Monday, August 03, 2009

There's humor in science - no really.

One thing I miss since leaving academia - science humor. Despite SciDad, who's wit often make me laugh, I appreciate the NCBI ROFL website, which I came across while reading A mad tea party's blog, where the wonders of scientific research are scooped from PubMed. Enjoy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Big worries for little people

For some reason, and I'm not sure why, my little ones seem to be thinking about death a lot. It might be age-appropriate but when the subject comes up, it's really difficult for me to have the balanced reaction to it that other mothers might have who haven't faced a cancer diagnosis. As I was putting my daughter to bed the other night, my 5 3/4 year old (as she describes herself these days) said "Mommy, I'm afraid you're going to die". I asked her why she was thinking about this and she said "Because you're 48. And then you will be 50, then 60, then 70,80,90 and 100 and then you're going to die. Oh I'm scared...." and then she covered her eyes. I am an older mother and her only distant reference for death was her great grandmother who died at 101. Still, as I assured her that we had many years together, a part of me felt like a liar because in all reality, I don't know how long I have left. It may be many many years - or not that many. I realize no one knows their future but each day I wake up, I'm aware that this might be the day that I find out my days are limited. I do a pretty good job of living in the moment. I do that for the whole family. For my daughter and my son, I'm sad that they have to experience life's difficulties at such a young age because of me. I hate that they think about death so much at 7 and almost 6 years of age. These moments cut me to the core. It forces all those raw fears to the surface. I'll tuck them away again and move forward. I have to......for them.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Someone gets it!

I was sitting with a potential customer a few days ago, a very senior investigator who was interested in purchasing some equipment. I was in this meeting with one of our service engineers who had brought this potential lead to my attention. Somewhere in the discussion, the service engineer mentioned I had a PhD and then asked me where I had received it. When I told him it was from M.I.T., the investigator immediately said "And you're doing this?" with regards to my sales job. But before I could respond he then pointed and said, "You have young children, don't you?" I smiled and said "Yes". He got it. Rather than looking down on me and making negative assumptions, he regarded me as someone who had most likely made a difficult decision for the sake of the family. He was right. I appreciated that.

Just Keep Hangin' On

It's been a challenging couple of months. For those of you that have followed this blog, you will know that in January I was laid off of the technical sales position that I had left 17 years of academic research experience for. The reasons for that are the same reasons women drop out of the leaky pipeline every day - family responsibilities and a need for flexibility. In the moment that I was let go from the company, a general sales position in my home town with the same company became available and given the current economic crisis, I took it, begrudgingly with the goal of leaving it as soon as I could find another position in academic administration or in technical sales. I have been bored ever since but have been struggling to stay focused and to do a decent job at something that does not interest me.

How do I know that I don't want to stay in this job? Well for one thing, there's no science involved. It doesn't challenge my mind like my academic and technical sales jobs had. Most telling though, the question I asked myself: Would I have left academics to do this job? My response is always a resounding "No".

So here I am 6 months later. I did not get the academic administrative position I really wanted. I have not been called for several technical sales positions that I would be perfect for. I am still in a position that I had hoped to be out of by now. What am I doing? I'm hanging on. It's the first time in my life I have had a job that bores me. But I need to stay in it for the financial stability of the family. Sometimes this is a problem because of my cancer diagnosis in 2007. I think "Why am I wasting my time doing something I don't like?" Then I think about the kids and the finances. It's a position most likely many Americans are in these days. So I suck it up and keep trudging along.

Each day I am challenged to maintain a part of my "self worth". It's fortunate that I never completely defined myself by my science. As my description for this blog says, I'm a scientist, mother, skater and cancer survivor as well as a wife and daughter. Still I miss the purpose my academic position gave to my life. I miss the respect that I had with that position. I consider myself a strong individual but the continuation in this job wears even on me.

