Thursday, December 22, 2005

Some call it science... I call it art.

I was going through my cell images recently and came across a favorite of mine that I had forgotten about. Once in a while when looking through a microscope you come across an interesting cell that really has nothing to do with your work but it looks cool none the less. This is one such a cell: I love this picture. It kind of looks like a little gecko or something hanging out on a rock. Really for all you science geeks that's a GFP tagged protein hanging out beside the nucleus. However, I like to call it art. I think it looks cool enough to fall into that category. I'm not so fond of microscopy work but I think the outcome of the images is awesome. Way better than looking at a gel.

Hmm... come to think of it, that picture is pretty festive as well.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sigh... no lab Christmas party

For some reason it just doesn't feel like Christmas is less than a week away. Perhaps due to the lack of snow here it just doesn't feel like Christmas is around the corner. However, I think it may also be due to the lack of Christmas spirit in my lab. With my supervisor and half our lab having moved to the US and others since graduating there are only two of us left in the lab. Quite lonely indeed. When I first started in the lab there was like seven grad students and numerous undergrads. Now, there are just two. At times I'm thankful for all my space and not having to fight for equipment but when I'm in the lab all day all by myself it gets quite lonely. There is only so much company you can get from the hum of the freezer. Good thing there is the radio.

The other day I was walking down the hallway and a prof said to me, "Must be lonely up there". Yes, yes it is. Normally I don't really notice it but for some reason Christmas has made the loneliness quite noticeable. Usually we have a lab Christmas party where we go out for supper or to the supervisor's house. It's always good times and plenty of food. This year with the supervisor down south that isn't going to happen and to be honest, myself and the other grad student left behind don't get along well enough to want to spend our free time celebrating Christmas together. I think I need a lab to adopt me. Maybe tomorrow I'll blare the Christmas carols to get me in the spirit. I could even wear my Santa hat but then people may thing the loneliness has driven me crazy.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I love final exam time

Who in the right mind would like final exam time? Someone who doesn't have to write final exams, that's who. Oh the joys of being a grad student and being done all your classes. I hated all that stress. Although I must say I would take a final exam any day over having a candidacy exam. The candidacy exam day was probably the most stressful day I've ever had. Thank god I don't have to do that again.

Besides not having to write final exams, the reason I like this time of year so much is because there are no students in the hallways. I can now walk around the university with ease. There isn't the annoying person in front of me who stops all of a sudden to answer his cell phone, or the students who walk SO SLOW because apparently they have no where to go. It's like a ghost town when final exams are on. Except at the library.

I had to go to the library today. Normally I avoid the library because it's pretty far away from the lab and I usually have no reason to go there. Online journals are the best thing since sliced bread. Today, however, I actually had to go to the library to photocopy an archaic journal article from 1989 which wasn't available online. I soon realized that this is where all the students are. All studying hard I assumed. Nope. As I'm looking for my journal on the shelves I couldn't believe the noise level in the library. I don't remember it this loud when I was an undergrad. If I was in undergrad and wanted to actually get some studying done I wouldn't go to the library. It was like hang out central with people chatting to each other and chatting on their cell phones. I don't even think some of them had books open. I also felt a bit overdressed. I wasn't wearing the final exam uniform of sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Now I know why I avoid the library.

As I was leaving the library I heard the funniest comment. Some guy was talking about his exams and his friend said something to the effect of, "Oh that should be an easy exam" to which the guy replied, "No, it's Psyc 104. That's my hardest class". Whoa, buddy. What other classes are you taking? No offence to anyone in psychology but compared to genetics courses my psyc courses were a walk in the park. I hope dude isn't in science because if he thinks intro psyc is hard he's in for quite a shock. With my luck I'll be his TA next term.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Scientists do have a sense of humour

Today I'm trying to find a program that will predict the structure of my protein. This involves two things I'm not so keen on - proteins and bioinformatics. I usually cringe every time I need to do anything bioinformatic related. Anyways, in my search for a program that will predict the structure of my favorite protein I came across a website that I had to laugh at. Normally, to me bioinformatics is anything but funny but The Barton Group at the University of Dundee have found a way to add in some humour.

