Thursday, July 24, 2008

Birthdays… generally considered a good thing, an excuse to party, let your hair down and celebrate the passing of another year whilst looking forward to the next. Well, they are for most people, not me though! To me they are check points, markers along the race that is life, they tell you how far you have come, how well you are doing compared to others and whether you still stand the chance of finishing at a time you consider your personal best. I’ve been obsessed with my birthday for as long as I can remember, my parents never really believed in celebrating birthdays, so once I was old enough to celebrate it myself I put my all into it. My expectations were always high, the build up thrilling, the anticlimax shattering. I’m not entirely sure what I expect to happen exactly, but in my minds eye I am the happiest I have ever been, surrounded by all the people I love and by one to whom I am everything. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some great birthdays, notably my 21st which was a surprise party orchestrated by my school days best friend Christina. I was told we were celebrating the day after my birthday and was then surprised on the actual day by being blindfolded, taken to a house full of all my friends and being given a ‘this is your life’ book that Christina had made with mum's help. It was a truly glorious day. Since then though it has been fraught with disappointment, mainly my own fault for expecting too much (as usual!), so this birthday I have decided to turn my back on this tradition and I choose not to mark the passing of time this year, a year I would rather forget. The only resolution I do have for the coming year is to finally grow up!! Lets see how it goes shall we?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What becomes of the broken hearted?

They stop blogging for a few months apparently. ‘Not again’ I can hear you all screaming and indeed that’s what all my friends have been saying as well. Apparently I took leave of my senses a few months ago and plunged feet first into a highly dubious liaison with a highly unsuitable guy. I am now reaping the consequences of my rash choices and nursing a broken heart that is juts refusing to heal anytime soon.
So, why did I do it? I am actually a reasonably intelligent person, but I am also unfortunately a very romantic one as well. I like to trust in people and always try to see the good even when there is very little there. To cut a long story short, we met, he pursued me in a way I had never been pursued before and his attentions flattered my bruised heart and ego and I fell hook, line and sinker. Not such a bad thing you might think, after all this guy was actually single! But apparently, I had another lesson to learn in the art of dating and relationships. Just because a man says he is single doesn’t necessarily mean he is ‘available’ and this guy was as far from available as you could get. I didn’t realise this until it was too late and he’d already cheated on me (he obviously doesn’t see it this way as he always considered himself a free agent, something I wasn’t aware of).
Anyway, it’s all still too raw to think about too much. I am also stupidly trying to remain friends with this guy as I am rubbish at burning bridges and letting people go thus prolonging the agony probably. In the mean time I am trying against the odds to get together enough results for a publication and waiting to hear about various job applications. Life has lost some its lustre, but what other choice do I have except to carry on.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Next steps

The day has finally come and my employment contract has finally come to an end. This means a couple of things, i.e. no more money and no reason to be here anymore! So, now I have to decide what to do next! On a daily basis, I don’t mind making decisions on what experiments to do next, but as far as my personal life goes, it’s the bane of my existence! I feel like I have just come to terms with the decision to move here and now am faced with having to make another one! I did apply for an editing job here in Athens and in true Greek style after having been told I had got the job, they changed their minds and withdrew the offer. So, I am essentially back to square one. My old job would love to keep me on, but due to the severe lack of public funding for scientific research here in Greece, just don’t have any money with which to pay me and as much as I would like to think it, I can’t live off the semi-fresh Athenian air.

So, it’s looking like it’s back to old blighty for now which I am trying to convince myself is the right thing to do. As far as my career goes, it’s far better to work in a lab where you can at least understand the spoken language and have access to equipment and facilities that actually work! On a personal level, the realistic chances of me meeting a future partner are so much higher back home than they are here. For the first time in my life I am going to listen to my head and not my heart even though my heart keeps screaming at me to stay in this city and country that I have grown to love so much. I try and console it by assuring it that this is a temporary measure for a couple of years and that I will be back, armed with a good publication record and semi fluent Greek (which will be the result of many Greek evening classes which I am planning to enrol on).

So, the job hunt is on and I have set myself a preliminary leaving date of new year 2008. In the mean time I am trying not to think about it too much and not to scare myself stupid at the thought of moving to yet another new city on my own.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The course of true love never did run smooth

Well, it doesn’t for me anyway! I’m writing this whilst waiting for yet another man to show up. The tragedy is that he isn’t going to, just like all the others have haven’t this year. My love life is generally the stuff TV is made of. Think Dawson’s Creek meets Alley McBeal and Bridget Jones!

I spent most of my twenties in love with my best friend who had feelings for me too, but not enough to leave his girlfriend for. I was just ‘too risky’ you see. As fate would have it, his girlfriend eventually left him for another man and to my horror and heart break he then ran off with someone that wasn’t me. I did get over it eventually, but only to replace him with someone else equally as unsuitable and equally as attached. I don’t do this deliberately, well, at least I don’t think I do. Maybe on a subconscious level I only fall for guys I know are not emotionally available because I’m not, but who knows!

