Gestern sind Linnea und ich mit dem Velo ans Meer gefahren. Dort haben wir auf Donny und Jacoby gewartet, die uns mit dem SAAB und der Camping Couch gefolgt sind.
Gestern sind Linnea und ich mit dem Velo ans Meer gefahren. Dort haben wir auf Donny und Jacoby gewartet, die uns mit dem SAAB und der Camping Couch gefolgt sind.
I am back from Panama. Living and working in California. This month I have to do a a lot of bioinformatics. Several datasets are waiting to be analyzed. I am now actively using R Markdown and Jupyter notebooks to make my work more transparent and reproducible. Stephanie organized a workshop for the Carlson, Power, Ruhi and Grantham group at UC Berkeley on data management plans. I found myself in all categories: the planning stage of a project, fieldwork, wet lab, data analysis, statistics, bioinformatics, preparing a paper, and post-publication. This is postdoctoral life. And it is beautiful.
Last week I read this blog several times. It gives me goosebumps because it describes my life in very beautiful words. It touches me right in the middle. What is a postdoc?
This blog post is by Jeremy Yoder, now professor Jeremy Yoder. He is a member in the committee of The Molecular Ecologist. They offered me to write blog posts for their website. I am extremely happy to fulfill this job. The journal Molecular Ecology is one of my favorites and I find it important to make its publications accessible to everybody. Writing for this website is one step in the right direction. I am planning to explain exciting Molecular Ecology articles to the general public and discuss trends in this field of research. Additionally, I am also looking forward to contributing articles about the challenges and strategies of researchers (mostly postdocs) who are trying to juggle work and family. I envision this website as a platform to assist academia in becoming a more inclusive environment. I know that the other bloggers are on the same page and I am extremely thankful that they offered me to become a part of their writing team.
I have been half sick as of yesterday and today. However, as a parent you cannot just lie in bed and wait until you recover. Sorry world for spreading my bugs. Yesterday afternoon, we went to Stinson beach to remember at what a beautiful place we are allowed to life. Today we joined the Chinese New Year party at the UC village. Such parties make this place unique. It feels so special to walk 300m to a community center and meet fellow researcher families from all over the world on a boring Sunday to celebrate the year of the dog. We met people who spoke Mandarin, Bangla, Japanese and English. We used too much glitter, ate good free food and took silly photos. I am enjoying every second of being affiliated with the best public university in this country.
I have this personal feeling about Humboldt County. I seem to love it. I don’t know if I could live there. I don’t like the meth heads. However, I always love to visit. I also met the nicest people there. Tommy Williams made it possible that I could go sample fish close to Arcata. An opportunity I had already given up on. He wrote to me on Friday. And on Sunday we were already in Arcata.
I sampled young of the year from Prairie Creek the first day. Prairie Creek is super pretty. On the way there we saw lots of elk hanging out in the water. We had beautiful fall weather and sampled in the middle of a redwood forest. I joined John’s crew, including Chris and Reed. The day was phantastic! These guys are super nice and showed me how to use a seine – a kind of net to catch juveniles. At Prairie Creek there are almost only Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) research projects. Yet, I am only interested in O. mykiss. Here comes the special challenge: at this life stage you cannot discern O. mykiss from cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki), which are also very common in this creek. Three very similar species in one little creek. I just doubled my sample size and I will use genetic markers later to find out who ist what. I was a one-woman-show and processed all my fish alone. I got a bit tired but then I met Jesse and Jolyon, two other fish researchers in the same creek. Jolyon offered me some smoked Chinook salmon that he had caught and smoked the day before. It was delicious and gave me a lot of energy to finish this field day!
I spent the evening with my family. We had good food and beer. Arcata is a little jewel.
The second day I spent with Colin and Eric at Freshwater Creek. They are stars in seining. They caught whatever they wanted with their net. Two AmeriCorps had their first day in the field. AmeriCorps are volunteers who work for about a year in conservation projects at many different locations all across the state of California. Colin taught them a lot about monitoring Coho salmon and estimating their survival during the winter season. I tagged along and learned a lot.
While I was working, Donny enjoyed the area with the kids and met his old College friend Mike and his family. We heard about wildfires further down south and during the second day the sky got grey and full of smoke. The wind brought the smoke up to us. Our phones did not work anymore because some fibre cables were burnt. Luckily, we found each other again. We met at Freshwater Creek and Linnea helped me finish processing the fish.
