Friday, November 22, 2013

All will be well.

It is late, and I am tired, and soon I will head off to bed.

At work, some things are good, and some things are bad.  Now that I've found some pieces that I might be able to work with to make some kind of reasonable postdoc out of, I'm worried that I'll mess it up.

Well.  I guess I'll try to do well and see how it goes.

But it's not all worry, worry, worry.

I have carrot cake, and I finally bought a whisk and a can opener.  I'm really looking forward to watching Catching Fire.  My ginger syrup makes delicious little tonics.  I'm thinking I might be able to make it to the library tomorrow.  That'd be so nice.

In a few days, I'll be heading out to visit a friend, and we've got a plan for feeding me that's not stressing me out too badly.

I'm a lovely heavy-tired from my roller derby practice, and I've stuffed myself with roasted chicken and squash and carrot cake.  I feel like adding some good sleep in to all this, and I can handle tomorrow.

Monday, November 18, 2013

let's go again

Just a note?  I bought some bok choi at the grocery the other day and stuck its root-end into some water in the fridge, thinking this might help it not go all gross and wilty.

It kinda worked, but kinda not - some of the stalks stayed nicely, but others got wilty.

Yesterday, I took the water (and its bok choi) out of the fridge because I intended to cook it up.  That didn't happen, and I didn't put the plant back in the fridge because, you know, I don't know.

Now, at room temperature, in water, the bok choi is just as firm and appealing as the day I bought it.  I am determined to cook it tomorrow in some duck fat, before it starts growing slime in the water.

So that's the data I have so far on keeping bok choi so that's it's still usable after three days.  Undoubtedly, there's more data yet to come, but this was promising, so I thought I'd share.

But all of that is beside the point.  My point for the next couple days, I've decided, will be iterating upon my iteration post to make it better.  Is my bok choi a good lead-in for this?  Not really, I think, not the way I've written it.  But it's a nice example, and potentially useful, so in it goes.

I have a tendency to get stuck.  Stuck on how to start something, stuck on a particular piece of a problem I'm working on, stuck.  What's interesting is my different kinds of stuck.  When I'm stuck on a piece in a puzzle I'm solving, it's hard to pull myself away.  I have to really work at evaluating if the thing I'm hammering at needs to be solved.  Often it doesn't - and it takes significant effort on my part to pry myself off and set myself on a more productive path.  I am not always successful.  The other stuck - the don't want to do it version - is also troublesome.  I can avoid a task that I'd rather not do, and worse, I can generally justify this avoidance in ways that feel very true.  The trick to a good justification, I think, is to have elements of truth ("this is not the top priority right now") with elements I want ("I don't have time to do anything on this until X is finished).

For both these stucks, iteration is my friend.  I can pop a random number into my calculation and remind myself I can come back to it; I can convince myself that there's value in going the rest of the way through a problem even if I haven't figured out exactly how to handle Hurdle Y.  If I'm avoiding something, it's much tougher to justify not working on it when all I'm asking myself to do is fifteen minutes of work, or making a directory, or putting a paper into the bibliography, or outlining one section.  I'll edit pretty much ad infinitum, so it's never a stretch to tell myself that what I need to write (or do) is a rough draft.

I still avoid things, and I still spend too much time on appealing problems.  But in general, I think I'm improving.  Recently, there was something at work that I wasn't terribly excited about doing.  But I wrote up a draft (in Word, people!) and sent it out.  I've been editing for about a week, and the thing is looking just fine now.  Bok choi?  Crispy.  This blog post?  Slightly improved (friends may disagree).  Talk with my supervisor?  Uuuungh, painful, and didn't go great.  But definitely better than nothing.

I find that promising myself improvement doesn't always get me unstuck, and I'm not really sure where the difference lies between the successes and the failures.

I wonder if part of the difference is fear.  Or maybe some feeling of overwhelm.  And in the interest of attacking a problem - in this case, never writing a damn thing - from every possible angle, here I am writing.  My thinking is that practicing what I'm avoiding, even in a different setting, might lessen its barrier into something I can more easily overcome with my promises for iteration.  Actually, I prefer to do my practice with something a little easier than "writing a scientific paper".  If I were doing something equally difficult, I'll bet I'd never do it.

You know what definitely does help?  Sleep.  I'm going to go invest in some of that magical elixir right now.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


I have a tendency to get stuck on the start.

