La vida es grandiosa (Life is grand)

In ten years time, we are going to look back at this particular time in our life either very fondly or with regret. We don’t know yet. But, we’ll see how it goes. A tiny little dream that we built up over the last six months has died. In it’s place we are building a new one, something we’re still very unsure of, something that is more of a gamble, but maybe more satisfying in the end if it all works out.

I spent three weeks with him in Spain, one of my longest visits yet. It was fun, as is always the case when I’m with him, but it was also spent under a cloud of sadness and fear mostly on his part. I didn’t realize how big that cloud was until the very end, when he came back to me all emotional after a phone conversation with his friend and possible boss (which didn’t happen in the end) and said “we need to talk”. Initially, I thought he was joking, but no, he was pretty serious. He told me he didn’t want to take up the high paying banking job, in a great multinational company, in New York City, a coveted position in a highly desirable field that people would give up anything for. He felt research was his true calling and he didn’t want to give it up. I can’t really say I was surprised but I didn’t imagine he would give up the job, call it quits before even joining it. But, I guess I understood his point, I could see how miserable he was these past few weeks, getting more so as his first day at the new place was drawing close. In the moment, I only wanted to make sure he was okay and went along with it. The next day though when I woke up, it hit me. I was a little disappointed, I even got mad at him for a bit and later on told him that I felt like our dream had just died. But, I still supported him and more importantly understood why he felt the way he did.

Actually even now, two days after having formally rejected the offer, it feels surreal. Like, life has taken a new turn, with a few blind spots on our way. But, we are in it together. I know we’ll figure it out. Maybe this is one of our greatest adventures, and we just don’t realize it right now. We’ll make sure that our future is awesome, that we live it the way we want to, together full of love and laughter. After all, life is grandiose, so why not make the ride fun!


A year on – updates and new hiccups


So, here I was, almost a year into my 2nd postdoc. It was going fine. I learnt a lot of new stuff, more importantly, doing experiments and handling live organisms. I was facing more work pressure than before. But, it was going fine, until one day I went into an existential crisis (just like the pic above :P). I realized that my personal life with my boyfriend still existed in the virtual world, time was passing by and not much of a progress had been made. It was one of those days when I was down and of course, I brought my boyfriend down with me. 😛 I told him that I couldn’t go on like this and that I needed a plan. I needed to know when and how we would start building our lives together in the same place. I needed to have a timeline, needed to know when our respective postdoc lives would end so that our real happily ever after could begin. I also needed a plan for my future career. I had to know where I was going and what I would be doing a year and a half later.

I was a mess and so we ended up having a long conversation about all this. We’re still in the process of figuring out the details of exit strategies from our postdoc lives. But hey, at least we’ve started working on it. The idea is for both of us to secure a job a year and a half from now. He is definitely targeting academia and I am still debating about industry or academia. But, we have started taking it seriously and started looking for options. We don’t know how it’ll pan out, or even, how much time it will take. But, we want to have a shot in Canada and of course in India.

There’s a lot of work to be done, universities and job advertisements to short list, cover letters and research proposals to write and informational interviews to conduct. But, we’re finally ready to head right in. Wish us luck!

Geek Girl


Postdoc-ing again: Part III – The job offer

So continuing from my last post, Postdoc-ing again: Part II, where I talked about my interviews for my next postdoc job, this is what happened right after. My life cannot be bereft of drama, and as if to prove a point, I got 2 offers (one from England and the other from USA) within a couple weeks of each other. The catch was that the USA offer was on email and the Prof was making a delay in giving me an official offer. Some issue with funding approval by the university.

There was not much I could do, but to keep the UK offer on hold for a week, but no one likes to be a backup and it was pretty clear that I was annoying the UK Prof. The other thing was that I had already built a relationship with the UK Prof through my failed Marie-Curie grant application and keeping him on hold was something he would not have anticipated. Still, I took my chances, and informed the US Prof of this competing offer so he could get on with the preparation of the official document if he really wanted me. In the meantime, I received another call for an interview with a very reputed Prof in my field. This at least gave me some backup if the other two fell through. And so, after a month of uncertainty, I finally received an email from the US Prof with his official offer.

