Thursday, August 11, 2005

The flood in my brain

Call me judgmental, but I have decided that it is OK to hate someone because they think it is hilarious to refer to the kids on the "short bus" as "window lickers". You all know how I feel about that. I hate myself more for being so angry that I couldn't spit out the words necessary to explain why I find "window licker" inappropriate. Although this event happened several weeks ago, I'm just processing it now. Why are some things on a delay in our brains? Someone should study that.

I woke up crying this morning. I cried in the shower, and then I cried for almost another 20 min after I got to work. I cried because I'm tired and exhausted and could use a little positive reinforcement from somebody other than the bus driver (my bus drivers are very nice). I'm crying because I have things to worry about that I don't have the time or energy to worry about. I'm crying because everything right now is an unknown: I don't know when I'll be done. I don't know if or when my paper will get published. I don't know where we are going to find the money. I don't know where I'll work or what I'll be doing in 6 months (give or take 6 months). I don't know if I'll be alright or if we'll ever have children or if I'll ever figure out how to knit the edging on my new project. I don't know anything but everyone expects me to know everything--for some reason they believe I know everything and that makes me cry more.

I like the commercial where the two chickens at the deli (dead and defeathered chickens) start to sumo wrestle. I like the chapter on sumo wrestlers in Freakonomics. So, now I know why drug dealers live with their mothers, but why do most of our friends who make way more money than we do live with their mothers?

Should I email my mentor and tell her my labmate and closest friend here is having a breakdown and needs some freaking support? Should I tell her that my labmate is one of the most tremendous scientists I have ever met and deserves to be treated better and given more pats on the back? Is that overstepping my bounds? My mentor isn't even on this coast all summer so how else is she going to find out? What is wrong with this system?

My head hurts. I realize that I've had no water today, but I really would rather have a beer right now than a glass of water. I also realize that I'll probably not have either because the kitchen is so far away when your knees ache as bad as mine do right now.

That's all--I'm not fading to blank.


At 9:41 PM, Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

God - what a crappy day. What a crappy situation with your labmate. You *will* finish - it will all turn out fine. Swear to god.

At 10:20 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

I totally get this. People are asking me a lot lately when I will finish, and also people who are also potentially applying for internship right now (which ostensibly I am doing too) keep asking me questions about applications and my progress on this....this all makes me want to scream a lot of the time, as more up is in the air and unkown for me than it is for others.

Grad school sucks at times like these. I re: to your labmate, so often I feel like I have done things that seem the most compassionate or helpful, and they have ended up backfiring. I hate that politics are so much more imortant than humanity. I hate that you have to worry so much about boundaries and can't just do what feels right.

Take care of yourself, get water, get some sleep, and be good to yourself during this stressful time.

One of the profs in my department is advertising (heavily) for neuro post-docs, and I really wouldn't want you to end up with this person .... and I keep worrying that you will apply for it. Should I email you the details?

At 11:33 PM, Blogger James said...

First, take care of yourself.

Yes, some people deserve to be hated. Indulge it for a while then let it go for otherwise it eats you out.

Your labmate: That's hard, very hard. I think the best thing you can do is talk to this person and do your best to push them to talk to your PI/mentor. Going straight to the mentor doesn't take care of what is in large part the problem here which is that the labmate isn't addressing her problems/concerns/issues on her own, instead internalizing them and by that creating a real problem for herself. I'm not trying to blame her for what's happening to her, this is just the way things unfold for some of us and it's screwed up and messy. She needs to figure out how to deal with this on her own for she may later be in a situation where the likes of a good soul like you isn't there to be concerned and she'll be faced with it then. All that said, if you're not in a position of authority over this person it puts you in a difficult position to address her crisis with your mutual boss, and she could easily resent your doing so. I honestly think the best you can do here is to try to talk her into what she should do, and if you can get help from colleagues/friends in the lab on this the more the better.

You sound so much like my wife with the worrying. Do your best to take things one step at a time, try not to lose too much energy to worrying about things you can't do anything about as invariably we all have things that we need to worry about that we can do something about. Don't get into "worry-lock" as it can cause you to not see or otherwise take care of the things that are important and need to be taken care of.

On the subject of taking care, please do take care of yourself. Drink that water, get decent nourishment in your body, and do what you can to relax and to be good to yourself. I have faith in your ability to get things right, though you'll rip out some hair in the process. You're up to this, but you need to wind yourself down a bit for as much as you can, and just keep the steady push going.

