Feeding the Science Tamagotchi

It started during my undergrad research project.

“I have to go into the lab tomorrow morning to feed all my cells, so I can’t stay out too late tonight or have a hangover tomorrow”, I’d say.

After comments along the lines of “feed your cells?! What, like a Tamagotchi*?!”, people would urge me just to skip the early morning lab session and have another drink, like a normal person. But I couldn’t – weeks of work and 30% of my final degree grade were at stake.

The vast majority of the friends I had in Glasgow during my PhD were fellow grad students and/or fellow scientists, and so they understood all of this. The non-scientist friends I made during my postdoc didn’t understand the technicalities, but were generally in careers or on degree courses with analogous commitments and therefore understood the general concept of spending the occasional weekend or evening in the lab, and basing vacations and other events around experiments when necessary.

However, I now seem to be in a group of close friends where I’m virtually the only one with a non-flexible job (as opposed to freelancing, running your own business, or being able to trade shifts with colleagues who have the same job title).

And it SUCKS.

Way back in 2008, some of our closest friends started planning a trip to Munich’s Oktoberfest in 2013. Their reasoning was that with five years warning, there’d be no excuse for anyone not to be able to go.

“Yeah, I won’t be able to go”, I said in 2008, and again every time the trip’s been mentioned since.

Talk of Munich 2013 is ramping up now that the boys are back from Burning Man (which has been the primary topic of conversation since New Year’s Eve), and people are also trying to persuade me to go to next year’s Burning Man**. Saying that August, September and October are always completely impossible due to a convergence of grant deadlines (see my last post and pretty much any other “grant wrangling” tagged post written between August and November since I started this job in 2007) never seems to get me anywhere, even though I’m in the middle of it (and stressed out about it and losing sleep over it and going to work even when I’m sick because I can’t miss days at this time of year unless I’m dead or at least in the hospital) RIGHT NOW.

All night on Saturday’s second (or was it third?) 40th birthday celebration for Mr E Man, people were telling me things like “but you have another couple of years to sort it out!” (I’m sure it won’t take long to get all the funding agencies to change their deadlines so as not to clash with Oktoberfest), “just go! What’ll they do, fire you?!” (yes, quite possibly, and there are literally two or three jobs posted in Vancouver each year to which I’d be willing and able to apply), “quit and go freelance!” (so I can work on a bunch of other people’s grants for the exact same deadlines, but risk defaulting on my mortgage at the same time! What fun!), “it’s only for a couple of weeks, and you get four weeks vacation time, right?” (it was hard enough getting a couple of days off to go to Vegas), or “I’ll write a letter to your boss saying that you just HAVE TO come” (I’m sure the CIHR, CCS, NSERC and NIH will understand 100% and grant us an extension if we miss a deadline).

Is anyone else in a similar situation? How do you get people to understand that the Science Tamagotchi (or equivalent in other fields) must be appeased, according to its own schedule, which cares not one jot for Burning Man, Oktoberfest, or any other trivial human endeavours?

I’m tempted to say something like “Look. You strangle ants for a living, right?*** Now, imagine that the government suddenly decrees that all the ants in Canada have to be strangled by September 15th, and if you miss that cut-off, you can’t make any money from strangling ants until March 15th of the next year. Also, the clients with the worst infestations always procrastinate on their ant strangling needs until the last possible minute. Now, please can you go on vacation with me on September 1st 2014?”



*Did I just show my age?

**Never mind grant deadline season, with my peely-wally Celtic skin and aversion to temperatures over 27C I’d only go if it wasn’t in the desert in the middle of summer. Why can’t they have it in a nice shady forest or on a beach in Oregon or something?! Or in the desert in the middle of, say, April?! At least have it next to a lake you can swim in!

***None of my friends actually do this. At least not that I’m aware of.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
This entry was posted in career, drunkenness, education, grant wrangling, personal, rants, science, travel, whining. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Feeding the Science Tamagotchi

  1. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    I should add that it’s not completely impossible that I’ll be able to go. But this would depend on five different PIs and all their collaborators deciding not to enter either of the two biggest competitions for Canadian cancer researchers. If this happens, I’d get approximately 1.8 days warning of it.