I submitted my protein sequence to The Barton Group's program and waited patiently for the email saying that my job had been completed. I clicked on the link and came to a webpage that on the first line had the lovely penguin picture with the message: After much trouble and strife, Bob the scheduling penguin has retrieved your results! Rejoice. For your pleasure the following viewing options are available.

Too funny! This makes my day of bioinformatic analysis not seem so bad. After all, how can anything go wrong when you have Bob the scheduling penguin on your side!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The timer trick

Here I go revealing my secret of how to avoid a long conversation with your supervisor or that grad student who talks endlessly about how cute her cats are or that undergrad in your lab who pretty much wants you to write their essay or lab report and is constantly picking your brain for answers. The key in avoiding or at least limiting these conversations is the timer. Oh yes, the timer. Every scientist has one. The annoying thing that beeps right when you are in the middle of playing Yahoo games and beckons you back to your lab work. This annoying lab necessity can work in your favour though.

First off, carry it with you everywhere. People may laugh at me for being so attached to my timer but that's only because they don't truly understand why it is there. I always have mine clipped to the pocket of my pants. This works well except for when I bump up against a counter or something and end up knocking it off onto the floor. I have gone through a number of timers due to this. Timex should really get into making lab timers. The ones I have can't take a licking and keep on ticking unfortunately. Once people see that your timer is literally attached to you at the hip they will just come to accept it and not think anything of it. This is also key. That way when it beeps they will truly believe that you have to get back to an experiment but you will know better .

Here's how it works, you need to go ask you supervisor a question or want to show them a result. You know though that as soon as you step in their office they will ask you about all the experiments that you have yet to do. So you think, hmm... how long do I want to be in there for? Five minutes is usually good. So you set your timer and off you go to talk to your supervisor for exactly five minutes. When your timer beeps you say, "Oh, gotta get back to my experiment" . That way you avoid all those "have you done this experiment yet? or where's that result?" questions and they will be none the wiser. As a benefit, it will make it look like you are working oh so hard since you could only spare a meager five minutes in between experiments to talk to your supervisor.

As for that annoying grad student or inquisitive undergrad, if they approach you unexpectedly and you don't have your timer set don't worry the timer trick will still work. You need to be a bit more clever though. Shortly after they start talking glance at your timer. Then say, "Oh shit. I forgot to set my timer, one sec". Then you set it for however long you want to talk to them for. Again, when it beeps excuse yourself with, "Oh sorry, my experiment beckons". You just have to hope they won't follow you and keep talking. If that happens, you're on your own. The timer trick can only go so far.

Now that you know the timer trick use it wisely. Over abuse can result in people getting suspicious. And if you are ever talking to me and my timer beeps I really do have to get back to an experiment :)

Monday, December 12, 2005

To post doc or not to post doc...

That is the question. This has been on my mind for quite some time now and was recently renewed after reading Ms. PhD's post. Honestly, she doesn't make it sound all to appealing to be a post doc. I especially like the one last piece of advice - don't do one if you can figure out a way to avoid it. My guess is that if there was an easy way to avoid it more people would opt out of the post doc process. Unfortunately I have yet to find a way to opt out. Despite the mini anxiety attack I have every time I think about the fact that I haven't found a place to do a post doc yet I honestly really haven't been looking into it. I suppose I'm just hoping I'll find that "something else" before I commit to a post doc and then I can avoid that whole process altogether.

I guess the real question is academia or not since really the chance of getting an academic position without a post doc is like winning the lottery. I'm still on the fence on the issue of being an academic as well. Man, the indecisiveness is so aggravating! I think the problem is that I would be happy either way - academia or not - so I'm really not set on either. I suppose my decision would be easier if I had a clear cut goal of wanting to work at such and such university studying such and such but that isn't the case. Oh decisions, decisions. I'm beginning to think that it isn't the actual PhD that is difficult but figuring out what to do after you get that PhD is where the difficulty lies.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Time for a new template

I don't know what it was but that other template was starting to hurt my eyes. I figured it's time for a change. I think this one looks much better. However, being quite a newbie at blogging I didn't realize that changing the template would get rid of all the links I had on my page. I suppose that's what that warning about losing any cutomizations was about. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to re-add them. Just the excuse I need to procrastinate from writing that paper.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Where does the time go?

