I got my first paycheck from my new job this weekend. Even though it is only for half the month (18th-29th), it is already bigger than my postdoc stipend. And it feels like even more now that my living expenses are drastically reduced from moving FROM a bachelorette apartment in a big city TO back in with my husband in a small town.

While I do not do this job for the money, it is still pretty awesome. I get to go clothes shopping, unencumbered by guilt for misappropriated funds, for the first time in about four years! YAY!!!!!!!!!

Damn it's nice to finally be a grown-up.

Hazard of the week

Yesterday's infrastructure was crisis of the day. Today is "Hazard of the week:" college kids on bikes.

I'm totally going to end up as one of those angry old people shaking my fist, I almost got run over three times in my 15 minute walk across campus. THOSE KIDS NEED TO WATCH WHERE THEY ARE GOING! I'm all for biking and such, but come on kids you're on the pedestrian sidewalk with hundreds of people milling around, you can't ride 30 mph swerving in and out between them and expect them not to get pissed off at you.

Infrastructure logistics

You know, they tell you this, but you just don't realize it at the time. Infrastructure logistics are a b!tch.

We even HAVE a team of people who take care of things like electrical wiring, moving large objects, unpacking giant machines from boxes, dealing with ventilation ductwork. And I even DID get in touch with them before I got here to try to get some balls rolling and figure out how to configure everything in the lab. BUT STILL the half of it was not realized until I was in the space, personally and physically. All this stuff comes up that you can't really visualize from afar.

If you work on anything that involves any kind of instrument larger than a small benchtop shaker (e.g. things like bigger, refrigerated centrifuges, cold storage equipment like fridges and freezers, MASS SPECTROMETERS or HPLCs, floor-model centrifuges, lyophilizers), it is a REALLY GOOD IDEA to make sure you have time for a logistical visit to your new space wherein you walk around and:

1. measure footprints out in the space (will my cold storage units all fit in that corner I think would be perfect for them? What sizes of tables do I need for my HPLCs to sit on with their computers? Where can the tables fit?)

2. count the number of wall outlets, find out if they are 220V or 115V and which of those you need for various instruments, and find out what kind of amperage your 115V outlets can handle--you'd think this is something you would automatically think of but I must be particularly daft, I have found it is easily overlooked when you're all excited about your new lab.

3. Find out the name, face and phone number of the buildings contact for any electrical or physical jobs you need sorted in your space before you try to put stuff there. Seriously, again this is probably something everyone MEANS to do but it is one that can REALLY make your life easier if you do it beforehand rather than after you arrive.

4. Find out the "Your U Way" that IT and grant things get done. Know names, faces and phone numbers or emails of those people who can help you get your computer networked and get your grant transfer sorted out in an emergency right quick, and find these out BEFORE you get on campus.

These people can either solve all your problems with a smile and a nod, or they can make everything a helluva lot worse. This is why it is SO important to cultivate good relationships with the support teams in your department. Don't think of them as if they are inferior to you, and DEFINITELY don't treat them that way. Whether physical, IT or administrative, these are the people that make your life run smoothly. Who make it so you only have to scramble and pull your hair out a LITTLE, and not chronically, hopelessly, alone.

Second week

Here I am beginning my second week of being on campus. Last week it felt like I never had enough sleep, I had no idea where to go or what to do from meeting to meeting, and like the chaos would never end. I'm ALREADY feeling a lot better since the only thing on this week's calendar is the course I am participating in Mon/Wed/Fri. I only have to teach two chapters, and not until later in the month of September. So I have time to learn the ropes and see how the primary teacher does things. He's an awesome teacher, and it will be such a good opportunity to learn this stuff from him. That's why I volunteered to teach this fall (which normally doesn't happen to new people in my department--usually you get until the spring before they throw you in).

But, I made it through that first week, and it's been pretty exciting. In this time I've already:

1. interviewed four potential rotation students

2. interviewed and hired two undergrads who will be working in the lab

3. Gotten my instruments 70% of the way towards functional

4. Received 85% of the lab supplies/consumables/equipment needed to get going in the lab

5. Gotten a number of very interesting applicants for my technician posting

So that's a start. Some things I already noticed about myself, though: I can already feel myself having trouble with saying no. I have a really hard time not just being as helpful as I possibly can about everything that gets put in front of me or that I even come across randomly. This is gonna kill me if I don't figure out how to manage it gracefully. You don't want to be a jerk, but I simply will not have the mental and physical wherewithall to make it if I don't figure out how to be careful about stretching myself too thin. So that's my warning to myself for the day: FIGURE OUT HOW TO SAY NO in a way that doesn't make you feel guilty.

