Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Falling Glass

This is not a China post.

First a bit of good news: my dad was able to recover 90-95% of my pictures off my SD card!! He downloaded some program that lets him rip data off SD cards or something. This was the second highlight of my day. ^_^
Now, on to more serious matters. Ever knock over a glass at the edge of a table/counter, and you're just watching it fall to the ground in slow motion until it hits and shatters? That's how my research work is like right now. Let me elaborate. First, for this post, let my researcher = EV-M and my PI = SG-M.

At the end of last semester/beginning of this semester, my research was like a glass at the very edge of the table about to fall. My Western blot project had stopped working, and I was just beginning the RNA extraction project but I wasn't going fast enough for SG-M's satisfaction. In January I temporarily shelved my Western blot project to focus on the RNA extraction, which was the more important of the two. That is, until I royally fucked up (read here). That was the bit that knocked the glass off the table.

I haven't been doing much in the lab during February because the RNA extraction was shelved (from me) and my Western blots still weren't working (the transfer box refused to work). As a result, I've felt like my presence in the lab was just a waste of my time, EV-M's time, and SG-M's time. So I haven't been working much. I haven't be performing up to my standards, (or anyone's standards) it's been a long since I've produced results, and I talked to EV-M about all this today.

EV-M revealed to me that SG-M is not happy with my performance in the lab. Gee, me neither, no surprise there. But SG-M basically banned me from the RNA extraction project without directly telling me. EV-M told me that both he and SG-M felt I needed to take more initiative and get things done. That was seriously a slap in the face because I'm almost always the one to initiate things in any group project. I'm the one who tries to coordinate and make sure things get done. To say that I don't take the initiative in the lab was a blow to my ego.

But now I don't know what to do. Without the RNA extraction project, I don't have much to do in the lab. The Western blot is MY project, as in I designed almost every aspect of it from the moment I started. It's not my fault that the equipment failed. But now I'm supposed to somehow find a way around this?! Apparently people in the lab "notice" that I'm just not doing a good job. That almost makes me feel everyone's talking behind my back without letting me know what I'm doing wrong. The lab is "too polite" as EV-M puts it.

So I'm watching this glass fall towards the ground. As far as I know it hasn't hit the ground yet, so I may still be able to catch it and put it back on the table. But I don't know if I'll be able to make it in time and I'm not sure it's entirely worth it. According to EV-M, SG-M isn't someone I want to piss off. He's well known in both the medical and public health world, and so if he says anything bad about me, it'll doubly hurt my reputation. I had a pretty good reputation coming into this lab, and I'll be damned if I leave with a crappy reputation. He's already displeased with me, and I don't know how to properly fix this.

This and the jet-lag sucked away all the relaxation and happiness I rediscovered during Spring Break. I feel so beaten and broken this semester. I'm not the only one, my friend AG-F feels exactly the same (though for somewhat different reasons). Why does second semester suck so much?! T.T

What should I do?!?!?!
I want to leave on a high note because I feel somewhat depressed by the possibility of (effectively) losing my research job and crawling away with a bruised ego and a severely damaged reputation.

So the first highlight of my day was in GSI prep session. I found out that most of the GSIs only have 5-7 students go to their sections, maybe 10-12 at most. In contrast, I generally have at least 10-12 come to my sections, and up to 20-25 students in my Friday sections. I must be doing/teaching something right if people keep coming! That makes me feel like I'm actually able to accomplish something.

Right now, GSI-ing is what keeps my head up. I love teaching and love leaving discussion sections feeling like I've helped someone understand the genetics material. Also, it doesn't hurt to know that I'm more favored by many students than the other GSIs, because I keep getting complimented on how I teach. ;-)


James said...

The art of fine TA-ing is to make section "mandatory." Pop quizes! XD

Have you thought about talking to SG-M about your Western blot project. You could bring it to him and ask if it's possible for you to design/ work on another task since failed laboratory equipment has made the current project impossible. This has a twofold effect: 1) it points out what is stopping you from continuing (i.e., it underlines that it's not your fault), and 2) it shows that you do indeed have initiative.

Anyway, I'm not sure if SG-M is the one you would need yo go through to get/do a new project, etc. But as long as he heard about it from someone, it would address your issues.