The same night I drove the whole family back down to Albany. It was dark but we could see the wildfires between Willits and Ukiah! Right next to the highway. Huge fires. I have never seen something like that before.
I had a short night because I had to get up early the next morning to sample fish in Marin County at Walker Creek with Greg and his crew. He also had a helper from the AmeriCorps! For this sampling day Laura joined me to help. She is a great helper and very pleasant to hang out with! On the way home we went to taste some French cheese at a farm close to Point Reyes. The sky was orange and full of ashes. The particles in the air made the sun redder than usual. Totally surreal.
The last couple of days I had several meetings to organize lab work, work on the frog project, and teach researchers about health care. I hurried from meeting to meeting. Everything seemed pretty surreal in the constant smoke and strange sunlight. Even breathing was getting harder and harder. The Bay Area is a smoke hole!
Nach der Geburt ist vor der Zerreissprobe
Christelle Benz und Valentina Anderegg sind dabei, 307 Schweizer Paare zu analysieren um herauszufinden, wie Kinder unsere heterosexuelle Paarbeziehung verändern. Dies wird bezahlt vom Schweizer Nationalfonds. Die Presse hat diese Studie in den letzten Tagen gross verkauft mit Titeln wie diesem: „ Depressionen, wenig Lust auf Sex: Nur wenige Paare sind sich bewusst, wie stark ein Kind ihre Beziehung gefährden kann.“
Leider vergessen wir manchmal, wie wir für tausende von Jahren gelebt haben und was für Einflüsse uns geprägt und geformt haben. Es liegt in der Natur des Menschen, dass wir uns nur an die letzten 30 Jahre erinnern. Diese kurze Zeit hilft uns dann, eine Meinung zu bilden. Zum Beispiel über das individuelle Glück und wie es uns findet.
Frauen haben jahrtausende lang Kinder geboren. Im Schutz der Familie. Männer haben jahrtausende lang Kinder gemacht. Mit diesen Frauen. Dass sich eine Frau nach der Geburt primär um das neue Kind kümmert ist wichtig, damit dieses Kind überlebt. Physiologische Prozesse führen dazu, dass sich die Frau am Anfang völlig auf das Kind konzentriert. Das sind vor allem Hormone. Die vielbeschriebene Depression, das Stillen, der Schlafmangel. All diese Umstände führen zu einem Ausnahmezustand der Frau, der die Überlebenschancen des Neugeborenen maximiert. Ohne diese Umstände würde die Frau wahrscheinlich weg laufen und ihr altes Leben weiterleben. Jahrtausende lang haben die Familienangehörigen Mütter beim Müttersein unterstützt um das Überleben unserer Art zu sichern. Der Mann – jetzt Vater, die Grossmutter, die Geschwister und Halbgeschwister. Die Kusine. Das ist alles völlig natürlich.
Natürlich verändert sich dabei die Paarbeziehung. Sie wird jetzt eine Dreierbeziehung. Oder unter Umständen wird man sich jetzt auch bewusst, dass man eigentlich eine erweiterte Siebnerbeziehung lebt. Verallgemeinerungen über die Beschreibung des Glückszustands zu machen finde ich unangebracht. Die Entscheidung, Kinder zu haben ist irreversibel. Es hat schon immer Leute gegeben, die sich dagegen entschieden haben. Die haben dann etwas anderes gemacht um den Erhalt unserer Art zu sichern. Umweltschutz, Entwicklungshilfe, Aufzuchtshilfe ihrer Verwandten, Selbstverwirklichung. Irgendwas. Dann gab es auch schon immer Homosexuelle, die es etwas schwieriger haben, Kinder zu zeugen. Paare mit Kindern mit Paaren ohne Kinder zu vergleichen ist wie der Vergleich von Äpfeln mit Birnen. Irrelevant.
Paare mit Kindern müssen nicht zerrissen werden. Früher gab es wohl häufig Extrapaarbeziehungen während dieser Zeit. Heute gibt es auch noch Gleitcreme. Wenn die Anfangsphase einmal überstanden ist, dann kehrt man mehr oder weniger wieder zurück in die alte Beziehung. Nur jetzt ist sie mehr und oft auch neu. Man muss sich neu finden. Man erkennt sich wieder. Man arbeitet weiter.
