Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Home, sick.

New years eve is just another day, right? I think I'm going to stay home and sleep through it this year, the damned weather outside is not at all inviting to go out and "partay" into cold hours of the night, and although I was planning on going out earlier, now I just don't feel well enough for it.

I wonder how some people feel about their salary being one of the earliest links that pop up when you google for their name. I just googled a couple friends' of mine from grad school and while I'm impressed, and a tad envious to see the whopping amounts they are making, i also felt irked and kind of uncomfortable. Don't think I ever want to do it again. And then I think about how, in India, people blatantly ask another how much money they make. I can't stand it. Why only India- once, I had a random lady at an eyebrows place ask me how much I make, while threading my eyebrows! And it was the first (and last time) I was there. When at first I was a bit taken aback, then I tried to evade it, upon which she pressed on "Phir bhi, batao na..." OMG. I told her I came to the salon to relax and not to be reminded that I probably couldn't afford it to start with.

I am really dreading dealing with this kind of crap when I go back to India. Amongst other R2I-woes. My friends warn me about people overstepping boundaries of all kinds- spouting unsolicited advice about your choice of upholstery to your making a baby. Deep breaths, I guess and hopefully snarky remarks that strike when they are needed and not 12 hours after the incident has passed, which is what typically happens with me. :)

While on the topic of unsolicited advice, its also funny how I've been getting a lot of R2I advice from people that are living here in the US. Seldom are they telling me what I don't already know, perhaps acquired from the same channels as them. I guess they are just making conversation, and its funny how sometimes innocent remarks can rub one off the wrong way. It is happening to me quite often.

I am also not sure if I continue blogging here after R2I-ing, especially if I join academia in India. Life is going to get that much more interesting, complicated, and blog-worthy :) after I move back, but I am worried about revealing personal/professional details with a lot less anonymity and in the midst of a lot more nosiness than my nondescript existence here in the US. May be I am being unnecessarily paranoid? I know that the blog has been my outlet like no other, so it will be hard to let go. I will perhaps start anew? I don't know. Lets see.

Some deadlines have been set. If things come together as I hope they will, I now have a fairly fixed return date. And R2I-woes apart, the joy of finally beginning to live with B will make a lot of the other stuff more bearable, I think. My biggest fears are finding career satisfaction and dealing with B's dad's sickness. Day to day life issues, I think, I will just learn to deal with over time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

W O M M

Why is nobody blogging any more? So sad.

I read a funny tweet today "Once facebook starts tracking and letting you know who visited your profile how many times, we're all screwed". Hahaah. Then we'll start seeing those annoying orkut type messages "What ya visit and no scrap? I am hurt". Gah.

I am just going to recycle my old resolutions for 2011. Eat healthy. Exercise. Do not waste time or money. Call up people more often.

My biggest resolution is, a two drink maximum this new years eve. :D. Considering how over-priced things will be on NYE everywhere, this one should be easy to enforce. I generally live a pretty low maintenance life, but, have never gone an extra mile to save money. I spend impulsively sometimes, eat out often, and don't think too much before spending, when i do spend money. With my impending R2I, I have become a more conscious money-saver. Questioning purchases, avoiding eating out, etc.

I hate being arm-twisted into things.

I believe in things getting jinxed sometimes when you get too excited about them, overplan and such. I know its silly and illogical and unscientific, but. Well.

I was trying to help a friend deal with a rocky relationship- reminded me of some of my own friendships and how they have morphed over the years. I wish I could explain better how its ok for people to distance...to grow apart, and to attain a different place in your life than they used to. It is a natural progression of life and sooner or later, equilibrium will be attained, and we will be at peace with it. Some hurt and some misunderstanding is part of the bargain and nothing is ever constant, to use cliches. It all gets easier when you learn to accept the changes and not fight them, wanting things to be the same just as some kind of reassurance to you that you haven't failed a friendship. At most you are guilty of erring, a very human quality.

Some close friends I grew up with are still saddled with the best-friend tag, whether they like it or not- it's a lot easier than saying "my once best friend". :D. Jokes apart, I still believe these are the best friends I've ever had- even if, I talk to them only once in a few months, they are not my "Go-to" people, I have very little left in common with them, we've strayed apart over the years, I cannot any more relate to them, their mommy-talks drive me crazy...I just don't make such close friendships anymore as I struck with them, so, they get to keep their titles- no strings attached.

I am guilty of mis-judging my boss's words of late. I am glad he has my interests in mind. And, truly, productiveness from me can only help the both of us, so that's all we really need.

