We're a little crazy, about science!

One major milestone down

Yesterday was sort of a cliffhanger. Everything was due, not a lot was fully complete and I had not one, but two things that my main-PI needed to urgently respond to and he was MIA. I swear you couldn’t write something with more drama if you tried (at least for a PhD candidate). Never fear today I’m taking a brief respite from the work I need to get done today to share what happened yesterday. As the usual this week, it was a wild ride all the way to the end.

Here’s the deal. I have deadlines coming out of my, well let’s keep this PG and say everywhere. No matter where I look, deadline. It’s been a stressful almost full seven days now. It feels like I’m on year five of this, not day five. I’m tired, don’t want to do anything, but the show must go on and while my main-PI was unresponsive things finished in a somewhat spectacular way. By the way, if you’re just tuning in, well you’re probably a bit lost. I don’t blame you I get that feeling a lot. You’ll probably want to start here, here, or just read yesterday’s post. I would recap, but I do not have that kind of time to thoughtfully write out what’s been going on.

First up was the surprise funding proposal. Look, I’m as excited to submit a proposal for funding as the next person, but when I have zero heads up it’s happening and a short four days to write a seven page proposal in R-21 format I wasn’t thrilled. Still, I’m determined to get my own funding for my project even if it kills me and this damn near did. I wrote a draft, sent it off, got some feedback, made those changes, sent it off again and didn’t hear back at all for days. There was some behind the scenes stuff that I was included on so I know he saw it. For example he emailed another professor he wanted to collaborate with to design some new technology for my “super secret” technique that I’ve developed. The stuff they do is an incredibly good fit for what I’m looking for so, heck yes send on the collaborator.

That was a few hours after I sent off the first draft though and as I mentioned yesterday there was only ~8 hours before the deadline and I had no idea what was going on. It was complete radio silence on his end. I emailed three separate times and no response. Well at around the 3 hour mark to that deadline I get an email from him asking me to modify the proposal to include the suggestions the collaborator wanted to add in.

Okay no problem, except I already have a million things to do and I need to drop them all right then and there to address this. Things ended up happier than I expected though, I made the changes, reformatted everything to make certain that we were within our page limits, and sent it off. I haven’t heard back so I don’t know if it was submitted or not. Seriously. I’m just going to assume it was and try not to stress too much about it. I’m not thrilled with the proposal, we’re skipping all the rigorous validation I still wanted to do with my technique and are going directly into implementation. That assumes we even get funded, but if that’s what it takes, I’ll do it. Besides I can add in some validation protocols if we get funded. Anyway that’s a whole other topic for a different post when I have more energy to go into details.

So that was crazy enough, I apricate my main-PI even offering to let me do this, it’s his name on everything so if it goes badly its on him. Basically he’s taking a risk and I respect that. If we get funded I’ll be able to work on my “super secret technique” more and that’s all I really want anyway. For those wondering what the heck a super secret technique is, I talk about it (vaguely since I haven’t published any results yet) here.

On to happier news! I’m a proud mentor!!!

Of all the things I am responsible for that aren’t related to my degree, mentoring is the thing I take the most serious. Probably even more so than my degree if I’m being honest. It’s a big responsibility and I am trusted to help early researchers find their footing, it’s no longer me that fails if something goes wrong, it’s them. I am very aware of this so I make sure to give the people I mentor the full experience. I explain that the system sucks, but if they stick with it they can (hopefully) help change it. Since most of the people I mentor fall into one of the following three (or all of the three) categories: 1) women, 2) minorities, 3) disabled, and I fall into the last two myself.

I make sure to explain (gently) that the system is in the general sense also racist, ablest, and sexist. Frankly so is society, but that’s a whole other thing. I try to make it explicitly clear that while I don’t have any power should they experience any sort of discrimination that I will use whatever power I have to the point of being kicked out of the program if need by to make sure they are safe and heard. Again, I take my responsibility seriously.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, we get to do cool science, learn, explore, discover. The stuff that draws you into the field in the first place and I want to make sure the people I mentor get to experience that while also being aware of the not so fun stuff in the background. Over the summer I arranged for one of my mentees to do a set of experiments at her home by borrowing equipment from the lab (COVID so I didn’t want her at risk). Well she did them, I walked her through the analysis of the data, and as of yesterday evening she submitted her first full conference paper!!!

I cried happy a single happy tear (lol, okay not really, but I SHOULD have). It’s a big deal and even though we don’t know if it will be accepted or not, she was super excited, I was super excited, there was just a lot of excitement going around. To be fair she submitted (and got!) a mini-abstract accepted on some adjacent work over the winter, but this was the first real conference paper she’s done and was in charge of start to finish.

A PhD is a long, incredibly draining, painful, depressing, unhealthy, and exhausting process. If I measured my success by how quickly I could run through this gauntlet of pain, I would have dropped out a long time ago. If I measured my success by where I was in the process, it would be just as depressing and I wouldn’t be here. The thing that keeps me going is small victories. Little successes are the reason I’m in this for the long haul. They aren’t frequent and sometimes they aren’t as satisfying as they could be, but they all deserve to be celebrated.

The person I mentored submitted a conference paper. It won’t help me get my degree, not even a little. It won’t help advance my career. It won’t even get me any more recognition. Yet, through the entire process I got to watch as mistakes were made, things were learned, and someone got the chance to do something I think is absolutely incredible. She got the chance to share something new with the world and I got to help guide her. That to me is definitely something to celebrate.

Tomorrow is the next major milestone. Hopefully I can get everything done. The next two milestones are definitely the most stressful. The worst part is there is still so much left to do. Well at least I got todays post written, so off to a pretty good start already.

Until tomorrow!

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