Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year

Scattered lights were illuminated, leaving the building dim when I arrived. I moved softly, hesitant to disturb the rare, peaceful atmosphere that lingered in the office as keyboards lay quiet and most everything - save me - operated in sleep mode.

I was happy, I realized, taking a moment to smile over it even as I moved to my office to collect my power cord, bits of data storage and notes. I removed a cart from a storage closet on my way by, tossing my items on the lower shelf and navigating the maze of hallways as I collected equipment on my way to the labs. Swiping my card, I gained entry into central space and remembered that I'd reserved the most coveted of labs to begin my work.

Leaving my cart and tucking my card in the pocket of my jeans, I moved to collect more material. I dutifully recorded my name in the logbooks for the expensive devices, carting them with me even as I wrinkled my nose at the safety glasses I was to wear. Glancing left and right down the long hallway, labs still and locked on either side, I shrugged and decided against protective gear. Holidays, I decided, peering into the delightfully empty rooms I all too rarely have the opportunity to inhabit, have their uses.

Nary an email arrived as I carefully consulted my notes and set up the experiments, arranging equipment to my satisfaction before beginning to program the computer that waited at the large, marble counter. I wriggled into the comfortable chair, considering and discarding the desire to steal it for my office, and was pleased no customers or colleagues were there to disturb my project. There were no comments on my choice of attire, for the replacement of pants and sweaters with jeans and the t-shirt I slept in were even more uncommon than the sneakers that currently adorned feet normally clad in something prettier.

Once settled, I opened the spreadsheet I'd been populating over FW52 and began to acquire data. And it was lovely. I nearly wrote 'inexplicably lovely' but my sense is that far more people than I have felt that shiver of happy productivity when executing an experiment well designed, paper neatly outlined or other job much loved. There was little more to do than push buttons and record measurements for the next 2 hours so I aligned a tube of lip gloss with an uncapped water bottle and my opened laptop and grinned, utterly pleased with myself, my job and the world.

Some 5 hours later, I checked the time in the third lab I'd visited that day, loving that I could move from space to space at will but beginning to despise the virus causing my severe congestion and headache. Shrugging when I realized it'd been merely 2.5 hours rather than the prescribed 4, I took two more tablets and wished very hard for relief. Most other labs, while often busy, were not as luxurious as my starting spot for the day. Sturdy tables replaced marble countertops and custom cabinetry. Machines roared and hummed next to the operator rather than being carefully tucked away so as not to disturb visitors to our labs. Glancing at Outlook, I decided mechanical noise was far better than email traffic and attempted to recover my earlier mood.

Looking at the hundreds of rows I'd entered into a spreadsheet, I tried to summon some feeling of accomplishment. I reminded myself that I'd not delegated this particular project for a reason. Questions around this topic have followed me since very early in my graduate career so when they resurfaced for the business, I eagerly volunteered to write test plans and review literature. When Adam noted that's not really what managers do here - it was more a science project than a customer-facing or product-driven activity - I pouted and cajoled and pointed out how much I do for the group until he, with rolled eyes, granted permission.

I recalled, sitting there yesterday afternoon, that the question that was asked at many interviews was pretty easily talked around simply because finding the answer involved a tremendous amount of work - a huge number of systems and exhaustive data collection. Very precise test plans and tedious acquisition steps. There was a ridiculous amount of variability that required a large number of carefully controlled steps. Given that, historically, my thinking doesn't get comprehensive until I'm actually looking at data, I wasn't willing to sacrifice some poor soul to days of acquiring data that I'd look at, say oops and send him back to get something different.

Guilt-free, I added acquisitions as they occurred to me, neatly updating my notes. I tried several different analyses to convince myself my sampling approach was reasonable. Queasy from multiple doses of cold relief tablets and no calories from the water I'd been drinking, I plodded back to the restrooms at the back of the labs and realized the soft thud of my sneakers on the tile floors sounded tired. My ponytail looked sad and straggly; comfy t-shirt stained from carrying equipment cradled in my arms and pressed to my tummy as I transported it. My sweatshirt, half unzipped when oncoming fever made me chilly, hung nearly off my right shoulder and, peering into the mirror, I realized I'm beginning to look a bit old without my normal moisturizer and make-up routine.

"You're lucky you don't have a family," Cousin said tiredly on Christmas. "With my new job, the hours are so long and the work so intense that I'm desperate to find the energy for home that I need." I nodded, thinking my sacrifices different. I dealt with the loneliness that ebbs and flows in exchange for a more modest guilt at neglecting loved ones. I had abandoned my parents at home in favor of the luxurious freedom of open labs at work on the January 1st holiday. It's all trade offs, I decided as I walked back to the lab and sat down to finish, wincing at the aches in my shoulders from slouching over computers all day. (I get physically closer to interesting information so my poor posture is, at times, due to leaning forward in fascination.)

Finishing the last of the first acquisitions, I checked my calendar for the times I'd reserved next week to do some re-tests. I closed my notes and unplugged my laptop. I made piles of what went back to my office and what came home before retracing my steps to sign equipment back in, replace items I'd borrowed and check that all spaces were secured. Finally, jacket zipped and bag on my shoulder, I walked from the building into the afternoon sunshine sparkling off drifts of snow.


Psycgirl said...

That sounds like a lovely way to spend the holiday Katie. Sorry to hear you're sick though - feel better soon!

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Hope you're feeling better soon!

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