Movie of the Week: PHD Movie 2 – Still in Grad School

This week when I got home, I received my reward for crowdfunding the PHD Movie 2, that is, I received my DVDs of both movies, so naturally I wasted no time in watching the second one. If you have been paying attention here, you know that I’ve been pretty excited about this, right?

This second movie deals with 2 different main issues. From one hand, Cecilia (Alexandra Lockwood) needs to graduate ASAP, mainly because her advisor is leaving on sabbatical, so she deals with the problems of writing the thesis, procrastination, finding a thesis committee, managing all the conflicting schedules and ego issues, etc. On the other hand, Winston (Raj Katti) goes away with his group for his first field conference and has to deal with the pressure of doing better than the other groups and competing for funding.

I really liked this movie, though not as much as the first one. I did like the themes and the resolutions. I even cried! Winston’s collaboration with his rival lab to make an essential contribution to science moved me. But the high point of the movie for me was watching real footage of Alexandra Lockwood’s graduation! Yes, she is already a PhD! 😀

My biggest problem with this movie was the time frame. Essentially everything happens within a week or so, so while Winston is away at the super long conference, Cecilia realizes that she has to write a thesis, she actually writes it with several corrections from her professor, finds a committee and a date, defends her thesis AND has a graduation ceremony… in the meanwhile the conference is still going on. I didn’t like that! It’s the most unreal thing ever that they’ve done in the movies or comics…

It still left me pretty emotional… 😥 Oh, and I totally saw that ending coming… after how the first movie ended, I thought it was pretty obvious!

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Musical Connections #4

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Hello!!!! Today I’ll do a quick post (because I have to catch a plane in a few hours). I can’t listen to any album by K’s Choice without linking it to my exams from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year of University.

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Me and a friend developed this routine when we started studying for the exams on the first semester of the first year… we would get to the university around 8 a.m., set our things at the library, go for coffee (maybe a game of cards), go study a bit, break, study… it worked well for most of the time. LOL. She introduced me to K’s Choice, and when a lot more people started to gather around us – due to her mad skills at Math – I really concentrated on my music.

Our routine maintained itself more or less constant throughout her 4 years of college, even though by the 3rd year we had different subjects matters.

I chose this for this week’s theme because TODAY IT’S HER BIRTHDAY!!! Happy Birthday IF (if by any miracle you’re reading this – which you sometimes do). Double congratulations are in order because she just became a Doctor this week! Yeah!!! She did it right 😉 and managed to even finish her PhD before her 30th birthday (I’m beyond proud of you!).

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.

Tiny Pleasures #4

Hello, I’m gonna join the last couple of weeks, because nothing significant went on on the first one…

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1. Phinally Done

During the week of 11 to 17 of May, two of my colleagues and friends defended their PhD Dissertations, one in Coimbra and the other one here in Barcelona. I’m beyond proud of both of them and so very happy. It was the perfect beginning and end of that week.

2. “Bacalhau com todos”

This might not seem like a big deal, but when you’re away from home, it’s so nice to eat typical food! In Portugal we use a lot of cod fish, but we use it dried and salted and not fresh like most countries. So this (cod fish, egg, vegetables, potato and chickpea) is my traditional Christmas food.

3. Movies

Going twice to the cinema in a week. This is not that abnormal for me, but it hadn’t happened in a while. Wednesday I decided to take advantage of the cheapest day to see a movie, a spanish movie, that I had wanted to see for a while but was already only in selected theaters. So I needed to go to Barcelona and took advantage of that…

4. And more movies

The second movie I saw was on Friday, my “rest” day! I was totally alone watching Pitch Perfect 2 and it was awesome!

5. Amazon and books

Thursday I came home and found my Amazon box!!!! Yupppiiiii! Unboxing books is the best thing ever. 😀

6. English Bookstores?!

Speaking of books, after a little research online, I found out that there are 2 English bookstores in Barcelona!!! I’m so HAPPY!!!!

7. Magnificent Reads

I finished 4 books in the past 2 weeks, but two I LOVED! Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell) and Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli) are awesome, gorgeous books and I never want to let them go.

(Tag created by A New Life Wandering, go check it out).

Things to do, so much things to do (and a lot of procrastination!)

Tomorrow I’ll be on a plane again. Yes, this has been a crazy year so far, I fell I spent more time in airports and inside airplanes that anywhere else… Either way, I’m going home for a few days because my grandmother is turning 87 (and at this point we’re not allowed to miss any birthdays) and then I’m off to Brazil for a week to visit friends with my mom (which hopefully will involve a lot of doing nothing, with caipirinhas and sun bathing by the pool with a good book).

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As per usual, with an impending trip, my workload just tripled in this last week or so. Since Sunday, I have been getting to work pretty early and sometimes leaving quite late. Not today though, after leaving yesterday at 8p.m. and being hard at work today at 8a.m., I decided to come home a little early to finish a draft of a paper that I have to discuss with my advisor tomorrow at 8.30 a.m., I just could not work more at work today, I was so tired and needed the comfort of my pajamas.

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Turns out, not the brightest move… There’s a party near the residence where I live and it implied very loud (and not very good) music… so, for the last few hours my concentration and ability to work has been at a solid zero! My brain kept busy though, I retrieved a couple of papers that I need, I watched the end of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (I just recently found them… I’m in LOVE!), I added a few more books to my shopping cart at amazon… so, I’ve been procrastinating a lot…

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It has to stop now, for realsies! I need to finish this like now, I still have a bunch of other things to do, I have to align some sequences and more importantly, I NEED TO PACK! And I still have to figure out which of my new books I’ll be bringing on my trip.

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To top it all off, because I still hadn’t enough going on, TAP (company of all my flights for the next 3 weeks) just announced that they’ll go on strike from May 1st to 10, considering that I’ll be coming back from Brazil to Portugal on the 3rd, and then from Lisbon to Barcelona on the 5th, I’m a little worried… ok, a LOT! Mainly because I have a very important appointment on the 4th, it involves going with my niece and her cousin to the 5 Seconds of Summer concert! I hope they solve stuff before I’m due back…

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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.

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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!!!

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!”.

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

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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?!

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!)!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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)…

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…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…

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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”…

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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?!

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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:

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Working all weekend long

I’m in a kind of weird type of research, where my experiments don’t take exactly too long, but somedays, if my PCR at 10 a.m. does not work, I can’t do it again in the same day, and I get nothing left to do in the lab… this implies that there are days that my day is done by 1 p.m., and that everyday of the week counts, which means, working holidays and weekdays.

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This was this kind of weekend. My DNA extractions take a grand total of 3 days (with 2 overnight incubations), which meant all weekend alone in the lab.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love coming to work on weekends, I get much more done than on weekdays, because every piece of equipment is available and there are no waiting lines for anything… and I get to hear loud music!

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There is just one problem with being alone in the lab: I’m alone, so this is pretty much my reaction each time I hear any kind of sound…

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