Monday, September 26, 2005

5/16 Life Crisis

I am having issues. I wouldn’t call it a mid-life crisis, because God-willing I am nowhere near the middle of my life. I calculated that provided I live around 83 years, my life is 5/16 over. So, I guess I’ll call whatever funk I’m in a “5/16 life crisis.” Basically what it all boils down to is that mid-20s just suck.

I don’t feel as youthful as I used to be. I still have plenty of energy and ambition, but I don’t have the carefree naiveté that comes with inexperience. I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned about the world, which means I can never see the world again through the eyes of a child or even a teenager, free of cynicism and judgment. So what does maturing and growing older mean? Does it mean coming to terms with letting go of your adolescence? Is what we think of as “growing older gracefully” really the ability to do this better than others? Is it graduating from one who receives advice and guidance to one who gives? I don’t feel qualified for that either. I feel like people in that echelon still look down on me as someone who hasn’t earned that right. But yet I find myself walking around campus, seeing freshmen and thinking, “You don’t know anything yet!” Are there still people who think that about me?

I guess I never thought being in your 20s signaled any type of transition. Does it? Okay, here’s another thing. I don’t know if it’s my age that’s getting me down or my occupation. The more time passes (as I result I grow older AND more experienced) the more I see people just not thinking for themselves. I see people believing what’s on TV, what they’re told by authority figures, what’s on the internet rather than forming their own opinions and looking critically at situations. Maybe this is because as a scientist, my number one job requirement is to question. Explore every avenue, keeping an open yet logical mind. Be skeptical, separate what is truth from simply what you want to be true. Because this methodology has been ingrained in me, I can’t help but be judgmental of those who don’t employ this type of thinking. But that doesn’t always allow me to be shed in the best light. In other words, I am terrified that I am becoming the classic intolerant scientist with a massive ego and a superiority complex, vastly removed from the “real world.” And by “real world” I mean the views of everyday people, not real current issues.

What’s worse than being the classic intolerant scientist? Being the classic intolerant female scientist. When I did my internship at a national lab two summers ago, I greatly admired my boss, but swore I’d never be like her. All of her male employees called her a bitch behind her back. She was firm, unrelenting and aggressive. I watched her fight with another lead scientist for the ownership of a $10,000 furnace and she got it. I didn’t want to be like her because I didn’t want my employees to talk about me like that. Two years later and I could care less what people say about me. If they want to call me those names for being what they themselves force me to be through their own double standards, they can bite me. Yes, those double standards are unfair, but the alternative of rolling over and being walked over is unacceptable. Every now and then I still send her an email reminding her that she’s my role model. I know it embarrasses her but it has to make her happy too. So is it an age thing, a work thing or a gender thing I’m going through right now?

When I used to think of myself, it was as a timid, gentle, quiet, patient girl. I know I am not just those things anymore, but am I any of them? And why do I care about words that describe me? If anybody has any answers to these questions, feel free to share!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Scott tagged me. This is horribly unfair because everyother blog I've read where the person has been tagged, they need only supply five answers. Seven is really pushing it. Anyway, here goes:

Seven Answers to Seven Questions

Seven things I plan to do before I die:

1) Have kids. Yes, this is somewhat obvious, but sometimes people assume I’m too career oriented to have kids. Really, I just want to make the best life I can before sharing it with my children.

2) Visit every continent except Antarctica. I’ve never been overseas and would really love to see Europe. Then I got to thinking about how I’d also like to see China or India or go on an African safari. So, I’d like to make sure I see all these places. But Antartica doesn’t interest me much. I lived in Minnesota for 23 years.

3) Get a paper published in Nature magazine. Every scientist’s dream.

4) Design my own home and have it built. Everything exactly the way I want it.

5) Read the whole Bible. Not because I’m especially religious I just want to know what the fuss is about.

6) Win a Nobel Prize (not likely, but PLANNING on doing it makes me work even harder…)

7) Build a refuge/shelter/sancuary for stray animals.

Seven things I can do:

1) Install new speakers in a car (as of this weekend, yay!).

