Procrastination and lack of motivation… now what?!

Fair warning, this will be a huge rant…

I’m finishing my 4th year of my PhD and I’m scared. The closer I get to the finishing (self-imposed) date, the more I panic and feel blocked. And I’m not motivated at all.

For the past week or so I’ve spent hours in front of my PC, knowing that I have to analyze data, make statistical analyses, plots and then discuss them. I need to finish my part of a paper, 2 work reports, my yearly report of my PhD and start writing my thesis, and I did a grand amount of nothing.

All August my brain kept telling me “it’s ok if you didn’t do it today, you have tomorrow”, but then August ended – how, I’m still not really sure, September is here, one week gone and I still have nothing. I know I work better under pressure, so I know that I’ll have to finish each of these topics I just mentioned until the end of next week, but this time this is scaring the hell out of me.

I started my PhD on January 2012. The first months were a joke! I spent them in Portugal collecting samples and doing 2 term papers… oh, how I totally wasted those months… so my real work began on September 2012, when I arrived in Barcelona (yeah, almost 3 years here…). I knew right away that my project would be hard – the funding was cut, Portugal and Spain were in a huge financial crises, and to top it off, the main techniques used in my field of research changed drastically within a few years, so I knew from the start that no matter how amazing my results were, they would have to be taken into the light that it was done with techniques that are not the “go to” thing anymore. That’s frustrating!

Still, for more than 2 years I labored, with my 3-7 days DNA extractions, and endless PCRs without results, endless lab contaminations, whole days, weeks and months that went to waste because all of that… but still, I had some kind of hope that I would make it work, that somehow I would obtain enough results from my old old samples that I would be able to finish without a hitch. See, my PhD was never supposed to be the big thing, it was only just a step, to get to something better. I never liked it here, and it never crossed my mind to be here any day longer than strictly necessary.

But as a new yearly report and defense of my progress looms on the horizon, I have to take a look at my results from my samples and finally start admitting (at least to myself) that they won’t be enough. And that I’ll be lucky if I manage to get any kind of usable information for 10 of my 100 samples… and this sucks! It breaks my heart and I don’t know what to do about it.

Objectively, and rationally, I know that this won’t have to be a problem. I can spin my dissertation theme. I can go for why I had such terrible results, or I can expand the temporal and geographic scope to include other samples I worked on these past years that had far more promising results.

But still, I feel like I failed, and this realization, of the failure and everything it entails, it has left me unmotivated and dispassionate about something that was so sure was my future. Because what if I can’t do it? What if I’m not good enough? What if, because of the circumstances, I never get a post-doc doing something I want, or somewhere I really like?

I know I don’t want to spend much more time doing this, but actually taking a step forward and working on finishing it, no matter what I have or don’t have, is scary as hell. See, this is a “safe” place. I’m doing my PhD, I have a goal, I have a purpose, and even when my scholarship ends and if I have to get a job until I finish it, it’s ok, because I have a finish like to look forward to.

But then what? The finish line comes and what’s next?

Not trying is tempting. Because if you don’t try you don’t fail, it’s as simple as that.

I understand why so many people lose years on end on grad school, I understand why my best friend is still doing her masters, 8 years after getting in, I understand why my colleague took around 12 years to finish his PhD. And I never wanted that for me, but I understand the appeal, and that scares the hell out of me.

I always wanted to work in science, even in times when I was lost and didn’t think I could do it, the only future I saw possible for myself included handling micropipettes and eppendorfs. But after so many years of being sure, I find myself envisioning a different kind of future for myself, with a steady job, ideally surrounded by books and/or coffee, and it’s not bad, and yet it’s the worst thing for me because It feels like giving up!

I have the upmost respect for all the people who go to grad school and after decide to do something else entirely. I know a lot of people who have given up on science. I never wanted to be one of them, I still don’t. I don’t want to think that I’ve spent all my adult life in pursuit of something that I’ll just abaddon. It’s been 13 years since I got into college! 5 years of undergrad, 3 years of Msc, (one miserable year trying to get a scholarship to do my PhD), and now 4 years of PhD, with at least one more in tow… I don’t want to have worked so hard for nothing. And at the same time, I’m scared, oh so scared, that no matter how hard I try, this might be it for me, and it might not even be my choice.

