Thursday, February 25, 2010


The vampire phlebotomist took the necessary vials of blood for preliminary tests before the big Dr. appointment next week.  Seriously, 6 vials.  Thank god my doctor is awesome and is testing for a myriad of things, rather than just chalking this up to smoking, or the weather or me being crazy.  My arm is killing me, though, and I am now sporting a large purple bruise.  Good thing I love the color purple.

Going to work from home for the rest of the day, it just seems like my concentration is next to nothing lately.  Maybe the change of scenery will help.

Monday, February 22, 2010

To post-doc or not to post-doc....

Two posts in one day, can you tell I am putting off looking at the monstrous data sets I ahve?  Phdamned (who I absolutely love and  reminds me so much of myself just a few years ago) posed a list of questions about being a post-doc and, I have to tell you, this post has been stewing in my mind since she posted it.  Tonight is a good night for me to finally sit down and do this since it's a good reminder to myself as to why I am doing this all (can you also tell I am in a bit of a funk with the data and the feeling like crap). So, here goes. 

 Why did you decide to do a postdoc? 
There is a few reasons why I decided to do a post-doc.  The first is that someday I want to run my own lab.  I want to be able to come up with the big ideas, to study what I find fascinating, to ask the questions that I have always wanted the answers to.  In my field, there is no way to do this without having a post-doc.  I want to have a lab of grad students/undergrads/scientists who I can inspire and get excited about science.  I do love talking about it, about the data, about the puzzles, figuring things out and I want to share that.   I also knew that the work I did in grad school was ok, there was no way on god's green earth that I would spend the rest of my life working on what I did.  I wanted to go into a more biologically related field, rather than doing chemistry for the sake of doing chemistry.  The only way I could do that was to find a lab that was doing the type of research I wanted to do (even only marginally related to what I did) and hoped that they saw enough potential in me to hire me on.  But in all honesty, I couldn't see myself doing anything else.  There was no way I was ready to run a lab or do anything along those lines without doing more/training more.
What do you think the primary purpose of a postdoc is in terms of research? 
Personally, I look at it as a chance to learn as much as I can about everything I can.  Ohhh, scientist A is running technique I have never seen before, can I watch?  Its a time to learn how to think as an independent scientist, not as a yes-man.  Its a time to make the leap from doing what your PI tells you to do to  thinking like a PI.  To look at doing experiments from the point of telling a story, filling the holes, rather than just getting the data out.  Of course, getting as many papers out (first-author in good journals) is the most important part, but I think all of the other stuff goes along with that.  
A non-research thing, but somewhat related--get your name out there.  Go to conferences, present posters, introduce yourself to others after talks, schmooze a bit, talk to everyone you can.  These are the poeple who are going to be reviewing your papers and eventually your grants and future collaborator's (or competitors).  While your science needs to stand on its own merit, having people know who you are does help. 
 How did you go about contacting potential postdoc PIs? 
It was about 12 months before I was "ready" to graduate when I hit the internet and started looking for possible post-doc labs.  I found a bunch (about 30 in all) and started writing cover letters/CV's for each lab, highlighting how my previous experiences in grad school would fit really well into what they were doing in an unrelated field.  I sent out a cover letter, CV and copy of my latest published manuscript in the mail (yes, in the mail...there is something to me about sending something like this in the mail--maybe I felt like I was putting in the extra effort? I don't know...I could be wrong).  and waited.  and waited.  I heard back from about 15 of the PIs, most saying they weren't sure about the funding and had two solid offers.  The day I was going to accept the offer in lab far away, I found out that the top PI (the one who I worked for now) had called my reference and wanted to set up an interview.  Although, interview was somewhat of a loose term.  I went out there, met the lab members, talked about the project he would put me on if I was to come here, and then offered me the job.  I was elated!  So, 30 unsolicited applications, two solid offers.
 Does the name of the PI or the university have more impact on your future (or do neither since your publication record will speak for its-self)?
For me, it's both.  My PI is a big name in the field, which means I get introduced to all his contacts.  The university I am at is great, which I think really helped with getting the NRSA fellowship.  Really, though, int he end, I think its 6 of one and half a dozen of the other.  The more people your PI knows and is willing to introduce you too (which is KEY to the whole thing) and the better off his reputation is, the better off I think you are when you apply for the next job.

For the PIs, what do you look for in a postdoc?
  Just need to add what the big boss man told me once.  He took me on because I was willing to learn, work hard and had a great reference.  Nevermind the fact that I was swtiching to a field  that was completely on the opposite end of the spectrum from what I did in grad school.  He saw soemone who was trained to think like a scientist and new that I could learn the basics later.
So, the pregnant thing I can't help with, since I never have been nor never will be.  But I will tell you this.  While being a post-doc has its ups and downs, and while people always will complain about not getting paid enough for what we do or for how much training we already have, I have learned more, seen more, done more and have had my name recognized more in the past two years than in my entire grad school career.  And, ont op of that, I get to come in and do some hot science everyday and figure out the answers one step at a time.  DOing a post-doc where I am and with my PI was the best decision (OK, second best---saying "yes" to Mr Dr Zeek when he was on one knee was the first best decision) in my life.  But, I guess the best advice I have is to just go balls-to-the wall and do it. 

