A short while ago, Dr. Becca recounted the unfolding saga of a crossroads in her career, stating/asking in her post title “there’s no crying in science!!??” As Dr. Becca reminded us in her follow-up post, science often makes even the toughest of us cry, or at least really want to…but the “pop culture reference” made for a snappy title. (Gotta love Tom Hanks 🙂
I myself am not really a crier, at least not in front of others. I hate the puffy eyes, snotty nose, and ensuing headache, and I hate the way I feel when others see me cry. I usually keep my crying private, or visible only by those who know me really well – Hubby, Mom, family, close friends. Occasionally, a close coworker sees the waterworks, but even that’s a rarity. I generally have enough control over my tear ducts to hold back the flood until I’ve reached a private room/office.
That control eluded me today.
The whole debacle goes back about a month, so you’ll need to bear with me a few moments (you can also see my earlier post on LabSpaces for a brief synopsis). Basically, our department bought this $50,000 piece of equipment several years ago, but refused to buy a service contract for it. Several department members, including myself, use it quite regularly, but I’ve somehow become the default go-to person whenever something goes wrong with it. In the past 3 years, this equipment has gone down 4 times. Each time, it’s taken a month of trouble-shooting, money, and my own personal time to get it back up and running.
In the past, I’ve allowed myself to get sucked into the fix-it mess because I was in need of the equipment myself. When the most recent breakdown occurred, however, I did not need it. I wasn’t even in town. While at a conference last month, I received an email from our department administrator asking if I was the “resident expert” for fixing the equipment…WTF? Are you kidding me? Do I look like tech service?? I emailed Admin Guy back and said I was not the person to contact, that I was out of town, and I was sure technical service at X company would know how to proceed. Case closed, or so I thought.
Well, the machine never got fixed, which I found out as soon as others in the department needed it and started asking me about it. Not only that, a note was put up on the equipment listing me as a contact person for the problem. A labmate that needed it for her experiments eventually decided to take the lead on getting it fixed, yet Admin Guy kept coming to me to assist the fix-it guy that the department hired, costing more of my time – and an experiment. 😦 By the end of last week, the “fixed” machine was down again, I was, yet again, being emailed information for contacting the fix-it guy. And I had gotten none of my own research accomplished.
And then came this morning. Admin Guy came by to tell me that I needed to call the fix-it guy, that I needed to describe the problem, that I needed to take the lead on this. I calmly explained that I could not be the person in charge of the equipment. We spoke briefly about the idea of getting a service contract, or at least a more long-term employee to be in charge (since I’ll be on maternity leave soon, and, hopefully, leaving for a permanent job in the next year). The labmate in need of the equipment stepped in and said she would take the lead for now, but agreed that we needed a better long-term solution than a grad student or postdoc being “in charge” when departmental equipment went down. At this point, things came to a head. Admin Guy blew up about how he couldn’t do it himself, that he knew nothing about the machine. Labmate and I tried to calm him down, but he just got more riled up, hovering over me and speaking in quite a loud voice (not quite screaming, but close).
And then it happened…the tears, the puffy eyes, the whimpering, the whole nine yards. I needed to get out of the situation, so I got up to leave. Admin Guy apologized and tried to stop me, unfortunately grabbing my arm in the process. I waved him off frantically and ran out of the lab, sobbing profusely all the way to the restroom. It was horrible. No fewer than five department members witnessed the trail of tears. And what the hell was Admin Guy thinking touching me? I know he didn’t mean it in an aggressive manner, but it was still inexcusable. This guy is taking care of my maternity leave. He’s in a position of power over me. He has no right to lay a hand on me.
Even worse than all of this was what happened while trying to calm myself down in the restroom. I’ve been experiencing very mild Braxton Hicks contractions for a few days now, quite normal for my phase of pregnancy (26 weeks). But these mild Braxton Hicks became quite intense after the confrontation. So not only was I dealing with an awful situation at work, but I was also becoming extremely panicked about preterm labor. After composing myself as much as I could, I packed up my things, talked briefly with my labmate and our lab manager about what was going on, and left to see the doctor. Long story short, things are okay. No preterm labor, but the doctors have placed quite a few restrictions on my “behavior” for the next month to keep that from happening.
I never went back to work after the doctor, but I did find out when I called to check in that I won’t be contacted about this piece of equipment again. I’m not sure how I’ll deal with Admin Guy when I go back to work tomorrow, though. Knowing this guy as long as I have, I think I’ll let it go. I don’t mind him being scared shitless for a few days, and I know he feels awful about the situation. But I don’t want him getting raked over the coals. This situation wasn’t completely his making; there are many others in the department that have contributed to it. And, frankly, going through the whole thing over and over with HR would probably lead to more stress, which wouldn’t be good for me or the baby. I’d just prefer just having it all go away at this point, so long as Admin Guy knows to stay away from me, at least as long as I’m pregnant.
What the hell is wrong with people though?