Wednesday, March 6, 2013

this is who i am

This week, I have been attending my first international conference, specialized to my brain region(s) of interest.  It has been absolutely phenomenal.  The resort where it's being held is the nicest place I have ever stayed, the food is spectacular, I am making new acquaintances slowly but surely, and the content... is pretty much like losing ones virginity: it hurts [my brain] sooo much, but I can't get enough of it and I want to stay in this world forever.

It reminds me that I have been wrenched apart from this [insert brain region(s)] world by entering into a graduate program where the only expert around is yours truly.  I love my program, the people in it and the experiences that I'm having, but I miss this other world like nobody's business.  And I want back in.

I want back in so badly that I am already perusing for potential post graduate positions.  One of the several amazing things about this conference is that it is small (~300 p), and there are many big players here.  I sought out one of these fellows and engaged in an either triumphant (he remembers my name) or catastrophic (he remembers my name and blacklists me) conversation wherein I suggested that he made an unfair claim in a paper, and he ended up seceding that I was correct.  That was my shining moment at this conference. [UPDATE:  I met said giant of neuroscience at a workshop several months later in Italy, and not only did he remember me, but we had a very pleasant conversation.  I love science.]

I had hoped that the poster session would go so well, but alas, I was the only therapeutics poster in the whole show and folks were much more anatomy and e-phys oriented this year.  One of the either great or unfortunate things about this conference (depending on your focus) is that the overarching direction of the theme can be pretty biased depending on who is organizing it that year and how many of their cronies are the primary speakers.

As such, my poster was not the star of the show and I have not yet been offered a post doc position.  Neither of these things are remotely reasonable expectations.  But this is who I am.  I set unreasonable goals with ridiculous standards, and that is how I am granted travel awards and fellowships, but it is also why I am sitting here tonight regretting that I did not try harder to be sociable.  That I did not harass all of the people that I could have.  That I did not reel them all in, and that I probably wont win the "Best Poster" award.

Monday, February 11, 2013

do not be self-defeatist

Sunday night came and went with far too little trouble.  No panic attack, no depressive bout.  I'm sure the beer helped.

I spent the weekend buying new Office software, backing up my home desktop computer in order to reformat to Windows 7 in order to be able to use said software, and furiously putting together 3 presentations.  I practiced one of them so many times on Sunday that my tongue gave out on me.  And then I decided to take a break.  With beer.

This morning, I am paying for the beer (2 bottles, btw) -- and probably the relaxation as well -- with unrelenting morning nausea and dizziness.  How I made the bike ride to work is a mystery.  How I will make it home later is an even greater mystery.

But in this physical unpleasantness, being thankful that all the undergrads are taking midterms this week and are not all up in my grill, I am making an honest effort to not be self-defeatist.  A subtle metaphor to my weekend, it is somewhat like reformatting my default mode and replacing it with a new operating system.

My week is not doomed from the start, my anxiety is unfounded, and the academic world will not decide Wednesday afternoon that I am not fit for a PhD. The worst thing that can possibly happen is that I'll run 2 min over.  Do not be self-defeatist, do not be self-defeatist, do not be self-defeatist.

Monday, February 4, 2013

barely hanging on

Mondays are supposed to be my easy days.  They are the only days where I do not have to teach, take a class, attend a seminar or schlep back and forth between the main and medical campuses multiple times.    Mondays are supposed to by my get-your-shit-together days.  I haven't had a good Monday since December.

The impetus of everything I am doing for this degree is that I love --generally speaking -- science itself. And I love that I have the freedom and opportunity to dance with it.  This term particularly, I am severely lacking in that love.  All I want to do is sleep.  Because I don't sleep.  I don't do yoga anymore.  I barely eat and when I do it is desperately and not healthily.  I don't relax... ever.  I am so deeply freaked out by the awesomeness of my commitments this term that I am, in fact, barely functioning.  When I finally do fall asleep, it is not for long, and when I am forced to get out of bed in the morning -- get ready for this one -- my ambitions for the day are drowned out by the abounding excuses to stay in bed.  Y'all.  This is a phenomenon generally unfathomable to the Ragamuffin.  It's like my body is trying to speak to me... I can almost make it out... "you have an autoimmune disease... yooooou jackaaaaass...!"

Today, I hate everything and everyone and am even pissed off at my boss for no particular reason.  I am pissed off at my brain and its lack of cooperation with my demands.  I am pissed off at my demands for being so unreasonable.  I am pissed off at 2 of my 3 undergrads for aspiring to nothing despite my most fervent efforts to make them love and commit to what they are doing under my supervision (so much so that I may have to "let them go"... seriously.  I have never encountered this situation in my 5 years of mentoring 14 undergrads...).  I am pissed off at my lack of creativity, and at my not being a good enough teacher or student.

My body hurts, my brain hurts, my heart hurts.

I want to go to sleep.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bed Day

I haven't blogged in such a long time that I thought I might just give it up.  But then I discovered that I was saying more things on Facebook than I ordinarily like to say on Facebook.  So here I am.

The winter quarter of 2013 opened in a maelstrom of uncertainty, anxiety and a obligation.  But today was Bed Day.

I slept in bed until 930am, I changed the bed sheets, I napped in bed until H.K. returned from his weekend trip.  When H.K. returned we caught up and watched an episode of West Wing in bed, then I worked in bed while H.K. took his own nap.  Now I am blogging in bed and watching TV.  

