The theme for Scientiae this month is Unleash. I must confess this has given me some problems and in fact has been really rather depressing as I have sat here for almost an entire month wondering what I would like to unleash. Unleash implies that there is something leashed, something chained up, something waiting to be released where it can run wild and free across all the neighbors’ backyards and possibly out into traffic. And, I have looked deep into my soul and discovered that I really don’t have anything like that hiding in there. There is nothing waiting, chomping at the bit (if you will allow me to mix my metaphors), to be let loose out into world.

I have been wondering why this is. There are plenty of things that I feel strongly about. I think the state of science education in this nation is appalling. I am frustrated that the term “science education” implies education for children as though we should just write off the possibility that today’s adults can become scientifically literate. And I think women get a raw deal all around and I don’t like the fact that so many of us feel we need to leave science in order to have a family. And then there’s this whole mess with my sister right now and her fiancé and their new baby and no health insurance and we just found out that in addition to the five-year old daughter he has from his first marriage, he has a three-year old daughter from the woman he was dating prior to my sister (okay, to be honest, I think there may be a bit of unleashing that could be done there as in “unleashing the fury that can only come from an older sister as she contemplates the no-good bum with whom her younger sister is entangled” but I digress).

The thing is, whenever I think about these things, instead of getting fired up, I just get tired. And while it may be perfectly normal to become exhausted when thinking about all of the things that are terribly wrong with the world that you would like to change (especially if that is a very long list), it’s not the sort of thing one talks about as “unleashing.” I mean what would that be, exactly? Unleashing your Inner Heavy Sigh? Letting loose the Beast From Within Who Really Just Wants to Take a Nap? That’s not the sort of thing that inspires fear in the hearts of science education policymakers everywhere.

And, well, it’s hard to get fired up about science education when you’re a burned-out nth year grad student who just wants to get her damn thesis done and get on with life. So, how about I tell you about what I would like to be able to one day unleash? Once I am done with graduate school, I would like to unleash the Science Educator With a Plan to Improve the System. I would also like to unleash the Writer That is Hidden in the Very Depths of My Soul I Know She is in There so that I may write a book or three in order to contribute to adult science education. And then there’s the Activist Who Wants to Beat Politicians Who Cut Science Funding Especially That Guy from NASA Who Cut the Funding To Her Husband’s Project So That He Had to Find a Job Half a Continent Away Yes Sir I am Talk to YOU (actually, I have this vision of leading a march of NASA spouses on the Director’s office and holding a sit-in and shouting things like, “Fund basic science, not space stations!!” until the police cart us away).

Actually, when I think about all of that, I do start to feel a little tingle in my soul, a little Inner Something yearning to be free. But, it’s going to have to wait. I have a doctorate to finish.

I’ve been tagged

Image Goddess tagged me for this meme.

The Four Things Meme

Four Jobs I Have Had In My Life:

  • Working in corn fields, cutting out the wrong breed of corn
  • Lifeguard
  • Waitress (Various places; my favorite being a gay bar/restaurant in Baltimore–I was a novelty because I was a woman and so I got good tips)
  • Salesperson at Victoria’s Secret on Michigan Ave in Chicago (that was an experience, let me tell you)

Four Places I Have Lived:

  • Very Small Town in Iowa
  • Boston
  • Baltimore
  • Chicago

Four of my favorite foods:

  • Chocolate (any and all)
  • Goat cheese
  • Roasted garlic
  • Bread (any and all)

Four Places I’d rather be right now:

  • California
  • Italy
  • Grandma’s
  • Someplace quiet

Four movies I can watch over and over:

  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Any Indiana Jones
  • Any of the original Star Wars trilogy
  • You’ve Got Mail

Four TV shows I like to watch:

  • CSI (original)
  • The Closer
  • House
  • Eureka

Four websites I visit daily:

  • Yahoo email
  • Google reader
  • Chorebusters
  • Yahoo weather

Four early musical influences:

  • Bon Jovi
  • Billy Joel
  • Chicago
  • Meatloaf

Four Computers I’ve Owned:

  • Dell desktop (no idea what model, but it ran Windows 98)
  • i-mac G4
  • i-book
  • ? (I’ve only ever owned 3 computers in my life.)

Um, I’m not sure who to tag, though, because I’m not sure who reads my blog, so if you read this blog and haven’t been tagged, consider yourself tagged. And let me know in the comments so I can go see you list!

Switching Brain On

I’m having one of Those Days.  There are many types of Those Days.  This is type IV.b:  a day in which you are suffering from the fact that you seemed to have been missing your brain yesterday.

