Monday, December 30, 2019

out with the old, in with the new

It's that time of the year when everyone recaps the year that has happened, and this time also the decade that has happened. I would love to, but bad planning and a computer without much power will lead me to do this report on New Years Day.

Maybe, just maybe, I can see that as a sign of the new year and decade for me. To accept and not overplan, to look forward and not dwell to much on the past?

For now, here's to happy future times! To friends! To friendship! To love and loved ones. And most of all, to all the lovely people in the bloggosphere who has brightened my day this latest year and will do the same for years to come.

Happy 2020! Happy new decade!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

42km/26.2miles - again?! why? (marathon musings)

I realized that I never did follow up on my post about marathon training last year . Together with my earlier musings this year in regards to Lessons learned post I put up, I feel that it might be a good idea to do follow up....

So, in short I ran the marathon after 6 months of training. Like a lot of people will say, the race didn't go according to plan. I woke up to thunderstorms, delayed start, pouring rain like you wouldn't believe and then more delayed start. When the start happened the sun was up and the course was pretty much without shade, it was 96% humidity and unusually hot for being in December (80F/26C) in the shade. I had a sneaky feeling at 10 miles when I wanted to use the restroom to pee that I was in trouble since there was no way I really needed that. Especially since I know that one of the signs to flash "you're in dehydration" mode, is the feeling that I need to pee. Strange, yet there it is.

I still felt pretty ok about it all when I saw a runner getting taken off the course at mile 12 (medics pulled them off). And then the runner who almost ran into a tree. And then runner who was all gray in their face, walking slowly and then threw up next to me. At that point I started to think "what is the most important thing for me?". And it wasn't about finishing on a good time, it was finishing strong. So, I started walking a little and took it slow and steady.

I picked up the pace again closer to the finish line, once I hit 22 miles I felt safe to run "as fast as I could to get in goal" and did my last mile as the fastest mile of the whole race. Happiness for me! I crossed the finish line, got my participation medal, snapped a few photos with it and went to the hydration and food stance. Called my parents and talked about the race, still feeling pretty good about it all. And then the strangest thing happened when I met with my partner (in hindsight I should've seen it coming but I am good at ignoring certain things) - I started crying and mumbling that I hadn't done a good race. There were so many emotions all at once. Not only tired, but "not as tired as I thought I would be" (since I hadn't pushed myself as much since I was scared of the dehydration and belly cramps). Not as fast as I had hoped, which I had told myself all alone was never going to be the goal - "first race is to finish, not for time".

It all felt a bit better after the cry, the hugs and "you're being silly sweetie, you did great", and of course the glorious shower once I got home. And hydration fluids and a little bit of food. And more rest.

All in all, looking at the scale and the weighing before carbo loading, before the race and after the race - I lost over 6 pounds in water weight that day. I was seriously nervous about how little fluids I had left in my body (pee colour I've never seen before...) but I kept up with hydration two more days and then I had my annual physical. (Wouldn't recommend it but there is was.) My labs were excellent by the way, go me and hydration!

So, why do I bring this up now? Well, because I have gone and signed up for another marathon to do soon. And this time around my anxiety (competitiveness) is ramping up and I have to face a few uncomfortable truths.

I've always detested "the second time". I had to do my driver's license test twice and I was way more nervous the second time than the first. The first was "you just go and try", the second was "if you fail now you really aren't good". In short, stakes were/are higher the repeat time than the first. In theory, I should be faster this second time than my first race. But that's in theory, not a given. And it is a chance I will fail at that.

I got a good eye opener the other week when talking to a colleague about the training and how the running is going when they asked; "who are you running for? It doesn't sound like you look forward to this". And I thought to myself, "hm, that's an interesting thing.. I am way more nervous about this time around. I want to make a better time than last year, and I would like to feel better afterwards. But if I don't make a better time, how will I feel?". I answered them that this is one of the reasons I wanted to do it a second time, to prove to myself that I can do it "when I know what I am getting myself into and see if I can repeat what I did".