New Faculty Orientation

I dunno, maybe I'm just a big dork, but I really liked my new faculty orientation day. I got to see face to face (and sit at lunch with) some of the people who will be making major decisions about my life over the next five years. I got some right-on advice about what you really need to do about tenure in a research department. I learned about the university's official educational goals for its students, and got introduced to people who can offer advice on how to work within that framework. I got to hear a really inspiring talk-through of how the big R&E initiative on campus works, and how I can get in on it. I got to meet some other new faculty from VERY different departments than mine, making some friendly acquaintances and a contact for funneling some grad students who might be wanting to bring their very different, but needed, expertise and interests to my lab. I learned about the giant supercomputer resources available (including REAL PEOPLE to get interface and application development help from!).

I took part in a provocative discussion during a case study of what one should do when a student comes to you with allegations of inappropriate behavior by one of your colleagues. And was simultaneously shocked and not shocked about how many people:

1. seriously argued that they should not get involved because "the politics could be too complicated" and the potential for getting dragged in and damaged was too high (incidentally, the university policy is that THEY HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO GET INVOLVED at least as a confidential whistle-blower to the office that handles such things--so they better realize that IT IS THEIR JOB TO DO SOMETHING no matter how afraid they are of the politics in their department).

2. 's first response was to say, "well, how do we know this professor (who as described by the case study had a reputation for inappropriate conduct and had been investigated about it in the past) really did it and the student is not just making it up for sympathy?"

Altogether, I thought the whole day was really worthwhile. Unlike the guy at the table next to me who made no attempt to hide his efforts to fall asleep all during the morning talks, and didn't show up for the afternoon. If that's how extreme he feels about what his JOB is about, why does he want to do it? Most people at least quietly slipped out without causing a stir if they just couldn't take it anymore.

You crazy memers!!

It's drdrA's fault! I must respond, but I'll make you all picture me (a 5' 2" blond lady) with my hair sticking up all over the place, looking extremely frazzled (like a new mom, except my lab is my only baby right now), standing amidst some cardboard box chaos and reacting like a deer in the headlights, being presented with this LOVERLY AWARD on Candid Camera (or Spagett!).

You sure spooked me! Now I am going to scurry away, confused, and not fulfill my end of the bargain for the time being...

K99 word to the (un)wise

If you ever have to do anything complicated with any grant, but PARTICULARLY the K99/R00 award (since nobody has any freaking clue what is going on with this thing because it's such a new grant):


And hope to god that person answers their phone, has time to talk to you, and has the bandwidth to figure out the details of your questions. Because getting the paperwork figured out for this thing is like herding cats. Everytime you think you have something taken care of, you find another one (or even a back-around of the same one) stuck to some sticky surface and you have to re-dig out what the hell is going on with it.

This is like a nightmare, like a real one: where you just keep endlessly, endlessly going over and over or trying to solve the same problem and just keep finding yourself back where you started. The kind where you wake up with a headache from the grinding pain in the ass of it all. HOWEVER because of the helpful people we have identified, it is going A LOT better than it could be......

Graduate school soul searching

I spent a few hours this week at a retreat for the undergraduate interdisciplinary scholars program from my postdoc institution (run by my postdoc mentor and another friend of mine), since it was at a center about half an hour from my new house and so it was not hard to pop over for dinner and a career panel session. These kids really are excellent, they go to a top-level undergrad school and got into a top-level research program that gives them some funding etc. Most of them leave their undergraduate career with graduate-student-level experience and some even leave with graduate-student-level understanding. Many end up with multiple papers from their projects, in high-end journals.

