Saturday, June 30, 2007


Every time the phone rings, my stomach clenches. I used to debate before answering, and rarely rushed to the phone. Now any noise from the tiny device leaves me sprinting toward it, feeling sick, hoping nothing has gone wrong.

“I walked today.” Mom announced proudly when she called this afternoon. “They pulled out the drains and got me into a chair and I walked all the way to the bathroom.”

“Mom!” I said, brushing away stray tears at hearing her voice sound normal and strong, “I’m so proud of you!”

“I knew you would be.” She sounded a tiny bit smug. “That’s why I wanted to call.”

She shared news – what she’s eaten, how she’s not feeling nearly so sick anymore, that she’s ready to have the catheter out now that she’s able to walk. She’d like to try stairs tomorrow so she can come home on Monday or Tuesday.

This is a dramatic contrast to yesterday. Brother reported that she was very weepy, convinced she’d made the wrong decision and in a great deal of pain. She was often sick, throwing up anytime they moved her from the bed to the chair and noting she didn’t want to do her exercises. When I tried to gently encourage her, she sulked and said the therapists had told her she could try again tomorrow. The thought left unsaid was that at least they cared enough to be there for her when she was so sick and needy. Her only daughter remained at home. She was discouraged and terribly sad.

I prayed and kept checking in and tried to decide whether to leave early. I ended up staying at home, mowing my lawn, cleaning my house, preparing to be away for a few days.

There is an Otis elevator in the building where I work. It has a beautiful metal panel with this fancy script. The buttons sit lopsided in their holes and the switch that notes whether there is an operator or not is broken. Luckily, I’ve never seen an operator, so the switch doesn’t need to move.

I take this elevator to a meeting that operates on a by-invitation-only basis. We haven’t met for quite some time, so yesterday I drug myself to the dignified conference room despite being overwhelmed with talks and information thus far this week. I smiled after I opened my lunch – gourmet sandwiches made on bread with dried cranberries and pecans baked inside, lovely chips and a delicious cookie. It was like the conference lunch, only classier. In addition, there was a large, gleaming table on which I could place my paper, pen and fabulous lunch. I could see the projected slides reflecting on the shiny surface as I sat in the plush office chair like the rest of those resting neatly around the table. There was no one within 3 feet of me and I basked in the luxurious surroundings as compared to my recent conference.

I sent my CV out today – the first one in what will likely be a long interviewing season for me. I’m not particularly worried – we don’t struggle to find work in my field – but I’m also not completely thrilled with the idea of searching and traveling and moving.

“But,” I told Charlie, who refuses to update his blog, “I’d rather face interviews than the idea of staying here more than a year. It’s getting to be time to leave. I’m sure.”

After saying that I needed a year to wrap up my projects here, Charlie offered that – as a post-doc – I don’t really owe my current institution a huge amount of loyalty. If, he advised, the right job comes along, apply and see what happens. When Charlie speaks, I do listen, so I perused the job listings yesterday morning. Due to geographic restrictions, there weren’t many that caught my interest. But there was one. With a deadline of tomorrow.

I arrived at work to update my CV, nod at my progress thus far, and draft an email to the director of the program. I sent it off last evening, feeling rather good about the effort since I’m not really ready to leave. I do have some loyalty to Boss and my current institution – they’ve been remarkably patient with me and I’d like for them to see a bit of a pay-off from having me around.

Sending the CV away made me a bit nostalgic for the halls through which I walked. The people I know and meetings I remember attending. The knowledge of where rooms are located and what to expect once I arrive offer comfort. And when I’m relaxed, I’m more effective. Which means I should expect the next year to yield some decent science.

It’s an interesting place – being capable of handling the bad stuff, but hoping things change for the better. If Mom can walk on her new knees, calling to proudly report progress, perhaps I can one say make a pleased phone call of my own to note that I’m moving closer to home. These events tend to happen in time though, and patience isn't exactly one of my character traits.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

More conference bullets

  • Mom's surgery is over and it went well.
    • Brother called at 3:30 and said they were were still waiting.
    • Surgery lasted from 4:20-6:30.
    • Dad called at 6:40 to tell me everything went perfectly, according to the doctor.
    • Brother and Dad are waiting in her private room. She's still in recovery and should be seeing them in another hour or so.
    • I'm tremendously relieved that it's over and very grateful that it went well. I hope recovery goes as perfectly.
    • Thank you for the prayers and thoughts.
  • Friend said something like "Think of the conference as an event designed to distract you from worrying."
    • This made me frown as Friend isn't normally all "embrace the universe for it cares for you."
    • Maybe Friend needs to vacation more often so she is more optimistic and zen-like.
    • Then again, it kind of freaks me out.
    • Friend, as usual, ended up being right.
  • Brother just called.
    • Mom's back in her room!
    • When Brother and Dad stepped out so the nurses could get Mom settled, she was concerned and told them not to leave the hallway.
    • They promised they would not.
    • Brother said she's concerned that they did her knees wrong.
    • She wanted to keep her old knees so they could be reinserted if these new ones are somehow unacceptable.
    • The doctor said they didn't do that.
  • OK - back to this conference.
  • About this talk length issue, folks. It's not cool.
    • I am convinced that the problem is that nobody practices.
    • I know many people say they don't rehearse.
      • That's fine.
      • But know how long your talk will last.
      • If you don't know, you need to run through the slides to get an idea.
      • Seriously. Just once. To get a sense of if you're running about 30 minutes or if going through everything would take closer to 2 hours.
    • There were breaks included so the time could be made up, but lunch today should have been 90 minutes.
      • It was closer to 40.
      • I find that mildly disrespectful.
        • It's not just that you don't find me important enough to run through the talk so you're aware of its length.
        • It's that you put the important stuff at the end, then can't get to it!
        • I want to hear the important stuff!
    • Some of the talks were brilliantly done.
    • Others could have used Black Knight's advice.
  • There were cookies in the afternoon. I'd just heard from Brother and didn't want any.
  • Same semi-reasonable sandwiches today! For crying out loud.
  • I was a bit flustered that I was interested in nearly everything presented today. I wanted a break, but didn't want to miss anything.
  • Luckily, tomorrow is completely irrelevant to me! So I can get some work done in preparation of heading home next week.
  • I'm ready to go home. I've talked to everyone a lot, but I still feel wrong about not having been there. I wish I'd been there. I want to be there soon. So Monday will bring about the start of what I'm sure will be a difficult week as Mom begins recovery, but I'll be tremendously relieved to finally start participating in this process.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bullets of conferencing

  • There is a conference on campus.
  • I am attending said conference.
  • Free coffee is lovely in the morning and throughout the day.
    • Cookies would be nice.
    • Or Brownies.
    • Muffins?
    • Cupcakes?
    • Pecan squares! Lemon bars!
    • I enjoy sweets.
  • I prefer tables with my chairs when attending sessions. The smaller workshops I've attended have sometimes utilized tables and I find I'm more comfortable and focused when I have something on which to lean.
    • There were no tables at this conference.
    • This made me sad.
    • And I was already reeling from the lack of cookies.
  • I sat shoulder to shoulder with Boss and a stranger.
    • I was sometimes squished.
    • I was often uncomfortable.
    • When either of them would shift or lean, I would have to compensate with my own movement, often to a less comfortable position.
    • I didn't like this.
  • If - as a speaker - you are allowed 30 minutes, please take no more than 35.
    • 40 tries my patience.
    • 45 pisses me off.
    • 50 makes me fidget, glare and internally call you a whore. If your talk is that awesome - and some of them were incredibly good - let the organizers know you require more time so some is scheduled.
  • If - as an attendee - you need to leave during a session, please be courteous.
    • I will be jealous when I see you go.
    • Since I'm sitting next to Boss and other senior people in my department, I can't go.
    • Therefore, perhaps you could not let the door slam behind you.
    • Or not return with precious soda which I cannot obtain until the speaker who is 20 minutes over his scheduled time finally shuts up and I can run to the refreshment area to find drinks, but no snacks.
  • My campus does free lunch well. Most noon seminars offer food and it's often excellent. Therefore, I was expecting to be impressed by the catered box lunch.
    • I've had pizza and Thai and any number of awesome sandwiches.
    • At a Matlab seminar, I had this great wrap with these super-thick tortilla chips.
      • It was like they took the extra parts of the wrap and made them into crispy chips.
      • Which must have required frying, but they weren't greasy at all!
      • They were paired with this really nice, fresh, chunky salsa.
      • I loved those chips and will forever regret that I didn't at least remember the name of the restaurant on the box.
      • I wanted those chips again.
    • I was sad when I saw lunch contained bags of Lays.
      • Not that I don't like Lays, but I wanted the homemade tortilla chips.
      • I also wanted something more special than a sandwich.
      • But the bread was very good (it was wheat with some wonderful crunchy yet chewy inclusions) and the flavored mayo was delightful.
      • And I finally got a cookie, which pleased me.
    • I have this futile hope that tomorrow there will be piles of baked goods and the special tortilla chips.
  • Joe got up once to ask a question, realized someone was almost at the microphone, then nearly fell down in his hurry to return to his seat.
    • I was sort of pleased because Chris was coming to sit with me and Joe demanded Chris come up front without inviting me. So maybe he deserved to fall.
    • But I also wondered if he was trying hard to make a good impression and got overly nervous, and felt sort of badly for him.
  • I'm very tired - I think I'm a bad scientist and just can't tolerate such long days of information.
    • I'll test this again tomorrow.
    • Because I'm usually pretty tired.
    • Maybe I need to take vitamins or some extra 'not be so tired' supplements.
    • Or get more exercise.
    • Or strengthen my core muscles so I'm not so uncomfortable sitting without a table on which to lean.
  • I talked to Mom and she sounds much better tonight. The prayers seem to have helped and she seems nervous, but prepared.
    • She called on the way home from dinner with Dad and sounded stable.
    • The thought of losing her makes me nearly hysterical. So I try to calm down and tell myself that it's not time yet. Everything will be fine.
    • She's due at the hospital at 12:30 tomorrow afternoon. Surgery takes 3 hours, then 2 hours in recovery. If you wouldn't mind thinking good thoughts or offering prayers, I'd continue to be grateful.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tired, worried

