Thursday, October 30, 2008

Making it Work

So, I've been working on my paper. Or, I've been trying to work on my paper. There are a few problems that I've been dealing with:

  1. I have trouble working in the lab. We have a small lab space, and my desk is right in the middle of everything. People are constantly walking past my desk. I can hear everyone's conversations. The bench space of one of my labmates with whom I enjoy chatting is right next to my desk. No need to even raise our voices. I am very easily distracted.
  2. I have trouble working at home. I constantly feel like I am about ten items behind on the critical to-do list around the house. That's not even touching the long standing undone big jobs, like finishing up painting the living room.
  3. Even if I did want to bring my laptop with me to work every single day, I'm not convinced that working in the library is any better of an option, since I would also need to bring all my papers and files with me. Plus, when I sit in the comfy chairs in the nearest library, I just feel like falling asleep.
  4. It doesn't really matter where I work, I don't really do well when I have to sit for long periods of time. My brain kind of shuts down and I get cranky.
  5. Oh, I almost forgot, I don't know what the hell I am doing!
Well, I have found some solutions:
  1. I finally updated my iPod and put all of the music we have at home on it. So, I play really loud music really loud while I'm working. How loud? If you don't wave a hand in front of my face or tap my shoulder, you might as well not exist as far as I'm concerned.
  2. I still don't know what to do about working at home. Except to not.
  3. For now I am skipping the library. I used to hide out there when I was so sleep deprived I needed to catch a power nap. The association is too strong.
  4. I permit myself to get up and randomly walk around every half hour. Bathroom, coffee, water, down the hall and back again. Sometimes I just dance around by my desk. Anything to avoid turning my ass to stone. Thankfully my labmates are amused and not annoyed.
  5. Whoops! I got nothing for this one. I know what a good paper looks like. I have a plan for writing, too, but it just seems like, no matter what I do, everything takes at least three times longer than I think it will.
I am writing an article length paper. That's 55,000 characters maximum for the journal we plan to submit to. I think the limit is ten printed pages. I have decided on seven figures, although one may be axed. My PI has recommended that I write the sections in this order: Methods, Results, Discussion, Introduction, Abstract. He didn't really specify when he thought the figures should get done, but I found that I get stuck trying to write about imaginary figures.

So far, I have made really nice, prettyfied versions of 5.5 of the figures. Each one has taken at least half a day of solid work to get done. I have written the captions for all the completed figures. I wrote the "Methods" section a while ago, and I feel like I've been writing the Results section FOREVER! It seems like every time I write something, I end up realizing something that I forgot to include. I don't know when it's going to get done. And my PI is waiting for it. I thought I'd have it done a week ago. I think he thinks I'm not working on it. But I am. I just feel like I'm bumbling around like an idiot. I know I'll get there eventually, but right now, I'm spending a lot of time backtracking and I don't know how to take a more direct route.

All that said, I am really feeling cool for getting to write such a long paper MYSELF (though I fully realize that it will get ripped to shreds in the revision process). This is what I came to grad school for!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Six Random Things About ME

Abel Pharmboy has tagged me for another meme! At this rate, I’ll never have to decide what to write about again! Here are the rules:

  1. Link to the person who tagged you.

  2. Post the rules on your blog.

  3. Write six random things about yourself.

  4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.

  5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.

  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

So, here are six random things about me. I don’t think these will blow my cover, unless one of you readers already knows me pretty well in real life.

  1. I rarely wear high heels, and sometimes I fall down when walking on uneven pavement. This is thanks to multiple, severe inversion ankle sprains complete with a partial lateral ligament tear from my ballet dancing days that was never surgically repaired. My foot literally just turns underneath me sometimes without warning. The last time this happened, I was walking along a gravel path across a large lawn on my campus, and I ripped the knee of my pants.

  2. I love Halloween. I plan to wear a costume into the lab this year.

  3. I hate the color pink. But my two little princesses have worn me down to the point that I can actually wear some shades of pink without wanting to puke.

  4. I have never touched a gun, and once kicked someone out of my house for showing off one, even though it wasn’t loaded.

  5. I really love to watch choreographed fight scenes in movies. It doesn’t matter what style of fighting, and it doesn’t matter what genre the movie is; I especially love the fantastical Hong Kong martial arts action movies, where people walk on water and fly from roof-top to roof-top. But I don’t enjoy horror movies or gratuitous violence in movies (though I accept that it be an effective device to make a point). And I feel physically ill when I see people hitting each other in real life.

