Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Experimental Frustrations

Today was not such a good day. I have been at my postdoc for about 1 1/2 yrs and so far everything has gone amazingly well, so I guess I was due for some failure. And I am particularly frustrated because my problems stem not from a lack of good ideas, but from technical difficulties. You see, my first set of experiments (i.e., postdoc paper #1)did not require me to stray far outside my comfort zone, and when I did I had an expert on site to assist me. My second set of experiments (postdoc paper #2 and possibly #3) require me to switch to a more complicated system. Given my background, I should be able to figure out how to use the more complicated system; however, it is just not working. Worse yet, my technical resource is on another campus a couple hundred miles away. And, if I can't figure out how to make this system work there will be no paper #2 or #3.

Now honestly, I can probably figure out something in the long run, but I am stressed by the possibility of experimental failure. I am concerned that since I only have a few months left at my postdoc I can't afford to have difficulties with my set-up. I am concerned that if my difficulties are insurmountable I will finish my postdoc with only one paper, and that that will reflect very negatively on my career. And I just feel let down, I feel like I should be able to do this, it is in my area of expertise and I have done something really, really similar before, but it is just not working now.

I will call my technical resource tomorrow and try to hammer out what's going on. In the worst case, I will try to find a local collaborator to help me, but I feel like time is short and I just want to blow through the experiments.

The worst part of all this is it demonstrates how fragile my confidence is. The other day I was feeling completely ready to be an Asst. Prof. My research was going well. I had good research ideas. Grad students have been asking me for advice and telling me how helpful I am. I have been teaching a class to rave reviews. I was excited. Now, this little set back has me questioning everything again. And each time this happens, I feel like my problems stem from my work-life balance. If I didn't have to leave at 5:30 every day or if I came in on weekends it would all be better. I know this probably isn't true, and that childless work-a-holics have the same sorts of difficulties that I do. But each time I face looming failure, I feel like I am the only one. If I can't handle the occasional setback how will I be able to handle grant rejection, the stress of tenure, and a teaching schedule. I'm sure it will seem much better tomorrow, but for now I will have to overcome my panic attack. Thanks for listening.


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