I talked to Mom tonight and she's getting increasingly stressed about her surgery on Thursday. She wishes I was going to be there - as do I, actually - but it doesn't make sense. Friend won't return from her vacation until Sunday (if she ever gets to leave the airport, that is - Good luck, Friend!) and she's Chienne's dogsitter. Chienne loves her dearly, as evidenced by the fact that Friend became an increasingly small ball on the couch as my dog tried to cuddle while they napped together. Plus, there's this work thing that will take all my time for the next few days and Dad and Brother will be with Mom and there's not much I can do while she's in the hospital and will instead be useful when I visit next week... But I feel badly and worried and scared. So if you're so inclined, perhaps you might pray. Though I realize there are those with far more serious health problems, it's still scary for us.

I could examine why that is so and try to write something more meaningful, but instead I shall fret and try to distract myself with work.

(I feel somewhat badly about posting this. It seems self-indulgent and I almost deleted it, but it helped to have people pray at church, so I'll ask even though it makes me feel a little weird for some reason.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Advice? From me?

“Aren’t you a good little research scientist?” Ken asked after I said I had worked most of the weekend. “You should teach me how to do that sometime.”

“You,” I replied with a smile, “have big problems if you’re looking to me as an example.”

I said much the same to M when I read doc-in-training’s post about how to keep up with the literature. She received a comment that pretty much hit the high points of how one could try to stay on top of relevant work. Though Ian had excellent points, they wouldn’t have applied to me when I was starting out.

I talked to M last night for a little while. She’s going to begin a PhD project having finished her Masters a few years ago. Having some basic questions about how research works while obtaining a doctorate, she turned to me. And I said a lot of “um…,” and “well…,” and “I don’t know.”

My opinion is that research is pretty personal. Since the work tends to be independent, finding a style that suits you seems important to me. For example, I tend to dive in, make mistakes then fix them to do the real work. I struggle to see a situation clearly if I haven’t actually tried something.

“Let’s get some data.” I begged Boss about 6 months ago. “I’ve been planning and planning and I don’t know how to solve any more problems without having seen some results! I need to do experiments. Please? Soon?”

So what I’d tell anyone is to be open to what works for her. It doesn’t have to look like what you’ve seen others do. If it feels better to plan and read and be completely meticulous, then do that and find an environment that values it. If you’re more of a ‘let’s get this going’ type, find somewhere that doesn’t mind you wasting a bit of money so that you can play around while you learn. I don’t know that there is an ideal way to make progress. So I advocate finding a method that allows productivity and contentment when doing research.

The same could be said for reading, I think.

If one seeks to be incredibly well read, it’s going to take some time at first. Do you want to cover the most cited papers in the field – start with older research and work your way forward? Or is it better to start with the most recent stuff and read in reverse chronological order until you gain some true understanding? I personally read bits and pieces while I did the work – wrote code and analyzed data and looked at graphs and tables and maps. Eventually, things started to click. When I read a software paper, I thought, “Oh! That’s what happens when I press that button!” and it meant something to me.

But rather than offering general advice, what I try to do is remember what I did. So when talking to M or responding to another blogger, I can offer an example and let you know I think that it’s a little different for everyone. If you can use part of what I do, great. If not, that’s really OK too. It’s not like I’m such a stunning success that my methods are superior to all others.

There’s one journal in my field that is very specific to what I do. It’s a really good journal (or so I tell myself because they’ve rejected 2 of my papers. Whores.), so when I joined the major society, I paid the extra money to have a copy mailed to my apartment. When it would arrive during my first 2 years of grad school, I would make an evening of reading it.

I had bath products I saved especially for the occasion and would clean the tub, run water and take a bubble bath while reading the latest copy of the journal. I enjoyed the baths, but didn’t understand most of what was in the journal. So I would emerge, sleepy from warm water and boring pages of text, but not much more informed about work in my field.

The strategy that works best for me is to read like I’m writing. At my peak of knowledge, I was writing my dissertation. I had read and highlighted and written notes. I looked up relevant references and pored over them. I was searching through tables of contents and doing daily Medline searches on different keywords that I’d thought of on the trip to campus. It was awesome, but I was working very little and reading all the time. I couldn’t maintain that.

So I guess I take an all or nothing approach (well, all or little). When I’m writing something, I tend to do a lot of reading to make sure what I compose makes sense. It pushes reading up the priority scale for me. And, honestly? Getting my attention is half the battle for any work-related project. So I try to write a lot of abstracts and hope for posters and talks to come about so that I’m informed. Reading is how I know what to expect, which analysis methods to try, what questions people might ask, etc. So I do it.

If you’ll remember, writing my chapter freaked me out because I knew very little about the topic in question. There were 5 sections in the document I sent off – I had prior knowledge about 2 of them. The thought that I was starting from scratch and trying to write something reasonable about 3 techniques was daunting. I was so intimidated (and inherently lazy) that I wouldn’t have done all the reading and note-taking and thinking had I not received some credit for it.

Journal clubs follow the same reasoning for me. If I have to present a paper, I’ll read it carefully. Likewise, it offers exposure to literature I might not have read myself. If in a good group, people will often remember me when they’re doing their own reading and pass along relevant papers. I try to immediately write down papers that professors mention to me in meetings or as we pass in the hallway. I did set up RSS feeds for searches I do often.

Other than that, I’m still figuring it out. I’ve found there are days where I feel knowledgeable and those where I realize I know a teeny-tiny percentage of what’s out there. And they let me have a PhD anyway. Because apparently I can successfully trick myself into learning sometimes. I personally think doc-in-training is doing a lovely job of thinking and asking questions and trying to define what might work on a personal level. Though if you have helpful suggestions, feel free to leave them here or there.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Look, it's a meme!

JustMe tagged me (and noted that I don't normally do memes, which made me feel all snobby. It's more that I don't want to feel silly, but since I may be appearing more aloof than shy lately, I'll happily play this time).

  • I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
Random Facts
  1. The Burberry pattern has pairs of crossing black lines. The faux-Burberry pattern has black lines in groups of three. I know this because, thanks to Mom, I have both a faux and real bag. (No! I started off with a lie instead of a fact! The Burberry website shows real bags with triple black lines. Can I stop admitting my imitation bag is a fake and just pretend it's also real?)
  2. Said mother is having both knees replaced on Thursday. I think this is great and I'm glad she's doing it. And I'm scared - we don't generally do hospitals in my family.
  3. We prayed for Mom at church today - it was the first time I can remember ever making a prayer request and I actually only agreed when Pastor suggested it. But it was a lovely gesture.
  4. I got a 20% discount at Sonic this morning for "being so happy." Seriously. (I was surprised too, but I do like mornings.)
  5. I think the guy who offered the discount was flirting with me a little. I can't be sure though because it's been so long since anyone has flirted with me. How sad.
  6. Advisor told me Pete's problem with my defense was that my dissertation wasn't perfect enough. I didn't mention that my copy happened to be under a plant I over-watered and is moderately ruined. And that I cared very little.
  7. I get so nervous about talks that I am already writing slides for the one I'll give in September. The thought of getting up in front of the entire conference - which will likely be on the small side - is making me ill already.
  8. I have never been to DC though. So the September trip - as nauseating as parts of it may be - will take care of that.

Only if they want to play (I won't be offended if you ignore me - Promise.), I'll tag Zelda, Charlie (if for no other reason than you can click over and see the painting he did based on my photo! Well, and because - much as I adore him - updating his website regularly is not among the reasons), Psyc Girl, Flossie, doc-in-training, PsychPhD (to be), EA, and Terminal Degree.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

All By Myself

I didn’t talk to Boss. I will. Soon. Honestly.

In the meantime, there is something about which I can complain.

Many moons ago (does that mean months? If not, I mean months and misused a phrase.), I worked with Joe on a project involving mice. By “worked” I mean I stood two steps behind him while he worked, making horrified expressions and generally fretting until such a time I could return to my desk and hope the residual sickness eased.