I’m 31 years old. Since I was in my second year of my Masters degree, getting this Phd has been THE GOAL. I’ve put everything on hold – not entirely by choice, but everything became secondary to this. I left my family, which was never a problem, because I never wanted to stay in Portugal, but I moved to a place I hated, and that destroys me a little bit every single day. Let me clarify, I don’t hate Barcelona. I hate my place of work. I don’t particularly like the people and the way that things are done here. I don’t like the language. I hate that I didn’t make a single friend in the 3 years I’ve been here – I mean, I know I’m not an easy person, but this is just ridiculous. I hate my everyday life, and I’m always comparing it to home and I miss home every single day – which is funny as hell, because at 17 I was ready to move to London and I saw no problem with that (still one of my biggest regrets).

So it’s a horrible feeling, to think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve put everything else on hold to do this one thing,  that I might not even be successful at. And I have no idea what to do next…

I guess this is the end of this rant… I’m so sorry for the long (and pointless) post, I just needed to get it out of my chest. Now I need to finish all that stuff, on the 18th I’ll be back on a plane, so there’s that to look forward to.

The PHD Movie 2: Poster and Screenings

If you’ve been following me for a while now, you know that I’m quite excited about the upcoming movie The PHD Movie 2. You probably don’t know what it is about, because frankly, most people that actually read the PHD Comics are grad students, but I digress… PHD Comics is this great site with (as you might have guessed) grad school related strips, you can check it out here.

In 2011 they decided to do a movie with some themes from the comics and so The PHD Movie was born. I love it. It’s short, and it’s likely that it won’t appeal to people outside of Academia, but it does give a great sarcastic view of this world, and it made me (humble graduate student at the time, feel less alone). In 2014 a kickstarter for a sequel was launched and the goals were met – I’m a proud backer!

So I’m super happy that the movie is almost coming out, and that I can share the poster, trailer and screenings with you guys.

Go here for the screenings page – I’m just sad that they won’t be screening the movie in Spain, but no worries, I’ll get my movie in the mail soon enough!

My week in review…

After a week of doing next to nothing and feeling awful, because I was sick – sinus inflammation is a bitch, my headaches were insane – this week I decided that I really had to be productive.

tumblr_inline_mymjv6LvNp1ruj0pc

A few weeks ago we got an e-mail from my university indicating the possibility of doing an Erasmus+ for Doctorate students. The list of countries though was a little less than desirable, it included every single place except the European Union – bummer, since in my field is where most of the labs are. Still, after talking things over with my advisor, we decided to put 2 places and just wait for the application call. Tuesday night we got an e-mail again saying that we have until February 5th to deliver an acceptance letter and a short essay… they gave us 9 days!!!

Anchorman

So, in my feeble attempt not to panic, I started redacting the letters for the 2 directors of the 2 centers I had pre-pre selected, my advisor looked them over, and off they went! Thank God for emails… I don’t know how people did this in the old days.

58317-louis-ck-gif-Rhqv

Given that the 2 places are in opposite sides of the world, and both very far away from Spain, I panicked a bit, because the likelihood of any of them accepting me with such short time to process, it’s very low – even though it would only be for the next school year, especially when you factor in the time difference between places. My heart dropped a bit a second after I sent the emails, because I got an answer right away, a “I’m sorry, I’m away at the moment” automatic kind of message…

tumblr_lr881krLUG1qlrinq

I decided to go about my day as usual, thinking that it would probably be a good few days before anyone decided (if they decided) to respond. I was already in bed, late the same day, when I got an email from the Big Wig that was away (apparently we wasn’t away anymore), and he was super nice and even though he did not say “yes, sure”, he did say he was going to talk to the PI’s from the lines I was interested in and asked what would they have to provide to make it happen.

giphy (6)

Yeah… I was totally fangirling about the email, even though he was likely to respond some time, it’s still exhilarating when you get an email from a Scientist you admire and respect so much!

