Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Presents around our Christmas tree (hey, don't laugh; it was free!).

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you have a great Christmas! And if you don't have much, I hope that you can make the best of what you have.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Temporary New Job

I have been at my new job for 3 weeks now and I really like it. Most of all, I like my new boss. She is a superb and brilliant scientist. Her CV is amazing; she has pages and pages of publications. She is very quick at finding errors in data analysis. At a recent lab meeting, one of the post-docs (not me) passed out copies of some graphs that he had made from his data sets and within seconds of looking at the graphs, she found something very wrong with them. It took me 2 minutes to figure out what she was talking about and only then could I see that there was something wrong. But, I might not have noticed it if she hadn’t said anything. She is also a very nice and fun person. In the short time that I have been in her lab, she has already hosted 2 parties at her home, with a lot of food and drinks. In short, I think she is an amazing scientist and a wonderful person. And I feel like I am going to disappoint or betray her.

Just to recap, when I accepted this position, I thought it would be a post-doc position with benefits. But it turned out that graduates with my degree cannot do post-docs at this university. So, the position was turned into a temporary OPS position with no benefits. Since, this position involves a lot of traveling and OPS employees have to be paid for time spent in travel, I thought that she would decide that I wasn’t going to be a good fit for the position after all. Well obviously, she did still want me (we worked something out regarding travel time) and I am now in the position.

If I had been able to do the position as a post-doc with benefits, I would have had to sign a contract, which in this particular case would have ended in August 2011. Instead I signed a letter stating that I accepted the OPS research associate position. She put in the letter that she considered this to be a post-doc position and that she would treat it as such. She also put the end date with a statement that she expected to renew the position with me after August 2011. Since then, she has said to me several times that she expects to renew the position and keep me for another year.

I haven’t applied for any positions since I started in this position, but I have several applications out there that I have been waiting on. This last Friday, I heard from the one position that I want the most. I have a phone interview with them this coming Friday. This is a position that I have trained for. It pays well and has benefits. The phone interview is the last step in the process. There will not be a face-to-face interview.

I have never let on to my new boss that I have other applications out there. I never told her that because of the change from post-doc with benefits to OPS with no benefits, that even though I was accepting this position for now, that I would continue to look for a career position with benefits. When she says to me that she expects to renew this position after August and keep me for another year, I just smile.

Now I am wondering about things and doubting whether I have made the right choices. I don’t want for her to feel that I have misled her, but I think I have. I think I should have let her know before signing the letter that I had other applications out there for positions that pay well and have benefits? But that time is passed and I can’t go back and re-do it. So what to do now? Should I tell her now that I have other applications in progress? Should I tell her that I have a phone interview on Friday? Or should I just not say anything until I receive an offer?

I could sure use some advice. What do you think I should do?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Another Obstacle In My Way

After months of searching for a position, on Friday I was offered a postdoc position at the same university where I got my doctorate. The professor that offered it to me is a world renowned researcher and our university is lucky to have her. I accepted the position. Yesterday, I found out that graduates with the particular degree that I have cannot do postdocs. Apparently we can only do OPS (temporary without any benefits). That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. The professor has offered to pay me more to compensate for the lack of benefits. This position will require a lot of traveling around this state, the eastern U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands.

According to university policy:

If an OPS "employee is required as a result of University"..."employment to attend a one-day meeting or conference, or otherwise work at an out-of-town location, such attendance or work, including travel time to out-of-town meetings, conferences, and work locations, whether or not such travel occurs during the employee's normal work schedule, is considered time worked. Time spent in travel may result in total hours for the week exceeding 40, in which case the employee is in overtime status and must be compensated according to standard overtime policies." "Overtime compensation is 1.5 times the primary rate."

If I understand this correctly, if I am flying to the Netherlands, from the moment I leave my home to the moment I arrive at a hotel in Amsterdam, I have to be paid. And most of that time could end up costing her 1.5 times my hourly rate.

