Poker Night

No this is not really a post about playing poker. It is not even a post about playing poker with your colleges and how this can increase your report and make you part of the group. Or even about how to be the only woman at poker night. Instead it is about how I am becoming my mother.

When I was a kid my family always had meet up locations everywhere we went. “OK so if you get lost come to the fountain at the front of Disney World.” I went on trips with other families and they didn’t do this. Logically it makes sense. I mean we didn’t have cell phones (no not even my parents had them when I was really young) and it gave you somewhere to look if you got lost.

Often when we were late to get picked up or standing in the wrong spot my mom would tell us how not knowing where we were and not knowing where to meet people was her biggest fear. I honestly didn’t get it. What was the big deal if I was at the end of the school drive through rather than the beginning?

Yesterday night was poker night. Since some of the guys from work think that it would be wrong to gamble on campus they hold poker night at their apartment. I was coming directly from home instead of from work. when I got to their apartment (which I had never been to before) I knocked, with no answer I tried calling one of the people there whos number I had. No answer. After looking at the email on my phone which said they were going to go and pick up the sushi first I took a bus to the sushi place (10min bus–40min walk) and no dice. Next I tried calling a friend who wasn’t there but would have someone else’s phone number. Honestly I think I would have skipped the whole thing at this point except that I had to take the city bus back to by the apartment to get my bus home. So 50min late I finally arrived and did have a good time but man…

petpeeve

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Irish Coffee

Today I had Irish coffee with my Farmor (father’s mother). We talked about all sorts of random things and I felt like I made a lot of progress speaking in Swedish but the best part was what happened on facebook afterwards:

irish coffee

Being an Angry American

Only when you can use it to your advantage.

Today I had to call the tax office about my ID brev (link to last post). My official ID has been sitting in the Malmö office for over a month and I still can’t pick it up. I was supposed to receive a letter in the mail and when I didn’t get it they tried resending the letter. That was over a week ago. Now I still don’t have the letter and thus still don’t have my ID. After calling the tax authority and waiting on hold I spoke to 2 different people about getting my ID. After asking over and over what they could do, they kept saying they would just resend the letter. Finally I said, “ how is this going to be any different than the other two times?”

The employees couldn’t answer my questions or help me get the problem solved so I decided to use my “ugly American”-ness to my advantage and ask to speak to their manager. Imagine…yes we could try this other thing and send a copy of the letter to the local tax office directly. Feeling a little mean and very not Swedish…

Update: less than 5 min later:

text

Tax Office Brev

To get my Swedish Tax office ID I need a letter from the Tax office. I paid for the ID and took all the forms and information to get it before the holidays. They told me I would receive 2 letters, one which had my information to go pick up my ID from the tax office and one with some online codes for using their system. I got the code letter (brev) before Christmas but didn’t get the other letter. I have called 2 times to the main tax office but they kept telling me just to wait. Finally I went to the office in Malmö and waited in line for hours to talk to a person.

Yes, my ID is sitting in the office, and has been there since Dec. 28. I did need the letter to get the ID though. So they had the letter resent from Stockholm. *cross fingers* *haller tummarna*

2013 Goal Update 1

Every month I hope to keep you all updated on my progress toward my yearly goals.

End of January, how am I doing with my yearly goals. Copying my goals from just after the new year, here is an update on the progress.

1: work at the office 5 days a week: DONE! successfully am going in to work in a more honest way (helps that I have more to do and many more meetings) and even the days I have worked from home have been much more productive.

2: work out 3 days a week in January…up it to 4-5 days a week in Feb and March and keep up for the year: OK not really done…I averaged about 2 days a week but as I have lost 9 kg since December 28th I will continue to try to do this by resetting this goal to be work out 3 days a week in Feb.

3: post more often and in a timely manner to the blog: ok this one is the real failure this month. I have been so busy that I keep starting posts and not going back and editing them and posting them. Basically I am failing at the shipping part of the project **main focus for the next month**

4: work on my Swedish: I am now taking a Swedish class 2 nights a week. It started this week and will go to the end of March.

Outlook for February: work on the blog, work out more, and keep up with Swedish class.

