Normal Children

Reading articles AND THEN COMMENT SECTIONS (because I was foolish) about how special ed restraints are necessary to protect the normal children. Which is sort of BLARGH and gross and all sorts of issues. But mostly this is directed in anger at people who say things aren’t fair to the normal children.

It was normal children who dropped a desk on my head in 6th grade. (Probably an accident, admittedly, caused by overconfident boys trying to carry things on top of their heads.).
It was normal children who watched tv instead of read books and who talked to friends at lunch instead of read books.*
It was normal children who stole my notebooks and graph paper at lunch and wouldn’t give them back.

And all the adults would tell me was that he had a crush on me. I didn’t care. That didn’t give someone I didn’t like the right to grab my notebook and run it around the field away from me. I was making graphs and words.

But that’s what normal children do.
And normal children know that’s why it happens.
And at some point in middle school, the normal children stop playing on the bars and the swings and the sand because there is some sort of normal children code that teaches them this.
Normal children don’t hide under their beds and throw shoes at 6th grade camp because they are in a room full of other normal children and they want to go home.

Normal children

Aren’t the normal children so lovely?
so wonderful
how they do all their normal children things?
with all the other normal children…

And I am not even the “bad” sort of abnormal. I am the quiet, academic one, who hyperfocuses on schoolwork. I am productive and polite. I can blend in if needed, if not into crowds, then certainly into the background. I didn’t seem that far from normal. So I was never hurt that badly, because teachers liked me.

I was mostly treated ok, really, by the normal children. Because I seemed mostly normal. I was average-height and skinny and looked just like them in our plaid skirts and polo shirt Catholic school uniform. We all had the same color socks and solid black shoes–no white accents allowed. There were only small quiet bits of me that weren’t normal. I practiced smiling in the mirror and learned the rules for staying quiet and learned not to ask about turning in homework if the teacher forgot to ask for it and learned how to pretend I was still working on problems after I finished and that I wasn’t allowed to finish early and read every time. Things were mostly good to me.

But I remember biting someone in 7th grade in the hallway outside of the classroom. Which I didn’t get in trouble for and my parents never heard about, and I remember it wasn’t unprovoked, so I am not sure what she was doing that made me bite her. But I don’t think I was the sort to just go randomly biting people, so there must have been a reason.

But mostly just lots of little quiet things, so by 8th grade I decided there was no point in trying to make friends anymore with the same 60 people I’d known since kindergarten since I would be leaving soon anyway. Quiet little things that added up to quiet lunches. But it was ok because I had my books and school was only until 2:30 and most of the time was structured classes and then I could go home, and home was lovely and safe and not full of normal children and their new secret rules.

Who really cares if things are fair to the normal children?  Things are always fair for normal children. Things are built for normal children. The normal children aren’t fair to the rest of us.

(Also this is a lot more bitter than normally things I write, especially about things that happened 10 years ago and that I don’t really think about all that often. I’m not super sure about why that is. But it’s thoughts that I want to put out there. Because I don’t really talk about any of this ever and mostly I just hide them away and usually there is a reason if I don’t tell people about things. Sometimes it is just because it is not interesting, but that is not why I never told anyone anything about this earlier. Because I tell my parents a lot of things, but I didn’t tell them most of this. And I think there is a reason why I hid things and why this makes me so upset besides the obvious FAIR TO THE NORMAL CHILDREN and even if I’m not sure what the reason is, it is there. And so I think it’s valid. And I’m going to store it here for possible future use and reference.)

(I’m also afraid this veers into thinking-I’m-better-than-everyone-else territory, which I’m afraid of, so I want to put that disclaimer down here on the bottom. I was a weird kid in a lot of ways. Weird in a well-actually-that-was-because-I’m-autistic, bad-at-peopling-often, sort of way. But also weird in a made-up-stories-about-brain-eating-horses-regularly-way [although to my best knowledge, that was a weird with cousins not with school mates]… So maybe some of this was also just because of that. I’m not sure. I’m sure the other kids were mostly very nice people or are now. I also was not the weirdest kid, because that title belonged to a boy in our class of 60 who started in 6th grade or so.)

(I want to put more disclaimers on here. But I’m not sure who or what to disclaim. So please just don’t be upset anyone who reads this because I’m sure your life was harder if that’s what you think because actually mine wasn’t all that bad and I don’t want to be trying to group myself in with you if you think I shouldn’t be there because I’ve been too safe and happy for my whole life. Maybe I’m blowing things up too big. I probably am.)

