Sunday, July 19, 2015

A week . . .went where?

Wow, what a week. It was crazy here. In laws here last weekend, including B's sister and her 2 kids. As I am fond of saving, everything is okay, even the stuff that isn't. And that was that weekend.

The week started off with some promise in the lab - the assay finally started working! Sort of. There is almost no sensitivity at the low end of the range, but at least we are no longer getting uniformly blue plates. I have to order more reagent.

Then the construction started - or maybe the construction started first. I actually think it started first. Anyway, on Wednesday, we lost access to the lab. And half the lab equipment in now in my office. But that's okay. I wish I could say I spent the week productively writing but:

WE GOT THE CALL - everything for the award letter had to be submitted. IRB renewed - in 2 different countries, new translations, new documents, changes to the budget. So, yeah. Awesome news - everything was in on Saturday and we're waiting on final approval. It took a lot of effort on a lot of parts to get everything in. But it is all in!!!!

Friday was an adventure. We had a two year old. In the "we're all in this together" and "it takes a village and a department is a village", we had another TT's kiddo this weekend while they had malaria. Or I had the kiddo and B took him to the ER. It was crazy, and hard, and wonderful, and we feel slightly more confident that we could actually do this - albeit, given the new above, after tenure. I don't know, and the week was crazy, ending in a six mile run today (I did 2 yesterday I think), and my yoga pass running out, our menus being set aside 3 times (kids apparently don't dig grilled salmon with mango and avocado salsa), nor do vomiting husbands.

We did squeeze in a trip to a wolf howl (no howls), and some bad tapas. Overall, in terms of balance, it was a great weekend - we did healthy things, we had a temporary kid and kept him alive, I got in 8 miles (yeah, I cheated yesterday and called my Grandma on mile 2 and talked to her instead of running - best idea ever!), we had a date, and tonight I actually cooked (post tomorrow on what we're eating).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

You should be writing

One of the things that surprises me most about myself as an academic is my seeming inability to relax, and to not feel guilty. As I sit here writing this, waiting for a PDF to build for an article submission, I'm feeling guilty. I'm not in the lab for one - we have taken the entire week off waiting for a purity report for some antigens. I'm happy to report that the antigens are pure and we can move ahead - or maybe backwards, not sure. But three days out of lab, even though I finished and submitted a paper and my student spent the days working on her manuscript seems like me failing her. I should have been in the lab with her every day, even though I don't care that she spent the day reading while I spent the day reformatting and submitting. We'll be back at it tomorrow.
I feel guilty that I decided this morning not to pursue the grant due next week, but to instead focus on revising and getting another paper out. It often feels that writing, that one thing we largely do alone, is the thing that brings us the most guilt. We feel bad for not writing, hence the popular meme "you should be writing".

I've selected Bender as my stand in, but there were great Sci-fi and similar choices. However, when presented with a choice, I will most often choose Futurama. Source:

However, one thing that we talk about much less, is the guilt we feel for writing. Robert Boice has written on this (and Robert Boice might be the greatest thing for the academic since the decision to not make us wear the robes all the time). He observes that academics often sacrifice writing time, even though it is the most relevant thing we do towards tenure, for other things and other people. Writing can seem like the ultimate selfish act, because it is something we generally do alone, often away from other people, and this can feel selfish.

That is certainly how I feel today. I feel selfish for spending the morning reformatting that paper and getting the reformatted material submitted. I feel like I should have been in lab with my student. I now feel guilty for immediately jumping into the next revision instead of trying to pull together revisions for the grant due next week, even though I think the grant needs serious reframing to include a entirely new area of research. And, I do need to be in the lab the rest of this week. And we do have family in town this weekend. About the only time I don't feel guilty about writing is not when I am writing (because then I feel guilty about what I am writing) is during hot yoga, when every fiber of my being is concentrating on not vomiting. This may explain why every time I submit a manuscript or a grant, I go to hot yoga.

By any measure, it has been a pretty productive summer. I've got 3 articles in review, 2 grants in review (since May) and a book chapter going into press this Friday. Two other manuscripts are fully drafted and just need considerable revision. And yet still, making the decision not to grant write this month, but to focus on manuscripts, fills me with guilt. And it shouldn't. But shouldn't does not mean doesn't.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Last year

I started this blog a half dozen times. It never seems to stick. But now, as I move into my last year on the TT (letters go out in the Spring), I find myself thinking more and more about it. About the toll and the joy, and all the other emotions.

This is my push year, as I need to get everything that will be in dossier out by this time next year. As my contract runs July 1 to June 30, starting this, on July 2, seemed ideal.

Last year ended in burnout. There is literally no other term for it. It wasn't the "gosh, I'll be glad when the semester is over" usual, beign burnout. It was the on the floor, unable to get up, ready to walk away from it all, kind of burnout. It was the scariest thing I have ever experienced. I have never not been able to will myself to do anything. But I couldn't. I remember being on the couch, in the darkness and silence, thinking about how much I wanted to turn over. I couldn't find the energy to roll over, and Netflix had long decided I was not actually watching, even though I was there. I had five migraines in two weeks, after two years without one. One day I managed to work up the energy to go to the store for ice cream. The choices overwhelmed me, and I broke down in tears in the store. I went home sans ice cream, and on the return trip that night, forced by my husband, I lashed out over ice cream and energy and everything. Ice cream was too big a choice. The calories contained within it were too much to consider - the time for runs, the dietary rearranging that would be necessary. It was too much.

That was, in some ways, how I was starting to feel about my job. The AAPA meetings took so much out of me it was unreal. They continue to demand time, but the level of demand and exhaustion from them cannot be described. And I never gave myself time to recover. I spent my birthday hauling bags and boxes, and the following week taught all my classes. By the time the earthquake hit Nepal and my field season was canceled, I was running on sheer willpower. And it cracked. My mind would tell my body to do something, and my body would more or less give it the finger.

I gave in. I lost a week. I painted our bathroom and screamed at my husband for not appreciating the paint job. I sat at my desk and cried, realizing how little impact I had on my home space, and how it all radiated from one single point - my desk. I watched the Planet Earth series four times in four days. I surrendered.

During this dark period, I read "The Joy of Burnout". It finally cemented what was going on for me, and how I felt about it. Gorkin observed "Burnout is less a sign of failure and more that you gave yourself away". I'd been feeling like a failure when I had done anything but fail - I had given myself away. And I had to come back to myself in order to be okay.

We are one month out now from the darkest days. I've submitted three papers and a grant since since then, putting me with a comfortable four papers and two grants in review right now. I'm in the lab four days a week for a few hours with a bright, talented student, and then I go for a run or to yoga. I'd never done yoga before, but was tempted (and hooked) by a Groupon for a month of unlimited classes. It becomes a reflective space to think about my actions, intentions, and how I am treating my mind and body. Afterwards, I spend the afternoons writing, revising, and reading. I'm on track to get several more manuscripts submitted this summer, and I take most evenings (post 7pm) off these days. 

I've set myself some personal goals for balance this year as well. I don't have kids, which helps with having more free time to pursue these goals. I'm planning on running a half in October and a second one in April. I want to learn how to make sushi and my great mother's burnt sugar cake. I'm going to try a temporary remodel of our kitchen, and a capsule wardrobe.
My reach goal: I want to the run the Disney Star Wars Half Marathon in 2017 with my brother, and then us go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Our husbands may or may not be invited.

I have 3 field seasons next year in Nepal, and will be away from home for four total months with all the travel I need to do, plus more for the family travel we want to do. It's going to be a big, crazy year.