The Plight of the Post-Doc


Ph.Dishes - pickled cucumbers!

Huzzah, Memorial Day weekend!  It's the official start of summer, and I went out and bought a pair of white sandals yesterday just to celebrate!  OK, they are more like "nice flip-flops" than sandals per se, but whatever.  You don't care about my footwear, you care about my delicious recipes, n'est-ce pas?

With the start of summer also comes grilling season, and unless you are a total misanthrope, you will probably be invited to (or host) a BBQ party or twelve in the coming months.  But you cannot show up empty handed, can you?  Now, maybe you find that it is just so stress-free to pick up a bag of Tostitos (tm) and a jar of Old El Paso (tm) on your way to the party, but as a frequent party-thrower let me tell you, the person who brings chips and salsa to the party is LAME.  Seriously.  Don't be that guy.  Do be the guy who brings my mom's pickled cucumbers, because they are the easiest and cheapest thing in the world to make, and if you bring these to a party, rest assured that you will be invited to EVERY party henceforth.

First you need a giant English/seedless cucumber, and I will fucking hurt you if you try to do this with a standard cucumber.  I am not even kidding!  I know they're more expensive, but this entire dish is going to cost you about $2.75, which is less than half the cost of chips and salsa, so splurge on the fancy cukes already!  I was talking with one of my lab mates the other day about salad (you can see that we are the kind of lab that is not afraid to tackle the Big Issues) and I literally spoke the words "But the thing is, I'm kind of a cucumber snob?" and I totally said it in that annoying up-talking way, too.  At first I hated myself for saying something like that, but then I decided that I have no shame in my cucumber snobbery.     If it were possible for non-English cucumbers to become extinct, I would fully support the loss of species.  (Are they even different species?  I have no idea.  I'm a neuroscientist, not a botanist!)

Anyway.  Take your fancy cucumber and take a fork.  Run the fork down the length of the cucumber, all the way around, so that you've scored the skin (you have to press kind of hard).  This will make the cucumber slices look pretty and somewhat flower-like when you're done!  Then, slice the cucumber as thinly as is humanly possible.  I mean seriously, crazy thin.  Put all the slices in a bowl, and add a little also-extremely-thinly-sliced onion.  Not a ton, just enough to add a little variety.  This is "pickled cucumbers," not "pickled cucumbers and onions," you understand?  Put everything in a bowl.

Next, put equal parts white sugar and white vinegar (do NOT use a different kind of vinegar.  I will not vouch for your results) in a small saucepan.  1/2 cup of each usually works for a normal-sized cuke, but if you happen to have gotten a real big one, add a little more.  Toss in a little salt.  Cook until the sugar is dissolved or almost dissolved, which will only take a few minutes--you don't even have to boil it!

Pour the mixture over your sliced cukes and onions.  It may not quite cover everything, but this is OK, I promise!  The cucumbers are going to release a ton of water, so in a couple hours it will all be submerged.


***Important*** This reminds me, you should be doing this at least 4-5 hrs (ideally a whole day) before people are actually going to be eating your delicious pickled cucumbers.

Cover and refrigerate.  That is all!  Be aware, at first people are going to be like, "Hmm, you brought pickles.  Weird!" But then they're going to eat them and then they're going to freak out.  I had a party once and someone had brought a different salad, and even though the pickled cucumbers were long gone, people were pouring the juice from the pickle bowl onto the other salad.  I would not make this up; this is how good these pickles are.  They are great as a little crunchy side, or as a topping on burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, etc.  They are magical.

So have a great weekend, everyone!  I have loads of news and things re: my sciency life, but I'm trying to organize my thoughts and whatnot before spewing the past few weeks' events into cyberspace.  In the meantime, happy pickling!


Stars of Track and Field

In high school I was a runner.  Running suited me because it required little to no coordination (at 5'9" by age 14, you can imagine what a gangly mess of legs I was), and because the first time I had to run a mile for the Physical Fitness Test I did it in 8:13 without even trying too hard.  But even with all that natural talent (ha!) I was no track star, probably because I continued not to try too hard. I liked running, and I was happy just to do well, usually placing in the top third-ish of my races.  But I didn't have the competitive attitude; the idea of actually winning a race just wasn't enough to turn me into one of those girls who sprinted to the finish line in unmasked agony, only to promptly hurl the previous night's carb-fest all over their coach/parents.