So I think about the good of the family and I just keep hangin' on. I hope that better things are just around the corner.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Catching Up

A lot has happened since the last blog entry so I'm going to bullet point it to catch up:

  1. The family traveled back to New England for my parent's 51st Anniversary party. The 50th party had been postponed from last year because my treatment didn't allow me to travel and even if it did, I was in no shape to do so. It was a really nice event. I saw uncles and aunts, cousins and friends that I haven't seen in years and most likely, won't again due to some of their advanced ages. My sister did most of the work as often happens with those children that live close by and she did a great job as usual. My parents entire wedding party was there (!), minus my aunt who was a bridesmaid, as she passed away several years ago. The kids met cousins they've only seen in pictures and they really enjoyed visiting Grandma and Papou's house. SciDad took some awesome photos at the party and this entry reminds me that I'm supposed to be putting together a sort of memory book from the event - ugh, add to long "when will I ever find the time to do this" list. On the way back I forgot SciYang's booster seat which cost $50 to UPS back to us. I remain impressed still at how well SciYing and SciYang travel. Only thing we missed doing was going to a sugaring shack to watch them make maple syrup. The weather was too cold for the sap to run and the big sugaring weekend was the one after we left. Maybe next year.

  2. Aloha! My best friend and I went to The Big Island, Hawaii for my company's week long retreat (see blog entry The Twists and Turns of Life ). I had a great time and despite missing the SciKids and SciDad, I really enjoyed the break. It is the first time ever since having children that I've gone somewhere where the objective was to relax and have fun. We stayed at a great resort, and the company gave us $1000 in spending money (which was just about enough to cover our food for the week; breakfast at this resort for two was $80!) The highlight was the helicopter ride around the island, over the still active volcano and along the ocean shoreline. Probably a once in a lifetime experience. I met a lot of people in the company that I wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity to meet and in the end, was so glad to have the opportunity to go.

  3. I've made my reconstruction decision and in June, I will have breast implant surgery. Despite having had radiation and risking that this implant will only be a temporary "fix", since my surgery last year I've never waivered in my feelings towards reconstruction. I know that the more complicated surgeries to move fat and muscle from the abdomen to the breast would give me a more natural look and probably last longer, I don't want to have 6 weeks of recovery right now. My life is busy. I'm enjoying my children's activities, I'm working - I'm living..... I think SciDad still supports this decision because it's what I want. typically, where I received treatment, they won't do implants after radation because of the possible scarring and mis-shaping that can occur in a short period of time. But my surgeon, who SciDad knows academically, has agreed to do it this one time. I'm glad I waited a year to officially decide because I'm confident it's right for me right now. And as I learned in 2008, you just take it one day at a time...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It's freezing all around us

My interview for that academic administration job has now officially been cancelled. Just as I was starting to get excited about meeting and interviewing with all the important decision makers, the Institution went into "freeze mode". By that I mean a hiring freeze was put in place across the board. Apparently you can't even hire in a postdoc that you have funding for on a grant. There's no set plan for when this freeze will be lifted but it seems to have been put into place with a wide swipe of the hand. The position I was applying for they really do need someone but maybe now they will look closer within the Institute and promote up. It could open up again in the future but I think I can't count on that anymore.
I'm now in a situation I've never been in before - doing a job I don't enjoy but currently without other options. Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful to have a job in this economy. And it's not particularly difficult for me to do this job either. But it doesn't give purpose to my day and that's what always drove me in my academic position. I'm not prepared to give up on my future dreams just yet but I do understand that I'm no spring chicken and the longer I'm in my current position, the less marketable I will be for the types of jobs I would want to do for the second half of my career.
It's an interesting place for me to be. I knew I was gambling when I left my academic job two years ago but it never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be doing something fulfilling. I had great hopes for my move to this company. Although I can look for other positions at other companies, I have a certain amount of "clout" at my current company and I'm not sure it would be smart to move somewhere where I have to build that all over again. Some days I feel confident something good is coming down the pike for me; other days I'd like to turn back the clock and go back to academics.
Thankfully though this week will be a short working week. The family is heading home to New England midweek to celebrate the parental unit's 50th wedding anniversary. It's actually their 51st but they postponed the party last year because I was in the middle of the tough chemo and couldn't travel. I'm looking forward to the party and seeing my parents but not looking forward to schlepping SciYing and SciYang half way across the country.
Honestly I'm turning into such a curmudgeon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Twists and Turns of Life

Life has been throwing curves - certainly hasn't been boring. It just proves that you never really know what's around the next corner.

