Sunday, January 30, 2011

WOMM

As soon as B and I start living together, this is the kind of stuff I look forward to,

* To be able to say, when any friend is trying to make plans with me "I'll check with my husband and get back to you"

* To be able to nag nag nag my husband. Yeah! I love!

* To be generally unavailable to friends on the pretext of wanting to be with my husband, nurse a sick husband, entertain relatives, being busy doing couple stuff etc etc.

* To be able to put the phone on speaker in the midst of a phone conversation and let my husband be privy to everything my poor unsuspecting friend is saying

* Ofcourse, to reply to gtalk conversations from my husband's friends saying "Hey this is me TGFI on his computer. hee hee".

* To sign off birthday wishes to other friends with "TGFI & B"

Can't wait.

Friday, January 28, 2011

This I'll miss..

I love the snow. I love how it transforms the whole place into this white landscape. And sitting indoors, with hot chai and a nice book, while it is snowing outside. I love the sight of snowflakes flitting to the ground slowly - especially watching it from my huge windows in the lab. I am looking forward to building a snowman this weekend with my niece. This past week I spent two nights in the lab, one of them was during the heavy snowstorm. It was almost surreal to be up all night, seeing the snow fall and by daylight you could see just how much of it had piled up within no time. The snow plough trucks were up and about early, working hard, keeping the road clear of snow, only ending up shoving it all to the sides, boxing the parked cars in. I watched with fascination as a guy dug his car out of the snow today. Poor guy. He was at it for more than an hour. Patiently shoveling the snow off, throwing it across on the road. After a whole hour and more, he had cleared it up enough to get into his car but when he started the car, it wouldn't make it out of there. Finally some passer by helped him out with it. I was so glad someone helped him. And I'm even more glad I don't own a car. :)

In other news I had my talk today. It went well. My labmate, who is a super-efficient machine of sorts, went up before me. Her talk was superbly polished, very very data-heavy and, in my opinion, reflected the work of two post-docs. :) I had nothing to match up to. But I went up and did my thing. Gave my shpeil. I was very upfront about the fact that the machine broke down a month ago and my samples weren't processed. Then I just talked about my other project which is also straggling. A couple people came up to me and said nice job, and I got a few suggestions and questions. So I will be happy with that. I think that in itself is a huge step for me. The fact that I am managing to be happy and not beat myself up into misery about how my lab-mates talk was so much better than mine, chock-ful of data and how I had such little data. Of course I did agonize about all of that in the days leading to the talk, but I'm not going to flog myself over it. I am sure my time will come. And I am glad I went up and gave the talk, despite it being so data-poor, and I am glad I am dealing with it well, unlike last year, when the exact same thing happened and I remember how much self-flogging I indulged in. I remember walking home in the cold pouring rain, tears streaming down my face and hating myself and questioning all my abilities the day before the talk. All I could think of was, that I had quit my 1st post-doc after a year with no data, and then I had spent a year here with no data. I think my self-esteem was terribly battered thanks to leaving the 1st post-doc. This year things are a bit different- first, the whole machine breakdown thing is not my fault. Had it not happened, I'd have some blazing data by now. That is part of what's keeping me up. Of course, if I wanted to, I could get into "But still, what about Project B- you should have worked more on that and had more data on that". I can almost hear a tiny voice in my head say that. But I have managed to make that voice stfu.

This is my last talk at this dept, and I had hoped to wow people with all kinds amazing stuff and the cure to cancer. It was far from that. But, I must say, I have achieved a personal milestone of sorts. Finally learning to rise up and above the "beat the crap out of yourself" syndrome that I was suffering from for the longest time. That is what I'm proud of, and I can strongly feel that I am very consciously beginning to get rid of that attitude, learn to be easy on myself and respect myself. In other words, I have mastered the art of slacking off and not being ashamed of it. :D

Monday, January 24, 2011

W O M M

Last night was my first ever all-nighter in this lab. After almost 2 years of being here! Yeah! Just the other day, I was bemoaning to a friend how I can no longer do these and I miss that feeling of accomplishment at dawn after one finishes an all-nighter and is riding the bus home as everyone else is coming in to work. :)