It has been a solid, positive day.

Monday, November 12, 2012

y'give me feeeeva

Music for a special occasion, when your immune system actually decides to get involved.  It's been over 2 years since my last full-fledged fever.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

things i need to work on

I have an unfortunate tendency to let people walk all over me.  Sometimes because it is not worth my time [read: energy expenditure] to argue, sometimes because I am -- despite my best efforts -- afraid of appearing the "bitchy woman".

I am not a fan of when people try to one-up me constantly, especially when I have worlds more knowledge of the subject at hand than they do.  This is not easy to avoid in any profession where men feel that they must appear the wisest and most knowledgeable.  I test the waters on occasion when the opportunity arises.  For instance, in lab the other day the topic vaccination came up and I mentioned the fascinating tidbit that Edward Jenner had created the first smallpox vaccination in 1796, which I knew because I had recently read the book Pox: An American History by Michael Willrich.  My labmate responded, "oh yeah, absolutely" as if this was a very obvious fact of which he was obviously aware (which was not even remotely the case).

I am particularly not a fan of the general response to my willingness to ask people about their perspective or experience being interpreted as weakness or stupidity.  For instance, when I observe that a  colleague uses a different technique than I practice, I inquire as to the reasoning behind it.  I am typically met with a verbose pontification explaining what is trying to be achieved and why their method is best.  Thereafter, I typically share the method that I use and express interest in both methods working equally well (although, not to toot my own horn, but often it turns out that the way I do things is more appropriate).

An occasion arose this past week on Friday when I attended a lecture on the Jewish perspective on stem cell research.  The talk was fascinating and I went home that evening and did some research on as many religious perspectives on stem cell research policy that I could find (note: there are surprisingly few books on this subject out there!).  During the talk, the lecturer mentioned that in the 19th century doctors only received 1-2 years of schooling.  A renowned professor in the audience then quipped, "of course: one year for blood-letting, and one for leeches."  Needless to say, having read several books on the evolution of medicine in the 19th century, I cringed.  I wanted so badly to raise my hand an mention that this was actually because at the time, the surgeons and dentists did many years of both apprenticing and schooling, and performed 90% of all medical procedures as the doctors themselves disliked physical involvement, believing that it separated them from God and made them "dirty".  Of course, as meagerly as I would have phrased such a correction, I said nothing as I did not want to appear the "bitchy know-it-all woman".

Clearly, there are some things I need to work on.  Clearly, if the men around me have no filters for sharing whatever is on their minds -- be it correct or not -- I should not feel shame in doing so either -- particularly when I am correct.  Clearly, I need to remove the sign from my forehead that says, "please, walk all over me and try to one-up everything I say."  Clearly, I need to accept that I probably do not come off as bitchy or know-it-all in the slightest, and be more assertive and exert my presence and my contributions to the environment around me.  Clearly, I need to start being more bitchy.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

inner peace

I left work early today.  It was one of several instances lately when I have thrown up my hands before the ten-hour mark.  And I began to feel that inner grumble that mobilizes behind a shield of guilt in preparation for the battle against your will to take care of yourself amid the insanity.

Not only did I leave "early", I bailed on a last minute evening venture to see family up north.  Instead, I made myself some soup (oh yeah, also have been working through a cold lately in prolonged immuno-compromised fashion) and watched a stupid movie.

Right when the army of inner grumble set to charge, my phone rang.  It was a call from a most dear of loved ones, with whom I had not spoken for the long long end of several months.  A medical student herself, she had called to ask for my neurobiological expertise [read: expertise is her word].  The conversation extended, as long-craved ones do, far beyond the initial subject culminating in "so I'll get you from the airport and we'll grab dinner before you give your lecture!"  But further, it ended in our both being reminded of who we are and how we once functioned when we were college roommates.  I don't think it unfair to say that I was far more in need of that reminder than she, and far more in debt to her presence in my life than she to mine.

Of late, I have underestimated myself to a greater degree than is standard.  I have fallen into the stereotypy of academia: feeling like I have to do everything in my power [and out of my power] to impress people at all times, and making absurd excuses to myself for why I cannot always be impressive, and do everything, and be excellent at everything, and be a brilliant scientist at every moment.  It's a very hard thing for me to admit that that is an unrealistic and unachievable expectation.  For I have somewhat of a Sherlock Homes complex [read: not the genius, the obsession], or what Francis Crick calls an inclination toward mad pursuit.  An obsession with making the puzzle fit and finding the right pieces and doing it all in a timely fashion [often inhuman] with minimal mishap and maximum impact.  And I get upset when I cannot accomplish this while also being a marathon runner and party thrower and regular soup kitchen volunteer.

This is because it seems, to me, that everyone around me is accomplishing all these things with perfect grace and professionalism.  In reality, I have very flawed vision and graciously give all these accomplishments to all people, when in reality they are divided among many.  My brain knows this, but my mind does not.  And mind wins over brain every single time.

My dearest, most remarkable and admirable friend who called this evening reminded me that I need to suppress the incessant need to impress people all the time in every aspect.  That I have already impressed them, and need to take care of myself now.  Advice that keeps her alive and  in balance these days.  And so I have quelled the inner grumble, and am at peace with my decision to bail on work and on social call to take care of myself.