Frauen haben jahrtausende lang gearbeitet. Auch als Mütter. Während Väter, Grossväter, Grossmütter, Tanten, Kusinen, und Geschwister dabei helfen und die Verantwortung über die Kinder kurzzeitig voll übernehmen kann die Mutter Beeren sammeln, eine Hütte bauen, Hasen jagen, mithelfen ein Mammut erlegen, Artikel schreiben, Ultraschall machen, forschen. Wieder sich selber sein. Mit den Kindern kommt Veränderung, Verantwortung, Aufgabenteilung, Verwandtenliebe.
Mit dem Menschen, den man liebt Kinder zu machen und sie dann gross zu ziehen ist für mich Glück. Ich liebe es zu sehen, wie sich die Verwandten umeinander kümmern und vertraut miteinander werden. Vertrauen gewinnen ineinander und in die Welt. Vertrauen und Liebe wird unsere Art erhalten. Unser Glück schmieden wir selber.
Wenn Studenten und Mitarbeiter an der Uni Berkeley mindestens zwei Kinder haben und wenig verdienen, dann dürfen sie in einem sogenannten Dorf in Albany eine subventionierte Wohnung beziehen. Genau von so einer Wohnung haben wir seit 2 Jahren geträumt. Wir haben sie bekommen. Bereits 2.5 Wochen nachdem wir nach Kalifornien gekommen sind und in einem kleinen Transporter gewohnt haben. Eigentlich habe ich eine Email bekommen mit der Nachricht, dass wir sicher bis im Februar keine subventionierte Wohnung kriegen werden weil viele andere in der Warteliste bedeutend ärmer sind als wir. Nachdem ich aber persönlich mit der ganzen Familie bei den Wohnungsvermittlern im Büro aufgetaucht bin haben sie uns per sofort eine Wohnung angeboten. Klammerbemerkung: Hier in Kalifornien läuft sehr viel so. Es gibt viel Bürokratie zu erledigen aber wenn man persönlich vorbei schaut sind die Leute sehr freundlich und vor allem hilfreich. Jetzt haben wir also so eine Wohnung.
Was braucht man in einer leeren 3-Zimmer Wohnung? Der 50-jährige Mann und die 30-jährige Frau mit 2 Kleinkindern und einem unerwarteten Mitbewohner Mitte 20 sitzen in einer sauberen, leeren Wohnung. Mein Stipendium beinhaltet Familienbeiträge und wir haben Erspartes mitgebracht. Nun können wir die Wohnung füllen. Diese Situation ist spannend und aufregend. Sie beinhaltet aber auch viele Entscheidungen. Fast zu viele Entscheidungen. Was braucht man überhaupt in einer Wohnung um glücklich zu sein. Kann man das generalisieren? Was brauche ich jeden Tag? Einen Wasserkocher, einen Dampfgarer, ein Bett mit einer bequemen Matratze, einen Staubsauger. Das waren meine ersten Gedanken. Dann habe ich an Linnea gedacht. Spielsachen, ein Kajütenbett, Schränke für Spielsachen. Einen Kühlschrank, eine Badewanne, WC Papier, Internet, ein Bett – das sagt Donny. Nichts, ich brauche nichts. Das sagt der Mitbewohner. Ein paar Kartonschachteln. Das sagt der post-doc der nicht mit uns wohnt. Der durchschnittliche Schweizer mit Nationalfonds Geld, der sein Stipendium an der Uni verbringt. Oder ist das mein Gewissen?
L.A. is huge. There is no Swiss comparison. Zürich or Geneva are little villages compared to it. San Francisco and the whole Bay area are also bigger than Switzerland and overpopulated. When you drive during the night it seems like the whole world is artificially illuminated. Thousands of cars, houses and signs are flashing. It is hard to believe that 150 years ago none of these people were here. This was a wild place with whales, sharks, condors, mountain lions and even golden bears. If you want to get a glimpse of the past you should go to the Angelo Coast Range Reserve. This is a reserve that is run by the University of California, Berkeley.
