Friday, July 28, 2006

Decision's made, apartment's *mostly* packed

It’s funny to me how efficient the human brain can be. I needed to let the decision as to where I want to go for my postdoc roll around my head for a while, and roll it does. In the back rooms it bounces around, unbeknownst to my conscious mind, and when it finds a point, it yells out to the front room “Did you ever think of this? Add this to the pro and/or con list!” and you bet I do. In the last week or so my brain has shouted out some very good points, out of the blue, as I’ve been packing my apartment and pretending to do work in the lab. Ooooooh, I’ve been slacking at work. Not good. I have no good excuse.

Anyway, it’s become clear to me that taking the job at the NCI/NIH is the better idea. The work is terribly interesting and relevant. The folks are good shits. They have plenty of money. They’ve trained postdocs before. They don’t have a hidden agenda of forcing me to go into academia, industry or government work. As long as I’m successful, they’re happy. If I find that bench-work just isn’t for me, they’ll help me find out what is for me. They did that for a previous employee who got really involved with one of the postdoc organizations who helped folks write their papers and/or grants. She liked that aspect so much better, so they helped her get a job she wanted and got her out of the lab. No hard feelings. How cool is that?

Now I’m not saying that the Mayo Clinic sucked. It’s a close second. It’s just not as great as NCI/NIH. I’m not officially cutting them lose until I have everything lined up with the NCI/NIH. I’m not going to be fooled twice! If things go horribly south with NCI/NIH, they’re my back up.

Of course this disappoints my mother to no end. “It would have been so nice to have you so close to home!” Yeah, well, maybe for you, but not for me. I really don’t need any more guilt trips and being too far away to run home for every family event/function/drama has its advantages. She tried to change my mind by bringing up the high cost of living in Bethesda and speculating that it would be hard for me to resurrect my hiking/backpacking hobby. Yep, she’s a wily, manipulative one! Not to worry. I got the quote on what my first year salary would be and I have been researching what the housing it like out there (1 bedroom apts are going for about $900-1500). After some rudimentary calculations, if I happened to get a more expensive apartment, at the end of the day I’d be bringing home about the same amount I do now post-rent payment. So my lifestyle wouldn’t really be changing if I got a more expensive apt. If I got a cheaper apt I could even start to save some money! Hooray! I can’t express to you how excited that makes me. Yeah, sad, I know, but don’t rain on my parade. Plus, I’m plenty close to places to hike and backpack as well as friends who hike and backpack. I’m set!

So, the professor at the NCI/NIH is on vacation this week, and will be back next week. I’m looking forward to talking to her more extensively and figuring out the details.

Funny side note: remember my flu? I got a call from a woman at the Public Health office in Rochester, MN. Turns out that they are investigating complaints of food-borne illness from the restaurant I ate at while on my interview! I had to answer all sorts of odd questions about what I ate and where from July 10-17. She wanted to know if I’d been to any parties. I told her that I hadn’t, but I did pass through 2 big airports (twice!) and fly on 4 airplanes to get to and from Rochester for my interview. Does that count? Why yes, yes it does. She also wanted to know how many times I vomited and had bowel movements during my illness. I don’t know about you, but when I’m that sick, I’m not counting how many times I do anything. I can barely keep track of what day it is. Apparently the cut-off number is 3. I could confidently say that I vomited more than 3 times, and my stomach was still trying well after that. I wonder if she’ll get back to me and let me know if it really was the restaurant.

Other than that, the only news is that I’m about 95% packed up and sorted and ready for moving day tomorrow. All I have left is some of the kitchen and all the stuff I’m currently using on a day-to-day basis. Today I have to go to the new apt to wait for the cable guy to come and hook me up. I’ll be bringing a few things over today since I’ve got the key early – might as well. I can provide safe passage for my plants and decrease some of the workload for tomorrow. The rest of the day I’ll finish packing the 5% that’s left. I hate packing, especially by myself. It takes so freaking long! Now, I like knowing that everything is packed to my liking, but the thrill and comfort of that only lasts so long.

I’m also looking forward to not needing to deal with the new people moving into my old apt. They’ve called me several times now. Seems they are quite nervous and preoccupied with the cable TV, and apparently it’s up to me to assuage their fears. Like I’ve said, I have my cable “stopping” today and “switching” to the new place. Apparently the cable company won’t let the new folks “switch” until Aug. 1. The new people were harassing me about not stopping my cable earlier so that they could start theirs earlier. I explained that I did, but that didn’t matter. So *I* had to call the cable company and ask about it. Turns out that my billing stops today, but not the actual service, because they can’t get someone to physically come to my apt today to fiddle in the box. But they can get someone out on Aug. 1, which is what they have scheduled. I had to explain to the new people that they’ll have cable the minute they move in, it just won’t be *their* cable, it’ll be *my* residual cable.

