Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Some breakthroughs have been made

No, not of the scientific kind: more of the life kind.

I blogged about my unhappiness and general negativity in my work-life here. The negativity was pretty overbearing, and I tried several ways to overcome it. I avoided, I listened passively, I even glazed over and mentally turned off when the bitching began, and all of it helped to varying extents. The fact of the matter was, the very people who were drains on my mental energy due to their bitterness were otherwise really nice and fun people to be around, besides being my only social interaction in the work-week. So after a while, instead of simply being a passive listener, I tried to offer a slightly different viewpoint. I tried to make way for a small ray of sunshine in the gloomy tales. I was afraid I'd come off as annoying and preachy as is often the reaction when a ranter gets unsolicited advice. Worse, I was afraid of being dismissed as naive. But in fact, I was received rather well. My suggestions were taken, my views were appreciated. I noticed that the cribbing was getting lesser over the past few days, and wondered if they had run out of things to complain about. Today, my co-worker actually thanked me and said I'd made a huge difference to her morale ever since I got here, and she was glad to be able to talk to such a well-grounded person.
(If only she knew ;) )

On the other hand, my own dissatisfactions at work have also begun clearing up. I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I switched fields in such a huge way. I was having a tough time understanding things, catching up and keeping up with an actively growing field of literature, and coming to terms with being the lowest on the totem pole. At the end of two months, I still don't have a defined project. And it didn't help that I was being so hard on myself, as I am wont to be, giving rise to a vicious cycle of less productivity and more despair. While I was busy hating myself for being so lost or having assimilated so little, I was making intelligent contributions to lab-discussions and every meeting with my boss always ended on a positive note with him being very happy with my progress. Clearly, things were not as bad as I was making them out for myself, but I was unable to bridge that gap.

I then made a conscious decision to lower my standards for myself. It sounds regressive, it was not easy to do, but it made me a much happier person and much more productive. Instead of aiming to present to my boss ground-breaking hypotheses or 3 specific aims for a grant proposal, I let myself be content in reading and understanding a few papers, and being able to put forth an intelligent idea. We would talk some more, and I'd take it from there. Of course, things are moving a lot slower than I hoped/imagined, but I have come to terms with that. With that, I have begun enjoying what can be a really fertile period in one's post-doc life: lots of out-of-the-box thinking, exploring and ideas that keep me up at night. Being new to the field has it's own charm- it allows me an unbiased view into things that can sometimes be very useful (and at other times, make me feel like a fool!). But in the end, it has revived in me the joy of discovery, an innocent fascination at how things operate in this system, and I am now enjoying this opportunity to find my own question and come up with how I want to answer it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Memories of a friendship

There aren't that many people who

  • offered their unconditional support and encouragement. Always.

  • would run out to the mall every time you had a conference to go to and buy you a new outfit to wear for it.

  • would lend you the keys to their car before you could even ask.

  • would cook and bring you food when you were sick.

  • would trouble-shoot your experiments for you over a cup of chai

  • you could call to your messy apartment in the middle of the night to help you find your passport since you need to catch an international flight in a few hours

  • would proceed to find your passport for you and drive you to the airport

  • knew what you liked, always made sure you got it

  • understood you, stood by you and goaded you on

  • got all your jokes and laughed with you

  • would drive 2 hours to get you from the airport at 3 am

  • indulged in you and your impulsiveness

And there aren't that many times in life you meet a single person capable of being and doing all of the above and more!

The sad part is never being able to get a chance to say thanks.. or sorry.

I continue to remain optimistic, and hope dearly for that chance.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Heppy Budday to me!

While I usually like to make a big deal of birthdays, (yeah, even mine); I really wanted to have nothing to do with my birthday this year. I wanted to sulk and brood and was in no celebratory mode. But then I stumbled upon this post by sheer chance and it struck a chord.

"Suddenly you wake up and realize that, many years ago, on this very day, you brought joy to your parents just by becoming present."....

I had never thought about birthdays like that before. Indeed, birthdays belong to the parents. Calls/mails/smses came in - friends (both real and unreal :) ) who cared enough to remember and call/mail in spite of everything else - all just to say "Happy Birthday". And of course, my little niece who has apparently been waiting since yesterday to scream excitedly into the phone "Happy Birthday to youuuuuu tgfi-pinni!" :)

Awww. How can I not be happy?

Life begins at 30: I have a year to do my homework!

