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Disgruntled Julie

Disgruntled Julie is a laboratory slave 6th year Ph.D. student studying pediatric cancer through biochemistry and biophysics. When she isn't in lab (never), she enjoys cooking, cleaning, crafting, and other domestic goddess type activities. When she is in lab (always), she spends her time attempting to purify seemingly non-purifiable proteins, determining the structure of unstructured proteins, fighting with the pH meter, and injecting mice with cancer. Disgruntled Julie survives by finding the humor in lab life, and rants accordingly.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

My mother taught me that if you can't say anything nice, then you sure as hell better not say anything on the internet where what you say could be traced back to you and kick you in the ass.  Seeing as how I do not have a single positive thing to stay about lab right now, I have forced myself into social media exile.

Given my not-so-pseudonymous nature, I’m not willing to discuss how things have spiraled into the unfortunate Vortex of Lab Shittiness and I can’t ask for any specific guidance, so instead I’m going to pose a much broader question.

How do you motivate yourself to keep going when things have hit a new low?

It takes an absolutely Herculean amount of effort to get myself into lab everyday, and I’m pretty sure the “But Julie, you have to help kids with cancer!” line isn’t going to work much longer.  So, throw it at me.  Days when you’d rather wrestle a bear and swallow a scorpion than face your experiments and PI, what actually gets you into the lab?

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Dr. O
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Seriously, once I hit the bear-and-scorpion wall, I'm done, and a pedicure, vacation, or wine (and lots of it) are the only likely cures. After my chosen therapy is completed, I head back in, rested and full of ready-to-be crushed optimism.


Nikkilina
Washington University School of Medicine
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I agree with Dr. O. I take some time off to just recharge myself. It doesn't make the issues any better, but it goes a long way in how well I deal with them.


Alyssa
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Yup - time off is usually the key once I hit that point. Getting away from the stress is definitely key. Hope it gets better soon for you!


JaySeeDub
Dub C Med School
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Time off, a bottle of Stag's Leap SLV Cabernet, a new york strip and some creamed spinach.


Psycasm
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Why do you want to keep going back? Something is getting you there each day, even if it feels marginal.

What part of you wants to keep returning?


Suzy
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Look at someone who you think is really lame (a postdoc) and say to yourself "goddamn it if they got a PhD, then so can I."

Perserverance is the key.

 

 


chall
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I second the "time off for a little while" (or doing something different than lab work for a few days) and then hope that it feels better.

If it doesn't (which I had a slump in my PhD) I bit the bullet and didn't think more than "this experiment and then I will be one closer to my phd degree". That said, I spent some time writing my list of "things I need to complete in order to finish" and then I went through the list thinking "I will finish this". stubborness isn't always pretty, but it sometimes gets it done....

 

(if possible, cuddles with someone you care about might help with happy feelings too?)


Jason Goldman
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Everyone else has said what I was gonna say: take a break. Take a 3-day weekend (or even a one-day weekend, as the case may be) and get a change of scenery for a while. Do something naturey and outdoors-ish.


Dr. O
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Oooh...naturey and outdoors-ish is also a good one for me, esp when there's no money for pedi, vacay or wine. ;)


Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Julie,

You and I pretty much had the same mentor.  I just got lucky with experiments and was able to get out early.  The things I did to help me get through the day were:

-Complain to my labmates who were in a similar position for support.

-I left the lab for an hour or two everyday to go to the gym to clear my mind and get away from the micromanaging

-I talked to other faculty about the problems I was having and how to best deal with both the scientific and psychological abuse (This was really helpful, I had some very supportive committee members)

-When one project wasn't working I'd drop in for a couple of weeks and work on something else

-I'd do random data reviews ex: gather all of my data and make powerpoint figures as if I was preparing to write a paper.  This let's you see all of your data and it takes a few days (again, do something a little different to take a break)

-Just take some time off.  You get 15 vacation days a year.  Take a few of them to clear your mind.  Use it for an extended weekend with your hubby.  And if your boss complains, tell him to fuck off (or lie and say you were sick :P).

-Try to remind yourself why you're doing this.  To get an awesome job? To struggle in academia as a slave of the system for eons?

-Savor the small victories

-Set a timeline for yourself ie plan/outline your final experiments now and check them off.  You've been there long enough to write a thesis, so just finish up this last project, write it up, and close the door on this chapter. (This is probably what saved my ass. I went into my mentor's office with a list of 5-6 experiments and said, "When I finish these, I'm going to write my thesis." 4 months later I wrote my thesis, and was out of the door.  At this point, I don't think it does you any good to ask for permission to do things, just do them and be done with it!)


genegeek
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That sucks. I'd take a day to vent about the suckiness - hopefully while exercising and then maybe some drinking. Then a day with nothing planned...and maybe one more. After a few days, you may remember why you used to like the lab.

If that doesn't work, get stubborn! And follow the advice of a timeline.

Good luck

Mr. Gunn

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The method used in the last point of Brian's is the only way I was able to finally finish.  I think you need some time off, of course, but you also need to say, "I'm doing X, Y, and Z and regardless of how they come out, I'm writing my dissertation and defending."  The actual work can continue post-defense while you're looking for a post-doc or considering opening a bakery, but the degree has to be awarded.


Thomas Joseph
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<i>How do you motivate yourself to keep going when things have hit a new low?</i>

Rely on your committee. They're there for YOUR benefit, not your advisers. I'd remember that they are your advisers peers, so I'd be careful what I'd reveal to them, but if you've done the time and the work, and met the goals you set way back when your committee started meeting, let them know you're ready to start writing once A, B, and C are completed.


Nikkilina
Washington University School of Medicine
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Good point, TJ.


JanedeLartigue
UC Davis
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Definitely agree with the consensus, just run away for a few days, pull a sickie if you don't have any vacation days left.  Go somewhere far away and don't even think about science or the lab for a couple of days, or even think about the rest of life's stresses.  It's the only way to really clear your head and remotivate yourself.

 

Also, maybe start thinking about your future and what it is you hope to achieve at the end of all this, to give you something to work towards and look forward to.

 

I also agree that ranting to someone you love and/or trust about the issues will help, even if it's just to help you see things from another perspective.

 

Finally, I relied heavily on an external network of peers.  Other PhD students/postdocs/PIs who weren't in my lab, to talk through any issues away from the narrow minded focus of the lab.


JanedeLartigue
UC Davis
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Good luck, by the way!  This happens to the best of us, I've been struggling with a similar motivational issue for the past year, and it does get better.  The lows make the highs so much better!


Nikkilina
Washington University School of Medicine
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I like Janede's point about talking to another science person outside your lab. My friend Anna is affectionately referred to as my science BFF. We met at Pfizer and have gone through similar things on this path, so she can comiserate. However, unlike my real (non-science) best friend, she understands what I mean when I tell her my transfections aren't working or the PI is on the prowl for a new target. It helps to have a sounding board that doesn't require lots of explainations to get caught up.


Dr. O
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I really like the idea of talking to your other committee members, especially if this is an ongoing issue. I know of a few people who only graduated because of the relationship that they had with these guys - they can be your biggest cheerleaders during committee meetings!

Amelie

Guest Comment

Getting away for a few days may help, but it's hard to flee long-term lab misery (or at least I haven't found out how). If you have the data, articles or whatever you need to finish, and supportive committee members, talking to them may be a good idea.


Also, I recently discovered this brilliant article on "how to keep someone with you forever" and found it quite eye-opening. If there are similar patterns in your environment, maybe you can take clues from it as for how to "escape".


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