*(Not that tv is a bad thing, more that you shouldn’t invite people to your house to play with your child then say how they are such a Good Example because then maybe you aren’t really sure about Friends anymore and also then the friends aren’t as sure about it either.)

Listening to music

I realized that not every post I post here needs to be 100% insightful and 100% perfect, because … this is the internet and I can post what I want. Also I control this site here. I do want to get in the habit of writing more frequently (in general, but also on here) and so I’m going to try and start with some more mundane posts. So here it goes…

Some people really like music. They talk about it and go see live concerts and all that jazz. It is very important to them.

“They are fine with just listening to music as an activity.”

Chemistry, Weike Wang*

I am not one of those people. I mean, I don’t dislike music but I’m pretty neutral to it, especially just LISTENING. I don’t think listening to music is an activity (that I would enjoy). I enjoy singing it or playing instruments because that seems like an activity. I don’t really get the appeal of live music. I actually usually actively dislike it (it’s usually so loud) unless it’s a nice classical concert in a park or something casual like that. On the other hand, this makes me pretty easy company for someone who is really picky about music choice, because I am up for almost anything on a roadtrip.

Except for musicals, because those have STORIES and are easier to sing along to, and I am just generally a musical fan. So when I need to listen to music (to hide the sounds of the neighbor’s upstairs activities or to muffle the sounds of fireworks on the 4th of July), I listen to musicals. Currently (as in the past 2 years), it’s almost exclusively Lin-Manuel Miranda musicals. Luckily for my husband, he also is a big Hamilton fan (although I don’t think he is as big of a fan of In the Heights).

This is legitimately the only reason I have a Spotify account. I got it to listen to Hamilton. I have expanded it to now listen to In the Heights and occasionally Next to Normal and Come From Away. Sometimes, but rarely, I will use it to play the Lord of the Rings soundtrack if I have to work on things in lab.

low angle view of lighting equipment on shelf
Photo by Pixabay on

* Grad students (and former grad students)! Read this book. I mean, maybe not if you are struggling with grad school and want to not struggle, but then again, maybe because sometimes it is nice to see your struggles in fiction. But this book is hilarious and also does an excellent job of capturing grad school and the sometimes soul-crushingness of it. It’s one of the more accurate portrayals of late grad school that I’ve seen. Also, then come back and talk to me about it because no one I know has read this book.

Graduate school advice

gray double bell clock
Photo by Moose Photos on

In which I give highly specific advice for graduate school. I am graduating soon and I want this knowledge to go out into the world. Some of this is probably very specific to bench science PhD grad school. Lots of this is not novel. But this is how I am dealing with the fact that I am not going to be a student anymore and that is a little bit scary.

Managing your time

I graduated from a lab where my PI did not push you to graduate… or work with any particular speed… or really do much at all. This lack of structure was also extremely difficult for my structure-loving autistic brain to handle, so I made some structures. (I think everyone does well with some structure, autistic or not.) But I managed my time very well. So well that my PI mentioned it multiple times in the introduction to my defense. So well that I managed to graduate in under 6 years in a lab where the average time to graduation is 8 years, and with more papers than anyone else.

Grad school is a job. Work your 8-10 hours a day and that is all. Take time in the evenings (or mornings or whenever, sometimes you need to work odd times) to not be a grad student. I read a lot of books in grad school. Sure, sometimes you will have a big push where you need to work more than a 40-50 hour week, or need to work for 24 hours because of damn timepoints, but that should be the exception. I took 2 vacations a year that were 1-2 weeks each every year while getting my Ph.D. I did not work on these vacations.

BUT. Actually work during those 8-10 hours a day. I tracked all of my time with Toggl. I found that if I am being productive, I usually work about 6 hours in an 8 hour day. (Most days, that was my target). There are some days when that drops way down. Without tracking this information, I assumed I was way more productive than I actually was. Some days, I worked more, but to get to 8 hours, usually required me to be in lab for 10 hours, or to be doing an extremely time-intensive experiment with no gaps. Tracking my time also reminded me to focus on the work. Sometimes there are gaps in experiments where you can’t do anything productive (oh hey, 5 minute incubations x 5), but I found usually on 15 minutes or longer gaps, I could do something, whether check my e-mail or make reagents.

But also, one of the best benefits of grad school is how flexible it is, so work those 8 hours a day when you want to work them. I liked to wake up around sunrise and go to work about an hour after. This meant that the time I went to work drastically varied in summer and winter. In grad school, you can do that (except for experiments with *@!$! timepoints at #!@$! times). If you are not a morning person, then just don’t be a morning person. Get work 8 hours in in the evening if you can.