  2. Nina says:

    Well, something similar? A wedding and a conference at the same date. The conference date was known since … 4 years ago. The wedding, 6 months. Why don’t I just skip the conference?
    I guess it is not exactly the same, as people get married only once (ahem, hmm, hahaha), and the conference is every 4 years.
    On the other hand, during the conference I will be able to possibly find a future job. I m pretty sure that a wedding of a medical doctor and an accountant is not going to get me a job.
    By the way, if you were able to say 5 years in advance “I won’t be able to make it to Munich”, THEY could have found something else to do all together? Like the Cologne carnival? Beer there too in great quantities.

    • chall says:

      oh… I so recognize this. I’m sorry – good luck!! I hope your friends/family getting married might understand?! It’s the “it’s only every forth year and I need to get a job market call”….. not easy..

      • Nina says:

        They do understand. All the more so because they know me and my views concerning marriage …
        Also, the wedding is in Italy, and the conference in Australia. It would never have worked without MAJOR time and money investments, both of which are … not good!

  3. ecogeofemme says:

    Would they understand a comparison to a tax accountant not being able to take off right before tax day? Or a specialty sales person not being able to travel just before Christmas?

    Definitely sucks that your friends don’t get it. And sucks more that you can’t go to Munich.

  4. cromercrox says:

    Last September, or perhaps the September before, Mrs Crox went to all three major political party conferences here in the U of K (before she was unemployed, she was a political journalist). I managed to squeeze in a paleontology meet. And Mrs Crox’s sister got married.

    Mrs Crox referred to that hectic month as ‘Four Conferences And A Wedding’.

  5. cromercrox says:

    Cath – come to Cromer. You and Mr E Man would be welcome at any time of year. And it would suit your complexion in a beach-in-Oregon kind of way.

  6. Eva says:

    You need to make friends who are school teachers. They definitely understand, because they can NEVER take a holiday that is NOT a school holiday. It’s even worse.

  7. Silver Fox says:

    If you go to Burning Man, I’ll meet you in Gerlach. No way I’m going to Burning Man, however.

    Get your PIs to agree to have all their shit together one month ahead of time. (Right.)

  8. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Nina, oh no! What unlucky timing. Any chance you can get your friends to invite a bunch of hiring academics to the wedding?

    Eco, tax deadlines are a good analogy – thanks! (Although one of this group of friends was just telling us on Friday how they hadn’t filed for three years, so maybe not everyone will get that, either)!

    It really sucks that I can’t go to Munich. I’ve been once before (although not at Oktoberfest) and absolutely loved it – I’d love to go back now that I’m old enough to drink the beer!

    Aww, thanks, Cromercrox! I’d love to take Mr E Man back to North Norfolk, where I spent many happy days visiting my Grandma.

    Do they let you build (and then burn) massive wooden sculptures on Cromer beach?

    Eva, very true! My parents were both teachers before their retirement, and in trying to remember how they dealt with friends who don’t get it, I realised that almost all of their friends were other teachers…

    I do have a few friends who are teachers, but most are in the UK and the one who lives here isn’t part of our core group of 8-10 people.

  9. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    “Get your PIs to agree to have all their shit together one month ahead of time”


    Thanks, I needed that! 😀

    Yeah, going to the whole of Burning Man doesn’t appeal all that much, although it does sound like a night or two would be fun if it wasn’t in the middle of the damn desert in the middle of the damn summer!

  10. ricardipus says:

    Yes. But you knew that about me already.

    However, my years tend to be more flexy because I’m mainly involved in those Big Funding Agencies With Competitions At Different Times Every Year. You know the ones I mean.

    Eva – I have no sympathy for teachers, they can do whatever they like in the summer. And before anyone jumps down my throat, I’m married to one, so I feel justified in my righteous moral outrage. And Mrs. Ricardipus makes her living covering teachers who take days off all over the school year calendar. But I get your point – they have lock-out period (formal or otherwise), like the last few days before March break for example, where death and pain and bewilderment would happen to them if they tried to take those days off.

    She was in retail before this, so knows all about that restrictive environment too.

    Final thought – what’s a vacation? I can’t remember the last time I took more than about three days off in a row.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Really? Teachers can take time off during the school year for vacations? My parents never did that, and I can’t remember any of the people who taught me ever doing it either – teachers were never off work on a school day unless they were sick or had a family emergency.