They are moving in on Sunday. I plan to clean the apt tomorrow night, after returning the truck, so that it’s relatively clean for them. Turns out that they want to come over that evening to “help” me clean. I’m not sure how that will go as I am already annoyed with them. I guess they didn’t think that I’d have time to clean before they moved in. Maybe I can clean as much as I want before they get there. Yeah, that sounds like the best idea to me.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Now's the hard part

Well, I survived my trip to D.C. I found the Metro to be quite easy to navigate, but I think the stations are bit scary - all dark and back-lit with all the exposed concrete. Makes me think of some sort of bunker. And there were all kinds of folks out and about, so I felt pretty safe.

The interview went well. My laptop decided to be a whiny little bitch and not cooperate, so I ended up with the lab huddled around one lab members' computer while I stood next to it and presented. We got such a late start from dicking around with my computer that the professor had to leave before I was finished, but she got the idea.

They took me to lunch in the cafeteria of the building next door, and answered all of my assorted questions meant to ascertain the mental status of the professor. Seems her crew really likes her and like living in or around Bethesda. One of her people even had a horrible grad advisor like mine! So they understand the kind of background I have. We all agreed that the pressure to get grant money is what makes academic scientists as crazy and repulsive as they are. The prof said that I might need a couple months in her lab to "detox" from my back grad school experience. This is my kind of woman.

Working for the government sounds pretty sweet. Nobody is busting their butts working at all hours, and constantly worried about money. They buy anything they need - including sterile water. That blew me away. My tax dollars hard at work right there. The science was also very exciting. Most of the lab is women, and the prof is a woman who seems to have found the perfect balance between life inside and outside of lab. That's the kind of mentor I need. She even *insists* that her people have lives outside of lab! That's practically unheard of in academia. Bottomline: I really liked them.

Now I've got what I wanted the first time around: a hard decision to make. I was happy with my interview at the Mayo Clinic, and now I'm really happy with my interview at the NIH. Be careful what you wish for! Now I have to sit down and make my pro and con lists, and talk extensively with friends and family to make a decision. Right now, at this very second, I feel that I want the science and lab from NIH to be located in Rochester, MN. Bethesda and the surrounding area has a very high cost of living, especially compared to Rochester. I could be perfectly happy in a small town. Big towns make me a bit nervous. My salary would be supplemented at the NIH to help defray the cost of living, but I think, at the end of the day, I'd be coming home with about the same amount of money. I'm not sure, I'll have to do some figuring. My Mom is really pulling for Rochester because that's closer to my hometown in WI. I'm not sure how I feel about that, either. I love my parents, I do, but I don't know if I love them enough to be living that close. I can foresee lots of guilt trips about not coming to enough family "events" and "functions" for my Mother's liking. Who needs that?

I'll keep you posted on my decision-making process. Please feel free to weigh in with your opinions and advice.

In other news, I really need to get to packing the rest of my apartment. I was planning to do that most of today, but ended up sleeping in later than I originally anticipated I would, chatting on the phone with a few family members, coming into work thinking I'd quickly be in and out, but got sucked into some drama and visiting with labmates. And now it is 6 pm and I've only packed a few boxes of books while watching Jay and Silent Bob's movie on TV this morning. I've got to get home. Thank goodness I've got nothing to do tomorrow except pack.

One final point of interest: last night I had the worst dinner on record. Doritos for the main course, and Cool Whip for dessert. Cravings for salt and sweet anyone? Yeah, that's me. I'm not proud, but it got me through. I promise I'm eating better today.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It's hectic here

Yesterday was my birthday. I spent the day in a 4 hour lab meeting followed by an afternoon-evening-night of starting to pack up my apartment. The only bright spots were the great cards, chocolate truffles and ice cream cake from my coworkers. My cake read "K8 is Gr8!" - how cool is that?! I also got lots of phone calls from family and friends while I was packing. Nice little breaks.

Today I am doing a 7 hour experiment (not as bad as it sounds - decent amounts of time inbetween time points) and then I'm off to the airport. I'm flying to Washington D.C. so that I can interview at the National Institutes of Health / National Cancer Institute (NIH/NCI) tomorrow. I'm a bit nervous about the trip. Not because I haven't got this interviewing gig nailed, but because I've only passed through DC before and now I have to fly in, take the train (with a transfer!), and then take a cab just to get to my hotel. The next morning I have to take a cab, get dropped off to be processed by security, get on a shuttle, and hopefully deposited at the correct building. After my "low key" interview day, someone will point me in the right direction to get me back on the train, which I will then take to the airport. I will be back in Cleveland tomorrow night.