As I walked back home this morning at 7 AM and the cold draft hit my face, I thought I was ready to turn around and go right back to lab. But when I got into my warm apartment, the bed beckoned. 3 hours of sleep later, I am getting ready to go for the next shift. This is how it feels when you feel good and you feel like crap, at the exact same time.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Seinfeld

So I have been OD-ing on my Seinfeld DVD set for the past many weeks- less than a month since I got it and I am already done with the first five seasons. I totally love Kramer and Elaine is just the kind of person I wish I had for a friend. In fact, I've been seeing so much of it that sometimes when I'm at work I think of the situation and imagine how Elaine would've reacted. She is slowly morphing into an imaginary friend. :) I am also getting to enjoy the show in a renewed way now, having lived here and getting all the references to the city etc. much more than when I used to see it earlier while i lived in India and lutom. The downside of this show is that it makes it look perfectly ok to sit around all the time, drinking coffee and eating at Tom's restaurant, discussing complete non-issues with friends and gossiping about everything. I more and more want that life instead of mine. :/

P.S: Completely off-topic and random but I felt the immense need to record for the sake of it: I just learned that "warts and all" is a phrase to mean the good and bad included. I'm cracking up because I have seen this being used on a few occasions in reference to the same topic- being the city of Philadelphia. A few people, including Sujatha on my blog said to me on independent occasions "Oh I like Philadelphia, warts and all" or something to that effect. Then, it got me confused- i thought there was some reference to a wart-like-structure in the city of Philly that I had never heard of. So I probed but only got vaguer replies. A google search for Warts and philadelphia brought up various things like skin cancer and genital warts, but surely, this is not what people were referring to when they commented on the city? So I let it go, and when I left Philly, although I had seen my share of figurative warts, I felt sad that I never discovered these warts that everyone was talking about. Oh well. Now I know.

And now I shall stop wasting time.

Ta.

Friday, January 21, 2011

W O M M

The stress is setting in. And I am aware that I might be making it out to be more than what it is. But thats the way it is. A friend once told me I thrive on stress. If I don't stress like crazy, I totally let loose and unwind and don't get anything done. Or, at least I'm afraid that will happen. So I have to keep feeling this horrible overhanging tension, terror, feel like I have gotten nothing done and what not.

But the truth is that I have been working hard the past few months. It hasn't come together at the end, in time for this talk, the way I was really hoping it would. And that is really not my fault. The machine is broken. So I will have to let it go at that. Eventually I will have all this wonderful data that I can analyze for bigger reasons such as a publication- which is really what the end goal is.

And then, the overwhelming worry of not being able to give a good talk- of feeling small in front of the classy audience that is always giving great talks...I need to just get it out of my system. It is inconsequential. I go up there, I talk about what I have for 15 minutes, end of story. A great talk with awesome data would get some oohs. Mostly, though, people are thinking about pizza after. And what am I so worried about making an impression with the crowd that I am going to be a part of for only another few months? It does not matter. There are bigger and better and more important milestones, and I need to keep the big picture in mind and stop psyching myself out into feeling like crap.

SO THERE. I woke up this morning badly feeling the need for a pep talk of some kind- i think I have given it to myself. I need to shake it off, go about my list, not worry about outcome, and not worry about how the talk will reflect on me. Its not the be all and end all of my academic trajectory: far from.

A letter

To whomever this may concern,

Fuck you.

And that is all.

Sincerely,
TGFI.


I feel much better

Monday, January 17, 2011

W O M M

I have realised I enjoy working after hours and weekends in the lab because I can play the music at loud volume and my annoying coworker is not in my way. But it is still not the most productive way for me to function so I need to stop letting her get under my skin.

