Wednesday, April 26, 2006

All the news that isn't

(Suddenly, when I am completely overwhelmed by a dying computer, reviewer comments from hell, and way too much work, the blog post that I've been avoiding writing seems like the most attractive thing.)

When I returned from my interview at JARU, I was convinced that while I would likely be offered the job there, I absolutely didn't want it. So I talked to my advisor, with whom the subject of staying for a post-doc had been previously broached, and told him I wanted to stay here.
He said, "I'd love to have you and I should be able to come up with money. What would you like to work on?"
I said, "Of all the interesting things you have on the horizon, I am most excited about Newthing, because it will be really different from my dissertation work, but still draw on some of my 'expertise.' Plus, it will give me a chance to do experimental work that I have been interested in doing for a long time."
He said, "Funny you should say that. We have the opportunity to be involved in some really neat collaborative work. The only problem is that if we are going to be involved, we need to get to work right now."
I said, "I'm game."

The next week I got on a plane for Midwest to take part in an experimental design meeting. Experiments start next week, and I'll probably need to spend a few weeks in Midwest during May and then again in July.

(Have you figured out yet why the defense-countdown ticker has disappeared from my page?)

So in the past two weeks, I've been getting myself spun up on Newthing (marveling at how easily its happening and disparing at the experimental time crunch, in turns) while simultaneously trying to deal with sticky reviewer comments (must resubmit by June 1), finish a draft of Chapter 2, and work on data analysis for Chapter 3 (which must be in a grant report by May 15, a poster by June 7, and a submitted paper by June 15). Chapters 2 and 3 ain't happening, and I feel like I am spending all day just hurtling from one thing to the next while slogging through molasses. Plus, I'm out of clean clothes.

I'm having second thoughts about my decisions. It appears that I won't even get the job offer from JARU (they had promised to call last Friday), so it's not like I have other options. First, I am not convinced the current collaborative experimental scheme will work for studying Newthing and which potentially leaves me several months into the postdoc starting from scratch. Second, if I can't defend by September 1, I'll be out of fellowship money, and grad research assistants get paid <1/2 as much as fellowships or post-docs. There's nothing my advisor can do to help me on this one; rules are rules. But spending the necessary time on Newthing may make it hard for me to defend this summer. Third, in less than 6 months I'll be starting the job search roulette wheel all over again. And that's totally unappealing right now. Fourth, a couple of people have pointedly remarked on how unusual it is for PhD students to stay with their advisor for a post-doc and insinuated that it might be harder for me to get a tenure-track job because of it. I too am concerned that staying here for a year will lead to needing another post-doc somewhere else before jumping on the tenure-track. But at this point, what can I do?

On the upside, it's really really great that my advisor is willing and able to fund me for another year and that I like working with him well enough for that to be palatable. I won't have to finish in a rush, move across the country, and start a new job in a new town right away. BusinessMan's got a promising new job here that maybe (hopefully) will turn into a real career for him if he can stay here >6 months. We've got friends and family in the area, and maybe after I've defended I can take some time off and play in the mountains and along the coast. There's a lot of trails to left to hike and rivers to left to run in this neck of the woods. And maybe I'm naive, but a post-doc hints at a little more time to do those things than as an ABD or a junior professor.

Being here for another year also means that we can continue to try to have a baby. I'll have great health insurance as soon as I defend, and BusinessMan will have great health insurance for us by the end of August whether or not I defend. I have a gynecologist I really like. I couldn't imagine being pregnant/having an infant in the first year on the tenure track, but it seems more doable as a post-doc (especially with an understanding boss).

Of course, trying to have a baby does not equal having a baby, as I know all too well. I've been on job interviews my last 2 ovulation cycles, I may have to be in Midwest doing experiments for newthing in May, and I'll be on the east coast for a conference in June. So the baby won't be getting made until late this summer at the earliest, which means that I could be in the third trimester or with a newborn during interview season...and that's a whole 'nother can of worms. Plus, as those of you who have been following the saga may remember, we'll likely have lower chances of conceiving even when I am around (low sperm counts). We could go the artificial insemination route to mitigate that, but I have a new worry now that I may have a problem too.
A couple of times my period has been a couple of days late and then started. Now that may seem like nothing to some of you, but I've been charting for over a year and I know that my luteal phase is always 12 days. So when my period hasn't started by 15-16 days after ovulation, I start to get excited. And then the pregnancy test comes back negative and then later that day my period starts. I take the pregnancy test even though I don't think I'm pregnant, and I don't think I'm pregnant because my temperature hasn't exhibited the classic triphasic pattern of pre-ovulation (low), ovulation (high), and implantation (higher) that pregnant women get. This temperature pattern is the result of the same hormone levels that the pregnancy test is measuring. So now I wonder whether I have a hormonal problem or a problem sustaining a very early pregrancy that would sabotage the AI efforts.

Yes, I know I could ask my doctor but those visits ain't cheap. Yes, I could go on some bulletin boards and ask other women TTC. But I get annoyed at the threads hijacked by happy mothers, irritated at the incomprehensible acronyms, and depressed by the stories of women who have suffered miscarriage after miscarriage or gone to extraordinary lengths to get pregnant and still failed to bear a child. I can't afford the time or the emotional rollercoaster that those bulletin boards would require. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I guess.

(BTW, anybody who tells me that we will get pregnant as soon as my stress levels go down will be shot [or at least banned from commenting]. Not only is that comment not the least bit comforting or helpful, it reflects a complete lack of understanding about the assorted stresses that will always accompany a woman's academic lifestyle.)

Most of the time I am too happily busy with work to spend more than a few minutes mourning the arrival of another period. With so much changing right now and so many demands on my energy, brain, and emotions, I think I am feeling it more acutely this time around. I promise that in a few days (weeks?) I'll be back to my normal, happy scientific self.

And maybe by then the reviews will dealt with and my computer will be fixed.


RageyOne said...

Hmmm...very tough decisions. I wish you well in all aspects and especially on that schedule of things to do!

Prof. Me said...

First things first: I've been reading you via Bloglines and hadn't seen your new template until today. Lovely! I really think it expresses the "you" that I know you to be on this site.

Second: I 100% do not blame you for not wanting to go on the job hunt rollercoaster again, and I'm so sorry that the JARU "ace in the hole" didn't work out as planned. (Have you confirmed it, by the way? Are they just slow? And if they DID give you the job, knowing what you know now about NewThing, would you feel differently about them?) You are fortunate to have such a caring and supportive advisor, and I don't think it would be a bad thing to stay with that person another year for a post-doc. I'd say it's a pretty nice situation to be in, honestly, for so many reasons.

Reading this post, I can almost feel your anxiety, feel the tightness as you try to do twelve things at once. You sound stretched in too many directions, my dear. I'm curious: of all that you're doing right now, what's the MOST important to you? What gives you the MOST satisfaction? So many times reading this post I wanted to ask you a question, to interrupt, to help. Even if it was just doing your laundry!

On the baby thing, I am very sorry to hear that you're having problems. I've been charting, too, and sometimes I think that in delicate matters like this, ignorance really IS bliss. I really hate KNOWING that I'm ovulating for some reason -- it's been making me a little depressed, actually, to know that there's the tiny possiblity of a pregnancy in there that I'm not taking advantage of. I cannot imagine how you feel about it -- I really, really feel for you, SW, and will pray that it gets sorted out.

I really appreciate how honest you are in this post. That takes a lot of guts, my friend.

Katie said...

This post was completely genuine and honest and gutsy - Prof. Me is right. I'm throwing every bit of positive energy I can muster behind you, dear ScienceWoman. There are tough choices and it's always easy to second-guess them. I'm sorry you sound stressed - it's a difficult time on a few levels for you, isn't it? But you're so thoughtful and seem to have built an amazing support system for yourself. I know you'll be great. Back to your "happy scientific self" really soon. :)

But reading this reminds me that we all struggle at times. I really do think you're amazing for sharing it. Thank you.

Honeybee said...

So many things!

First, obviously getting your diss and defense done should be priority 1. Is there anyone in the lab (grad students, techs, undergrads?) who can help you to keep the Newthing ball rolling while you write? I know new things are usually more exciting than the old, but if you don't defend, it's all moot.

2nd: Staying with the same PI is not necessarily a career-breaker. My former PI had a guy who went from undergrad tech to grad student to postdoc all in the same lab. (He's now in industry but probably could have snagged a TT job.) The big thing is making connections. Go to conferences and meet new people.

3rd: The baby thing must be incredibly hard. From witnessing how things are done in my department, being pregnant as a postdoc is the way to go. I can think of four postdocs in my department who recently made that leap. Best wishes on that front.

Anonymous said...

Your situation is so similar to mine that I had to respond. I am an ABD in the sciences and I have been navigating the job market this year, too. Also, much like you, I haven't had a lot of luck. I had two offers, but they were both at schools that had ginormous teaching loads (which would all but formally eliminate my research program). As such, I turned these jobs down. I didn't get any of the good (or good-ish) jobs that I interviewed for. So, it looks like I am going to spend another year in grad school as an ABD. I have been quite depressed about this - which has been exacerbated by the fact that my advisor (with whom I have always had a good relationship) has been making me feel like a burden with his discussions of 'how are we going to have enough lab space with the new students that I am bringing in, etc.'.

Also, like you, my husband and I are hot on the baby trail. We accidentally got pregnant back in November (before we were on the baby trail) & miscarried in December. I had to defend my diss proposal while in the midst of miscarrying (which was also one week after my grandmother had died). It was horrible and stressful. Anyway, that made my husband & I realize how ready we were to start a family & we have started to actively try to concieve since then. Unfortunately, like you, I have been away a lot in the passing months due to interviewing. Also, there are some peculiarities to my living situation that make conception difficult - so we have been frustrated, too.

The point of this post? Well, I have struggled with the question of 'should we try to have a baby now when it would leave me in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy during interviewing or giving birth my first semester as an AP?' and have concluded, f*** it. We postponed trying to have a baby this time last year because of the job market & nothing came out of it. If I am too pregnant to fly during interview season, the schools and I will have to work together to try to figure something out for the interview. Try not to let yourself worry about this (interviewing, etc.) when deciding about family planning. Go with your gut on this.

Wow - this was long. I am not a blogger, so I am 'anonymous' here, but I'll email you if you want to email about this. Good luck with all of this - it sucks right now, but I am finally stating to feel optimistic about the ultimate outcome. Hopefully you will, too.

PhD Mom said...

Wow, that was a deeply felt post, and I feel with you on so many levels. First off, the jobs. Hunting for a job can be incredibly demoralizing. Why wouldn't a university want fabulous you, and yet, the statistics are abysmal. I recieved only 5% of schools that I applied to so that is 95% rejection, and that can be hard to take. To make it worse, you usually have no feedback on why you didn't get the job and are left to speculate that it was something you said, something stuck between your teeth, or worse that you just aren't cut out for research. Don't let the job hunt get you down. Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I can see that departments have a number of reasons for not taking a candidate. Most of the time they are looking for research in a specific area that complemenets their current faculty. You can have the best resume ever, but if they don't have the facilities and collaborators to sustain you, you won't get the job. Keep trying, I am convinced you will find something.

About the postdoc, it is unusual to postdoc with your PhD advisor, but not unheard of. Usually this is explained by a two-body problem. I think you may get this question on interviews, but it can be easily answered by explaining the fabulous opportunity of newthing.

About the heart breaks whenever I hear about troubles conceiving. It took me and my husband some time to conceive my first and it was the most nerve-racking, frustrating, depressing, heart-wrenching time of my life. My husband frequently remarked that I *must* be pregnant because I was behaving so oddly. It really hurts to want something so badly, and not have much control at all over the outcome. I think that some of it may come from coming off the pill (not sure if this is what you were using before), this can cause huge hormonal mood swings. But even if it is not, you have every right to be sad, angry, and frustrated with the struggle. I used to take a 1/2 day every time I found out that I wasn't to go to the coffee shop, have some chocolate, and occasionally, a good cry. Hang in there and keep trying.

ScienceWoman said...

Thank so much for your kind words and sharing your stories. Today finds me a bit happier than yesterday - nothing's different, just my perspective. As long as I keep getting blessed with bright mornings, wonderful friends on-line and off, and a loving husband, I know I can get through these next couple of months. Thanks for helping me out.

turtlebella said...

ScienceWoman- I'm late in posting on this, but I wanted to say. I don't think there is anything wrong with doing a post-doc with your grad advisor. I've known lots of successful folks who've done that and they've got jobs. And since your sweetie has a good job there, and you'd be working on NewThing and not just an extension of the dissertation work AND it's collaborative--so that you are exchanging ideas, etc. with other scientists besides your advisor, it seems like a good deal in my opinion. Any idea of not going on the job market this fall? Sometimes getting some more papers out will help the job search and also, actually having the PhD in hand will probably help. Seems like focusing on getting the diss defended, papers out from it, and started on NewThing should take priority. If you have support, financially-speaking. Job market is hell, I know. Good luck!

Rose Connors said...

Hi again,

I just wanted to comment that I too can't stand the TTC forums. I temped for a while until 1)it really made me crazy and 2)I read research indicating that it is not opimally accurate. A triphasic shift is by no means a sure sign that you are pregnant and lack of one doesn't mean you aren't. I now track ovulation using cervical mucus, which is working well for me.

I also found out recently that I am hypothyroid, which is a major cause of early miscarriages. Even subclinical hypothyroidism can be a problem. The reference rage for TSH, the basic marker, is much too wide, so many of these problems are never caught. Maybe you've already checked out that angle, but I just wanted to mention it.

I can't wait to get current. I love reading your blog!