I hope you guys will help keep me motivated and honest about the results of this 🙂

Work Life Balance: Mary Kay Party

Tonight I attend a Mary Kay party that my aunt had. It was fun to hang out with other “girls” and talk about make up, eat some good food, and relax. I also decided to invest in some skin care.

I am a products girl. I have always liked reading girly magazines about make up tips, products you should use, etc. However I use lots of brands and sometimes change  to save money. As a chemist I know that some of these products must be counter productive and recently I have been struggling with some breakouts on my face.

I was never someone who had a lot of achene in high school so I never learned how to deal with it. When about a year, year and a half ago I got a horrible amount of achene all at once that didn’t seem to go away no matter how much I washed my face with gentle cleanser or harsher cleansers, or didn’t wear make up or did wear it, or wore the kind with achene fighting medicine in it, I thought that these breakouts must be stress related. I was trying to finish up my PhD. I wasn’t sleeping well and I was working at least 80-90 hrs a week sometimes up to 120hrs including all the writing and editing I was doing. I tried to mitigate the achene by keeping my face clean and dry and only wearing coverup when needed. It started to clear up a week before my thesis defense and I thought that was the end of it.

Recently it has started coming back. I have been researching (what else should a scientist do when you don’t know the answer to something but look for evidence?) the effect of using different products online and in medical journals. Most of what I found explains that over time certain products buildup on your skin or your skin can become resistant to them and you start using more and more.

Since my best friend and my aunt have both had success with Mary Kay I decided to give it a try. The first thing I noticed is that you use much less (about 1/5 of the face wash that I used to use). While this is not a proper scientific study I hope to have some qualitative results soon.

quick side story: at the party the sales person was letting us try make up primer, which should make foundation and make up go on more smoothly and last longer. Being an annoying proponent of using controls in your experiments I decided to only put primer on one side of my face and see if I could tell the difference…

Bowling Take 2

This week for our Thursday social  we went bowling to use our 1 hr free coupons.

While I still think bowling is really boring I did have quite a lot of fun. We had 3 lanes and were all able to bowl 2 complete games. We even ended up using extra coupons and continuing to bowl for a 2nd hour. After bowling we ended up going out to dinner at a Spanish/Mexican food place around the corner. Now I ate Mexican food a total of 5 times when I lived in Chicago (5 years…not counting food I made myself). Once was for a work lunch, and the other two times were to try a few places. However the Mexican food there was neither TexMex nor the type of spicy meat sauces I like from Mexico…it was mostly lightly spiced dry meat in tacos etc. Now none of the food I tried was truly terrible but neither was it really what I wanted and since Mexican is cheap to make at home I stopped eating it at restaurants. This restaurant wasn’t traditional Mexican food or Spanish food but it was well spiced and the meat was cooked well.

We had a fun, really nerdy discussion about the type of video games we all like to play and grew up playing. As the friend of one of the guys’ girl friends said at the bowling alley (they didn’t come to dinner) it was like we were in the episode of The Big Bang Theory. I don’t think she thought this was a compliment.

As we ordered in the resturant the waitress kept responding in Swedish when anyone spoke in english (some of the guys from other european contries dont speak Swedish). So I decided to order in Swedish…I am supposed to be practicing right? The guys were all ordering beers and I asked the waitress “vilken typ av tequila ha du?” to which the waitress looked at me like I was crazy. When I repeated in English “what type of tequila do you have?” she still looked at me like I was crazy. Well apparently most people order liquor off the menu without knowing the brand, all the places we have gone have said: vodka, tequila, ….. The waitress didn’t know what types they had and had to pull out all the bottles and show me. Obviously,since I don’t drink a lot of beer, I will have to get used to the crazy looks as I continue to ask “vilken typ av tequila ha du?” “vilken typ av vodka ha du?” “vilken typ av whiskey ha du?” …

Mental Health and Gradschool Questions

I have been reading the recent flurry of blog posts on mental health and graduate school. After thinking about what I could add to the conversation I decided instead to focus on my own story and make just a few comments on what a few others have said. At the bottom of this post I have tried to collect links to the relevant posts.

