July 29, 2012


I think I'm suffering from a post-conference hangover. I did go into work on both Thursday and Friday and didn't end up getting much accomplished and have not gotten much done this weekend, except some rest and a small amount of cleaning. I've been watching some of the 2012 Olympics. But I also feel like an idiot. Like I should be doing something more with my time. I feel stuck in a rut. I feel I need to explore more often than I do- ask questions, do more, start things, follow through...

I'm trying to blog more in hopes it will help me express myself and get things out of my head- though probably more annoying for the people I share this with; I'm still not convinced anyone cares what I think. Of course, I'm not forcing anyone to read what I imagine is mediocre writing. I started doing this to have a hobby, to document my road out of depression (I am perhaps catching glimpses of the edges of Mirkwood from a tree I climbed) as well as my (mainly frustrating) experiences as a postdoc in the life sciences. And my road to the next step in my career- which is still hard to figure out. I love science and teaching and still have no idea what else I would do with my life, but with the conference, maybe I've taken a few steps in the right direction.

So what makes me title this post idiocy? I need to write emails to people I met at the conference. I did it with a few of the people I know, but not to anyone new that I met. It's just an email, so why the delay? I don't know, I haven't taken the best care of myself this weekend- mostly through not eating enough, so that probably saps motivation a bit. But this has also been kind of a return to my old pattern of weekends- asocial, mostly on my own and having recurring negative thoughts about life and excessively ruminating about them. All signs that depression and anxiety are still within me. So I feel like an idiot for thinking I've made more progress than I in fact have. I feel like an idiot for not being able to just take action more quickly on so many things. I feel like an idiot for not starting this process sooner in my life. My brain feels slow. I also feel like an idiot this weekend for not being able to figure out how to have much of a personal life yet (I'll turn 35 in August...and be single for it, so frustrating).

I might be suffering from the post-conference and travel let down, which is common after a trip. I did explore using my Google calendar more- to concretize my goals (I created an Ian3.0 calendar to add goals onto so I can measure progress. I'm on Ian2.8 now. I still need to figure out when to set the release of Ian3.0 and what that would require, though I have some ideas. I think a year is a good time- perhaps on my birthday next year. But I am going to make a calendar of goals and see how well I do with them- and make it formal with alerts and everything. Thus far I've been a little informal about my goals for this year.

I'm trying to force optimism on myself through bombarding myself with positive messages from various  sources like itstartswith and this podcast (though it's about sexuality, I find a lot of it applies to life generally too). So it's not all doom and gloom, but I feel overwhelmed and frozen, which seems idiotic. I need to start in and do things to get less overwhelmed and to warm up.

July 26, 2012


I attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists and am still recovering from the craziness of it all.

Scientifically, the meeting didn't have a ton relevant to what I do, but I did have a chance to put Ian2.8 through paces and I think performed pretty well. I networked- for real! I have the business cards of people I met to prove it! I'll follow up with them tomorrow. For the present, I'm just trying to get my body rested up and back to life in the Upper Valley.

I am grateful that I got to go to this conference and see old friends from Washington University and even met some brand new people. The remarkable thing is that I opened many conversations myself at random times- riding down in the elevator of the hotel, on the crowded escalator at the conference center, etc. I even got to talk in person with someone I met through Twitter. That is very different for me and reflects my new attitude towards the world this year. I'm not sure if any of this will lead me to the next career stage in my life, but it was good to see that I can connect at least and yet still be my very introverted self. I had plenty of little quiet moments. And only an afternoon of total panic, that I was able to get over relatively quickly.

This is where having my iPhone really came in handy- I tweeted the entire meeting and was able to escape into the virtual world if I needed down time from the meeting. And I found that sitting in the minisymposia (or the major symposia) was good down time, though still tiring. It is amazing how much scientists still haven't solved the problem of presenting large and complex data sets- a lot of people were presenting data like that and it was really hard to absorb as an audience member.

