Blowing this icicle stand!

Yesterday and Monday have reminded me just how totally freaking excited I am that this will be my last winter in Minnesota (at least for a while)! Assuming that I can wrap what I’m doing into something that at least mildly resembles a story and train the three new experimental students that just joined our group I’ll be out of here in May!! I really haven’t shared much background/explanation on this topic yet, so I’ll try to sum up the events of the last 3 months in something that you can actually read through to the end.

So, I decided in October (really for real this time, as I have fake made this decision about a million gazillion times since the start of grad school) that after graduation I am going to try to pursue this whole academic career business.

Ok, so what?

So what this means is that I need to get off my rear end and secure a post-doc position for after graduation! That isn’t daunting or anything, is it? Yikes!

Lucky for me (and I will greedily — this is my story so yes that is a word — take all of the luck I can get), the national chemical engineering conference is held in November each year and I could use this as a free self-destruction self-marketing opportunity. So, I neurotically systematically went through the top chemical and bio engineering departments at the top universities in search of professors that I wanted to work for (and seem either young and ambitious enough or old and complacent enough to be willing to entertain such a crazy idea too). This has to be one of my top 5 Friday night activities……NOT! (Really? Come on! Give me some credit! Yeesh!)

Anyway, I generated a list of my top 30ish professors and narrowed that list down to the 11 who would be attending AICHE. I strategically emailed all of them in the middle of the night about 2 weeks before the meeting so they’d have my lovely cover letter and CV to greet them first thing in the morning. I sent off my emails and went to bed with my smartphone under my pillow anxiously awaiting the lack of replies.

Much to my surprise delight, replies I got! Only two ass holes very busy professors totally ignored me, two people were kind enough to reply that they “didn’t have funding,” (mmmhhhmmmmmmm…) and SEVEN replied that they would be interested in attending my talks and/or meeting  me at AICHE! Sitting there in bed, with annoying attention deprived Pheona going in for the self-pet on the hand I was using to navigate my email (of course), the magnitude of what I had just voluntarily gotten myself into really began to sink in.  O.M.G. In two weeks, I was going to have to give the talk(s) of my life to a room of people that included Dr. Greg Stephanopoulos, Dr. Hadley Sikes, Dr. Kristala PratherDr. Scott BantaDr. Danielle Tullman-Ercek Dr. Jay Keasling and Dr. Mark Brynildsen. No pressure.

So two weeks later I found myself on an airplane in first class (this is what happens when you are flying in to a hurricane and all of the sane people who apparently value their lives more than either Yiannis or I do decide against turning up for their flights…SCORE! 🙂 en route to Pittsburgh. My talks were mostly done, my suit pants were more or less short enough and Sandy wasn’t set to reach Pitt until a solid 4 hours after my talks finished. Life was good!

I actually managed to get some pretty good sleep after arriving on Sunday night. (One of the advantages of waiting for a hurricane in a town that you don’t live in, is that you can actually enjoy the very steady rainfall on your windows all night long.) In the morning I was able to practice my talk in the hotel lobby just short of the number of times the front desk lady would allow before she called the Pitt po-po to remove the crazy woman from her lobby and wolf down some high quality continental cantaloupe before dashing off into the hurricane, and one of the most important meetings of my career thus far.

I made it through the morning without having a nervous breakdown. Score. I made it through lunch without barfing OR spilling all over my brand new beautiful white dress shirt. Double score. I made it all the way to the conference room that I was scheduled to talk in without breaking my ankle in my high-heels (this probably would’ve happened from getting caught up in the aforementioned suit pants that are almost short enough) or inadvertently destroying/losing the USB stick with my presentation on it (this probably would’ve happened with the help of a toilet or an increasingly flooded street gutter). Excellent.

Luckily my talk was in the middle of the session. This means that I had to worry much less about barfing my lunch up during my talk at the very beginning, and I also don’t have to sit like a studious parochial school girl for almost 2 hours waiting for my talk at the very end (believe it or not, I don’t do this very well). Good.

A few speakers into the session my friends started trickling in. My friends from grad school at MN as well as my friends from elsewhere (elsewhere = in a bar, over too many cocktails, and in some city (that neither of us really remember) before/during/after a meeting). That was when I started to get excited. One sure-fire way to pick out a nerd in a crowd is to find the person who actually enjoys blabbering about what they do all day…every day…for years on end…over and over and over…to a captive audience that (largely due to peer pressure) is too self-conscious to get up and walk out. I also saw some of my perspective faculty arriving and taking their seats. Sweet!