I was working like crazy, then lost tempo. I need to regain that tempo. Tomorrow.

Tonight I will send off a draft- its only 500 words, I really should get better at this writing thing at this stage. At least my boss had only good things to say about my first draft, a sign that I have gotten better already. :)

Monday, December 27, 2010

The weekend that was

On friday morning, as I was lazing and procrastinating, a friend said they were driving into the city and if I was free to meet them for dinner for that night, and I said yes right away. Suddenly, my weekend had gotten hectic. I had to rush to the lab, finish up work, make gulab jamuns which I had planned on making for my sister, and head out to meet my friends for dinner and then head out from there to my sisters place. Right then, I was priding myself about being such a shameless person, almost always available to take up any invite. One of the luxuries of single life that I love and will dearly miss once life becomes a two-person decision-tree. :)

Anyhow, I had a wonderful time meeting up with friends on Friday, after more than 1.5 years. The last time we met was when B was leaving the country, and they made the 3 hour drive all the way to meet B. My friend has had a baby in the meantime, and we had fun catching up, tourist-watching and general tp. I enjoyed christmas day with my niece, and then, as sunday morning dawned, the news of the upcoming blizzard surfaced. I had another dinner to go to Sunday night on my way home. In as much as I really wanted to go there, I decided to do the wise thing for a change and cancel on them. Instead, I made my way home early Sunday evening, despite my niece's protests to stay back so that we could have fun and play games all day Monday. :D. Aww. I had to come back and get work done, even if I couldn't go into the lab.

My first time in the thick of such a crazy blizzard. As soon as my train got out of the underground and entered surface lines, everytime the car doors opened, snow would come rushing through. People were sitting with their caps and gloves on inside the train. I was dreading leaving the train when my stop arrived. As I headed out of the station trudging through ankle deep snow, avoiding the gutters lining the side walk, it was near impossible to raise my head to see what was in my way. The snow came down in sheets, slanted at angle directly coming at my face. Cars were crawling when they were not skidding. The 25 minute wait at the bus stop was horrible. At some point I stopped feeling my toes and huddled in the space between the bus stop and the ticket machine to get some barrier from the snow that just kept on coming. Finally the bus showed up. The last leg of this journey was the 5 minute walk home, which, luckily I managed to walk on the street instead of the sidewalk, where car tracks had made it much easier to walk on. A cute snowman with a carrot nose welcomed me at the front of my building, and definitely cheered me up. :) As I rushed into my apartment, found that my hair was frozen, lumps of snow had entered my house through the outer pockets of my backpack, my coat, etc. Never did I want my warm apartment more. I got into warm clothes and relaxed with a cup of hot chai. Ah.

Today I decided to "Work from home" as I have no intention of wading through the snow fortress outside. Don't ask me how much work I got done. :/

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Don't leave before you leave

What an awesome talk, and what wonderful points. All please listen.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook: Why we have too few women leaders.


This thing about lesser women than men negotiating for pay is really striking and has been mentioned on various platforms. I am glad that I negotiated (Even a post-doc salary, that everyone tells you that there is no room for negotiation) when I was looking for my 2nd post-doc last year. Also, today, on my final paycheck for the year, I noticed that my income did not reflect the same annual raise as recommended by the NIH. While I should have really looked into it at the start of the year, I brought it up with my boss today and he said he will look into it. Lets see.

W O M M

I was wondering to myself, why is it that I am always stuck in lab over holidays and weekends, when everyone else manages to go off and enjoy the break? How come I always end up in such data-desperation? May be it feels that way because I am stuck in lab now, it is not like I never enjoyed time off..

Also have this miserable feeling about work..trying to put a finger on it and realise that, as always, I am upset at myself for not being able to achieve my own lofty goals. It is really high time I set realistic goals...the holiday period is basically 2 work-weeks, nothing more. Take off two days from it because it is really hard to work on Friday and something or the other will be missing and can't be ordered due the holidays..that brings it to 8 working days. Thats it. Hoping to achieve all kinds of grand plans by just working for 8 extra days is really basically flawed, especially in my time scale of 7 days for an experiment to go from start to finish.

And as far as work goes few things I need to fix to make me more efficient and productive

1) Get a handle on doing more than one project at a time. Typically, I race forth with one while the other gets forgotten, and it is very difficult to go back to it and pick up from where I left. To maintain some sense, I have started sticking an up-to-date post it on the project folder, writing exactly what experiment needs to be done next for that project, so that whenever I want to start, I can simply set up the experiment, instead of sitting at my desk, poring over the notebook, reorienting myself, and lamenting my loss of time.