Funny enough (?), until I was on the course last year I never would've thought that I couldn't finish. All my training was still while never having doubt. I did my training program, kept at it and chafing and all, I still kept slogging along. It was while I was on the course, during the race, that I realized that it could go pear shaped at any time. That my training had been good, but at that point there were a lot of choices that I could make that would make things very difficult and that it wasn't at all clear that I would finish just because I had started (after all, more than 500 people of the 3000 who started didn't finish). And that knowledge - the doubt and the knowledge on how fickle the weather and life can be - is more prevalent this time around.

It's one of the things I have realized more and more the older I get, a trait (skill?) I have that isn't in everyone - the ability of shutting down and just keep going. Sometimes it's a good trait, sometimes it would've been better to stop and leave - accept that the situation is horrid and there's nothing you can do and you need to get out. I'm not saying it's all great to "persevere", sometimes it's plain dumb and I have certainly a few experiences that I would do differently if they came about today.

However, there are times - like when you are pushing yourself to jog 26.2 miles in a go - that the ability of not questioning "why am I doing this" but focusing on "one more mile, then I'll take a sip of water" is a good trait to have. The other benefit for me doing this is that I have to get over myself mentally - especially when I do my long runs. I have to get my brain in gear and think "I can do this". Somewhere during the run my brain will start spewing negative thoughts, not only doubt but "you're too slow", "you're too fat to do this", "why do you keep trying", "start walking and turn around to go home" etc. I've mentioned before, and it's probably all too obvious in my previous posts, that I am a champion in having these less than supportive self esteem thoughts. The good thing though is that it's really hard for my brain to do those thoughts after a long run when the body and brain is drenched in dopamine and my muscles have used up adrenalin and I lay panting on the floor hurting everywhere.

And I'm smart enough to remember that feeling when my brain comes knocking saying "hey, you're on mile 4, let's go home instead of doing another 12 miles". That's when the stubbornness kicks in and states "keep going, it'll be over soon enough and you will feel great afterwards".

All in all, what I wanted to say with this post is:
If you wanted to do a marathon - go ahead and train! Give yourself at least 6 months. I had done 6 half marathons before, and would recommend at least one half marathon before a full so you know how you feel after 2hours of jogging/running.
It's a lot of mental training to keep training and to keep running. And it gives you a different perspective on a lot of things. And if you can do it without music (which I recommend), it's an amazing time to be alone with your thoughts and really tap into feeling your body, breathing and everything.
And I really hope that my second marathon race will feel at least as good as the first. Fingers crossed!

TLDR: I hope I feel happy after my second marathon than my first. It was a lot of emotions and expectations in one day. And I want to prove to myself I can repeat this training and race a second time since now I know what I can expect from the race - and it's going to be tough. Mainly overcoming my own expectations and shortcomings.

Monday, September 16, 2019

World Childless week - starts today - my comment on IVF

I'm not sure if you've heard about it, but World Childless week starts today - Sep 16 2019.

If you want to take a look at all the things happening go here
And also here on Gateway Women by Jody Day
If you want to read some stories from people who are childless go here at Walk in Our Shoes

As for me, I have a few things I would like to point out. As a childless woman over 40, I've met my fair amount of odd and weird moments in both professional and personal life. Most of them, I think, are based on not knowing reality and why people (both men and women) are childless. Sure, there are a people who are childfree by choice (please note that this would be two various words to described a similar state - i.e. no children present in a person's life - for some it's childfree, and this would imply a choice and these people have chosen to not have children, whereas the childless is more of a general description without a bias implied. Simply put, there are no children by that person. And this person would've liked to have children or at least the option of children.)

I loved finding this site where it was pointed out "Childlessness by Circumstance" is a big number of the childless people.  It was a helpful tool to bring when talking to my friends who are childless and thinking a lot about this in terms of "finding someone" and "maybe I should try and have a baby on my own" and other questions people over 30 who are not in a committed relationship think about. And also it was something to at least bring to the discussion on why it was not as easy as saying "you don't want children" or "if you want children, why don't you have then". Indeed, why don't I, or them?

It was also something I would like my friends and family who have children to consider, that it might be difficult if you don't meet your soul mate when you are 19-25 but later, or never, in life or if you get divorced before conceiving these children. And that it would've been a lovely thing to meet someone and have a relationship with them and then "have sex without protection" and have a child together. But it didn't happen that way.