84238-Jon-Stewart-Im-totally-fangirl-eaOLFangirling.Again, mails sent, I tried to keep it out of my mind because it’s not that big of a deal: if they accept me and everything, I still have to apply and nothing garanties me that they will give me the scholarship for the mobility program, so yeah, relax!

tumblr_n4h5iagvoW1smcbm7o1_500

Relax did not come easy on Thursday, given that my undergrad lost the confidence or just plainly forgot how to do a bunch of protocols. I reckon it’s my fault, because I nicely asked him before each one if he thought/remember how to do them by himself… each time the answer was NO! Come on man, are you kidding me?! He spent 4 months in that lab and he had the audacity to tell me he did not remember how to do something he did a bunch of… kill me now!

tumblr_inline_mq7vzvAGOZ1qz4rgp

Friday finally came, a good day, because FRIDAY! (I don’t know why I sound excited about this day when I am bound to work all weekend) Still, Friday was my undergrad last day! YUUUPPPIIII!!!! Very nice indeed, since I won’t have another one, which means that I’m on my own and doing my kind of schedules again, without having to worry about a kid anymore.

emma-stone-excited

Time went by quickly, due to the little amount of stuff I had to do Friday and around lunchtime I told him “it’s done, over”. I decided to take him to my advisor’s office, so he could say goodbye to her, and that’s when she drops a tiny bit of information: “Oh, he asked if he could stay on, keep coming to the lab, but I forgot to talk to you!”.

tumblr_m61uyec7p31rqfhi2o1_500

I looked at him, how the hell did he not mention it to me and talked to my PI, are you kidding me?!

GIF-Excuse-me-WTF-OMG-DAFUQ-Say-what-What-GIF

Knowing full well that if he did stay on, he would work under me, he shared my office for 4 months and it never occurs to him to say “hey, I was thinking that maybe I could stay on”… really people?!

tumblr_inline_mssbbasJQf1qz4rgp

Not expecting this at all! Obvious we told him that we would talk about it between the 2 of us and would tell him something, obvious I said to my advisor that sure, but not if he staying on will mean I get behind. So we’ll see… but, hell!

tumblr_inline_moz79kFbzq1qz4rgp

So… Saturday! I had to go to work, but decided to sleep a bit and go later because, well, sleep! Obvious something had to go wrong and I woke up to an email from the Big Wig I talked about earlier with a bit of “not so good” news… the PI which I was interested to work with (because it relates so much with my thesis) is moving to another lab sometime this year, which means that he won’t be able to host me…

tumblr_inline_n28rwxMFNs1ro2eun

Bummer, still, he told me to get in direct contact with both PIs he recommended to see what can be done and now I don’t even know how to start… I’m totally blocked! It would help if somebody from the other lab I wrote to replied… but no! I really want to work with this guy and I’m kind of happy because he’s moving somewhere I really want to go… I just can’t do it on Erasmus, but hey, everything is not lost!

tumblr_inline_mox42lVBkb1qz4rgp

PhD Movie: Kickstarter for a sequel

Do you know phdcomics.com?! If you don’t, you should definitely check it out. If you already know it, you know how awesome and sometimes scarily acurate they can be.

In 2011, they did an independent movie based on the comics. “The PHD Movie, based on Piled Higher and Deeper (phdcomics.com), featured real grad students and scientists in many of the lead roles (including producer and director), and was screened at over 500 Universities and Research Centers worldwide (including Antarctica!) during its release.”

In the beginning of this month, its creator Jorge Cham, announced that they were starting a kickstarter campaign in order to found a sequel: The PHD Movie 2: Still in Grad School. And I think that it’s a brilliant idea, and for the first time ever contributed to a campaign.

**** PLEASE SHARE THE LINK FOR THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN SO THAT THEY CAN ATE LEAST REACH THEIR BASE GOAL****

During this month, you can watch the first movie free on their website: phdmovie.