Anyway, three years later, here I am waiting for him to show. I haven’t seen him in four months since I told him how I felt and he kissed me. This obviously sent me into utter and total confusion, but he avoids talking about it and I’m too scared to ask. So, I pathetically wait around for him to tell me what it all means.

I have tried to move on, but its hard to find a man these days who is single, reasonably sane and doesn’t mind going out with a woman who’s a scientist and actually has a personality and half a brain. Late last year I met a guy who insisted on taking me out for drinks and spent the entire evening telling me how wonderful I was and talking about marriage and kids! Funnily enough, that’s not the sort of thing a girl wants to hear on a first date! Anyway, his eagerness was endearing and in an attempt to move on, I decided that I would go out with him again, if he called. Miraculously, he did! But this is where it gets strange, every time he would call to arrange a date, he would cancel. This went on for weeks and left me completely baffled as to why you would go to so much trouble to arrange something only to cancel it! Needless to say, we never made it to date No. 2.

The next guy is really something. He works in my building, bit strange and introvert, but as a fellow Brit abroad I thought I would introduce him to my friends as he was new in town. Four months later he sends me an email declaring his love and after countless awkward conversations explaining that I was simply not interested, he proceeded to practically stalk me. So, now I spend my time at work running through corridors and hiding behind photocopiers.

Am I missing something here? Is a man keeping a date just as unlikely as a man calling to ask for one?

Anyway, as I sit here I have to admit that the last 12 months haven’t been as productive love wise as I might have liked. It seems that in the ‘Noughties’ (00s) it’s easier to clone DNA than it is to find a man to have dinner with! Maybe the secret lies in cloning a man to have dinner with??? Perhaps I should submit that for my next research proposal!!

He never did show by the way and he’s now on a plane flying back to where he works. Endless Western Blotting has never seemed so appealing!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Have I told you lately that I love you?

Spring is here and all that is lovely about Greece is becoming more apparent everyday. Athens gets a lot of flack for being a concrete city and this is true of many parts of it, But, if you stop and look closely you’ll see some of the most beautiful sights you will ever see.

Just outside my building and all around the city the orange blossom fills the air with a heavenly sent and trees that were once completely bare and devoid of foliage are now starting to show the first sign of green leaves. The local fruit and veg market (the laiki) is bursting with spring crops including my personal favourites ‘strawberries’! The April showers fill the air with the fresh smell of rain and the numerous snails which live in the plants lining the pavements all come out in their masses. I’m constantly picking them up off the pavements so they don’t get squashed by passers by!!

The sun now warms your face as you walk around and makes sitting in the early balmy evenings a pleasure. The moon in all its stages is also something I love looking at here. The night sky is almost always clear, so sunrises and sunsets are magnificent. Of course nothing beats the sight of a full moon over the acropolis and no matter how many times I walk past it, the sight takes my breath away every time and I have to pinch myself to check it is all real.

It’s at times like these that I realise how lucky I am and how it’s the little things that can bring you the most pleasure!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Home Is Where The Heart Is

The recent celebrations of Easter here in Athens where tradition and a sense of identity are so strong have once again reminded me of my lack of one. I am a product of a mixed marriage, so genetically I am half Anglo Saxon, half Arab. However, just to add to the confusion, I was brought up as a child of expats in the Arabian Gulf. Having spent my childhood in a foreign country where I had no relations and to which I didn’t really belong meant that I have never really felt that I belonged anywhere. I have never lived in my fathers home country and only started living in the UK in my late teens. I am also of a minority faith, so you can imagine the pull of cultures and identities that goes on inside me.

The plus side to all this is that I am a citizen of the world, I can pretty much fit in anywhere, but I still miss that sense of completely belonging to a people and a culture. I have visited my father’s home country on several occasions and the cultural differences between myself and my cousins are enormous and very apparent in our life expectations and values. I actually identify with my British roots more strongly and consider myself as British as British can be. My somewhat unorthodox religious beliefs, however, make it difficult to feel completely accepted in what I consider to be my home country. My struggle to fit in eventually lead me to Greece. I suppose I thought that at least here I would be an official foreigner, with no false claims to belonging. However, I did not count on the fact that I would fall head over heels and actually want to feel like I belonged here. Sometimes I think I must like to make my life complicated, after all what is a life if it isn’t a life less ordinary!!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Kalo Pasxa!!

It is Eater here in Greece. For the last couple of weeks the shops have been full of the traditional Easter bread (Tsoureki) and coloured eggs. The whole thing starts on big Thursday (Megali Pempti) when women will begin their Easter preparations by dying eggs. Traditionally, eggs were dyed red to symbolise Christ’s blood, but an assortment of colours are used now. On Thursday night church services are held and in the villages women will mourn all through the night by spending the night praying in church.