The speaker before me finished and it was my turn. Up I went to the podium, loaded my presentation onto the computer, set up my LASER pointer and slide advancer (I have one of those super cool ones that’s 2 in 1 and looks like a pen…AND the LASER is green 🙂 and looked up to check out my audience. HOLY SHIT!! And that’s when things got real! My precious 7 faculty were there, front and center, no questions asked. Then, Greg brought is brother George, Danielle brought her whole freaking research group and my summer internship manager, and former MN alum, Derek made a surprise appearance and brought half of Alexion Pharmaceuticals with him! The room before me was packed and I had 20 min to make them either need to hire me or to make them need to tell their friends to hire me. Game on!

The next 20 min flew by like they were nothing, the follow-up question/answer circus magically featured all of the right tricks and before I knew it, this clown was back in her seat! My second talk (this time the session key-note…oh lord) went down in an excitingly similar fashion (aside from Mark pointing out, from the very back of the room, that I had screwed up two of the values on the x-axis of one of my figures…OOPS!) and I was done!

Over the course of the rest of the conference I met one on one with a few of the faculty and exchanged emails with the others. I couldn’t start in Danielle’s group until September. No thank you. A position with Scott also didn’t sound like it made the most sense. Greg had moved on to bigger and better things before I had even finished my talk. (Fair enough really. I still talk about just the fact that he came to my talk…and probably will for a while…)  And so by the end of the week two front-runners emerged: Mark and Hadley. Very cool!

I won’t go into the details of the insanity that apparently was December of 2012, but in short:

  1. I went to visit/interview with Mark and his group in New Jersey. The take home message(s) from this trip are as follows:
    1. Mark is AWESOME
    2. Aside from when I was in Italy, I have never been in a demographic that looks like that in central NJ
    3. You can get a contact high on the NJ rail — any time of day
    4. Mark is REALLY AWESOME
  2. I went to visit/interview with Hadley and her group in Boston. The take home message(s) from this trip are as follows:
    1. It is very strange to have 4 inches and 30 lbs on your would-be-supervisor when you’re 5’4″ and have to roll up “small” shirt sleeves
    2. Minneapolis trails have spoiled me
    3. Boston “winter” is a joke

I came home from both of these whirl-wind visits and pondered my decision over Christmas. (Both PIs are great, I can only hope to be half of what either of them already are. That’s the honest to god truth.) The research that I’d be doing would be rather different between the two groups, but either would be very interesting, in my opinion, and I could learn a lot from either. Now Boston is awesome and M.I.T. would be 3 pretty letters to add to my CV. But, the position is only for 2 years, I could NOT apply for a faculty position at the aforementioned acronym afterwards, AND MARK IS REALLY AWESOME. (Un)fortunately (?) this is the one point I really kept coming back to…and Princeton is not so bad, it’s small, but not terrible. It’s connected to NYC, DC, Boston, and it has great running and biking opportunities. (Never mind that I should be spending the next two years in the lab working straight through…) Spending 2 years there, getting all I can out of the experience and then moving on to whatever is next really began to emerge as the best option for me…and then I’d go back to Hadley…and Boston…and MIT…and then back to Mark…you get the idea… :-/

On December 31st I emailed Mark that I wanted to join his group, I pulled the trigger! We’ve been working out the details over the past few weeks, and just less than 100 emails later it looks like I’ll be moving to New Jersey in May 🙂 I couldn’t be happier with my decision…THANK GOD.

So now, all  I have to do is finish up a few final experiments, write a few papers, turn what I’ve been working on over the past 6 years into something resembling a thesis, train the three new PhD students who recently joined our research group and defend! 😐 Scared? A little. Excited? A LOT! 🙂

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2 Comments

Filed under Dr-ing

2 responses to “Blowing this icicle stand!

  1. Liz Mallon

    I’m glad you are blogging about your post-doc search so I now feel somewhat caught up! Congrats on making a decision- I am SO happy for you!!!!

    • Thank you! It was SO SO hard, but a huge relief now that its over. I’m super excited (& kinda terrified) to find out what’s in store for me over the next few years!

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