Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Enbrel + Flu

Since I started taking Enbrel, I've noticed that when I get sick, it hits like a ton of bricks. This flu I had last week? Oh man, it was horrible. With one hour of feeling my first symptom, I was shivering and near delirium. Four days passed and I swear I slept for 90% of them, eating maybe two pieces of bread.  Emails may have been written, but I had no idea what was said. There was apparently one email that made it out whose title got auto-corrected to "Still Sucky" - that one was to my boss. I had crazy fever dreams where I miraculously solved all my students projects, but now have no grasp of what ideas actually came up. There was even a point where I could only see in 2-D. Not kidding.

This Enbrel has just shut down my immune system, and when I get sick, I just succumb. No work gets done. Not even email-checking. My husband managed to get me to the doctor, shovel all the right meds into me at the right times, run the house, take care of the kids… he is a hero. And now I am mostly better, but I can't sleep because I just slept for four days straight. And I'm thinking about how much it sucks to be sick like this, but how much more it would suck to not take Enbrel. Did you know that there is apparently muscles in your ass that you use for sleeping? Because my ass muscles are sore from laying down.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Matching Faculty and Graduate Students

As a graduate student, the whole process of student-faculty matching was such an enigma. I had visions of faculty in a dark room staring at student pictures, arguing over who got who, blatantly ignoring the student's preferences.

In reality, nothing could be further from that vision. And contrary to what I thought, the process is different every year. The only constant is that the process is a cluster-f***. Here is how it generally works:

1. Students meet with faculty.

2. Students indicate their top choices.

3. The graduate coordinator goes to the faculty member and says, "Hey, student X put you down as #1. Do you want them?"

4. The faculty member says yes or no.

5. Discarded students (and discarded faculty) then go through another round of matching. Believe it or not, there are some faculty (discarded faculty) that no students indicate a preference for. This can be because the faculty member has a bad reputation, has a boring project, or is super-new. Discarded students are those that didn't get their first choice and things just didn't work out. It often does not reflect badly on the student - it is just a matter of bad luck. Sometimes it isn't, where the student clearly isn't going to pass quals, so the faculty don't want them. But students, I assure you that most of the time it is just bad bad luck.

6. And then the politics. And that's where the sh**-storm commences. Super-senior-famous faculty might try to pluck a student from a previously happy faculty student-match. (This is happening to me now). Or your department head might demand that you take student X because no one else wanted them. Or we have students that demand to pursue topic X, even though no one doing topic X has funding that year. Else, we have faculty that decide to take students from other depts, which disrupts the balance of openings to students internally. When people start meddling - and they do every year - it gets crazy.

So that's why it takes so long for the faculty-student matching process. And that is why it is different and bizarre every year. Most of the time, I am the #1 choice for the students I get. Other times, I am the #2 choice. I just want the best people and I usually get them. Most of the time it all works out. But damn it's a mess.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Successful Proposal

I've been lucky with funding. So I've been thinking - what so special about those proposals that got funded vs. those that got rejected? It's been over 5 years, and I've written a lot of proposals. A LOT. The general thing that I see about all these proposals is that they each were slightly out of comfort zone and that I was super excited about the topic.

When I say out of my comfort zone, I mean that I was proposing a project that was slightly out of my current skill set. I knew I could do it, I just hadn't done it before. As I was writing, I was required to teach myself about some new field or new measurement technique. And through that, it made me excited about the topic. I'd be bored if I was researching the same old bread-n-butter crap. I want to learn new stuff. Even if someone else has already studied it, maybe I could to it better or with a different technique to learn something new. As I was writing, I felt a combination of scientific curiosity and imposter syndrome. Not that imposter syndrome is a bad thing. Maybe, if anything, it was a good thing. I felt so insecure, that I thoroughly researched the project and tried to cover every hole. And maybe I did, because some people gave me some money.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Just Checking In… I'm Not Dead

It's been a while! I've been meaning to post, but everything I want to write about is so private that those who actually know me and this blog might get to know me a bit too well! Or, they might get to know my colleagues' misbehaviors too well.

Since July, not much has happened. I've published some papers, given some talks, graduated my first Ph.D ... The usual. I've been greatly enjoying my lab and my teaching. I feel like I finally have a free pass to be myself, dress how I want, say what I want, and just be true. That didn't please our dean too much at a recent meeting, where I was later told that she was upset about my tone of voice, but again, eh.

My sister, Dr. Mom, is still cancer-free, which is fantastic!