 

First, I decided to be a chemist at the end of high school. Both of my parents have PhD’s in chemistry and I tried for quite a long time to not be like them, but you do what you are good at. Since I had this perspective, I went to college, knowing I was going to go to graduate school. Because of this I planned my classes and took opportunities to optimize research experiences. I happen to be dyslexic and knew from high school that I wasn’t going to be able to do well in college level English and history classes so I worked hard in high school to take AP tests so as not to have to take these in college. I have always said that I could fool a 3 hrs test better than a trained professor for 3 months. With these exams, I entered college with close to 60 hrs (I was a junior in standing) and I was able to take 3 bachelors of science degrees and a science minor. I literally took 4 non-science classes in college: 2 in Swedish and 2 in philosophy. I had worked in 4 different research labs by the end of college (1 REU like program, 1 biochem and 1 organometallic lab at my university, and 1 biochem lab in Sweden for a summer). Because of all of this I was a good candidate on paper. I applied to 5 top 10 graduate schools. I didn’t get in to 2 of them but when I called and asked why they both said that one of my letters of recommendation had come over a month late and that they didn’t accept anyone until their application was complete. By the time my application was complete they had accepted everyone they were going to. Honestly, this was fortuitous. One of these schools was the place my parents had met while my mom was a grad student and my dad was a post doc and I am not sure I would have been able to choose anywhere else if it had been an option.

I ended up attending a great school that fit my personality much better than the others. While visiting the school I called my mom to tell her that I had decided to move to Chicago because I would “graduate in purple velvet robs and get to buy a real winter coat.” While of course these were not the deciding reasons for my choice they were the cherry on top. I feel like this description of my choice is probably the most fundamental description of my graduate life. I had picked a great school, with the type of atmosphere and level of internal competitiveness that suited me, in a place I wanted to live, and with a climate I would enjoy. I had tried as hard as possible to balance my work and life right from the start.

I choose an apartment in the city about a 25 min commute in the morning to campus, understanding that I could have lived further into the city which I would have liked better but the commute at 9:30 pm would have been over an hour. And the night you are stuck at work till 9:30 is not the night you can handle an hour long commute. By separating myself from campus I made hanging out with other students harder but gave myself the type of apartment, in the type of neighborhood I felt most comfortable in (I am truly a city girl at heart), for the amount I could afford on a grad student stipend.

As I looked for a group, I met with the professors multiple times. I asked a lot of questions at group events and group meetings to try and figure out group dynamics. And from the final groups I was most interested in I took 4 different girls, each at a different stage in the group, out for coffee off campus to ask them personal questions about the group dynamics, the work, the professors, and grad school in general. I was really confident when I choose my groups. During orientation the department administrator had said to remember that there were three things to consider when you picked a group: (1) the project/work, (2) the group, and (3) your PI, you have to like at least 2 out of the three…and after finishing I have to say that if one of them isn’t your PI get ready to leave with a masters. I choose my groups thinking 1 and 3 were strong and there were people in 2 that were strong also.

When I joined 2 research groups with a combined theoretical and experimental project, I thought I knew what I was getting into. While I will say that I can’t remember an episode where I had some of the physical responses described by others, and I didn’t often sit in my apartment crying, I did drink too much, sleep too little, and have very little social life. And I was a very balanced graduate student. I knew what I was getting into when I went to grad school. I even looked down on one of the schools I visited when the grad students said they only worked 45 hrs a week and not on the weekends. “No wonder they take so long to graduate”-I thought.

One of my professors sent out a list of group policies that included that 60 hrs of work a week was expected, but this could include teaching, reading papers, and writing. I thought this was generous. I set up my schedule to arrive at campus around 7 am and leave most week days by 6:30 pm. By taking a quick 30 min lunch at my desk (I did mostly bring food with me though) I was able to fit in 11 hrs of work each week day, leaving about 5 hrs I needed to get in on the weekends. This meant if I came to campus around 9 am on Saturdays I could leave by mid-afternoon. This is how I got “work/life balance”. I felt that by cooking dinner at home and having time to hang out with my friends on a Saturday afternoon I was balanced. I was extremely lucky to make 2 very close friends within the first 4 months of graduate school. During our 5 years in Chicago, we had season tickets to the ballet and the symphony and liked to go out to eat at nice restaurants. But mostly we watched nerdy movies or chick-flicks and ate takeout and drank wine.