After a good deal of time, I told Joe and Boss that I no longer was able to deal with the tiny brown animals with their sweet little ears and admittedly icky tails. When I quit that project, I basically severed many ties with the main polar bear world since Joe was my only real contact.
I should be completely clear that Joe is a wonderful guy. He’s very bright and successful, yet consistently funny and kind and lovely. In the transition from post-doc to junior faculty, he had a tremendous amount of responsibility. I didn’t expect that he’d hold my hand through other projects when I definitely let him down with the mouse work. And we basically lost touch except for an occasional smile when we’d pass in a hallway.

Of late, Joe has been a more vocal presence. He is attempting to solidify a research focus for one group and merge multiple paths into a cohesive group goal. This is admirable and important – providing a community, building resources, forming a reputation as a group throughout the field. All good things and I applaud his efforts. Honestly.

But it’s making me feel isolated and unimportant and awful.

It started with a website. Joe listed all the topics of research he felt were important, and asked some of us to contribute. While everyone else had 4-5 lines on the list, I had only one and it was only vaguely representative of my current work.

Why feel badly? I haven’t been very open about my work outside my safe, little community in my department. Therefore, it’s my fault that people aren’t aware of my recent endeavors. But I don’t want to be a bother and I didn’t want to do another seminar after the first one was – largely – a rehashing of graduate work.

So I sent off little blurbs to Joe, as requested, to create a small in-house Wiki.

He responded by wanting to confirm that the work was done here rather than elsewhere. So I called him a whore (in my mind – not to his face) and confirmed that was the case.

But it cemented in my mind that people here feel I haven’t done enough or contributed substantially. Even as I’ve grown more productive and felt moderately successful, I haven’t found the welcoming and supportive environment I had hoped would be here.

One afternoon this week found me in a meeting with delightful people. I didn’t know them – hadn’t even seen some of them before – but they were lovely.

Joe entered and began to talk about forming a community and working together toward a common goal and unification of purpose and sharing strengths and conquering weaknesses… And the work I do wasn’t mentioned. So they talked about shared problems and interests and goals and I listened politely and hoped I’d get to leave soon.

Yet at the end, we formed small focus groups. As people were casually assigned to various areas, I waited and tried to appear as small as possible as my stomach grew increasingly upset.
“Did we get everyone?” Joe asked, glancing around, and I winced before raising my hand a bit.

“Yeah,” Chris said from behind me, “I was going to suggest Area C, but then I realized Katie would be the only one in that group. So…”

“Well, where can we put you?” Joe said, looking around, and I felt like we were picking teams for gym and not only was I undesirable, I had no relevant talent to contribute. Everyone is working far outside my area of interest and experience.

“I’m fine.” I said, shaking my head at Joe.

“You don’t want a group?” He asked and I shook my head in lieu of saying, “No, I don’t get a group. There’s a difference, and it sucks, but that’s life.”

“You two could be a group.” Chris suggested and Joe nodded before adjourning the meeting. I pounced on the opportunity and scampered from the room as quickly as possible. When I’m hurt or upset, I tend to withdraw and desperately needed the quiet calm of my office outside the polar bear habitat.

Joe sent email yesterday – a forward – and I read it. He had asked several relevant professors to join our large, overall group in Area C. But he hadn’t included me in the original email or talked to me at all. Which means that I don’t even get to play within my own small group. There are only 2 of us, and even then, I'm not important! Now, perhaps Joe thinks I’m not interested, which might be fair. I’m uncomfortable and awkward around those people and my urge to escape could be, I suppose, interpreted as disinterest.

Ahead of the forward he wrote, “I forgot to include you in this email. Sorry.” Then there was a frowny face that I think was supposed to indicate regret.

I replied without thinking overly hard about it and said, “Being forgettable and not included is apparently part of what I have going on here. So no worries.” It was overly dramatic and likely inappropriate but I want him to stop hurting my feelings! I felt badly about it at the same time – he’s not a hurtful person and I knew it wasn’t intentional.

He replied and wrote, “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever read. Please don’t hate me.” So I told him I didn’t hate him at all, was feeling overwhelmed and pitiful and that he really shouldn’t worry about it. I had earlier mentioned that I was looking to leave in a year – I wanted to protect my feelings and let them know that if they didn’t want me around, the feeling was mutual. I wanted out.

So when Joe asked for slides today – recent work that could be included in an upcoming presentation – I shrunk into myself and stopped the work I’d be doing most of the day. I don’t want to submit something he won’t use so I feel badly about recent work of which I am pretty proud. Yet I can’t submit nothing since he asked and I am very involved in research in this area, albeit on a human rather than animal level.

So I’m sad. And bothered. And feeling very alone and jealous of people who have research communities. I wish I had one. Even though I'm pretty sure the blame for my lack can be placed directly at my feet.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I think part of what brings me back to the laptop each night - composing some self-indulgent post about what happened or what I thought or something to make the day matter before I sleep - is the hope that someone will read and understand. There's no room for interruptions - I finish my thoughts before I click the button to publish and let you read.

I did try to tell Boss today that I didn't want to submit the grant. The statement was postponed while we looked over data for a meeting this afternoon, then penguin's paper to make sure I had covered all the relevant revisions.

"I fixed that." I noted as Boss went through his notes. "Yes," I smiled again, "I saw that too. I'm learning to write and edit the way you do."

So after covering all sorts of professional ground, I felt badly. He has taken me under his wing to a greater extent than the other post-docs. We talk and he guides and I'm learning a tremendous amount from him. And he wants the grant to go in.

"Talk about the grant later?" I asked as he walked out the door, and he turned around, checked his watch and sat down again.

"I think we need to talk about my future. Whether you see me staying here or going away. What I'm trying to do here."

"It depends on the funding, I think." He mused. "But if we get this grant, I think there are tremendous opportunities here."

"I want to..." I stopped, twisted my mouth. Tried again. "I think that I'll be ready... So, in a year, I think I want to move north. Be closer to my family. Leave here."

He nodded, looked down for a moment in thought, then bounced back. "Well, the grant could go with you when you leave."

"No," I corrected him. "The training portion is tied to the institution, and if we got it, I'd be here 3 more years. I don't want that."

"We could turn it down." He decided, then stood. "I think we should work hard to make the deadline."

I didn't say anything, so he nodded again and walked from the room.

I glanced over at Ken and got a grin in return.

"Did you understand what I was saying?" I asked and he laughed as he nodded. "No matter." I sighed. "I'll try again tomorrow."

We met later in the day to attend a meeting with the Supreme Polar Bear. When I watched Narnia and noticed the polar bears were pulling the witch to battle, I gasped. "The polar bears are evil?!" I exclaimed while sitting on the futon with Elle and Tom.

"She was the queen of winter." Elle noted, as if the polar bears were never meant to be good.

I smiled as I thought of it, wandering through the polar bear habitat toward the supreme headquarters. We sat and I handed him my carefully crafted document and began to explain. Boss, sitting across the table, let me speak.

After giving the SPB time to think, Boss got to the point. "Katie got funding to do some initial studies, and got interesting results, but she'd like to see more patients."

SPB sat back in his chair and offered a half smile that said to me that he'd predicted this part of the conversation. "And you'd like me to pay for it." He noted, seeming vaguely amused.

It made me slightly ill. This is the project that has pained me a great deal. And I was begging for more money to do it? When I kind of hated it?

Yet I tried to answer his question and dutifully wrote down his suggestions. When I have put the project in better order, I am to let him know and he'll provide the money. I returned to my office with my head down.

I later attended a meeting that was focused on building a team! Around the research! Yet if there are 2 branches in my niche, I'm the only one who likes the first one. Everyone else is clinging to and clustering around the second one. Which is great - their preferences makes sense - but it's lonely and difficult for me. So I left that meeting feeling even more isolated than before - it isn't my perception, I decided. I really am on my own.

The good thing about having a bad day is that I'm increasingly sure I don't fit here. And as flattered as I was when Boss expressed how impressed he was with my performance in the SPB meeting, and as befuddled as I was when one of the other post-docs asked my advice on research since I was doing so well, I still want out.

I just have to be more clear when expressing that. I'll try again tomorrow and let you know how I do.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I brought a cutting from one of Older Cousin’s plants home when I was in college. I kept it in a glass of water until it grew roots, then carefully put it in a pot and hoped it would grow. I was jealous of Older Cousin’s plants in their huge containers, branching and spreading under the large windows in the living room of her loft apartment.

When M was here, I picked up a new container at Target. I selected the medium sized one, then replaced it to pick up the largest pot available.

“I think this is the next size up.” I told her, then shrugged at my realization that I seldom judge size correctly.

“Wow.” I said when I got it home and realized it was several times larger than the current pot. Regardless, I dumped in new soil and moved the plant into its mansion-like home. “Now the schefflara thinks it’s a tree!”

When I returned home I noticed that my plant - which has steadily grown and branched over the last 8 years and 4 living spaces - is beautiful. It looks strong and healthy and tall in its new environment. And while the new pot helped – it made a difference that I notice each time I enter my kitchen – the growth over time was the crucial part of the process.

