Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Today I'm thankful for: the day care's Facebook page

Today (and every day) I'm thankful for the day care's Facebook page.  It's nice to see pictures of the babies throughout the day, and nice to know they made it safely to day care, and I am thankful.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Word of the day: testator

The word of the day is testator:

  1. a person who makes a will.
  2. a person who has died leaving a valid will.

(http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/testator)

"He forged wills, this blade did, if he didn't also put the supposed testators to sleep too."

 - Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Today I'm thankful for: Allegiance

Today (and every day) I'm thankful for the opportunity to see Allegiance.

Allegiance is a musical about the Japanese internment camps during World War II.  I heard about it because I was following George Takei on social media.  Allegiance premiered in San Diego in 2012, then ran for five months on Broadway 2015-2016.  I didn't get a chance to see it during its lamentably short run.

But last Sunday, a recording of the show was broadcast in movie theaters, and I had a chance to see it when Alice and Katherine's great-aunt Robin and great-grandmother volunteered to watch the babies.  The songs were catchy, the performances were excellent, and the themes are as relevant as ever.  

The storytelling is complex: there's no shortage of conflict, but no villains.  Mike Masaoka, a historical figure, could have been an easy target, but instead was portrayed in a nuanced and sympathetic way.  Even the prison wardens come across as victims of tragic circumstances.  

We all have allegiance to our country, our family, and our own integrity, but how does that inform the choices we make?  Sammy and Frankie make different choices, and they're both patriots.  Neither one is wrong, but their inability to reconcile their different choices is what destroys them.  Allegiance is a cautionary tale not just for how we treat immigrants and their families, but also for how we treat those with whom we disagree.

The first movie theater I tried had sold out, and I secured the last two tickets to the second theater I tried.  I hope that means that they will broadcast this excellent play again, so more people will have the opportunity to see it.

This play is extremely important at this moment, and I am thankful.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Today I'm thankful for: Lilly Ledbetter

Today (and every day) I'm thankful to Lilly Ledbetter.

She never did receive restitution from Goodyear, but the fight was never about that.  It was about making the path easier for those who came after her, and I am thankful.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Today I'm thankful for: dishwasher inserts

Today (and every day) I'm thankful for dishwashers and dishwasher inserts.

Every day, Alice and Katherine come home from day care with three or four used bottles apiece, each of which needs washing.  Each of Alice's Medela brand bottles has three parts, and each of Katherine's Dr. Brown's brand bottles has five parts.  The bottles fit nicely in the top rack of the dishwasher, and the other bottle parts (nipples, rings, valves, etc.) fit nicely in the dishwasher insert, as do the pacifiers.

My quality of life has vastly improved since I had the insight that I do not, in fact, need to wash the bottles individually by hand, and I am thankful.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Today I'm thankful for: the WCC/Eli Lilly Travel Award

Today (and every day) I'm thankful for that time I attended the 2013 Fall American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in Indianapolis as a WCC / Eli Lilly Travel Award winner.
 
When I won the travel award, I was very excited, but I also felt like an impostor.  I had never expected to win the award when I applied for it: I applied more out of a sense that I should start taking advantage of every opportunity that I could out of principle, and at least I would get some experience applying for travel awards.
 
At the awardee breakfast, I felt like even more of an impostor.  All of the other students seemed to be in their third or fourth year (a perfectly appropriate time to be giving their first presentation at a national meeting), and well on their way toward wrapping up their projects and graduating.  Here I was, in my eighth year, and only now presenting my work at a national meeting, and my project was still woefully incomplete.  I felt like that I had fooled everyone, had cheated some more deserving student out of the travel award, and that at any moment one of the friendly, talented, and successful WCC members at the table might suddenly realize I didn’t belong and snatch my WCC pin away from me and go look for that more deserving student to give it to.
 
When Judy Cohen joyfully told us, “This award will change your life!” I thought, "Maybe for these other students.  But not for me.  I’m just an impostor."
 
When I attended the “24th Anniversary of the WCC/Eli Lilly Travel Award” symposium later that morning, I couldn’t really see myself being as successful as any of the travel award alums, and that I certainly wouldn’t be invited back to talk in another 24 years about what I’d be doing, probably because I would still be working on the same unsuccessful PhD project at that point.  But as the talks went on, the speakers started making comments that suggested that maybe they weren’t so different from me after all.  Margaret Chu-Moyer talked about how the first time she tried a total synthesis, it worked, but after that the yield gradually dropped to zero.  Malika Jefferies-El said that “the fourth year is a dark period of one’s career,” and that during her travel award experience at ACS she found herself “smiling for perhaps the first time in five years.”  And I had never heard anyone speak as candidly and specifically about what it’s like to live as a scientist as Mindy Levine did.
 
That afternoon, as I attended talks and visited the Expo, strangers started coming up to me and asking about the travel award ribbon on my badge.  Distinguished scientists asked me about my work, and they were actually interested.  Some offered useful practical advice, and many asked me for my card and gave me theirs, and really did want me to report back on how my project turned out.
 
