Sunday, May 29, 2011

Trying to cultivate some plant friends

For the past year, I have wanted to plant my own...... something.  I periodically, when inspired, go through a lot of fresh herbs, especially in the summer when they add some freshness.  I have often thought that if I had a basil plant, I would love to just pick leaves off of it and throw them into whatever I'm making.  

I now have a balcony, and this has made the planting urge come around even more.  So yesterday, I went to the store and invested in a planter and a pot, some soil, a trowel, and some plants.  I transferred them to their new homes, and now here they are:

(L to R) Basil, oregano, rosemary, and a jalapeno!
I use basil and oregano quite frequently in Italian or tomato-based dishes, and the rosemary looked too beautiful to pass over, plus I use it when I roast things.  The jalapeno is a treat, since I have a major love of spicy things and use hot peppers all the time in cooking.

All of these plants are cheap to get both fresh and dried at numerous stores, but there is just something cool about growing it yourself.  I like to check in on my new little friends frequently to make sure they're ok on the balcony.  I kind of got way too excited that they made it through their first night.

The one little problem I might run into is the lack of sun.  My balcony faces NNW.  In the afternoon (around 4:30 or so), I start to get some nice sun on the balcony, and it lasts for a few hours.  I have a feeling that that's not going to be enough for these little guys, though, because they really want full sun.  Plus, Toronto is one of the most sun-deprived places I've ever lived.  If I was back home in Atlanta, no problem, but alas.... I suppose if I kill them, I'll chalk it up to learning to grow things.  This is my first crack at it since I was 4, after all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Do you use the title?

I don't use my title of "Doctor" often, especially not outside an academic atmosphere.  My email signature says "Kristin B. ____, Ph.D." but more often than not, I erase it before I send an email because it's to people with whom I am familiar.  This title is also on my CV.  Nowhere in print (I believe) does anything say "Dr. Kristin ______" or, even (I feel) worse and incredibly redundant, "Dr. Kristin _____, Ph.D."  I have a great aversion to that last one.

Many people, when I express this aversion, give me the line of, "Why not use it?  You worked hard for it."  Sure, I worked hard for it, but I see no need to bring it to people's attention, especially if what I am doing (e.g. grocery shopping, volunteering, etc.) has nothing to do with my degree.  To use it outside of a professional setting comes with overtones of pretension that I would rather not display.  That's why I made the conscious decision not to have my Canadian checks and address labels say "Dr."  I think a lot of this is based on my mother's treatment of the subject; people call her by her first name, and I have never heard anyone address her as Dr. unless it was the University of Michigan asking for donations.

If people ask me what I'm doing here in Canada, I don't hide it.  Usually I just say I "finished my degree in Pennsylvania" and am working at the university, and then if they press further, I'll tell them it was a doctorate.  This leads to a funny side-note: my youthfulness apparently knows no bounds, because most people don't think I look old enough to hold a doctorate.  They typically guess my age as 24-25 and have gone as low as "under 20" and as high as 27; at the time, 27 was correct.

The grad student in me wants to get 1) perks, and 2) something, anything, for free.  In many cases, I feel like revealing my doctoral status would give me some clout, but there is never a good way to bring it up without sounding like I think I'm better than everyone else.  Once again, if people ask, I'll tell them (this is how I got approved for a Canadian credit card immediately despite having zero Canadian credit), but it seldom comes up, and if it comes up, people expect someone with the title of "Doctor" to be an M.D..... and I am certainly not that.  I can only imagine how it would go on a plane:

"Doctor?  Yeah, I'm a doctor.  That'll bump me up to first-class, right?  Oh and by the way, if someone has a heart attack, I can't help, except to say they should've taken their 80 mg baby aspirin.  kthx."

Calling all Ph.D.s!  How do you introduce yourselves?  Do you use the title in speaking or writing or anywhere but your CV?  Did you use it and then find the effect wore off?  I'd like to hear your opinions.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How my life as changed as a postdoc (a.k.a. why I love my postdoc)

My life has changed as a postdoc.  Not incredibly, but subtly.  In little surreptitious ways that I don't notice when they crop up, but do notice upon reflection.

I was really worried that when I started my postdoc, I wouldn't be able to be on the accelerated track because of my relative dearth of knowledge on the subject at hand.  There are two major detection mechanisms in the world of biosensing: optical and electrochemical (or electrical, though I'm a bit rue to put it under electrochemical).  Graduate work was optical; postdoctoral work is electrochemical.  I planned it that way because of the broadening effect I hoped it would have.  I knew it would be delving into something different, but I had a sneaking suspicion that in the back of my mind, it would be ok, because I had the knowledge base regarding biosensing and biodetection.... I just had to learn a few different techniques.

So far, that's been what it's been, and there's been more.  I've found myself taking on a subtle leadership role, which is surprising since I've only been here for 3 months. I advise the younger students when the PI is not around.  I correct techniques that have gotten lost over the years and with the turnover of new students.  Right now, I am heading up putting together a budget for a major grant for which we are applying.  I would have never dreamed I would do those sorts of things in graduate school, but I am loving the freedom and autonomy.  And to top everything off, of course I have my own labwork to do, but learning what I am about our system is playing second fiddle to what I am learning behind the scenes, though it is still incredibly interesting, and I am devoting a lot of time to it.

Honestly, it's like I'm being groomed to become a tenure-track (TT) professor.  The grant process is teaching me that, ok, it's hard.  There is no doubt it's hard.  But it's not impossible.  I always thought it was like pulling teeth, and perhaps it is.... but perhaps also, the teeth aren't as firmly rooted as I had imagined.  Advising the younger students has also been a real joy.  They are so interdisciplinary, so smart in such different ways.  I love contributing to both their education and the lab's as a whole.  My ideas aren't just wanted, they're needed.  I think I finally am starting to understand what my Ph.D. advisor wanted me to see for so long: that she truly loves what she does.

In short, I'm glad I came here, and I love my job, and if you were worried about me going to a different country, don't.  Things are ok here.