2) Rid myself of mental blocks associated with some activities. We all have parts of our work we hate- it might be mind numbing activities like counting cells, or really repetitive or mundane work, or really detailed/difficult work which has a high failure rate. Every time one of these activities are embedded in my project, I put it off, thereby stalling the entire project. When I finally get around to doing it, I realise it was not so bad after all. So, I need to rid myself of mental blocks, and just do the damn experiment. If it fails, I will just have to repeat it. And again. No need for much drama, self-flogging, feet-dragging etc. to accompany these activities. Everyone has to count cells and organize samples and do the grunt work to get to the sexy part.

3) Also, make some of the grunt work more appealing , or less unappealing, by being more organized and clear cut and breaking it down.

4) Finally, must draw up a realistic time-table of goals. And stick to it. The operative word is realistic. Account for fatigue, boredoom, getting in late, not coming in on the weekend.

Monday, December 20, 2010

blah

Buying gifts is fun, except for dealing crazy holiday shopping crowd. I spent more time on lines at the checkout counters in various stores yesterday than the time I spent picking my gift. On the other hand, I got some nice gifts and was quite excited about them. Today I spent 45 mins in at the post office, with only one counter open and a line that went out the door. And here's the kicker- I spent more $$ on express shipping- because the stuff had to reach someone in two days in time for them to take it to India - than the cost of the gift. With some better planning, I could've bought my friend the nicer and more expensive gift using the money I spent on shipping.

Had to get it out of my system. Argh. Stupid things that I do.

Next time: buy online, get it shipped directly to the kind courier person.

That said, there is still some joy in picking a gift, packing the box and shipping it that cannot be the same as ordering online and having it directly shipped. I will go with that for now so I sleep easy and stop kicking my shins.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I want

The following ringtone for my phone, which I'm going to christen sheela

My name is Sheela,
Sheela ki jawani,
I'm to sexy for you,
Main tere haath na aani.

yeah!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On the choices we make, the paths we choose.

Bitter sweet. More bitter than sweet. I should be ecstatic today, got a really tough experiment to work after a lot of head-breaking. But, unfortunately I am not all that ecstatic. Because I had pretty much given up on it weeks ago and made the choice to pursue an inferior approach. There were deadlines and so we had to pick between keeping on trying with the new approach or going with the inferior approach that I had gotten up and running. So we committed to that inferior approach, which means we locked in $20K for it. We cannot back out of that. I continued to pursue this better approach in my "spare time" because I wanted to learn how to do it, and now, I have been able to get it to work, but unfortunately I won't be using it. Such a crying shame.

I hope my boss can remind me of all the reasons we made this choice and be happy with the choice we made. This back-and-forthness, even after committing, is so typical of me and is eating me up.

Life is like that, eh?

But its a good lesson in choices, short-term versus long-term benefits, pressures of deadlines and..what not. A lesson I will remember.

I am also sleep deprived, hopefully tomorrow will be able to think more clearly and make this out to be less of a tragedy than I am building it up to be in my head right now.

Merry Christmas

2001..I had just come to the US, very little general knowledge about jews and little awareness about the old testament and all of that. I mean, I'm sure we learned about it all in school at some point- but ..anyhow, I am all excited about Christmas and wish this very obviously jewish professor "Merry Christmas" in a loud booming voice. What was worse is that this was a prof I had an enormous crush on . - intellectual crush.

2010..I am a lot more aware and culturally aligned here now. Today I got out of a 3 hour discussion with a really nice prof- who I have been increasingly awestruck by over the past many meetings- just at his passion for his science, his meticulousness, his patience at explaining things to me...and of course, I end the meeting with a loud booming "Merry Christmas, Dr. K". Dr. K being an obviously jewish name.

Honestly, to me, "Happy Holidays" just doesn't cut it- it doesn't have the merry tone to it that "Merry Christmas" has. And I've always struggled with Happy holidays. What about people who are not taking off during the season? Like me? Should I be offended when you wish me Happy holidays? Crappy christmassy music and over the top commercialization notwithstanding, I love the spirit of christmas. And I guess I have this strong urge to spread that joy amongst people I love, either secretively or overtly. Only that can explain such stupid behaviour on my part.