Since I'm not that interested in talking about myself and why I am in the situation I am in, I'm going to focus on one aspect that I think would benefit from getting some attention. The overpromise of IVF "as a solution of childlessness". Let's get one thing clear, it's not as easy as a 100% guaranteed as "you have IVF and you will get a live baby that looks like you". This is something that people seem to think, and is repeated by the media articles reporting on famous couples having babies into their 40ies among other things.

When you really look at success metrics of IVF, in the US and other clinics (like NHS in the UK or Sweden) the important factor is to remember that the metric is not covering all the couples that go in for an IVF.  Why? For the sake of this post, I'll go into detail.

The success rate of IVF depend on a few factors. First of all, it's only based on the couple (or single woman with a sperm donor) who get at least one viable embryo to implant. If you don't get an embryo, you don't end up in the metrics. (This will make the metrics "better" since only the embryos implanted are counted but people who start a cycle but don't make an embryo aren't counted.)

Secondly, there's a lot of metrics to mention "positive pregnancy test". Let's be clear, that is not the same as getting a successful live baby in the end of the gestation. It's the positive HCG test after implantation, which is after 6 days and followed for a couple of weeks in the pregnancy. This is also called a "chemical positive pregnancy test" and isn't always correlated to a live baby in the end (because there are a lot of pos HCG test that fail and end up in miscarriages and then the woman isn't pregnant after week 12.)

So, in short - not to take up too much time here - the current "general success rate of IVF" is less than 25% when if comes to having a live baby after one cycle of IVF. This is without the people who get a cycle of IVF who doesn't get an embryo to implant. So "the real success rate" is even less than 25%. But you rarely see this mentioned in the media. And they don't really go into the idea of egg and sperm donor leading to a different kind of success rate (usually higher since they are chosen for their good qualities, but that leads into the idea "what is your embryo" and who donated egg or sperm).

The overall success rate of IVF is that after 6 cycles, more than 60% have a live baby. That's still a good amount of people who don't have a baby (3-4/10 couples). And that is after 6 cycles which is a fair amount of time and shots in the world of a relationship. 6 cycles are 2-5 years, depending on how successful you are with getting embryos every cycle, implanting them and then getting a miscarriage, and then waiting for the good time to start again. It's not for the faint hearted, that's very clear. And that's before mentioning that average cycle of IVF in the USA is between $16,000-23,000. It's cheaper in Europe, like in Denmark the charge between $9,000-15,000 for a cycle, still a lot money depending on who pays the medicine/hormone shots.

And brings me to the detail that a few of my friends have talked about in regards to the childlessness and tryin for a baby, especially through IVF.

The strain of doing IVF to your relationship. Not only is it a strain and difficult idea to get around as in "most of our friends just decide to have a baby and they get one or more after having sex",  but for them it's turning into a chore. Sex as something you do at certain times, checking hormones levels and timing, and with expected results. And then with the IVF, there's a lot of shots that need to be taken at specific times and later on in the cycles there are pills at specific times. And some of these shots are needing cold storage, and others are needing help to be able to push them into the part of the "back of the hip" which isn't reachable for a single person.... And then it's the additional emotional toll that they are not worth it as persons but only as parents to their child(ren). To be trying for having a child in your image and knowing that anything less is a failure.... yeah, not the greatest part of being a part of a relationship.

All in all, after hearing a lot of this and wanting to share it - I would be happy if people didn't just say "way don't you do IVF" when realizing you are childless. It's just not that simple.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Humpty Dumpty sat by a computer....

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Four-score Men and Four-score more,

Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before.

This Humpty Dumpty sat by a computer in a new spot and worked hard for an extensive amount of time. A new desk, less thought about position in the new chair, with a strange new mouse and a messed up cord. And then one day the fingers were tingling. Didn't really think about it. Then one day when picking up a carton of milk, the hand couldn't grip and the arm felt like a knife was stabbing it.

At the same time, the other side of the body had cramped up. And the knees had started hurting when jogging, well - not while running but day afterwards. All in all, the parts seemed to get broken one after one. Now, just to hoping that they can be put back together and working well again.

Here's to hope!

(I'm already better in the side, the knees are a work in progress and elbow needs some work.... tennis elbow... what a mess... rehab and boxing, plus using a computer mouse with the other hand for a bit. That'll work on my patience and zen thoughts. And a fair bit of stretching and yoga to make me less stiff as a board. Happy end of summer all!)