  6. I get very nostalgic when I smell clove cigarettes.

I'm going to have to add my tags later today, since I'm hurriedly posting this in the (very busy) lab, and I'll need to do some research to find out who hasn't done this one yet. If any of you readers are game, let me know in the comments and consider yourselves tagged!

UPDATE: Okay, I think I've found six more victims excellent bloggers who haven't done this meme yet. I've really enjoyed reading all the other randomness all over the internet!

So now, I tag:
FlickaMawa at A Cat Nap
Jenny F. Scientist at A Natural Scientist
MissPrism at A Somewhat Old, but Capacious Handbag
Rebecca at Adventures in Applied Math
EcoGeoFemme at The Happy Scientist whoops, somebody tagged her already.
Academic at Journeys of an Academic
WomanScientist at Woman Scientist

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hallo-meme Fun

Thanks to BikeMonkey's tag, Thing 1, Thing 2 and I all carved pumkpins this evening. with some help from hubby. I usually put it off until the night before Halloween, or just as we are getting ready to roam the streets in search of candy (or the best spooky house, whichever comes first).

I don't have quite the mad skills that BikeMonkey displayed on his pumpkin, but I think Thing 1 has quite a way with the knife - she carved this one entirely on her own!

This one is mostly hubby's interpretation of the sketch Thing 2 laid down on her pumpkin. By the way, this is what I overheard behind my back as they opened up the pumpkin:
hubby: Look, inside! It's pumpkin goop!
Thing 2: Oh! Pumpkin goop!
hubby: I like pumpkin goop. [smacking of lips]
Thing 2: You like pumpkin goop? [smacking of smaller lips] I like pumpkin goop, too!

And now, I tag Julie R (and twins), ScienceMama (and Bean) and Fia (and her two little ones). Happy Halloween!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

I think this is jacked up

This weekend I ran into a former neighbor of mine here in New City. She's an academic, but not in science. When I first arrived, she was in the process of turning in her thesis and arranging her defense. It was a bit complicated because she was doing all this from home, with two young children, while her university and advisor were in another city a couple of hours away. In fact, I'll never forget one of the first times we talked for more than a minute - she was frantic because she had just tried to mail her thesis, and it had gotten stuck in the trap door of one of a mailbox. She was frantic because, well, it was her thesis, and, apparently, tampering with a mailbox is quite a serious crime, and so she was not sure how to solve the problem. She settled on calling the post office, and going to stand guard by the mailbox until someone came to free her thesis, so that it could get on its way to its destination.

Her thesis was eventually liberated, and she graduated, but she told me about a hundred and fifty times, "If you end up having to mail your thesis - go to the post office! Wait in line, even if it takes all day!"

She then went on to a non-tenure track position at a local school. Although the environment was nice, and it was not too far from home, she wasn't all that happy with it because of the lack of permanence. So, when another school offered her a position, thought not TT at the time, had the potential to be converted into a TT position, she took it. And she was all but promised that the conversion would happen after her first year - because they just loved her!

Well, that was two years ago. She's now on year three, still no TT conversion. So, she's back on the market because two new TT positions opened up in her field at two top tier universities (apparently, that's a lot). Neither one is local, but she's tired of being dicked around, so she applied. And, of course, now the school she's at now is upset. They want her to stay, but they still have not offered her what she wants - a tenure-track position.

I was nodding along in sympathy through her telling me this, until she got to this part: some administrator called her home to discuss the situation. Upon finding her not home, this jackass proceeded to talk to her husband about the issue, asking him if there was "anything they could do to make her stay". Meanwhile their two kids were running around in the background.

Can I just say, what the fuck?!?! Can you imagine the opposite situation - administrator calls the home of a male professor, his wife answers, and the administrator begins whining to her about the fact that her husband is applying for other positions, asking her if there is anything she thinks they could do to convince him not to throw out his net for bigger fish. I think we'd all agree - that situation would be ridiculous, and yet, when the genders are reversed, and it's the woman choosing to look for ways to further her career, somehow people get all confused.

Besides. She already told them what they can do to make her want to stay - give her a shot at tenure.

I said as much to her. As I see it, this situation is not about the money, or convenience. It's about her looking to have what she worked her butt off for - a genuine career in academia. She deserves to at least get chance to try. She's not working for pocket money. And she doesn't need her man to make the decision for her.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What the Hell

Even though I have been a very bad blogger lately, what with the not posting for weeks on end with no explanation, people keep reading this blog. And the number of people who subscribe to my feed has continued to increase. So, the people have spoken, and I am going to give you all something to read.