2) Play piano. Really well.

3) Write technical papers, a talent I didn’t know I had until I wrote my Masters’ thesis.

4) Cook.

5) Listen when people have problems or need to vent.

6) Talk sports, politics, science, music, literature, and movies when required at social functions, though not always dispassionately.

7) I can still sleep for 12 hours at a stretch. Something my parents thought I’d grow out of eventually. Nope!

Seven things I cannot do:

1) Drive on the freeway. A phobia I’ve had since I started driving. I’ve gotten better on interstates when it’s not as trafficky, but driving on the freeway through the city absolutely terrifies me to the point of paralysis.

2) Eat carrots without gagging.

3) Throw stuff away. I get that from the Frey side of the family.

4) Confront people who need confronting. I’m trying to get better because I know I will be eaten alive in a competitive environment. I just know that in the lab life is easier when people don’t hate you for calling them out on things they’ve done wrong. I’ve always had strong people in my life to fight my battles for me. I realize this and would like to be one of those people, instead of depend on one.

5) Lie or fake sincerity. Luckily I’m often genuinely sincere.

6) Sing. I truly suck at it.

7) Tolerate cold weather.

Seven things that attract me to another person:

1) The ability to make me laugh. When someone has the same sense of humor as me, it is a tremendous turnon.

2) Compassion towards people and animals.

3) Thoughtfulness. If people show me that they think about me besides when they are in my presence, I am immensely flattered.

4) Passion. Not physical passion, a true, deep love for something.

5) Humility. Being able to laugh at yourself.

6) Shoulders. The first thing I notice on a man.

7) Inquisitiveness and eagerness to try/learn new things.

Seven things I say most often:

1) “It’s over.” When the guys and me were coming back from a conference in Montreal it was becoming increasingly obvious we were going to miss our flight. Jeff was speeding to the airport, we had taken wrong turns, gotten pulled over and stopped by customs. We finally took another wrong turn at which point I just said, “it’s over.” The guys cracked up and it’s been our catch-all phrase for giving up ever since.

2) “Gosh!” (from Napolean Dynamite. I know it’s cliché right now, but I can’t help myself).

3) “F*ck this place.” Something Dean sleepily mumbled one night after being awoken by a feline-induced crash in the closet. Now we say it whenever the kitties do anything dumb, which is often.

4) “Soot!” When my roommates and I used to watch my stepsister when she was little, we were careful to watch our language around her. One of us shouted “shoot!” once when we were upset and Emma excitedly keep repeating “Soot! Soot!” It’s still often said with the same vigor when us girls get together.

5) “Yeah, not so much.”

6) “Have you checked…lying around?” (In response to “Have you seen my wallet, cell phone, sample, voltmeter, etc.)

7) “Gi-normous.” My favorite descriptor.

Seven celebrity crushes:

1) Marlon Brando before he became an old, fat, eccletic weirdo. Back in the day he was a Hottie McHottie.

2) Bono. His voice, his lyrics, his rugged good looks, his humanitarian efforts. Enough said.

3) David Duchovny. My one geeky crush. Fox Mulder was the sexiest TV character EVER.

4) Marilyn Monroe. I don’t care if this makes me bi, she was gorgeous.

5) Bill Clinton. Don’t start with me until you’ve seen him speak in person.

6) Brad Pitt. I know, copout. Every woman loves him though because HE’S BEAUTIFUL.

7) Kevin Garnett. One word: YUM.

Seven bloggers I'm tagging:

I only know one other who hasn’t been tagged and that’s:


Friday, September 16, 2005

Goodbye, Credit Cards (or Why I am the Magnet Babe)

