One of the great advantages to being in the field that I am in is that primary investigators (PIs) like to send their research assistants, graduate students and postdocs to conferences off of grant money.  The big conference for my end of things takes place in the second week of May, in Florida – which means that we get a vacation, of sorts, paid for off of grant money… hear about good science, look at good science, have fun with friends you may see once a year… and then get back to the lab slightly tanned, hungover and sleep deprived (at least if you are under 40).  Said conference was a couple of weeks ago, and it has been a busy time for the Wombat since.

For reference, my job usually entails supervising two scans a week – this eats my Fridays, and subsequent processing eats a good chunk of Monday, but it is so routine that I barely notice.  The past couple weeks have seen the lab scanning like it was going out of style – and the upcoming week promises five scans, one of which may well involve shoving the Wombat in a very large magnet.  Fortunately, I spent my non-scanning time since getting back clubbing as many alligators over the head with a stick as I could (translation: working on code for other projects, writing documentation, training new lab members and dealing with other things as they came up), so the impending wave of scanning should be survivable.  Everything is complicated by Fearless Leader being out of town for a while, and the Wombat going out of town in a bit over a week, but everything should be survivable – just busy when the Wombat and the Leader overlap in the lab (there is lots to hammer out before the first week of June).

On my end, I am going out to Berkeley to stalk the feral apartment in the first week of June, so there is quite a bit that I need to hammer into the ground before then.  Again, this ought to be doable, but the prospect of finding a place to rent in Berkeley in a 48 hour window is somewhat daunting.  Craigslist and Housingmaps (a google maps / craigslist.org/apa mashup are my friends right now).  Expensive housing market, but again, doable.

And more information comes in:

Datum the First: I will be hunting for rental housing in Berkeley in late May / early June, looking for a August 1 start, if at all possible.  Should be doable, but will be a whirlwind trip, as is my wont.  Probably flying into Oakland, rather than SFO…

Datum the Second: I will be appointed as a GSI at Berkeley.  For those of you who do not speak UCB acronyms yet, this means I will be a TA.

Somehow, spending Saturday morning helping a friend move has fucked up my whole mental clock – I think it is Saturday (rather than Sunday), which promises all sorts of fun next week.  Monday should be painless enough; about half the lab is out of town at an NSF Meeting, but I get a nice 10am scan at one of the 3T magnets on Tuesday for my pains (control experiment for a coworker’s paper that has been supposed to get published Real Soon Now as long as I have been here).  Well, two more subjects in the control, and we can check that one off, I hope.

In terms of the Graduate School Quest, life is both settled and not – I know where I am going (in fact, four months from now, I will have moved) and I know who I am working with (this is good; I like my new PI and the lab I will be joining).  As a recap, I applied to six graduate programs, and was, perhaps, a bit optimistic about my chances (I applied to Harvard, Yale, Rochester, UC Berkeley, Stanford and UW).  I got two interviews (UC Berkeley and Rochester) and was offered admission by UC Berkeley (everyone else was very polite, but said no).  Ergo, I am headed to UC Berkeley in August (which is fine by me – they have a great department [I am entering their PhD program in Psychology to continue my work in vision research; Berkeley also has a Vision Science group in Optometry, which has a second horde of good people] and I loved Berkeley when I was out there on interviews in February).  So, come the second week of August, I will be moving out to Berkeley, CA – where I will be for five years as a graduate student.

I am looking forward to it – a real city – a food-centric city – a pedestrian-friendly city – a city with actual public transportation where I do not need to own a car (this is NOT an option here in Nashville)… except for the truly hellacious rent.  The Bay Area is expensive all around – but Berkeley is notable for being worse than average.  A good analogy is Cambridge, MA – around MIT and Harvard.  So, now that I am in to graduate school, I am pondering housing out in Berkeley.  This is complicated by the Feline Overlord and my own desire to not have a roommate if I can help it (note: I had two roommates in university; my freshman year roommate was fond of sleeping through his classes, consuming a range of depressants with his fraternity brothers and generally being a lout – my sophomore year roommate was [and still is] one of my closest friends from university).  So, at present, my parents and I are working on a plan of attack, given that we do not have all that much time to work with.  If everything works out, I should know what I am doing for housing by late may or early june (I hope).