What to do now? Do I follow up with an email to Dr. K and explain that I meant happy holidays even though I said Merry Christmas? I really like him and I want him to like me! :)

Merry Christmas, all of you!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

W O M M

"You'll be warm tonight" he said. And how thankful I was for him. For the fact that he came home late evening, while I was cooking, and spent 30 minutes..fixing my heat. Right now, the super is my favourite man..and indeed, thanks to him, I have heat! In this pre-war building that I live in, the heaters are ancient and while the management is busy getting the building beautified, upgrading these radiators is nowhere on their list. For the past few days I was wearing three layers at home, sleeping under two comforters and having a really tough time waking up. Everyday I dragged myself out of bed with weird body aches and went in late to work and still groggy. I blamed it all on over-sleeping. :) Coming home late at night after work and crashing, I was never in my apartment long enough to realise that my heat wasn't working. After a lot of self-beating over my inability to get up early, I realised that I was basically not getting any heat. It is fixed now, and what a world of difference it makes. :)

Yesterday I stepped out of the building to snow flurries that I wasn't expecting at all. It was pretty and cheered me up despite the cold - it was a good thing I was dressed well so I could enjoy the walk home. The winter, with its all its nastiness, can be pretty after all, especially when you have heat in your apartment. :)

Some people are very very resistant to help, I have realised, and that is probably the single most thing that brings them down. I used to be one of those people that found it very difficult to ask for help. I have gotten a lot better now- both professionally and personally. Professionally, it was thanks to PhDAdvisor's goading- she recognized that this was my weak point- and always chided me for spending too long trying to figure something out on my own before I stuck my head out and asked for help, and reminded me of the importance of time, and the smartness in asking for help. Personally, I have paid my price for struggling alone, not wanting to take help, only to realise my foolishness later. I have learned, finally, that help is just that- its a push. Eventually, you have to do the work, and you get to enjoy the results.

I don't know how to make others see the wisdom in this though- people who are struggling with their failings- feeling demotivated- stuck in a rut that I so very well recognize- and the only way to break out of it is to get some outside help and take baby steps. But so long as they resist it- wanting to do everything on their own - too ashamed or proud to get help- they only get further stuck in the vicious cycle. Its scary to see others fight similar battles that you fought and not be able to do much about it.

I am doing some mindless stuff at work these days. Working through a huge batch of samples in 3-day cycles. So every third day I am pretty much doing the same thing. I have never worked in such a monotonous mechanical fashion before. It is interesting. It is boring in some ways, but the challenge is in replicating the protocol "exactly" the same way on each of the sixty samples. I am enjoying the challenge in that, and pretending that I'm a robot. :)

The last 2 episodes of The Office (last of this season) sucked big time. Why is a comedy getting all mushy and preachy? It's bo-ring.

I am starting to put-together R2I lists. R2I-lab-list is a list of all the lab stuff I want to take back with me- protocols, tweaks in protocols, scripts, literature, notes from seminars, data slides, etc. R2I-personal-list is the list of stuff I own and want to take back with me. There isn't much in this list- unlike families that have lived here and R2I-ed, I don't have boxes of crockery and artifacts that I want to take back. Between B and me, we have a large collection of books, quirky coffee mugs and some street-art that I collected while living here. Then there is some stuff I want to take back as memorabilia. Bare minimum. Then I have a whole load of clothes that I don't even want to think about sorting through. I had earlier thought of a R2I-shopping list- things to shop for to take back with me (Backpacks, camp gear, DVD sets of our favourite sitcoms), but now I realise that I don't have the money to buy any additional stuff, and really, cannot think of what I would need to buy from here.

Recent R2I's - what did you take back with you?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Mess-magnet

I think I am drawn to mess. Messy house, messy desk. And this urge to set straight people that are messed up. I don't know where it stems from. I am beginning to wonder if its healthy- this innate need/desire to voluntarily counsel and reach out to complicated people. Of course, all people are complicated. But I seem to have some knack for bringing it out in some people, and then wanting to help them sort it out. God knows I'm not even qualified for it. Why do I do it?

How much can one really help another adult who is fully capable and needs to be responsible for their own decisions? Does talking, gentle nudging, tough love, help in these cases?

All I know is that I never got through challenges all by myself- I had my cheerleaders- friends who cooked for me, who gave me wake up calls, who yelled at me, who pushed me, who told me as it was, who nagged me on gtalk...and thats how the qualifying exams were passed, the thesis was written, the crappy relationship was ended.

So when I see people who are less fortunate than I am in terms of a support system, I want to do my bit. But this time I am utterly unconvinced if I am doing any help and worried about another person's problems consuming me when I have my own plate pretty full.

