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.

The Value of Exercise

My arm hurt so much I wanted to chop it off the way you might butcher a chicken. I cried at the thought of just existing with the endless pain. I was mad with myself because the pain I was experiencing was nothing compared to the disabling pain I had in 2010, and I wasn't handling this current episode very well. My rheumy wasn't much help, but there is no other rheumy in town (!) to consult.

My usual go to - a steroid dose pack -didn't work, so I was getting alarmed. I bought all kinds of vitamins and religiously took them. And, I started exercising again, and, finally, I felt relief.  The first few days of exercise, the pain actually got worse, but I stuck with it. I still have pain, but it isn't constant and it isn't excrutiating. It's Tylenol level.

My neighbor turned me onto TurboFire work outs. They are high intensity, but I just do what I can. They are super fun, and not too long. I'm very happy with it!

I find it so counterintuitive that exercise makes the pain go away. Arthritis Today magazine says it is so, but it is still amazing to me that I can do something so low tech to fell better.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One Armed Bandit

My shoulder is f***ing killing me. Ok, it's always been killing me, but I'm just tired of always having one arm that simply doesn't work. I can't even hold my purse with that arm! I am so frustrated because with my eyes I see that I have two arms, but in reality only one of them is useful. I am sick of it! Exercise helps but not enough. I guess it's time for a ton of steroids. Sigh.

My legs are fine. My hands and feet are fine. My rheumy says that it isn't symmetric so they aren't concerned. F** them. I am at 75% capacity. I am concerned!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Too Much Cancer

Many of you may remember that my sister, Dr. Mom, successfully battled breast cancer two years ago. It was strange that two of her labmates also battled cancer. Imagine - three people in their 30's, all former labmates, coming down with cancer at nearly the same time. Doesn't this stink of environmental cues?

And then, within the course of a week, I found out that my own labmate has cancer as does my classmate. My labmate and I worked in the same room, around the same chemicals and what not. My classmate worked on the same floor. It just makes me wonder if we really know and understand the risks of the materials we are working with. I also question if my RA arose from environmental stimuli. It is an autoimmune disease, after all. I suppose I will never know.

It is awful that young people - brilliant scientists - have to suffer through cancer. I hope that they will recover like my sister did. I hope that they can continue their careers and their lives, and live it to the fullest.

Adjudication: Rejected and Accepted

The result from the adjudication was that the manuscript was rejected. But on the bright side, the editor recommended automatic acceptance in a lower-ranked (but still nice IF) journal. So I was rejected and accepted and everyone is happy.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Faculty Events on Religious Holidays and Childcare

Mr. JP and I have to attend a mandatory faculty event on Good Friday. The event is very long (+9 hr). Day care is closed so we have the following options:

1. Find a baby sitter to watch the kids all day.
2. Bring our kids to the event.
3. Skip the event.

I want to do option 1, but 9 hours of babysitting will run me upwards of $150, which really pisses me off because why the hell should I pay $150 so that I can attend a mandatory faculty event that is going to bore me to tears?

Option 2, would be a big f*** you to the department, because my 1 yo will be insanely whiney and my 4 yo will talk about his butt non-stop. However, I don't want to deal with chasing after boys all day.

Option 3, could paint the false picture that I don't care about my job or that I don't care about the department. I don't have tenure, so this option is probably not a good choice.

This leaves us with option 1. Someone has to dish out $150 for babysitting - but who will pay? As I see it $150 is worth about 7.5 boxes of wine, so I really would rather have wine than babysitting. I asked my dept head if he would foot the bill. He wrote that he didn't know how to justify it, but he would pay. Thank goodness.

Now - if only this weren't on a religious holiday...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I wrote an email to the journal's editor requesting a fourth review. The editor agreed. Let's see where this goes.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Manuscript That Just Won't Die

I have a zombie paper. This is the paper that should have been published many months ago, but since then, has accrued numerous rejections.

Needless to say, the last couple weeks have been horrible. Someone in my family was at the ER, that same night my grandmother passed, and I've been accumulating manuscript rejections like its nobody's business.