I also had lists of easy things to do for days where I didn’t want to do anything (these were things that required little brain work but still needed to be performed regularly.

Timelines are helpful. Task lists are helpful. Both timelines for years and months and weeks.

Also, grad school seems like you aren’t going to accomplish anything and that you haven’t done anything at least until the end of your third year. At some point, it seems like you have a little bit of data, and it seems to stay like that until BOOM all of a sudden you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. When will you graduate? I had no way of knowing until I was about a year out. And even then, I ended up finishing almost 6 months earlier than I thought I would.

Grad school is not your whole life. There are other things that also happen. I got a dog and got married during grad school. It was great. Take time off. Not only in the weekends and after work, but also actual vacations. Even if you can’t go anywhere, take a week off from going to work and go read books or go on hikes or wander around the city or bake extremely complicated cakes or whatever you want to do that isn’t work. I like to take my breaks spread out evenly, one in summer and one at Christmas, because I find by 6 months, I am working much less efficiently and need a break. (I usually also need at least a long weekend at 3 months). I get SO MUCH more productive once I come back.

Dealing with your PI

Choose a reasonable PI. One with reasonable expectations and reasonable interactions. I’m sure you will find many things interesting in science. There are lots of cool things. Every single person I know who decided to work in a lab with a PI who was kind of a jerk but did super awesome science regretted it by the end. Choose someone who you can communicate with, who doesn’t expect unreasonable things from graduate students. (Talk to other graduate students in the lab. Ask them how much they work. Ask them if they take vacations.)

A lot of times, people will request that you do experiment X or experiment Y. My PI would often do this. Sometimes this would be committee members.. Often, this would be something I knew wouldn’t work. The best response was not to explain these reasons (because right then they think it is the best idea in the world) but to just say “I will think about it”, or “I will put that on my list”. (I would literally write it on a post-it note and stick it on my wall in the non-urgent section, when I had a list). With my PI, I had a rule that unless I wanted to do an experiment, I wouldn’t do it until he had asked me 3 times. (Usually, I had several weeks of work scheduled anyway, so it would take a while to get to a new idea).

Ask the least amount of permission possible and just go do things. (Obviously this will depend on your PI’s personality). I spend large amounts of time volunteering at a science outreach program. I counted it as work because my PI put outreach information on grants. I never asked about it. I counted it towards my 6 hour a day productivity goal. Also do this with experiments.

For committee meetings

My committee members were reasonable people. This was not an accident. I chose them primarily because of their reasonability. I knew that they were not going to yell at me or tell me I was an idiot. I knew they were people I could have conversations with. I knew they were people who would actually let me schedule a committee meeting in a reasonable amount of time. They did not all have the most relevant backgrounds, but they were professors in roughly the same field and could figure it out.

Committee meetings cover a lot of information. I always made agendas for my meetings, even if I didn’t give them to anyone else. This let me make sure I got the points across that I wanted to. I also would specifically mention what I wanted at the beginning of the meeting from my members.

A committee meeting is long and your committee members do not remember everything they asked you to do. This is to your advantage. Pick the most interesting/reasonable things you want to do, and ignore the others. (Obviously, there are some things you will have to do, for instance, if your committee spends 30 minutes discussing the details of a particular experiment, you will probably have to do it, even if it is not really what you want to do). Otherwise, a good response is “I will think about that”. And then you can think about it (briefly) and then stop thinking about it.

Also, I have cried before at a committee meeting. It is not the best. But… if you have reasonable people on your committee, they will give you a minute to catch your breath and calm down.

Writing your thesis

Don’t wait for “permission to write”. That is ridiculous. Start writing. Work on the introduction to your thesis as early as you can. I kept a document starting from my thesis proposal and whenever I read new papers that were relevant to my work, I would add them into that document. I had to cut a lot out once I got to my final dissertation, but I didn’t have to go hunting references. Also you can get a lot done writing an hour in the morning or during incubation breaks, before you are officially writing your thesis.

Writing early (papers, dissertation, whatever) also helps you realize the gaps that are missing in your data and the last minute experiments you need to perform.

Have other people read your dissertation. If your advisor won’t read it critically, get someone else to do it. They will see things you missed. (I didn’t do this before I submitted my first version of my dissertation because my PI was not the most helpful and my committee made me do significant rewrites before they let me defend. Learn from my mistakes).

