The road goes on :)

First of all; sorry for the overly dramatic previous post. That was written during the darkest stage of a crisis like I never went through before, I probably shouldn’t have posted that. It isn’t all bad. Just a rather unfortunate timing of homesickness, family matters, a dying relationship and frustration at work…

Second; maybe it IS good I posted that. I received some very heartening emails and even stepped over a few psychological barriers to meet a random stranger to discuss my problems with. I usually don’t meet with strangers nor discuss my problems; I don’t like either! But I’m happy I did. Apparently it’s sometimes good to hear someone say what you already know deep within. That such a crisis is normal for example. Plus get a couple of good ideas on how to continue :)
Thanks for getting in touch with me through email & Twitter, for sharing your stories and reassuring me that this is all part of the game and will get better!

So now what?

I’ve decided to kill all doubts whether my ex and me might get back together after all. I blocked him on all social media so I don’t have to witness his happy moments without me and try to break contact as much as possible. Was pretty tough to do after almost 9 years together, but probably the fastest way to get moving on. Focus on the good things instead: the bathroom is full with dried laundry I could get out of the way. And there’s moving boxes waiting to be unpacked. I can ignore them as long as I want because there is nobody around to complain about it! Instead, I’m learning some Bastille songs on my guitar & piano. Brilliant, right?! And my sister, whom I’ve never had much contact with, witnessed the beginning of this breakdown on Sunday; we’ve probably had as much contact the last few days as the years before. She’s even planning to take another flight here this winter! How good is that?!

Then, considering friends.. This is probably a good way to sort out the real friends from the merely acquaintances: those who can’t be bothered to reply to an email, why are they my friends anyway??

One point someone made in an email, couldn’t be more spot on: I’ve been unhappy here, partially because I kept considering this as something ‘temporary’ and have not invested in actually making my flat welcoming or meeting people. So yeah, that’s gotta change too.

And finally.. Work.. I’m still convinced of the value of my work and really want to find out how the proteins I’m interested in cause the illnesses they’ve been linked to and what they are good for in general. So I just got to stop moaning about the lab and make it to my liking. We do have good resources after all; I just have to find the best way to use them.

To start off, I’ll warn my colleagues once more to stop using MY materials stored on MY bench without asking. Perhaps I’ll just swap some labels to figure out who keeps using my stuff anyway. I feel really bad doing something like that; but then again, apparently they don’t feel bad using stuff I asked them not to?! It feels really childish, but I hate finding bottles that I thought were full standing empty on a colleagues bench, in the middle of an experiment where I need them. Or worse, people using things I’d like to keep sterile without consideration, leaving me to wonder for weeks where that yeast contamination could possibly come from… Maybe get some hidden stocks of things we’re most likely to run out off. Depending on how it goes, I might even get back to working early like I used to during my PhD – if I start at, say, 7, I’m probably mostly done by the time most of the lab wakes up. There are possibilities, I see now.

And most importantly: consider what I really want. I don’t think being in a top research institution is right for me. As I described before, I feel like a major effort is going into politics and strategy, which will be even worse in a highly competitive top institution. I’d rather do less ‘famous’ science but have more time for the science I’m doing and get more involved in teaching and outreach. That’s something I’ve got to think on a bit more.

So, how’s that?! Much better than last post eh. Maybe I should really my act together and start unpacking those boxes then ;)


[EDIT] For those who interpreted the bit about changing labels as sabotaging the lab. I would never, ever, jeopardise the work of others. I am too conscious of the tax pounds, dollars and euros flowing into the work, how much effort it is for our bosses to keep the cash flowing. What I meant to say, is that I’d for example label my bottles in Dutch. Or add stars and flowers and things on the label, that *might* make my colleagues uncertain of the contents of my bottles and leave them alone.