Some of the things that annoy me about her: the way she clangs and bangs equipment and stuff around as she goes bustling about in a big rush. The way she hogs all the machines at the same time and thinks its ok if she leaves post-it notes on them saying that she will be using them all day. The way she gets horribly defensive while discussing her data at lab meeting. The way she completely ignores other people discussing their data or presenting their problems at lab meeting- she is busy making her to-do lists or staring into space. I find that very very offensive. The way she never looks at you when you talk to her- just goes about her work, won't take her eyes off her computer screen or whatever she is doing, and answer in short monosyllables. Her complete lack of participation as a team-member. And finally, the ways in which she has tried to screw me over and create a distasteful lab environment over the past few months. Aargh.

I had a setback last week in my experiments that took a lot of head-scratching and trouble shooting and a few near-heart-attack type episodes as I was trying to get things under control. I think I have caught up over this weekend, at least identified the problem and now I'm back in the running. Less than two weeks to go for my presentation, so I'm hoping things continue to come together. I still have a long way to go. But at least things are working now.

I still haven't finished the review. :( But I feel like I have it under control.

I agonized so much over buying this expensive jacket last winter. We were half way through the winter then and I wasn't sure if I was going to be here for one more whole winter season after that. But well- I bought it anyway, and here I am, roughing it through one more whole season. The coat has come in very handy, so I 'm glad I caved in and bought it. It is super comfortable- it's like walking in a cosy snugly fitting sleeping bag. :) I love it! It's what inspires me to brave the elements and get out in the cold everyday. :)

Over and out.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Auto stories

B has several blog-worthy stories of his R2I experiences that I desist from blogging simply out of respect to his privacy :). We both grew up in Bombay at a time when it was so easy to go out on the street and get an auto to wherever you need to go. I also remember loving the auto-wallahs because you could often strike up a conversation with them- on politics, on the city, and such. But since B returned to India last year things are not the same. Auto-wallahs will deign you with a ride only if your destination is convenient to them. The horrible traffic situation, the effed up bombay roads are all part of the problem. Since his R2I, B has had a love-hate relationship with the autos. He has gone from hating the auto-wallahs who refuse to go where you want them to, to boycotting them and insisting on taking the bus every day back from work just because he hates having to beg and plead with a dozen auto- wallahs each time before anyone agrees- to befriending Naushad- the autowallah, who, after picking him on the street outside his lane at the same time for a few consecutive days in the morning became his friend and started coming and waiting outside B's building every morning to take him to work. The last story totally warmed the cockles of my heart and Naushad soon featured in our daily conversation, until, recently, he got a coveted job in the Gulf and left. :(.

B's latest skirmish with the autowallahs was quite something, so I'm blogging it with his permission. He had a flight to catch one evening out of the domestic airport, and after getting off the train, found it impossible to get an auto willing to come to the airport. After getting frustrated and worried about missing his flight, he just decided to walk it up to the airport (a ~ 20 min walk). He walked through the dirt and grime and dodged all the traffic - of course, that area is totally unsuitable to walk through- and when he was inside the airport complex, an auto kept stalking him. He shook him away a couple times but this guy wouldn't let go. B finally told him that he needed to go to the airport and he was already there- to which the auto guy says "Nai saab main paisa nahin loonga, aap ko bas chodh doonga - udhar havaldar mujhe pakdega agar main khaali auto leke wahaan gaya to". :) !!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Celebrating the small joys

I sent out another draft to my boss - thanks to her nagging and managing to block facebook, youtube, blogspot, wordpress and twitter on my laptop. Really enhanced productivity. I think finding someone like this to nag you while writing- on a few hourly- basis- is really helpful. My husband is not effective at nagging me to write- may be because of the time difference, or the fact that I can just tell him to shut up and get lost (I told her too, but she didn't back off). I remember the days of my thesis-writing when another blog-friend was nagging me hourly, starting at 10 pm every night right up to 2 and 3 AM, and really helped get that tome out of the door. I will always be thankful to him for that. This review is not yet done, but I got some comments from my boss on my draft and can work some more. I think this weekend I should wrap it up.

