Friday, August 29, 2008

I wish I was witty

As then I could come up with a funny way to introduce myself, but I'm not. What can you do, eh?

This is my first post, and I have to admit that I have been very nervous to post something here. Partly because I am currently a PhD Student (at least for the moment) and I find it just a tad bit intimidating to be part of this amazing group of contributors. However, I wasn't always a PhD student, nor will I ever only be a PhD student, which is why, I was invited to be part of this amazing (didn't I already say that?) group of contributors.

What did I do before I became a PhD student? After completing my masters degree I worked as a "Microscopy and Imaging consultant" for a National Research Institute. In a way the title is a fancy term for saying I was in charge of all the microscopes in the institute, but the job was way more then that. Anyone who does any type of work in the biological / biomedical fields know the importance of microscopy to research. Yet microscopy has changed immensely in a very short period of time. In the digital age there is more to taking a "good" image than just Kohler illumination. As an aside, many who work on microscopes don't even know what Kohler illumination is. Microscopy has gone high tech and very high resolution. Quality, high resolution microscopes (confocal, two-photon, widefield) run upto 3/4 of a million dollars and these scopes can be easily damaged. Furthermore, learning the intricacies of high resolution microscopy is not something that many students, let alone PI's have the time for. They just want to know how to get the data they need (which buttons they need to push, which ones they shouldn't touch). Which is where I came in, I trained all types of users on how to take quality images that looked good but also accurately represented their samples. I assisted them in designing their experiments, what controls to use, how to set up slides, and most importantly how to analyze and interpret the data. I also worked closely with a variety of PI's, developing grant proposals for the purchasing of new equipment, as well as coming up with new applications for existing equipment. The best part of my job was organizing seminars and workshops so that students and PI's could learn more about microscopy, what questions they should ask when looking at images, what is important in the methods section of a paper. When PI's had money to purchase equipment, but needed someone with the knowledge to find them the best bang for their buck, they came to me. I really enjoyed dealing with some of the microscopy and software sales reps, learning about the new scopes and software applications that were coming out, how they could improve the research of our PI's. It was a fun job that I really really enjoyed. Unfortunately it was a short-term contract as I was covering the maternity leave for the individual whose job it was. I am grateful for the opportunity to do it, as it really opened my mind up to what was out there in the science world and re-ignited my passion for science. Which is why I am back in the lab, because I also learned that not having my PhD was inhibiting me from getting some of the positions I would love. The lab work is not what I most passionate about, but that is OK because it is through the lab work that I am able to get a breadth and depth of knowledge that I can transfer into other careers ie Core Facility Manager, Grants Facilitator, Lecture, etc.

Now why do I say I am not only a Phd student? Well its because, I am also a mother of little monkey boy and I work the not-for-profit community, where I have gained a ton of exposure to women working in immensely different areas of science. Through that work I have learned the importance of networking and how constantly developing a reputation as an ethical, hardworking individual is so important. But that is for another post.


nickel said...

Do you have any recommendations for getting better at microscopy? I have the training from my labmates but there may always be tricks they haven't learned yet.

Thanks for the post. =)

The bean-mom said...

Scientistmother, I find *you* intimidating with your talk of Kohler illumination and two-photon microscopy! I will admit that I was one of those scientists who just wanted to know what buttons to press to get nice-looking pictures; I did some confocal microscopy, but never really understood the principles. And yeah, pretty much everyone in my lab was in the same mindset. I would have loved to have had someone like you working at our university! (we did have core facility technicians to help out, but no formal microscopy seminars and presentations--that would have been rad!)

I'm very much looking forward to your following posts on working at your non-profit and networking. I've been following your personal blog, and I'm also in awe of your latest networking accomplishments. Very nice first post, Scientistmother =)

Anonymous said...

As an aside, many who work on microscopes don't even know what Kohler illumination is.

My PhD was largely microscopy and I've never even heard of Kohler illumination! Is that more or less embarrassing than that I never understood what the hell the "Nomarski optics" slider did?

ScientistMother said...

Wow everyone, thanks for the great feedback. You've made my day. I will be the first to admit that I do not know everything about microscopes, but I was lucky enough to find some good resources and have a PI that felt it was important. I will post in the next couple days some excellent books that are easy to read, while providing critical information. I just have to find where they are in my very very well organized office...

Yttrai said...

A) Welcome!

B) O, i know all about being intimidated. I was actually pathologically shy in undergrad - physically incapable of asking questions in class, or using the phone, or interacting with strangers in any way. It was awesome :|

I learned two things, one in grad school and one in The Real World (tm):

1. All those scary people? They're just PEOPLE. They can't hurt you! They can say mean things, but that only hurts if you let it. They are only people, just like you. If you prick them, do they not bleed?

2. No one knows more about the work you've done than you. Before you argue with me about the specifics, what i mean is, when you get those questions like "that can't possibly have happened. It's impossible" perhaps you don't have an answer as to why something occurred, but it did occur and no one can tell you it didn't.

Actually, this makes me realise #3 i learned: It's okay to say, "i don't know." Once you realise 1,2, and 3, life becomes a lot more livable. Chin up, head held high, and no shame in not knowing the answer to every last question. It's the grace with which you admit you don't have the answer, and make a stab at proposing a solution, that people will remember.

My 0.02 only of course.

Welcome again :)

Thomas Joseph said...

Welcome aboard!

Anonymous said...

Hi there fellow PhD student!! Yay!

Shell said...

I never thought I would encounter the term Kohler Illumination in the blogosphere! I was one of those students who worked with microscopes (undergrad thesis) and did not know anything about Kohler. I didn't even know of the term then. Luckily, I met a zoology prof who is a histology and microscope expert. He taught me Kohler and without it, I wouldn't have had the chance to work with electron microscopy. I guess it was life changing, research-wise anyway.