Monday, September 28, 2009

W O M M

I tested out, for the first time an online grocery website called peapod.com. The online grocery shopping experience was fun. I spent less than 20 mins- I had a LONG list since I'm out of everything at home. It was nice to be able to shop by category, compare prices etc. easily. I could also incorporate some kind of calorie-counting if I wanted to, but I didn't go that far. I didn't have to stand in a long frustrating queue, and I didn't have to worry about carting and hauling my stuff home. My groceries are supposed to arrive tomorrow morning, and i am super-excited and awaiting them. :) They have a free-delivery deal for the first time, if you spend  a minimum , so I easily did that by stocking up on non-perishables and replenishing all of my regular stuff. Stay tuned for update.

I think I have a basic witch-hunt problem with my experiments. I keep going after the wrong thing, with full zeal and over-thought experiments, only to find out that the culprit is something else. This has happened a few times now, even though I base my "witch hunt" on pretty logical observations. I guess i need to rethink strategies to deal with some of my trouble-shooting skills.

I am so close, yet so far, to the exciting part of my project. So many months went in just developing a plan, getting hands wet and standardizing assays. Some of the grunt work is still left, but I can also move along to the more exciting stuff. It has been fun so far, I just need it to speed it up now (i.e. put in 12 hour work days). I really need to work with the end-goal of a paper in mind. Minimum publishable unit.

I found out that I cannot travel to India to attend my friend's wedding. am super-bummed. Two of the friends from that group are going to be there- it would've been so much fun to go! :(

The long-distance relationship is becoming a way of life. Not sure if that's good or bad, or, just life. AT&T now has an A-list- where you can enter phone numbers of 5 people not on an att plan, and  talk to them without minutes being deducted. (Thanks to confused for the tip). It works only for the $60.00 plus plan. I have managed to put my calling card access number on there, and its so  much nicer to not to have to keep track of my minutes now during daytime india calls.

There is a short-cut to my lab I used to take, through a not-so-nice area. The street is dotted with lots of construction labourer people, some of who would make cat calls or just stare/comment when I passed by. I insisted on taking this route, armed with my mace and staring past them, mostly because I knew they were harmless but also because I felt like I had to stand up to my right to be able to take a shorter route and not have to give in to the idiots. For some reason, I have now stopped taking it. It was a subconscious switch- may be because its getting darker earlier and I actually don't feel safe walking that way, or may be because I actually enjoy the slightly longer, roundabout walk. It could also be because I'm making it out of the house early and not in a rush. I am not sure why. But I am happier for it- the subtle feeling of irritation that I had to put up with every morning is definitely something I can do without.

I have been talking to some really smart people about my project to bounce off ideas. My ideas have been received really well from them, and that makes me feel very good. I also realized that its such an uplifter- a word to all struggling scientists out there- don't feel inhibited to walk up that smart professor on your floor and discuss your stuff. Most of them have an endless amount of creative firing going on in their brains 24/7, and are excited enough about science to indulge in you. So just spend some time crystallizing your ideas and then go and  ask for their time- may be email them a little gist of your project to pique their interests and set the stage. Thats the fun part of academia- free exchange of thoughts and resultant brainstorming. I guess in grad school we had committee meetings that served this purpose- as post-docs- if your fellow-lab-mates are just quiet and speak only when spoken to, and other post-docs are too busy in their own stuff- its worth giving the professors a shot and a shout-out.

Over and out.







Friday, September 25, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Writing versus typing

Most of my ph.d. thesis and a large component of my papers - especially the discussion portions, i hand-wrote. I have actually filled up several notepads - not just with scribbling and and doodling but full-fledged sentences and paragraphs. Even now, while writing out a research plan for myself, I choose pen and paper. Later on, I transcribe my notes to word and also use some mind-mapping tools like free-mind. I have always been able to think better, have my ideas flow better when I'm writing on paper. While typing on a screen, I often feel a little intimidated or find it difficult to keep my thought streams going. I can also accommodate and organize my thoughts- which are often spilling over in all different directions- when i'm writing on paper, so that i can keep track and come back to some points later. This helps a lot in the early stages of conceptualizing a project or writing out hypotheses, rationale, evidence, IF-THEN flowsheets, etc. I just bought one of those stands/easels type thing that you can place next to your monitor, so i stick my notepad on there and transcribe my notes into a typed out document so i can share it with others or just store the final form.

