a plumber to repair everyone’s radiator valves, and it has to be done NOW and in the presence of the unit owner. And of course, hubby can't do any of this stuff, for various reasons. This week, I have to figure out how to win at Catch-up. I’m losing really badly right now.

7 comments:

PhysioProf said...

Sounds like you're turning into a real fucking scientist! Congratulations!

(And by the way, the overwhelmingly vast majority of all experiments ever performed on the face of the Earth fail to provide interpretable data, so get used to that, and really enjoy when you do get good data.)

acmegirl said...

So that explains the burning sensation...

Actually, I'm pretty used to getting crappy data. It's the good stuff I'm not sure how to handle...

PhysioProf said...

The other thing to remember is that as a professional of any sort--scientist, physician, attorney, businessperson, artist, musician, whatever--you will never "catch up". Get used to never crossing off that last thing on your list and sighing, "Ahh. Done!" That will never ever happen for the rest of your life. I promise.

The key is to learn to accept that some things will get done late and some things will never get done, and to pick and choose what to move up and what to move down on your to-do list.

And always remember, someone else's failure to plan ahead should never be allowed to become your emergency. As you become more adept, more experienced, more of an expert, you will find people seeking to get you to take responsibility for their inefficiencies and their poor planning. The extent to which you allow this to happen must be strictly controlled.

Drugmonkey said...

It's the good stuff I'm not sure how to handle...

I have it on good authority that the appropriate procedure is to shout, dance, wave your hands in the air and generally behave like a crazed wackaloon.

drdrA said...

Oh Acmegirl- I so feel your pain about trying to keep all the balls in the air while putting out burning scientific fires. It always happens like this- 5 things need immediate attention (two of them kids- usually one with a doctor's appointment, and one is usually a maintenance issue of some sort) immediately before a major deadline.

One of the best lessons my thesis advisor taught me was just to grit my teeth and get it done... everyone and everything will survive.

Abel Pharmboy said...

it has to be done NOW and in the presence of the unit owner

...and as with the cable company, you were probably given the convenient "window" of 8am-6pm.

Well beyond getting your data in shape for group meeting, your tenacity also demonstrates that you won't be the one who wakes up two years from now and realizes their last two years of work have been worthless because they neglect to do some very crucial experiments and adequate replicates. You're doing it right and, as the good PP says, really thinking like a great scientist.

I look at your writing about the lab work and think, I remember that; then I look at the family stuff and think, I know that; however, I have never had to experience both at the same time (other than frantic grant writing perhaps). If I wore a hat, it would be off to you.

Emily said...

Hi Acmegirl - sounds like you've got your hands full! Your experience of walking home bright and early reminds me of several weekends in a row when I left the lab at 4AM. It was so creepy and silent in the building at that time I used to talk to an imaginary lab-mate just to let anyone who might be lurking about know I wasn't alone!

But I didn't have Thing 1&2 waiting for me at home, I was single single, single. Now I do (well I only called one kid Thing 1) - and can't imagine doing both grad school and kids at the same time.

In case you're interested, I've been involved with a project collecting essays from women scientists of all ages and disciplines about balancing science careers and motherhood (in many different ways)for the past year or so - and it's now out in press, published by Cornell's ILR press - it's called Motherhood The Elephant in the Laboratory: women scientists speak out.

If you are interested I've also created a blog/forum (www.sciencemoms.wordpress.com though I'm having a heck of a time getting anyone to open up and contribute!) that will give you more information about the book along with excerpts.

Good luck!