So... hard... to keep... up...

I'm trying not to lose it as I spin the teaching plate along with everything else. I know, boohoohoooo you'll all say--get used to it, suck it up, this is your life now. I still like it, I just need a minute--just a minute. I haven't had time to sit down and think for a while, and it shows. I need to do a lot of writing: we are trying to submit an R21 for Oct. 16th (mostly just for the heck of it, because you gotta start sometime, but for other reasons that are about a training opportunity for someone in the lab). It could be a pretty cool little project, so I hope we get some money for it. But if not, we're still okay for now and I have the K99/R00 in place to tide me over until I get my first R01 through the works. There are also a couple of internal small grant opportunities coming up in the next few months, for which I have some ideas that I have been talking to others about and gotten some encouragement.

The EQUIPMENT part of the lab is pretty much all set up. Now it's PERSONNEL setup time. I've been training the (great) undergrads in a few experimental jobs, and getting the grad student up to speed on some things. The lab manager started today, and I have high hopes that he will be a godsend. Very capable person, takes initiative and just sorts stuff out. Interested in the research too, and looking forward to helping me with experiments.

We started growing cells last week! We will hopefully be doing our first assay on Thursday unless the cells die! The cells are the easiest part of things to get going fast. We have done a pretty good job of setting up our operation though--it's kind of like one of those time-lapse movies of setting up a circus or a fair. I wish I had a good snapshot of "before" in the lab, though, to show everyone the contrast between then and the "after" state we're in now. I really am proud of it, we got an awful lot of large, highly technical equipment set up within the space of a month. And as stressful as teaching is right now, I still feel like this was the time to do it. Life is spinning out of control anyway, there might as well be one more thing going on. The discipline of studying organic reaction mechanisms and stereochemistry is good for me, and kind of Zen--I can meditate on R/S nomenclature and chair/twist-boat transitions (and how to help pre-pharmacy students soak up a real understanding of them) while I drive my ridiculously long drive to and from work. Yeah: did I tell you all how I live an hour and fifteen minutes drive (84 miles) away from my institution, AND have to go across a time zone where I lose an hour in the morning? Yeah. Hah. /cry

I have very little insight about all this, only that it is all flying past me at a million miles a minute and I need to keep trying to learn my strategies for getting actual work done and keeping my mind focused. It's happening very, very fast. And boy am I glad I went to all those orientations, because they were the last time I remember getting a chance to THINK. I need to make sure I attend more seminars, so I can do what everybody else does and use them to plan my own work.


I just spent a few hours this afternoon helping some students with the course content while they prepare for their first exam, which is tomorrow. I love it, but it completely obliterates my ability to focus on anything. I find a few things particularly stressful about the way my partial participation in this course have shaken out:

  1. I have absolutely no idea what goes on in the labs. I don't know what their lab homeworks are all about, or how the concepts are getting explained to them in lab for how to do things in the homework and lab reports. I don't have time to go take the whole course with them and participate in labs, so I am totally useless at helping them figure out the labs, and I am not likely to become useful anytime soon.
  2. The study methods involve working from previous example exams, which don't sync up with where we are at in the course this time of this year. They end up being incredibly stressed out and wasting a lot of their time and mental energy trying to understand how to do these problems that they have no reason to be able to do yet.
  3. Since I don't have a lot of time to spend on this aspect of things this year (and have not been asked to spend much time--my "official" duties are only a total of 10 hours of lecture) it stressed ME out a lot to find I don't know how to help them understand the stuff that isn't my direct responsibility or for which I missed the associated lecture by the primary professor. I end up needing to do quite a LOT more homework in order to be able to help them understand things that I a) haven't thought about in detail in years and b) mostly have my own internal, instinctive cartoon explanation for anyway.

I'm sure anybody who has had to develop and teach a whole course is saying "Boooo freaking hoooo!" but hey, the point here is that partially team-teaching a course that was developed and is administered by someone else without looking like a total moron and being mostly useless to the students is a LOT more work than you think on paper. I'm trying to make sure I get involved in as many aspects as possible so I can keep up with these things but by then it's like I might as well be teaching full-time. Oh well, I still love it, I just want to make sure I don't end up leading anyone astray by having the wrong way of explaining things to them so they miss out points on their exams.

This picture just makes me laugh

The look on her face is really funny.

What isn't funny, but puzzling and I don't know if it is meaningful or not... is that I hadn't seen any pictures of her before this morning. I've been a little out of the loop--I had a rough idea of what she looked like, but no mental image. I had only heard what she had to say, and I didn't like it. I don't like how her first out-of-the-gate things to say belittle the contributions of somebody who I respect A LOT. There's more but I won't go into it here.