Today I came across this tip on productivity.com and felt one of those happy, i've-been-doing-this-all-along type feelings. :)

There was some research done into what parts of the brain were triggered when writing at a computer versus what parts were triggered when writing with a pencil and paper. The experiments showed that writing by hand triggered activity in significantly different portions of the brain than when writing at a computer....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

because i can't rant against this shit enough

Just got off the phone with my health insurance providers. apparently my claim hadn't been filed yet because "my claim form seems to have gotten folded and the information needed wasn't visible."

Although they did have  my cover letter  with my membership # etc. visible - so they could trace it when I called, but to expect them to reach me to tell me that my claim form got mangled by their fax machine would be a bit much, no?

That's Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield for you. Useless people.

Monday, September 21, 2009

LOOK WHO'S BAAAAACK

Or so she says. Of all the blogs that went and disappeared into bloglivion, her disappearance made me the saddest, and her re-appearance has made me the happiest. :D

Everybody please welcome back and remember to bug Jane to update from now on!

In keeping with tradition, a round of celebratory drinks on the house! :)

YAY!

Friday, September 18, 2009

random gyaan for the day

A small degree of detachment is not such a bad thing..

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Every step he took would rock my world. Not anymore

It worked! (and no, I'm not referring to an experiment there).

I posted a very nice note on upstairs neighbour's door. I signed it with my name, and also said it was a polite request telling him/her (although i am tempted to guess it is a guy stomping around) to be mindful about the noise he made when he walked about, and that i understood that the bad soundproofing in this old apartment building was mostly to blame.

Well- I just got home an hour ago- and can already feel the difference! I can actually feel like I can hear more restrained movement, instead of my shelves and china rattling and walls vibrating. I am so kicked! May be i'll write him a thank-you note now. :p

That brings me to something that just crossed my mind- how come I am not complaining that much about experiments not working? It is not due to lack of experiments not working, that much I can tell you. It is a lot of things. I think work pressures have gotten less disproportionate thanks to other significant events in life, thanks to living in a city where there's so much more to do and distract myself with, and also, thanks to a very considerate boss. We discuss my stuff every few days and he is aware that I'm struggling to make some things work, while moving ahead with some others. He may not have the best troubleshooting tips- but at least he is aware of my progress, my roadblocks, and is encouraging, always.

I think I have definitely set a lot more achievable goals for myself in this lab- and one might argue that they are not stellar or nature-paper material - but you know what, I am getting something done. I have spread myself over several little projects, so that something or the other is moving ahead while others attain back-burner status. And the piecemeal approach is working very well- while at the bench, I am viewing each mini-project as just that- so it doesn't overwhelm me. But the bigger picture that I hope to put together when all of these little ones work will indeed be some cool work. Something that nobody has shown and something that nobody I know is pursuing. I always had a penchant for the obscure - it worked in my favour during my Ph.D. - even though getting there was more painful than if had a chosen some more tried and tested paths, I see myself taking a similar path here. My eyes are not set on a Nature paper - just to fit pieces of the puzzle that I am curious to answer.

I find a lot of my grad-school level of motivation and enjoyment towards science coming back now- coming up with ideas in the shower- enjoying discussions with my boss and my overall enthusiasm for my stuff. I don't remember feeling this way at all at my previous post-doc- the whole thing was just one single pall of gloom, always bringing me down- and yes, my goals were set a lot more higher. Both the projects I was working on then were tough, high-risk ones- and I suffered from absolute lack of advice and help- and intense pressure and the feeling of being incompetent. I am so glad I got out of there before it made me a wreck.

The trauma stayed with me for a while, though. It is only 9 months since I left that place, but every now and then I'd think back to those days and it would bring me down. Recently- I bumped into an old acquaintance from there. I thought seeing him would serve as a reminder of those horrible times- the times I worked until 2 AM and the times I dragged myself to the lab- but it was actually very different. I was so glad to meet him- he was one of the nicer people I knew there- and it just felt good to catch up with him and realize how, both of us, who were unhappy in our respective labs, have moved on since then, gotten out of our unhappy situations and seem so much happier now.

Yeah- this experiment seems to be working too! :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The weekend that was

Was nice. Met some people and "networked" in the true sense of that word for the first time ever. Glad I made this beginning in a mostly approachable group of people.

I spent 8 hours (to and fro) on a bus, it was nice. Very comfortable bus ride and I was happy for not choosing to drive in the crappy weather. Instead sat atop a double-decker bus and watch the rain, read, surfed the net and ate my packed food.

Double-decker buses and the front window seats still make me giddy with excitement. :)

Loved watching the bus snake out of the city, recognize familiar street-sights etc.

Came back to the city and had a great time with G and her husband. Great food, fun conversation that leaves you feeling warm on a cold rainy day.

Sunday has been a drag. I lazed mostly- but I think I needed it. I cleaned up a bit, cooked etc.

Discovered I am becoming my mom in so many ways. :/

Also discovered that i am becoming one of those annoying people in a relationship who wants to set other people up. Bah! I am trying not to, I promise!

I am going to finish up the cleaning and go to bed early. Tomorrow I will print out previous post and stick on upstairs neighbour's door. They are driving me C-RAZY!

Dear Upstairs Neighbour

Do you have a mini bowling alley in your apartment?

Do you have pet elephants?

Are you elephants?

WTF is up with the loud pounding noise every time you decide to walk across the room? Why do they cause my kitchen shelves to rattle?

Admittedly the sound-proofing in this building sucks, but a little less elephantine behaviour on your part would also help. Especially after midnight.

tia

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Heh

Filled an online employment form with Astra Zeneca India: "necessary" information included marks from SSC, HSC, BSc, MSc. and Ph.D.! Here's where my mom can say "I told you so". :)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The weekend that was

I pushed going to my sister's to Sat morning after getting some work done in the lab. I drove- which was a first for me by myself- and it was really painless for the most part- although I was already worrying about the return right then. :)

Saturday was my niece's birthday. We had a good time-lots of kids, fun, screaming etc.

In the midst of the party, my sis got a phone call from a friend- one of her friends from high school met with a tragic accident and died while on holiday with his wife. This was someone we knew very well from being neighbours in the colony and growing up with together. My sister and I decided to drive there the next day to meet his parents and brother who had just flown in from India.

We spent all of sunday at their place- it was a horrible situation and I really have no words to describe it. A young grieving wife- very distraught and shocked parents- and their younger son- who was junior to me and i've always considered as a kid- holding the fort up bravely for the sake of his parents. It was just horrible and made you wonder about the unfairness of life, the finality of death and all those things.

A very standard reaction to sad situations is "I don't know what to say" and that pretty much sums it up. What do you say in a situation like this, when standard words of condolences fall painfully short and seem very very shallow? I learned that being there is enough, even if you cannot say much. It meant a lot to the grieving parents that we showed up- for aunty- we were a reminder of the happy times her son had, the happy growing-up memories- the fact that her son meant many different things to the various people that came there- was some kind of comfort. In the same vein, people that knew their son and had close interactions with him were able to contribute to some amount of cheer- however short-lived it may have been- by sharing happy memories of his antics, his likes/dislikes, etc. Bringing his several facets to the fore, as each person knew a different side of him.

I think the heaviness of this experience is going to stay with me for long. I keep having visions of aunty and uncle and the little brother. Life is so unpredictable and so precious.

For lack of a better title, Hmm.

Been thinking a lot this- turning it over in my head, and hoping for time, distance and some amount of discussion to give me some perspective. Resorted to blogging it as it always works best to clear my thoughts.

I am 6 months into my post-doc now, and because of the way things have panned out with B the boyfriend having to return to India, I have started planning my return too. This was not how I had originally planned my life/career. The grand plan had been to get some solid post-doc experience (which translates to 3-4 years and a 1st author paper). This would then make me competitive for the next phase in my career: a "Real" job: the first preference being industry, and if that turned out to be horrific, then still leave a door open for me to return to academia, thanks to aforemetioned "solid post-doc experience".

My plan was also, to return to India eventually-- may be after the combined post doc + industry experience, or after the post-doc itself if a good opportunity presented itself. After meeting B and the way things have unfolded for him, it just seemed like I would be doing this return earlier than planned.

My plans are not mine alone any more, ever since I opened up to the idea of getting involved with another person. As if getting there wasn't complicated enough, and sprinkled with requisite goading from people closest to me - who were then worried about me "getting too individualistic/independent/set-in-my-ways", worried about me not ending up with a life-companion, warning me about being "too picky" etc. not to mention my own questions and doubts- having finally gotten there- I can hear my own little voice in my head go "I told you so". :) Not fun.

So fine- I need to get past questioning "how the hell did I get here" part and take stock. Over the year or so I have been seeing B, I arrived at the conclusion that here is a guy I foresee living together with, for better or worse, raising a child with, and living my life, carrying on my professional and personal pursuits with etc.

B is now in India and doesn't have the option of moving back to the US due to a family emergency. The way I see it- my current post-doc is but a means to the end- of me landing a "Real" job- and if I can land a "near-ideal" even if not ideal job right now in India, and work my way up from there, it makes sense to cut-short this post-doc and move back to India sooner rather than later. I have just begun sending out enquiries and feeling my way for the job-market and my opportunities in India.

The biggest motivations for me to do this are both practical and emotional. I'm almost 31- would like to embark on a married life, and have a kid, within the next 4-5 years. That is an important priority to me. I cannot see myself stay here for the next 3 years - hoping and working towards that paper that would make me more competitive, return to India when I'm 34, get married, and have a baby right away. Then there is a part of me that would like to be with B sooner rather than later, help him deal with his situation that is not the happiest right now, and will only get progressively harder as time goes by.

Where does that leave my career? Something that i have spent several painful years building up, enjoying the facilities to do research in the US and pretty much gotten used to making it my life. Life back in India is going to be nowhere close- and will it mean that I have put to waste all the years that I invested so far?

Advice from people closest to you fulfills the role of the devil's advocate. In all big decisions- these are the people that are looking out for you and only you- and are questioning your decisions with the sole idea of ensuring that it is the best for you. Nothing in life is zero-risk, and their job is to remind you of the risks- and make you carefully reconsider taking them.

My parents and my sister- who know me the best- seem disappointed, and wary of my readiness to "throw everything that I have painstakingly built for myself here" and return to India, which would involve a step-down career-wise and be wrought with uncertainties and dissatisfaction. With good reason, I believe, since any impulsive decision I make now comes with the danger of self-brought-upon bitterness later, which could be quite dangerous. Better to think through carefully, practically, and have all safeguards.

If I write down my options going forth from here it would be:

Work hard at my post-doc and pull off a long distance relationship for the next 3 years, if the relationship doesn't "stand the test" then at least I will not have sacrificed my career. (Costs: strained relationship, difficult life and doubtful baby plan)

If the relationship does stand the test, then work the baby into it- become that super-mom/scientist/all-in-one person that a lot of people aim to be and may be actually succeed. Who knows? (Costs: sanity)

Or else have a kid/adopt post-35 a lot of people are doing that too. Deal with those complications then, at least I will have had a successful post-doc to show for (hopefully)-and the self-assurance that I didn't make any sacrifices on my career. (Costs: strained relationship)

Start looking for a job in India right now- make the best of current post-doc- have something to show for it on paper (most realistic : second authorship). Take the closest-to-ideal job offer I get in India in the next year. Return to India, invest the same effort in building my career there, alongside family etc. (Costs: significant career compromise and uncertainty in career. For a person, who, for the longest time has equated sense of self-worth with my professional achievements- this is a significant risk. Won't know until I take the plunge).

Hmm.....for now i'm just going to go have a beer.

Friday, September 04, 2009

W O M M

Its so cool- autocomplete on safari automatically enters the titles of my W.O.M.M. posts. heh :)

There's a lot going on in my head that I need to sort through, dwell on, act on or throw out without a second thought. Such a mish mash.

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Its time for a stay-at-home weekend now. I have been running out the door for the past several fridays now, and today I am just dragging my ass, not wanting to leave. Its time to clean up, sit back, relax with a cup of chai and just take my time mulling over stuff or reading a book or whatever I feel like doing.

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Last evening, my mom had her mangalsutra snatched by some thug on a scooter when she was walking on the street near their place in hyd. There were 2 other people on the road when it happened, but nobody could do much of it while the bastards took off on their scooter. She lodged a police complaint and apparently the police were very polite and courteous and forthcoming. But I don't think there are any hopes that the chain can be retrieved. My poor mom. :(.

I can't even begin to imagine the sense of violation and insecurity my mom must be going through. These days, most everything can be written off with a "Yeah, its commonplace, hota hai, kya karen.." Petty thefts? hota hai.... Broken relationships? hota hai... Family crisis? hota hai....But its not the same for the person directly affected by it, and in turn, for those close to that person. That is why responses like that irritate the shit out of me. Of course sab kuch hota hai, but I wouldn't be talking about it if I weren't affected by it. So if you don't have anything better to say then take your smug hota hai shit and stuff it.

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Why do I want to get married? I am trying to answer that question. Why does anyone ever want to get married? Yeah, beyond the sex-benefits and dishwasher/driver benefits, and sperm-donor with desirable qualities type benefits. Hmm.. may be I should've asked my self this question before I created a profile of myself on hindiwordformarriage-dot-com. But back then, I guess I was also only thinking about the sex/dishwasher/driver/sperm-donor issues myself. :p

Then if I think really hard I come with the very miss-world-esque "I've met someone and I'm ready for this next stage and want to be married..etc." kind of answer- that a small part of me is still not buying completely. What do I mean by "Ready for it"? Why does one have to be "ready"?

I guess all these years of marriage-is-not-important/necessary/the-be-all conditioning is not going to be easy to erase.

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ROFL Conversation between my niece Kavita and her friend Nick we bumped into

Nick: Hey Kavita where are you off to
Kavita: We're taking her (pointing to me) to the train station
Nick: Is that your Grandma?

What the EFF? Stupid kid whose parents must be in denial and won't get his eyes examined, is what I think.
Stupid Nick.

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There's always going to be people better than you, who have achieved much more than you. There's no end to it. There are also as many people who haven't done as well you. Why would you refuse to compare yourself to the latter group and always give in to comparisons to the former, and feel bad about yourself? A much healthier attitude would be to recognize your strengths and weaknesses for what they are, applaud your own capabilities and set your own goals. Easier said than done, I guess.

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Can someone please point me to some happy R2I blogs? I want to see examples of people that have gone back to India, gotten over the initial readjustment phase and are happy to be back.
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Before New York: A National Geographic Feature

"When Henry Hudson first looked on Manhattan in 1609, what did he see?"

Check out this interactive map on Nat Geo: where researchers have rediscovered Manhattan's original environment block by block. Its pretty cool.

The article is here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

W O M M

Its very painful to have to let someone you care about fall and learn for themselves, because they simply leave you no other choice. There is always the worry of how hard he might fall, and how much he will learn- how much will the fall worsen the problem instead of helping it. Don't know. You don't want to end up feeling responsible later for something you then think that you could have avoided. But quite honestly, I doubt if you could've stopped it anyway.

My soon-to-be-4 year old niece came home crying about how some girl in her class hadn't invited her to her birthday party. :( What a terrible feeling to expose a 4 year old to. Just another one of life's early lessons, I guess.

I walked into a toys-r-us to buy a birthday present for my niece. OMG. The stuff there was overwhelming. I almost ran out of the place without buying anything- it was chaotic - not just because of the crowds, but also because the mind-boggling array of options you can choose from to buy a present for a 4 year old. What nonsense.

I have never been a big fan of big-box stores. They reek of consumerism, over-priced-ness and foster this very distorted perception of what's cool, what's therapy, and what norms govern "fitting in". I hate the mall culture that has overtaken big cities in India too. Its just plain sad. I find that one of my favourite places to street-store-watch is actually Harlem or Little Italy type places - with all the random all-purpose-stores on the street- that have all odds and ends clothes, plastic-ware etc. in one place- stuff dangling from the ceiling etc. So remindful of some of those "General stores" in India. :)

Spending the day in a library- with tall shelves of books and serious studious faces all around me-getting some focused reading done- having a few bright ideas strike- sounds a great day to me- and that is what I did for most of today.

I met up with an old friend yesterday in the city. She and I were infamous for sitting in the first bench and giggling through class in class XII. Way back then, she had said she wanted to be a pilot, and I said I wanted to study more about DNA and get a Ph.D. in it. We recently regained contact and met for the first time after 13 years (thanks to orkut) both doing exactly what we said we would be. I was quite in awe of her pilot career, and she was as nonchalant about it. She had flown a plane to the US for the first time, but has traveled all over in her past 5 years as a pilot. Am sure life as changed her in several ways, but she is still the same simple, unpretentious person I remember her as. It felt good to see her and even if she brushes off her pilot status- I continue to be in awe.

Infidelity in a marriage, casual sex and promiscuity seem to be gaining fad-status in India. Sad.

dear anonymous

Who left a comment about the airtel $0.01/min calling card. You have transformed my life..or at least one component of my bank balance by seven-fold. :p

Many thanks are due.:)