As for this manuscript, the science behind it is awesome. We've demonstrated something that people could only demonstrate under highly specialized conditions. Now, we can do it more broadly, and that allows there to be some sort of application. The manuscript was first submitted to a high IF journal, it went out to review, and was rejected. The reviews were all-in-all reasonable, but one review came from someone outside my field who didn't quite "get it". I sent the manuscript to a slightly less high IF journal and it was rejected without review. Third, I sent the the manuscript to a slightly less high IF journal than the one before hand, it went out to review, and was rejected this morning. Two reviews were outside the field and didn't "get it" and one reviewer was in the field and "got it."

Perhaps it is the angle on which I am selling this work, but it is not getting the reviews it deserves. When I present this work at conferences, lots of people get excited. It's formed the basis for a few collaborations and lots of exciting ongoing work. I cannot publish subsequent manuscripts until this zombie paper gets out, and a back log is resulting.

I am considering just writing the most recent editor and asking for another reviewer to see if that gets any more traction. I am also dreading the moment at which I will have to tell my student for the third time that his paper has been rejected.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sleep and Work

This week has been rough because I've had a cold. Ever since starting Enbrel, getting a cold is like sitting under a ton of bricks. The duration is the same as pre-Enbrel, but the severity is far worse. Wednesday, I practically fell asleep while teaching. While sick, I am completely incapable of doing anything but sleeping. I can't even watch TV in bed without falling asleep! I calculate that I spent about 40% of my 9 AM to 5 PM work time in bed this week.

Spending all this time in bed had me wondering how much work time I lose to RA when I am not sick with a cold or flu. On average, it's about 10%. Usually by Friday, I am so worn out from just living that I take a long afternoon nap. But losing 10% of my 9-5 work time does not make me less productive. Instead, I find myself working at night after the kids have gone to bed to stay on top of things. It's not so bad, since I generally like working on manuscripts and writing proposals. I guess what I'm trying to say is that this overwhelming fatigue comes at any time, and my flexible work schedule lets me manage my career. If I were in industry, I couldn't say the same.

I still have piercing pain in my shoulder from holding the baby, so I've decided to start exercising again and to take supplements (fish oil, calcium, probiotics). I'm hoping to throw everything at it and see what sticks.

Monday, January 28, 2013

2 PI's and $100k per year give you nothing

My collaborator and I are writing a proposal to NSF together. I wrote the program director to ask about the budget, who then indicated that the total proposal should be $100k per year for the two of us together. I was shocked because I knew that $100k/yr can barely cover a single student and a single PI, but to stretch out twice as thin? That's just crazy talk.

I asked for clarification, and my fears were confirmed. It wasn't crazy talk. It was reality. Now how does NSF expect us to do collaborative research with one of our arms tied behind our back? The era of single PI-grants is coming to an end, so the budget model provided by the director doesn't jive. This can't be real. Anyone had this happen?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Two Kids, A Research Group, and Where My Time Goes

I've been missing because I've been busy!

Between two kids and running my group, I find very little time to blog! Papers are coming out, I have a grant coming in, and I am enjoying this moment and hoping it is steady state. My life is full and brimming with things to do. I get little time to myself.

Upon resuming meditation and mindfulness, I have come to realize that my "me" time is spent editing papers and writing grants… and I have realized that I actually enjoy doing these activities. Therefore, my "me" time is actually work time. That's sick, no? I am always working, so it is appearing that my work time should also present opportunities for enjoyment.

My group is bursting at the seams. I have 8 group members excluding miscellaneous undergrads. I manage them by meeting with each member for 1 hr once every 2 weeks. We have weekly group meetings. I go up to the lab every day to make sure no one is dead.

Sparky v.2 turned 1 yr. old this week. He is amazingly fantastic. He can walk and kind of say Mama and Dada. I love him so much I want to eat him. Sparky v.1 is 4 yr. old and amazing as well. We dance Gangnam style all the time.

I spend every spare moment editing papers and working on proposals. But, I no longer resent it. I enjoy it. I find it rewarding to take something awful (from my students) and turn it into something worth showcasing. As a new faculty I was very disappointed that my students' papers were so unpolished. Now I am over it. I just edit while watching X-files. FYI, I'm on season 8 so that's a lot of editing.

The arthritis is OK. Exercise helps, but I still have bad days. Enbrel is a miracle that allows me to live almost like a normal person. But I still run out of energy at around 9 PM. I recite to myself that "this is the best I can do"given the present circumstances. If it is not enough then everyone else can go f* themselves.

Anyways, I'm not dead. Just running around as busy as ever.