P.S: And now if you will all excuse me, I have an hour long massage scheduled. :)

P.P.S: Yes, you can all each buy me a drink of your choice, I am partial to margheritas and vodka-anything. No beer please. Thank-you. :)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Show this to your mom

At lunch the other day I met a post-doc who seemed a bit low: she had just found out that her mom in India was diagnosed with breast cancer. Apparently her mom realised that something was wrong for a few months, but waited to go see a doctor about it because she wanted to complete the teerth-yatras (pilgrimages) she planned to go on and didn't want anything to interfere with those plans.


The irony of it all was harder on this post-doc, being a cancer researcher herself and in an environment where there is so much publicity, awareness, campaigning and discussion about breast cancer. It makes one even more sad to think about the absolute lack of these things back home, and the slightly more fatalistic approach I've seen in India about health and disease, even amongst the better-read and more well-to-do sections of the society. The value of early detection in breast cancer cannot be overstated. Chances of recovery and survival are highest when it is caught in the early stages.

Women living in North America have the highest incidence of breast cancer in the world, but since 1990 there has been a steady decline in the number of deaths from breast cancer in the US. This is mainly because of early detection and of course, better treatment. In India, we should see this as a warning of things to come. Breast cancer is already becoming increasingly prevalent in India. It is now the second most common cancer to affect women in India, more common in urban areas among higher socio-economic classes. This is possibly an effect of lifestyle changes that increase one's risk (alcohol, diet, stressful and sedentary lives, late childbirth, early onset of the menstrual cycle, etc.). This same high-risk group has access to more information and resources that are sadly, not being tapped. More than 50% of breast cancers detected in India are at the locally advanced stage (tumors greater than 5 cm), while in the US, more breast cancers are detected in the early stages and consequently easier to control and treat.

Every woman over 40 irrespective of identified risks should learn to perform a self-breast exam correctly and monitor herself regularly (once a month) for any tell tale signs. Regular self-exam (done correctly) helps a woman to become more familiar with her breasts and detect small changes. This should be supplemented by yearly or bi-yearly mammograms and any other tests that the doctor might recommend. 80% of lumps detected in the breast are non-cancerous. But early detection of a cancerous lump means a very high chance of survival and mammograms can detect a cancer much earlier than the symptoms begin to show.

I don't usually say this to my blog readers, but I want you all to show this post to your mom. Exhort her to get pro-active about this and schedule an appointment for her with the doctor to better educate her on breast cancer if she is not already aware. Simple steps towards breast cancer detection and prevention are very do-able and go a long way.

More related links

Edited in: The risk of breast cancer does increase with age, but as pointed out in the comments below, all women must be vigilant about it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Just when you think you've hit rock bottom

I got tired of not having furniture and decided to buy a table and two chairs off craigs list where the guys said they'd even deliver the stuff. I consulted everyone in my lab with the picture and took a poll on whether I should buy without actually seeing it. Much discussion followed on colour, upholstery, how to redo if ugly, sturdiness, indoors or outdoors, formica or laminated blah blah. The consensus was, it's a good deal, go for it, you don't have much to lose, and you're tired of living on your futon. So I got it. The two guys hauled it up too, and the table itself was pretty heavy, so I was quite grateful. I reported in lab yesterday that the table actually looked okay, it was nothing like I'd feared and totally agreeable. And finally I had a table, on which I could set up my computer and blog my emo posts. Yay.
Today, around the stroke of midnight, to be precise, while I sat in front of the computer, chatting, I felt a sinking feeling as the seat of the chair gave way and..

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's not looking good

and perhaps I am being a baby about it. But that's all I have the energy for right now. Life's one unhappy mess. And I know some things I can fix and some things I can't. And I should focus on what I can fix instead of brooding over what I can't. But I'm only human, and I will continue to wallow in self-pity and misery.
F!@# everything.

Monday, October 15, 2007

On not wanting what you can't have

When the realization dawns, that you may indeed, never have it, do you

a) Start questioning why you ever wanted it?

b) Make do with the next closest thing?

c) Weep?

d) Stop wanting it?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

What's on my mind #2

FYI, w.o.m.m is a new series on this blog, extremely random, the main goal being to vent.