It's seven o'clock on a Friday night and I'm still at work. I think I just erased the magnetic strip on my student ID and two of my credit cards. I work with a superconducting magnet that is putting out a field of 7 Tesla, or 10,000,000,000 times the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. The good part is that I'm getting good data, which means that after being up since 6:30 this morning I must be running on pure adreneline. I'm fantisizing right now about these results getting publishing in Physical Review Letters, the New York Times of the Physics community. This is opposed to the usual Journal of Applied Physics (where I normally publish), the equivalent of, say, The Chicago Tribune. Not bad by any means..... but no New York Times.
The third week of the semester is over. Thank heavens. Usually as a researcher semesters mean nothing to me. This semester, I am finishing up those two pesky classes left before I can do my PhD candidacy. Forgetting what a hellish experience grad classes are, I thought, "I'll still have plenty of time for a life!" Wrong. What ever time I haven't spent working or studying I've been a complete bitch due to being stressed out about the work or studying I should be doing. Poor Dean has gotten the worst of it, which doesn't help as he started his new job this week (congratulations, Deano!). I miss having him on campus close to me, having lunch together and carpooling, but the money is too good to pass up. Maybe this year we'll be able to move out of the Tampa ghetto!
So the reasons I have no life right now. My two classes are biophysics and solid state physics part 2. I'm going to describe why they both suck. Biophysics is the hottest field in physics right now, which as a purest makes me completely skeptical of it. It doesn't help that my professor has such a strong accent I can't understand a single word he says. For a topic where nomenclature is key, this is quite frustrating. He is obviously a nice guy and very excited about biophysics because he is always gesturing wildly, but I understand nothing. Then, rather than handing out homework, he dictates the assignments to us. Lord only knows if what I turned in on Thursday was remotely close to what he asked for.
My solid state 2 class is very interesting but taught by a professor that is known as the toughest in the department. He's always thinking of these creative ways to torture people. He came up with a good way this semester. He assigns the hardest homeworks ever. For this semester, he is making up half the problems and for the other half, assigning problems out of the textbook. However, the solutions to the textbook problems are in the back of the book. Our job is to fill in the missing steps and completely understand the problem. Since he doesn't want to grade these problems, every week he calls on a student to come to the board (because we're in 5th grade?), work the problem out while explaining it and then answer questions from him about it. Only one student per week has to present, but since we don't know who it will be ahead of time, we all have to do all of the problems. Clever. Anyway, rather than enjoying a class where the primary topic is magnetism, my field, I sit there developing an ulcer all class period terrified of being called upon. It doesn't help that I'm the only woman in the class and get teased incessantly. The guys are always "volunteering me". Since I haven't been called on yet, this might have actually worked to my advantage. It still doesn't alleviate my discomfort of being the only woman and feeling like that means I must do above average just to prove myself.
Couple these factors with research, the gym, book group (it took me 2 weeks to get through Their Eyes were Watching God at a miserable pace of 15 pages a night before passing out from exhaustion), kitties and phone calls at work from Dean saying "I think I left the iron on, would you go home and check?" and now you know why I haven't been blogging much. So what's the point? It's now 7:45 on Friday night, I'm bored waiting for my experiment to finish. I am vindicated by knowing that now you are probably bored too.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Things that go "Meow" in the Night

I originally began this post by calling it “The Joys of Being a Cat Owner.” I changed the title of this post because I have had many cats in my life, and I have never once felt like I owned one. At the worst of times, I’ve felt the opposite, that they’ve owned me. Even the big, sad eyes of the Dumpster Kitties have gotten me wrapped around their paws.

Nothing epitomizes the unpredictability of living with cats more than what they do while you are sleeping. The following is a typical night in the Frey-Huls household.

11:00pm - Lights out.

11:05pm - Allison jumps on the bed and crawls onto my chest. She begins kneading bread on my chest and neck. None of the kitties are de-clawed, so if I have neglected keeping their claws trimmed, now is when I regret it. She also purrs loudly and rubs her face against mine. Since I’m not entirely sleeping yet, this is always pretty cute. What’s not so cute is that she has a chronically leaky eye so sometimes her intense cuddling also leads to wiping leakage on my cheek. This can be kinda gross and when this happens I grab a Kleenex, wipe my face and tiredly throw the balled-up tissue in the direction of the garbage. This causes Allison to jump off and chase it.

