Thursday, February 24, 2011

Devil On Your Shoulder

Belle once told me that the voice of her conscience sometimes spoke to her in my voice, saying "And people in Hell want ice water!"

Dr. S is currently a postdoc. His boss is... well, unbalanced is a polite term for it- in a way that is not immediately apparent, but instead a joy saved for a few years' experience of her. The last experiment she suggested to him was something like this:

1) You are putting rubber balls in a bucket, punching holes, and adding water. The water comes out. Great!
2) For a control, you did not punch holes. The water stayed.
3) I want you to cut out shamrock shapes and leprechauns and see what happens to the water. It might not come out! YOU NEVER KNOW!

He is becoming increasingly disillusioned with academia and really, who can blame him?* So every so often he asks what I think about X, Y, and Z. After the last round, I have decided that 99% of all the advice I ever give people could be summarized like this:

Decide what you really want, what you're willing to sacrifice to get it, and what you're NOT willing to sacrifice. Example: I want to be faculty, but I will work no more than 40 hours a week, not 80-and-never-see-my-family.

Think about what happens if you don't get it, and will those sacrifices then leave you bitter, angry, and furious with the world? If so, don't make them. Example: My kid is five and I see him 30 minutes a day and those years are never coming back: FAIL.

Decide whether it's worth it to keep doing what you are doing. Example: I will give this one more year, apply for faculty jobs next fall, and then say, screw you all.

If it is, find something you can learn or get from the experience, and make it happen. Example: Hey! I will go learn to run, fix, and use mass spectrometers! That is marketable!

If it's not worth it to keep on... the classified ads are this way.

Tell your boss/ partner/ coworkers what your terms are. Firmly. Repeatedly. One more time, all together now. Example: I need this paper to be out the door in two months. I need you to choose which of these seventeen experiments are most experiment, because I can only do two. And I need you to actually READ THE DAMN PAPER, bitch. (The last part, maybe in the inside voice.)

If they don't like it, they can take a, repeat with me, long walk off a short pier. Example: Go to hell, I'm getting a job in industry. Take your grant and shove it.**

* Thanks, Amelie.
** I worked in industry; yes, I know what it's like. Also, someone in this lab walked away from a Damon Runyon fellowship to get away from the PI. Everyone together now: OUCH.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Latent Something

I have a long-standing theory that PIs at large universities are not selected for either management skills or teaching ability, and therefore, generally possess none.* (There are, of course, some who have it nonetheless, but not from any selective pressure on them.)

Dr. S's boss has, all unwitting, made it a personal mission in life to validate my theory.** She does an excellent passive-aggressive I-won't-send-your-paper-out. She tells people to their faces that they are terrible writers, that she understood nothing, and she will have to rewrite their entire papers (this to people who, I know personally, are excellent writers). She chides people in front of their entire lab for such sins as summarizing previously presented data. She is upset when Dr. S has a conflicting theory, and even more so when he is right.

What on earth is wrong with her? Latent psychotic tendencies? An inferiority complex? A tragic and possibly fatal lack of acquaintance with being contradicted?

In any event, she surely does not possess any management skills at all. Except the BAD kind.

*Some people do manage- I'm looking at you, JP- but it's all about their own skills, and usually not about the university hiring for it. I mean, when's the last academic job interview where they asked you about your personnel and budgeting skills? If you have a grant, well, very good. If you already have a job and postdocs, you must have skills! Yes! Brilliant syllogism.

** Come to think of it, Dr. S's former boss, who let a single postdoc single-handedly run the lab into $100,000 of debt, harass other postdocs such that they filed formal complaints, poison the entire lab atmosphere with entitlement and resentment, and directly cause the firing of four people (to make up the debt).... didn't have any skills either.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Clearly, this is my week to be a bad person. I looked up someone who, as they say, done me wrong. (It was in college; everyone is an idiot at eighteen. But still, she was quite unreasonably nasty about it and neither of us ended up with the third party in question, so there.)

I was distressingly pleased to see she is now quite fat.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Passive Aggressive

One of my sisters, as some of you may and remember, up and moved to a foreign country because "everything's better there" and "there's nothing we really care about here." That was six years ago, and I'm still embittered. Anyhow.

The clearance rack at the fabric store had woven "Made With Love By" tags. I found a set with her name. We both have fairly unusual names. Say hers is Dinah and her Hebrew name- in traditional Conservative American Jew fashion- is Peninah. She has decided that Where Everything's Better, her name is, instead of either of these perfectly good names given her by her loving parents, Rafaela.

I got the name tags that say Dinah.

(There are lots of good reasons to abandon your name and your family. However, the worst thing anyone in our family ever did to us was... yell. Very occasionally, like when we were 13 and probably deserved it. Or, once, give a trashy see-through lace skirt to Goodwill. Or, er, send us outside to rake as penance for slamming doors and stomping about shouting and hitting our sisters. No, really, that was the worst. And we totally deserved it.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

This Formerly Pregnant Human Took Drugs

... while pregnant (but only legal ones, of course).

Here is what I, personally, considered to be safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding:

Coffee, wine, beer*, two kinds of antidepressants, claritin, benadryl, two asthma inhalers, sudafed, tylenol, ibuprofen**, commercial soft goat cheese, the very occasional sushi from somewhere that had never ever in five years made me sick, bicycling, snowshoeing, flying at 8 months, skipping that stupid useless first-trimester screening, skipping that stupid GTT because I was all the low-risk categories but "under 25", giving birth at a freestanding birth center, getting a flu shot.... surely I'm forgetting something, but, er, I forget.

Here is what I did not consider to be safe:

A long list of fishes from a long list of local bodies of water, fish ever from the Great Lakes, eating at really seedy restaurants, smoking (I've never smoked anything, in fact), rollerblading whilst watermelon-shaped, and NOT vaccinating my child.

*None of these in the first trimester, but only because I was so nauseous that they made me throw up. Seriously. I would sit at the table every morning and stare mournfully at a cup of herbal tea, unable to even sip it.

**Not, of course, in the third trimester.