One of my core competencies is being a go-between between the biology side of our experiments and the statisticians who analyze the data for us. It is always a challenge to be able to speak to them in their language and reach a happy medium regarding grey zones. Statisticians believe in numbers, strict quality controls, and mostly black/white. Biology doesn't always work itself easily into those frameworks. While I cannot actually perform those sophisticated analyses that they do, I can understand programs, thresholds, criteria, and what some of those rules and statistics really mean and measure, in a biologists book. (For example, I am not this guy) After our latest joint meeting with the statistician where I managed to break down things to him, my boss sent me an email as follows:

"Kudos. For your clarity in catalyzing the discussion today, and for your fine efforts addressing the data analysis portion of the project".

This felt nice also because there were a lot of undercurrents in the lab regarding this project. A coworker was actually doing all the experiments and felt like I was unnecessary in the project because I wasn't "doing" any of the "work" and perhaps insecure that I was going to steal her credit. A very baseless fear because I wasn't doing any of that - it would be ludicrious for me to even try- she was assigned to do the experiments and I was assigned to analyze the data. I had to fight to keep my place there, be included in meetings, get all the updates on the project, because I knew I was bringing something to the table that she wasn't, and, because I was intellectually invested in this project. Through most of the conflict, I was getting mixed signals regarding where my boss's loyalties were. Mostly, I felt he was just playing politics, while he assured me that I had my place in the project. Then, a few months ago, when coworker wrote up an abstract on this work, she put me in as the third author, and my boss bumped me up to second author. That was a good sign for me. The whole spat was an education of sorts for me: in jealous coworkers, in politics, in making my point, in being mature and professional as against impulsive and forthright. In the past few meetings, I have hopefully convinced both boss and the coworker, (although I don't care too much about the latter) that analysing this data is as much as a beast as generating it, and I am making significant and unique contributions to it.

Finally, I found out that I have been selected as a finalist for an award that will help me go to a big meeting in April if I get the award. It will be awesome if I get the award: money to travel to the meeting, and, more importantly, some visibility and recognition. Fingers crossed for more news from there. :)

The bigger beasts in my life remain: a big presentation in two weeks and a review to finish up by then. But for now, I want to bask in these small glories. :)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Two choices

Lets say, you are committed to do something. You cannot get out of it, and you cannot count on snowstorms to bail you out either. So, now that we've established that you HAVE to do it, you have two choices from here

1) Drag your feet through it. Spend a lot of time "not" doing and then scramble to "Doing". Beat yourself up in the interim. Waste time without even enjoying it. Avoid avoid avoid. Waste time online. Drive self crazy. Think of this while doing that. Think of that while doing this. Worry so much about doing a good job, that you feel paralyzed and throw yourself into an endless loop. Worry- don't perform- worry more- don't perform some more. Sleep a lot, get stressed and eat fattening foods. Finally get there bedraggled, having done a half-ass job, and telling yourself its ok, its not the end of the world after all, there are other things. But, actually, in reality, hate yourself and never stop regretting that you could've done so much better had you not wasted all that time.

OR,

2) Have a plan. Stick to a schedule. Do it in small chunks. Focus for small manageable bite sized amounts of time. Reward yourself for every tiny milestone with some internet-indulgence or food or tv. Little by little, in focused efforts, GET IT DONE. Waltz into the finishing line gracefully.

What would you pick? Is discipline really more painful than self-loathing laced time-wasting which you don't even enjoy while at it?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

W O M M

By some weird stroke of luck combined with a very vela mind I logged into my AGE OLD hotmail account today. When I should have been writing my review article, of course. Whats new?

So anyhow, I sat and read a bunch of my old emails from a very very old phase in my life. My early years of grad school, my beginning years in the states.

The stuff I unearthed was more than just a blast from the past. Lot of stuff I had forgotten.

A couple very mature and nice e-mails from a friend when I mostly remember only her immature and hurtful exchanges with me from that phase. I felt so happy to read this. Proof that everyone has their phases, everyone is entitled to outbursts and equally capable of reason. Although it is mostly irrelevant now that we are past all of it, it was still gratifying to read it and will perhaps help me build a different memory of that time.