If you’re a grad student or part of academia somehow, you can relate to some or most of the topics in this movie, here are some key points:

  • Some subjects are tabu: “So, how’s research going? Don’t you know you’re never supposed to ask a grad student that question? It’s just rude!” “How’s your thesis going?” “Come on, why don’t you ask her weight and age while you’re at it! Gosh!!!”
  • You’ll sometimes feel like an imposter: “I’ll let you in on a little secret: around here, everyone is an imposter”
  • It’s OK to have no idea what to do afterwards: “I mean, what happens when I graduate? I can’t get a professor job anywhere. These jobs only open up when someone dies.” “I can’t go into industry. What have I been working all this time for? I’d be selling out, like… like…” “Like a regular person?”

  • “You don’t get credit for having a life.” – You should still try to have one and not feels guilty all the time.
  • You might think that you failed your professor, but remember… “he probably doesn’t think about you that much.”

  • You publish or you perish… “You ever wonder what the point is?” “Eh. Not really.” “I mean about this research we do. We publish so that people can give us more money so that we can do more research so that we can publish more! Ad infinitum!” “Ad nauseum.” “See, I thought that I was gonna be working on big problems, but it seems like I’m just working on a subproblem of a subproblem of a subproblem.” “We’re all just research tools.” “I don’t wanna be here forever, like…, like…” “Me?”

  • Cynicism is key! “Nobody believes anything in academia. That’s the whole point. Evidence is king. The only thing you take for granted is that there’ll be another grant.” 
  • You’re there because you want to! “Life is tough. And then you graduate. Everybody’s here because they want to be here. There’s nothing reasonable about pursuing a life of reason.”

  • You are NOT ALONE! “It’s easy in research to get tunnel vision. You feel isolated, like you’re the only person with your problem. But the truth is” “you’re not alone. But whenever I get stressed I just ask myself the question:” “Do I really care?” “Would I rather be doing anything else? You’re not a machine. You have to embrace the things you’re passionate about.” “Every great idea, every great moment of “Eureka!”, came when It was least expected. Google,” “Facebook, Newton and gravity, Einstein and relativity, all of these things happened when they weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing. When they were following their passion.” “Procrastinating.”

  • In which 50% do you wanna be? “Are you guys graduate students? This is for my thesis. I’m studying why there’s a fifty percent dropout rate amongst PhD students. That means that two out of every four graduate students will never graduate. But I know that there’re a lot of issues that I should be really concerned about, especially as a graduate student, because, you know, no one’s really going to be you advocate. So. How’s Research?”

TGIF… so tired!

I’m exactly 5 days away from going home… I still have at least 3 and a half hard days work ahead of me! But today was a freaking hard day for me, I woke up and literally drag myself to the university and kept dragging myself all day! This is how I felt…

big-bang-theory-tiredsherlock-game-of-shadowstumblr_lwnzahFaMT1qm6oc3o1_500740tumblr_lk6j8jAhnv1qixleeo1_400tumblr_lkuhqb6nTW1qgbshco1_500tumblr_m0j332SqtM1qf6ifjtumblr_inline_mx7036bcp31s4n9octumblr_inline_mjbjiaqSY91qz4rgptumblr_inline_mwvnxrGB1P1rqfc4i

When you need stuff to work… they don’t!

What a stupid week!!! I know it’s only Monday, but has been a kind of weird couple of weeks. It’s almost Easter break, which means I get to go home for a few days and then I’ll be travelling to the US for 10 days, so I should be ecstatic, right? I am, don’t get me wrong, I never needed to get home so bad as I do now! But being away for roughly 3 weeks, means I have to leave a lot of things done, mainly projects that are not directly related to my PhD thesis.