Now after looking through a roll of pictures of her, however, I can't help but like her more because she wears hot shoes and has a seriously stylish coat. Because she is well put together and her hair looks good. Because it looks like she wears Bare Minerals foundation and her glasses are pretty modern. BUT THAT'S THE ONLY REASON I LIKE HER BETTER: BECAUSE OF WHAT SHE LOOKS LIKE AND HOW SHE DRESSES.

Isn't that kind of disturbing? That my style-sense unconsciously goes "Okay, you're in the club because you look like one of the cool kids, even though I TOTALLY DISAGREE with most of the decisions you would make for our country."



Science in Art

I'm really tired after giving my first talk on campus as a faculty member, at the retreat for the Cancer Center I am a part of. For some reason it was newly terrifying--even though I know this stuff inside and out and have talked about it before. I think it has just been too many months since I last gave a talk, and being the new kid is always scary. It was cool though, I got good questions and interest from people. Looking to fire up some collaborations that should be really interesting and move my science forward.

In other news, my good friend is getting some awesome attention for his fascinating and beautiful art projects, here is a link:

Chicago Artists Month 2008 Featured Artist

He was interviewed on Chicago Public Radio last year to talk about his "Audible NMR" projects, which are really cool. It's really exciting to see him get recognized for this stuff!


I learned my lesson about how much I need a Blackberry (and a human personal assistant) yesterday. Here's the setup: This weekend was my sister's bachelorette party up in 'City to the North.' I live about four hours drive from this city, and the city where I did my postdoc ('Big City') is about halfway between. My new department head was hosting a "New Faculty Welcome" reception at his house for me and the other new professor on Sunday afternoon/evening. I had it in my head that this was starting at 5 pm ET and going until 7 pm.

I figured this weekend was as good a time as any to kill an extra bird (mole) and pick up all my frozen cell stocks from Postdoc Lab. I could go up to City to the North, hang out with the sis and fam (mole #1), drive back through Big City and pick up cells from Postdoc Lab to bring to New Lab (mole #2) and make it over to the department head's house in time for the reception to hang out with all my new colleagues and meet some of their spouses (mole #3). I especially wanted to bring those cells by hand, because the last shipment of my cold stored stuff that my lab manager tried to send from Postdoc Lab got totally screwed up by FedEx--two boxes got mysteriously returned to her with no notes or info from FedEx on why, and the other two made it to me but three days late and all thawed out. I was NOT gonna take that chance with my cells. So I had the perfect plan. Nevermind that it involved a total of about 12 hours driving over the course of two days and multiple time zones and social events, hey I could do it.

I got a vague foreshadowing of my moronitude when I realized last Friday at about 3 pm that I didn't have my LN2 storage set up yet, so where was I going to put these cells once I got them here? Luckily my downstairs colleague was extremely helpful and offered me some space in his storage tank. Knock that problem off the list, mole whacked.

Everything else was fine (drive to City to the North, Bachelorette Brewery Cruise fun, etc.) until I got (i.e. actually arrived onsite) to the part where I pick up the cells. I found out a) my ID card no longer opens the door to the building and remembered b) oh hey, I gave my lab keys back! How do I get in here? Everyone I called from Postdoc Lab was voicemail-direct. Thank goodness for my lab setup consultant, she had the phone number for my favorite undergrad, who was able to bike over and let me in. It gave us a nice chance to catch up, too! Mole captured, de-frazzled and placed in whacked area.

Drove back to New Lab, got into colleague's LN2 space, put cells safely away by about 4 pm. Went back up to office to hang out until husband arrived for transport over to reception in my honor at boss' house... phone rings at 4:30.... it's the host, my boss, asking if we were coming... "Yes indeed, [Husband] should be here any minute--it starts at 5 pm, yes?" ... "No, actually, it started at 3..."


The mole I had carefully put in my pocket, labeled with a 'fragile!' sticker and kept fed for the last few weeks (I was really looking forward to this, I like my department and wanted to hang out with people--I even remembered to tell my husband about it RIGHT AWAY, so he knew it was happening and that he had to be there, I am not always so very good at that), had TOTALLY ESCAPED and was now biting me on the finger because I had gotten it completely wrong! We ended up being an hour and a half late to our own party, and I feel like a complete tool. Everyone was very nice about it, but I still feel so dumb. I am now in the process of full electronical integration so that something in my bag will help me better manage my moles. It's Blackberry time alright.

My K99/R00 guide (updated)

Based on some conversations I had with people at our New Faculty Research Orientation yesterday, I cleaned up a Word version of this post yesterday and sent it to the people at the Office of the Vice President for Research here. They want to make it available in their office for future K99 applications from my institution.

I also have noticed a lot of people, maybe 5-10% of my hits per day, are coming in through google searches for K99/R00 information. That makes me happy, and I hope the guide helps you all write your proposals!

I plan to write up a companion guide for transitioning once I get to that stage. In the meantime, I am still waiting for my award to actually officially START so all I can say for that part is to reiterate that you should make sure you keep in phone contact with the people handling your application. They are your lifelines.