Yesterday my hubby comes home and the first thing he says is, "Man, I didn't realize what day it is. We really have to get started on our Christmas shopping". I found this revelation of his odd since he is notorious for doing all his shopping a few days before Christmas. I of course always harass him about this and he vehemently denies it up until I open my gift and there is a gift receipt in there dated Dec. 24.

I however know what day it is. I've been very much aware yet still in denial that it is December. This is because I had my own personal deadline of getting all my experiments done by the end of December. Being that it is already December (by some freak of nature) this leaves me with weeks rather than months. Now if everything worked perfectly in science all the time then I would surely be done all my experiments by now (and someone would have discovered the cure for cancer). However as all scientists come to accept at some point, not everything in science works perfectly.

I've been pretty good at keeping on schedule though due to my week by week list of things to do that I made up a few months ago. Oh sure, my freakish organization endured much ridicule but it has kept me on track for the most part and that was the plan. I am a bit behind on some experiments and this week my slacker tendencies are trying to take over my productivity but for the most part I've followed my schedule. I'm still a bit shocked it is already December (as is evident by my calendar in the lab still being on November) but I'm still sticking to my plan of getting all my experiments done by the end of the month. I'm sure there will be some things to finish up in January but hopefully not much.

As for my hubby's revelation that it is already December, this resulted in us going Christmas shopping last night. Again, due to my freakish list making I had a list of gifts for most people we are buying for and as a result we did almost half of our Christmas shopping in a matter of an hour and a half. I think I'm liking this list making. I may end up being that crazy lady that has a list for everything.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

An unproductive day

This morning I woke up feeling a bit under the weather so that gave me the perfect excuse to stay home and finally work on the paper I'm trying to write. Despite knowing in the back of my brain somewhere that there is no way I'm going to be able to write this paper in between 15-20 minute incubations in the lab I still tried, unsuccessfully. Thus, this paper has been in the works for a few months since I haven't had time to devote to just writing it. Well today was going to be that day but my procrastination tendencies took the better of me.

First off, I slept in a bit today. My excuse being that I don't want to get sick so I would sleep off my under the weather feeling. It would be just my luck that the one year I don't get the flu shot I'll get sick. And why didn't I get the flu shot? Because I didn't have time to actually go to the medi center to get it. Isn't that a tad counterintuitive.

Once I poured myself a cup of coffee I figured I would get down to work. Oh but wait, I was going to try to find a clever gift for that grad student who has helped me out so much this year. So a searching on the internet I did go. Unfortunately after an hour or so of searching I didn't find anything that really caught my eye except a mug with a funny saying about caffeine.However, I'm not sure a mug really makes up for all the time and effort he has put in helping me over the last few months. I also found a few other things with funny sayings that would be great for him such as "I can't be fired. Slaves are sold". I figured that wouldn't go over well with our supervisor though. There was also "I love deadlines. I especially like the whoosing sound they make as they go by". That one made me laugh since it is so perfect for him. Anyways, after hours of procrastination my favorite is still the caffeine one.

After I figured I'd think on the gift for a while I started doing some work. Not on my paper though of course. This was procrastination work. The type of work you have to do anyways but it doesn't need to be done urgently. That way you are getting something done so you don't feel like you are procrastinating but you aren't working on what you should be working on. So after almost a day of procrastination work I still haven't touched the paper. No wonder it is taking months to write.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The joys of students

I don't mind teaching however it isn't my favorite thing to do. If every student really cared to be there and really wanted to learn I'm sure I would love teaching but all the gripes over half a mark end up making any teaching assistant a bit jaded. Although I do love the one on one teaching such as when your supervisor puts you in charge of a project student or a summer student in your lab. Sometimes they can be a pain in the ass but for the most part they are there because they enjoy research.

The first student I ever supervised in the lab was a high school student. She had to do a project or something for her International Baccalaureate diploma (aka "smart kids program"). Heck I had to Google Baccalaureate because I didn't even know how to spell it. Anyways, somehow she ended up in our lab and me being the newbie grad student at the time my supervisor thought it would be a good experience for me to teach a high school students the ropes for a semester. Sure why not. Supervise a high school student in the lab, take two grad courses, TA a 200-level lab, and also do my own research in my "spare" time. Sleep is overrated anyways.