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Lessons Learned - not just bad stuff

Lessons Learned is one of the most important parts of a project and is finalized in the closing process. Well, it's one of the things that I think is the most important part of a project (after the deliverables), and something that many people don't want to do since it feels like "wasting time rehashing what didn't work and what did work".

If you look it up in different project management books and sites there will be something about "closing the project allows the organization to record, maintain and reuse lessons learned for future projects". This might be especially helpful if your organization has repetetive projects, say running a same production of compound X in various batches, or performing preclinical PKs with different drugs but the same models.

In my experience this specifics of "lessons learned" is more about "How" you go about capturing the learnt part rather than the "What did you learn". Maybe this is more due to the fast paced environment I move in, with several different teams and the feeling that we are doing "one of a kind experiments that wouldn't benefit from this formal step". Side note, a lot of the processes are the same, just that the people involved in them often think of themselves and the work product as unique and therefore not benefitting of a lessons learned.

There is also a similar connotation of "lessons learned" feeling more like a sit down and repeat what didn't work and let us capture who failed on what. Of course, this is similar to the feeling of people who don't like evaluations or critiques or feedback since the emphasis tends to be on "what didn't work". However, dealing with processes, it's always helpful and important to sort out which processes that did work well, and why. Side note 2, most often these processes get repeated and most people tend to view them as the "norm" since they work, when in fact these processes more often than not are not the norm and can give a huge insight to strengths and built in flows in the organization. It also gives an opportunity to review the successes of the team retrospectively, something that might not happen as often in an academic environment where we have forgotten the project the moment the paper is sent in and accepted rather than when it is actually published.

For the point of this blog post though, I had something specific in mind when contemplating the latests of Lessons Learned I am facing to do and capture. One of these closings is my annual review where I will go through a few of the projects I've worked on this year and I see that some of the bullet points from Lessons Learned will fit well into the review format. Why? Well mainly because of the point I made above in regards to a set of experiments that the people viewed as unique and one in a time, whereas I see them as the same process being slightly tweaked with details specific for the project in questions. And I'm involved in these projects on a regular basis.

Interestingly enough (but not surprising), it's a similar Lessons Learned for another project with a different set of people but similar deliverables and time lines. It goes something like this; Communication plan was decided and in the beginning of the project everything worked fine. Emails to the team was sent, in a timely manner before and after meetings, and updates were clear. Everyone got the work done on time. Once the project started lagging behind the time line, the communication plan broke down. This was in hindsight more clear since the person responsible for the communication decided to not be transparent with the delays in production, and at the same time stopped producing meeting minutes and tasks to the team. The team started meeting in smaller groups, which didn't have follow up or minutes, thus making it impossible to gauge where the project was. Finally there was a large group meeting where the project sponsor and the biggest stakeholder were present, this meeting generated a clear list of expectations, deliverables and time line with mile stones. For future projects, clear meeting minutes need to be delivered to the project sponsor and stakeholder for accountability. Communication should not be considered an afterthought. And even an email stating "no news in the project" is an important email if there has been no update meetings in over four weeks since communication indicates "keeping everyone in the project up to date and on the same page".

All of this is obviously easier said than done when working on concurrent projects with several team members in different projects, however - it's even more important for efficient work and avoiding rework and break downs.

There is a lead in from Lessons Learned into more private sphere and how this can be helpful in a career setting (lessons learned from your PhD project for example) but that's another blogpost.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

"you're not a scientist, you don't have a PhD"

Ego getting in the way of making a good team. Ego ruining a good working team.

Everyone who has been in the science field for a certain time know when you meet new people in the field that there is a lot of questions about where everyone fit in and what roles everyone plays in these new teams and collaborations we do.

It's the newly hired person who thinks that "everyone in the labs who is involved with a paper gets on the authorship list". It's the newly minted PhD who know finally (?) feels secure that they have proved themselves explaining "I'm a real scientist now that I have the PhD title". It's the intern who spends three months in the lab washing dishes and cleaning up animal carcasses and studies for their MCAT since they are going into MedSchool and thinks that will give them power. It's the old technician who has seen numerous postdocs crash and burn with the thought that they are the special one who will change P&R while the technician has the ear of the PI.