It was a lot of fun talking to them and hearing them present their posters, and laughing inside at the contrast between my own understanding of my undergraduate research and how well some of them REALLY GET what they are doing. I barely had a clue, I had good hands and I understood the overall point of what I did but it took until I was in grad school for me to think back and say, "Ahhhhhh, so THAT'S what I was doing..." But still, they are college kids and their enthusiasm pretty well outstrips their sophistication for the most part. The reality check of a long-term project, the weight of being responsible for your own destiny (and the research-life lesson that NOTHING EVER WORKS) hasn't hit them yet.

The theme of our career panel discussion was 'failure.' What do you do when things don't do what you want them to? When suddenly you're not a golden child anymore? When it dawns on you that YOUR ideas have to carry this enterprise, and suddenly your ideas aren't working the way they always did before? When the people around you aren't as supportive or nice, and the care bears undergrad special tea party is over? We all had plenty of stories, the kind of stories that probably just sound to the kids like 'and uphill both ways with no shoes in the snow blah blah blah...'

But in addition to us young faculty examples, there was an alum of the program back to talk about graduate school. As an undergraduate this kid was the star, he got so many papers in seriously good journals and worked so hard, all the while being a pleasant person to be around and staying generally popular. His research mentor pushed him really hard, got things out of him that he didn't know he had, and pulled his level of understanding of the science he was doing to that of at least a mid-year grad student. Succeeding was the norm, reinforcement of worth and purpose was the norm, and everybody talked about how well he would be able to do in grad school with such a start. Definitely golden-child paradigm, and just 3-4 years out of the program, already a legend to all of them.

Grad school however has been a different story for him. Not because he has done badly by any outward measure, or come anywhere close to failing, or even not made enough progress for his program's or his PI's requirements. Instead, it's the waking up to the real process of science and how it works for most people (even most high-level people), the part where hardly anything you do works, you have to keep plugging and plugging away at problems that seem so stupid, and nobody is there saying 'Come on, let's go, you can do it, one more rep' like your personal research trainer. It's having a PI who is much more 'watch and wait,' who leaves things up to you because it's your job to figure them out. And, how it feels when that progress just doesn't flow like it used to.

The room just quietened as he opened up and talked through it all, about coming to a place where you really start to ask yourself 'What am I worth? If I can't do this as well as I thought I could, if I can't make the contributions and have the ideas and jump to the starting line as easily as it looked like I could, am I still worth as much to it as when I could?' He articulated so simply and profoundly that classic struggle of growing up, between the 'ego' (in the psyche-sense not the colloquial), one's self, and relationship to WHY we do science: Because we can? Because it matters? Because people reward us for it? Because we want to know? And watching him let all those other kids in, to see in real-time what it is to transition from being a happy undergrad just having some fun in the lab, and doing really well at it as they all are, to an individual human being trying to find out if they are able to be worthwhile and important to the overall enterprise, was REALLY moving. He helped them to understand what graduate school is really all about in a way that we faculty people (even though we were all only about 10 years older than them) were just too far out to bring to them.

It is so fascinating to see someone grow like that. And although this guy is still in the middle of the hardest, crappiest, soul-searchingest phase of graduate school, you can see that his abilities, thoughtfulness and curiosity will bring him out of it. He really is sharp and an excellent communicator, and he has that fundamental individual reflective drive that makes the highs higher after coming through the darker lows. THIS is one of the reasons I want to be an academic scientist, for the opportunity to watch and be there for people coming around that bend--it's more than a little selfish, mostly for my own satisfaction and amusement, but I can comfort myself that it has value outside of that as well. Whether or not I can effectively help guide them around it will be another story--and besides, it really is something you figure out for yourself or you don't, no mentor can do it for you. But at least I get to have a job where part of my role is to be there to see it.


We're pretty much all moved into our new house. It's so nice to feel at home after about three years of feeling like we were continually crashing at someone else's place. I'll have to get used to living like an adult again after the fratgirl/bachelorette-style of the last couple of years. Not party-wise, you understand, but not-doing-laundry-or-dishes-regularly-wise and not-having-real-furniture-wise.

I've got an awful lot waiting for me at the new lab! Lots of stuff ordered and piled up, lots of people to check in with, lots of institutional political wrangling to navigate (some of which I'm already feeling even from my remote status), lots of instruments to get installed and up and running, lots of students to meet... I am just like a little kid before Christmas! I CANNOT wait until Monday, but I am going to try to enjoy my last weekend of 'not knowing the half of it' while I still can.