A friend's long rant on her resignation from her co. This is eye-opening now because it reflects a lot of shoddy unprofessionalism that B often complains about. Her specific complaints (from 4-5 yrs ago) are eerily similar to some of B's complaints of the organisation he was in. Having never really witnessed corporate behaviour first hand, these are all preparation for me for when i get into the big bad corporate world.

My past flames and flings. :) Quite something to look back on those, fondly and not-so-fondly. :)

My best friend doling out advice. This was when I was out of touch with her for the longest time, and then all of a sudden blurted out to her what kind of shit I was dealing with. And true to herself, she was there with solid support, backing and very good words of advice.

The really weird thing? I had a very similar conversation with this same friend today. We live in very different worlds- and rarely call/talk..she is a mother of two kids and I am a lazy person who has recently begun to rectify my horrible habit of not calling people. Anyhow, i called her today and was talking to her after 6 months. Ten minutes into the conversation I found myself blurting out to her the stuff that has been bothering me. No background no nothing. I just had to tell her and she understood. And sympathised. And gave me some very practical advice that put me at ease. We may have drifted into very different worlds over the years but I am so glad to know that friends like these will be there, and a lot more accessible when i go back to India.

General evidence that i've come a long way, and that I am capable of a lot more hard work than I am putting in right now. :) I didn't have a blog to waste time on then. :)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The job hunt thing

So I really need to have a more efficient plan regarding my job search. While I think I have a good idea of what needs to be done, I've clearly been lacking in the execution department.

Few things I've learned and I am doing:

1) Use professional email id (@edu) as against gmail id. I have actually gotten quicker responses when I emailed from my edu id.

2) Use informative, specific, eye-catching subject lines: "Interest in scientist position" is not good enough- better- "Referred by Dr. XYZ of QWERTY institute" or "Heard your talk at ABC meeting in Washington DC".

3) The initial email should also be specific, tailored to the company/organization and not generic. This everyone and their dog knows by now.

The next thing is FOLLOWING UP. This is where I am sorely lacking. I have had a good few initial conversations, going up to the stage of phone conversations, interviews, meetings, and even a tentative job offer in one case. But because of several reasons: 1) There being no set date of my return, and perhaps me having started some processes too prematurely, 2) Letting current deadlines and workload dictate the pace of my job search I have let things slack off.

So when I have downtime in my lab here, I work up these contacts and fire off good introductory letters. Then, inevitably, something pressing comes up in my current work. Everything else takes a backseat, and that hard earned initial contact fizzles off. That is what I have got to stop. I need to keep it going, like I said earlier, in an organized fashion- have a visible place where I enter dates of communication and schedule follow ups.

And finally, I do think I face the challenge of applying from overseas, which means I am probably not being taken as seriously, and people would perhaps prefer it if I were on the ground there already. That bit, unfortunately, I have no control over. I had envisaged a situation where I would've lined up interviews and gone home for a couple weeks before winding up here just to scope out opportunities, but things haven't fallen into place like that. Now, there is no time or money for such a visit. I will just eventually pack up and leave. So my goal is that I have some good interviews lined up for when I do return for good, and get to meet them all in person before I pick my job. I think that is quite doable. In that time, I'm hoping our dilemma of two cities is also resolved.

The good thing is, that the boss and I have agreed upon a formal date of ending this post-doc and it is set in stone. And while I am, as a result of that, mostly worrying about ALL that I have to accomplish here, it also means I have to work with equal zeal towards finding me a good job in India. I am keenly aware of the need to invest in a good career for myself in India, to keep me motivated and excited in the face of all the challenges that come with moving to India and doing science there. And for that, I will have to work hard.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

W O M M

Apparently I exhibit clear writing (or avoiding writing) patterns of behaviour. My husband can tell I have something to write when I start cooking and eating healthy food at home every day. Or when I am doing the laundry without dragging my feet. Regular readers of this blog may be able to tell by the increase in posting frequency. My boss has yet to nag me about the draft I owe him. I dream of all these encounters with him- he corners me in the hallway and I have nowhere to run..we bump into each other while I'm getting into the building..we're trapped in an stuck elevator..all kinds of such nightmares but every day is an anticlimax. We see each other and discuss all and sundry- he even noticed my new glasses today- but no mention of the draft I owe him.