On my list of things to do today:

  1. Start cultures from patches of bacterial cells
  2. Make patches from yeast streaks
  3. Sporulate yeast cultures

Why I will not be doing these things:

  1. Left plate on my bench overnight instead of putting it into the incubator
  2. Ditto
  3. “Grew”  cultures in the wrong media (“Grew” because, in fact, nothing grew)

Fortunately, I have many other things to do today, but I am now a day behind on those other things.  I can’t really afford to have days where my brain is not plugged in, but when you’re dealing with Major Burnout being brainless is sometimes a fact of life.  On the whole, it could have been much worse.  I could’ve contaminated the whole lab with radioactivity or something, right?  Or perhaps spilled the protein I just spent days purifying or similar.  Of course, I wasn’t doing either of those things yesterday (and that’s probably a good thing).


The Scientiae Carnival theme this month is Balance. I’ve been meaning to write something for the carnival all of this month but somehow, the time slipped away from me and now here it is, the night before the carnival is to be published and I think I may have I missed it again. Which is really too bad because there’s a lot to say about balance in life.

Balance is not the sort of thing I have a good working knowledge of. Literally. I’ve always been a bit of a klutz. Growing up, nobody would ever have accused me of having terrific balance. When I was 16, I started waitressing and developed a fairly good sense of balance, at least when it came to putting things on a tray and carrying it to a table and taking them off again. I only once dropped a tray and that was because I had worked for 12 hours and was dead tired. And it only had two meals on it so it wasn’t so bad, really.

But, having become an adult (nominally) balance has taken on a completely different meaning in my life (in part because I no longer have to take PE classes). And, I’ve come to realize that you really don’t pay much attention to balance until you no longer have it. And getting it back is a lot harder than losing it in the first place. Not that long ago (when I first started grad school, actually), this became incredibly apparent to me because instead of losing my physical balance, I lost my mental balance.

There are many, many euphemisms for the onset of mental illness, and not coincidentally there are a few that refer to balance. You might call someone “unstable” or even “unbalanced” (or, you know, “off her rocker”). And really, the description is apt, because it does feel a bit like someone has reached inside your head and shook up a few things and now everything is mixed up, upside down, twisting, turning, and, well, unbalanced.

And then, you fall.

But unlike when you lose your physical balance, you can’t really just stand up again, and brush yourself off because you’ve lost your ability to stand up at all. And that’s what happened to me. I became more and more unbalanced and then one day, I was on the ground and I had no idea how to get back up again.

And that’s when I became aware of how balanced everything had been. That there had once been beautiful and perfect balance that required no effort whatsoever and now, if I wanted to ever be balanced again, it was going to take a lot of effort and a lot of thinking about what being balanced is in the first place. That’s when I started thinking about balance all.the.time. Balance between therapy and medication. Balance among medications. Balance between side effects and therapeutic effects (Do I really need to be able to sleep? Can I live with shaking hands? Do I even like how I feel on this medication?). Balance between school and life. Between lab and family. Between getting a PhD and (quite literally) keeping my sanity.

And while thinking about balance and achieving balance have helped me enormously, I had to make a lot of difficult decisions based on what balance means to me. I had to think about what that means for the kind of career I want to have and ask questions like, how much failure can I take before I fall over? How much can I sacrifice and still feel stable?

And that’s when I realized that bench science isn’t for me. Day in and day out 80% of what I do simply does not work. For no good reason. The PCR reaction that worked perfectly well yesterday may stop working tomorrow and not work for weeks and then, for no apparent reason start working again. Some cloning project may go horribly, horribly awry through no fault of my own and this may cost me months of time and that’s just the way it is. Can I live with this? No. I cannot.

I thought I could. Really. I thought I had stopped taking failure so personally, but try as I might (and believe me I have tried) failing constantly just depresses me. No amount of therapy is going to change that. You can pump me full of SSRIs and I will still be heartbroken everytime something goes wrong. This might not be so bad if the things that went well gave me enough warm fuzzies to make it through the failures. But they don’t. The scale is permanently weighted down on the fail side and that is never, ever going to change.

Part of becoming more balanced has been coming to terms with the revelation. And I have. I am happy with my decision to focus on science education and leave bench science behind. Of course, a career in education will have its own issues and I may find that I don’t like it any more than I did bench science. But, I’m prepared for that possibility and I think that makes it a little less precarious. After everything I’ve been through, I think it’s going to be harder to pull me off balance.