      I’m extremely jealous of the long vacations they get, although I’d never do the job myself having seen how much work it us during term-time. I keep telling my parents that they don’t get just how amazing the vacation allowance is, having gone from high school straight to Uni straight to teaching and never done anything else!

      I hope you get a proper vacation soon. I recommend going to Cuba, where there is (essentially) no internet and you can have a full email blackout for a week or two!

      • ricardipus says:

        Unions, Cath. Unions.

        • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

          I gotta get into that Union…

          • Never heard of a teacher in the UK taking time off during term-time for a holiday. Sick days are something else, but I can’t imagine the ones I know doing that either unless they were really ill.

            I would imagine a major reason for teachers taking time off during term-time would be their own children being ill, since daycare and childminders won’t take sick kids.

            I do remember my teacher friends in Washington DC looking forward to extra days off in winter when snow closed the schools. They told me that the year there were no snow days they felt distinctly cheated.

          • My Canadian friends are shocked and appalled for me when I tell them that I only ever had one day off school, university, or work because of snow…

            It was a great day, though. I was 10. We made an igloo (we cheated by using chicken wire to support the roof) and then went sledging on the closest thing York has to a hill, on the Uni campus. By the time we got there the snow had been compacted into ice by all the students sliding down the hill all day. Good times!

  11. Silver Fox says:

    It’s actually the end of summer, and it’s on the edge of the desert (Black Rock Desert) or between two deserts (Black Rock Desert and Smoke Creek Desert) — depending on how you want to look at things — making Gerlach a total oasis (with world famous ravioli). Oh, did anyone mention the (kinda) nearby hot springs?

    I have thought before of going to one day, but would probably camp out in my truck in the middle of the desert away from the crowd (if that’s even possible, probably not a great time to be driving around on the desert with so many other people around), or stay in a (cruddy?) motel in Gerlach.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Everything’s relative when you live in a temperate rain forest 🙂

      World famous ravioli, eh? And hot springs? Sounds like a great place for a winter visit!

  12. cromercrox says:

    Do they let you build (and then burn) massive wooden sculptures on Cromer beach?

    I don’t see why not.

  13. chall says:

    I’d stick with tax people or why not Santa Claus? I mean, surely they’d understand that Santa can’t take off 23-26th of December GMT…. 😉

  14. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Santa! HA! That’s brilliant!

    I’m using that…

  15. Laurence Cox says:

    Mostly, I never suffered from your problem but on one project I had a big dewar that had to be kept cold. The liquid helium part had a six-day hold time, but the liquid nitrogen jacket only held for about 30 hours, so I had to go in every day, including weekends, to refill it otherwise the helium would have all boiled off as soon as the last of the liquid nitrogen had gone. So, I have real sympathy for you.

    If you can, somehow, get to Oktoberfest, do it. My only experience was many years ago when I was there with a friend and his colleagues from the European Patent Office. Can’t you file grant applications online?

  16. Technically, yes, but my department definitely likes to see bums on seats, and to give me last-minute hard-copy edits! Besides, the quality of the grants and/or the party would inevitably suffer from trying to do both at once…

  17. Massimo says:

    Forget it. Let go.
    Unfortunately with time you realize that people either get it or don’t, and as long as the important ones do, you have to be happy with that.
    At some point it boils down to asking oneself “OK, I know this person, she is my friend for xx years — do I really believe that she is trying to avoid this ? That she is wanting to play prima donna and be begged ? Is it conceivable that she may be making this up, ’cause, really, she hates beer and traveling ? Should I suggest that she ask for a postponement, since only uncommonly gifted people like me have such brilliant ideas — she may not have thought of it ?”
    A reasonable person will conclude that in all likelihood if you say you can’t go, you just, um, can’t go. The unreasonable ones… whatcha gonna do…

  18. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Massimo, forget comment of the week; that was one of the comments of the year for sure!

  19. Pingback: Bragging Rights Central: new archive post | VWXYNot?

  20. modscientist says:

    “Forget your cells, they’re probably not even hungry… COME TO GOMEZ!”

    “If I win the 50/50, can we hire someone to go feed your cells so you can COME TO GOMEZ?!”

  21. modscientist says:

    How about Gomez playing AT Oktoberfest. Surely that’s worth letting the cells starve?

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