Saturday, February 24, 2007

Big, scary wave of evil

May I never walk into a room and have someone glance up, see me, and think, “Oh, fuck.”

Though I internally winced and grimaced, I outwardly smiled politely and asked how he’d been, shaking John’s hand. He chairs a committee that had soundly rejected two of my proposals, one of which I'd be presenting within the next 5 minutes. As this committee has no power to stop the study, nor was it offering funding to perform the experiment, I had no idea where they got the idea that being all high and mighty would result in any action from me at all. So I was doing the mature thing and ignoring them – I filed their revision demands away and invented new insults (which I never said aloud) whenever someone mentioned that particular group.

Then I, in my pink cardigan, gray pants, black flats and pink lip gloss, rose from the table to deliver my slide presentation. We were not at Evil Committee’s meeting, though a few of their members happened to be in attendance. This was instead an informal gathering of scientists doing clinical and bench work. The idea was to share our projects, get some feedback and foster collaborations where none previously existed.

“Delightful!” I said when the penguin invited me to speak since he didn’t want his turn. “I’d love to!” Then I did the typical nervous ick beforehand. I over-wrote the talk, then systematically cut it down to only the most important slides. Then I started to feel sick the morning of, requiring Friend to coax me into work yesterday rather than the other way around. I had eaten everything in sight that morning – it’s a nervous habit – then was accordingly sick as I commuted to campus.

“I'm assuming that this will arrive after you've already left for your talk, ,” Friend’s last email read before I headed upstairs from my desk, “so rather than again saying that you'll do fine, I'll say instead congratulations on having done fine. I hope you got the help you needed.”

My reply when I did return to my desk a couple hours later?

“I could cry. Seriously. Very, very brutal. Good ideas, I think, but mixed in with many "you kind of suck" statements.

I'm going to nibble at my lunch that I took (if anyone owed me a cookie, they did) and then consider leaving. Sniffle.”

It all started out reasonably well, though John’s presence was not appreciated. The room was filling up when I started and when I glanced around after making my way through 2 slides, there were no empty chairs at all. But people were eating their deli sandwiches and picking at containers of pasta salad, so I continued on happily. This was my thesis work and included the proposed project of which I’m inordinately fond. I wanted help on some sections with which I’m unfamiliar, but didn’t expect them to stomp all over my lovely plans.

A few people asked some questions as we moved through the presentation. I glossed over many of the technical details, which may not have been wise. They were confused by the big jumps and my attempts to explain using only figures were met with blank stares from some. But then moving to the more detailed slides I kept at the very end was met with horror (equations?! Oh, no!) from other members of my audience. A mixed group of purely clinical faculty to basic science undergrads makes a talk challenging. For me, anyway.

After I finished, I began to ask my own questions about what they thought was appropriate. And so began the next hour or so of people interrupting each other to say “No!” or “That won’t work!” or “That’s too vague!” in various ways.

I eventually settled into a glare that was just a shade on the right side of basic decency and leaned forward into the podium. “So what would you do?” I asked someone, interrupting his aggressive questioning. I got laughter from the room, and smiled, then raised my eyebrows.

“Seriously.” I said, holding eye contact with my current nemesis. “I need ideas. ‘That won’t work’ doesn’t help me out. Tell me how you’d do it.”

A brief pause ensued as we stared at each other, then he nodded, considered and offered some suggestions. I wrote them down and we went from there. And I did get reasonable ideas from several of the people in attendance.

I held my own, though I think I’ve blocked out some of the details. I argued some, took notes some and tried to explain a lot. I don’t know if they really hated me or if their passion on this particular issue meant I had the potential to do good work and they considered me one of them enough to attack me as they would each other. I like to think I handled it, but many people approached me afterward.

Nemesis – a man I actually quite liked based upon this initial meeting (and stare-down disregarded) – smiled warmly and told me I’d done a nice job. It was an important study and he looked forward to hearing how it went. Eddie – a friendly collaborator on this particular project who’d tried (and failed) to defend me several times – also walked over while finishing his cookie.

“On the hot seat, weren’t you?” Eddie asked, nudging me with his shoulder.

“A bit.” I said dryly and smiled. We talked about a few questions and ideas, though I was beyond exhausted at this point, and I paused to talk to John.

“So you’ll get that protocol revised at back to EC (Evil Committee), right? Soon? Because your IRB application is on my desk now and I don’t know what to do with it.”

