The intro

Having written a draft of the results for my thesis, I’ve now turned to the introductory chapter.  It’s slow going.  I had sort of an idea about how I wanted to start the whole thing off–you know, the introduction to the introduction–and I’ve gotten two pages (double-spaced) written.  But I looked it over and I glanced at a couple of thesis introductions from former lab members and most of what I have written so far is waaaaaayyyy too simplistic.  I know, I know, I should just keep writing, but guys, what I’ve got is probably Cell Bio 101 material.  Maybe even remedial cell bio material.  So, it’s totally going to have to be trashed.  However, writing it has helped me organize my thoughts which were so frazzled yesterday afternoon (when I started this endeavor) that for a moment, I couldn’t remember what the big picture was.  Actually, not the big picture, but the BIG big picture.  As in, why the hell the  cell needed what I’m studying anyway.

I know.   It’s incomprehensible that I had that sort of brain function meltdown at this stage in my career, but I’ve been so focused on the knitty-gritty details of two of the proteins I’m studying that, while I could instantly spout off why what I’m studying is important and interesting to my field, for a moment I drew a blank when contemplating why what I’m studying is important to LIFE.

*shakes head in dismay*

Additionally, I keep getting side-tracked looking up tangential information.  I spent a ridiculous amount of time yesterday trying to confirm an aspect of this function in prokaryotes which I mentioned in one sentence.  A sentence that I will likely be throwing out.  I found one review that mentioned something interesting which led me to another review about a related topic which led me to another review and another and another until I was finally reading about some unrelated topic.*  Also, I  pulled down my college cell bio texts.  That was when the post-doc who works at the other bench in my bay told me I was on the road to crazyville and should probably just go home.

Today is going much better. The content of my writing has gradually turned into something much more sophisticated.  So, in the end, I’ll probably just cut off those first six paragraphs or so and nobody will ever read the portion that should probably be named “Cell Biology for Dummies” (or possibly “Cell Biology for Senior Grad Students Who Are So Caught Up in Their Work They Cannot See the Forest for the Trees”).

*This happens to me when I look up words in the dictionary, too.  I get distracted by the guide words at the top of each page as I’m flipping through it (and, any drawings or pictures on that page–ooh pretty pictures!) which is why it takes me half an hour to look up a definition.

Mixed messages

Two days ago, I was working at my bench, minding my own business, when my advisor came over to talk to me. He does not do this very frequently. He spends less than half an hour a week in the lab. So, he obviously wants to talk to me, but he’s wearing his coat as though he’s about to run off somewhere so I think he’s going to ask me something quick.

“When are you graduating?” He asks.

And I think, What the fuck? What does he mean when am I graduating? Haven’t we had this discussion? Hadn’t we already agreed that I have this one experiment and then I am going to present all of my data to my committee, set up a defense date, write my thesis and get the hell out of here as soon as possible? Haven’t I been working on, and showing him drafts of my figures? Is he expecting me to give him a date? Has he forgotten I want to get out of here as soon as possible because my husband has been living hundreds of miles away for two and a half years? Where the hell is this coming from? The question, coming from him, made no sense to me.

Which is why my brilliant response was, “Uhhh, I don’t know?”

And then, we launch into a discussion in which we talk about what I need to do before I graduate (finish experiment, meet with my committee, fill out graduation paperwork, write my thesis, write the paper, submit it, leave, let someone else take care of the revisions).  This is all shit we’ve talked about before.  He did mention the lab is having serious financial difficulties (ergo, he wants me to finish so he can stop paying me), but we’ve already talked about that before, too.

So, I’m thinking maybe this is his way of saying I’m not working fast/hard enough but when I talk to him later he says I’ve done nothing wrong, he’s just worried about money.  But, that still implies to me that I should really be getting my ass in gear (well, more in gear) so I worked hard on my figures and figure legends and proudly handed them all over to Advisor today.

And does he say, “This is good,” or , “Glad you’re taking this graduation thing seriously, or even just, “Okay, I’ll look these over,” or anything like that?  No, he tells me he’s going to be largely unavailable for the next ten days due to a study section and writing a review.  Meaning he will not be getting back to me for ten days or so.

Some of what I was thinking must’ve shown on my face because he started becoming somewhat appologetic in offering his excuses but still, he seemed to think it’s okay to wait ten days to give me feedback.  I left the office.

Over the years, I’ve wanted to hug my advisor.  I’ve wanted to smack him upside the head.  I’ve wanted to bake him cookies.  But in all my umpteen billion years that I have been here never have I wanted to grab him by the shoulders, shake him, and say, “What the fuck is WRONG with you?!”  Until ten minutes ago.