Good Friday (Megali Paraskevi) is a day of mourning. Bells toll mournfully all over the country and flags fly at half-mast. The icon of Christ is taken off the cross, wrapped in linen and put in the Epitafios which symbolises the tomb of Christ. Later that night, the Epitafios is carried through the city preceded by a band playing solemn music. They are followed by the cantors, the clergy, gilt crosses, alter boys, scouts, guides, nuns, military personal and finally by the congregation. The procession route is lined by people carrying candles and ends in Syndagma Square.

Saturday (Megali Sabato) is a day of preparation. Churches are decorated and cooking begins for the feasting on Sunday. Just before midnight people gather at the churches with unlit candles. At midnight the lights go out. The priest brings out an alighted candle and the flame is passed from one candle to another. "Christos anesti!" Christ is risen, the priest proclaims. Bells ring, fireworks go off. The next day is Easter Sunday and is filled with feasting and merry-making.

This year I am lucky enough to have been invited to spend Easter Sunday with a Greek family. My integration into Greek life has been a slow and arduous task and is in fact still a ‘work in progress’. However, I consider tomorrow to be a huge stepping stone that I am very much looking forward to.

Kalo Pasxa Everyone!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

You make it very hard to love you!

Is it just me, or does science sometimes suck! There aren’t many jobs in life where you can work 12 hour days for 7 days a week and still have nothing to show for it and get no praise from the powers that be whatsoever!

There must be countless young scientists out there that have been lumbered with projects that whilst being interesting and promising, produce (or not) data that has no chance of being published at all. Don’t get me wrong, I know it shouldn’t be about publishing and should be about the science itself, but having gone down that route, it seems that it will inevitably come back to haunt you when you come to looking for a new job. The problem with scientific research today is that it is rife with red tape, paperwork, hierarchy and massive competition and so negative or highly controversial data remain exceedingly difficult to publish. It’s just the way it works, either play the game or you’re out.

As every researcher knows, the right job is very hard to come by, even more so when you are at the bottom of the ladder. And to add insult to injury, your publication record is now a huge factor in your employment potential even at the very beginning of your career. It seems more and more employers are expecting newly graduated PhD students to have not just one, but several publications upon completing their degree. This is possible if you were lucky enough to be blessed with a supervisor that cared and a project that wasn’t dug out of the bottom of a file entitled ‘projects no one else wants to do’. Personally I was lucky to get one paper out of my PhD and I equally know people who were lucky enough to get a couple, as well as people who didn’t even get one. What angers me most is that even now, I am being held accountable for a PhD project that produced very little publishable data. A project that was not chosen by me and which I just had to do the best I could with to get my PhD.

I do now realise that I could have had more impact on the direction of my project had I had the confidence to confront my supervisor, but I was young and fresh out of university and whole heartedly believed that my supervisor knew best and had my best interests at heart. I now know that the only person you can trust with your project is yourself and that you should question everything all the time. I do realise though that it is hard when you are reliant on someone for their training and expertise and it is a very fine line to tread.

I am still hopeful that although I am coming to the end of a very short post doc that I will be able to pull some data together and submit a paper before the end of the summer. It is actually imperative that I do. I recently attempted to apply for a research grant that was quashed by my ever so supportive ex university on the grounds that my publication record is too weak! I am in my first post doc position and I’ve only been in that for 18 months! Am I missing something here? Am I supposed to have won a Nobel Prize by now??? It appears so! I feel betrayed by the whole system that seems to be intent on discouraging scientists like myself who might not currently be the Watsons and Cricks of the world, but would like the chance to try!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

In The Beginning

My first blog! ‘where have you been hiding for the last few years’ I hear you all cry! Well, the simple answer to that is in PhD land! But, now that I am free from the jailer that is higher education I can once again re-join the human race. Well, in theory anyway!

So, why am I the accidental scientist? It all started in a failed attempt to get into medical school. Initially the plan was to do a medical degree after my science degree, but after three years the last thing I wanted to do was to go back to all those lectures, exams and course work. So, naturally I started doing a PhD!! Ok, so I admit the lure of the title of ‘Dr’ was too tempting to resist and three years of a PhD versus seven of a medical degree made a lot more sense to achieve said title. How wrong can one naive B.Sc. be??

Five years, 600 PCRs and one publication later, I finally graduated. So, with my degree under my arm and full of the optimism and excitement of embarking on a scientific career I started my first post doc. Like most people in the UK, I was fed up with the weather and so in a moment of inspiration, or madness (delete as appropriate) I accepted a post doc position in Greece. I’m 19 months into my contract at the moment, but I won’t bore you with the last year, past events will probably creep in along the way anyway.

Will I survive academia, or be tempted away to the dark side (AKA industry)? Has Greece captured me forever, or will I eventually succumb to the safe, conventional route that is going back home? Who knows, only time (and this blog) will tell!!