Monday, September 15, 2008

The first week at work

Should I and Baby Legume go to the store with you, Bean-girl? Husband asked today after dinner. Or would you like alone time with mommy at the store?

I want you and Baby Legume to come, Bean-girl said.

Oh, how sweet, I commented. You really do love your sister.

Bean-girl nodded. Even though I sometimes do mean things to Legume, I still love her.

Do you do mean things to her? I asked.

Yes, I know that I sometimes do mean things, but I love her anyway.

Note: I haven’t really seen Bean-girl do any mean things to her sister. Um, not that I’ve noticed, anyway.

The past week has been exhausting, stressful, discombobulating. I started a new job and got thrown right into an RO1-deadline frenzy. I got repeatedly lost—lost on the downtown streets busy with construction, lost finding the parking garage, lost finding my way through the maze of the parking structure and Institute. The Baby Legume got sick. Fever-sick, stay-home-from-daycare sick, cry-all-night-and-keep-everyone-else-awake type sickness. I got sick. Husband got sick. Bean-girl, so far, is not too sick. We had random school/social/family functions, and I spent all weekend writing and editing, and desperately trying to read up on and digest a new field of research (thankfully, not too new from what I’ve done before!)

The past week has also been exhilarating. I get to sit in a corner of sunlight, at a quiet study carrel, in a gorgeous, glass enclosed building looking over the heart of downtown. I get to sit and think and read quietly for long, unbroken stretches of time. I find that I can actually concentrate. My attention is not blown to bits every few seconds by a toddler tugging on my leg, sticking her hands in the toilet, trying to fall down the stairs, dumping out the kitchen cabinets, and getting into any of an infinite variety of mischiefs. Nor is my attention shattered by a preschooler whining for candy, milk, a cartoon, a comic book; whining that her little sister is looking at her the wrong way; crying because I’ve looked at her the wrong way, or any of an infinite number of things that can disturb and distress a sensitive three-year old. I actually had lunch downtown with my husband last week. Just the two of us. While we were on our official lunch breaks. Imagine.

I get to walk through this dazzling Research Institute with my ID badge swinging from my neck, feeling like I am once more part of the Real World, the Outer World, the Working World. I’m not doing experiments, but I’m reading and learning about cutting-edge research. I get to go to seminars, journal clubs, and research-in-progress reports. I interact with scientists. I’m learning about grants and the administrative details behind grants—the administrative support that goes into actually running a research institute. The people in the lab seem genial, although quiet and reserved. I’ve only really talked to one or two people in the group, although I’ve chatted with people from other labs in the breakroom. Friendships will come over time, I trust.

Today I had a meeting with the PI and a postdoc about the grant that we are submitting. The postdoc has some very cool data, and the PI is rushing to shape an RO1 for the October deadline. So this meeting was actually a brainstorming session—what kind of specific aims should we have? What specific avenues should we explore? How can we specifically address these questions, and in a form that is appropriate for an RO1? I’ve never been involved in something like that before. Until last year, I had never even read an RO1 in its entirety. No PI that I’d worked for had ever bothered to give me, a lowly grad student and then postdoc, a sample RO1 to read, much less discussed one with me. My previous PIs closeted themselves in their offices and wrote silently for weeks when it was grant time, not discussing their ideas with anyone in the lab (except to emerge every so often to ask a student for a copy of this figure or that figure. Without discussing how the figure, or data, was actually being used). So this is all very new for me.

I am going to try my darndest to hold up my end of the project. I am officially working only part-time, but I’ve had to put in some extra hours at home. My best friend warned me that this could happen—full-time work for part-time pay. But it’s only temporary, only for this month. And I suppose I’ve never had a clock-punching job, anyway.

Both children seemed happy and healthy today (knock on wood).