(updated to link to the guide post)

Faculty people are like yellow labs

At our New Faculty Research Orientation lunch today, we had Tim Sands giving us an advisory peptalk on getting going on our careers.* On the subject of not burning ourselves out too quickly, he made an analogy to his pets: when you go on vacation, you can just leave a bunch of food out for your cat and it will eat as necessary and pace itself and generally be fine on its own. But with a dog like his yellow lab, if he did that the dog would eat all the food right away (it wouldn't be able to help itself) and it would make itself sick. He said, being a faculty member at this institution is like being a yellow lab: there are open bags of dog food all over the place and we've been self-selected to be the kind of people who would eat ourselves sick. So we have to be careful to control ourselves especially at the beginning. I laughed so hard I almost started crying.

*if you are very keen on figuring out who I am, I just gave you a crucial piece of information for your e-stalk search, since I don't mind being identifiable even though I am not blogging under my own full name...

Third week

This is kind of the beginning of the third week, given the holiday. I actually did take the day off, something I had not done for a long, long time in my postdoc. So here is where we are at:

  • All labware has been washed and autoclaved by the diligent, awesome undergrad workstudy student
  • Visit from Lab Manager Contractor was a huge success, getting all equipment unpacked and set up in new homes, stored supplies away in drawers, labeled everything with our OCD Type-A Label Maker Extreme
  • Goal of "no more boxes" was met by Friday evening, so now the only boxes left in the lab are full cases of backup stocks of various things
  • Electrical infrastructure work is almost done, so almost all instruments are almost all ready to use (aside from two that need manufacturer install to come set them up)--I'd say we're now at 85% of the way to functional
  • Promising lab manager candidate has been interviewed, reference checked by phone, and is looking to be "the one," offer to be made ASAP
  • Office fridge has been bought (it was hilarious watching the weedy guy at BestBuy trying to cram a 4.7 cft thing into the backseat of my little Jetta) and office has been fully stocked with microwave, food, picnic dishes and coffee/coffeemaker
  • Rotation student #1 has been set to start in October, additional undergraduate has committed to becoming the cell culture helper (her schedule does not allow for actual research, but her interest and enthusiasm were high, so maybe she can move into more research next semester)
  • Most ergonomics equipment has arrived and been installed (still waiting on my Herman Miller Aeron chair, it is on the way!) so I am much more comfortable typing this than I have been in the past
  • Husband is out of town for almost two full weeks (but home at the weekend) for work, so I get to stay as late as I want next week to play with the instruments and start preparing my teaching lectures

Those are the main highlights of the last week and the coming one. Things are settling into some semblance of a routine. I also now fully understand why PIs can never remember or keep track of anything. I've been spinning around reeling from the sheer number of crises to attend to at all given times. Professor Chaos calls it "Whack-a-mole," and it is afflicting me. I'm trying to figure out how to manage it. I have a REALLY GOOD memory when things get imprinted. I can usually control the imprinting process such that these little stamps get saved and can be called up when necessary, but my call-up processes appear to be getting jammed. I attempt to initiate them, and I just get the little spinny-wheel thing saying "working on it..." in my brain, while I stare into space. I think my first strategy will be to drink more coffee, particularly later in the day. My second strategy will probaby be to give up trying to remember things. My third will be to get an iPhone and figure out how to sync it up automatically with my iCalendar and maybe even my brain directly, so it can twinkle at me to let me know I need to know about something.

Open letter to Marc Jacobs

Oh Mr. Jacobs. How I have loved your bags, since I was but a wee college student (and I was tiny, even with the freshman 15 I never topped 120 lbs). Ever since I saw the picture of Sofia Coppola wearing a long coat and holding her hot-ass red namesake bag in the overflowing ads of Vogue magazine twelve (damn, twelve damn) years ago... Freshwomen, at least those from the ranks of the middle class in the perfect demographic to miss out on substantial financial aid while remaining without parents that can cover teh college, cannot afford them, alas. And so I dreamed and dreamed of the day when I would be able to afford to buy a Marc Jacobs Sofia handbag without using a credit card and making myself barf from the sheer depravity of unaffordable wrongitude of it all.

And now, now that the day has finally come, when I could use my 25% of my paycheck that is mine and mine alone (separate from the 75% that goes into the joint living expenses account) to buy WHATEVER I WANTED no matter how frivolous it is...

NOW you no longer sell the bag I have dreamt of for all these years. The only way I can get one is to buy some potentially shady one off of Ebay. This is so bogus!! SO FRICKING BOGUS I TELL YOU.

If anyone out there has a line to Mr. Jacobs, and can ask him ever so nicely to please, please make me one, or find me one, now that I am a real live grown up and I can rock the fashionable handbag amongst the professoriate. PLEEEEEEAASE????

I should have just used my credit card a long time ago. /cry