After my meeting with my program director back in the beginning of March, I decided that the only thing I could do was to do the best I could, and get myself through grad school, one step at a time. I had sent an email to the bioinformatics postdoc and FormerPostdoc asking them to include me the next time they discussed the project so I could get more involved, and spent an afternoon sorting out the data access issue.
I started dressing a little nicer (fewer T-shirts, more cute tops, but still mostly jeans), as much to put me in a more "professional" or "adult" frame of mind as anything. In lab, I put my head down and worked harder than ever before on getting things done - a review I was working on, the project with FormerPostdoc, and the project with current labmate. I took shorter lunch breaks and coffee breaks, and tried not to socialize while I was working, even if it was a tedious task.
I forced myself to speak up more - this was really hard, but I tried to just ask whatever question came to mind in lab meetings or group meetings or journal club. Some of the questions were good, some were less insightful, but I made an effort to get past the discomfort and speak up more. I wish I could say it got easier, but it's only a little easier now. Maybe with more practice it will keep getting easier.
We started having group meetings with the bioinformatics team again, and although it took me a little while to get caught up on the bioinformatics side of things, I did my best to participate and was able to share my data and talk about the biology side of things.
And I say "able to share", because FormerPostdoc tried to do it for me. After we had set the meeting time, he sent me an email asking for my data so that he could present it to the group before we talked about the next steps for the bioinformatics team. I got that email while I was standing at the bus stop one morning, and thought it was weird. I showed it to my friend to be sure that I wasn't just overreacting, and he declared it "messed up".
I sent FormerPostdoc an email back with a summary of my data and said that since I'd be at the meeting, I could present it (I did send him the raw data after the meeting too). I'm not sure what his deal is, whether he was intentionally keeping me out of the loop, or whether he just doesn't realize when he's doing something like that.
A few meetings later (mid-April), we were discussing a biology experiment to answer a remaining question. FormerPostdoc laid out the basic outline of the experiment, and I suggested an addition to rule out another possible answer more clearly (basically to run the same experiment in parallel with another protein - sort of another control, but really more like another experimental test).
FormerPostdoc said that we didn't need to run both to come to conclusion X.
I said that if we don't run both, we can't completely rule out conclusion Y, and if I were a reviewer, I would ask about conclusion Y.
FP said that if the reviewers ask about it, we can run it, but it was going to be a waste.
I pointed out that running the two in parallel would require less time, and we could use the same controls - saving money. It wasn't going to be hard to add one more sample, so we should just do it now.
FP said no, not worth it. Conclusion Y is going to be wrong anyway.
At this point, I'm thinking that I must be missing something, that there's something published out there ruling out conclusion Y. But then I thought - I'm not going to let my insecurity keep me quiet. If I'm wrong, oh well. If I'm right, we potentially save a lot of hassle during the review process...so I kept fighting.
Me: Even if you don't want to put all the data in the paper, at least we'll have it so that WHEN the reviewers ask we can just put it in or add a statement or whatever, and we won't have to do any more work then!
FP: Conclusion Y is wrong. And the reviewers aren't going to ask.
Me: BUT I WOULD ASK if I were a reviewer.
At this point, both of us had raised our voices and everyone in the room was looking at me like I was crazy. Fortunately, my PI stepped in -
She asked FP why he was so convinced that conclusion X was right, had someone else published something supporting conclusion X over conclusion Y? Could we just cite that to rule out conclusion Y?
No, he said, he was just sure that conclusion X is right. (If you "just know" things, then why are we wasting all this time and money doing the actual science?)
PI: Well, you're usually right FP, but I think Allison has a point. If the reviewers ask, we'll want to show them some actual data. It's probably worth the extra $100 or so in reagents and extra few minutes at each step to just do both.
I'm not sure if that was a significant moment to my PI, or if anyone else took note of it, but to me, it was significant - I almost backed down because I didn't like the confrontational style of the conversation, but I didn't. I felt strongly that my logic was sound and that I shouldn't let FP dismiss me so easily. (I believe that if there was ever a real ethical or major science issue I always would have fought for what I thought was right, but since this was relatively minor and no real harm would have come of NOT doing what I thought, it was a lot harder to fight for). The bioinformatics team as a whole seems to take me a little more seriously now, thought I can't say for sure that this one incident was the tipping point, or whether I'd just been around contributing enough that they started to recognize my ideas more.
The rest of April and May passed pretty much the same - I worked hard, I tried to take care of myself, I started to feel a little more like I could get though this.
We originally wanted to get the paper submitted by the end of June, so by early June things were a little more tense. Everything wasn't completed, so we all worked like crazy to finish things up, to edit each other's writing, and the frame the paper in the best way - which meant more experiments!
There was a minor incident with FP regarding the experiment when he thought I might need help from someone to do a technique which I am currently the lab expert on. Before he left, he was probably the lab expert on this technique - but he trained me, and should know that I know what I'm doing. I guess he has know way of knowing how I've progressed since he left, except that I authored a review on the technique. This pissed me off, because if nothing else, he should know that a senior grad student in this lab would know how to do this technique WELL ENOUGH, but also because I was more than proficient when he left. Basically I've concluded that FP just doesn't respect me, and there's probably nothing I can do about it.
At any rate, the experiment worked quite well, and we were just about done. I planned out my other experiments around the rest of the stuff I needed to do for this paper, had an editing schedule, and I felt almost good.
But because 2013 is apparently trying really hard to be the worst year ever, in the midst of this frantic race to the finish line, tragedy struck.
to be continued...