“I think it’s time for me to leave.” I told Pastor and she replied that she’d heard mixed reviews of my institution.

“I can see why.” I mused. “In some ways, it’s exceptional. The people and resources and potential is stunning. There are some moments when I’m relatively certain I’ll never do better than I could do here. But I just don’t think I fit. The emotional support and sense of camaraderie that I value doesn’t exist here for me, though I’m sure it does for others. I feel isolated and unimportant and if I’m not good enough for some of my colleagues, then I’ll simply go elsewhere.”

We talked more about it – she sweetly said she’d hate to see me leave, which I think is kind – but my instinct is to withdraw from those who seem to like me less than she does. Plus, I read a couple of emails today that were thoughtful and lovely and helped a great deal. I do tend to cling to what I know, be it a familiar environment or grief or other bad feelings. It’s hard for me to let much of anything go and there is a valid point – made several times by several people – that holding to the old so tightly leaves little room for new. I think I really need the new start. And to do that, I need to start releasing my grip on some aspects of life here.

“Would it be the same anywhere?” Pastor asked, more curious than judgmental, and I responded thoughtfully rather than defensively.

“Some of it.” I decided. “But I think I know which questions to ask, how I think research should be structured, what I need to do my projects and feel good in general.” I had looked forward to meeting her, but hadn’t expected I’d have a professional crisis of sorts to discuss.

“Does it hurt your ability to function as a scientist?” Pastor asked as we talked at Starbucks this morning. “Caring so much?”

She had shared stories from her time as a hospital chaplain and said that she thought my response was normal and could even be helpful when dealing with patients and families. We talked and I cried a bit more and then, having spent an hour longer with her than I’d planned, I came home instead of arriving late at work.

The answer to her question is complicated.

“No,” I replied, thinking that I could analyze data and write papers just as well now as I could when I thought my patient was improving with treatment. But in terms of being capable of trying again, getting more data, meeting more people? I don’t know. It has altered the way I see the project.

I have a meeting tomorrow, scheduled weeks ago, to ask for money to continue to collect data for this project. Quiet Mentor has decided to fund a different direction, which is fair and valid, but I have this data that appears to be interesting and relevant and I’d like to get enough to write a paper. I like papers, after all. They make me feel productive and successful and special. So more of that, right?

Yet when I received email this evening informing me that the abstract I submitted for review as a prospective poster was awarded a talk instead, I sighed. It’s a good thing, I told myself. I’m not familiar with the conference, but a talk means some exposure to those attending. Plus, it’s good to get practice when one is planning to interview, right?

But it means that I need more data. Which means meeting more patients and risking more pain for a project that is – I don’t know – interesting? Because it really isn’t helpful, folks.

Yet another reader sent a lovely note that brought up some points I hadn’t considered. My patient did want to participate – felt strongly that she wanted to contribute to research in this area and was a wonderful subject. I also enjoyed spending time with her. The fact is that these are people with lives and families and interests. They take vacations and read books and go to church. It is impossible for me to reduce them to points on a line or bins in a histogram. When I interact with them, it is with respect and gratitude and the sincere wish that their health greatly improves. I am kind and attentive and interested far more in their well being than my data points.

“I think that’s important.” Pastor said. “I think your attitude serves them in a different way than your research might.”

And a favored reader echoed those thoughts. It matters when someone visits, even if she wants your participation in research. It’s important to have someone ask questions and listen to answers. Perhaps some participation in something that can help others makes your time inside hospital walls seem more meaningful or at least eases the boredom for a little while.

So while I absolutely must devise a way of staying informed of patient status so that I’m not so surprised and inadequate again, I am glad I spoke to her husband. Was able to offer my sympathy and appreciation and listen while he talked for a little while. I’m glad I know of her interest in research and improvements in care. She was lovely and I am deeply sorry she suffered during her battle.

Regardless of its planter, the schefflera is a schefflera. It can’t change its leaf structure, though I can coax it to branch out rather than grow tall. It goes toward the sun and gets lopsided if I forget to turn the pot at regular intervals. Its lengthy leaves droop when the soil gets too dry, but that means it provides reminders to water all the plants in my collection. But even with spotty care, it grew and found a pot that allows it to look truly stately and tree-like.

It’s not that the old pot was bad – it was actually prettier and more expensive than the new one. It just wasn’t quite right.

The point, I think, is that I’m learning and growing. I’m going to stumble and droop while I process certain events and problems. I’ll likely complain if people don’t encourage me frequently or I lean too far in one direction because support and opportunity always come from that direction. Regardless, I am making professional progress. The papers and chapter and abstracts are adding up. The techniques and collaborations and experience are – when considered collectively – satisfying. I am OK. It’s just that I’m still learning.

In doing so, tomorrow appears to be the day to have the conversation with Boss about the grant. I remain unsure as to how exactly I’ll approach it – I’ll probably go with something other than ‘I’m root bound! I need a new pot!’ – but I think it will be fine. I also think I’ll come up with a way to be less devastated but remain connected to those with whom I get to work.

But I remain - for today - a bit droopy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Back (and Forth) to Work

When it rains
When a region is severely lacking adequate moisture, rain is precious and welcome. Even when one is walking with her dog, happily moving through a muggy yet cloudy morning. Poor Chienne – who hates the rain – plodded toward home with head down and eyes squinted. I took off my glasses – I couldn’t see through them anyway – and felt my clothing grow heavy as it retained water.

We arrived, sopping wet, and I wiped my face before toweling off the puppy. She hopped in the guest bathtub to hide from any thunder that might occur and I obligingly turned on the fan to mask the noise as much as possible. Then I shook my head as I peeked outside to see the rain had ceased, took off my dripping shirt and sleepy pants and hopped in the shower to make sure I was fully wet.

Evolve (you, not me)
A driving style that makes me moderately competent in Chicago means I’m frighteningly aggressive here in the polite South. Before I even left my subdivision, I found myself speaking sternly to the driver in front of me.

“A monkey could handle that corner better, for crying out loud. Evolve!”

I continued to sneer and call people names as I moved through moderate traffic that should have allowed for a quick trip to work had people just stayed out of my way.

Yet when I drove through tree-lined streets with lovely cottages that take me toward campus, I felt a strange sense of homecoming. I know this area now – have taken several routes to get to work and know which is fastest. I felt ready to tackle the mountain of work that awaited me, hopeful that the time outside the single meeting on my calendar would be sufficient. I was pleased to return to the office and basked in the feeling.

I was immediately assaulted with questions – “How was your trip?” “Did you get my email?” “Do you know this fact?” “Have you tried this analysis?” – and tried to answer them all in turn as I waded through email I hadn’t been able to fully address remotely. After 50 messages that were read, answered or filed (not bad for a week away, I thought), I was left with only a few that remained in my inbox.

Appalled, I tell you.
“I am appalled,” Carrie said, serious and calm, to her colleague after reading a grant proposal, “that you would copy and paste some of my text and not include me in your list of collaborators.”

“I know.” The erstwhile woman said apologetically, “but I didn’t have room for more people.”

Carrie’s gaze remained steady and the fellow assistant professor looked down and said she’d have the administrative staff add Carrie’s name the next day.

“There are problems anywhere.” Carrie noted as we later wandered the streets of Chicago. “But I have far fewer than many people. So it’s my job to minimize the ones I have.”

“But ‘appalled’?” I breathed. “That’s strong language! And you were so calm! Wow.”

“I like ‘appalled.’ I use it a lot. And she’s not a bad person – the mistake just had to be corrected.”

Thinking of the penguin’s project – over a year in the collaborating – I wondered if it had been submitted without my name. Deciding it would be ridiculous (and appalling!) to use my data without a single person from my field as an author, I sent an email letting him know that if he couldn’t publish the work, I’d be happy to take it back and give it a shot. Considering I hadn’t heard from him in months, I was pleased when my email earned a same-day response.

Attached was a beautifully written draft that is – I think – impressive. I sighed with relief at seeing my name third in a lengthy list of contributors. Since the top two authors “contributed equally” (something I’d heard but never seen), I’m pleased with my position. Considering that my work takes up more than half of the paper, my spot is well earned. But knowing that I don’t have the clout to back up the claims they make, I’m satisfied with being part of their efforts rather than writing something on my own. I did some editing tonight and will send a revised version after I speak with Boss tomorrow. All was well.

It pours.
I noticed on my calendar that it was time to schedule a follow-up visit with one of my patients. So I checked my availability and equipment calendars and arranged my notes to call later in the day. But I had free time and I didn’t want to forget, so about 30 minutes before my meeting, I made a quick call.

“Hi.” I chirped when her husband answered the phone. “This is Katie from Department at Institution. I did a research visit with Patient a few weeks ago? I was calling to see how she was and if she felt up for returning for another visit. Is this [Husband’s name]?”

“Oh, Katie,” He sighed. “She died.”

I paused for a moment, feeling oddly yet completely shocked. I expressed my deepest sympathy and we talked for a few moments while I’m sure he heard tears in my voice. I was dabbing my eyes and taking gulping breaths to retain control as we spoke, feeling terribly inadequate to address a grieving spouse of someone I knew very little but liked a great deal.