Curve 1:

Plus: I'm going to Hawaii. As the top performing person in my 2008 biotech position (you know the one they laid me off from), I get rewarded with a trip to Hawaii for 6 days. It's part company meeting part time for relaxation and fun for those top performers in a variety of job positions. As I transitioned into a new position but stayed with the same company, I am still eligible to attend.

Minus: We couldn't get coverage for the kids so SciDad can't go. :(
But my best friend who has helped me through some tough times is going to go with me.

Curve 2:

Plus: I received a call from the executive search firm regarding the academic administration position that I had interviewed for several weeks ago. They want to set up a time for a full interview so I'm still in the running.

Minus: Same day, Institution imposed a hiring freeze!!

What next?!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

I've seen the lab from both sides now

Tonight I'm sitting in a hotel room near the campus of Big U where tomorrow the service engineer, who has worked this territory for years, will give me the grand tour and introduce me to some of the labs that currently use our technology. It's an interesting position to be in because for years, I was the PI that these people would come into the lab to see. And I was pretty consistently short with them - annoyed sometimes by their presence. Just people trying to sell me stuff I always mumbled.
Being on the other side now, I can tell you a couple of things:
1) It's hard work, physical work. And you spend a lot of time trying to track down PIs or lab managers.
2) More often these days your life science company account personnel are not "green behind the ears". I personally worked with another PhD. and knew of another from a different company. All came to their current jobs for different reasons -some family, some financial, some for other reasons.
3) It's not just about the sale. They really don't want to sell you something you don't need. That doesn't make sense because this creates a disgruntled customer which tends to take more time, which is time away from those good opportunities in other laboratories.
In some ways, the last two years have been a lesson in humility. So next time one of "us" walks into your lab or office, just keep an open mind.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flying under the radar

As I mentioned earlier, I recently threw my hat into the ring for an academic administrative position. Having met previously with a representative of the executive search company working with this Institution, I was very positive about my chances for this opening going into my interview with the supervisor. My discussion with the firm representative was a positive one, which ended with him commenting that I was a strong candidate.

Fast forward to interview day. I had made all the phone calls to learn more about this supervisor and how he worked. I prepared my answers to some of the important questions I had been asked previously or expected to be asked this time. It's been a long time since I've prepared for an interview in this way. Most times my preparation was a lecture about my research, something that becomes second nature after 15+ years on the job. I even cut the hair and bought a new outfit - one that looked professional but not stuffy.

Well to make a long story short, the interview didn't quite go as I expected. I was asked things like "Did you ever have your own R01?" and "How many faculty committees did you serve on in your previous faculty positions?" Now neither of these questions are really pertinent to the job on the table and I suddenly began to feel like the purpose of this interview was not to find out how I could do the job but how we could list things that could be used to keep me out of the job. I was told I didn't have a lot of administrative experience, yet the position is heavily weighted to bringing investigators together to advance translational research - i.e. something more easily tackled by a person with a lot of scientific experience.

Those questions were followed by a 20 min description of the components that the person in this position would be involved in. Very interesting and useful information. But the way it was delivered gave me little opportunity to be part of that discussion and emphasize how my experience would serve me well in that position.

Then I was told that it would be in this Institutions best interest to find a way to use my experience to their benefit "even if it's in another position". Pow. Bam. Down for the count. That was a signal, I believe, to tell me that I wasn't what this individual was looking for.