In the past, I have actually swapped labels once though. I quite like the story.  I had made a solution, which was quite a bit of work to make, tested it and seen that it works very well. During lab meeting, I told my colleagues I have this super solution – would they like to try it? And gave them the recipe in case they liked it. I noticed that the liquid level in the bottle dropped alarmingly fast – I didn’t want to make this solution for the entire lab every month, so I kindly asked them to stop using mine and make their own. Even offered to help them doing it! That, of course, didn’t help. So I got really angry next. Which also didn’t help. Then I swapped the label of this bottle with a bottle of water. Sat back and waited for complaints of people whose experiments didn’t work out anymore. These were experiments where you know within 2 days that it didn’t work, so it didn’t disrupt anything major. It cost people a week at most. But I knew who kept using my things and could get angry with them. And because they couldn’t hide anymore, because I could get mad at them personally, this time it actually worked. (plus maybe they didn’t trust any of my bottles anymore ;))

How my academic dream killed me

When I came here 9 months ago, I had high hopes. The lab I was going to is one of the best in its field and situated at a top University. My relationship already went through one long-distance fase once before and could surely handle a second. As to my friends, I could stay in touch through social media, Skype, you name it. Or so I thought.

9 Months later, my world is crumbling to dust. None of my dreams are there anymore. I don’t even know where to start. My boyfriend and I went through a so-called friendly break-up. We decided to split, not because of love affairs or fights. No, because I thought coming to this lab was going to be the best thing ever. Because he understood I wanted to chase those dreams and loved me enough to let me go and hope our almost 9 year relationship would survive.

And now? We realised that this long-distance isn’t great, that we miss essential parts of each others lives and grow apart. And without knowing when we’d get back together, we decided this is the end. I miss him, I miss what the two of us could’ve become – a family with a nice house with a garden for our cats. But he’s gone for a dream, I might never ever see my cats again! Which I possibly could have accepted, if not for the fact that this academic dream turned into a nightmare. I am not going into detail here, but I feel like I’m postdoc number X to be wasted on this project. I’m on a fellowship, so relatively independent, but I can’t function in a non-functioning lab where we constantly run out of supplies and into technical issues. My friends are slipping away, without the regular care friendships need. What else is there? Love, friends, work, all shattered to pieces. The break-up hurts terribly, because I know it needn’t have happened if I hadn’t been so obsessed with making it in academia and being ‘mobile’ and everything.

Some times, I sincerely desperately wish I could go back one year and make different choices. But I know that’s wishful thinking and what’s more, the life I think I could have had is an utopia. I was glad to leave the lab I was in because there were problems there as well and after 4 years, I had to see something new. My relationship was getting dusty, we needed some change too. We weren’t as perfect together as I’d now like to imagine. My friends would’ve gotten married, gotten kids, have moved on anyway. Nothing would’ve been as I dream it now. But today I allowed myself to give in to grief and cry for all the could-have-beens and now-whats..

A few weeks ago, I went to a reunion of my high school and someone there said to me, after hearing where I am and what I do, that “I am living his dream”. If only he knew… What it means though, is that on paper my life and CV look brilliant. I will have a good conversation with my boss, to make clear he knows about the problems I’m having and to try to resolve the issues in the lab. I’ve decided to give it time until December and if things don’t improve, I’ll start the job hunt. I am not going to wallow in sorrow for years to conclude after 5 years that it wasn’t that productive after all. This environment, as it is, is toxic and if I can’t change it, I’ll leave it. I am strong and I will survive, but it is taking every shred of self-control to not totally dispair and be dragged so far down that I can’t see the light anymore. I know there are friendlier labs out there, new partners, loyal friends. It is just damned hard to keep believing when you find yourself alone in a foreign country with nowhere to go.

My academic dream has killed me. Today, I mourn for the person I was.

We need a plan

I have a plan! The next time someone comes to me and tells me we need a plan, I am gonna show them this:



I love this scene from Guardians of the Galaxy for so many reasons. People trying to make plans in the lab all the time. Lab meetings which are as chaotic as this every now and then. I just can’t stop watching the clip laughing out loud!