And for this, iteration is my friend.  I'll edit pretty much ad infinitum, so it's never a stretch to tell myself that what I need to write (or do) is a rough draft.

Recently, there was something at work that I wasn't terribly excited about doing.  But I wrote up a draft (in Word, people!) and sent it out.  I've been editing for about a week, and the thing is looking just fine now.  Thanks, iteration!

I find that the promise of improvement doesn't always get me unstuck, and I'm not really sure where the difference lies between the successes and the failures.

And in the interest of attacking a problem - in this case, never writing a damn thing - from every possible angle, here I am writing.  My thinking is that practicing, even in a different format, might lessen the barrier for scientific writing.  Actually, I prefer to start with an easier format, such as writing non-consequential posts not intended for colleagues.  If I were doing something equally difficult, I'll bet I'd never do it.

This discussion feels a bit rambly to me, but that's okay.  Maybe tomorrow I'll do some editing and make a better version.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I make an elixir, We make an elixir, You make an elixir.

Two things.

Wait, no, three things.

Thing 1.  For some reason, I became convinced several weeks ago that I wanted to roast carrots with thin slices of ginger.  Well, fine.  Ginger is available in root form, a form that soothes my cross-contamination worried mind, at my grocery.  The carrots didn't really work, and then I was left with a significant amount of ginger root, which smelled amazing and seemed a shame to waste.  After a lot of thinking, I made ginger syrup.  And now I make myself a tonic of ginger syrup, lime wedge, and sparkling water after dinner.  I put it in a tiny cup and enjoy it quite a lot.

Thing 2.  I need to do some work on a thing for work.  I don't care about it, but my supervisor does.  I'm trying to care about that more, and succeeding a little.  I'm going to do this almost right now and then get to bed.

Thing 3.  I want to go to the library.  The books I'd like to check out are Guns, Germs, and Steel, The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic, and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel.

I need to get on that.  But first, to work!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I am not a nice person.

I've been reaching out to all the resources my institution offers, and there have been surprisingly many that have been quite useful.  Like, I wasn't expecting the ombuds office to have enough understanding of my situation to offer helpful advice, but they have been really great.  (Sorry for doubting, ombuds people.)

One of the things I got from the ombuds office was a book on having tough conversations.  The book rings pretty true to me, but the method they suggest requires you to, among other things, not be reactive and also to not want pain for the other person.

At some point, months ago, all I wanted was to resolve things.  Maybe not even fully!  Just enough so that I could work in the lab without too much hassle.  Just enough so that I felt like I had a chance to earn my way back into the group.

Now, I want to yell and shout and scream.  I want to make sarcastic remarks.  I want to ridicule my supervisor's perspective.

I'm not exactly sure what's up with the sea change, here.  One contributing factor could be all the kinda-humiliating experiences of assumed incompetence.  

I've also been frustrated with all the different directions I sometimes get pulled in.  I decided, a while ago, to try really hard to Do What Boss-Man Wants.  But everyone feels comfortable telling me what to do.  So for any given task, I'll get told to do it one way by my boss.  And then someone will come in and start chastising me for doing it That Way rather than his favorite Other Way.  And then while I'm looking up some materials properties to help me determine if there's any difference between That Way and Other Way, someone else will come in and tell me that I'm overthinking things and that I'll never get anything done (a true point, to be sure) and that I should just do it, Some Way.  

Just doing something, any old way, is my preference.  So I'm in total agreement with Third Dude Offering Advice.  But I don't know how to explain that Boss will be irritated if I don't do things his way.  And that if I go off script, I'd better have good, numerical justification at the ready, else I'll get an earful.  Or worse, the silent treatment.  It's a special kind of pain, to have your Boss light up and start talking physics when someone else enters the room.  And for that talk to go out like a light when you walk over, wanting to join in.

So I want to yell, and even I can tell that losing my cool is not the way to go.  But I'm so angry, and it's so hard for me to imagine being an effective member of this group.  It seems like it would feel so good to lash out.

Uck.  It seems like another trip to the ombuds office might be in order.

I feel like it would've been helpful if every physics class included a component on how to keep your cool when people start yelling at you for not knowing something that you do, in fact, know.  I mean, actually knowing stuff is important.  But when permission to do work is on the line, it's also important that other people know that you know something.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

She takes up space, I take up space. You can't have this space because I'm using it. Go find your own.

I question whether or not I'm cut out for science.