I treated writing like a normal job. 8 hours a day (that were really 6) then I was done. I stopped writing well after about this, although I could still make figures and such in the evening when I was in a time crunch. (I spent so much time adjusting and aligning things in figures).

After PhD stuff

This is the part where I, an unemployed person, am going to give you career advice. Not really… It all really boils down to figure out what you want to do and network before you graduate even though it is terrible and maybe someone will give you a job? Who knows? I don’t have one yet, although I have a plan.

Do I get spoons?

Sometimes I feel like I don’t qualify for using spoons. Most of the time, I have a lot of spoons. Not at unlimited supply, but large enough that I can handle my daily activities without having to worry much about it. I worry about taking a useful term away from people who need it more.*

And everyone gets tired eventually.

It’s when I have to do new things or interact a lot with people where my spoons are used up quickly and I have to start paying attention.

But because a lot of the time I can get by without worrying about spoons, because I’ve been able to structure my life in a safe way, and because I have a fair amount of them already, that I feel like I am not quite bad enough to be legitimate to use spoons. Because usually I am good.

A lot–or even most–of the time, I have plenty of spoons. I’ve been able to structure my life that way.

But then maybe I do two activities on a weekend instead of one and it takes me two weeks to get back to normal productivity levels… or I go to a wedding and want to sleep for a week after… or I realize that some people do social activities on a weekday and then I think maybe it can be a useful concept after all.

And then I realize that it might just be that I have structured my life really well, in a way that means I can actually function and be productive and makes use of my limited, though fairly large, number of spoons.

*As an aside, this is related to why I stopped writing so much, because I was afraid that everything I was saying was taking away from someone who needed it more, that I was doing everything wrong, that things would hurt people, and maybe most relevantly, because I think of how things effect me the most strongly, that people would be mad at me.

Three years ago fears and current updates

This came up when I searched change on the "Add a free picture" part of wordpress. Little random but I like it.

In my unemployment/funemployment/job application time, I am going through and reading old drafts. Turns out about 3.5 years ago, I wrote this list of all my current fears, and never actually published it. It is interesting to look at what I was so worried about 3 years ago and see what has and hasn’t changed in my life since then. And to comment (in bold) on how things have changed.

I’m afraid of the depression coming back. Of the fears and the sadness and the not-knowing-what’s-going-on. But I don’t actually remember most of it, so I don’t know how to catch it.

Turns out, my husband (who has known me since I was 18, who was there when I was dealing with depression issues in college) recognizes what it looks like when I start to get sad/depressed, so I don’t have to depend on just myself to recognize this. But like, this is a legitimate concern. Just one that I’ve been able to address fairly well.

I feel tired and stressed and have more can’t-breathe moments than normal. I’m about 90% certain that it happens whether or not I had caffeine that day (which is good because I love coffee and I would be sad to give up my weekly coffee). There’s of course right now external reasons for stress and panic and anxiety.

I just finished my Qualifying Exams (and passed!)

I’m getting married SUPER SOON.

(Hint: this was probably completely responsible for the panic and stress in the statements above). I remember how much calmer life was once I didn’t have to write a gigantic thesis proposal and think about making a giant life-changing decision all at once.

I don’t like change.

This is still the same.

My current love of commitment and excitement about getting married is battling my fear of change.

Getting married was a good idea. I am very pleased with it.

I don’t like being alone. I don’t like saying goodbye at the end of a visit.

I’m scared that things will stop being the way they are, when everyone and everything lives everywhere. And that my nice big apartment for me and my dog will be too small for me and my dog and my person.

Yeah, definitely enough space. We ended up moving to a smaller/cheaper apartment after a year.

Also, definitely did not anticipate how much my husband would travel for work, which was somewhat nice (for me) in that I frequently got my own space while also having all the benefits of living with your spouse.

I’m scared of the future and making decisions after grad school–which is silly, since I’ll be here for at least 4 more years (and probably more). But making choices making ideas makes me think about all of those.

Hahah, nope. I finished WAY earlier than I thought I would.

Still scared of making these decisions, but I have found a career I am interested in and am working on getting a job in that field, so at least I have a plan…. right? That is what I am going with, at least. Hire me?

I think I’m less writing-on-this-blog now, because every word I write, I’m scared someone will notice and get upset and be offended.

Definitely did stop writing frequently. I still have this occasional fear. Significantly lessened by the fact that I think very few people read this blog. 

So, what am I afraid of now? 

Turns out, one of those things is writing a current list of fears and publishing them on the internet. Maybe in another 3 years you will get a new updated list.