For me classes were easy, and teaching was easy as I had almost 4 years’ experience as a tutor from college. I had no problems with my qualifying exams in my 2nd year but soon after I started collaborating with a girl from the material science department. She had had some horrible interpersonal problems in her department that had put her behind in research. I noticed that the way her boss ran his group was extremely different from my PIs and I thought that if I had the same problem mine would not have been very sympathetic. As I started collaborating more and more I began to look around at different management styles and by the middle of my 3rd year I know that I often was looking for flaws in my group dynamics and with the PIs’ management of the group interactions.  By this point the group dynamics in my office had changed drastically from when I had joined the group and I felt that I sat in a “boys club.” I often watched while others got their names on papers and got picked for collaborations because they had poker night, or hung out on the weekend. I once watched the person who sat next to me go around the room to everyone else and ask for help but specifically not ask me…I knew how to do what he was asking about and in the end I didn’t speak up. Honestly I stopped trying to fit in with these people who didn’t like me. I had walked in on too many conversations about how I wasn’t friendly, how crazy it was that I was best friends with so-and-so cause they were so nice. One of the issues is graduate school is everything is unofficial. When you work for a company there is a hierarchy. When you are in grad school all grad students are supposedly the same and some treat it like an extension of college and other treat it like a job.

Because of this tension I felt in my office, I always thought that my struggle in graduate school was the group dynamics. Until the last 6 months of my PhD, I had always gotten along well with both of PIs. Looking back I was always nervous when I met with both of them, but mostly because I always thought I could have worked more…when I did meet with them the meeting always went well and they never told me there were any problems. We always discussed the science and they even shared many things about their travels, their families, and their opinions on academia with me. I thought I was one of the really lucky ones who had chosen well at the start of grad school. When I got near the end I began making an outline of my thesis and asking if what I had listed was enough. After getting confirmation on this I tried to wrap up all the projects we had discussed.

One of my PIs says that his requirement for defending your thesis is that all of your papers had to be in submission form but every time I asked him about a paper he was editing he would say things like oh I have to read so-and-so’s first. As we could go 15-30 rounds of passing a paper back and forth this was really frustrating. Finally, I was allowed to schedule a date for my oral defense (which was over a month out).

About 2.5 weeks before my scheduled defense, I was frantically trying to compile my thesis, while doing things like taking a day to make a 3D journal cover for one of my articles. After approving the journal cover, my PI asked to postpone the date so that we could have more time to edit all the manuscripts that were in draft form. We postponed 2 weeks to the last day of the month. So I had to get my paper thesis to the committee 2 weeks before and I would have those 2 weeks to back up my apartment, move all of my stuff to storage, get down to just 2 suitcases of things to move to Sweden. On the day that my paper thesis was due, I dropped a copy off at each member of my committee’s offices. I had a long conversation with the PI who had the strict graduation requirements about a manuscript that was at a journal and as I left his office I said “OK, my parents will buy their plane tickets to come now”. We then had a conversation about how he didn’t understand why parents wanted to be at someone’s thesis defense. (Seriously…this is a big day in someone’s life…way bigger than college graduation…on par with your wedding day).

During this whole process of postponing, my biggest problem was that as everyone around me was telling me my PI was acting completely unreasonably. I kept thinking that since I didn’t totally disagree with his points just his methods that anything I could do to make him happy was worth doing. Look: I agree, a more prefect thesis, more papers published those were good for me also. Making sure my PI liked me when I left and still thought of me as a hard worker or a good student was critical.

Two days after distributing the paper copies of my thesis, at 10:40pm on a Sunday night, as I was frantically packing in my apartment I got an email from my other PI saying they had talked and thought we should postpone to “button up” everything. I still to this day don’t know what that means. Now hysterically crying on the phone with my mom I had my big breakdown of graduate school. I replied to the email saying that I was confused why but if that is what they both thought then it was what we would do. What else could I say at that point…

On Monday I emailed the other committee members to let them know they didn’t need to read the 300 page thesis I had left with them on Friday. I frantically looked for a place to live as I had to be out of my apartment by the end of the month and obviously I was going to be around more than just a few days spent crashing at a friend’s. My parents had to put their plane tickets on hold so they could use the flights later (hopefully).

