Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Link to article in Molecular Cell: "How to Survive and Thirve in the Mother-Mentor Marathon."

How did I miss this?

Oh, I guess because I don't scan through the contents of Molecular Cell on a regular basis (although I should, just as I should scan through the table of contents of, oh, a dozen more journals in my field.)

But a grad student in my lab found this article and forwarded it on to a number of women at our institute. I forwarded it on to a few more. I sense this article will pass in this way through many e-mail boxes.

There are number of things to say about Dr. Galit Lahav's piece, "How To Survive and Thrive in the Mother-Mentor Marathon." My favorite part comes at the end: the reminder that it is a marathon, not a sprint. The reminder that although it is hard, there is also flexbility and joy in the academic lifestyle. I'll let the authors's last words speak for themselves:

"...Yes, it is a marathon, and clearly a long and exhausting one. Remind yourself the things that brought you here; celebrate your achievements and don't beat yourself up for not running fast enough. Remember your values and make your choices according to them. Remember to breathe, to live and to smile. After all, if you run without joy, it really doesn't matter if you are the first to get to the finish line."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sound bites

A conversation in the lab today:

Young postdoc: "The worst thing you can do to a scientist is to turn 'em into a business person."

Me, old and jaded: "But if they get big enough, they all turn into business people."

Young postdoc, with equal parts resignation and disdain: "Yeaaaaaaaah."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer's here

Summer came too quickly this year. The spring flashed by—the lilacs have bloomed and are gone, nameless bright wildflowers burst open by the side of the road, only to be replaced now by other (mostly equally nameless) summer species. Bean-girl graduated from kindergarten. Legume turned three. Husband just turned 42 this week, and I started my new job two weeks ago.

My little girls are growing every day, as I tell them whenever they step on a scale. Just this week Bean-girl decided to put herself to sleep at night. We no longer lie next to her after turning off the light, waiting for her eyes to close and breath to slow before sneaking away. At the age of five, she’s finally learned the trick of falling asleep on her own. “I close my eyes and think of something nice,” she told me. Did you tell her that method? I asked my husband. Nope, she learned it all on her own.
And Legume? What to say about this headstrong, defiant, exasperating toddler with the killer-cute grin? She’s three. For any parent who’s been there, enough said. The “terrible twos” get all the press, but the early threes have it beat, hands down. I will say that I think she actually enjoys getting time-outs.

Last weekend we happened upon a carnival in the parking lot of a strip mall. I saw the carnival there last year, too—it doesn’t advertise, it just pops up without warning, like mushrooms after a rain. “The carnival!” the girls started crying. We’d been to a carnival near the zoo a month before, and the girls had talked about it continually for days afterward, reliving elephant ears and the glory of a carousel and children’s train ride. “If you eat a good dinner and if it’s not raining, we’ll stop by the carnival,” Husband promised. We continued on to our restaurant destination, and after dinner we stopped by the carnival as promised. Legume clasped her horse on the carousel and stared straight ahead with solemn eyes as she does every time she gets on a carousel, seemingly more frightened than happy. Bean-girl, on the other hand, beamed radiantly. Most of the rides were for kids older than Legume, but we piled onto the Ferris wheel as a single group. “It looks scary!” both Bean-girl said, and Legume hung back. I pushed/carried them into the swinging car, Legume struggling against me. I wanted them to know this. Husband held Legume, and Bean-girl pressed against me as the car rose into the air. We were soaring, and the air rushed against us. Bean-girl began smiling her radiant smile. She moved away from me, saying that she didn’t need to be near me after all. She grasped the ring at the center of the car. “Look, look! There’s our car down there!” Legume said (it wasn’t). We were at the top of the sky.


The card in Bean-girl’s report card said “Mark your calendar. School open house on Sept 1.” I dutifully marked it in black ink on our calendar. I flipped past and then backward through the intervening months: June, July, August. June already completely marked up, filled up, half-way over. The summer hasn’t even officially begun, and it seemed to be going too fast. Bean-girl has a full calendar at summer camp—field trips at least once, sometimes twice, a week. Sprinkler days and water play for Legume at her own daycare center. And me? Such ambitious plans I have for work this summer—experiments to be validated, cells lines to be created, proteins to be knocked down.

I just have to remember to get out and see this summer, too, before it’s gone.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Passages: the first week.

I must have spent many many Saturdays passaging cells during the course of my grad school and postdoc career. Like everyone, I’ve bitched over the feeding and care of cells in culture. I’ve dragged myself to work to feed them when I’d rather be anywhere but. And then I left research, and didn’t see cell culture again for more than three years.

This afternoon I drove to my new lab to split some cells, and it felt oddly like coming home.

I started my new job this past Monday. It’s been exciting, disorienting, both busy and slow. I’m still trying to figure out where everything is, as I suspect I will be doing for at least a month. I still don’t have a lab coat, although my timer and eppendorf racks (bright red!) came in on Thursday. I have an empty lab bench, and a blank lab notebook waiting to be filled. I have a brand new set of pipetmans (pipetmen?) I have colleagues who appear genuinely supportive and wonderful, a PI who is beyond awesome, an environment that seems to offer all that I could dream of. Did I mention the shiny new toys? There are some AWESOME toys in this lab.

I am aware that I am in the new lab/new job/honeymoon phase, a phase that I have gone through with every single one of my positions. I will also say that I honestly believe there is ample objective evidence that this lab really is what I feel it to be. And maybe it’s partly a reaction to my time away—but I can’t remember the infatuation ever biting me so hard.

There’s a steep learning curve ahead. I will be learning new technologies as well as a new field. siRNA? I’ve seen you around, of course. I followed you when you first burst onto the scene, and you started appearing in all the sexy journals. Of course, you’re now ubiquitous, a common tramp. But I’ve yet to lay hands on you myself. Or to have touched a number of the methods in use in this lab.

But I thawed out a new vial of cells this week, and they took just fine. I looked at them daily under the scope, seeing with approval the familiar growth patterns and cobblestone morphology of this particular cell line. And today I passaged them, my hands moving with confidence in old rhythms. Touch has a memory, as they say. And I was reminded that there is something soothing about cell culture work—a kind of mindless focus that is needed, an attention to detail and awareness of your movements—but in a non-taxing, simultaneously thoughtless kind of way.

We’re just see if those cells are still growing normally on Monday.