Once she finds this out, do you think she will still want me? I doubt it. I'm so bummed.

And someone with my degree can't be a postdoc??? WTF?????

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Citrus Problem [Finally the Answer!]

A few weeks ago at work, an inspector brought in some citrus leaves from a nursery. He had gone there to survey citrus trees for pests and diseases and he found this:

Symptoms on the upper surface of the leaves

The inspector said that all of the citrus trees had this problem. Both he and the nursery owner were wondering what was causing these symptoms. It's my job to figure out stuff like this, so I took the samples and logged them in to our specimen tracking system.

So, what do you think is the cause of these symptoms?

Sorry I don't have a picture posted of the underside of the leaves. I tried, but blogger kept inverting the picture. The yellow spots on the upper surface of the leaves are also visible on the underside of the leaves.

Feel free to post your ideas in the comments. On Wednesday 9/15/10, sometime next week, I'll update this post with the diagnosis that I gave to the inspector and owner. Sorry about the delay, but I have a deadline that I have to meet.

Okay, I'll give you a hint. Ask yourself whether the cause is biotic or abiotic.


I appreciate your patience in waiting for the answer to the citrus problem. I have been buried under job applications, but decided to come up for air...

So, because I was the only one around when the inspector arrived with the citrus sample, it fell upon me to come up with the diagnosis for the symptoms on the leaves. I'm going to over the thought process that I went through to arrive at the correct answer.

I looked at the leaves and observed the yellow (chlorotic) spots. The first thing I asked myself was: is the cause biotic (a live organism) or abiotic (nutritional, injury, environmental, genetic, etc.)? If the cause was biotic, I would expect for there to be some necrosis (brown or black plant tissue) mixed in with the yellow spots. There was no necrosis on the leaves. The next thing that I looked at was the distribution of the spots. You'll notice that there are no yellow spots around the base of the leaf near the stem. Also notice in the picture above, that in the leaf on the right the spots are distributed mainly on one side left of the midrib). So the distribution of symptoms are not random. Rather, they are clustered along the top to middle and along one side of the leaves. If the cause were a live organism (plant pathogen), the chlorotic spots would be distributed on the leaves in a random pattern. So, because no necrosis was present and because the spots were not random, I determined that the cause was abiotic.

I asked myself what caused the spots on these leaves? If you'll notice, the spots look kind of like droplets; like maybe spray drops. So, was something sprayed on the citrus trees? Yes, I do believe something was sprayed on the citrus trees in the nursery. But, what? A chemical spray? The most likely chemical spray would be herbicide. But, why would a nursery manager or staff spray herbicide on their valuable and expensive citrus crop? I have seen herbicide damage on plants before and this looked like what I would expect, so I decided that the cause had to be herbicide. Sometimes unintentional application of herbicide can kill a crop depending on the amount applied, but clearly in this case, the amount applied did not kill the trees. The damage was enough to cause phytotoxicity injury to the citrus, but not kill them. So it was a mistake.

So, how could a mistake like this happen? Think it through. The purpose of using herbicides in the first place is to kill weeds. The trees were in a greenhouse nursery; enclosed in a building. We can safely assume that herbicide was not sprayed inside the greenhouse. So, it was sprayed outside of the greenhouse. But that doesn't explain how the herbicide got on the citrus trees. Think about the equipment used to spray chemicals. Ah, the sprayer. They used a sprayer to spray herbicide on the outside of the greenhouse. Then they used the same sprayer to spray something else inside the greenhouse.

What did they spray inside the greenhouse? Take another look at the yellow spots on the leaves. They look kind of big; and there are a lot of droplets that look clumped together. Usually herbicide spray produces a rather fine spray, with a small diameter drop size. These drops look big, with a large diameter droplet size. So the damage looks like herbicide injury, but the droplet size looks like something else. What? What else can be sprayed that has a larger droplet size than herbicide spray? Well, of course...fertilizer spray! Do you see now what happened?