Soon I'll be applying for tenure, and it shouldn't be too bad, considering my track record up to-date. I have been given, however, really odd and mixed messages about where the bar is for getting tenure. I don't worry over it because there is no point. Here are examples of the weird things I have been told about getting tenure at my university (some may be true, but I still find it strange):

(1) You must have 11 published papers in which you are corresponding author. 11? That is a really weird number that you must have surely pulled out of your ass. Why not 10? or 12? Hell, let's just make it lucky 13!

(2) Your work at your 1st institution will not count at all towards your tenure here. Really? Really? Because that would mean that my Ph.D. student that I just graduated from my 1st institution doesn't count? Other department heads that I have talked to and that have agreed to write me letters, say that that doesn't make sense and that they would count it in their own considerations.

(3) A paper that is "submitted" doesn't count. Huh, interesting, but I can see the logic in that.

(4) Any tenure letter writers that I recommend outside my department's discipline, say "sheep shearing" will not be asked. This is really tough because my work is really interdisciplinary and I specialize in "sheep shearing", "sheep making", and "sheep butchering". Most of my best contacts are outside my discipline. Hmmph.

(5) You must have given at least one talk at an international conference. So that's not a problem for me, but where in the guidelines does it say that? What about others who didn't know about this secret guideline and didn't have time to submit to and plan for an international talk?

(6) You must bring in funding greater than or equal to the value of your start-up package. Huh - ok.

(7) You must get at least one unsolicited grant from NSF. Are you f***ing me? NSF is closed! Closed!  No really, not all people get their funding from NSF. Some get their funding from DoD or DOE. Even industry. Should it really matter what the flavor of the money is?

Maybe yall have heard some other crazy things. I must say that many of these are conflicting with colleagues on the other side of the hall say. The whole tenure process is nebulous and gray. Can't wait to dive in.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Two Grants and a Crown

I think there is some cosmic karma out there, giving and taking. In the last month I got two grants awarded!! So, I guess my tenure case for next year is going to be pretty good. I was riding high on that success when my body decided to poop out again… This time, I was eating a friggin salad, my tooth cracked in half, and I swallowed it. Not kidding you. And when I tell people about this, they say, "Oh did you bite into a crouton?" No, dammit! I was eating a friggin salad with avocado. I cracked my tooth on avocado. So I think god was telling me not to get to uppity about getting two grants by having me ingest my own tooth. Fortunately, the dentist was able to do a crown and I was patched up in 24 hours. That was my first crown, and wow do I hope it is my last. It was nast.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

It's Never Really Over

Just when I feel like I've got my health under some sort of control or equilibrium, I am reminded that it is not. I went to the rheumatologist for my annual ultrasound on my hands and wrists. At the appointment, he found new erosions and defects. Even though my pain is minimal, the damage is still progressing. I go back in 6 months to get the damage gauged again, and we can figure out what to medications to change.

He also told me that my last blood tests were abnormal. My white blood cell count was low. I took the test again, and it was still low. That would probably explain why I spend most of my weekends in bed lately. I take my weekly meds on Sat. and Sun. and am consumed with overwhelming fatigue. I am confident that there is some other pill or injection that is going to fix it all once we figure out the source of this.

And all this is going on while my lab is taking off. More publications are coming out, more money coming in. I work as hard as I can on the days that I feel good, and it is really paying off. I love my job and I do it as best I can, which seems to be good enough :) I'll submit my tenure package next year, and I am not so nervous about it, since the bar is pretty clear at my university. I feel compelled to give this my all because I don't want RA to beat me. I want to be an example to others that chronic disease is something to work around and work with - it is not a death sentence.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid

I am reading "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg. It's the type of book that is inspiring and sickening at the same time. I am inspired because I see that I am not speaking out and acting on my goals. I am sickened because I identify with so many of the stories that she tells.

The first chapter asks, "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" Anyone who knows me might remark that I don't seem to be afraid of things. But I am. And I can think of several times where I have turned down opportunities that I shouldn't have out of fear of disrupting my marriage or work-life balance.

If I weren't afraid, I would:

1. Position myself to be an Editor of a well-resepected journal. Maybe this would start with getting on an Editorial Board.

2. Take up a bigger leadership roll in my professional organization. As of yet, I've only done small time bits. When I was given the opportunity to move up the food chain, I declined. Why did I do that??

3. Ask my husband to do more around the house. He thinks he does a lot, but he could do more. Even his own mother has remarked to me as much!

4. Go on a vacation with our without kids. I never take vacations because I always have some deadline. If this is the new norm, then I should probably just accept it and drink a pina colada on a beach.

5. Speak out for how poorly women are treated at my university. This includes students and faculty. I don't have tenure yet, so, yeah. This one will probably have to wait.

I can think of several other things, but they perhaps fall under the category of "If I had more time" rather than "If I weren't afraid." Time is whole other thing.