And, with each passing anti-climatic day, the sense of urgency disappears for long enough for me to breathe easy,watch TV, go to bed instead of staying up and writing, only to wake up to a new day, with new ideas of being captured and taken to the gallows where all paper-writing-procrastinators go. Mummeee!

--
I bought the Seinfeld DVD set - all 9 seasons- for a steal on Amazon.com. And I say it is money well spent! :)

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Mass sms-es and mass e-mails and impersonal fb msgs wishing you a Happy New Year are essentially a waste of time and mean nothing. Instead of flooding my inbox with yet another impersonal message, why don't we just assume that you wish for me to have a very happy new year, and I, you? Cards in the mailbox are something else. This year I got a sum total of one. Thank god for that. Next year may be I will send some out too and do my bit to keep this tradition going.

--
I suck at this following up business that one is supposed to do when job-hunting. I need a method to it. Excel spreadsheet style- keep track of when I wrote whom and reminders in my calendar to follow up with them. Otherwise I'm getting nowhere beyond encouraging initial conversations that fizzle off.

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I find it a tad insulting that my boss asked me to draft a recommendation letter that he was supposed to write for me, and, then, proceeded to send it off without changing a single word! I know he's a busy man, but still. On the other hand, may be I should have written in there that I was the next best thing to qiagen kits. (A molecular biologist's equivalent of sliced bread).

--
I have offended good friends in the past by not remembering their wedding anniversary- even while being with them on that day or so. And of course, they didn't tell me. I think wedding anniversaries need to be celebrated only by the couple in question. It should be their own little private affair and the rest of us shouldn't have to deal with the responsibility of remembering their anniversary and wishing them. I will always celebrate the fact that my friend married a nice person and is enjoying marital bliss. I don't need a day for it! :)

--
Ours is a small lab- 4 post-docs and the boss, and the admin. In the past, when each of us has returned after a holiday to our home countries or such, we've brought back something for the lab. Cookies or sweets or whatever- usually they are kept in the admin's office because we can't have food in the lab. This time a coworker returned from her vacation, and gave the boss a box of cookies - nothing for the rest of us. She didn't do it front of us, but he happened to mention at lab meeting that the cookies were really nice and thanked her for it. I thought that was terribly lacking in class - her only bringing stuff to the boss. Am I the only one to think that it was crude?

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I need to write. Over and out.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year to you all

I had a "low-key" NYE. And quite enjoyed it that way. This whole "lets go out and pay ridiculous cover charges and buy expensive watered down drinks" or "lets go to a loud party and drink and dance and sleep on the floor" is just a sham. I think I am ahead of the curve, soon the in thing is going to be simply sleeping at home and waking up early, refreshed and well-rested and not hungover on the 1st day of a brand new year. Yeah! Remember, you heard it here first. :D
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I also spent some (Very little, not too much) money buying some more books this morning. And if all goes well, I might acquire still more. I know, horrible. But here's my logic- we're going to have to ship our books anyway, so what's another box, right? Right? Right????? I really need to get that off my chest. Also, is hoarding sufficient cause for divorce? If its books and a book-lover husband then it should be ok right? Right? Right???
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I have this fleeting desire to go back to grad school for a Ph.D. in neuroscience or psychology. What am I talking! Mad I am.
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I think my tummy has simply given up and cannot handle outside food. I need to stop abusing it.
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Long but nice article How-to-Change-Your-Bad-Habits: The take home is not new:
"Approach change as if you're learning a new language or a new instrument. Obviously, you're not going to be fluent or play symphonies instantly; you'll need constant focus and practice. Overcoming an unhealthy habit involves changing the behaviors associated with it and managing stress, because stressing about change (or anything else) will knock you off the wagon faster than you realize. Above all, get that dopamine system going: Find rewards—make them instant, and don't be stingy. Your brain needs them. And I promise (well, Volkow, Schlund, Wexler, and Fleshner promise) it gets easier. That's not a bunch of self-help nonsense. It's biology".