And then there is that special person who takes it one step further and speaks up and tells people "you are not a real scientist since you don't have PhD" to their face.

And the kicker is that they don't seem to understand why it's offensive and making it impossible to work as a team. Never mind that they are wrong, oh so wrong they are. And that it is such a naive comment to make, and makes you look so small and misinformed. To disregard experience and the work that so many hand and heads in the lab contribute to. That science (STEM and biology is what I'm mainly talking about now since I'm mentioning lab work) is a team effort. That even if there is one PI seeing the bigger picture, writing grants, there is a lot of hands and thoughts and details getting in the way of the ego.... and that scientists come in different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, titles and knowledge areas.

It's similar to an old saying I had told to me in the scout movement and by military leaders in my leadership trainings;  "You're not a leader because you have a title. You're a leader because people follow you since they believe and trust you".

It's also called "if you have to call out in the room "I'm the boss/captain so you have to do what I say", your leadership is on the weakest ground/first step in the staircase of hierarchy and you don't have much in the long run. Authority is the position, that doesn't mean leadership which lies in the character of the person.

It's especially important if you are coming in new to a job, and your title is lab manager or lab supervisor - both titles that vary depending on where the job is, sometimes this requires a PhD, sometimes it doesn't. Whatever the requirements though, I would highly recommend a period of "look, see and gather information about the team" before making any big claims and statements. (Needless to say, I would never state anything as silly as "real scientist needs a PhD".) I would build confidence and trust with the new colleagues and lab members, as much or more as with the PI of the lab. Why?

It's a team sport this game we call science. The PI is the Captain/QB/Skipper/Coach depending on which sport we refer to and the rest of the lab take up various positions and depending on the time of the game, are of various importance at that specific time. An experienced lab technician who has been with the PI for a long time? Yep, crucial to the play. And, like a dishwasher (hello my old job) is key to get tables turned around fast in a restaurant to earn the money for the servers and seaters, someone to keep lab wear clean and sterile, changing animal cages, making regular solutions the same old reliable way are the backbone of repeatable, good and solid science.

And the absolute in the lab it trust. Trust that you know what you are doing at the bench. That you know when to ask for help. And that you realize that certain people in the lab know different things, and that the strength is in those differences and match ups. As long as you can make them all work together, towards a common goal, making al of them feel important and seen in their positions. That's a true leader, and something to strive for.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

being a failure vs having failed at something

There's a motivational quote that goes along the lines of "if you don't try at anything, you can't fail" and "you never fail until you stop trying". I'm not much for motivational quotes. I do however keep some demotivators as my screen saver at work since my humor is dark, and cynism has kept me from falling into the deep pit of despair a lot of times. You can't cry if you are laughing (well, you can but the saying is "laugh or cry")

The thing with the motivational quote in regards to failure is that I do think there is some merit to the saying. If you try something you have never done before there is a chance that you will not be able to do it (aka fail doing it). The problem is not with having failed at something. Learning from what you failed at doing is probably one of the best way to learn how to do something right. Not the only way though, and not always the best, but one of the ways. It is also true (in my humble opinion) that "just because you failed the first time, doesn't mean that you will keep failing".

One of bigger issues is when there is a switch in wording from "I have failed" to "I am a failure". It's a pretty common word play - at least based on the stories I hear at work, and the fears I hear vocalized from people I interact with. That the failure of doing R means that you are defined by R and now you are a failure. And that the failure is in everything, or at least in more things that one thing you initially failed at.

Personally, I have faced this particular piece of thinking a couple of times in my life so far (no surprise here). Maybe that is why I am so good at explaining it to others, yet failing a few key times with myself - no one is perfect...

Most recently I found myself talking to a friend who was walking in a circle around this particular argument. They have failed at something, something that a lot of people do and succeed with, and now they feel that they are a failure. That this something defines them and they keep thinking that success in general would mean no set backs and no failures - ever.

I saw a tweet a few months back in regards to people asking PIs to post their "failure CV" as in stating "applied for and got rejected for 5 R01s", "applied for 48 jobs before landing this one perfect job". While I like the idea, to be able to acknowledge that life isn't a full line of (easy or hard) successes, I can't help but think this is part of the issue that makes it even more difficult to not look at oneself as a failure.