Where have I been? I've had my head up my own ass, that's where. One might say I've had a little confidence crisis in "meat space" (I love that expression). But some shit has been going my way, lately, so I'm on the mend. It's time to polish up the brass balls that I prominently display here in the virtual world, and hoist this blog out of the land of "largely inactive".

Don't laugh, but the thing that triggered my crisis is my PI's decision that my project has finally produced an LPU (least publishable unit). Every part of my rational brain was shouting "Yay! This is a good thing! You might actually manage to get out of here with a PhD, yet!" But every dark and twisted part of my psyche was vigorously reminding me that I am nothing but a fox in the hen house, and if I try to get out of here with an egg, I'm sure to get caught. Not following? I'll spell it out: I have a serious case of Impostor Syndrome (IS). And that shit is seriously toxic. I have called many of my friends on this - I try to always remind the people I know how smart, kind, and beautiful they are. Because all my friends are truly smart, kind, and beautiful. And I know that people can easily forget all the things that are good about themselves, and start to tear themselves down if left to their own devices. Unchecked IS can ravage a person, and keep them from doing the things they want and even need to do. I've been working on my own IS problem for some time, and really thought I had it under control. But I was so very wrong.

The minute I showed my PI the results of those experiments I hustled to get done by the end of the summer, and he said, "When you get back from vacation, you should start writing this up," I started to freak out. You see, I personally did every experiment that would go into the paper. And half of them were my own idea. So, they were all most likely completely fucked up and wrong. And the conclusions I had drawn on the results, such as they were, would likely be the most ridiculous thing any journal editor would ever crumple up and toss into the circular file.

Also, I had a LOT of re-analysis to do, because I had changed something fundamental about how I analyzed the data half-way through, and it wouldn't make sense to not have all of the data done the same way. Even though the change in the analysis was unlikely to change the results for the old data. And my data analysis is really, painfully boring. Just before I left for my vacation, I wasn't sure I would be ever able to force myself to finish the re-analysis.

The great thing about vacations is that they do replenish your resolve. When I came back, I did feel less like a petulant child when I sat down at the computer. But you can't take a vacation from your personal demons, so I still didn't feel at all ready to write a paper. Lucky for me, I had to go to my program's annual retreat, which includes a poster session. So I laid out a new poster, including most of the stuff that I thought should be in the paper. And it looked pretty good. My PI was really happy with it. Then, I mentioned to my program administrator that I was working on a paper, and she asked me to give a 45 minute talk for our student seminar series. My PI thought it was a "great idea". He explained to me that preparing and giving a talk when you are in the process of writing a paper can help you organize your thoughts and get valuable feedback. I was thinking two things: "Great - if I have to work on a talk, I won't have as much time to work on the paper" and, "OMFG - I am so going to screw this up because I have so not conquered Teh Nerves".

So, I had been nervously and ineffectually working on the paper, and worrying about the talk for a couple of days, when, at lunch, PI announces that I am invited to give my talk for the lab of Dr. Prof. Genius, with whom we have a collaboration. Most of the groundbreaking papers on the system I work with came out of Dr. Prof. Genius' (huge) lab. He has more than earned the moniker. Which makes him a great collaborator for the lab and my project, but makes him really intimidating to me. I knew he was getting reports on what I was doing, but I had never really spoken directly to him about science at all. I was absolutely certain that he was going to spot the fatal error in my work. In front of a bunch of post-docs and super-post-docs (he doesn't take students). In less than one week. My PI cheerily scheduled me to give a practice talk in two days. I nodded quietly, but I am sure that everyone in the room could hear the sound of screaming from inside my head.

I almost choked during my practice for the talk. Literally. I got stuck on the second or third slide, tears welled into my eyes, and I had to ask to leave the room for a minute, then start over. But I got through it after that, and jotted down notes on some suggested improvements. Then, afterwards, in private, my PI gave me an excellent pep talk. He told me that he thought I was doing a good job, but that he thought I was worrying too much about things being perfect. He told me that he thought the best way for me to overcome that was to just keep doing stuff, and not give myself the time to get all worked up. And then he said that that was why he "threw me in front of the bus".

Well, this is getting really long, and self-involved. So I'm going to just cut to the chase - I gave the talk for Dr. Prof. Genius without any waterworks, and got really great feedback from him and his lab. I also gave the student seminar, and for the first time, I actually enjoyed giving a talk. Halfway through, I looked out into the audience and saw people nodding along and really paying attention and, for once, I felt like I was right where I belong.