I placed the receiver gently in its cradle, pressing my fingers to it for a moment. I could feel Ken and Maria looking at me, waiting for me to speak so they could respond. I kept my head down, pushing back tears, and walked to the nearest single-stall bathroom, closed and locked the door, braced my hands on the sink and cried.

I breathed deeply, told myself to pull it together, then splashed water on my face. Then I cried some more. I tried to sigh and heard a whimper emerge instead. I tried again to wash my face, dabbed my eyes again then went back to my desk. I sat silently, trying to read penguin’s paper and prepare for the meeting and somehow feeling dull and unfocused and sad.

I hate being surprised by grief. And working with cancer patients should – for me – have involved some sort of emotional preparation for an event like today. Yet I wasn’t ready – was considering calendars and costs rather than wondering if a patient was doing well enough for a follow-up experiment.

I still feel that tightness in my chest that reminds me something bad happened. As I sat through a meeting feeling completely irritable and snapping at Boss and some other upper level people, I felt bad. When Boss tried to speak to me afterward, he finally paused to consider me, wondering at my flat responses. I was trying to stay distant so I didn’t weep – I’m uncomfortable crying in front of people but there was all this pain trying to leak out.

“Is your mom OK?” He asked after some silence.

“She’s fine. My patient died.” I offered, then turned to rudely walk away so I could find a private place to stop the tears. I turned halfway down the hall to nod when he said we’d talk tomorrow.

“I hate to say that these things happen.” He offered quietly. “But…”

I disappeared around a corner without a response, finding his statement unsatisfactory. Friend did a much better job, but I need to turn it over in my mind a bit more.

It’s very sad. I liked her, enjoyed her family. I wanted her to be OK – for her to be one of the stories that ends well because medicines work and treatments are effective and cancer is beaten back so that there are a few more years to be with those people she loved.

I don’t feel responsible. But I do feel inadequate. What I do isn’t going to help these people. I’ll study and learn and publish, but it won’t matter all that much in the end.

So I left work early and have huddled at home, unable to relax. I’ve tried to watch TV, wrinkled my nose at the leftovers in my kitchen, showered twice, tried to nap, finished reading the paper and tried to put together some thoughts on my grant.

My thought when Boss gave me his notes on said grant was that I want to leave. My feelings have changed since this morning and rather than feeling comfortable, I feel trapped. This has been a rather sad place for me. I’ve certainly grown and learned, but I’ve also wept in every one of those bathrooms in the department. I miss my family – I want to help lift Little One down from her car seat. To watch for butterflies and listen to her stories. To talk with my mom and sigh at Dad’s jokes. I want to move north in about a year. Hence, I don’t feel like submitting this grant.

So tomorrow, I think Boss and I are going to have a talk about how we see the future. Perhaps I’ll cave and make some minor corrections and resubmit that grant. Or maybe we’ll decide it’s time for me to take what I’ve learned, take this year to wrap it up, and say my good-byes. Until then, my particular path will continue back and forth as it has tended to do thus far.

Monday, June 18, 2007


When returning to a clean house, it seems the least I could do is unpack promptly, maintaining the pretty.

“Try to keep it clean for at least a day.” Friend sighed as we talked while I unpacked the car. She was still at work and I entered a lovely house.

“Wow.” I murmured as I walked through, moving food to the kitchen and leaving my suitcase in my bedroom, keeping the phone to my ear. “You didn’t have to do this!”

“Well, yes, I did. I thought my parents would want to stay out there, then they changed their minds at the last minute.”

“Lucky me!” I grinned, feeling only a moment of pity for poor Friend. She hosted her parents for a few days and I offered my house if they wanted a little extra space. I don’t think my little structure is much larger than her apartment, but it does have 3 beds to her one. Alas, she only used my kitchen and back patio for grilling purposes. Yet I received a gleaming house with towels and bedding that smell of Snuggle, a kitchen full of clean dishes and bathrooms that have not – to my recollection – ever been that spotless.

“My mom gave me a look when I made your bed after washing the bedding.” She offered, and I thought for a mere moment before continuing to walk around, thinking about how pretty everything was. “I put on the fitted sheet, then the comforter, then folded the flat sheet.”

“Oh.” I smiled. “Yes, that is weird. But I don’t like flat sheets.”

“Yes,” she offered dryly, having seen me hunt for them when anyone sleeps over and needs a flat sheet. I have them, but I never use them. “I know. You’ve told me.”

So as I sighed at my belongings – unloaded from my trunk and piled in my bedroom – I began to unpack. It’s not nice to repay a favor by immediately cluttering my house. So all is unpacked and I am squeaky clean too. There’s nothing quite like my own shower with all my products. And towels! No worrying about how many I’m allowed to use (saving enough for Carrie and not wanting to create more laundry for Elle)! I only used one, but the thought that I could take every single one and pretend I was a terrycloth monster made me happy.

It is, I thought as I started to compose a blog post in my head so I could write tonight, then prepare to wake in the morning, make coffee and read what everyone else has written, wonderful to be known. To have spent enough time with Friend that she knows odd Katie trivia. To drag Carrie all over Chicago because I know she’ll tolerate it. To look at a picture of Elle and her Tom outside a fantastic gallery that displays their art and blink back tears at how perfect it is. Their creations share space with those of other talented people who see the world far differently than I do. And her husband looks at her in a certain way that indicates he really gets her and loves her dearly.

I have friends. Real, wonderful, beautiful friends. That’s not a small blessing.

I also now have time to myself. And while I will miss the people I love and look forward to celebrating Friend’s birthday tomorrow, I’m truly happy to have the quiet and comfort of my house and things and life.

Work tomorrow will include all those things that I’ve waved off for the past couple of weeks – it’s going to be rough. So I’ll bask a little tonight in my super-clean house and hope that tomorrow yields enough energy to deal with my job.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Home (almost)

I ended up leaving Chicago a day earlier than planned, arriving at my parents' house just before 2:00 yesterday. Chienne was feeling a bit unwell - having some tummy issues - and Mom and Dad had errands and weren't able to hang out at home with her. I was worried and decided that I wasn't up for a day in the hot sun while looking at animals in Lincoln Park (at the zoo, of course), so a drive south seemed the best option.

This meant that I didn't get to see Repressed Librarian or Rachel, both of whom I adore and very much wanted to visit. But a trip to Chicago is always a good thing so hopefully I'll make my way up there again soon. (I do feel badly still though. I hate it when there's a choice on cutting a trip short and it seems the right option, but then I miss out on something I wanted to do. Phooey.)

Chienne was tremendously happy when I arrived, leaving me covered in kisses and cuddles and bruises from an enthusiastic greeting. She seems to be fine to me, leaving me to wonder if it was loneliness rather than sickness that was causing some problems. But Mom and Dad have been busy - working, eating out, running errands, etc. They're seldom home and the poor puppy is used to me being a home much of the time. So she was sad and out of her normal routine.

To be honest, I was sad and out of my normal routine too. I miss getting up in the morning, making coffee and reading blogs. I like settling in during the evening and writing a blog post without searching frantically for wireless signal. I enjoy having 2 bathrooms constantly available if I want to shower or wash my face or fix my makeup or do my hair. Sharing bathrooms over the past weeks has tried my patience in some inexplicable way. I like the quiet - watching what I like, eating when I'm hungry, knowing where everything is.

I know I complain about being lonely and wishing I had a man in my life. And I am and I do. But after near constant company (which continues as I sit in the living room watching racing with Dad), I'm ready for a few days of quiet. I miss my house and routine. I want to get back to work.

"Are you traveling this summer?" Everyone asked at some point during a visit.

The answer was a consistent 'no.' Being away tires me - I just don't find the same energy and focus when I'm out of my environment. So tomorrow morning will provide a bit more time with my family and the afternoon will find me driving south, dog and cat and luggage in tow, to find our balance again.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Surreal: Chicago, day 5 (part 2)

“Look at your laptop!” Elle exclaimed. “It’s so tiny and pretty!”

And here I am in the land of music and art, a stark contrast to those scientists who tended to own laptops newer and better than sweet Nick.

Elle has long lived in Andersonville – an adorable neighborhood a bit north of the city. I have always associated the location with her, having never visited until she moved here. But we go in the little stationary shop, have burgers or crepes or cinnamon rolls, and wander around until we end up flopped on her futon and staring at everything she keeps on the walls.

She and Tom have moved since the last time I was here, probably more than 2 years ago. Their current apartment is smaller than the one she lived in before they married, but it’s more theirs than hers. I find that rather lovely, though it’s certainly crowded. I tend toward cluttered spaces myself, so all the stuff everywhere – CDs, books, crafts, paintings, pictures, instruments, furniture, fish, pretties – is more charming than frightening.

I arrived early, spending time in the Starbucks where I currently sit, reading a book until Tom called and directed me to the apartment when he got home from work. I walked, everything hurting from the marathon of “see this! Take its picture!” that happened yesterday morning and changed into pajamas after he showed me around their tiny space.