Why? Because there are people who will never succeed with their dreams of getting an R01. They will not have the time to keep trying over and over. Like a lot of us knows, there's a finite time frame for most TT and if you haven't succeeded with an R01 by then, then you are out. Same with people who want to become actresses,  writers, partners, grandparents, truckers or anything else that people dream about. Very select few can keep trying the same thing over and over again to wait for that one time of success. This doesn't mean that everyone who does not succeed with what they set out to do are failures. Not failures as people, nor failures in general. I know that there are people who would say "but you shouldn't shy away from accepting that there is failure in life and that means that you failed". I don't. I shy away from defining it as "they are a failure".

There are a lot of failures in the world, I know. But there is something special to attribute the word "failure" to a person. A ship can be a failure (think Titanic). A plane can be a failure (think 737 Max8). Dinner was a failure (everything burns and is undercooked at the same time). However, Person P isn't a failure if they failed getting into grad school. They failed at getting into grad school.

To me that is a very important difference that bears reminding. We are more than a failure or a success story. We are the sum of all our failures and successes and it's not like math where the pluses and minuses add up since we are not math, we are people. People with experiences to live through, and learn from. And there are so many experiences in a life time.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

back in the saddle & planning new posts

It's like that saying "when you fall off the horse, you just get up in the saddle right away again". Why? Because you need to do it quickly to not overthink and over feel the scared feeling of falling. I should remember that. After all, I fell off horses a lot while training equestrian vaulting back in my youth and got back up again every time.

And still, more than three months since I wrote something here. Even more months since I opened my journal and wrote a longer piece.

I got a little wake up call a few weeks ago when I pulled a few 50+ hour work weeks, woke up at 5 am without an alarm even though I didn't go to bed until midnight and kept running around feeling wide eyed and having a cry at work.... Then I went on vacation and enjoyed no telephone, internet or work emails for a few days, plus hanging out at sea and in nature in the now so to speak.

Part of my "after vacation resolution" is to get better at doing things that keep me both mentally and physically in shape. The usual; sleeping, eating, working out, not over working, hanging out with friends, talking walks outside during work days and weekends. But also; reading physical books, writing blog posts and having time to do my side project (another sort of writing).

Since it has been a week since this "new regime" started; I have worked out every day (maybe not as long as I had dreamt about but 30 min is a good start), I have slept 7 hours every night and I have eaten porridge for breakfast every day - I have yet to attack the reading a book or writing a blog post, so here is it....

Life has been, I guess life? The last few years have had some struggles, maybe early midlife crisis ("what should I do with my life?") and some set backs in the dream department. There is nothing I would like to dwell in right now, considering this is my "back in the saddle, which should be short and sweet, bringing a happy feeling without dread for next time" blog post.

I have gotten increasing number and sizes of projects at work, and some of these have not been easy navigating. It's difficult for everyone working with unrealistic expectations in delivery when you look at the resources being offered and the time line to fix in under. Needless to say I've been repeating a lot "the best we can do with the allocated resources and the given time constraints" rather than "the best you can". The latter phrase usually leads to some Type A people working overtime and getting stressed since you know that "you can do better" and "it shouldn't just be good enough".

With that nugget/wisdom/pep talk/detailed focused nit picky comment, I leave you with a few areas that I am working on for the next blog posts during this year. If you want to make a comment/wish on which one to go first, please let me know.

  1. Good team work is constant communication and support
  2. Work-life balance in the time of "if you love what you do, it's not work"
  3. Stories from the US South as a Northern European woman - the differences, the similarities and the exotic craze - nuggets like bbq, heat vs freezing, feminism, church, seer sucker vs tight fitting dark wash jeans, craft breweries, biking to work and living together without being married.
  4. Science lab dynamics, the team sport like hockey
  5. "I have a PhD, this job is beneath me"
  6. Negotiation and diplomacy, best when coming from equal footing?
  7. Are you spending your time on the right things, or the things you want to be right?
  8. Setting expectations, an important part of delivering success
  9. Conflict between the wet and the dry lab sides
  10. Correct salutations - half the win when working with new people
  11. Pit falls to avoid when starting in a new team with a new project - no presumptions