I’m still alive, just buried

It seemed as though everything came crashing down at once – ain’t that just the way things always go – so I’ve taken a bit of an unplanned blogging hiatus for the past week and a half. There’s been little time for reflection in the midst of it all – I just kept rolling, knowing at some point I’d find time to come up for air. And this morning has given me just the space I need to organize my thoughts on recent events. 

Perhaps the biggest of these was a long-overdue talk with my mentor about maternity leave/job search/long term career plans – the what the hell am I still doing here and when have I overstayed my welcome? talk. I was nervous as hell about this talk, and we’ve both been busy with meetings and grant-writing over the summer, so it kept getting pushed to the back-burner. But I’m almost in my third trimester now, job postings for the coming year are cropping up, and it was time to finally stop putting the damn thing off.

Long story short – it went very, very well. In case you haven’t been following my dwindling lab saga over on the Tightrope, there’s been a lot of change in my neck of the woods lately. Boss’s lab size has been decreasing rapidly for the past couple of years, and we have one more student on her way out the door in a couple of months. All of this change has been in slow preparation for the eventual retirement of my mentor, which I now know is a little more than 2 years out. The combination of a shitty TT job market and not knowing his retirement plans has made me quite nervous, but it seems that the boss has no plans to kick me out on the street with a baby. Not that either of us wants me going down with the ship, but my mentor rather likes having a productive postdoc in the lab. Quite the sigh of relief…

Of course, with a baby on the way, “productivity” is kind of a fluid term. I plan to be as productive as possible between now and Thanksgiving (my due date) so that I can write a manuscript up on my current project while on maternity leave. Officially, I’ll be taking 4 weeks of leave, but I’ll be out of the lab for 6-8 weeks, getting writing done at home when I find time. Boss is all on board with this plan, but has another idea for my research focus over the next three months. A more clinically-relevant project, begun by a student in a collaborator’s lab, needs some relatively simple experiments completed for publication, and boss is handing it over to me for the first authorship…wow.

While fabulous on the surface, this kind of publication carrot presents quite the mixed blessing…with all the work already on my plate, I’m now feeling the pressure to get that much more done between now and the baby. Of course, this new project is a for-sure publication* with an apparent low time investment, while the publication time line for my own project is not quite as clear-cut. But my project…well…it’s my project, my future, my little lab baby. I came back from a great conference less than a month ago, my eager mind brimming with ideas for brilliant experiments, and now I’m faced with pushing those wonderful ideas back to complete someone else’s work. The experiments for both projects are very straightforward ones with which I have a lot of experience. So it’s just a question of how much lab work can a large pregnant woman get done in a day. I guess we’re all about to find out; I simply refuse to turn down a for-sure publication* while in the midst of a seemingly hopeless TT job search.

*I’ve heard this term before – we’ll see if this project ends up being as straightforward as advertised.

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