But hey, I can’t be that mad right, coz this is the first time in my life that I got two very good offers, and faced the problem of plenty. This is definitely a good problem to have.

After the offer, I had to negotiate my salary, which was at least $5000 less than what I had expected. This was awkward but I did manage to get it up by $3000. 🙂 It was a little less, but I would take it. It was after all my dream job!

And so, I am moving to a new city also on the east coast of USA in June. I am so looking forward to this change in my life. And to top it off, my paper during my current postdoc has been accepted and proof-read. It should be up online by the end of this week. Suddenly everything has come together! Yay!!

Geek Girl



Postdoc-ing again: Part II – The interviews

In my last post, Postdoc-ing again: Part I I wrote about how I had started looking for a second postdoc position and had failed to get the job after being interviewed. So, to continue, I decided to keep looking. In fact, my PhD advisor suggested I try all the big names as well. I thought, why not, as I really had nothing to lose.

My strategy was two-fold. I decided to include my current university’s name in the subject line. The place I work at right now has some prestige associated with it and I decided to use it in my favor. This I thought would give some authenticity to the email and compel the reader to at least click on it. The second part of the strategy was to write a very good cover letter, something I’ve done before as well. I tried to incorporate at least a sentence about how my skills would be useful for the respective projects in the lab. Of course, this strategy is not something novel, but for the first time in my life I started getting responses from some accomplished faculty placed at good universities. Most of these responses were negative stating that they didn’t have funding, or that they were not hiring, but the replies more often than not suggested that they had liked my CV and wished me the best. This definitely meant that my cover letter and CV were being read which encouraged me to keep searching.

Eventually, I was asked for a Skype interview with a Professor from an Ivy League University. This interview went really well towards the end of which he asked me to come visit his lab. I was excited. I arranged for a visit in January. In the mean time, I received another call for an interview at a National Lab. I visited both these places, spending the days giving a formal 1 hour presentation which lasted much longer than that and discussing ideas with my potential employers and lab mates. At both these places, I was asked some difficult questions, for which I had to think on my feet. It was challenging, but in a good way. And, I could see that I was evoking positive responses. I thought I would be a good fit in both the labs. The hard part was done. All I had to do now was see if they would actually take me.

Geek Girl

Postdoc-ing again: Part I – The hustle

I had been in my current postdoc position for about a year and a half and I knew it was time I started looking again, for a second postdoc position. In preparation for this, I applied for a relevant conference months in advance. I then set about to prepare for my poster presentation. During the conference, I talked to as many people as I could, with the whole intention of networking. I did meet at least one junior faculty member who was working in the same field as me. There were some good discussions during lunch and dinner, but I was not able to meet anyone who was interesting enough and who had a postdoc position available. I knew then that I should have done more research on the participants of the conference and made a list of potential employers.

Towards the end of the conference, I did meet one professor from England who was in exactly the same field as me, was interested in the same kinds of problems, was very accomplished, had a decent number of papers in reputed journals and the best part, he advertised for a postdoc position! It met every single criteria on my list. He even had experimental collaborators. After his talk, I worked up enough courage to go and ask him a question. He was interested in talking about it. I subsequently sat with him for lunch and we discussed some more science with another Professor as well. Finally, after lunch, I asked him about the coveted postdoc position that he had mentioned at the end of his talk. He looked at my CV right there and showed interest. I had struck gold!

After I went back, I wrote to him regarding application for the Marie Curie Fellowship. He agreed to be my host and we worked on a proposal. It was going very well at this stage. In the mean time, I also got my postdoctoral contract extended by 7 months. This gave me enough buffer time and I started applying for positions to various other labs as well.

In the beginning, I was only applying to places that had been advertised during the conference. I got one interview call from a not-so-great place. The interview, as far as I could tell, went really great. I gave a presentation, was asked a lot of questions, and I believe I had satisfactory explanations for all of them. But, about 3 weeks later, they told me I was not the best fit.

I was a little perplexed as to how that had happened. But, on the suggestion of my PhD advisor, I decided to move on.