So my hopes were dashed, my sails deflated but it did get me thinking about some of the decisions I made as I traveled from Institution to Institution, faculty position to faculty position as the "wife of the recruit". I've done this type of move 3 times, but only once was I recruited with a real 'package. That was at a non-academic research Institute so there weren't traditional faculty committee service requirements. The other two times I had to work at gaining the respect and acceptance of my colleagues in departments that were outside my area of expertise. In these situations, I put my head down and focused on doing good research and publishing papers. I didn't push to be on committees or involved in working groups. In some sense I felt like I needed to fly under the radar. Now I know that was not the thing to do. I should have focused on building a broader portfolio and enlisting the help of the department chairman or senior faculty. What remains clear is that dual recruiting requires the full support of the chairman for whomever is the " spouse of the recruit". If you don't have someone who can see your qualities and knows how to use them to benefit their department, and who isn't committed to your success as much as the success of the primary recruit, then it isn't going to work.

Hindsight is 20/20. I can only say that I have the experience I have and I'm confident with who I am. I just don't know where that will end up taking me but I've been down windy roads before. I can't wait to see what's around the next corner.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

One fever, two fever

I've recently gone back to reading some of the women in science-related blogs that I was following over a year ago. I'm impressed they've managed to maintain their blogging. I guess the year I was in treatment I just didn't want to think so much about my life as a Mom and scientist - just wanted to think about getting through treatment. But now that I'm back working and looking at a less flexible, potentially more stressful job, I'm thinking a lot about the stresses of being a mother to a 7 and 5 year old, being older than a lot of Mom's with kids my age, having a husband in an academic science career, thinking of changing my career yet again and being a cancer survivor (and the internal dialog that comes with that). My current job has a lot of flexibility. I can be out in front of the customers as much or as little as I want. That said, if I don't get out there, it will be a lot leaner year and I most likely won't make the company-mandated quotas. However, I can do a lot by email and phone when I need to. Like this last month.

You see SciDad's travels and job responsibilities leave him home only 10 days in February. I officially declared in Single Parenting Month! To top that off, my children have been home sick a total of 12 days since the last week of January, some days together. High fevers, flu-like symptoms (although tests showed it wasn't the flu), coughing, etc. I also got sick in the middle of it all but still kept up the Clara Barton role, spending one of my sickest nights cooling my daughter down from a 105 degree fever. Several days I had to call a mother of a child in my son's 1st grade to ask if they could bring him to school because I didn't want to bundle up my 5 year old daughter who was running a 103 degree fever and take her out of the house. She's been home with me for the last 4 days again with another bought of high fever and a throat infection (not strep).
I was reading MommyScientist's blog about her childcare issues and I can really relate, although her situation is more dire right now that mine. But if I get this new position, it's going to be a transition back to a more conventional work schedule and what will I do when the kids are sick for 4 days at a time? This is when I really hate being thousands of miles away from any family. I worry about feeding my kids a decent diet (some days I can multi-task working at home and cooking so that a nice dinner is on the table). I worry about their days at school going from 8 - 3pm and then afterschool until 5pm. When do they get to just be home and play? Should I give up this opportunity to keep the current flexibility since my children are young?
My head is full of these kinds of thoughts. How do you get your head around a job (new or current) and focus on that with all the other stuff that's on your mind? Maybe I'll find some answers on the other Mommy/Scientist blogs.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bubble, bubble......

Something is bubbling on the job horizon. I have an upcoming interview for an academic administrative-type position back in the cancer research field. Having been out in the corporate world for 2 years now, and having been laid off and re-hired twice, I find myself yearning for something that brings me back closer to what excites and intrigues me - and that is cancer research. This opportunity would put me on a new career trajectory - one more in line with what I have always wanted after a career as a lab scientist.

It would be challenging and interesting and would probably provide me with many more career options that I have at the moment. I really want this opportunity. I hate to get too excited because there are a lot of talented people out there. I hope to know more in a week so stay tuned.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm climbing the ladder but going up the wrong building

So what's been happening since I was laid off? Two days after I was laid off, the local account sales position opened up and I transfered into it. This is a general sales position and not the technical sales/application development position I held before. The company thought it was perfect for me because of the territory and it's availability. I realized right then that it wasn't perfect for me but perfect for them because they didn't have to feel guilty about laying me off. And it also showed me that they did not value me for my years of scientific experience and knowledge.
But I took the position and here's why:
1) I have a paycheck in this economy
Why this will not work long term:
1) I would not have left academics for this job, 2) It has no career trajectory, 3) It does not "speak" to me.