I also wonder if I'm really good enough to be taking up spots at national labs and detector schools and grad programs.  I totally suggested to my E&M instructor that he bring up my admission to the graduate program at the next faculty meeting.  I mean, if I'm really dumber than his two-year old grandchild, shouldn't he?

I didn't really believe him; even then I knew I could out-physicist his darling toddler.  But I was serious when I told him that maybe he should kick me out of the program.

Lately, though, I've been feeling just a tiny, tiny bit more like I have something to offer the physics community.  I feel like I'm a really good fit, actually, for the job I currently have.  And that it's wonderful for me to have so much diverse science I can interact with.

I have this job, and there's people who don't.  I feel like there are probably people who could do better work here or make more out of this opportunity, but I also feel like there are plenty who wouldn't.

So it's a subtle shift, but it's interesting.  My reaction to ridiculous assumptions of incompetence is still, "dude!  just fire me already!"  But I also feel like they'd be losing an asset.  Like, an asset that has real value.

So, world, there it is.  I take up some space, and I'm a tiny bit okay with that.  I have some skills, and that's pretty awesome.  My team isn't currently interested in anything I have to offer, which is kind of dumb.  Do they think I'm going to stick around without any interesting work or community?  Because I am not.  They way they're acting is not okay, and me, my space, and my skills are going to go elsewhere unless things change.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


I felt uncertain about going to roller derby practice tonight, but I managed to get myself there anyway.

True: I got lost.  True: the house numbers were near-invisible in the dark.  True: random neighbor-people waved at me, which was a friendly enough signal that I found myself able to ask them if they knew which house I was looking for.

And so I arrived!  Late, but that was okay.  I had a lovely time jumping around in my socks.

I talked with my friend later, briefly, and we made plans for working on our paper tomorrow.  And not in a, "oh gods we suck why don't we have more done" kind of way.  In a, "and so we'll hang out on the google and just work together for a while" kind of way.  This is a pleasant way for me to interact with this paper.  We'll see how tomorrow goes.  It'd be pretty sweet if it's also a reasonably productive method.

I talked with my mom while I ate dinner, and we talked about stuff I'm doing to make work better.  We talked about her cold.  We talked about books.  She mentioned several times that my co-workers are behaving badly.  Ha!  Take that, co-workers!

It feels nice to know my mom is in my corner.  I feel like a lot of people are in my corner.  I feel like maybe I can climb out of this hole I find myself in.  And today I feel like, despite work-based irritation, I had a lovely evening.

And now, to bed.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wow, okay. Me: not so much with the writing.

So I signed up for BlogHer's November Daily Post Thingy challenge, and so far I've already missed two days?  One day?


Writing once a day is, apparently, more difficult than I imagined.

It is odd that I underestimated the difficulty, because I started a blog partly because I find academic writing (the only kind of writing I ever attempt, mind) excruciatingly difficult.  I thought that there was a chance I wouldn't find writing some manner of vignette as big a hurdle.  And that I could therefore practice my hurdling with less stress and more frequently, thus making the academic writing a bit more approachable.

I have no idea if this is going to work or not, but a few things are on track with this attempt: I do find it difficult to write a post, although not nearly as difficult as writing parts of a paper.  I am writing more frequently than I would if I were not posting.  Writing is not my thing.  My language tends toward pictures, and all that.  Linear speech typically requires something akin to translation for me.

But linear speech is the world I live in, so it seems like a good idea to do some practicing.  Also, people get pissed when I drag my feet on academic writing.  I don't like any part of that - not their pissiness and not my foot-dragging.  So again, I'm excited about practicing.

Well.  "Excited" might be a little strong.

It would be accurate to say that I would be excited about having delicious chocolate cake for tomorrow's breakfast.  Practicing writing, on the other hand?  I am fairly certain that practicing writing constitutes "worthwhile effort."

And I have made a bit of progress on academic writing fronts.

Today I wrote a draft that describes a procedure for a simple experiment I've been doing in the lab.  This, at the request of my supervisor.  I want to be irritated by this, but it was a really good suggestion.  That I took.  And completed.  (See the proud post-doc write?)

Yesterday, I sat down to work on a paper that's been dragging on for a long, long time.  I sat down to work on it like it was no big deal!  And promptly found the password to the group's data had changed.  So, you know, I didn't get anything done.  Beyond sending a few emails and uncovering the new password.  But still.

Progress?  Maybe?

Certainly enough to merit cake, I think.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hello! Please stop being a jerk!