Well that was during my first year of grad studies and today I got a call from that student. It was a nice surprise. I hadn't heard from her in a long time. Sure she came by every so often during her undergrad here but I lost touch with her the last year or so. She told me she is now doing a Masters and is thinking of doing an MD/PhD (see, smart kid!). I was so excited. I like to think that I played a small part in her enjoying science and research. After all her first research experience was with me. Oh it gives me warm fuzzies to see students become interested in science and research and excel at it.

Hmm... wait a minute. This girl was in high school when I supervised her in our lab and I was just starting my PhD. She has since finished high school, got her BSc (no doubt with Honors or even Distinction) , and now she has started her Masters degree and I'm STILL doing my PhD! Dear god! My family is right. I have been in school forever.

Monday, December 05, 2005

One of those days

Pretty much as soon as I walked in the lab today the phone started ringing. I just knew it was going to be one of those days. I wanted to get a lot done today but I think the cards were against me.

First the person from our order desk calls me about an order I placed however the catalog number isn't right. I check on my computer and sure enough it pulls up what I want when I search by catalog number. The lady at the desk is adamant that the number is wrong but says she will call the company and find out what is going on. Turns out I was looking on the US website and not the Canadian one (Duh). That's odd since I have my computer set to default to the Canadian site. Although I was more pissed off by the fact that the company carries that product in the US but not in Canada. Dumb. I found another place that supplied it though so not a big problem but a waste of time.

Then as I started actually getting some work done the phone rang again. This time while I was on the phone I got an instant message from one of the grad students that went to the US with my supervisor. He said he needed to talk to me when I'm off the phone. Alright, fine. Then while I'm still on the phone a guy from another lab comes in to see if we have a certain antibody. This was all before I had finished my morning coffee so I wasn't in the best mood. I finally got off the phone then got the guy the antibody.

Just as I'm wondering whether my day will continue this way the grad student in the US calls. Apparently there is some problem with the amount of credit we have from the Qiagen cabinet we used to have. My supervisor wants a list of all orders for the last year! Of course all that info is in my lab so I end up having to compile it all and send it to him. Definitely not what I was planning on doing today.

I finally got started on my SDS-PAGE gels at 5 pm. And I was hoping to not be in the lab forever today. It never ends! Sometimes I wonder whether I'm actually a grad student or just a very low paid technician.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Really? For real? Are you sure?

I was reading the recent issue of The Scientist the other day and almost fell over while reading the article on the best places to work in academia. The university I'm at ranked third overall of all non-US institutions. I had to do a double take to make sure I was reading it correctly. Why was I so shocked? First off, that's third in the world (except the US). That's quite an accomplishment I'd say. However, I was most shocked because I hear all the bitching about the university on a daily from the academics that work there. I don't know if that's just because they like to complain for the sake of complaining or what. Plus, my supervisor left this third best place to work because he hated it here and he is now at a university in the US that didn't even rank on this survey. I'll have to remember to rub that in next time I talk to him. In fact in the last few years quite a few academics have left and taken positions elsewhere. I'm not sure whether this is a result of the grass always seeming greener on the other side or not. Either way, I'm sure those that left would also be surprised by the results of this survey. Who knew?

I wonder if the university would place as high if it were a survey of best places to do grad studies. I'm guessing probably not since on the last university grad student survey our department got rocked. On a positive note though that did motivate the department to improve things so it is getting better.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Doin' my happy dance!

Yesterday I got a result that made me forget about all my experiments that haven't worked since September. My co-IPs worked! I was so freaking excited when I saw that little band on the western staring up at me. It got even better when I realized that little band was only in the lane it was supposed to be and not in the controls. Oh it was a happy day indeed yesterday. A much needed one at that too. I've been feeling pretty dejected lately so this just what I needed to up my spirits (that or a stiff drink).

To top it off, I emailed my results to my supervisor and this was his response:
" worked fantastic!!! Congrats!!! Cool... are you going to be the one that makes everyone have to re-write the text books?"

