Wednesday, May 26, 2010

35, Oh My!

May is a birthday month - a large percentage of my family celebrate their birthday this month, myself included. When I am in Brazil it is a month full of parties, my family loves excuses to get together and be together. The phone rings all day with calls from well-wishers; my e-mail is full of happy messages.

However, among all the messages and presents, the birthday data was the best of all. After eight months of optimizing the assay and setting up the screen, then the four months of screening of less than half of the population, I was getting worried that I was wasting my time and effort. Oh the joy of seeing ten candidates emerge after two days of struggling with data analysis was very encouraging - especially with the conference I am attending coming up in two weeks!

This birthday is a big one, even though it is not the big one. I feel the impact of 35, but I was not dreading the date as I did before I turned 30. I now have many things to celebrate, such as two adorable sons, a big house and a job for the next four years. My life seems stable enough, my project seems to be coming together. I still want things, but I do not feel like I need anything - other than first author publications...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The conundrum of the vanities

I never thought of myself as a vain person. In my mind vanity was always associated with beauty, and I never considered myself beautiful. Even when I occasionally felt displeased with my appearance, I was never unhappy with it. I have always felt a healthy amount of self worth and I was always able to look past the mirror when the image was not to my liking.

Through the years I have encountered situations where I wish I could change some minor flaw that bothered me at the time. I remember consulting an orthodontist some years ago about my gathered front teeth. When the price came out at $5,000 I decided that vanity was not worth that much. I had the money saved up, but I could not see myself spending it on a "perfect smile" - especially considering all the other minor problems I could see in the mirror. I had never striven for perfection, and it seemed the wrong aspect to channel my efforts. After much deliberation, I ended up buying my husband a plasma screen with the money; something more worthy of the investment. And the whole family has enjoyed it all these years...

Now once again I am facing a similar conundrum... but this time the mirror is winning. I hate looking at the "mommy belly" I acquired after two 8+ lb babies and two cesarean sections. I am not overweight, but I still look pregnant. I hate being asked if I am expecting again. A year of abdominal exercises at the gym has produced unnoticeable results, as the muscles have separated in what is called diastasis recti. No amount of exercise will fix it.

I am contemplating having the muscles sewn back together. Not a tummy-tuck - no plastic surgery - just a laproscopic procedure to attach the muscles that have been separated during pregnancy. My condition is not bad enough to cause a hernia, so it is indeed a cosmetic procedure. My insurance will probably not cover it and the recovery of abdominal surgery is not very pleasant - I know...

However, is it really vanity or can it be referred to as well being? If it really - truly - bothers me and diminishes my feelings of self-contentment? Or have I misplaced my confidence and self-worth? My internal bonfires are raging....

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bumps & Humps

Science careers are not easy, but most people are not aware of the bumps and humps involved until they have started driving down that road. How many of us asked our professors or others in the field how difficult it was for them before we chose to major in STEM? But we started driving nonetheless and - always sooner than expected - encountered our own challenges. Everyone's path is different, with their own bumps and humps. Some are minor, some are major; some discourage you, others test your determination. Once again I took my wondering to the blog wide world to put together another Scientiae Carnival. I asked for bumps and humps, and that is what I got. So here I invite you to go Bump! Bump! on this multi-hump Wump.*

To start off, let us all congratulate Micro Dr. O, who blogs at The Tightrope, on her soon-to-be-bump. Buckle your seat belt, you are in for quite a ride! Juggling career and family can be quite a challenge, but I would say it is very much worth the struggle. There will be many bumps in the way, not just the one you can see in the mirror. We should also wish Rocket Scientista good luck. She is worried she will go insane while trying to overcome this major hump in her doctoral studies - her comprehensive exam. She is preparing herself as best she can and I am sure she will get over this hump without breaking down. It is just a test, just the hardest test!

Some of the bumps are indeed major life changing events, and it takes courage and determination to get past them. Other bumps are daily life bumps, that slow our progress but do not change our path. Though sometimes it is hard to figure out which kind of bump you are going through until you have gone past it. JaneB, who blogs at Now, what was I doing?, thinks it is like driving down a road. Her drive was full of bumps and humps that could be perceived as major setbacks, but she encourages us to think about the journey, not just the destination. Taking the motorway can seem very monotonous some times...

Liberal Arts Lady deliberately avoided the highway because she thought a secondary road would provide a more pleasant drive:
I like to think that I came to a SLAC to allow for a more reasonable life, one not ruled by the power of the external funding agency, one where I might someday have a free evening once in a while. I like to think that this reasonable life is still possible, out there somewhere over the tenure rainbow. Or maybe I should stop waiting for that mythical future and try to create a more sustainable life for myself right now.
Independent of which kind of road you chose to drive on, it most likely will not be smooth the entire way - or the second time around. Amy at This is what a computer scientist looks like is driving on a very bumpy teaching road. Even though the last time she taught a particular section it was a smooth drive, this time around she is falling into potholes. She wonders if it is the road or her driving. Kylie at PodBlack Cat is also wondering what can be done to improve the teaching road. Magic?

But what do you do when things get too tough? Canadian GirlPostdoc in America only feels motivated to keep driving when she focus on things for which she is grateful, instead of ruminating on the many bumps in her road. Alyssa at Apple Pie and the Universe writes that she has encountered a million and one bumps on the road to turning a nearby observatory into an outreach program. As she describes the challenges she has run into, she also asks when is it time to walk away. Ms. PhD, who blogs at Young Female Scientist, also is wondering when do you know that it is time to get off the road. She seems to keep hitting the same bumps over and over, and she wonders if she is just driving around in circles or if this road will actually go somewhere. Will she feel like a quitter if she changes her path or will she find herself on a better road?

My own road is uncharacteristically smooth and colorful right now, but I am not sure where it is headed. I am not sure I am even in Kansas anymore... I probably should have packed those ruby slippers...

* Just in case you have never seen a Wump...

From "One Fish,Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" by Dr Seuss