Thursday, May 31, 2012

The PhD-dip 2.0

In the lab where I did my PhD, it seemed like almost every grad student had one (or more) episodes when doing science just seemed too hard, when too many experiments failed, when you did too many stupid things that didn’t help in getting those data, when there were too many disappointments and you realized that you had been in the lab for more than 2 years now and you still only had very little data to show for. We called it the PhD-dip, and it usually resolved itself when after the 5th try all of a sudden experiments started working and the data started to poor down on you. It was nice to know that all of us went through this at some point (and usually at about the same time, after 2-3 years in the lab).

Now I’m in the third year of my post-doc, and I’ve tweeted a lot of #disgruntledpostdoc tweets lately. Yesterday I even wondered out loud whether there were other jobs out there that didn’t bring so much disappointment. I don’t like to feel like such a pessimist but I think I’ve discovered what the problem is: I’m having another PhD-dip. As I said, I’ve been in the lab for a little over two years now, and I came here to learn slice electrophysiology, so I spent a couple of months learning to do that well enough. Then I also decided to set up a behavioral paradigm that the lab didn’t have and on top of that I had BlueEyes. All of the papers from my PhD have been accepted, so there’s no happiness from accepted papers, and I’m still waiting to hear back from a fellowship application that was supposed to give notice in March. When I think about it in a rational way, I’m pretty sure that I will start producing data pretty soon. On top of that, I will be 2nd author on two papers that will hopefully be submitted soon. But in moments when I get the umpteenth disappointment, and on top of that I’m tired because BlueEyes doesn’t sleep very well, I don’t feel all that happy about science anymore.

Diagnosing that it’s ‘just’ another PhD-dip helps though. It makes me realize that I just have to keep going and that someday I will be showering in data again! I hope that day will be soon though…

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I must have jinxed it

The other day I thought to myself: “Hey, so far the daycare has never called us to say something was wrong with BlueEyes or to ask us to come pick him up”. I realized that minute that I probably shouldn’t say that out loud in order not to jinx it. But apparently just thinking something like that also jinxed it, because last Thursday BlueEyes came back from daycare with pinkeye. At first we weren’t sure if it was pinkeye, and we just called the pediatrician because the daycare people told us to do so. He prescribed antibiotic drops and we did our best to try and put the drops in BlueEyes’ pink eye (don’t know if you’ve ever tried that, but we needed some wrestling move that Hulk Hogan would have been proud of to accomplish that). The next morning it was clear that indeed it was pinkeye, because I woke up with my eye completely shut and bright red.

BlueEyes has been back to daycare since yesterday (with no signs of pinkeye anymore), and then today the daycare called me at work for the first time. My heart was beating because I immediately thought something bad had happened, but it turned out that they needed a fax from the pediatrician about the pinkeye situation (because apparently by now half his class has pinkeye). So I took care of that and then I got another call from the daycare. Same scare, but luckily the daycare people start by saying:”everything’s fine with BlueEyes”. Phew. This time BlueEyes had hit himself in the nose with the plastic yellow school bus, but aside from a little nose bleed he was fine. Crack (that was my mother-heart breaking a little bit.). I’ll try to count my blessings REALLY quiet next time not to jinx it again…

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Books about addiction

I think I was 13 or 14 when I first read Wir Kinder from Bahnhof Zoo from Christiane F. It’s a true story about a German girl in the seventies who starts to experiment with marihuana, moves on to try different pills and by the time she is 14 she is a heroin-addict and a prostitute behind the train station (Bahnhof Zoo) in Berlin. I found it fascinating that someone who was my age at the time had such a different life, and I was most intrigued by the fact that drugs could make you do things that I thought no one would ever have to do. After this book I read a couple other books about addicts and addiction of which I cannot find the English versions online anywhere. And for mandatory English reading in high school I read Trainspotting from Irvine Welsh. Both of these books are films too, if you don’t like reading.

I love reading about drug addiction, because I find it fascinating how drugs can change someone’s sense of what is important in life. The main reason though is that I’m curious what it feels like to take drugs but at the same time I am reluctant to try it for myself (okay I have tried a few things myself, but that is nothing compared to the people in these books). So I love the detailed descriptions of what it feels like to shoot up heroin so that I never have to try that myself. I live my junkie-life vicariously through these books.
Currently, I have almost finished reading Memoirs of an Addicted Brain by Marc Lewis, who is a neuroscientist himself. I’ll soon tell you what I thinkabout it!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Summertime and the living is easy

It’s almost summer again, and when I was in college back home, summer meant going on vacation somewhere. Well, of course we wouldn’t go on vacation the entire summer because we didn’t have money for that, so the other half of the summer was spent working to be able to pay for the vacation. I worked in restaurants and bars, and one summer I decided to combine work and vacation and I worked on a campsite in France for two months. When I was a grad student, summer still meant going on vacation, because back home as a grad student your contract says that you have approximately 8 weeks of vacation. Okay, you’re not really supposed to take all 8 weeks, but most grad students will take a couple weeks of vacation in the summer. And when you travel cheap, you earn enough money as a grad student to go on vacation to the cheaper parts of the world, like Asia and South-America for those weeks. It had NEVER occurred to me that you can also spend the summer working in a lab as a volunteer, but apparently that’s what a lot of students do here in the US. So instead of drinking on a beach in Spain immersing themselves in a different culture, they lock themselves in a lab for the entire duration of the summer.

I can’t complain about that, because this summer I have a lovely summer student who is super enthusiastic about neuroscience and loves to help me out with experiments. So I can write a blog post I analyze data, while he is running my experiments. But are those couple of weeks volunteering in a lab really going to look that good on your CV that you are going to waste spend an entire summer in a lab? I still don’t really get it…