I don't think I've ever seen him use "fantastic", "congrats", and "cool" all in the same email. Plus so many exclamation points.

Sand, surf, sun, and a conference

I submitted my abstract today for a conference in sunny Florida! The key thing about a good conference is location, location, location. Sure you still have hobnob with other researchers and talk science at a conference but you can always squeeze in a little beach time. Heck, who needs sleep?

I've been to this particular conference a few times now but for some reason this year I'm even more excited about it. Maybe it's because I think I have something very interesting to present but then again I've worked on this project for five years now so it's like my baby. Or perhaps it's because being near the end of my PhD I feel like more of an equal to other researches and not like some newbie grad student who is in awe of a large conference. I now feel like I know my stuff and can bullshit with the best of them. No more feelings of intimidation.

Although I'm also feeling a bit nostalgic about this conference as this will be the last one I attend as a grad student. Sure, I may be back someday as a full fledged academic but it just won't be the same. As a grad student you have the luxury of being able to take half a day and go to the beach but as a newbie prof you feel like you need to impress those around you and half a day at the beach isn't going to accomplish that. It will be like being a newbie grad student all over again. Ahh... the many years in grad studies do have some perks after all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

True perfectionism

Grad school is unique in many ways from the real world. Besides still being a student in your late 20's when all your other friends have real jobs, grad school offers one thing that a real job rarely offers - the opportunity for true perfectionism. Whether good or bad, grad students have the luxury of being able to strive for perfection and as such it is usually expected. Be it a committee report, scholarship application, or an experiment, "good enough" is really not good enough. I've agonized countless times over one sentence that just doesn't sound right. Would spending a half an hour trying to re-word it really make a difference in the long run? No, probably not. Or that experiment that worked but the result doesn't look "pretty" enough so you spend another week tweaking things in the hopes that it results in a prettier figure. Why? Because as grad students we have learned to expect nothing less than perfection in ourselves.

Grad students have this luxury because for the most part we aren't limited by time. Sure we have that elusive five year deadline but even that isn't set in stone. Everything has some leeway in grad school. Therefore we take the time to achieve perfection. Problem is you can never really achieve perfection. Perhaps that is why it is so easy to become dejected as a grad student. As well, in the real world perfection is rarely achieved. Unlike grad school, deadlines in the real world are set in stone. You are paid to meet those deadlines and if you don't then you no longer have a job. Therefore, perfectionism gives way to getting things done as best as you can in the time you have. Maybe if "as best as you can in the time you have" became more of the norm in grad school that elusive five year deadline would be within reach. No more perfectionism for me. I want my degree!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The difference between grad school and med school

A wise person once told me that the difference between grad school and med school is:

Med school - really hard to get into but easy to get out of and get your degree

Grad school - fairly easy to get into but hard as hell to get out of and get your degree

So true! Yet somewhat depressing. I have friends who are now doctors and they started med school AFTER I started grad school. Sigh.

I'm not feeling the love

I'll try not to go into too much of a rant about this but it will be hard. I'm a bit pissed off at the department I'm in. Now no department is perfect, they all have their flaws however I'm really not feeling the love from the department. I know I shouldn't be vain and think that the department should care about me at all, after all I'm just a grad student. However, I've found their interest in you pretty much dies off when you hit the 5 year mark. I think by this point most of the department administrators see you as some sort of annoying presence that just won't go away. They also start looking at the numbers. They are all about looking good on paper and if the average time to finish a PhD in their department is over 5 years then that is frowned upon by the university. Although oddly my committe and my prof don't seem too concerned about wanting me to finish soon so apparently they didn't get the memo about pushing grad students out the door.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

All aboard the gossip train

I always knew gossip spread pretty fast in my department but I don't think I truly realized how fast until today. My supervisor gave his resignation yesterday and by noon today I had two people say to me, "So I hear he resigned". The thing is that you would have had to be living under a rock to not realize he was going to resign so I don't understand why this is such big news. I've always wanted to start some departmental gossip and see how fast it spread but now I don't have to. Apparently half a day is enough.

The epidomy of a poor grad student...

Buying Ramen noodles at Dollarama. Four packages for $1! How can you pass that up?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Telemarketers in the lab?