I admit, we are spoiled in our lab.  Our advisor is astoundingly available compared to other advisors.  We can walk into his office virtually anytime and as long as there is nobody else in there or he’s not talking on the phone, he will talk to us (as long as it’s work related; he’s really not the kind of guy you talk to about your personal problems, but that’s okay because that’s not required in a boss).  He reads and helps revise absolutely everything we write even if it’s just an abstract for a departmental retreat.  He listens to practice talks and gives advice on every slide of every talk every single person in the lab gives.

Which means that, usually, when he’s preparing for a study section or he has a grant due or whatever and he’s really busy and can’t talk we are very understanding.  So, normally, if he told me he couldn’t read something for ten days, I would shrug and say okay and walk out.

But.  Dude just got on my case about graduating as soon as possible two days ago!  Sure, I can work on other shit until then (thesis intro anybody?) so it’s not really going to put me behind at all but isn’t it contradictory to tell someone to hurry up and then to blow them off for ten days?


Recently, I have become a fan of Dr. Isis (this reminds me, I really need to update my blogroll; half of the blogs I read aren’t even on it, but I digress).   The other day, she wrote a post in response to a comment over at Female Science Professor‘s place.  In it, she discussed correcting people who failed to use the title “Dr.”  Last I looked, there were 95 comments to this post so it seems that a whole lot of people have a whole lot to say on this subject.

As do I.

[Note: For the purposes of this discussion, my name shall be Abigail Italiana and my husband’s name shall be Eric Longfrenchname.  Neither of those names are our real first or last names (obviously).]

Let’s start with the title “Mrs.”  Despite my nom de blog, I do not go by “Mrs.” in real life.  This is because I did not change my last name upon marriage (more on this in a minute).  To me, and to society in general I think, the title Mrs. is followed by Husband’s Last Name.  Calling me Mrs. Italiana would imply that I married someone with the last name Italiana which I did not.  Therefore, the only Mrs. Italiana I know of is married to my brother (my mother is divorced and remarried and is now Mrs. Stepfatherslastname).  Taking that into account, I prefer to be called Ms. Italiana.

I am not Mrs. Longfrenchname and I am MOST DEFINITELY NOT Mrs. Eric Longfrenchname and anyone who calls me that should be shot even if they are my husband’s relatives.  (Christmas cards are notoriously addressed this way and put me in a foul mood when I receive them which sort of defeats the purpose of sending the card.)

However, I am rarely called Ms. Italiana because people, upon seeing my last name and the wedding ring on my finger, will inevitably call me Mrs. Italiana.  This is not a bad assumption on their part, I suppose.  For many people, it happens to not be a problem.  However, it irks the hell out of me.  So, when people address me as Mrs. Italiana, I have two choices.  I can either say, “I prefer Ms. Italiana,” or I can just ignore it.  And, what I do depends upon my mood at that particular moment.  If I am going to be interacting with this person quite a bit, I will likely correct them.  If not, I’ll probably just let it go, even though I’m annoyed.

Part of the reason I let it go, I’m ashamed to admit, is because often when I tell people to call me Ms. they give me a look that says, “Oh, so you’re one of those women.”  I really hate that look.  Or, they look at me all confused, or maybe even ask why I prefer Ms. and then I feel the need to launch into an explanation of my reasoning (although, theoretically, I could just say, “Because I do.”).   If I’m not prepared to deal with it, I just cave.  I’m working on this issue.

Given all of that, I’m rather looking forward to earning a new title.  In theory it would mean that I would receive Christmas cards and wedding invitations addressed to Dr. Italiana.  Or, at the very least, addressed to Dr. and Dr. Eric Longfrenchname which, while still oppressive at least gives a nod to the fact that I did something with my life and am not just my husband’s possession (or, you know, that I’m a well-educated possession).  I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

Still, I feel better about the idea of insisting on Dr. vs Mrs. rather than Ms. vs Mrs.  Nobody asks you why you prefer Dr. instead of Mrs.  They may think it’s pretentious or elitist, but nobody looks at you like, “Why the hell do you want to be called Dr.?”  They just call you Dr. and leave it at that (though they may ask for medical advice, but since the majority of people I interact with who call me Mrs. Italiana are medical doctors, I doubt they will ask me for medical advice.  They may look disparagingly at me if, when questioned, I tell them that I have a PhD, not an MD but they can shove it up their ass).

Now, going back to why I did not change my name when I got married.  I never really thought about this much when I was growing up, though I was never really one to pair my first name with boy du jour‘s last name in my diary or anything like that.  When I went to college, I noted that women scientists often did not change their last names upon marriage and that idea appealed to me a lot.  I even informed my husband very early in our relationship that I was not planning on changing my last name if we ever got married as I could see no advantage since his last name was longer and more unpronounceable than the last name I was born with.

