12:37 PM

April Scientiae: We Rise Up

Overcoming challenges. Being challenged to overcome. This is the topic for April's edition of Scientiae, and I received an overwhelming response of your varied tales of challenge and triumph. Further proof that all of us are capable of facing our problems head-on and growing into wiser, more competent people. So, dear readers, get yourself a glass of wine, or whiskey, or Kool-Aid, and sit back and relax, because you have a lot of reading to do.

I'd like to start the carnival off with an entry from new blogger Curious Computer, who has actually started a blog in response to this month's carnival prompt! Curious Computer dislikes writing, and tells us:

Can I really just be scared of turning thoughts into written word? Because if I am scared of writing then, by my personal creed, I must write. And so, I reverse the Scientiae theme by challenging myself to overcome this fear of writing, by committing to at least two blog posts a week until I submit my thesis. I love a good challenge.

I've tried to organize this month's submissions into several mini-themes, and one of my favorites comes in the form of "Self-Improvement". Here we have a group of ladies who recognized that some of their internal personality traits were holding them back, and they set out to change their stubborn ways in order to improve themselves and the way they handle their science.

Microbiologist XX submitted an exceptional post on the departmental challenges she experienced as a young graduate student and the bitterness that developed within her. She tells us that she walked around with a stick up her ass, even though her life and her science were good. One day she realized that:

I was miserable, but why? I was in the Ph.D. program and doing well, so what the fuck was my problem? I was the problem. Holding onto all of those negative feelings and constantly reminding myself of every misfortune that I encountered was making me unhappy and I needed to stop.

Figure 1: Microbiologist XX dons a top-hat and removes the stick from her ass.

Miss Outlier of Life as an Outlier describes her experiences as an independent student and the shock she withstood when she finally had to start working with other students:
I discovered that there are STUPID PEOPLE out there. And I had to WORK with those people. And I hated it. I thought I did better work on my own, which was largely true. I thought I could get it done quicker myself, which I could.
Miss Outlier came to realize that the politics and inter-personal relationships within science are just as important as the science itself, and that she would need to learn how to handle others if she were to continue succeeding.

EcoGeoFemme of The Happy Scientist details the difficulties she has encountered meeting with her Ph.D. committee. Specifically, she couldn't get over the thought of wasting the time of her committee members, particularly because they didn't know a whole heck of a lot about her research. Eventually, EGF realized that it's all part of the game.
So I may not have overcome the challenge directly with my committee, but I did overcome my fear and inhibition. I'd say I even learned a skill, and now I'm much more comfortable dealing with the interpersonal parts of doing science.
Finally, Jane of See Jane Compute, in her moving post, poignantly tells us of the day that she learned to stand up for herself in graduate school. Despite doing excellent and abundant research, it was just never good enough for her Masters advisor. Eventually, she told him that enough was enough, and she wrapped things up and got her degree. Smartly, Jane tells us:
This experience was my first, hard lesson that life is not a meritocracy, that it's not enough for you to just do good work. I learned that I have to be my own best advocate.

Next up, we have a couple of submissions describing challenges that were overcome largely with the help of other people. These entries remind us of the value of surrounding ourselves with supportive academic networks. Our favorite ladies over at Sciencewomen both struggled with getting through some of the intial stages of their graduate work.

Sciencewoman was unhappy almost immediately upon entering a Masters program due to an uninteresting project assignment and the culture shock that came along with transferring to her graduate institution. She would have readily quit, if it were not for her two sciency fairy-godparents who swept in to save her career:

[These] good-hearted, insightful and resourceful people in positions of power... recognized that in this young woman making all sorts of mistakes there was a good scientist struggling to get out, and they went way out of their way to help me succeed.

Alice remembers her lousy experiences with her preliminary exam in graduate school, and the embarassment she felt upon not passing. She hadn't known what she was getting into and wasn't adequately prepared. But instead of wallowing in misery, Alice chose to seek out the support of her academically-inclined family, who provided excellent advice and helped her to get through the storm. She encourages us to surround ourselves with positive, constructive people:
I am convinced having "family" is a critical component of graduate school: you MUST have people who can really help you when you are desolate, lost, full of self-loathing, who can help you put yourself back together.