Not being familiar with anything, I'm a bit nervous about getting lost or mugged or something. I know, I'm probably over-reacting, but my other interviews were a lot easier and more accommodating than this one, by far. People met me places, and drove me places, and made sure I didn't get lost or misplaced. It also doesn't help that the administrator (they're not called "secretaries" any more) that was in charge of organizing/coordinating/planning this trip with me is little to no help. She's not even going to be around because she had her wisdom teeth removed yesterday - which was her excuse for being so flighty and generally useless.

I'll be sure to let you know how things go. We'll see if the massive line of thunderstorms heading this way grounds me here in Cleveland or not.

Saturday and Sunday will be fun-filled days of packing. I never realize how much shit I have until I try to pack it up. And I've come to realize that most of the shit I have is for the social life I no longer have. I'll hold something and think "Man, I haven't used/worn this in forever!" and then I'll remember that it's for some hobby I don't have time for, or social events that I don't go to. Working in the lab most days requires a t-shirt and jeans. The AC is cranked too high for shorts or skirts, and there's no reason to ever wear a dress. Ever.

So I'm really looking forward to ending this graduate student career of mine.
I'm looking forward to getting my hobbies back.
And having a social life with a real pulse.
Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The week I've had

It’s been quite a week my friends, quite a week. If you have a while, pull up a chair and I’ll tell you all about it.

Last Monday I had a committee meeting. For those of you who may not know, this is a pretty stressful experience as I get evaluated by my advisor and a handful of other professors. These are the people who decide if (and when) someone like me can graduate.

For the record: I currently am in hate with them and wish they were actually helpful to me all of these years (and it’s going to be six complete years come December).

I thought that the meeting sucked, but my boss thought it went great – mostly because my committee actually paid some attention to what I was presenting and then spoke up with some actual advice. What a miracle – they did their job. How lucky I am to witness it in this lifetime. The suck factor was pretty high because, as my boss so eloquently put it “I wouldn’t say they were ‘freaked out,’ exactly, but let’s say they were ‘concerned.’” Oh, OK, that sounds MUCH better. I feel great now.

No… WHAT??? Apparently my committee thinks that *I* am unfocused. I know, your jaw is hitting the floor just like mine did. As you will recall, I am self-admittedly anal retentive, so calling me “unfocused” is just the worst insult imaginable. Those of you who are former co-workers of mine (or loved ones of such folks) know where I’m going with this. I wanted to scream, “It’s my ADVISOR who is the unfocused one, you nitwits!” But, that would be uncouth. These professor types tend to band together against we evil, lazy, short-cut-seeking graduate students. It’s infuriating.

So, they told me that they want to have another meeting in mid-September and by that time they expect me to have accomplished 3 key experiments. They never said what those 3 experiments were. After the meeting, while talking to my advisor, I asked him what those 3 experiments were. Let’s call them A, B and C with 3 parts. As I continued to talk to him, and he would refer back to the big 3, they’d change to, say, A, B and D, but don’t forget about C with 3 parts, and if you have time, throw in E, or maybe throw E higher up on the list. Bottom line: my committee wanted 3 experiments done, and my boss wanted 5-6.

In an effort to clarify things (and to be a little shit to prove my point), I emailed each of my committee members separately to ask what the big 3 were. One member emailed me (and BCC’ed the other committee members – how shady is that?) with B, E, and F as the most important experiments to do. Another member emailed me with “I agree with member number one and think that B and A are the most important.” The last member never replied.

You can see why I am not impressed with these people.

The bottom line is that I will definitely be doing B – no question. Experiment A is second on the list, and I’ll deal with C with 3 parts, D, E, and F in my own time.

Tuesday I got up bright and early to fly to Rochester, MN for my interviews at the Mayo Clinic. I interviewed with a group of 3 professors who collaborate on projects together and help each other out on articles and grant applications quite often. There had been another woman who interviewed a few weeks before I did and decided to join one of their labs, so I was actually only officially interviewing with 2 of the 3 profs. The first prof, while very nice, was working on a project that I simply don’t find interesting. I believe that part of my aversion to his project is the fact that it is very similar to my current advisor’s favorite research topic. Anything my current advisor likes, I hate. Poor guy (the prof, not my advisor). He seemed pretty desperate to get a new person in his tiny lab. But I liked the second prof better. His projects are either moderately similar to what I’m doing now (so I wouldn’t have to come in and completely reinvent the wheel), or are freaking cool so I wouldn’t mind learning from scratch.

Dinner that first night was just me and the 3 profs. The guy I want to work for reminded me of my grandpa in a way. You know how men of that generation are taught to always open the door for a lady, and to lead her around by the elbow or small of the back? That’s what he did. I know it’s a generational thing, but it’s also kind of skeevy – dirty old man-ish by today's standards. He was in charge of driving me to and from dinner, and while talking to me in the car he would go to put his hand on my knee or arm to punctuate what he was talking about, and stop himself in mid-air. As my coworker put it “Ah, he must have been to sensitivity training.”