We drove up the coast the night before fieldwork and slept at Fort Bragg. We had dinner with the locals. A bar full of sailors, butchers and carpenters – us in the middle with the kids. And all these rough men turned soft and playful. Challenging Linnea in dominos and watching Donny feed Jacoby. Anyways, early in the morning we drove into the reserve and I helped Suzanne collect some data for her doctoral thesis. Donny stayed at the station during the day and I followed Suzanne into the woods. Climbing up the creeks against the flow and catching rainbow trout until it got dark. The mountain lions saw us but we never saw them. Suzanne caught her fish with electro shocks. While she administers current underwater we were trying to catch all the stunned critters with hand nets. We caught lots of salamanders (Dicamptodon spp.), frogs (Foothill yellow-legged frog / Rana boylei), crabs, and even a lamprey (Lampetra tridentate). And lots of rainbow trout, maybe some steelheads. Suzanne collected scales, tissue, wrote down sizes, weights, and stuck little PIT tags into the fish. She reminded me of myself working on my PhD. She is great and it seems she has it all under control. I am looking forward to collaborate with her next summer. We want to collect lots of juveniles and sample their gut microbes and at the same time we decided we should also have a look at the gut contents.
Linnean’s name for the rainbow trout is O. mykiss. In the South Fork Eel river watershed, where I went to visit Suzanne, O. mykiss individuals exhibit two different life-forms. Some individuals stay for their whole life in the river pools. These are the ‘actual rainbow trout’. Their counterparts swim down the river as juveniles and live for part of their lives in the Pacific Ocean. They come back as much bigger fish to spawn. These individuals are called ‘steelheads’. I want to find out if the gut microbes of juvenile rainbow trout and steelheads (before they leave) from the same river pools differ. My hypothesis is that their symbiont bacteria are different. I think that bacteria help the steelheads during the process of smolting – when they prepare to swim away.
Suzanne made me familiar with the typical fieldwork that is required to sample wild O. mykiss. We were crawling up and down the creeks with all the material. I really enjoyed the reserve and its wilderness. Most of the sampling techniques (sampling tissues and scales, measuring the fish) I already knew well. I was impressed how easy it seems to tag the fish with PIT tags and then how to scan them and recognize individuals. My task before next summer is to learn how to get stomach content samples from wild fish without hurting them. I am also thinking about getting ‘stool’ samples simultaneously.
Lucky, as I am, I joined the Eisen group right after the annual STAMPS course.
Holly and Guillaume took that course this summer and devoted the last three lab meetings on summarizing the most important bits from the course and sharing it with the rest of the group. I got all the course slides about the latest advancements and conclusions how to analyze microbial genomic data. It feels like I made the right choice of groups for my project. With Suzanne and the other people at ESPM I was deeply impressed about their expertise in ecology. In Jonathan’s group I met a bunch of people who are totally specialized on the analysis of microbial communities from different angles. Needless to say again that the Lake Arrowhead conference just blew me away. Hence, both aspects of my project, the host system and its symbionts are nicely covered.
Wunderschöner, gemütlicher Tag im Regen. Der alte Rhein reisst und tobt. Wir haben in der Stube gezeltet und Spiele gespielt. Jetzt schlafen Donny und Linnea. Jacoby und ich schreiben an einem Manuskript. Jacoby zappelt und streckt sich. So soll es sein.
In the morning I get up early. This is so untypically me. Strong coffee needed. Riding my bike to the train station. Buying more coffee at Segafredo. Vegging out in the train to Lausanne. Fribourg is mysterious with all the fog and a golden autumn sun in the morning. Usually I work on my private defense in the train. My presentation is still too long.
I have experienced quite a bit of instability lately. After I handed in my thesis I did not experience a magic happiness as I had been expecting. On the contrary, I got extremely exhausted. I felt heavy and got pulled down. At the same time I was shaken by existential thoughts. Big questions about life. Feeling lonely and more intensively. Convinced that I have no future I started worrying about the people in Gaza, and in the end I mostly cried. It is difficult to slow down if you have been driving in the sixth gear for too long.