Elle arrived home shortly after, still stressed from her day at work. After a lovely dinner Tom threw together from things in their home, he left to prepare for a show, while Elle and I planned to join him later. She promised she had directions and I braced myself for an unpleasant trip. A fantastic navigator, she is not, though her other talents and personality quirks more than compensate. After getting lost only twice and sitting through miserable traffic on 90/94, we finally arrived at what appeared to be a terribly dilapidated church.

“I’m sorry.” She said before we went in. “It was hard to get here and you’re tired and it’s going to be loud. So I’m sorry.” I waved her off and followed behind her carefully.

When we arrived, paid the requested donation, then went around the back of the altar/stage area, we found seats behind Tom and I counted 10 people in the room (counting the sound guy and performers). The neon Jesus on the cross was…disturbing. As were the pictures of what I can only assume were demons on the walls.

“This,” I said to Elle, “is surreal. It could be the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.” She laughed, seemingly unimpressed with the oddity of the venue, and we continued to sip the sodas we brought.

“Oh, no.” I murmured as the man on stage sang something about how “I’m a solider, you’re a solider, we’re all soliders… Waaaaa (note change) aaaaah.” Then proceeded through the same part (champion, hero, wanderer, etc. We were, apparently, a whole lot of stuff.), “I spilled soda in my Burberry purse!” As I found tissues and mopped up in the dim room, I sighed. “I’m so going to have nightmares.” I offered softly, then scolded myself for being a bad sport.

Guy with guitar and glasses played one last song – something about being lonely and wanting to get with various people. The one line I remember spoke of how he’d stopped brushing his teeth because it’d be so long since he’d been kissed. Elle and I discussed it this morning and agreed that oral hygiene should always remain independent of romantic prospects. Clean teeth are important for health and friendly relationship and professional advancement too.

Elle apologized again when her husband and his bandmate got on stage. “It’s going to be loud.” She said and I braced myself.

She was right – it was noisy – but it was rather interesting too. My assumption was that I just didn’t get it when the feedback that was apparently happening on purpose grew painfully shrill. Then I looked around and noticed everyone was holding their ears. So perhaps that’s just not pleasant for anyone. But it was 30 minutes of experimental music that was interesting.

“I’m glad we went.” I offered on the way home. “What’s up for tomorrow?”

“After that?” Elle asked, still apologetic, “anything you want.”

“Pedicures.” I decided and she looked resigned.

We slept in and had breakfast then I drug her to a small nail salon on Clark. As we left, she said, “I’m glad we did that.” And I grinned.

For someone I’ve known and loved for 10 years, we have little in common. I’m not sure if that says something good for our friendship that I adore her and spending time in her life regardless.

Walk: Chicago, day 5 (part 1)

It was, to be honest, a forced march toward the Museum Campus. I had parts of Chicago I’d not yet seen on this trip and I was going despite lingering sleepiness, achy legs and feet and waning energy.

Once I coaxed Carrie out of bed – she arrived at the room as the hour neared midnight, talking of a $184 bill for dinner with big names in the field when I woke me up from a deep sleep – we had omelets at the hotel, then proceeded to pack our things and check out of the room before noon. After tucking our luggage in the storage room manned by 5 uniformed men, we set out, heading south.

“Walgreens first.” I announced firmly, feeling my face hurt sharply with the introduction of more harmful rays on already sunburned skin. I’d applied lotion more than 10 times after we returned to the room the night before, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as it might have been. But still – walking around outside all day with no sun protection (save Bare Minerals SPF 15) is asinine. All the post-burn lotion in the world isn’t going to fix that. So we found Neutrogena Cooling Spray (SPF 45/UVA and UVB protection) and I closed my eyes, held my breath and misted myself thoroughly. Carrie – after buying eye drops for the plane – quickly followed suite.

Then we started to walk in earnest, moving at a steady pace until we saw stores of interest. I stopped in PostersPlus to buy a wind-up toy for Little One and a couple of magnets for Ken and Maria. We stopped at a tiny souvenir place so Carrie could get a hat with a tiny bear cub hugging the Cubs logo. I found 2 shirts on sale that Brother would like so I picked them up. I found jeweled flower note holders at the Architectural Foundation store, something for Friend, and a little light bulb that looks like he’s reading a book for my desk at work. It’s fantastic and after seeing it on Sunday during our first walk around the city, I knew it would be mine.

Content with my purchases – I didn’t want to return home without gifts – we crossed the street to Millennium Park.

“Are you OK?” I asked Carrie, for she was uncharacteristically quiet and docile. She nodded in response.

“Are you sure?” I continued to ask, worried, and she shrugged.

“I don’t feel well and I’m tired. But this is our last day and you want to see stuff, so we’re going. I’m fine.” She explained and I made my sympathetic face before deciding that, yes, I was heading north for a more relaxed weekend at Elle’s and did want to see many of the things on my list.

“It’s mostly photos.” I mused as we slowly made our way across Michigan Avenue. “The curvy, silver concert thingie is up ahead.” We trudged forward, feeling muscles protest but yield to our will and stopped to take pictures from a distance. “I want to get closer.” I said, glancing to see her nod, so we went on.

“Do you know how much this cost?” I asked, trying to be informative for my poor friend and having read the little fact in the hotel informational book as I waited for her to get ready. She shook her head.

“Sixty million.” I informed her, proud of my knowledge.

“I would have guessed that.” She said. “It’s like the price for one of these things. Whether it’s bigger or smaller, standard of curvy, silver or stone. $60 million.”

“Like a flat rate?” I asked, smiling since she’d finally spoken.

“Exactly. Like when we built our deck, we got estimates for wood and stone and concrete – all $2000. That’s how much it costs to build a deck.”

“So it’s the same for architectural marvels?” I grinned.


After we were finished nodding approvingly at the architectural marvel and taking its picture, I insisted we go see The Bean while we had our cameras. We examined it carefully, taking several pictures and carefully locating each other – me in a pink shirt and black shirt, Carrie in a bright orange top and khakis.

“I’m glad I wore this.” She said as we watched the crowd’s reflection morph and flow. I was fascinated. “At least I can find myself as we look into it.”

“I love it.” I told her, moving underneath it so we could take a photo looking up. “It’s amazing and cool in some inexplicable way. I love cities that install large pieces of art just for fun.”

She agreed and we took a moment to praise Chicago while we moved toward the brick fountains that show faces. They’re neat, but most wonderful was the children running through the cool, falling water, feeling the mist wash over my legs as we walked by, thinking that there’s community here. In the midst of this incredible city, there are parents who create memories for their children of running through massive art pieces, playing with strangers, watching the world walk by and smile (in my case) or avoid tiny people (that’s Carrie).

Gathering energy, perhaps from the art, we continued to press on. “If we head over this street then into Grant Park, we’ll get to see Buckingham Fountain.” I told her. “I haven’t seen it in years, but I think I remember being impressed.”

She nodded and we applied more sunscreen to our faces then went on. As we walked and walked, seeing the fountain suddenly seemed this insane thing that was requiring energy neither of us had. But when I form a plan – and Buckingham Fountain is part of the freaking plan – I has this compulsion to propel my poor body toward the spraying water so I could look at it and take its picture. The energy turned out to be fleeting, carrying us only halfway there before we both wilted.

“I think it’s coming up.” I said, beginning to drag my feet. “Hey, look, a statue of some guy.” I lifted my hand in a feeble wave toward the left.

“Abraham Lincoln.” Carrie identified him. “Have some respect.”

“Oh,” I said a moment later, “look at the pretty.” For surrounded by pink flowers was a sculpture of some other guy (he wasn’t on my list of things to see). I sighed – with pleasure rather than exhaustion – and dug out my camera, took a picture, then found the bottle of water tucked in my bag and stood and watched the water run over this piece of art. More classic than the pieces in Millennium Park, but no less wonderful. And much more peaceful. Then we moved on toward the fountain.

“I remember it being surrounded by something other than gravel.” I commented, wondering if it was undergoing construction or if memory was failing me. For the actual fountain continues to be impressive, but its surroundings leave a bit to be desired. Two older couples had brought lawn chairs so they could sit and watch the water as it was propelled upward, then cascaded prettily back to the pool. Otherwise, people stood, photoed and left. It seemed a shame there was nowhere nice to sit and enjoy. Perhaps an air conditioned bubble that would help cool me down and provide a fluffy bed on which I could nap. Buckingham Fountain is pretty, but I was flipping exhausted.

Standing on Lake Shore Drive, I said it was time to find a trolley. Digging the map from her pocket, Carrie analyzed the nearest stop, then looked off at Museum Campus. I coveted the planetarium, the only of the buildings I’ve never visited. Plus, I wanted to see the black hole movie. And sit while watching the black hole movie.

“It’s better to walk.” Carrie announced and I closed my eyes for a moment before nodding. So we walked and walked, stopping to try to admire the skyline as we moved under Lake Shore Drive and into the pretty landscaping around the museums. We went past Field, then the aquarium, then finally reached the planetarium.

“It’s marble.” I breathed, impressed despite exhaustion. “Pretty.”

We went in, trudged around some of the exhibits – wishing it were a bit colder in the building – then had a snack at the lovely café that looks over Lake Michigan. We hurried through the end of our meals, not wanting to miss our black hole showtime. I was suitably impressed with the movie and lying back while staring into the dome and learning about infinite gravity and warps in the space-time continuum was lovely.

“Neat.” I said as we hurried outside. Carrie needed to be back to the hotel and time was running short.

“Sure.” She said, moving faster than we had most of the day. “I fell asleep three times, but it was otherwise fine.”

We abandoned hope of taking a free trolley upon seeing the crowds and got in a cab, trading speed for money. Zipping through the Chicago streets and being deposited safely back at the hotel, there was neither time nor energy for lengthy good-byes. Yet we hugged and I knew I’d miss her. Carrie is rather spectacular.

But I went to the valet stand, requested my car – which had disappeared on Sunday to some unknown location – be returned to me, tipped the gentleman who drove it around, wove through the underground garage until it was time to deposit my token, waited for the metal door to rise, then headed out in the city to find Lake Shore again and head north to see Elle.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sans Internet: Chicago, to be continued

I'm locked out of the various wireless networks here at my new locale. But I shall write on the laptop and transfer and upload when I return to my parents' house. So there will be posts - you just won't be able to read them unless I end up somewhere with free wireless.

But I am tired and well. And looking forward to spending the weekend with a wonderful college friend.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Seeing Sights: Chicago, day 4

The boat ride this morning was lovely. It was a 90 minute tour that covered parts of the river I hadn't seen before. So we marveled at the buildings and I watched as Carrie and her friends visibly melted into the chairs on the boat as the water and sunshine and slow, steady movement eased tension away.

We snapped many pictures - I being particularly enamored of the many bridges - and nodded with appropriate awe at stories. We pointed out the buildings we thought were particularly pretty, deciding on which of the residential properties with spectacular views would be suitable should any of us move to this city.

It's impressive, frankly. I like the energy here - the honking when someone screws up while driving. All the Walgreens drugstores and buildings that are familiar yet still demand attention.

We wrapped up the tour, and Carrie and I decided to head to Navy Pier while our companions returned to the meeting. It was gorgeous outside - relatively cool, brightly sunny and not very crowded outside. We walked back inside the building, stopping to admire the stained glass exhibits.

After lunch a Bubba Gump's, I decided we should take the free trolley to Water Tower Place. Carrie enthusiastically agreed and we obtained a map at the stop nearest to us. After the yellow line stopped, I frowned.

"There are too many of us and too few seats." I decided, looking around. Carrie nodded, then glanced down at the map. Then we watched the blue trolley drive by in the opposite direction. "Where does he go?" I asked, trying to figure out a way to win a seat. She pointed it out and I insisted we try to catch one of the stops inside Navy Pier rather than waiting at the corner outside.

"He's gone." Carrie said as we jogged toward the lake. "What the hell?"

So we crossed the street and peered into a darkened driveway. I started to head father down when Carrie shouted, "Trolley!" and scurried inside. I quickly followed and grinned at her once we were successfully seated.

"We are awesome." I declared, and she readily agreed.

We transferred to the red trolley system at the Tribune building, marveling at all the stones from the world that were incorporated and labeled. We shopped and snapped more photos and grabbed bargains at Filene's.

I started to get tired before I bought Wacoal bras for less than half price.

"Heading back?" Carrie asked and I nodded immediately. "Oh," she paused and looked at the map, "Bloomingdales is so close."

On the way we passed the Fourth Presbyterian Church and took some pictures of the lovely courtyard outside. It is strangely reverent there in spite of the bustle located mere feet away. There is peace here, I thought, and felt less tired for those moments.

Unfortunately, my whole body started to ache as Carrie looked through pricey dresses. I found a chair and zoned out for a few minutes before we glanced at the trolley line and sighed as we started to walk back toward the hotel.

I am tired. And achy. And going to lie in bed and rest while reading the blog posts I've downloaded as I prepare to lose internet in the room again. But at least I posted pictures! Such is my affection for all of you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

No Wake.

So said the sign as I stared across the Chicago River. The water is tinged green rather than the bright blue of the lake. I’m not sure why – if I find out on my boat tour tomorrow, I’ll be sure to let you know. The sound of running water is strangely drowned out by traffic and whistles and city noise. I found it strangely pleasant to watch the water and the people milling about in front of our table. Everything was progressing, I thought, glancing at the sign that warned the boats, but gently. I sighed, feeling comfortable. I pondered it for a moment, then mentally shrugged and smiled after the waiter took our order.

“So.” I said, turning to face my companion, “how are things?”

Advisor had arrived in the middle of the afternoon, meeting me in the lobby as we had previously arranged, then heading to a table outside at my suggestion. He ordered a burger and soda while I snacked on fries he ended up finishing. We spent a little over an hour outside, speaking of politics and goals, salaries and taking interviews you don’t necessarily want to increase your future salary. I spoke of my problems with how some of my peers appear to treat their students, and he pursed his mouth while he considered.

I mentioned some of my problems at work – areas I find excruciatingly frustrating because they’re so needlessly difficult. He nodded and shrugged, offering that there were different problems everywhere and being sympathetic and encouraging.

“It’s just political in a subtle way, but problems seem to pop up far too often for me. Perhaps it’s temperament or fit or something, but it just seems awful some days and fantastic others. Did you protect us from all of that? Or was it just better at Grad City?”

“Better in some ways, protected in others, worse in still others.” He guessed. “And,” he paused, adjusted the bun on his burger, looked away, then spoke, “you had more than your share of politics at the end.”

I nodded, wondering what to say as my attention drifted to the sign across the water. Gentle, I told myself. We can move forward and not create something disturbing behind us. We haven’t spoken of my defense since I left, though we’ve exchanged polite emails about paying for color figures (he did), providing letters for grants (he did), and informing him as my publications were slowly accepted. If there were questions, students contacted me directly. This was fine – Advisor and I just avoided each other when possible.

The thing is that I really liked and respected him. We got along well, and I spent hours over the years in his office, saying I wasn’t good enough and receiving the encouragement and reassurance I needed. We talked science and service and balancing hobbies and work. He was consistently supportive, providing plentiful supplies and software and opportunities for collaboration. Though he sometimes worried he wouldn’t find money to send us to meetings, we always ended up traveling. He, conversely, would sometimes stay behind. I liked him – had chosen to work for him and wanted him to be pleased with what I’d done.

“Things got better,” I decided to confide, “after those papers got published. I was really afraid I was stupid and inadequate until I got them in print. Terrified that you were all right until those reviewers said the work was good enough after all.”

He winced and sighed. Opened his mouth, then closed it. “I’m glad it’s better.” He finally offered quietly. “When you sent the email about your cover, I sent it to your whole committee. I was proud of you - am proud of you - and I still regret… Well.” He stopped and took a bite, giving himself time to think.

I thought about it very briefly before changing the subject. I wasn’t going to apologize for saying disrespectful things before I left. I don’t know what happened in closed door meetings, and find I don’t need to know now. I also don’t need apologies, I suppose.

I do want us to be OK. So we exchanged gossip about colleagues – he knows faculty, I know students and our acquaintances overlap enough that talking is very interesting. There are problems at Grad City of which I hadn’t known, as well as some successes he hadn’t shared in the years that I’ve been gone. Likewise, he was eager to hear about my grant, offering a new letter to accompany the resubmission. He grinned at the news of my chapter and sat back with raised eyebrows at the mention of my possible trip to Italy. He looked appropriately impressed and pleased, I decided. We shared family news and I got to coo over new pictures of his children, then we paid our separate checks and headed in our different directions.

I met with Carrie – she’d called 5 times but I hadn’t had my cell phone with me as I sat by the river and mended hurt feelings that lingered too long.

“How was it?” She whispered as we sat in a session.

“Good.” I offered quietly in return. “Really good, actually.”

“Did you yell?”

“No.” I shook my head and smiled. “I never planned to. I like him – I wanted us to be friendly again.”

“Forgiving.” She said with a shake of her own head. “Nice.” She continued to characterize me. “Strange.”

I shrugged and listened to more people talk, feeling peaceful.

She finished her talk later in the afternoon and ordered me to attend a dinner with some of her colleagues. I sighed, but wandered along behind her with another young woman who works with Carrie.

“I feel weird.” Suzy noted. At my inquiring look, she elaborated. “I work with those people and I was standing there when they were inviting Carrie, but I wasn’t invited to this thing. So I don’t feel like I should go.”

I nodded in understanding and frowned. I avoid exclusive parties. It’s just not my thing.

But I followed anyway and stopped when we entered a pretty bar in one end of the hotel. There were 4 older faculty members – all men – and a group of young, pretty women. Suzy and I – the only uninvited guests drug along by Carrie – were the only ones who didn’t fit the mold of thin and fashionable and rather sexy. As everyone snuggled together on the overstuffed furniture to make room for Carrie to join them, I frowned darkly. I didn’t like the vibe, though I absolutely know it’s all in my head. It just felt weird and looked strange and I shook my head at my friend as she motioned me toward a stool.

“I’m going up to the room.” I said and watched her frown at me. “I’m just not up for this.” I said, motioning at her boss between pretty blondes, and hoping I wasn’t wrinkling my nose too obviously. As I walked toward the elevator, I ran into Advisor as he was heading out himself.

“Hey,” he greeted me, “I thought you were going out.”

“I was. Now I’m not.” I offered, then smiled at him. “It just wasn’t my thing.”

He glanced over my shoulder and nodded. Then we spoke of jobs he thought I might like, offering to send me email with introductions to relevant people. I accepted easily and said again that it had been nice to see him.

“It was the best part of my day.” He said. “Thank you for meeting with me – I’m really glad we got to talk.”

“Likewise.” I smiled. “I appreciate you taking the time.”

“So you’ll come visit?” He said. “Let me know if you’re ever back in Grad City?”

“Of course.” I said easily. “I’d like to give a seminar sometime.”

“This year?” He asked immediately. “I’ll get you on the schedule when I get back if you’d like.”

I nodded, thinking that would be fun, and hugged him good-bye. Mentoring is hard, I’m sure. Balancing self interest versus what’s best for your students, offering advice while still figuring out your own life, managing multiple projects and interests and papers. I don’t envy faculty – much as I might criticize, I really am awed by the job some of those folks perform.

I’m not sure I fully understand it, but Advisor and I seem OK. Maybe it was time, maybe we both let good history override the awful moments, perhaps we understand that allies are far better than enemies as we work through the world of research. Regardless, I’m content as I spend the evening alone after room service and a nice shower and television.

Plus, it’s not as if I had lunch with Pete.

Snippets: Chicago, day 3

The Ribbon
“I need to register for my travel award.” I noted to Steve at the opening talks on Sunday.

“Yes,” he affirmed, “you need your ribbon.”

“Indeed.” I replied.

“Want to know something funny?” I asked Carrie when we returned from a poster session yesterday afternoon.

“Of course.” She replied quickly and I grinned at how much fun it is to converse with her.

“No less than 10 people looked at me when I was walking around, didn’t do much of anything to acknowledge my presence, glanced down at the ribbon affixed to my nametag that indicates I won a coveted travel award, then made eye contact and smiled. It’s like the ribbon validates my presence here!”

“Nice.” She smiled and nodded.

“I think I need a ribbon all the time.” I mused.

In a meeting that – to me – seems undeniably social, it does tend to emphasize the fact that – in some circles – it matters very much as to who you know. I know Carrie, which is turning out to be a powerful contact into the social world that exists in this particular field. But as I wander around, proudly displaying the ribbon I didn’t really earn, I see people, realize they’re probably quite renowned and important, and acknowledge that I have no idea who they are. Even upon seeing names, I sometimes squint and try to recall if I read any of their papers when I was exploring many areas early in my graduate career. I simply haven’t kept up with the literature in this area, and I note that I’m very ignorant of the sometimes fascinating research that goes on.

The ribbon, therefore, is my in. Strange how something so small can be indicative of a person’s intellectual worth though. And while I like that I know someone who makes me semi-important and worthy of smiles once people behold my ribbon, I’m a bit bothered that connections are so very vital in this world.

The Chapter
My time spent in the lobby waiting for files to transfer themselves to the publisher was apparently well spent. I received an email this morning.

Dear Katie,

Good day. Thank you for your email message. This is to acknowledge receipt of and thank you for the full version of your chapter for publication. This paper is confirmed as accepted for publication.

We will be sending electronic page proofs as the chapter works its way through the production system. Tracking information concerning the editor, ISBN, page proof status and other production stages including shipping will be available at [publisher’s website] within approximately 10 weeks after the volume closes and updated regularly. The website has a field called status which contains the production status. As soon as a book is listed, the codes in the status field are changed to show the flow right through to publication

Please send us the name and address of your library so we can be sure to bring this book to their attention.

“Wow.” I said as I read the email early this morning, dragging myself out of bed and into a pretty skirt and top to attend the morning sessions. “They’re not going to review and revise it? At all? That makes me nervous.”

“It’s so well done that they don’t need to.” Carrie offered, still snuggled in bed waiting for me to leave so she could have the room to herself.

I turned to frown at her and shook my head. Then reconsidered. “It is useful.” I decided, thinking as I spoke. “But there are several areas where I thought, ‘Reviewers will note there are problems and hopefully will suggest ways to improve that particular section.’ I was counting on peer review to make it better! No peer review for my chapter? Just print it as is? Wow.”

I’ll freely admit my fear of peer review. Having received many rejections of decent manuscripts, my stomach clenches before sending anything out. But I also have no choice but to acknowledge it is a vital part of publishing any work. Outsiders can sometimes see flaws and note important findings more clearly. It makes for better papers – this paragraph doesn’t make sense, this sentence needs to be placed at the beginning, this work is confounded and needs further attention. It’s good stuff.

So while I’m thrilled that they received the text and many figures I made, I wish there were people reviewing it. I hope that readers find it helpful and I’m glad I did the analysis and wrote it all out. I’ll certainly use it as a reference and I explored literature and software to a depth I otherwise would have avoided. So it’s a Yay! for being done and having it accepted so easily and a Huh. for not having it picked apart by someone to make sure it’s saying what should be said.

Faculty, Conversation 1
I made reservations at the restaurant that sits on the corner of St. Claire and Grand last night. Carrie and I sat and had fabulous food (I admit I did scrape the whole anchovy off my Caesar salad and covered it with a big parmesan cheese shaving before eating the creation made of crunchy romaine hearts. No floppy leaves in that salad! Not so cultured, I know.) and interesting conversation.

“It’s only recently that I started identifying more with post-docs than grad students.” I offered. “I finally feel like I’ve moved out of the student phase and am somewhere between independence and being mentored. But I still,” and I paused to look at her sheepishly, “don’t trust young professors.”

“No, no!” she scolded. “Assistant professors are to be pitied! Our jobs are hard!”

“I know,” I replied seriously, and I do. "I read blogs and know people – you included – who are in that group. You’re smart and lovely and dedicated, which is great. But my defense experience indicates I view all of you with an element of distrust. Not that it’s deserved or appropriate, but I do.”

“That’s not right.” She said, settling into a mild glare.

“OK, but look.” I started to defend myself. “If I work for an older, more established faculty member, he or she isn’t writing their own papers anymore. I don’t have to worry that the work I’ve done is going to get sucked into one of their major projects and I’ll end up 3rd or 4th author on a paper I otherwise could have written myself. I think in terms of taking advantage of students or post-docs, it’s more likely to happen with younger professors who are working to make a name in the field and get those initial grants.”

She continued to frown at me so I kept talking. “It’s not that I blame you. It must be hard to be in that position and I certainly advocate looking out for yourself and doing what’s best for your career. But from a trainee standpoint, it seems dangerous.”

“I do write a lot of my own papers.” She mused.

“And I want someone content to be last author.” I noted. “I need the first author papers, as do grad students. So it sucks for us when you’re still trying to publish stuff as a first author – too many people want the same thing and when you’re the boss, we’re screwed.”

“I don’t know when it’s time to transition though. When I stop putting my boss last and start being last myself.”

“I don’t know the rules. And I’m not criticizing your choices either, though I’m sure it sounds that way. I don’t know exactly what life is like for you people and I do respect what you’re trying to do. I’m just telling you how it seems from my perspective.”

“No, I know.” She said and peered around the noisy dining room as I tucked into the most delightful risotto. “I am stepping on the backs of my grad students. They do the work, I write the paper. And take first author. Yep, stepping on their backs.”

“And telling them to hold still while you’re doing it.” I noted, again marveling over the quality of my food.

I might have left that conversation off the blog for fear of offending junior faculty members who might read. But then…

Faculty, Conversation 2
We ran into two members of my graduate research group after I hung my poster this morning. They – both junior faculty now – were going in to hang their own work for sessions later today.

“Are you physically presenting a poster?” I asked the elder of the two. “Not your students?”

“Yes.” He answered and I frowned.

“But why aren’t your students doing it? Didn’t they do the work? Where are they?”

“They’re not here.” He said and I blinked in continued surprise.

“Why not?” I asked when he didn’t elaborate.

“They wouldn’t be interested.” He said, then paused. “Well, maybe they would. Some of them.”

“So why aren’t they here?” I pressed. “Where are they?”

“Working, I hope.” He replied, then dug in his bag. “In fact, I should call and make sure they’re all in and getting things done.”

I huffed to Carrie as we headed upstairs again. “I wouldn’t work for him.” I offered. And while I’m pleased everyone is doing so well for themselves, I can’t help but think members of my cohort are becoming people I wouldn’t trust all that much when collaborating. Which seems wildly hypocritical when Carrie has helped me so much, but the idea that everyone is out for number one makes me nervous.

I want to be selfish and work for a mentor who very much wants me to succeed, even when that takes me in a different direction than he/she hoped. And, to be fair, I sure as hell wouldn’t work for myself if I were a grad student.

Summing Up
Going to sessions that are even slightly relevant does spark ideas for me. I sat through morning talks and had a couple of ideas for what to try next. So I should do that instead of writing on my blog, I suppose.