Coaxing out the right answers...

I have been toiling away at what should be some simple assays which should, in theory, give some simple answers to basic questions about my favorite protein. 

Alas, the "simple" solutions are definitely not the right ones.  There is some crazy things going on, all of which are completely plausible, its just not as simple as my boss or I thought it would be.  I like the complications, the multiple variables, the intricate puzzle.  In a way, it just seems to ascribe even more awe to the well-oiled machine designed by nature to carry out several simple tasks in the cells.  Humbling, really.

The answers are all there, I just need to ask the right questions. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Maybe it's time...

I have come to the realization that I need to go to the doctor.  I am not depressed, it is not the weather, I am not pregnant, and I have been eating healthy (just to put that out of the way).  I know I am  older than I was in grad school and undergrad, but really, that shouldn't account for the extreme fatigue (sometimes, I can barely find the energy to get up and out of the chair) and just general feeling of crappiness I have had for the past few months.  Yes, I am stressed out, but it's the low level stress-- no severe anxiety, nothing like that.  I push through the tiredness, and my work is not suffering, but seriously I come home from the lab and want nothing more than to not move from the couch.  I sleep 9 hrs a night (I know, but I cannot function on less lately--I used to be able to function on 6 in grad school) and wake up and could still sleep more.  No appetite, I eat only to stop the dizziness/light-headedness that I feel every 3 or 4 hours (which goes away when I eat something).  And its not being dehydrated, I drink 2-3 liter bottles of water a day (just at work, mind you...I always have water around-- always somewhat dry-- but that could be from the smoking).  This has been going on for at least 6-8 months, but has been getting worse, or at least more noticeable, in the last 2 months or so.  And nothing has changed in the past two months.  I just hate feeling like crap.  And I am almost worried that going into the Dr. they won't find anything wrong and its just something that I have to deal with (mainly that I am a lazy hypochondriac)...maybe I will just bite the bullet and make an appointment today.  After I take a nap. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Varying degrees of suckage....

Things in the lab had not been going well for Dr. Zeek lately.

For the past four months, I have been troubleshooting, working, reworking and trying to optimize something that had previously worked beautifully.  Granted, I had swapped out a teeny-tiny part of the whole for a new and improved part of the whole. The new piece would ultimately be more efficient, cheaper and overall, would make my life much easier. Or, so I was guaranteed by my collaborator.

When the troubles started, I immediately called up Dr. Collaborator and was assured that there were no problems with the piece in his lab whatsoever.  Nope. None. Nadda.  Things were fantastic with the new piece.  Hmmmm....

Wondering why I sucked so bad, I began to systematically change everything and anything that I could think of which would have some effect on the piece of the whole.  Buffers, columns, resins, time, temperatures, the super-secret voodoo dance.  I was ready to start sacrificing bacterial cultures to the molecular biology gods, thinking somehow I had pissed them off.  While the whole was technically working with the new piece, it was working at only 10 % of what I had before.  "Isn't that good enough?" asked Dr. Collaborator.

No, it wasn't.  Not when I knew it was capable of being so much better.  Not when I knew what this thing could do.  Not when I had already tasted the sweat success.  So I kept plodding along, tearing out my hair, dragging myself to the lab and wondering, still, why I sucked so goddamn bad.

That was, until I saw the "internal memo" from a friend.  Seems Dr. Collaborator had mentioned that they (as in my friend and the rest of those she trains in that lab) should switch back to the old piece since...da-da-dum! the new piece wasn't so hot after all.

Not going to lie, I died a little inside when I realized that because I trusted what he was saying, because I put so much stock in what he was saying, because I doubt every single thing that I do before I even begin to question someone else's work, because I am a moron, I lost four months of time and countless hours of sleep, and gained not only several gray hairs from the worry and stress but also renewed that horrible feeling of suckage that I thought I would never feel, or at least feel as strongly, once I left grad school.  But that, in the great grand scheme of things, isn't the worst.  I lost so much confidence in what I was doing, in what I have and can do in this lab that I was seriously questioning all the other data, papers and everything else I had done from day one.  That, to me is the worst.  I already have a case of impostor syndrome, I don't need someone else adding to it by not giving me all the information.

But tonight, looking at the data from the last two days, things are back to normal.  Things are back to where they were four months ago, when I had optimized all this stuff before.  So, all in all I am feeling fantastic.  Its not like I have made any great strides, its not that I have data to submit in a manuscript (because really all of this is just a means to an end), but I am back in business.  And, I am realizing I am not as dumb as I think I am.  That is why I am in a great mood tonight.  And why I poured myself a whiskey and Pepsi (yes, I said Pepsi because folks, Throwback Pepsi made with real sugar is like liquid crack--now if they would only bring Crystal Pepsi back...Oh mylanta), and why I am letting myself sleep in an extra hour tomorrow morning.  Because while I usually do suck, I just don't suck as bad as I thought.  I think.  Maybe.  We'll see.  Sometimes, you have to realize that it may not be you screwing up, that other people are just as likely to fuck up as you are.  I think, for the first time in four months, I will sleep good tonight.  Things may start looking up soon.