Downstairs desi neighbour. Plays LOUD desi music at night. Now I do not grudge him the loudness, the apartments are really not soundproof here. But the music is always sad songs or ghazal stuff. Like "tum aa gaye hoooo....noor aa gaya hai..." and "Tujhse naraaz nahin ...zindagi.." and lots of stuff in similar tone that I wouldn't even recognize, except for sad tones.

I mean, for real? So much depression comes every time I open the window or go to the bathroom.

Now I am beyond those volume wars where I turn up my music just to drown neighbour's annoying music. But methinks its time to go over and introduce myself and lend him my dhinchaak bollywood cd, and introduce him to the likes of this.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What's on my mind

The bastard bike vandals. Last night, someone tried to steal my bike seat (but couldn't get very far, so I found it this morning with the seat all wobbly and tampered with). Since they couldn't get the seat, they went for my bike rack.

Now this was not parked in the same place as when they took my light, so they're obviously all over this place. I have learned my lesson and will never park my bike in places besides apartment and department. Although, I had one bike stolen when I was in Lutom, right from in front of my apartment! I am aware of the menace and stick to no-frills bikes to minimize my losses, but every time shit like this happens, it makes me feel so angry and violated. I also feel sad because my current bike was one of the things that moved with me from Lutom and is therefore special. The thought of these idiot people screwing with it is not a happy thought.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lesson of the day

Do not take anyone/anything for granted. Easier said than done, but very important in order to make the best of the present and minimise future hurt, pain and regret.

Monday, October 08, 2007

My first you tube post

(yeah, I'm late to this party)

One of the gems in this awesome dhinchaak autorickshaw myoojik CD gifted to me by this blog friend when we met in bombay.

KK's crazy almost shirtless dancing is delish and the song has me dancing in my head on my worst days.

Main aur verizon wireless..aksar baatein kiya kartein hain

When I was trying to get a DSL connection set up at home, I spent a total of at least 3 to 4 hours chasing the verizon buggers and their stupid voice-recognition software that would always answer the phone. After a frustrated hour of trying to get someone to help me about my online order, and never encountering the right menu option from the list that was pre-recorded, I got online and chatted with one of their reps, who suggested that I follow the option "billing" when i called in again, instead of "new orders". One of the confounding issues was that I did not have a verizon wireless phone number to identify myself. My last conversation with verizon went like this:

VW (irritating nasal twangy bot voice) : Welcome to verizon. you've reached verizon internet services. starting with your area code please say or enter your ten digit phone number now. or say, "i don't know it"

Me (calm and composed voice- i've done this before) : I don't know it

VW: Which are you calling about? "tech support, billing, or sales?"

Me: (still calm) Billing.

VW: In order to better assist you,I need to know the exact nature of your problem. Which of the following do you need assistance with..blah blah blah. Or say other. You can also go back to our main menu...blah blah blah

Me: (even before she finishes, loud voice) Other

VW: I'm sorry, I did not hear you. Which of these options did you select. *Rattles all the bleddy 34 options again.

Me: (waiting patiently till the end, and then screaming) OTHER

VW: I'm trying to get to know the exact problem so I can direct you to the relevant associate. Our support staff is trained to handle different issues...blah blah.. so , if you're calling to find out your balance, say balance. If you'd like to ...blah blah blah blah blah blah or say continue

Me: (calm voice) Continue

VW: I'm sorry, I did not understand you. If you need to know your current balance, please say balance. If you're calling about blah blah blah blah blah Otherwise, say continue.

Me: (calm voice, gritting teeth, using all my will power to not fling the phone at the window) CONTINUE

VW: I'm sorry, I still did not understand. Did you need help with your current balance? If so, please say balance. If you....blah blah blah blah blah Otherwise, say continue.

Me: (very calm voice) How about F**K YOU?

VW: You said continue. Please hold on while I transfer your call to the right agent.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

I need my sunshine

It's soon going to be two months since I started my post-doc. I haven't been the happiest person in the past several weeks since coming here. I hadn't seen this coming- I expected myself to be excited and upbeat about all the things new, all the exploring, discovering awaiting me, science-wise and life-wise. But it didn't turn out that way, and I found myself slightly miserable and a nagging unhappiness overshadowing my daily life.

Every once in a while, I'd try to dissect out what was making me so unhappy. Some of the obvious reasons were missing home, missing my well-lived in and nice apt with internet and my car, missing friends, missing the familiar comfort of lutom, and struggling to learn and understand all the new stuff at work. I found that I had very little patience for the feeling of not understanding or not knowing- and I encounter this all the time thanks to switching to a whole new field. But those are all a part of the game, things I had come to terms with.

