Monday, August 29, 2011

first lab mtg: part II in the lab rotation saga

I sat in on my first lab mtg in rotation lab #1 this afternoon.  The first thing I observed was a very amiable dynamic... laid back, even.  There was a scalable project undertaken over the summer which was presented by two of its major players.  I was pretty quiet, mostly observing how people interacted and how information was presented.

Being only vaguely familiar with the study, I suppressed my myriad questions which would have mostly been helpful to my own clarity and not contributory to the conversation.  Mostly, though, I was not interested in coming off as that jackass who comes in and blindly tries to push their experience without understanding the particular design/choices of the lab.  I do understand that a lab mtg is not a seminar, and that plenty of detail, being familiar among the post docs and grad students, is not reproduced.

That said, one very curious observation was how disjointed some things seemed.  For instance, the summer study involved some cell counting.  After the presenter discussed her counting methods and findings and seemed somewhat unsure as to how to interpret them, Dr. PI chimed in and very amiably pointed out that the presenter had set parameters for said counts that made her results jumbled and irrelevant, and she should try measuring several new parameters in the upcoming weeks.

During this part of the discussion, my brain was asking, "why weren't reliable parameters discussed before they were carried out?  why weren't the specific cortical layers of interest identified separately and compared instead of being clumped into one group?  why was the cell size not defined as part of counting parameters? could double-staining be done to elucidate cells of interest more clearly?  what would you speculate this outcome might mean?"... etc.

This is why I shut up.  Questions better saved for a one-on-one with my grad student mentor in a learning environment as opposed to a lab mtg.  From what I gathered from the rest of the lab's input, this was somewhat standard.  There was a, "let's try this and see if it works, and if not we will exclude the approach in future" attitude, which I love.  But I also got the feeling that students were very much on their own in terms of project design, and methods were not cleared with a higher authority or guide before conduct, which is a foreign concept to me.  My instinct is to approach every study as if it were publishable, and to optimize the design as much as is feasible in order to produce a result that could contribute to a manuscript.  It did not seem that this was the general perspective in rotation lab #1.

Finally, there were about seven undergrads at the mtg getting a feel for whether they'd like to become part of the lab in the fall.  Also very new, since there were no undergrads at the teaching hospital from which I hail (only summer students).

It's going to be a very exciting term.  I cannot wait for Sept. 6th.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

cold feet: a lab rotation saga

Two weeks away from beginning my first rotation, I am awake nights thinking [mostly unproductively] about the decisions I’ve made since January of this year and how badly I may or may not be screwing myself over.  You would think that having already acquired two prestigious fellowships would set my mind at ease... and you would be wrong.  I have narrowed the cause of my anxieties to one thing: fear of change.

Having been highly invested in a certain area of research for the past four years, and particularly after publishing four first-author and two co-authored manuscripts in the last year, I am loathe to abandon what is now a great love.

I have the opportunity in my first New Home Base rotation to work on a project in an area of research very closely kin to my Great Love.  However, this project is very likely the end of the line, as it is not my rotation advisor’s main vein.  Therefore, during said rotation I plan to also learn (or at least shadow) other techniques used for the Main Vein so as to familiarize with what I would most likely be doing if I remained in this lab for my dissertation.  The first problem here is the unknown and limited amount of time I will actually have for Main Vein learning alongside my own rotation project.  If I’m going to abandon my Great Love in this new lab, I want to be thoroughly introduced to what new delights I am getting into. 

I can’t help but revert to the knowledge that if I had stayed with Boss Man, I may not have gained experience in a new research environment, but I would have learned a new (and sexy) technique on a fine set of projects and continued to grow at my current momentum.  I discarded that option for lesser known opportunities in a strange and uncertain new world.

There is another lab at New Home Base which is collaborating with my rotation lab on my rotation project, so it is possible that though the line of study will not be continued in one lab, I might continue it in the collaboration lab during second rotation and forward.   Of course, I presently have no idea how likely this may be.  In addition, the PI of Collaboration Lab, although frequently published, has not published a manuscript as a senior author since 2009, and that was the first incidence since several years before.  This is concerning as a PhD student hoping to land a strong (or at least desirable) post doc position down the line.

Yet a third lab does work somewhat similar to my Great Love, but this PI does not publish in journals of the prestige that I hope for, nor would I learn any new techniques.  They are widely read and strong journals, to be sure, but I have already published in several of them and had ambitions for a more powerful impact factor for my dissertation.

Ambitions high and will strong, I face these options with cold feet.  Fear of diversion from my Great Love (which would not be wise should I want to come back to it as a post doc or PI), fear of entering a less prestigious lab and hoping that in it I will be able to improve the trends of the last four years, and fear of losing the momentum which I have established in my last four years.  Just because I am beginning to pursue a PhD in a new place does not mean I intend to take any steps backward in the career I have thus far developed.  And I have a way of meeting my intentions in at least some recognizable form.  Fear of change be damned; it can be done... maybe.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

the traveling Crohn: displacement

Oh, hai.  Just checking in.  Not dead.  Still kickin'.

After a pleasant and leisurely road trip from the PNW, stopping pretty much everywhere in the Bay Area (BA) to see the in-laws and such delightful people as Kara from Sempre and some of H.K.'s childhood friends, and a quick stop in the BA ER for some I.V. and CT scan action (because who could resist?), we did eventually make it to our southern destination last week.  We dragged little bro-in-law down from the BA and unloaded in 1.3 days, and were completely unpacked and settled in after 5.  Relocation machines.

 Good bye PNW.

 BA R&R.

Apart from the disaster that was transferring my medical ID and records from PNW Kaiser to So. Cal Kaiser (now 1 week late for Remicade and nowhere near being ready to change treatments as planned, thank you), I am floating head above water in the sea of graduate school entrance paperwork.  No department can seem to agree on what I need to do and in which order... so I just kind of dowhatIwant, and lo' and behold, it's all getting done.  The nice thing about So. Cal is that none of the hassle is really too much of a bother, because, well, the sun is out.

Hullo desert.

H.K. and I bike somewhere new (or new-ish) every day, which is great for my mind and all-too-out-of-shape corpus.  And I fear we are in a never-ending feud as to whether I should drop my PNW roots and start wearing up-the-crack shorts (hoochy mama shorts, I believe they're called) like the rest of the New Home Base community.

Today is the first time I've sat down and really taken a breath.  And by taking a breath I mean worked on my conference poster and discussed experiments [in which I no longer have a hand] with Boss Man, naturally.

Best of all?  The ants know their place here.  They stay outside.  And.  The squirrels that run rampant in the PNW?  They're bunny rabbits here.  Everywhere.  As being displaced from the land and people you love goes, it's glorious.  Bring on the science.