I had to wait a week before I could meet with both PIs in person (they were both at conferences) and I went to the meeting dreading it. Disclaimer: I am a crier. I cry when I am stressed. I cry when I am angry. I cry when I am frustrated and don’t know how to explain. However by pre-thinking what I am going to say, and how I will respond to certain questions (just like for a presentation) I rarely cry in public. I often cry at home but mostly can hold it in when at work; the last time I cried in public was an argument with a teacher 2nd year in high school. I was pretty sure I was going to cry in this meeting with my PIs and was actually trying to figure out how not to do it till the end.

I went to the meeting determined to explain why what they had done was such a big deal (in a response email one of them asked if postponing really mattered) and how much it had disrupted my life. I got to the office and they acted like this was a totally normally meeting. I could feel myself starting to boil with anger and took out a Kleenex to blow my nose and get myself under control. As I blew my nose my PI said “oh do you have this cold that is going around”. Honestly, I snapped. “No I don’t have a cold; I am trying desperately not to cry because I am so angry I can’t speak. Do you not realize how you have disrupted my life, cost me thousands of dollars, and you didn’t even explain what the problem was.” I explained the fact that I had been in this same office on the previous Friday and no indication was given that there might be problems, was really insulting. Going forward we were all going to have to communicate a lot better and if there was a problem I needed to be told immediately, that I couldn’t read minds. Both of them were floored to say the least. One of them hadn’t recovered by the end of the meeting (2 hrs later), in fact he kept saying things like “but it will be better for you”…in the end I had to reiterate that I wasn’t going to argue about the reasons for postponing but that the method and communication was a complete failure.

A month later when I finally defended it was almost worse that they acted so proud like they knew I was great and always had faith in me. “Grad school is incredibly difficult, but it doesn’t need to be demoralizing.”—Color Blind Chemist I left feeling little pride and a lot of relief.

 

I think my biggest revelation is that they system is broken (I know it has been discussed before). In the current system the PI has complete autonomy. While I know that an advisor has a lot of rolls to fill and  you can’t expect everyone to be good at all of them, I never asked my PIs to be more than they were. I found an outside mentor; I attended workshops on writing skills, speaking skills, and career development on my own time. I found outside money to attend conferences. I was frugal with my research budget and I took the initiative to start and maintain collaborations both inside and outside our university. When at a meeting in my 5th year that one of my PIs asked if I had looked at the literature and I brought up a slide with the literature summary, on the one hand I was insulted “you have known me 4 yrs and expect that I didn’t do my research?” and on the other hand I knew he would ask this question and wouldn’t remember what we had discussed last time so had come prepared. This kind of high stress environment is part of the grad school experience but the current structure gives all the power to the advisor and doesn’t have good structures for the student to use if they have issues. It is all very hypocritical. The same week I ended up defending, one of my year mates was also defending in my group. Somehow he didn’t have to jump through the same hoops I did. Not that his defense was without critique but it is extremely frustrating to have everyone held to such different standards. I know it is not possible to make life fair and I have been told that better students are often pounded on more and more is expected of them but while this might build good scientists (I find this highly debatable) it definitely doesn’t build comradery between graduate students or scientific collaborations between PIs and students but instead fosters power struggles.

My best friend was one who left with her masters after 4 years in graduate school because her boss thought that her year mate always worked more and got more done than she did (very simplified version of story). Now the fact she worked more hrs every day and the other student didn’t work on the weekends at all was not as important as his perception of their personalities which he equated with work ethic. Now the year mate is also leaving after 5 years.

This is a huge problem. As has been noted by others, choosing your group and advisor is critical but there is no way to know everything before you are really there. You can have a great relationship for 5 years and still have major problems, I did. Students are at the complete mercy of the advisor when it comes to projects, publications, graduating and moving on, and letters of recommendation in the future. Student have no leverage, no bargaining power, no compensation and nowhere to go when they are struggling (yes I know there are good counseling centers at many schools-including mine but this has no actual direct impact on the advisor-advisee relationship). Basically by the time you get to any major problem it seems like the most productive thing to do is move groups. This is demoralizing for most and if nothing else complicated logistically.