Wednesday was a full day of interviewing activities: I gave my presentation and received many compliments on it (so THERE! I say to my advisor). They formally offered me the job and look forward to hearing from me. I left in good spirits.

I got home late, crawled into bed, and got a couple hours of sleep. My body woke me up in the wee hours, urgently compelling me to go to the bathroom. Enter the deluge. I had the flu, and it was violently trying to exorcise itself from my body via every possible fluid – vomit, diarrhea, sweat, and urine. Sorry to be graphic, but I want you to know how bad it was. It explains why I stayed home from work Thursday through Saturday, enjoying my symptoms: a delightful mix of stomach cramps, heartburn and lack of sleep replaced the vomit by Wednesday night. I didn’t actually feel human until Monday. Don’t worry, I quarantined myself in my apartment to avoid infecting any other hapless soul.

I would like to take a moment and damn to hell the person who infected me, whoever they may be, gallivanting about in a public place, misting their flu plague about the masses.

My labmates are ANGELS. They did brave a brief visit to drop me off some Gatorade, and to verify that I did in deed look like shit. They also would periodically call to check on me, which I also appreciate. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the flu, or been sick enough to miss work for that matter, and to be that sick while living alone can be a bit worrisome. Not that I envisioned myself passing out or needing to be carted to the emergency room, but when you’re that feverish and tired, you’re not the best judge. It’s nice to know that there is someone else around checking in on you, should your faculties be in question.

And though I missed work, I wouldn’t say it was a welcome break. I really didn’t need to be sick, who really needs to be sick? There’s rarely a good time for it. At least I wasn’t still out of town when it hit. I can’t imagine trying to fly home, or trying to quarantine myself in the hotel room. Yuck.

Now I have to try to get back in the groove here at work, prepare for another interview at the NCI on Friday, and pack to move next weekend. The one thing I am grateful for is my advisor going out of town from July 23 through August 9. He also alluded to wanting to cancel meetings for all of August. Sweet! We’ll see if it actually comes true. I’d be able to get so much more done without our marathon meetings every week. I just have to get through this last one tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Cash back

Have you ever seen “Stranded with Cash Peters” on the Travel Channel? It’s been cancelled, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.

I loved that show. I really did. I laughed out loud every time. The premise of the show was that the producers would pick a place anywhere in the world, and not tell Cash. Then they’d blindfold him and drop him off – usually rolling him out of a moving car. He’d have to figure out where he was, and get through about 24 hours in a strange place with no money and no second language. He had the perfect personality for this show.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that he had a website and you could email him. I did to say “Hey, I like your show. I didn’t know you had a book out. I’ll have to read it. Keep up the good work.” And what makes Mr. Peters my FAVORITE is that he actually wrote me back. Really! He did! And here’s what he wrote me:

Thank you very much for the kind words. I really appreciate hearing from people who enjoy the show.

Gullible's Travels has been out for a while, but I'm very proud of it and hope you'll give it a go. If you enjoy the show I think you'll like the book, perhaps even more so.

Again, thanks for writing.



How cool is that??

I don’t write fan mail very often. I’m afraid that the person I’m a fan of will assume I’m psychotic (without getting to know me first? The nerve). I just want to tell them I think they’re doing a good job, to let them know they’re work is enjoyed and appreciated. I never expect to hear back, and that’s why I was so tickled to get a response.

I did read Cash’s book and I really did like it. But what can I say? I’m biased.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

That strange pallor: an update

I didn’t do anything exciting over the holiday weekend. I mostly worked, but not at full throttle. On the Fourth I went to a friend’s house to stuff my face with awesome food, relax, and walk to the local middle school to watch the fireworks display. I swear they’ve come up with some new colors for fireworks. It was pretty cool. The only part I wasn’t particularly keen on was part of the finale with rapid-fire “flash/booms” (I don’t know what they’re really called, but you get the idea). They were the loudest of the bunch and seemed like a giant strobe light. I thought I might have a seizure.

ANYWAY, my friend, (my labmate from previous posts) did end up buying the starter kit for the mineral make-up. She’d been wearing it the last week or so and I was impressed by how it looked on her. It looked very natural. While over at her house she insisted I try the mineral make-up again. She was sure that applying it myself, under her guidance (because she had watched the DVD in her starter kit and they emphasized “less is more!”) would make me like it. Sure enough it didn’t give me a strange pallor! I was really pleasantly surprised. It didn’t look like I had make-up on at all, much less gross B-movie fake skin. It even held up when we went outside in the heat and humidity to watch fireworks!

I might have to rethink my stance on mineral make-up: it’s OK if I do it myself in moderation as opposed to having it applied by the technicians who overdo it. Now to see if I can get over the cost of the starter kit… I have a birthday coming up, maybe that’ll help.