tumblr_inline_mqkuzidzx01qz4rgp

So, a merely 9 days left of my work schedule until May, I desperately stuff to go right, to work, to not get contaminated. I need my extractions to work, my PCR’s to work, I need that the blancs turns out, well, clean. I need the equipment to work properly and to not run out of lab supplies or extremely important solutions and reagents. So, obviously, all of this goes exactly the opposite way…

tumblr_inline_mruyprhTmT1qz4rgp

The extractions work well(ish), but then the blancs emit some signals that shouldn’t be there, and that probably aren’t… because the some primers decided to act out! How I love to have a contaminated primer solution!!! Then there are my sex typing primers that decided not to type anything really… Obviously by now the only thing that was actually working fine was the real time PCR, until today, when someone (stupid motherf*****r kid decided to steal the ancient laptop that ran the machine). I’m not even going to mention the fact that I have to sequence stuff before Thursday, because of the break, and now I won’t be able to because of some stupid person!!!! OMG, I’m so damn mad right now!

tumblr_inline_mopfnqv1K51qz4rgp

A Week from Hell!

Finally my week from hell is at its end… and by week I should clarify that I’m referring to the period between the 16th and today 28th, so in fact my week had 13 days.

tumblr_inline_mnxcfnK1ai1qz4rgp

I’m exhausted! Not only because I just spent 13 days in a row at work, but because my brain is on the fritz from all the stress… And this is why I’m behind on my favorite shows, such as Castle or Psych, whose episodes lay forgotten on a remote corner of my computer because my brain does not have the ability to process them now and so I turned to old favorites, shows that I already know and love and that I already saw and don’t have to think about them… so I started to watch Chuck and How I Met Your Mother from the pilot… It’s like comfort food for my brain!

tumblr_inline_mwvnxrGB1P1rqfc4i

So, why I’m I so stressed out?! Well…

1. I miss home! My dad’s right, I do get jumpy and irritated when I don’t go home for a while. It’s natural I guess. I don’t particularly like the place I’m in, I don’t particularly like the people. I miss my parents, my house, my bed, my nieces and nephew.

tumblr_inline_mobaqrKAX71rlpk9c

I miss my food, my oven and my cakes. I miss my friends. I miss the supermarkets, where I can get anything (and I mean anything…). And I miss not having to program almost a week ahead to be able to catch a movie, because here there are only 3 original version movie theaters and they’re all 1h30min away from where I am! OMG, I miss my movies (so that I can clarify, while in Portugal, I would go to the movies every week!)!

tumblr_mcs6i3SgrZ1ro2d43

    

2. I’ve got one undergrad! God, I hate undergrads (no offence…), but I hate to have to train one. I honestly do not get the point, not the way they do it here, anyway.

28474-Ron-Swanson-this-is-my-hell-gi-hK57

The point is, suddenly I have a person inside my lab, which obviously makes the risk of contamination rise, which means I’ll be working some days to throw away stuff. And There are the moments when you don’t actually know if they give a fuck about what you’re trying to teach them, because they don’t seem to want to be there. And what’s the deal with the gloves? How hard is it to put a pair of gloves on?

tumblr_inline_mpjhi9hGm81qz4rgp

Then there’s the speed… or lack of it and the realization that while they are doing that one simple task, you could already be done and drinking your fourth coffee of the day! And the fact that they can be brought down by a micropipette, an eppendorf, a parafilm strip, cleaning or really small volumes of anything.

tumblr_n1gfmoDPDj1snjtq8o1_500

    

3. Huge workload and 24 hour days! Directly related to the one above – I HATE being dependent on somebody else’s schedules.

tumblr_inline_n19paohZYk1r3w23f

I HATE it, can’t cope with it. One of the worst things about having an undergrad is that they still have classes, in the middle of the day (crazy schedules they have…), which means I cannot work at the pace I want to work… so this week (13 days), it meant working weekends (to compensate de slowness and contaminations)…

tumblr_inline_mnjj5kzRtY1rlpk9c

…and arriving at the lab before 8 a.m. some days, to get some work done before the kid arrived. Which means, I’m so behind on my sleep…

tumblr_inline_mu4ln5e0TF1s4n9oc

   

4. I’m not a people’s person… which means that my tolerance for stupidity, idiocy and lack of common sense, is incredibly low! And my week was full of such events, some more “normal” than others, but all kind of: “wow! are these people for real? O_o”…

tumblr_mwpcm89vVO1rjo3roo1_500

    