Geek Girl

How ambitious are you?

Ambition is a strange thing. It makes you aim for things that are sometimes beyond your reach and sometimes through a crazy maze of a path. It is when you are ready to do anything to take you there that you hustle. You do everything in your capacity to get there, even if that is at the cost of your happiness.

My personal happiness lies in living with my boyfriend. But, we are both ambitious and currently our ambitions are taking us to different countries, me staying put in the US and him to Spain. We could have probably tried getting postdoc positions in the same country, in the same city even, but we ended up doing what was best for our careers and not our personal lives. Sometimes I do think we might have been happier had we been even a little satisfied with what we have. But, that is not us. As soon as we achieve something, we raise our bars even higher aiming for more again. We know we’d regret it if we didn’t do that. It’s crazy. But hey, what can you do other than make peace with the fact.

We have set a deadline though. We are going to slog for two more years before starting to look for a permanent job in the same city. But, we have raised our bars from what we set out for in the beginning. We have decided to look for permanent faculty positions at research institutes, which is going to be tough, but also exciting. Imagine if we were to achieve that! We’d do something that no one in our families has done before us and that in itself is motivation enough. Let’s see where our ambitions take us eventually. And, if we finally manage to live together after the “slog years” that is the postdoc.

So, what’s your story? How ambitious are you?

Geek Girl


This is how we met… :)


Prelude: He is visiting me, but is currently out of town on an academic visit to a University in another city. And so, obviously, I miss him. But then I thought, why not write our story, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time now.

So here goes…

I was a PhD student at the Institute and so was he. But, of course, I didn’t know he even existed coz we were in different departments and had no common friends at least in the beginning. I was a regular at the badminton court, going there every evening for a game or two to get refreshed. I love sports and not just passively. I like to play, and at that point in my life I only knew the game of badminton. So, I went to the courts almost every evening and played for a couple of hours. This was back in 2007, yeah I know, long time right! In the next 3 years, I made some friends on the badminton court and had a group that I played with. There were of course periods of inactivity in between due to an overload of coursework and/or some other better distraction. But, I was a regular and people kept coming and going on the courts.

So, of course on any given day, there would be 1-2 people who would be new to the badminton courts. I didn’t know everybody. But, the rule on the courts was to wait your turn for a game and then play doubles with whoever was also waiting during that time. So, it happened that I played with him and 2 other people . I only knew one of the guys in his group. There was also a girl from the Netherlands who was visiting our institute for a few months.  I think I asked him for his name while we were all waiting our turns for another game. It was pretty unremarkable. I don’t remember anything about this, except that I talked to him for a few minutes.

And, sure enough, a few days later, I received a Facebook friend request!


30 before 30

Inspired by blog, I thought I should list out the things I want to do before I turn 30. I don’t have a lot of time left for that. Just a little over a year. But, let’s see what I can do by September 2016.

So, here goes:

  1. Visit at least 2 other states in the US.
  2. Learn to drive.
  3. Learn to swim.
  4. Publish at least one paper on your own.
  5. Learn setting and bumping at the net in volleyball.
  6. Run a 5k.
  7. Publish at least 4 papers apart from the one mentioned above.
  8. Make a new friend.
  9. Write at least 12 blogposts in a year.
  10. Read at least 10 books in a year.
  11. Go hiking somewhere in the US.
  12. Start looking for permanent positions.
  13. Call or email the kids at least once a month.
  14. Make a decision about my future with him.
  15. Decide when I want to get married.
  16. Build relations with his family.
  17. Get passports made for Mummy and Papa.
  18. Learn to cook at least 10 exotic dishes.

Ok, I couldn’t get to 30. I’ll maybe make a list of 35 before 35 sometime after I am 30. Let’s see.


Extension of contract: good news or bad news?

My postdoctoral contract is being extended another 7 months, which seems like good news. Coz that lets me stay here in the same lab for some time while I look for a new postdoctoral job. I am grateful that at least I have this job, while some of my friends are yet to find one because of funding issues or have had to leave one because of visa issues. So far, I face neither. I accepted the offer and then I found out that the salary I was being offered was less than even the minimum stated by the NIH. And that, when I was eligible for more than the minimum because at the start of my reappointment, I will have 2 years of experience. But no, I am being offered less than the minimum given to someone with 0 years of postdoctoral experience.