Morning walks and routines

Note: I somehow ended up talking a lot about dead squirrels so be warned.

road in a forest at sunrise

Most of my morning is routine and normal. Wake up get up shower eat walk dog go to work. My mornings take an hour.  From the time I get out of bed to the time I am at work is 1 hour.

The one abnormal thing about my mornings is timing. See, I am a grad student. And one of the best parts about being a grad student is I get to set my own schedule.* So I can get up when I want to. And I like to wake up about 30 minutes after sunrise. Since sunrise happens at a variety of times, I wake up at a wide range of times during the year. In winter, it can creep back to 8:00 am or later. Right now it is creeping earlier and earlier. By the middle of summer, I’ll be getting up at 5:00 am.

My favorite part of mornings are dog walks (especially now that it’s finally above freezing). I get to see lots of different people, depending on the time of day.

If I’m early the border collies are up earlier than I tend to be. I only see them in the summer. Sometimes if I am lucky I see the Dalmatians. There used to be 2 Dalmatians, but then there was only one. However, recently a new Dalmatian was added back in the form of a puppy (which is why I am lucky if I get to see them). Although I can’t actually see them up close because my dog is a jerk.

Right now, though, I tend to be out a little later. I wave at the crosswalk guard who conveniently stops traffic for me (although I’m an adult who can cross the street on my own, she is just very proactive). Also, I will see the purple border collie–named so to separate from the other border collies, which come in twos. The purple border collie is not actually purple but her owner wears a purple coat. Neither of our dogs like other dogs. We avoid each other. This is actually convenient because unlike other dogs, I don’t have to worry she will come up and get too close.

Also in the park at this time is Jazzercise Lady. I admittedly don’t know what exactly jazzercise is, but she has some sort of dancing workout she does every morning. Jazzercise Lady only appears when the weather is above freezing. This seems fair to me, though, since I also do not willingly exercise outside when it is below freezing.

If I am running late for work (not that it matters when I actually get to work), I might see Squirrel Man. He feeds the squirrels in the park for half an hour every day, at the same time. Squirrel Man’s dedicated to feeding squirrels is impressive. Unlike Jazzercise Lady, the weather does not stop Squirrel Man.

I also spend a lot of my mornings avoiding dead things, especially squirrels. I know where most of the dead squirrels are in my neighborhood, because my dog has a mission in life to eat those, and this goal is in direct opposition to my desires. Mostly since he usually notices them directly in front of a school, so he will pick up a dead squirrel and shake it around in front of all the children walking to school in the morning. When he does this, I am late to work because I have to turn around and walk the other way until he eats the squirrel. He used to be very quick about eating them, at least (the first few squirrels he ate, he literally ate in 5 seconds or less) but now he just chews on them, which greatly delays our morning.

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I have located a new dead squirrel. It is by a tree somewhere. But I can’t remember which tree, so this information is essentially useless and I must always be on guard. It surprises me how long it takes dead squirrels to vanish. They pretty much seem to vanish in only one way–I forget where they are and my dog eats them. I may remember for a month, 3 months, but he is always waiting, ready for the smallest slip.

*Except of course when I must do middle of the night experiments, but at least I get to choose which nights I am going to do those.

Writing Less

This is rescued from old drafts, that I forgot to publish about 3 years ago. It’s interesting that I’m going back into this blog now that I am in another transition post-grad school.

As I settle into my life and my routines and my new home, and I get comfortable with the people around me and my new family and get busy with lab work. There’s fish to cross and watch as their cells move slowly slowly slowly minute by minute and overnight experiments to do. There’s a dog that needs to be walked.  

This blog was made in a time of transitions and moving. I’m more settled now, so I think I have less need of it. Things are explained more to myself in my mind. I’ve worked a place for me into the world.  And as things have settled and I’ve become more comfortable in this part of my identity, the number of posts I’ve put up here have decreased. 

Next week I’ll be married. 

Maybe that change in life will bring up more things that need to be written and processed, and if that’s so, I might be back more frequently. Somehow, I don’t think so, though. Because those things will be things that aren’t just about me, or at least, very likely are to be, so I don’t know how much I will feel justified in spreading them to the world. 

Eventually I’ll have to figure out a career. I’m leaning away from academia because these years and years away from home and making me realize how much I need geographic stability. I don’t think I could do the move-to-the-best-postdoc and then 5 years later move to where is maybe a faculty position. So maybe I’ll do something else. I want to do nothing, but that’s not really an option.