Work really sucks right now.  Like, I should probably start looking for another job?

On the plus side, I'm gaining some skills and knowledge that I'm very excited about.  Also on the plus side, I'm gaining some ground on not getting so terribly perturbed by my co-workers.

But it seems to me like the people I work with are now deeply entrenched within confirmation bias, and their bias is that I'm incompetent.  This makes for a serious lack of fun.  And makes it surprisingly difficult to be productive at certain tasks.

They say things that are frustrating, and this is not new.  People have been saying frustrating things since the accident.  My accident.  My responses have been varying, and I still haven't found a way to respond that I like.

Initially, I was so shocked by my colleagues' statements that I was speechless.  This phase involved quite a bit of gaping and also a decent amount of crying.  Blinding rage followed closely behind.  During this phase, I was also mute, mainly because the thoughts that sprang to mind were clearly not conducive to a collegial work environment.

I'm currently trying Earnest Discussion:
"I'm having difficulty with experiment Y and was wondering ..."
"Oh, you do X?  When doing experiment Y?"

Now, data logs show that my supervisor does not, in fact, do X.  He is nonetheless very confident when suggesting, impatiently, that the reason I am having trouble with experiment Y is that I do not do X.  How do I respond?  I do not wish to be confrontational, but the information he's giving me isn't helpful, so ...

"I'd like to do X, that seems like a good idea.  But it's not clear to me how I can manage that, given that I usually A and B.  Those seem like the only way to make X happen - do you have any suggestions on how to make sure to ..."
"Right, yeah, I get that C is true.  That's why I do A and B.  Is there anything else I could be doing to make sure X happens?"
"No, no, I don't want to waste Expensive, Valuable Resource.  It's just that the behavior really suggests that something is going on with "
"Oh, yeah, that'd be great.  If we could do experiment Y', that would help clarify what's going on."

Now, it's true.  Experiment Y' will help clarify what's going on.  So in some ways, this exchange was successful.  I follow the path of non-confrontation because I worry that pointing out to my supervisor that he does not do X will turn the conversation into a non-useful fight that serves only to make me look really petty.

"But you don't doooooooo that.  I checked the data like a creepy stalker and look!  See how you're wrong?  Admit you're wrong!  Admit it!"

In many cases, though, taking the non-confrontational path feels like verifying assumptions that I'm not a good worker/scientist/problem-solver:

"If you had just looked in the lab book, you would have seen that's expected behavior!"

Dude, I looked in the lab book.  You didn't write down enough information for me to be anywhere near certain that the numbers you're pointing to can be directly applied to the setup we've currently got.  And remember how you were lecturing me about not "playing around" with these particular parts, as they're expensive and custom and very necessary for experiments we hope to do in the near future?  Okay, whatever.  You know?  I agree.  It's always good to check the lab book.  That's a true thing.

"Okay.  Lab books are great.  I'll make sure to check the lab book next time."

Success?  It's true, I'll check the lab book next time.  That's not a bad thing to confirm.  And I think the interaction resulted in more good-feeling than if I had been all, "dude DUH I checked the lab book.  Maybe if your notes didn't suck so much I could've found the info I needed."

I think it's useful to reduce tension between me and my supervisor, but not correcting him allows interpretations like, "Oops, silly me, I didn't think to check the lab book!"  And also, "Oops, I didn't know that basic thing about physics.  Thanks for telling me!"  And also, "Oops!  I should have warned you about the test I was about to do!  In writing, since I totally warned you verbally but it was silly for me to assume that you were paying attention to what I said!"  I am not saying any of these things, nor would I.  But I'm worried that my supervisor is hearing them.

I think I'm okay with my supervisor thinking I'm dumb as long as he's also able to change his opinion.  And since confronting his misconceptions directly wasn't productive, this method at least seems worth a try.  But it worries me a bit.  I don't want future me to be all, "Oops!  I assumed you'd be able to objectively evaluate evidence since you're a scientist.  But I forgot that everyone's brain works to confirm their worldview, and that scientists can be prone to thinking their version of reality is unimpeachably accurate!  My bad!"

Well, it is true that I make an awful lot of missteps.  I should clearly spend less of my brain power thinking about unicorns, and how soft their noses are.  And how beautiful their eyes are.

Actually, I don't mean that.  I think those are great things to think about.  And now I'm going to go to sleep so I can go for a nice, early hike with my friend.  Who is not a unicorn but is nonetheless awesome.