In line with this, my current lab has hired the New Me (aka the next Research Assistant) – interviewed her in early March, made an offer on the spot, she accepted about two weeks later.  This is a good thing, as everyone in the lab liked her, she has some background, is interested in our research and I believe that I will be leaving my job in very good hands.  The last bit was a major search criterion for me – could I see myself training the applicant and handing off my job as the lab’s RA to them in good conscience.  She will be showing up in Nashville in early June, which means I have six weeks or so to hammer everything together in the way of training materials and to codify what I think she needs to know.  Given that I have been writing documentation as I go (for the last couple of years), this is rather easier than it might be otherwise – but the job encompasses a rather wide range of skills and tasks, and I just know I am leaving something out.  We also have a newly-minted PhD who will be shifting labs, who I will train with an early revision of the materials next month, so that should help me hammer out a version that I like.  For that matter, we have two (maybe three) postdocs coming in to the lab beginning around midsummer, so life is going to be interesting for a while (right up until I leave in early August).

That may just do it for the moment.

Things you Do Not Want during lunch: feeling something go *crunch* and realizing that one of your molars just lost a fight with a bagel.

Dentist on Tuesday (admittedly, this made me find a dentist here, as I have been rather bad about that in the last four years or so).  Likely to be a fun afternoon, probably ending with my trying not to drool on my collar as the tooth is in my lower jaw which means that any injected anesthetic agents will numb out half of my jaw.

Starting the Day

A good way to start the day: Excellent, strong espresso.

A suboptimal way to start the day: By finding cat vomit on the living room carpet.

Today? Both.

Now, for a day of meetings and trip planning.  I would really like some good news somewhere in there, but I would settle for merely uneventful (and fewer slush piles between my apartment and the lab – even with boots, they are lame).

General Grumbling

For some context, I am a career researcher.  I have worked in a range of them from high school to the present day (and given that high school is lost in the mists of the early years of the previous decade, this gives you a sense of chronology) and am now a research assistant.  At the present time, I am waiting to hear back from graduate programs – applications went in back in December, and it is about that time.  Now, the waiting and the stress now is not as bad as the two months of brain-munching torment that was studying for the GRE, but I will be much, much happier once I know where I will be in six months [yes; I will move sometime in August, which means right about six months from now. ack].  This week and next week are when most schools start talking to applicants – and I would really like to find out sooner rather than later.  At a minimum, I am looking at a 1000mi move, and at most, well over 2000mi – which is somewhat complicated by my feline overlord, who will come with me on said moving roadtrip.

Now, you would be excused for asking why I am not applying to the department where I currently work – the major reason is that I am distinctly not fond of the city that I currently live in.  Transplanting cranky northerners to southern cities that do not seem to have been designed for humans to live in is a good way to make said northerners particularly grumpy.  More recently, said southern city has conclusively proven that having anything fall from the sky constitutes an expression of divine disfavor (they cannot plow; they have no idea how to salt intelligently)… hell, when it rains, it takes twice as long to get anywhere because each and every one of them lose their fucking minds.  I have no desire to spend another five years of my life in a non-city that seems to go out of its way to make me unhappy (that is a much longer rant, suffice it to say that I am not the kind of twentysomething who actually likes this city).

I want a city I can walk in – and while I can walk to the lab, not being able to walk to a decent bookstore (no, a borders-in-a-mall does not count, you drooling homunculus – nor does the borg-owned university bookstore that sells overpriced promotional crap to undergrads with more money than brains) does not improve my general outlook on life.  I want a bookstore that does a decent trade in classics and history (this does not exist here), ideally with a large resident feline or two.  The cat is not critical, but a decent selection of interesting stuff is – and the closest we have here are a couple of sad examples.  We have one massive volume operation, which is great for bargains on recent texts and one canonical used bookstore that has a limited selection of the kind of things I want (and they generally want more than I want to spend).

In the realm of other things chewing on the edges of what passes for my sanity, Amazon has decided to fuck over a bunch of my favorite authors (although, as of this writing, the massed power of the internet and likely some voices of reason within the company itself have made them think better of it) – they delisted all of Macmillan’s books over a pricing spat for the Kindle Store.  As Scalzi so accurately put it “let me know when you are finished acting like twelve year olds.”  Grumble.  Can someone take the clue bat and apply it to their heads?  When you are the World’s Largest Bookstore, common sense dictates that you do not defecate on those who create the items you sell.  Twats.

And that is enough in the way of a disjointed rant for this evening.  Time to crawl back in bed with the cat.

Snarky Wombats is the blog of a larval-stage academic with side interests in cooking, baking, photography, coffee and dead trees.