Then, Mr. Longfrenchname and I got engaged and I really started thinking about this seriously.  One thing I had not factored in was having children.  It seemed convenient to have the same last name as my children if only to show that yes, I was their mother.  Also, I had these visions of getting into some sort of accident in a foreign hospital while my husband and I were traveling and nobody believing we were married because we didn’t have the same last name and not being able to have next of kin priveleges (this is extremely far-fetched, I know, but I had some problems with anxiety and paranoia at this time).  And then I thought about maybe having problems traveling with my children because we wouldn’t have the same last name (this happened to my mother while traveling with my sister after my mother got remarried).

So, I considered compromising and having a “professional” name (Dr. Italiana; which is what I would publish under) and a “personal” name (Mrs. Longfrenchname which is what the PTA would call me).  But, when I ran this past a woman scientist of my acquaintance she became livid and insisted having two last names was unethical and that when you publish under a name you are in effect telling people that you stand by your work and if they have a problem with it they can contact you and how can they do that if you are listed in the phone book under a different name than the one you publish under.  I thought that this was perhaps an extreme view since anyone who would be looking me up to communicate about a publication would be looking me up in a university directory and I would therefore be listed under my “professional” name.  But, I didn’t want to piss anyone off and felt that if other people thought the same was as she did then maybe I would be shooting myself in the foot.  So, I considered hyphenation.

My husband vetoed that one right away.  My name would have been Abigail Italiana-Longfrenchname with my real life name being just as long as this made up name and since both of our last names are often mispelled the chance of anyone ever spelling my name right (much less pronouncing it right) was low.  As I considered this argument, I realized that would include anyone who was trying to look up my name in pubmed.  All kinds of people would get frustrated trying to look me up as they inevitably spelled my name wrong.  And then, I hit upon an idea.  I looked up each of our last names in pubmed.  There were no hits for my last name.  None at all.  And a ton of hits for husband’s last name (not for him, he’s in astrophysics).  I confess this was one of the deciding factors in choosing to keep my last name.

But the primary reason was I liked being Abigail Italiana.*  It had taken me a very long time to be comfortable with who I was and my name seemed to be integrally tied to that identity.  So, why would I change it?  What would that mean?  Who would that person be?  It also made me feel like I was somehow supposed to change my identity upon marriage which seemed unfair since husband didn’t have to change his identity (btw, we did, briefly, consider him taking my last name but he had already published under his last name whereas I had not yet published).  To me, marriage wasn’t going to make me a different person so why should my name reflect that?

*It occurs to me that this is a somewhat funny statement since I blog under a pseudonym.  However, I do that to maintain my privacy not because I’m changing my identity.

Feeling a little better

I’m a little more functional today than I was yesterday–I actually came into lab today!   I probably could have stayed home and nobody would have been surprised, but I decided that it would be better for me to try to be busy.   Besides which, when I’m in my apt., I keep expecting to see  my cat somewhere.  It’s not a very big apt. and he followed me around everywhere.   If I was in the living room, he was in the living room.  If I was eating in the kitchen, then he was eating in the kitchen (actually a lot of times, he wouldn’t eat his dinner unless I was also eating my dinner).  He also spent a great deal of time on my lap, was often on the table while I was eating breakfast, and slept in my bed next to my head at night (sometimes, he tried to sleep on my head which never worked out very well).   He was a very social and spoiled cat.

His death was a complete, total surprise and I’m still not sure what happened.  I think he had a heart attack or an aneurism or something because he was perfectly fine, running around, playing, etc until moments before his death when he was obviously very not fine.  I’m trying very hard not to think too much about those last moments because they were horrible.  The upside is that if he suffered at all it was for less than a minute.  The downside is that since he was fine until that moment, I was completely unprepared and it was a shock.  I always thought he would get older and slow down and I would have time to face the fact that he would not always be with me.  I have no idea how old he was because I got him as an adult from the city pound.  He certainly didn’t act old.

The vet also thought is was probably a heart-related problem and was going to do a post-mortem analysis to see  he can determine the cause of death.  On the one hand, it might be nice to know what exactly happened, on the other hand, I’m not sure what difference it would make.  He’s gone and I know that there was nothing I could have done to prevent it (well, mostly I know this, there is a small part of me that worries that I somehow missed something that could have prevented this, but when I think about it reasonably, calmly, logically, I know this isn’t true).  He had regular check-ups at the vet (the last one was just a couple of months ago), I fed him good quality food (expensive, organic canned food and dry food; he had very few teeth so canned food was easier to eat; also, I think he may have ate healthier than I did), and I monitored him constantly and anytime there was any change in his behavior, I took him to the vet (I think the vet may have thought I was paranoid).

I haven’t had much of a chance to feel lonely because R stayed with me all day yesterday and today I came to work.  It will be hardest in the evening, I’m sure.