There was this one time though.

About 30 seconds into an 800m race I noticed something strange--I was in front of the pack.  Numero uno.  How is this even happening? I wondered.  This is...different.  But also kind of cool.  I guess I'll just stay here? And stay there I did--up until the final hundred meters or so, when someone passed me to take first.  As I realized what was happening, I think the internal monologue went something like Oh hmmm...OK.  Well, that's a little more normal!  And you know, second place is also awesome.  


I mean, second place was awesome--it was the best I'd ever done in any race ever and my coach was really pleased.  But amazingly, it was only after many years that it occurred to me to wonder why, when I had a chance to actually WIN, I didn't just gun it and kick her ass?  Where was my fightin' spirit?

I feel like my science career has, in some ways, mirrored my high school running experience up until that fateful race.  I've been happy doing good work, answering the questions that interest me most, without worrying too much (heh) about whether I'll be accepting a Nobel in 50 years or whether my name will ever be uttered in the same sentence as "paradigm shift."  (yeah, yeah carebearsfuckingteaparty!) But unlike high school track, whose winners did not actually matter, science is not an extra-curricular activity; it is my life, and it is competitive as hell.  As Candid Engineer recently noted, competition all too often reveals the ugly side of the human condition, but it's also necessary to have at least some competitive instincts if you're going to make it in the end.

That girl, coming up quick on my right, she is the 200+ post-docs who apply to every job that I do.  This time, though, I'm making some moves.  Things are in the works, people!  A little too early-stage for me to tell you the details, but maybe soon.  Rest assured, though, that this time, second place is not also awesome.


I need a montage!

Getting back into the swing of things after a meeting is never the smoothest of transitions, but this week's post-Experimental Biology re-entry has been especially bumpy.  I returned to a stack of exams to grade, an experiment to finish, a lecture to prepare, and general feelings of uneasiness about my future.  The exams took fucking forever longer than I'd have liked, and then my stupid control experiment (the only thing I need before writing it up) produced nothing measurable, so I have to troubleshoot and do it again.  Waahh.

Whatever, I do it again, not a big deal.  What is a big deal is that I also met with my boss this week, and for the first time we out-loud acknowledged what we've been ignoring for a while now: there is no definite funding for my project after the summer.  This means that there's no funding for me unless I want to switch to working on the lab's main project, which is significantly different from what I've been doing so far.   Now, not only do I not want to be on that project, but I don't think it would be a good move, career-wise.  This is the time I'm supposed to be defining myself, doing work that's explicitly my own; on this project I'd literally be just a set of hands.

So there's that!  You might say I've got some shit to figure out.  Do I look for a new lab that's doing things more in sync with my interests?  Suck it up and help out with my current lab's big project for a bit while I apply for grants of my own (many thanks to Drug Monkey's Twitter advice and link re: R vs K awards)?  Give up completely?

Whenever people in the movies reach that pivotal point at which they go from feeling beat-down to getting their act together to accomplish their Big Goal, there's a montage to demonstrate the person's journey from beat-down-ness to awesomeness.  A particularly on-point commentary on this phenomenon can be found in the near-classic film Team America: World Police

I feel like I need a montage.  In my montage, you'll see me alternately: having thoughtful sciencey discussions with potential future collaborators in downtown cafes; pipetting; typing late at night (to demonstrate lateness, you'll see J come over to me at my desk, kiss me on the forehead, and stumble sleepily off to bed, shaking his head in disbelief at how hard I'm working); looking at beautiful fluorescent things in a microscope; hitting "submit manuscript" with a satisfied and accomplished look on my face; etc!

Oh and also there'll be a shot of me teaching as students look on, totally engaged and totally not checking facebook.  Today I gave my first bona fide lecture that I put together myself completely from scratch, and even though I was very stressed out when I was making it last night at 2 am (this is the way you professors do things, yes?), I think it went very well.  The professor in charge of the class seemed really happy with my decisions on what to include, and when I was up there talking I remember thinking at one point, "Wow!  People are actually writing down the things that I'm saying!"  I mean, obviously this happens at meetings or whatever all the time, but for some reason this felt different.  I was molding young minds!

ANYway...yeah.  To conclude, montages are totally motivational and I really need to get pumped up here.  It's going to be an interesting couple of months...