And ignore that lab gossip. Psh, I eat lab gossip for breakfast. What's news today is "what?" tomorrow. People can't be bothered to keep tab on old gossip. Just get your shit in order for your own sake!

J said...

i just broke a mirror in art class and it did that very thing. i saw it falling and it was like it just slowed down and im cringing tryna cover my face and ten minutes later the mirror finally shatters on the floor

Orange said...

I know you must have thought through this but just putting this out there... Can you look for another instrument for your western blot elsewhere in your university? Or in a university close by perhaps - talk to your researcher?

aron2631 said...

Well, since you asked...

I would first have a nice long honest look at myself. What has been my fault? What hasn't? For what HAS been my fault, why did it happen? Where did it come from? What needs to change in me to keep it from happening again?

Then I'd have a conversation with SG-M. I'd admit to my real mistakes, re-iterate my commitment to the team and to the Lab, and ask for SG-M's help. What, specifically, can I do to get back on track? I would not leave without having a clear game plan in mind.

I would also check in with SG-M ever couple of months (or whatever is appropriate in your situation), to see how it is going from his perspective.

All of this is "managing up". If my bosses and peers aren't being good managers and aren't being honest with me, then I have to do it. If I'm not getting the input I need to be successful, then I have to solicit it. Ultimately, my success is up to me.

And finally, if it isn't worth it, then leave. Don't go for an agonizing death.

Seth said...

Not really having a clue about this, I would just add - perhaps they WANT to see what you can do to solve the problems? (Fix/find new/work around) the equipment issues?

And perhaps it is worth explaining to them, whats happening - what you see is going wrong, offering some ideas but asking for their feedback in how to solve the issues. Sort of like being proactive about being proactive.

Or as a last resort, extract yourself (no pun intended) from the situation gracefully.

Aek said...

James: We're not allowed to have pop quizzes and our sections aren't designed to be mandatory. The fact that 2x-3x more people come to my sections over all the other GSIs stands as evidence to my awesomeness at teaching. XD

Everyone: The "intercession" begins Thursday. I'm basically asking EV-M to intercede on my behalf and push SG-M to relax a bit. In the mean time, I will be discussing with EV-M exactly what my and our plans are for the projects so we can move ahead. If EV-M feels it's necessary, then I will talk to SG-M myself next week or so. I have a clear idea of what I'd like to try to get myself out of this precarious situation. Let's see how things pan out.

And thanks for all your concern!! The way lab hierarchy goes (or so I've noticed), I shouldn't present myself directly to SG-M and bypass EV-M if I can help it. I need to make sure things are good between EV-M and me (that's the easy part anyway) before I repair the "true" damage.

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E said...

I'm glad that you seem to have put together a plan to remedy the unfortunate events surrounding you lab. As an ex-bio major I am familiar with the stress brought on by lab. It frustrates me when I spend three hours trying to titrate some solution so that I can make another solution change color to prove some dumb-ass thesis we are forced to conjure. It must be exponentially crushing that you spent sooo much more time on something that went awry.

I also am intimately what it's like to bust your behind and have no one notice. That's worst than an experiment gone sour. After working crazy hours, working and not getting paid for it, assuming extra responsibilities, and managing a bevy of things not in my job description, I found out that my boss is considering giving my potential promotion to some chick that is transferring to our building.....

charlie said...

Ah... science... the thing I learnt in my short scientific career is that failure is very often the result of a scientific research. Sometimes due to the researcher, sometimes due to outer reasons. The thing is that you learn from all the failures, it's when you make a mistake in a protocol that you can improve it.

In all teams they are people whose ego is far beyond ordinary. Try not to crash on the ground, you have to resist and make your best. Use the human psychology to try to break this group effect against you. When I'm in such a situation I usually use the "divide et impera" from the good old romans, but it's only useful on short term :)

Aek said...

E: Tell me about it! I HATE spending 5-6 hours on a SINGLE experiment to have it fail. And then, when I have no results to produce, people think I'm sitting on my asses twiddling my thumbs. >.<

That's really unfair that your rightful promotion is going to someone else. LAMESAUCE.

charlie: Yes, research is 90% failure and 10% luck. It's research because you "re-search" for something as you attempt to reproduce something, lol.

I'll be okay I think. I can hold my ground once I'm aware of the conditions around me. I'm just annoyed it took me this long to notice. Full-time classes and 30 hours of work/week for the lose.