Panic overwhelmed my exhaustion at this point. EC couldn’t stop me from doing the work I’d had approved so far, but there was a new component – one that’s important and cool and I really, really, really want to do – that still awaited the IRB nod. And he could hold that up. I felt sick just thinking about it.

“Sure.” I said, face falling immediately.

“I think you know a lot.” He tried to soothe. “You just need to get it written out and respond to the problems I faxed you.”

All the problems.” I said, tired and afraid and feeling depression settle over me in big, scary waves. “Those reviews were brutal.” I offered.

“Oh.” He said, looking surprised. “I’m just in the position of having to quickly summarize the thoughts in the room, and…”

“They weren’t good?” I tried to finish for him. “I got the impression that you were all anything but impressed.”

“We don’t mean to be brutal.” He said, and I shrugged and made a face that said I wasn’t sure I believed him. And he walked away, having ruined my day completely.

I thanked the penguin on my retreat from the now empty room, shocked at how sincere I could sound when lying through my teeth. Who in the world would thank someone for such a miserable experience? Then I walked in the hall, clutching a free lunch I’d been offered as I walked out of the room (there was only 1 box left), and spoke to Eddie again.

“What’s going on?” He asked of my interaction with John. I explained the process – we had official approval and funding and were left looking at demands of major revisions from a group that seemed irrelevant to me.

“Huh.” He said. “So why’d you submit it at all?” He asked. “I sit on the committee and we don’t usually see stuff like yours.”

“I know! I don’t think I should have. But the research nurse in another department insisted.”

We talked some more, I told him his committee was mean, he looked abashed and regretful and reminded me he hadn’t been in the room when my work was reviewed.

“I’d ignore them. I mean ‘us’ I guess since I’m on the committee. Just don’t resubmit it.”

I went on my way, still feeling sick, and sent email to Friend and consumed my lunch. Then I came home. And proceeded to worry excessively over my new project component that would get swallowed up by the Evil Committee because they were so very evil. And hateful. By the third time I started to pace around the living room in the middle of the night, I was convinced that all that was wrong with the world was encompassed in that room where they met to rip poor, little post-doc protocols to shreds with their big, evil fangs of doom.

Anyway, last night wasn’t good. I felt the depression ease over me – the withdrawal, the sleeplessness, the anxiety and fear. Everything that seemed good had been false, I decided. Work was all going to hell, so what was the point of my recent effort. There would be no data, no papers, no way out of here.

I woke this morning – having spent a tremendously long time trying to get enough sleep between trips to the living room (but not the bathroom floor! Progress!) – and walked the dog. Then returned to send email to Dr. Icing, pleading for help. I explained and whined and tried to be professional, yet my fear and irritation leaked out onto the screen in which I composed my message.

He responded this afternoon – “We’ll talk on Monday. Don’t worry! I remain positive!” And so I took the evil review from the Evil Committee and made some changes to the protocol that they don’t even need to see. And that’s all I’ll do for now.

And the waves of depression leave an actual physical sensation as they wash over me still. And I’m worried – especially as I’ve canceled my Monday therapy appointment to take Chienne to the vet for her allergies – about how next week will go.


Anonymous said...

Seeing as I'm at the same institution as you, I'd like to make you feel better by saying that there are quite a lot of mean people here. I don't think they intend to be mean, but it rubs off that way. It's why I'm glad to be leaving. I hope you feel better soon! Things are still very good for you - the offer on the book chapter, recent publications....

The Contessa said...

Power does weird things to people. Knowledge can create arrogance.

Hang in there - sometimes what we perceive as "being mean" is in fact just people taking the shortest path to the destination.

What they forget is that the destination is a person.

I deal with those types too.

joy said...

(((Katie))) Depression is awful and I'm sorry yours got the best of you. You did get through it- remember that.

Take great care of you!

Locks said...

My thoughts are with you. I very much hope you will feel better soon.

Estrella said...

Alas, I think I missed the "Cute Guy from SC" story ... any hints for finding it in the archive? I'll certainly share developments about CGFC ... if there are any developments to be shared! :-)

post-doc said...

The story of my undergrad crush is from long ago - I had to find it myself. But it starts here. It reads a lot better than anything I'm currently writing. :)

RJ said...

“Seriously.” (she) said, holding eye contact with (her) current nemesis. “I need ideas. ‘That won’t work’ doesn’t help me out. Tell me how you’d do it.”

May I just say you rock! That is such a great way of calling someone out.

I know the general tone of your blog was that you had a horrible time, but I have to say Well Done! You've obviously developed some great skills already. Nil carborundum and keep going!

Oh and best of luck.
Yay you1

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