I hate this systemic exploitation. I know I don’t have another job lined up right now. But, this only motivates me to leave this place sooner. How can someone be given so little when so much is demanded from them?

Sometimes I think why I even did a PhD when I don’t even get valued for it! I do love research, but hey, if your boss does not even acknowledge your years of experience, then it is sheer disrespect to yourself. Postdocs are the rare breed that are at that stage in their lives when they want to have a stable life. But, we are over-worked and underpaid to the extent that we have no personal life left and are working even on weekends. I want to move out of this misery. I want to be free, free to work with people who value my contribution, free to have a life and free to be stable and live my life the way I want with no guilt hovering over me when I don’t work in weekends.

My personal goals would then be to:

  1. Get a new job with better pay where I am valued.
  2. Find out all the J visa loopholes and rules and regulations and get the waiver in a timely manner.
  3. Explore options in industry.
  4. Finally settle down with my boyfriend and stop this horrible long-distance that we’ve been having for almost 3 years now.

Hope I can finally get on with my life…


The uncertainty principle: Scramble for J visas

I just made up a new uncertainty principle that applies to postdocs. It states that if you have secured a postdoc, you have to worry about getting your J visa. And, if you do have your J visa, you have to worry about getting a new postdoc position or securing the old one. You can never be certain about both for long.

I was talking to a friend today and apparently it has been 2 months since she applied for her J visa. She is really worried. And, there is no one who can be contacted in this matter. The helpline is practically worthless as the person at the other end is some employee of a call center and he won’t have any more information than what is available online. And, God forbid, if you are one of those unlucky souls who faces a problem, whose email id and documents have been misplaced (which is the case for my friend) or who has an error in his/her visa (something that I had the misfortune of having). You then have to write an email to their support, to which they say they will respond in 2 days. Then after 2 days you have to either send in some more documents or just wait around, the waiting part of which can last anywhere between 2 days to 2 months.

International postdocs like me already have it tough, what with most of us moving across countries and continents. And then, to top it, we have to worry about our J visas, which have so many hidden rules that every time you meet another international postdoc, one of the topics of discussion is always the visa they’re on. For some countries and some fields -the list for which is completely arbitrary- there is a 2 year home return rule, which means that at the end of 2 years of your stay in the US, you have to return to your home country for 2 years before you can again apply for a J visa. Then, there is a 5 year rule, which means that you cannot extend your J visa beyond 5 years unless you obtain a waiver from your home country, which is an arduous process that takes many months. Of course, these rules and waivers are more relaxed for some countries and much less for others, which means that we are basically at the mercy of the foreign policies and relations of our home countries with our host. Postdocs from India for example, can get waivers on both the 2 years and 5 years rules, and get multiple entry visas, although sometimes just obtaining one might take anywhere between 2 days to 6 months. But, I heard from an Iranian postdoc once that her J1 visa was a single entry visa and therefore, she hadn’t gone home in like 5 years. Can you even imagine what it’s like to not see your family for 5 years? So, the irony is that earlier you were trapped in your home country and now you’re trapped in your host country. It is ridiculous.

Another ridiculous rule for J1 visa is that once your DS2019 (the form on which your J1 visas are based on) expires before you extend it, you cannot apply for a new one just like that. There should be no gap between the expiration and extension of your DS2019. Also, if you have been on a dependent (J2) visa, your visa also ends along with your spouse’s and you can’t even transfer it to an independent J1 anymore. Anyone reading this must have already got bored and confused by now. Imagine if you actually had to know all of this at the tip of your fingers just so you know for sure that you won’t be evicted from the country.

As it stands now, my own J1 visa is valid only until November 2015. So, I either have to get a new postdoc position or extend my current one before that. And, of course, everything depends on funding! So, as you can guess, I have started my worry yet again. Here’s to hoping I manage to secure a new postdoc position soon enough.