My diagnosis: herbicide phytotoxicity.

My analysis (I had to be tactful about what I wrote): The most likely cause is herbicide injury due to herbicide residue on the sprayer used to apply fertilizer to the citrus trees.

I sent the final report to the inspector. A few days later, he came to see me. He said he got very curious about the whole thing when he received my report. So, he went back to the nursery to try to find out whether that was really what happened. He walked around the outside of the greenhouse and noticed that there were dead weeds all along the outside perimeter of the greenhouse. Then, he went to talk with the nursery manager. The manager admitted that they had used the same sprayer to fertilize inside the greenhouse that they had used to spray herbicides outside. He said the nursery staff forgot to wash out the sprayer before applying fertilizer to the citrus.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lacking Motivation

Not much has changed since my last post. The only major thing that has occurred is that my husband and I moved. At the old place, our lease was up at the end of July and the owner wanted us to sign a one year lease. Because I don't know when and where I'm going to end up, I didn't want to commit to a one year lease. But it was a major challenge to find a place in this town that would rent to us on a month to month basis. Everywhere I looked, they wanted long-term (one year) leases. Finally, I found someone through a friend, who was willing to rent to us month to month. Thank goodness for friends! The new apartment has a larger kitchen and bathroom, and it has a fireplace. It costs $226 less a month than at the old place! There are a lot of pine trees around the place.

The view over the patio fence.

My job hunt isn't going very well. Since I graduated, I've applied for 5 positions. For 3 of them, I have never heard anything back, so my application probably went into the circular file. One of the positions got canceled because the interviewers didn't have time to look at the applications. For the fifth position, I made the cut and my application has been referred to the hiring official! It's a low level position, but the pay is okay and it's based in my home state.

There have been at least 7 other positions that I could have applied for but did not. Why? I have been asking myself that very question. I did spend a lot of time looking for an apartment. But if the truth must be told, it's that I really really like where I am working right now. So, I'm just not that motivated to go anywhere else. I believe that I'm at one of the best, if not the best plant diagnostic department in the country. The only problem is that my job is the same that I had when I was an intern. The job title is the same, the pay is the same, and there are no benefits. I want more. I cannot stay in the position indefinitely. So how do I motivate myself to apply to more positions? Keep my eyes focused on the more that I want...I guess.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Job Hunting

Thank you my friends for continuing to come to my blog even though I haven't posted anything in a while. I have been busy. I am still working full-time at the job that I've had for almost a year now. I really like my job, but I can't stay there. It started out as an internship and then turned into a regular job, but with no pay raise and no benefits. So I am job hunting.

There are basically two types of positions that I am looking for. One is as a crop consultant and it doesn't matter what crop or crops. The other is as a post-doc, preferably one that utilizes my molecular biology skills. Some of you may be wondering what happened to my plans to apply for the federal positions that involve plant protection. You know the ones I mean. The ones that have 45 questions to answer with about 9 questions requiring an essay answer of approximately 8000 words. Well, I've given up on those positions. According to my answers to some of the questions, I do not have the specialized experience that they are looking for and so there is no point in putting myself through countless 45 question applications all for nothing. I do not have the time for that. So either crop consultant or post-doc it will be, unless something else comes along. I'll keep you posted on my job hunt.

In the meantime, have you ever seen an artichoke in bloom? I haven't. My step-daughter has blooming artichokes in her yard. She took a picture and I'm posting it here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Graduation Pictures!

A good friend of mine took some pictures of me in my cap, gown, and hood. So I have a few after all. One of them is posted here, the rest are in a photo album in facebook. I love the hood!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Doctoral Degree Conferred!