It is good to write about it now. For several days I could not understand what is going on with me. I repeated often that everything is too much to me. It felt like a huge wave that was falling down on me. I suddenly realized that it had been too much. I finally reached a point in my life where I can truly say, I did too much. With all my honesty, it is hard to admit that I actually do have limits. It is no nice experience to feel your limit. That moment when you are enjoying a fast drive with your SAAB. Faster than ever. Totally hyper. And then the road bends and for a little second you lose control. This is how it feels like. During this little second something triggers a reaction, a little cut.
Now it heals. It feels like a wound that needs to heal. I will let it heal. I just handed in my PhD thesis and I am not allowed to take a step back and look at it with pride. While I was convinced during the last couple of days that I have no future and that I did not achieve anything, my husband and our daughter convinced me otherwise. My future started yesterday and I will have to cope with it. I discovered my limits and the people working with me need to respect them.
I do not expect that I am able to change much. I am 30 years old and the last 10 years I developed my own surviving strategies. However, I am hurting and I do not want this to happen again. Taking care of yourself is much more difficult for me than I would like to admit.
Here are some simple rules:
1) Sleep enough. Take those fucking naps if you do not sleep at night.
2) Try to eat healthy. Even if it has to be cute little calves and innocent fish.
3) Stay away from nicotine.
4) Do not think that you will stop drinking alcohol or coffee one day. It is too tempting and my brain got used to it.
5) Given that I have an awesome husband and the cutest and smartest daughter in the world, I have to pull the emergency break at the moment when I come home and feel unable to enjoy them. My little family is the most precious thing I have in my life and I want to always prioritize them. They will give me the strength to endure injustice and immoral behaviors at work.
6) I try to challenge myself and reach new goals every day at work. However, sometimes I realize that my contribution to science does not matter at all. Reminding myself about the feedback I get after presenting my work helps. I see my job as a way to learn how to solve problems and answer questions. While I feel pushed and forced in different directions right now, I should remember that one day I will be able to decide myself which problems I want to solve.
Appendix: When darkness falls and surrounds you, when you fall down, when you’re scared and you’re lost – be brave.
I am coming to hold you. When all your strength has gone and you feel wrong like your life has slipped away – follow me. You can follow me and I will not desert you now. I will keep you safe. You can trust me. I will protect you, my love.
With my job I can work from home. The fact that this is possible makes me very happy. Usually it involves a great deal of self-discipline, organization and cooperation from husband and daughter or other family members. In my case it works out fine.
The following points are important to make it work:
1) trust your partner that he/she is able to watch your kid.
Even if you can hear your kid crying, screaming, yelling, complaining – it is your partner’s responsibility now.
–> the same applies to other family members / babysitters
2) find a room in your appartment where you can close the door and concentrate on your work
This might involve ‚Boze‘ noise-killing headphones. I put up several Campus maps of UC Davis and Stanford to motivate myself. I also put up some sand from Carmel and Seaside at Monterey. In the middle there is a little toy boat that my father carved. When I see that stuff it signals to my brain that it is time to work and give the responsibility for my daughter to somebody else.
3) Make sure that you have a functioning internet connection wherever you are
I end up using it all the time to get access to papers and look up how different R-scripts work.
4) If your babysitter or kid is sick, make sure that there is a corner in your working room where the kid can hang out and spend some hours on its own.
Linnea is totally fascinated by the following:
– cat food
– fish food
– cute baby dolls with cute faces that she can put down in a toy bed
– clothes to put on her dolls
– counting real money
– sorting playing cards
– sorting tablets for the dishwasher
– eating a joghurt on her own
– cleaning everything with a wet wash rag
– painting on herself and on the walls
From time to time she wants me to acknowledge her work and give her a hug. When I am too absorbed with my work she does not even try to approach me.
If she does not want to play on her own anymore make her useful to do some work for you.
5) When you get to a point where you are not productive anymore let yourself be distracted and do some housework
You are at home. Undone housework can be distracting. Do not fight against it. Little breaks from writing a manuscript can be very helpful to come up with new thoughts and ways for phrasing. Big projects such as insulating an old house or painting shutters are very rewarding projects to distract from work for a while. They make you feel useful and successful and this makes you work better when you are back working on research.
6) At home there is no 8h-days.
Working at nights is very efficient. It makes me feel good because I am at peace and I know that my family is happily asleep very close to me. Work whenever it is possible and you will anyway end up with more than 8h every day.
Photo booth – pictures from the last 18 months: