Thursday, November 19, 2009


I'm alive, just trying to avoid distraction so I can get my work done. It seems amazing to me that it can take more than a year to lay the groundwork for a new project, and then all the data comes out in just a few of weeks. Is it like this for everyone? I've been working serious overtime lately, but come Thanksgiving, I should have all the data from phase I of my current project. My goal is to finish phase II by Christmas. Then write, write, write after the New Year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The not so big meeting

Now that my advisor has secured an obscene amount of funding for the next five years, he's all about paper productivity. Over the past month, he's introduced to me four new ideas for "side projects" that he'd like me to add to my work load. Each would take about 6 weeks or more to complete. While I appreciate and understand that he is a young professor and needs both money and papers to achieve tenure (as well as to enjoy his role as a PI), I'm on a strict personal time line to defend in late spring/early summer of next year, and I simply can't take on all of these tasks and meet my goal. So, I knew we were in for a big talk. I had to tell him that I couldn't (wouldn't?) do all these extra projects. And I was really nervous about it.

It seems that the advisor/advisee relationship is really poorly defined. My advisor pays my stipend and spends (some) time advising me in my research, so I feel a responsibility to work on projects related to his grants. I have also willingly completed a couple of side projects, as well as taken on a variety of additional responsibilities for the betterment of the lab in general. However, I'm a student, not an employee, which means my primary responsibility is to gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence to become a (mostly) independent researcher, and to proceed to the next step on my career path. And none of these side projects offer significant learning for me, only a reasonable gain for my advisor. So, who gets to decide what I do and don't do? And who gets to decide when I've achieved enough to move to the next level? How would I respond if I told my advisor I'm ready to wrap things up and start writing, and he told me he doesn't agree?

We met today, and he brought up his most recent idea for a side project, and rightly suggested that when he'd mentioned it earlier I had sent out a "bad vibe." What was the deal? So, I took a deep breath, and reminded him of conversations we'd had in the past about my wish to defend this spring/summer and said that I feel "very strongly" about achieving this goal. I admitted that I have a lot of work left on my primary project, and so I don't feel that I can't take on all of his proposed extra projects and still defend on time. He looked like he was about to argue, until I reminded him that I had already agreed to take on two of his proposed projects. As soon as I mentioned this he immediately relaxed. "Yes," he said, "you should really focus on project B. That one is the most important. Ok. I had forgotten about that. Looks like we're on the same page then." And that was it. All the other arguments I'd spent time developing and prioritizing didn't even need to be brought up. We're on the same page. I'll be out by next summer. Really? Just like that? I can hardly believe it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time to get down to business

I'm back from vacation, and feeling very much revived. It's taken a bit too long to get reorganized, but I think I'm there now, so it's time to get back to work.

Providing great motivation to jump back into work, our microscope, which has been out of commission for two months, is back online today. I've also successfully run all over campus collecting books and photocopying journal articles from four different libraries for the big push to work out the theory side of this project.

My goal is to be "done" with this project by the end of the calendar year. That means serious work from here on out. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I'm taking off on a mini-vacation to celebrate my anniversary tomorrow! Woohoo! Four days away from the lab; four days without cell phones, computers, tvs. We're hiding away in a cabin in the woods, just us and the dogs. We'll hike during the day and snuggle by the fire with good books in the evening. This is just what we need.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


As workdays go, Tuesday is by far my favorite. Mondays are just a horror for me. Monday mornings drag on with finishing up laundry, packing clothes and leftovers, and making the hour and a half drive to school. Yesterday, I made it all the way to my apartment before realizing I'd forgotten to pack underwear -- underwear! -- thus requiring an impromptu trip to the mall after school and dance to buy new underwear, then washing it in the sink and leaving it to dry overnight. I mean, really. But, I digress.

Tuesdays are the only work day that I wake up and go to sleep in the same place. With no dogs to walk and no husband to talk to in the morning, I'm up, showered, dressed, fed, watered and out the door in about an hour. I usually arrive at the lab between 7:30 and 8:00, invariably making me the first one there. This gives me at least a half hour of peace and quiet to check email and get started on my work before anyone else comes in to distract me. I usually have equipment time in the morning, which can lead to some frustration, but almost always yields at least some amount of data. Afternoons are for analyzing data and "getting things done." I leave around 5:30, grab a quick bite at my apartment, and head to dance. Then it's home for the last 15 minutes of NCIS and back to work. Tonight, I was delighted by finding a new season of So You Think You Can Dance getting started, so I'm enjoying some dance while I write this and will shortly break out my notebook to finish adding in a few notes from today.

Don't get me wrong. I'd much rather wake up at home, jumpstart my day with an invigorating walk with the pups, make a reasonable commute to work, return home in the evening for dinner with my husband (instead of the tv), and work out of my office rather than at my kitchen table/desk in my little studio apartment. But, c'est la vie. I'll take what I can get. And Tuesdays are the best that my work week has to offer.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

No approval. What to do?

Just a couple days ago I read a blog post about a student who had submitted an article manuscript without the permission of his/her advisor. (I wish I could give credit here, but I can't find the posting!) I was shocked when I read it. I couldn't believe a grad student would have the nerve to pull something like that. I do remember how frustrating it was when I had my first manuscript prepared and had to wait two months for one of the authors (incidentally, by advisor's father) to return the manuscript (by snail mail) with comments. Still, I understood that it was the proper thing to do. Anyway. This past Friday I was cleaning out my inbox and discovered that I had a poster abstract I'd been putting off due on Sunday (today). So, I put something together and emailed it to my advisor, who I then remembered was out of town delivering a guest lecture at another university. I had hoped he would see the email and give the abstract a few minutes of his time, maybe at his hotel in the evening, but I waited until 8:00pm this evening and no reply had come. So, I had to submit without his approval. I realize this is very different than submitting a manuscript without the approval of an author, but I still feel a little awkward about sending out an abstract with my advisor's name on it, knowing he hasn't even seen it. Hope he's ok with it when I see him tomorrow. (I should have with me some great samples I finished making this weekend. Hopefully that will appease him if he's upset!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Have Faith

On days like today, I have to have faith that sooner or later, all the equipment that I need will be back up and running and all my data will come together to yield a fabulous paper, and the basis of a fantastic thesis. Sooner or later, sooner or later, sooner....