Today I had what I would call my first science telemarketer phone call in the lab. I thought telemarketer phone calls were reserved for the privacy of your home when you are trying to have a nice dinner. Not anymore. I answer the phone today in the lab and the lady on the other end tells me she is from a certain large scientific company and wants to know about how I do my PCR clean-up. So I tell her what kit I usually use and she proceeds to tell me about the new fancy kit their company has. The whole time she is talking I'm wondering why she called me. Then she mentions that she just called the department and they put her through to my lab. I'm guessing someone in the office doesn't like our lab. Of course I just feed into this science telemarketer lady by telling her that yes that kit does sound interesting. I'm all for the free stuff and figured maybe she was handing out sample kits. No such luck though. All I got was an email and an offer of 50% off the kit if I order it.

Now I can understand them calling if I went to the website and checked the box that says yes I'm interested in learning more about products for PCR clean-up but I didn't. I hope this cold calling isn't a new thing science companies are trying out. I'll get quite annoyed if I get a telemarketer call while I'm in the middle of an experiment. Good thing there's voicemail

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A good laugh!

This is totally not grad student related but it's damn funny. One of those things I came across while procrastinating from real work.

Monday, October 31, 2005

You're still here?

I am so sick of hearing that question! Sick of it I tell you. Everytime I see someone around the university that's what they ask me. Now I'm hoping it is because my supervisor and half our lab up and moved to the US and there is only me and another grad student left behind to fend for ourselves and everyone is suprised I didn't go. However, I also wonder whether people ask me this because they think I should be done by now. Perhaps someone should notify my committee of this little tid bit of info. At my last meeting a couple months ago one of my committee members made the comment of, "Oh you haven't been here that long" to which I replied, "It's been long enough". That same committee member suggested, in a moment of speaking before thinking, that I perhaps make a knockout mouse. Oh yes, hang on a sec while I sign up for the 15 year PhD!

Perhaps I should send out a departmental email stating that yes I'M STILL HERE! And stop asking me!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Who turned out the light?

I like to refer to my degree as the never ending PhD because, well, that's what it seems like. At my defense I'm going to need someone to pinch me so I'm know I'm not dreaming. Occasionally I see the light at the end of the tunnel. It always seems closer than it is. Kinda like that time my family and I went on what was supposed to be an hour or two hike. We saw this waterfall in the distance and thought it would be cool to hike there. After four hours of walking around a lake, crossing a rock pile that even a seasoned mountain goat would have trouble navigating, and an almost straight vertical hike up the side of a mountain the waterfall still didn't seem that much closer. We did get a good picture though. Just like the light at the end of the tunnel - I can see it, I could probably even get a good picture of it but getting there is a whole other story.

This week that light seems to be getting further and further away. If I squint really hard I could probably still get a glimpse but for the most part it has disappeared. Ahh.. the joys or research. One step forward, five steps back. Just when I think the next experiment will solve all my questions it ends up adding ten more. I like to think I'm on the verge of a big discovery and any moment one experiment will tie it all together into a neat package that my committee will buy and I will be onto bigger and hopefully better things. Hey, a girl needs something to keep her going. Such is science though. I was prepared for the ups and downs but it still sucks. When things are going well it's almost like the science gods look down on you and think, "Whoa, things are going a bit too well. We gotta rein in some of that cockiness. We'll just add some confusing results into the mix. That should humble her enough". Perhaps it's time to make an offering to the science gods. Do they take lab mates?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What's in a name?

What does a blog site titled "blah... blah... blah" have to do with being a grad student you ask. Have you ever been at a seminar, class, or even a one on one meeting with your supervisor where you can tell words are coming out of their mouth and something in your mind is telling you that perhaps you should pay attention but all you hear in your head is "blah... blah... blah", kinda like that teacher on Charlie Brown? Voila... the title.
Hmm.. perhaps I should be paying more attention to my supervisor. You never know, he may actually be saying something important.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

No longer a blog virgin

Yeah! This is my first blog ever! How exciting. However, I don't have anything to rant about today. By the time I set up my whole blog I forgot about anything that pissed me off today. Oh well, there is always tomorrow.