So to sum up, I had a good time in Austin, TX and was impressed by a lot of the people and work going on in plant science. I took a good step towards finding what's next for me and actually took away the message that people are happy to help one another (I know I try to help people when I can). I can also tell my new positive attitude helped me a lot. I don't know that I'm the best tactician or even networker, and I still have trouble opening up to some extent, but this was a good meeting for me- more progress to come, I'm sure as I take the next bold step of following up with many of the people I met at Plant Biology 2012.

July 8, 2012


This column by Brian Vastag in the Washington Post yesterday is probably going to be shared amongst my postdoc and grad student friends. And as I just saw in his Twitter stream, he says there are ~2700 comments on his story about how there is actually not a need for new scientists and that there are no jobs for them (especially academic jobs). I almost completely agree with his take on things. It is depressing out there for a young life scientist or chemist. He says physicists and engineers (especially tech sector engineers) seem to be doing well in finding jobs outside academia.

I am a life scientist and a postdoc and it's frustrating. And depressing. And hard to stay positive in the face of no good news on the horizon. And something I've been working a decade for seems to be gone: and it's an important thing- a career. I don't mind working hard, but I would like to know I'm working to grow and working for something greater. I do like educating and figuring things out in the lab to potentially leave the world a better place, but it would be nice to know that I spent all my time to help myself too. I don't have the solution. It's not easy to solve. Just adding funding won't help. Cross-training might be good for Ph.D.'s currently in the system, but there might not be a job for them in a STEM field when they graduate. I don't think that current PIs are going to give up there armies of grad students and postdocs because that means they'll get less research done- and getting less done is not OK - taking a weekend off is kind of anathema to academic researchers. And unfortunately, I love science. I don't know what else is in my blood to do. So having this swept out from under me seems pretty harsh. Will I adapt? Probably. But I am very unsure of how to build something new from where I am. I am a trained researcher...it's hard to broaden that out to something else, especially in an economy where getting hired seems dependent on being the round peg for the exact round hole the company needs. There is always the potential that money will come back for scientists as apparently many corporations are recording record profits....maybe they'll invest some of it in research and development (I'm skeptical that that will happen though). I think all of this has real negative consequences in terms of the quality of research produced (experiments and publications get rushed out, because they are what matters) as well as affecting the morale of any young scientist which will lower their productivity.

Now to the part of Vastag's column I don't quite agree with. He paints it as a negative that President Obama has hosted a science fair at the While House and is generally encouraging of kids exploring science. I think educating kids in science by having them be active participants is great. The country may not need more scientists, but it certainly needs more scientifically literate people in the populace- and education is a key part of that. Scientific thinking is useful in all sorts of career fields and who knows, maybe some of those scientifically engaged kids will be more supportive of science initiatives as adults in their non- STEM careers. Science is a democratizing enterprise. It's a good thing to have kids exploring their world and nature. I still get goose bumps seeing or thinking about many images NASA produces. The 'Pale Blue Dot' photo especially. And now Voyagers 1 and 2 are leaving the Solar system! That's incredible. Science has expanded the universe and the economy in a huge way. It sparks imagination and creativity in minds. So is a good thing.

I'm going to try and end on a positive note. A few years ago, the fact that my career seemed to be dead on arrival really stopped me in my tracks. I was depressed to the point of paralysis. What was the point? Why bother working hard if there's nothing at the end of it? Well, my mind is different now. Through several scientific breakthroughs in how the mind works and how it learns, I have become much more of a learned optimist in many aspects of my life. I am choosing to think that I can figure out a career- even if it isn't directly in research science, which I am a bit disillusioned with still. I am choosing to think that the world economy is 'correcting' itself and will boom again. Science is self-correcting and self-reflective and things will work out in the long run. Research will always be done. It's essential to move us into a better and more sustainable world as well as simply to appreciate the wonders of the universe- the very big and very small and everything in between. If I were religious, I 'd say that science expands God's creation beyond what's in The Bible or other religious texts and that's pretty amazing. So I am not as de-motivated as I was, but am taking some active steps to figure out where to go and what to do with my life.