These last 10 days or so have been busy for everyone’s favorite domestic and laboratory goddess. In the middle of last week I left for sunny San Diego to attend the 2012 Experimental Biology meeting. I have been attending this meeting yearly since 2005. I attended the first few years as a member of the American Society for Investigative Pathology before I jumped ship to the American Physiological Society.
Three years ago I took on a leadership role within the society. This has been an exceptionally valuable experience in that I have had the opportunity to meet people I would not have known otherwise. I have also had the opportunity to build something that I am really proud of. I can look back of these experiences now that my term is over with a bit of nostalgia but also a bit of exhaustion.
This last EB meeting was stressful in a way that I have never experienced. I had a baby six months ago, which is no trivial event. I have also had to take on more clinical responsibilities within our group and have been given additional research responsibilities as part of a large, collaborative contract that my university accepted. This, plus my normal work and the demands of service at the meeting put me in a place that made it very doubtful that I would complete preparation for the presentations I needed to give. Try as I might, I really struggled to find enough time in the day to get things done.
The day that I left for EB I had incomplete slides and no posters. One of my favorite parts of EB is the poster sessions. You never know who you might see presenting a poster. I saw posters presented by undergraduates and other students, postdocs, faculty, and even a department chair or two. So, it really upset me to not have been able to carve out more time to prepare. I showed up stressed and a few suggested that I just skip the poster sessions. I initially seriously considered this. But, I had shown up wanting to talk about my science and not just attend science and do service. So, I stayed up late each night and managed to get things done with minutes to spare.
One of the evenings I was working in the bar on my posters I ran into a grad student who inquired what I was working on. I told her and she chuckled that her PI always stresses about her posters and insisted that everyone (including the PI herself) have things done two weeks beforehand and that my experience would allow her to tell her PI to chill out. Although I did manage to finish everything on time, it all came with a huge emotional and mental health cost.
The thing is, I’m not sure the lesson I was teaching was a positive one, nor was my behavior anything that should be emulated. The lesson to be learned is that I have let myself be far too overcommitted and it is hurting both the quality and creativity of my work. At least in my mind. Folks around me were highly complimentary, although I still felt down about the experience. On the last evening of the meeting, I went to dinner with Dr. Triple Threat and some other folks. We had dinner and some wine and then it began to storm. We put my student and another person in a taxi and then decided to walk back to the hotel.
I was cold and soaked through. I had had a little wine, and Triple Threat was laying the praise for my work on pretty thick. This seemed to be the perfect trifecta to send me into tears. Just copious non-cathartic, non-productive tears. Paralyzing tears. Triple Threat put his arm around me and let me cry into his chest for a minute, before guiding me back to the hotel. Before we departed, he told me that I needed to get right again because it upset him to see me wound as tight as I had been. I didn’t sleep well and I woke with the sort of puffy eyes that drunkenly crying into a chap’s tweed jacket can get you.
We flew home and less than 16 hours later I found myself on a plane to Boston to attend the Pediatric Academic Societies’ meeting. This is a meeting I haven’t been to and I came as sort of a support squad to others. I also have a student presenting here. And, although the talks are very interesting, I am still just plain burnt out. Thing is, I do believe that occasionally the universe does have ways of sending us messages. So, earlier today when I was sitting in a session, enjoying the talks but also thinking about how tired I am, and the fire alarm went off, I could only see it as a sign. The universe’s way if telling me to stop and get out.
So that’s what I am going to do. I am going to help my folks here prepare for their sessions, I am going to see the science I want to see, I am going to let Tom Levenson regale me me with stories and scotch, and then I am getting out of dodge early. I am going to get back to MRU a day before everyone else and spend some time with my family and my local mentoring squad.
I need to learn to give myself permission to say “no” to more people. To close my office door for a while each day. I am fantastic at giving that advice to others, but I can’t seem to take it myself. It’s been good to be good at what I do, but it also means that people bring you more to do. When those people are senior, I have a hard time denying them. The response thus far has been to work more, but I am at the limit of my ability to do that and the lack of sleep is making me irrational. I need to get this right before it impacts the productivity that determines my career advancement.
Either than, or Triple Threat is going to need to invest in a lot more tweed.