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Sunday, October 08, 2006

So I guess I'm a scientist again!

I've just finished my first week at work and I'm knackered!

It's been a hectic week. I started the week feeling like a fraud. This is an entirely new field to me. On paper, I'm the most qualified person in the lab after the boss, with the rest of the lab being technicians, graduate students or rotation students. However, I am the least experienced in terms of knowledge of the field. My laptop's hard disk is stuffed with over 70 papers that need to be read and I find myself asking the most basic questions. After being shown my desk and lab bench (for the first time ever, I actually have my own "office" - albeit an open desk surrounded by freezers and incubators), I was promptly handed a paper to referee.

This is rather frightening, considering that I am entirely new to the field. However, after reading the paper, I was able to write extensive notes on it and tentatively recommend it for publication with extensive modifications. I handed it to my boss, and so far she has agreed with everything I've said. We'll discuss it next week.

Wednesday, we finally discussed my project. Ten minutes into the meeting I felt like a fool and a faker. Yet ten minutes later, we had come up with a concrete plan of action and I was despatched to find out the best way of accomplishing my first set of experiments. By Friday, I had finally put my new lab coat on for the first time and my scribbled notes and to-do lists were actually starting to look like a proper scientist's work plan.

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving and so we have Monday off. I'll be celebrating the holiday by reading some of those papers. Tuesday and Wednesday I have to attend a radioisotope safety course (oh joy, this will be the third one I've attended in the past few years - somehow I don't think it will have gotten any more exciting!), so that buys me some more reading time before I am expected to actually do some proper work.

On the subject of Thanksgiving, Friday night I attended the International Society's annual dinner. I had gone with some trepidation. As a postdoc, I am neither student nor staff and so there was some question over whether I was really invited. I went anyway, deciding that if it was full of homesick 18 year olds, I would enjoy a turkey dinner then bow out gracefully. I had a great evening! Although I was definately the oldest person on our table I met some fascinating people from all over the world, including a lass from Macclesfield who was delighted to have someone else to complain about the price of cheese with and enthuse about how friendly Canadians are. At the end of the evening, I had my arm twisted and agreed to go clubbing with three Swedish girls...

All in all, I swapped email addresses with about half a dozen people, and I am definately going to the Halloween party at the end of the month. One of the Swedes lives about 100 metres from me, and we've agreed to email each other for a coffee.

On the subject of my bed, it has collapsed again in the middle! It is still useable though, so I am going to leave it be for the moment until I can find a hardware store and repair it properly. I think I'll just have to buy some 2 by 4, nails and a saw and basically build a more tightly fitting support frame. My landlords are away in Australia for a few months and we are under the care of one of their friends, so I will try and solve the problem myself before I raise a stink and get permission to buy a new bed.

So far, I'm not feeling homesick yet. I've been really busy and thus far every day is an adventure. I've been told that it is inevitable that at some point the novelty will wear off and I will start to feel homesick. Symptoms that I have been told to watch for include getting irrationally irritated at the way things work here. For the most part, Canadian society's pretty efficient and logical. But it is inevitable that the small differences will irk the most. My status as a postdoc is, unsurprisingly annoying me the most. You really are treated like a second-class citizen. Time and again I have been either denied access to or charged a fee for using services that either staff or students have free access to. So far, nobody in the graduate office, postdoc office, staff office or student services has been able to answer the simple question "Do I have to pay income tax and pension contributions?". Apparently, in some provinces foreign postdocs don't. I've been given the address of a local law firm but will have to pay for their advice. That'll have to wait until next month, since I am flat broke at the moment.

The time difference with the UK is the only thing that really feels odd at the moment. During the week, I can't really phone my parents in the evening without having to excuse myself first. The time difference is such that Mum and Dad are getting ready for bed when my working day finishes. At the moment I am using a calling card on the lab phone. Hopefully I will get my mobile phone sorted soon, so that I can at least go somewhere private. It's hard to answer questions like "so what's your new boss like?", when she's standing 10 feet away!

Anyways, it's far too late now. I've just been to see "The Departed", starring Jack Nicholson, Leo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Definately worth the 5 stars the local free paper gave it. I strongly recommend it!



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