I guess the bottom line is that I should help so long as I can afford to, so long as I don't let it bring me down.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Saturday AM lazy I don't want to go to lab hence I blog blogging

Do any of you have friends who cut & paste ENTIRE JOKES into the gtalk window? Mostly dirty jokes? Three paragraphs long? What do you do? I told this friend to stop doing it since it could get me into trouble at work. So now she does it only on weekends. Heh.

From being anti-facebook my sister has gone to posting essays on facebook. I am not sure what to do with that now.

If I had one wish, it would be to please destroy the facebook "like" button. Please. Is there a facebook campaign for that? Why do people use "like" for things like obituaries?

Twitter: I am officially a twitter-lurker, even though I don't tweet. It is a wonderful time-sink. So much nonsense at one click. So many high-faluting people spouting opinions, witticisms, so many people blindly "RT-ing" all that nonsense and proclaiming lame jokes as brilliant and epic. So many people having full blown conversations back and forth. And so many fools wasting time on it all like me. :D

I am becoming dangerously close to crossing over into the dog-lovers world. I worry about me.

I have decided to give little christmas presents to all the people that factor in my daily life. That would be the super, the nice security guard that helps me out, the escort van driver, and the guy who washes the glassware at work and is always chatting me up. Now if only I could come up with something nice to give them.

I am enjoying outsourced. It is funny in its own way. Its like a parody of the opinion American Indians have about indians, and thats what is funny. Also Todd's dimples. Kinda cute. :)

Academia versus Industry take 542

So, I still haven't decided which way I am going. I have spoken to a bunch of people in India, in my field, who also followed similar trajectories like mine. The impression I get is that pharma R&D is pretty nascent in India, and not really doing much discovery to speak of, not in the areas that I am looking to contribute. On the other hand, academia is enjoying more funding, more encouragement and is a much more attractive option now than it was earlier. My feeling is that at least in academia, I will be in control of the quality of science I do, which is what my ultimate goal is, to do good quality science.

The good thing that came out of these discussions is that a good few people- again senior to me but in my immediate field- feel that I have a very good CV and am competitive enough to apply for academic jobs in the good institutes in India. That has bolstered my confidence a lot. I am slipping back into the mode where I wanted to be in academia for all the things I liked about it- the opportunities to teach, mentor, and generally enjoy academic lifestyle. But, I haven't slipped fully yet. :)

To complicate things further, we don't know yet which city we're going to be in. We want to be in city B2 but B is currently stuck in city B1. :) I know B2 has perhaps the best options to offer me in India, in terms of both companies and institutes. Then there is city D which is also very attractive science-wise- perhaps ideal fit for my profile but both B and I would never want to live there. No prizes for guessing which city that is. :)

Right now the way it stands is that if I am going to be in city B1, I will perhaps go the academic route, because the industry scene is pretty weak there. In B2, I will try for both and see what they have to offer..I am still information-collecting, CV-circulating, talking...

I now know what all those job-seeking seminars meant when they talked about taking the time to network, have informational interviews, etc. It is great that these people I am talking to are so willing and forthcoming with advice and their own stories. It helps me form a much clearer picture of what I am going for, and also lets guage my own worthiness for once, through less harsh judges than myself.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

HHMI awards for International scientists

How cool is this?

New International Competition Focuses on Early Career Scientists

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute today launched an international competition to select up to 35 early career scientists working at academic institutions in 18 countries on five continents with the goal of helping these talented individuals establish independent research programs.

“Science is an international endeavor, and HHMI wants to help develop the next generation of scientific talent worldwide,” said HHMI President Robert Tjian. “We are especially interested in helping scientists through the challenging early years, when they are just starting up their labs and research support is difficult to get.”

The Institute has committed $24 million for the International Early Career Scientist Program and will award each scientist who is selected a total of $650,000 over five years. The competition is open to scientists who have trained in the U.S., run their own labs for less than seven years, and work in one of 18 eligible countries. Those countries are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, India, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and Turkey. Eligible researchers in these countries are invited to submit applications.

W O M M

Sometime in the last six months before I defended, I set the following autoreply to my gmail id and stopped checking it

"Dear friends,
I am going into a self-imposed exile starting Jan 16. I have a thesis
to complete and a dissertation to defend. In addition, I have a job to
find and a class to teach. Of course, experiments are still being done
as I type this. I hope you will all understand and overlook my absence
from any social behaviour and communication in the coming weeks. See
you all on the other side of this madness. :-) "

I think a lot of the pressures are similar this time around. I don't have a thesis, but I have immense need for data and a solid story to produce and write. I still have to find a job, that too back in India. And no teaching, but shit loads of experiments to do. I need to go back into that exile mode. But ye saala twitter ko kaun band karega?