A number of our entries this month detail the waiting game that is Endurance. Simply put, if you endure your challenges long enough, you will eventually overcome. Sometimes it's all about making it through.

GirlPostDoc describes the anguish she experienced while going through a divorce during graduate school. Although the divorce threw a serious wrench into her research progress, she made it through despite her personal pain. She reflects on her challenge:
The end of a PhD is a written thesis, evidence of work completed, not what and how we, as students struggled with and overcame. The PhD is littered with small and big acomodadors. An acomodador is, as described by Paulo Coelho in his book, The Zahir, "a giving up point...an event in our lives that is responsible for us failing to progress... [it] can make cowards of us and prevent us from moving on." Thanks to much love and care, small packages of kindnesses, wisdom, and play from friends, I found the courage to keep going and finally finish the dissertation.
Liberal Arts Lady had a hell of a time dealing with living in the city where she obtained her Ph.D. This is clearly not a lady who likes cities. Her living situation left her miserable, stressed-out, and on edge. She endured alright, and it was only once she finished up her degree and moved away that she felt better:
I don't have any misconceptions that I "overcame" anything. I left, and I left before I completely lost it… I also have a much more realistic sense of my personal capabilities and boundaries.

Figure 2: Liberal Arts Lady tells her partner that it's time to peace out to the suburbs.

As your host, I, too, have had to rely on the simple passage of time and the mantra 'two steps forward, one step back' to make my way through graduate school under a difficult set of personal circumstances. As I found, getting a Ph.D. is tough when you are afraid to even go to work. But with the help of my advisor,
I focused on what I knew would help to make me whole again: a fulfilling research program… And I found that my work, my efforts, my thoughts, could help me be healthy, could help me recover.
We also have a couple of bloggers who are currently in the throes of enduring. I have faith that they, too, will make it out of the woods.

Laurie at MonkeyGirl is in the midst of throwing down a top-notch dissertation and is not enjoying the experience. However, she tries to view her situation in a positive light:
When I am not too upset by the whole situation, I know that this really crappy dissertating experience will in the end make me more sure of myself as an independent scholar, and will make me more able to take rejections and criticisms of my ideas in the future.
Mrs. Comet Hunter, God bless her, is currently enduring that hellish period of limbo at the end of the Ph.D. process. What will she do with her life? What will make her happy? What will become of her two-bodied problem? Mrs. CH laments:
I believe I'm just starting my venture into my "hell", and can only hope that I can come back relatively unscathed and with a new career that fits.

For some of our friends in the blogosphere, while dealing with all of the normal obstacles associated with being academics, their own bodies decided to present a challenge as well.

Addy N. discovered herself to be pregnant ten years ago as a 28-year-old unwed graduate student. Although she had to deal with the fallout from a surprised family and the challenges associated with being away from her soon-to-be-husband, she remained positive through the experience. She explains that:
My story is different, because nothing bad actually happened to me- it was a challenging and tough time, but the outcome was a very good one.
Isis the Scientist and Professor Chaos have both dealt with health scares regarding their breasts. Isis recounts the experience of having a mass removed from her breast shortly before discovering that she was pregnant with her little one. Despite the scariness, Isis is sure that
Chaos is going to come out of all of this looking like a superstar because I somehow managed to.
Volcanista had a very hard time surviving the end of graduate school. Depression set in, and the excess stress from preparing her dissertation resulted in regular panic attacks. She perservered, however, and obtained her degree. In retrospect, she tells us:
I know that’s a pretty standard fire - the fire of getting the goddamn PhD - but it was pretty damn firey. ..But I suppose it made me stronger. Where “stronger” = “done.”
Podblack over at Podblack Cat describes the medical problems that developed owing to her frequent use of computers. Although she didn't want to deal with the pain,
By the time I started a post-grad in Psychology by distance education - I could no longer sleep on my right-hand side… You ignore these things. You have deadlines…
Eventually it got bad enough that she decided to somehow address her problem. Because she knew that to simply stop working was not an option, she decided to retrain herself to use her left hand for mousing. She is left a faster and better computer worker than ever before.

