The flu & running a lab

Pregnancy, a toddler in kindergarten and perfect health don’t go very well together, I’ve noticed. I’ve caught a flu and it’s incredible how long it’s lasting. I’m hoping to be able to go back to the lab, seeing how today I am at least able to read and write some bits and pieces. It’s very frustrating, as I sent out a proposal the week before (fingers crossed for a beautiful stereomicroscope…) and wanted to spend the week in the lab, finishing some experiments that are still lacking for the manuscript I want to write soon. That’s all postponed by a week now. Oh well.

So, what to do instead then? I’ve made a plan for my technician who will start tomorrow. My very own technician. I’m very excited and very curious how it’s going to be! She will do some experiments, which I will hopefully be able to use as preliminary data for the grant I intend to write as soon as the manuscript is out. So that’s all set.

My student seems to be doing OK. Still got lots and lots to learn, but yeah, that’s why he’s a student or?? I asked him for example to send me a graph of an experiment, where he had to follow cells over a week. I know he wasn’t there on at least two days, but still numbers appeared in his graph? Have to explain you can’t just put in numbers that seem fitting in the curve, just because you weren’t there to measure the actual thing? Or the experiment, which I asked him to evaluate, to which he replied he couldn’t, because he doesn’t know which sample to compare with which. But he seems to be getting the hang of doing experiments, of handling samples, he just has a LOT to learn in terms of theory behind it. Hypothesis, testing, acquiring data, analysing data…

So, that leaves me some time to play around. Since I’ve started in October, I’ve not managed to get my name added to the Institute’s website. The German bureaucracy is horrendous. I decided to give up and just make my own website. I would like to recruit one or two bachelor or master students who’ll stay somewhere between half a year and a year. No one is going to apply though if I don’t exist! I’m sure they won’t be happy if I make my own website, because then they won’t be in control. That’s however their own mistake, as it wouldn’t have been necessary if they just added my name and a bit of text about my research to the Institute’s website.

I wrote a nice description for student projects, that say pretty much nothing. Pretty sad state of affairs. And why? Just because my ex-PI, the one who decided to repeat some of my experiments so they’re not mine anymore and publish without me, that one, he has the habit of sneaking around the internet all day, while his people write his applications/papers/licenses, to sniff out what others are working on and then beat them to it. Won’t fall into that trap! I considered adding some keywords, some random protein names, just to confuse him…

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Following my heart…

That must be the most cheesy title I picked for a blog title so far..

I’m at home, with my 1.5 year old peacefully sleeping upstairs and my 6 month foetus kicking around 🙂 I’ve got a stack of old cancer research grants to read, as I asked people for examples so I get a bit better feeling of what should go inside and start making a draft for an application of my own. Exciting times 🙂

But social media are always luring and I decided to read a short piece about the troubles of a lactating mum at a conference, by Rebecca Calisi Rodriguez. You can find it here. She went to a conference, despite a caesarian only 5 weeks earlier!! Here in Germany and also Holland, that isn’t even allowed I think… No work until at least 6 weeks after delivery. It sounds pretty stressful, mostly because of lack of facilities and understanding, although from the piece it looks like she found her way in science and hopefully family perfectly fine in the end.

However when I read something like this, I’m also happy I didn’t make that choice. I stayed at home over a year with my baby (unemployed!) and am planning to stay at home with the next at least 5 months too – official, paid maternity leave this time. I’ll also happily admit that at times during that year with my baby, I was bored, I wanted to do science and not be at home changing diapers! I was wondering whether I was doing the right thing. I think a middle way, staying at home a few months as I’m planning now, would be ideal.

Anyway, that doesn’t matter as it largely depending on personal preferences. Which is the whole point I wanted to make here: I could only wish people would make their choices more with their hearts too. When I left the lab in Oxford after 2.5 years, I knew I wouldn’t publish anything and when I took such long maternity leave, I also knew some people will frown on it. Because of these circumstances, my last first author publication is from 5 years ago… And know what? I don’t care (of course I do – but I can’t change it, can I???). If I had stayed longer in that lab in Oxford, I probably would’ve ended up with a burn-out and in the end in a much worse condition than now. Solely due to a toxic boss. If I hadn’t stayed at home with my baby, I would’ve regretted it all my life. Breastfeeding is such a beautiful thing. Missing out on a potential paper and a year more in science instead of a gap in my CV, is that going to be the thing I regret on the day I die? So many women I talked to in Oxford admitted they regretted some of their choices – especially continuously thinking that that one more experiment will make the difference, and then it’s time for children. Until some of them realised they already passed the point where it’s too late for children and the science is still not coming along as they wished…

It might turn out all right for me, as right now, there’s one last authorship paper in the pipeline, with some of my Oxford data, and another one perhaps towards the end of this year. Smallish ones, but perhaps enough to apply for more funding and build up something. Maybe those two papers can make up for the gap in my CV??

I am hoping that future reviewers will show some understanding… And if they don’t, I will ask myself whether this is really the world I want to be in! What I won’t do, is regret the choice I made for happiness.

First impressions as a junior PI

I don’t even know where to begin!

Perhaps by revealing my location. I’m in Germany. Which in general is good, I like Germany. But. The bureaucracy. Is. Appalling.

I don’t want to know how much time I spent first organising my own stuff, then my postdocs’, then hiring a technician. I never realised how much paperwork would be involved. Justifying why which people are in what salary scale. Writing job descriptions. Guiding them through all the required forms. I even got my own stamp to save time signing things. Imagine that, in the 21st century… Shouldn’t we be able to do most things digitally by now?!

Also, purchasing equipment and consumables. I’ve found out two things so far: for everything you can get a discount ranging from 10 to 30% percent, simply by emailing the company and asking for it. Secondly, I’ve realised that many consumables here are around twice as expensive as they were in Oxford. According to my Croatian companion, money is tighter and the same consumables even more expensive there. I’m determined to find out why. An inverse relationship between money available and pricing – the more money available, the cheaper things get. Shouldn’t that be the other way around?!

Then I also got a master student. Lots of fun, I like teaching! But after a year and a half of maternity leave, this isn’t as easy as it was before. For every little step in a protocol I need to think how I used to do it and only then I can instruct him. So much information seems to have seeped from my brain.. Luckily, it is slowly returning! Once the practical details are sorted out, I need to go once more through my thoughts on how to supervise. As a student, I’ve had both not enough and too much supervision, so I’m trying to find my own way as a supervisor in that…

Ordering computers & getting them connected also slurps up a surprising amount of time. Sorting out the stuff left behind by my predecessors also wasn’t easy – what to keep and what not?? Getting to know people and equipment takes some time.

I started in October and by now, we are able to clone things, do tissue culture & Western Blots, protein purifications & activity tests, microscopy. The available confocal microscope is beautiful, a super resolution microscope will be installed soon. The mass spec facility is up and running. Which is pretty much all the methods I need for the beginning. Slowly, things are starting to run!

Since I’m pregnant again, my plan was to generate the last pieces of data I need to submit a (smallish) paper, which I can then write at home while the NewOne is sleeping. I’ve learned from my last maternity leave that I’m not terribly happy purely as house mum, so I’ll try to write the manuscript & a follow-up grant during my leave. However, for that I first need to find the time to do these few experiments!! Hopefully soon.