5. It’s not working! It’s when you have the most things to do, that’s when the universe decides to screw you! So, for the past couple of weeks, nothing is working! The PCRs whether turned out contaminated or they just won’t amplify, which is cool, is kind of normal… but then the restriction enzyme is not cutting (WTF!!!). Really Universe? On this particular time? When I have so many damn things to do? Data to obtain? Haven’t you screwed me up enough during the summer, when I came to work by myself all August and the PCRs decided that they needed a vacation too?!

tumblr_inline_mw8go02d8Y1s4n9oc

   

So… here you have it: my brain is trying to hibernate at the moment (reason why I haven’t been able to post anything with real content for the past days), avoiding the simple and truthful realization that this weekend I might get some sleep, but I’ll still have to go to the lab, still not sure when, but I have a 7 hours work ahead of me before Monday comes… and then it’s the beginning of the week again and I have a lot of stuff to do…

In the meantime, this is my plan for the little free time I’ll have:

tumblr_inline_n1puqvzXTc1rqfc4i

tumblr_inline_mwvnx7PcFw1rqfc4itumblr_inline_mr8gqfNN1z1qz4rgp tumblr_mew7kmSZ9N1qf9mevo1_500

12 (of the 25) Deeply Painful PhD Students Problems (besides your thesis)

There’s a great post on Buzzfeed about the 25 Deeply Painful PhD Students Problems (besides your thesis). So, here is how some actually apply to my case…

1. Telling children you’re in the 25th grade.

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

Well, this one is particularly true and weird. Explaining to my nephews that I work at the University… and that in this case work = study, is complicated.

   

2. It’s been at least 10 years since you had a “real” weekend.

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

This doesn’t mean I don’t actually enjoy a weekend every once in a while, but it’s never a truly relaxed time. Even if I’m not working in the lab, I’m stressing about not being there… so…

    

3. Going to parties and everyone’s just standing around talking about their research.

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

… well, this one doesn’t apply quite literally, it’s more like, being with your undergrad and grad friends and talking about nothing more than research, grants or lab problems…

    

4. When someone claims that being in a doctoral program isn’t “the same thing as having a real job”:

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

It’s not! It really isn’t true! I may not have a 9 to 5 job, I might even get out some days in the middle of the day and go home, because there’s nothing more I can do in the lab that day, but I also work most of my weekends and worry constantly. I have to write reports and papers and read tons of research by other people… a PhD is a JOB!

   

5. …and feeling ultra-guilty anytime you try to relax.

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

It’s impossible not to feel guilty… all the time! Damn I fell guilty for the time I spend writing in this blog!

   

6. When all of your colleagues are married, and you’re just like:

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

It’s not my collegues per say, since most of the people in the unit I work are  a lot younger than me… but these last couple of years, a lot of people from my high school and college are tying the knot…

    

7. Feeling some degree of “impostor syndrome” at least once a day.

Feeling some degree of "impostor syndrome" at least once a day.

…”as in, you’re just waiting for someone to realize that they made a HUGE mistake letting you into your program and to swiftly kick you out.” – YEPPPPP, TRUE!!! But by now I think that this is a very normal feeling!

     

8. When someone asks you for the 357th time what your dissertation is about:

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

Yep, yep… not even my parents know it properly…

     

9. Seeing someone on your dissertation committee outside of school:

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

By rule, I avoid everyone remotely related to this area!

    

10. When someone asks how “writing” is going:

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

Yeah… Tough subject!

    

11. Explaining to your friends with 9-to-5 jobs why you can’t go out on Friday night.

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

This is a bad example because I never want to go out… but yeah, it there’s work to be done, it will come first, whatever the hours or days of the weeks…

    

12. When ANYONE asks you what your plan is after you graduate:

25 Deeply Painful Ph.D. Student Problems (Besides Your Thesis)

I’m halfway done with my PhD (the stipulated time, anyway) and I have no idea. I also don’t know why I was supposed to know before I even got into the program… oh well, I’m sure I’ll figure it out… eventually…