Hannah at Women in Astronomy poignantly recounts the year of 2004, in which she gave birth, defended her dissertation, developed and overcame a type of pregnancy-related cancer, and had to deal with moving her family to another state. Through all of the craziness, Hannah developed a sense of clarity regarding her desires for a work-life balance.
Did that year make me a better scientist? Arguably, no. Do I have a clear idea of what my priorities in life are? Yes. I value my career in science, but not to the exclusion of all else. This may come across as a lack of dedication to some, but their lives don't count upon my well-being.

Our last main theme is one of Persistence. Seems that a lot of you out there have realized that one of the best ways to succeed is to simply refuse to quit.

Chall at Dreams and Hopes of a (Postdoc) Scientist blogs about her experience being asked to leave graduate school after her lab's funding dried up in her second year. Instead of allowing her anger to drive her from her aspirations of obtaining a Ph.D., she decided that:
The important thing is not to win but to not give up and leave a situation when you are not ready… [and to] realise that it is not always about you but rather a bunch of things that collide and will affect you.
As such, Chall successfully fought for her position as a graduate student. Her department and other supporters helped her out, and she made it through the program.

Kim, who has recently joined the cast of ScienceBlogs with her blog All of My Faults Are Stress Related, describes her extensive experiences teaching a "Shake and Bake" class during her first stint as a tenure-track professor. She was caught in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation:
Students said they expected it to be easy, but when other professors called it "Shake and Bake," I didn't have full control over the students' expectations.
At the end of the day, Kim didn't get tenure because of a lack of "teaching excellence". But she is a beautiful example of perserverance, in that she picked herself up, got a new job, got tenure, and has since been nominated for teaching awards. Good for her!

Figure 3: The judges aren't impressed. Apparently, the flavor of Kim's chicken was pretty good, but the meat just wasn't juicy enough.

Friday Afternoon Writer is currently in search of a little persistence, as she attempts to make sense of data sets that don't match and aren't giving her the desired results. She acknowledges that:
While all this hassle may prove to be the connection that I’m looking for, and while it is very interesting, I’m also on a deadline.
Hopefully, her data will get its act together soon enough.

JaneB of Now, What was I Doing? learned about persistence while performing her post-doctoral research in Canada, where the weather was never right for studying her topic of interest: sand castles. [And as an aside: Jane, darling, did you really think Canada would be a great place for studying a fun, beach-going activity? Oh, my. Miserable beaches, really. And zero sand castles.] Although the experience was not entirely what she wanted, she learned:
That bad times pass, that keeping going when things look bleak is better than holing up, and that a disaster is not always the end of a project.
Kate of A K8, A Cat, A Mission is amazed at the persistence required just to take care of the daily (non-research related) tasks associated with being a professor:
I'm not even a year into this tenure-track gig, but I have to say I am appalled at the amount of bureaucracy and service work that goes into the job (even though I am pretty protected from service!). It does not make sense that I spend entire days filling out forms and paperwork.
Knowing Kate, though, we know her dedication will help her handle those pesky administrative chores in addition to being a wonderful researcher and mother.

Last but not least, we have a story of persistence from our favorite foul-mouthed (and coincidentally, male) blogger, PhysioProf, who co-blogs at DrugMonkey. He details the experimental hell he went through as a graduate student in order to make something out of his studies of widgets. After years of staring into a micrscope, he finally observed the phenomenon of interest, and exclaimed "HOLY FUCKNOLY!! THERE IT IS!!!" And never without wisdom, PP explains:
The moral of this story is to never lose sight of one's scientific goals, no matter how many obstacles are encountered on the route to achieving those goals, and to persist and persist and persist until one either achieves those goals or it becomes clear that the goals are genuinely not attainable.

Figure 4: PhysioProf thinks his talents are so far-reaching, he auditions for Dancing With the Stars.

And with that, my dear friends, we come to the end of April's festive carnival. Although putting this thing together has been reminiscent of writing a review article, I have been honored to be your host and to serve as witness to all of your amazing accomplishments.

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