Over the past few days and in the course of writing a post about it, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that what I miss the most is a bright positive influence in my life. I always thought of myself as a positive person, but that positivity was always helped on by an outside influence: and I lack that here. Back in lutom, my biggest positive influence was my phd advisor. Her ability to always hope for the best, celebrate little successes and her endless optimism sometimes surprised me, but also rubbed off on me and goaded me on. Then there were some really good friends, who could always make me see the brighter side of things and continue to do so when I call them and pour out my woes. The presence of such people in my life ensured that I didn't let things get to me.

Here, folks at work are nice and friendly people, but I find a lot of negativity around. The typical struggling post-doc is high strung about getting papers out and finding a foot in the door to get to his/her next step (academia or industry: both terribly competitive ); struggling to find a work-life balance or trying to justify to a significant other why s/he has to spend weekends in the lab and have a sorry paycheck to show for it. To add to these frustrations, there is a lot of people politics: something I just do not have the stomach for. I realised that if I wanted to be social, I'd have to put up with the gossip and the bitching, else I could choose to simply keep to myself; again, something I cannot do. Ever since I came, I have encountered a lot of negativity, anti-boss propaganda, and one-against-the-other bitching, without even giving myself a chance to enjoy or find out for myself how good or bad things really are. The one person here whose company I quite enjoy because we level well and she has a great sense of humor also happens to be a very negative, bitter person, and putting up with that sort of attitude has been pretty draining on my energy. Even though I tried to guard myself against this negativity, it caught on pretty soon, I suspect because I was simultaneously dealing with all the issues of moving into a new place and trying to find my bearings.

Now that I have become aware of the reason for my nagging irritation, I feel a lot better. My old friends have put me in touch with other folks who also live in Philly, and I am hoping to build a better network of non-work friends to socialize with. There are still a few good sunny days left, and lots to explore in the city, even by myself. Above all, I need to remember to be my own sunshine.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


It's amazing how much happiness can be contained in a modem with three green lights glowing. When I had just moved into my apt a month ago, I resolved not to get an internet connection and wanted to spend time more productively, make use of the sunny days left and catch up on books, friends, etc. Ah well, for a few days, it worked out well. But pretty soon, the withdrawal symptoms began showing up pretty bad, and limited access to a computer at work made it worse. I could no longer keep in regular touch with friends, and I couldn't blog or blog-hop! When I found myself reading email at home on my cellphone, squinting my eyes while each email took eons to load, giving rise to obscene cellphone bills in the bargain, I realized that enough was enough, and I had to get this problem fixed.
So I caved in and got a connection, and just hooked up my wireless modem so that those green lights lit up. I am so happy to back in blogsville! Muahs to everyone around here and unlimited drinks on the house!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Rants R Us

Don't say I didn't warn ya. Nothing happy or feel-good about this post. It's pure unadulterated rant.

1) I hate my apartment. The apt.was fixed up by my lab and I thought that was super convenient: really inexpensive by the city's standards and a ten minute walk to the lab. When I asked about it while interviewing, everyone who had lived there said with a shrug of shoulders "it's's nice.." . Next time someone shrugs their shoulders and says  "it's allright.." they mean it sucks and they don't want to tell you that. So well, first of all, the concept of cross-ventilation does not exist in this building. The building is stuffy as hell and when I enter in everyday, I am greeted by a mixture of smells: international cooking aromas and laundry smell all mixed up in the carpeted hallway. My apartment is on the topmost floor and gets a whole lot of sun which I'd typically like. But, by the time I hold my breath and run up the stairs to my apt, I feel like I am entering a hot furnace of sorts, causing me to want to leave right away. The only thing that keeps me is the horrible stuffiness that I'd have to endure to get out again.  There's barely any storage space in the kitchen and since I haven't bought any furniture yet all my masalas are sitting in zip lock bags in a carton. For now I have three pedestal fans positioned all around my futon to help me sleep, so that there's only so much I can do to avoid tripping over one of the wires or bang into one of the fans when I wake up every morning having forgotten the previous night's placement. Well, with the winter around the corner, I guess I won't be complaining about the heat for too long. For now, I hate my apartment.

2) Someone stole my bike light. Who does shit like that? I hope you rot in hell.

Thank you for the listening.