Now I am in Sweden and I have been looking around at the system here. I can say the method of finding a graduate position is much more stressful, as they apply directly for a specific project or group or grant. Also having the announcements be posted at any time of the year there isn’t the same structure of everyone in your class, and going through orientation together. However, it seems like most students have better work/life balance or at least don’t have to sneak around as much to have it. There are more department discussions of alternate careers and what is expected in academia (I have started a lot of these discussions but everyone has joined in, including some of the most senior professors).

I don’t know what the right fix is but I am glad that there are groups of people discussing this at length. With more conversation comes more exposure and hopefully a shift in the autonomous culture of chemistry graduate school programs in the US.

 

Original Conversation between Chemjobber and Not the Lab

Is Graduate School in Chemistry Bad for Mental Health 1

Is Graduate School in Chemistry Bad for Mental Health 2

Is Graduate School in Chemistry Bad for Mental Health 3

Is Graduate School in Chemistry Bad for Mental Health 4

Is Graduate School in Chemistry Bad for Mental Health 5

comment from professor about choosing profs: http://chemjobber.blogspot.se/2013/01/is-graduate-school-in-chemistry-bad-for_11.html?showComment=1358035454449#c4473973353610582084

 

Post by others in response to initial conversation:

http://dennymayo.tumblr.com/post/40437391233/on-graduate-school-in-chemistry-and-mental-health

https://theorganicsolution.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/did-i-not-work-hard-enough/

http://justlikecooking.blogspot.se/2013/01/grad-schools-mental-toll.html

http://colorblindchemist.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/mental-health-in-graduate-school/

 

Chemjobber’s Summary of the Conversations

http://chemjobber.blogspot.se/2013/01/more-on-graduate-school-in-chemistry.html

Coffee for Science, Cake for Fun

I have said before one of my favorite things about my new job is the coffee hours. Not only does this mean I never have to make coffee for myself and that I am regulating how much coffee I drink by being lazy but it is also a great built in way for new members of the department to get to know people and it fosters collaboration. It is easy for a student to ask a senior professor something simple as you can ask it casually at coffee hour. As I am not very good at remembering to go to coffee hour I have been setting alarms to remind me to stop working.

However, on Friday afternoon I need no alarm, partially because duh it is Friday but also because I eat a smaller lunch so I can have CAKE!

Today’s coffee hour was perfect, the cakes were wonderful and there were even a few that people had brought back from home to share (i.e., one from St. Petersburg) and there was lots of chocolate. But the best part was that because everyone comes to Friday coffee hour and everyone sits down for a while to eat their cake I got to witness 3 collaborations forming and 2 problems solved by helping each other. There was much catching up…”what have you been up to lately”, “oh I am annoyed ___ isn’t working” etc.

I really like this structured yet informal way to provide both socialization and collaboration. Is there a way this could be implemented in American research groups effectively? I am still pondering the ways…

Work Life Balance: Working Out

One of the main workshop and development conversations in science academia both in graduate school and beyond is how to achieve work life balance. I have attended so many workshops on this topic it is crazy. I am not sure there is really such a thing as work life balance but this year I made my New Years Resolutions in the hope of being healthier, happier, and more balanced. To me this means being healthy: both the food I eat and working out, being happy: doing fun things, staying in touch with friends, and balancing that with hard work and some good publications (otherwise how would you know you were productive :).

This is the first post in what I hope will be a year long series on how I am finding work life balance and working on my goals for the year.

One of my goals for this year is to work out more regularly. To this end, I decided to try to ease into it this time instead of trying to start too quickly which I did often during graduate school. My goal is to work out 3 times a week in January and then slowly increase this amount to 4-5 times a week in February and March. I decided to start with some workout DVDs I have (I own about 30ish).

Today I did my first workout of the new year; I tried a Jillian Michaels tape. What I notice each time I start again is that I am sore, out of breath, and that I don’t do the workout “full out”. I made it through the hr long workout but just barely.

This time what is particularly interesting is that I lost about 3 kg on my recent trip to London by just walking around. I was being cheap when I had time to kill instead of paying to take the tube back to my hotel I just “went shopping”, i.e. wandering through the stores and buying nothing. I hoped that this would be a good kick off to my fitness this year. I have been eating quite healthily since I moved into my apartment as during graduate school the way I learned to eat cheaply was by cooking healthy food in bulk.

Even though my back is sore from arm circles and some planks (crazy I know), I think this is a good start for the year.