The next day, at the travel award poster session, the very same amazingly talented and successful travel award alums I had seen the previous day came to visit my poster and ask about my work.  They listened with great interest, even those with chemistry expertise well outside biochemistry.  My new hero, Mindy Levine, told me, “That project sounds really hard,” and for the first time I entertained the possibility that perhaps my project’s lack of “success” wasn’t simply due to insufficient effort or talent on my part.
 
After the WCC luncheon, Amber Charlebois came up to me and asked me what I planned to do after graduation, whether I was interested in research or teaching or what.  I started to stammer out my usual answer about feeling like I wasn’t very good at doing research and that I might be happier doing something I was better at.
 
And then the most amazing thing happened.  She said, “Come and visit me at Fairleigh Dickinson.  You’ll give the chemistry seminar, and you can put that on your CV.  You’ll follow me around for the day, and you’ll see what it’s like to be a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution, and whether you think that’s for you.  The department can’t reimburse your travel, and can’t put you up in a hotel, but you can stay at my house.  That way you’ll get the whole experience of what it’s like to be a professor, at school and at home.”
 
I had just become an invited speaker for a seminar series at a university.
 
My confidence continued to grow as the meeting went on.  I felt more comfortable asking questions at seminars, and going up and introducing myself to interesting people.  I started to feel like I really did belong there, that I wasn’t an impostor after all.  By the last day of the meeting, I found myself walking around the convention center with a giant, ear-to-ear smile the entire day, I loved chemistry so much.
 
When I was told over breakfast that winning this travel award would change my life, I was skeptical, but the fact is that I left the meeting feeling more confident, excited about chemistry, and energized about my work than ever before.  In the weeks and months following the ACS meeting, when I saw opportunities, such as a job posting, writing opportunity, or other awards, my first thought was still, "Those opportunities are for other people, not impostors like me," but now I had the confidence to catch myself and say, "No, I am a WCC / Eli Lilly Travel Award winner: I’m smart, I work hard, and I deserve to give that opportunity a chance."

And winning the WCC / Eli Lilly Travel Award changed my life in one more important way: it was at that ACS meeting that I interviewed for a job with FDA, my dream employer.  If it weren't for the award, I wouldn't have been in Indianapolis, and I wouldn't have interviewed, and I wouldn't have my job today.

The WCC / Eli Lilly Award really did change my life, and I am thankful.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Today I'm thankful for: the Baltimore science cafe series

Today (and every day) I'm thankful for Project Bridge (http://www.projbridge.com)'s Baltimore science café series.

A science café is an opportunity for a scientist to talk about their work with the community in an informal setting.  We scientists frequently bemoan the sorry state of scientific literacy in this country, yet at the same time, too many of us think it's beneath us to talk to non-scientists, so we really are a not insignificant part of the problem.

Science cafés aim to change that.  They bring the scientist out of the lab and into the community.  They provide an opportunity for people to learn about the science going on in their own cities.  They help bridge gaps between scientists and non-scientists.  Everyone is better off when neighbors talk to each other.

Baltimore has its own science café series, and I am thankful.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Today I'm thankful for: that article Yen sent me about how you may not have to burp your baby

Today (and every day) I'm thankful for that article Yen sent me about how you may not have to burp your baby.

I don't remember much from September 2016, but I do remember, after feeding babies in the middle of the night, trying to burp them.  At that age, they didn't like being up on my shoulder (plus, I was terrified of not adequately supporting their little heads), so I usually used the method of sitting them up on my lap, supporting their chin on my hand, and thumping them on the back.

I had to thump them pretty hard to get the burps to come out.  The babies didn't seem to mind getting thumped, but I didn't like doing it.  Even if I was willing to thump the babies pretty hard, burping still had a low rate of success.  So there I was, in the middle of the night, frequently faced with the choice of whether to stay up longer to continue to try to burp (with a baby happily snoozing with her chin in my hand) or to put the baby back in her crib, worried that she would then spit up because she was inadequately burped.  My rational, well-read self knew that babies who spit up while lying on their backs in their cribs are not going to drown (the spit-up just flows down the side of the baby's face), but in the middle of the night, sleep-deprived, and still recovering from major abdominal surgery plus the previous nine months' illness, it was very hard to be rational.  So I did, in fact, spend many hours in the middle of the night trying and failing to burp babies, feeling demoralized that I was unable to do something that is supposedly so natural.

Then, Yen sent me this article: https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/growth-curve/maybe-you-dont-need-burp-your-baby.  The study has its limitations, certainly (and the article does a good job describing them), but it reminded me of what should have been obvious: burping your baby is not, in fact, necessary for her survival.  She'll be fine if she doesn't burp.  You all can go back to sleep.  If she does spit up all over herself, you can wash her off.

This article at this moment was an important perspective check for me.  I am lucky to have friends who are looking out for my well-being, and I am thankful.