In a book I'm reading called "Expect to Win", there is a section with the title of this blog entry. It says if you assess your job and you realize that you are in the wrong field/business, then you have given away your "real power". That's exactly how I feel in this position. But I'm going to do this job while I look for the right building to prop my ladder against. I never expected to ever be in this position having educated myself and been successful in my career choices. But I've survived upheavals before and I'll survive this one. I just hope the right opportunity will come sooner rather than later

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fool me twice.....

So today it will happen....the word coming down is that my particular biotech position - you know the one I left a long academic career for hoping for better job stability - will be terminated. Yup, after a banner year on my part for the company, I'm about to be axed. What you probably don't know is that this happened last year just about this time but when the company president got wind of the firings, he reversed that decision and demoted the person who made that decision. That won't happen again this year - the difference probably being the economy. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice....well maybe shame on me for not pursuing other possible job options during this past year.

So I find that I now have to ask "what can I do"? I can try to get back into academics but SciDad and I felt that one person scraping for NIH dollars was enough for this family. So I will look at different ways to use my academic research background OR I may decide to dump science all together and see what sort of life I can eek out coaching figure skating more or less full time.

It promises to be an interesting, albeit challenging start to 2009.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My New Year's Resolutions

I don't often make resolutions at the beginning of the year but this time, it seems appropriate. Here are my top 4:

1. PUT MYSELF FIRST MORE OFTEN: I do have this tendency to take care of everyone else and put everyone's needs before mine. Last year taught me that if I don't find some time to do some things for just me, I may never get around to it. I'm learning from SciDad who bought a motorcycle a few months ago and now once a month, he informs me when he's going for a ride with some pals. He loves it and I don't begrudge him that time but I'm terrible at taking that kind of time for myself. This year this will change. It will feel selfish and I'll tell myself it's OK.

2. MAKE TIME FOR A ONCE A MONTH DATE WITH SCIDAD: Another selfish one but it follows my first resolution. We never go out together just us. Despite always saying we're going to do it, neither of us makes it our job to see that it happens. I will take this one on because if I do, it will happen.

3. EXERCISE 2x A WEEK: I know from a breast cancer, diet and exercise study I was in last year that I'm pretty good at getting in 2 workouts a week; 3 I never seemed to make. One of these I want to be an hour of ice skating. I was on the ice several times with my kids over the holidays and I really enjoyed it. After my treatment was over, I stopped working out all together and all the weight I lost of chemo came back.

4. TRY TO SPEAK MORE PATIENTLY TO THE KIDS: Life is crazy, even more so now that I'm back traveling for work. I can be short with them sometimes when they really don't deserve it.

There it is. Maybe since I put these in writing, they'll actually stick. I have already acted on #1 when I hired our housekeeper to come every week instead of every other week. If we have money for a motorcycle payment, we have the money to help me out with cleaning and laundry. And yes, SciDad supported my decision.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Waiting for the Shoe to Drop

It's now 2009 and I'm doing something that I hate doing. I'm waiting to see what my company is going to do with respect to my job. This is something I never experienced as an academic scientist. With the economy in a tailspin, obviously companies are looking for ways to trim costs. As I support a product line in the life sciences division of a company whose bread and butter is clinical diagnostics, we're always on the bubble at the beginning of the year. In fact last year at this time, I had been fired and rehired all in a span of 48 hours and only 8 months after making the jump from academics to biotech! How's that for instilling confidence in one's job choice.

Despite going through treatment for breast cancer in 2008, I had a great year with the company and exceeded my goals. This experience speaks to the great group of colleagues I worked with. But it also shows how my personal circumstances required me to refine my focus and organizational skills. Even with that however, I still sit here worried about whether I'll have a job in the next few weeks.

I sometimes think about returning to academics but I'm not sure I want that grant-writing panic again. But then here I am sitting here worrying about my current job anyway. Oh well, the shoe will drop eventually.