I graduated and officially received my doctorate today. It still doesn't seem real. It will take awhile I guess. I really don't like going to graduations because they seem so long, drawn out, and are boring and this one was no exception. The best part of it all was getting hooded. That was so awesome!!! I wish I had pictures, but sadly I don't. My husband wasn't feeling well today; he tried, but not any of the pictures that he took came out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dr. Joyce!!!

I had my oral this morning and I passed!!! It wasn't bad. My committee and I sat around the round table (some of you know which table that is) and they asked me some questions and I answered them to the best of my ability. I thought I would have to do a calibration problem, but thank goodness, I wasn't asked to do one. My brain tends to freeze up when doing math under pressure. The oral lasted about 2 hours and 20 minutes. The chair (my adviser) of my committee then asked me to step outside of the room for a few minutes while they decided my fate. It felt like the wait was about 30 minutes, but in reality it was only about 6 minutes. My committee congratulated me with hugs and handshakes and called me doctor!!! Wow!!! It doesn't seem real yet.

Friday, April 9, 2010

I Passed!!!

I found out this afternoon that I passed my third and final written exit exam!!! Yay!!! All I have left is the oral which should not be anywhere near as tough as the written exams were. For the oral, my committee and I will sit around the "round table"; they will ask me questions and I will hopefully be able to answer them. Then I will be done! I am so ready to be done.

Friday, April 2, 2010

I'm Still Here

I took my 3rd exit exam last Tuesday and I am waiting to hear the results. All I know so far is that I did very well on the plant disease diagnostics portion. There were 5 other parts to the exam and so there are 5 more professors that have to grade their part. As usual the exam was hard and it lasted for 9 hours. It covered pretty much every area of plant pathology.

My oral is in 2 weeks and I am now studying for that even though I am so sick of studying that I don't want to read anything. I think that is why I am not blogging very much. I don't even feel like reading what I write, so I don't write.

But soon I'll be finished, I hope...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Studying For Finals

I'm sorry that I haven't been posting on my blog very often. But, my 3rd final and oral are coming up very soon and I have been studying. I found out that it's impossible for me to work 32 hours a week while studying as I had planned. So for the last couple of weeks I worked 25 hrs a week and this coming week, I will work only 12 hours. At this point, I hardly care about the lack of money; I just have to pass my remaining finals.

My husband took this picture of me today and I thought I would share it with you. This is what I spent my weekend doing.

I fell asleep while studying yesterday, but I think I'm awake here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Report On My Interview

I'm sorry to take so long to update you on my interview. I have been feeling so tired since I got back.

I did not get a job offer. I found out that the department does not have the funding yet. They have funding to conduct a faculty search, but no money to fund the position yet. It seems a little weird, but I understand why they are handling it this way. A few years ago they had funding for a faculty position, but they could not find anyone, so the funding was withdrawn.

I met with all six of the faculty, all guys. They were very nice. I got a tour of all of their labs and was not entirely impressed. The labs are very old and look more like storage spaces than functioning labs. In spite of this, they are a very prolific group. They all publish several papers every year. The older faculty have published several books on their area of expertise. There are about 30 M.S. and Ph.D. students in the department.

I’m not sure that I would fit in with this group. I would be starting from scratch as far as equipment is concerned. Since I do molecular biology, I would need the equipment that molecular work requires and as some of us know, that can be very expensive.

Anyway I gave my seminar on Citrus Huanglongbing and I think it went well. The room was full. A few people came that were not students or faculty, but had heard what the topic was going to be and so they came. My seminar went for 45 minutes and I then got bombarded with questions that went on for 25 minutes.

If nothing more comes from this, at least I got to give a seminar on my favorite plant disease and I got a free trip to my home state.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Pressure Is On

Thank you to Makita who left comments here and the rest of you who left comments in Facebook, for your advice on how to handle this unexpected situation. Your ideas helped me with my response. I sent an email reply again describing the nature of the doctoral program that I am in and that the degree is not a Ph.D. I said that the training received in the program includes botany but we learn much more. I told them what that more was. I said that the program is application based rather than research based, but that I have research experience from my M.S. studies and from working as a molecular biologist. I also mentioned what topic I would choose to give a seminar on if I gave one there.