At 8:49 AM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Thank you everyone. I respect your advice and opinions, and I'm glad you offer them so openly. I did end up drinking a glass of water and eating half of a water mellon (everything in excess is my motto). I tried REALLY hard to sleep, which is all I can do, and two Advil liquid gel-caps fixed my knees for a few hours.

Thank you for the advice regarding my labmate. I called her last night and gave her some positive feedback and support and again encouraged her to talk to our mentor. I don't want her to give up because she is such a tremendous scientist.

Shrinky kitten: If you are comfortable giving me the heads up regarding this faculty member, I would appreciate it. I will most likely send out my CV to every semi-interesting ad I see, so I may come across the person you mentioned.

New Kid: It's funny because those are the words I say to myself every morning in the mirror. I feel like that SNL character that would always look into the mirror and compliment himself, ending each monologue with "and people like me". Thanks for the support.

James: I think a lot of this type of worrying is a reflection of the career process characterizing science. Everything is an unknown, from the answer to your hypotheses to your future. There are no start dates or stop dates...everything always lingers. God, I miss closure.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger James said...

Your last comment caught my attenion in the context of numerous discussions I've had with my wife about along similar lines to this subject:

"I think a lot of this type of worrying is a reflection of the career process characterizing science. Everything is an unknown, from the answer to your hypotheses to your future. There are no start dates or stop dates...everything always lingers. God, I miss closure."

You're right, the nature of the beast entails numerous unknowns, but a theme I think I see with some of the postdocs we know is their not being as self-propelling as they need to be. That's part of it, I think there's also an issue of mentors not pushing things. I'm amazed when I hear a story about a post-doc who was working in the lab for three years, with no resulting paper, who's then told, out of the blue, that his performance is not up to expectations. Of course, there's no paper, and clearly there's less here than there should be from an "output" perspective, so obviously their performance is less than would have been expected. But why wasn't this person being counseled along the way? Why wasn't he told at least 2 years before that he's not making the progress he should, or 1 1/2 years ago? In the Navy we were expected to be counseled on our job performance every six months so there was little time in which you had no clue what your supervisors thought of you. Moreover, if the supervisor(s) didn't do the counseling and you got slammed with a bad annual evaluation you had recourse to have that evaluation contested because you weren't counseled. The Navy felt it was your boss' job to counsel you and develop you, to give you the chance to do the best you could in your job, all of which had to be documented, and not just slam you with a career endangering bad evaluation at the end of the year evaluation period. I don't see that level of accountability to people in science at all.

As you no doubt can guess, I perceive there to be a real problem with lab management and accountability at the PI/mentor level. Combine a person who's not quite self-propelling yet with someone who's not providing the necessary guidance and occasional boot-to-the-butt and there's much room for hurt feelings and busted careers later down the road, and it's the post-doc/grad students that suffer for this, and science as a whole.

I'm not saying that this is your problem, rather that from what I'm seeing I have the definite sense that the people who run things aren't doing nearly as good a job as they can or should be with reagard to developing their people, which often leaves post-docs and grad students in the lurch. The sense of accountability for PI/Mentors is nowhere near what it should be when you consider the time and effort invested by the junior people into what they do, and who, frankly, are owed more than they get.

My counsel to my wife has been to look out for herself, to argue her point and to get it on record either way to be sure she can point to what she's said, and to not take at face value anything she's told. She's her first advocate, and she has to know best for herself what needs to get done and to do it. Sometimes that takes an extraordinary leap of faith in one's self, but at some point in everyone's career they have to take it, and the sooner a person does it the better from where I see it. At that point a lot of those unknowns (but hardly all of them) start to fall into place and you're more able to deal with them.

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

I imagine that posting that was more therapeutic for you than anything I'm liable to have to say in reaction to it, but feel free to count my cyber shoulder as another of the sympathetic ones on which your sobs have landed. Now to the risky task of answering your request for advice. I'm an existentialist regarding advisor-advisee relations, as I am about most relations. I think boundaries aren't real until they are negotiated. But if you have no preceding experience with your advisor from which to deduce the rough location of the boundary you risk offense, depending on what she's imagining and how liberal minded she is. Duh. But my point is that I consider this to be a matter of etiquette and political adroitness, and not morals. So go and advise your advisor about your labmate with my blessing, my child. Meanwhile, as you sketch the facts, it also sounds like it would be in the best interest of the lab, so you could feel O.K. about it on that grounds. Of course, sketching is always sketchy. (BTW I haven't been reading or commenting lately because I've been moving and suddenly much busier in the brick-and-mortar world)


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