I thought that I would miss the bench. In fact, my “desk”, or rather, work station (it’s not a real desk) is smack dab in the center of a lab bench. I have a pH meter to the left of me, pipettes to the right, an unidentifiable piece of electronics in “my” area. And my papers jostle for space with a colleague’s ice bucket. I thought that, watching my colleagues work all around me, I would feel a twinge for experimental work. I thought that I might pine for it. But the past week, watching my colleagues trot about with their insulated ice buckets—I found that I did not miss it at all.

Not yet, at least. We’ll see how this falls out.


ScienceGirl said...

Glad you are enjoying being back in the Outer World!

Mimi said...

YAY! I am glad your journey back onto the world wasn't traumatic. Happy to hear everyone is healthy again.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

good to hear it's going well despite a conspiracy of bugs trying to distract you!

Working at a lab bench... hmm. I think I would quite enjoy the environment, but quite possibly have a harder time concentrating.

I was lucky in that my postdoc supervisor asked me to write sections of her CIHR operating grant (kinda like a Canadian R01), but I didn't get to help formulate the hypothesis and specific aims, just fill in some of the details. My current main supervisor sent his latest grant out to a couple of senior postdocs for their comments, but only at quite a late stage. Bt at least they got to see the whole thing. I have also been involving one of the postdocs, for example by explaining to him how I was structuring the introduction section, which I based on two of his recent papers.

ScientistMother said...

congratulations on surviving the first week back. Did you find the morning was stressful trying to get everyone out of the house on time? You are dealing with it quite well, I only had a month off and am exhausted. Glad everyone is feeling better

Anonymous said...

Hello! I stumbled upon your blog from somewhere but can't remember where. I, took, work in a mol cell biol lab and I'm currently on mat leave. I get updates about the comings and goings on my lab several times a week. I have to agree with you: I thought I'd miss the bench work, the buzzing about from bench to bench...but I don't. I am quite enjoying my time away from the lab. I know there are days when I'm at work and I just wish I can have a few hours of quiet time to read or to get cracking on the administrative work or even to file away all the loose paper floating around.

Anyway, glad to hear you are enjoying your first week back at work!

TheMusingMommy said...

Forgive me for asking, but what's an RO1?

The bean-mom said...

Thanks, sciencegirl and mimi!

Cath, kudos to you for involving the postdoc in the grant proposal! I think it's a shame that more trainees are not exposed to this during their "training." ...

Scientistmother: the trick is to go in early to work and make your husband get the kids ready! This month I've been getting in early and then leaving early to pick up the kids and make dinner. I MUCH prefer the pick-up and dinner-making to the stressful getting-the-kids-ready-in-the-morning-routine!

bubblybunny--nice to meet you! I hope you're enjoying your maternity leave with your little one!

musingmommy--sorry about the jargon here! An RO1 is a type of research grant from the National Institutes of Health. It is usually the major grant support of academic scientists.

Life As I Know It said...

Glad you are back at work and enjoying the long stretches of uninterrupted thinking time. Balance is important. Sounds like you have found it!

ophelia rising said...

Good for you, woman! (She said a bit enviously...I would love time to think and to have a lunch break. I can just imagine it. Ahhhh...)

I'm actively looking for work, too, although mine might have to be at home, at night. Still, I relish the thought of actually THINKING, of using *that* part of my brain that doesn't feed, clothe, diaper, or wipe noses. I can't wait, really. Yes, of course, I LOVE being a mom. But I do miss myself, sometimes, if you know what I mean.

I'm glad that it's going so well for you. :)

(And, on a side note - sometimes when I'm out of the room, I hear Liv crying. I go in. "What happened, Jack?" "I don't know, Mommy. She just started crying. I think she might have fallen, or something."


EcoGeoFemme said...

I've been meaning to comment on this post for a long time. I'm so happy for you that you like your new job and I'm looking forward to future posts about it. :)

Scientia Matris said...

It's great to hear that you're enjoying your work again. I look forward to updates about your decision to alter your path slightly. Good luck!