The reply that I got back was that they would be happy for me to give a seminar on that topic. So I am going! I'm already booked for the flight. I will spend the weekend meeting and visiting with all of the faculty and then give my seminar on Monday, March 1.

I'm both excited and nervous.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I'm Studying...Do I Need This?

I was checking my Yahoo email this evening. It has been about 5 days since I have looked at it and I am thinking that I should look at it more often because I got a very important email that I should have replied to by now. But my inattentiveness is not the purpose of this post. I writing this post because of the content in that email and I don't know what to say when I respond.

The email was an official invitation to do a seminar and interview for a faculty position at the university where I got my bachelor's degree. I would love to be back in my home state and working at that wonderful university. There is a problem though. This is a portion of the first sentence of the email: "...we understand that you are completing a PhD in Botany and the Department of ... would like to hear about your research." Do you see what the problem is now?

Heaven help me. How did this happen? I was in touch with one of the faculty a little over a year ago and thoroughly (or so I thought) discussed the nature of the doctoral program that I am in. I was told that they would be looking for someone that studies anything having to do with plants and that I would be the first one they thought of when they could fund the position. Somehow their need has morphed into botany.

They do not have a single female faculty member in the department and I suspect that they desperately need one to increase their diversity. They also do not have anyone doing any research on plants and desperately need to fill that gap as well. But I don't do research; I diagnose and manage plant health problems. That is what I told them a year ago and they said that was great.

Their preferred date for the seminar is March 1. So what am I going to say to them? I don't know. Any ideas?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Good News

I did a partial re-take of the disastrous exam and I passed!!! So I now have to take only one more written exam and the oral. I am happy, but mostly feel relieved. I am very grateful that the test coordinator and other professors realized that the testing conditions were unacceptable and therefore allowed me to re-do the part of the final that I tried to do near the end of the day but could not do because of the distracting noise level.

So now I can move forward and prepare for my last semester in this program. I have a lot of studying to do. The written final will be on plant pathology including some history, but mainly diagnosis and management of viral, bacterial and fungal plant diseases. The oral will be on plant pathology, sustainable agriculture, pesticides and herbicides, and integrated pest management.

I've already incorporated yoga and working out at the gym into my life and the studying starts this weekend.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Moving Forward

It sure doesn’t feel like it has been a little over a month since I have posted here. I have been both working and relaxing. The spring semester has started and I am moving forward and preparing to have a successful outcome this time.

A few days after I got the test results, I met with the exam coordinator of the disastrous exam. I requested and was allowed to re-take a small portion of his section of the final. That brought my score up to 79%. The coordinator suggested that I request to re-take a small portion of another section given by another professor. I have requested a meeting with this other professor, but have not heard back. This is something that I have to pursue this week.

I feel justified in making requests to re-take portions of the final that I tried to do at the end of the day when my brain was too fried from all of the noise in the adjoining rooms. However I have no excuse for the failure of the other exam. I just wasn’t ready for it. I was working so much that I did not have time to study for both exams. So I chose to put more emphasis on studying for the harder exam and spent very little time studying for the so-called easier one, which I then failed. Hopefully, I will have only one written exam and the oral to study for this semester.

What am I doing to ensure success this time? I have a list; it is as follows:

1. I quit my nematology job, so I am working only one job. This will eliminate the running back and forth between jobs.

2. I will not work full-time. I will not work more than 32 hours per week.

3. I have made out a study schedule and I will stick to it.

4. I have started doing yoga to reduce stress and improve my mental clarity.

5. I have made out a schedule to work out at the gym and I will stick to it.

6. I have reduced the amount of time I spend on Facebook by eliminating some of the games that I was playing.

So the semester has started and I am off and running. Will do my best to keep you posted.