1:00am - Wrigley jumps on the bed and bites my forearm. He has the most unbelievably sharp teeth I’ve ever felt. They are particularly sharp when being awoken by them from a deep sleep. He purrs and keeps biting my hands, feet and any other part of skin exposed. It is this behavior that requires Dean and I to sleep fully covered with blankets up to our chins even when it’s summer in Florida. After being bitten several times, I toss Wrigley off the bed and invoke the blanket-up-to-chin defense and go back to sleep.

2:30am - “F#$%#$@!!!” Wrigley has bitten Dean in the face. During the day I am sometimes jealous that Dean has a closer bond with Wrigley than I do. My jealousy is not present at this time.

4:15am- Nellie, the alpha female, has hunted one of her numerous prey. This is usually a sock stuffed with cotton and catnip that Sylvia made for her right after we got her. She howls distraughtly until one of us gets out of bed and retrieves the prey after properly praising her for her prowess. Recall that Wrigley likes to bite any part of exposed flesh when the lights are off, so collecting Nellie’s victim also involves shaking Wrigley off our ankles while cursing his impressive teeth.

5:30am- Allison is back. This time instead of making bread, she lies on my pillow and wraps herself around my head. She likes to lick my forehead. While cat-tongue is an effective exfoliate, it is not generally welcome. She also sometimes misses my forehead and catches a mouthful of hair instead.

6:30am- The alarm goes off. I get out of bed and put my gym pants on to avoid any further abuse from Wrigley. I turn on the lights to find three pairs of eyes looking up adoringly at me and all is forgiven.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Not So Great Debate

Last month President Bush announced his support for the teaching of "Intelligent Design" alongside the theory of evolution in public schools, saying, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." As citizens of a democracy, Americans react well to the fairness of this argument. They think this is a perfectly reasonable compromise to the creationism versus evolution debate. I am writing this to try and convince people that this is not a reasonable compromise. I am not writing this as a democrat or a "loony liberal". I am writing this as a scientist with extensive exposure to several fields of science.
There are several points I wish to make about this. First and foremost, within the scientific community, THIS IS NOT A DEBATE. Evolution is as accepted as relativity or quantum mechanics. Of course, as there are people at physics conferences claiming to have found a hole in relativity, or invented a perpetual motion machine, there are occasional scientists who push for non-traditional biological theories. Since we are a peer mediated society, these scientists are politely listened to and then proven wrong. Non-scientists do not challenge theories like relativity because it poses no threat to them. However, to the average practicing Christian evolution is a direct affront to their faith. This is the true origin of this debate. So by keeping their ideas at the forefront of everyone's minds they are ensuring that we don't become a "Godless" society. But let me repeat, this is no debate. To scientists this is a non-issue. Teaching children that this is a valid debate within the scientific community is a misrepresentation of our community. Teaching that "Intelligent Design" is even a mildly acceptable scientific theory to potential future scientists is detrimental because it is effectively teaching students what a "theory" is and then giving them an incorrect example of one. It is the same thing as teaching students proper sentence structure and then as an example showing them a grammatical nightmare.
There is a student in my lab who is a proponent of ID. As lively discussions often ensue in the lab, this topic comes up quite frequently. In a moment of weakness I agreed to watch one of his DVD's on the subject. While the DVD masqueraded as science and could be convincing to many people who watch it, many things they state as fact are simply wrong. Their biggest argument, irreducible complexity, has indeed been proven false by evolutionists. Anyone who didn't know that would be convinced there is a major flaw in evolution.
I would also like to clarify a myth that is often perpetuated by supporters of ID: that scientists are heartless heathens that want to see God pronounced dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, a lot of us are atheists and very few are actually practicing a religion. The vast majority of scientists believe in a higher power though not necessarily in a traditional way. Our beliefs are often re-enforced by the beauty we uncover in nature and the simplicity and conciseness of physical law.
We also don't oppose organized religion in general. Only when it encroaches on our territory. Personally, I take a great interest in learning about different religions. How they're different, how they're not. I have no problem with teaching about Judeo-Christian creationism in public schools, as long as it is in a theology, philosophy or world religion class. And to please President Bush, expose them to different schools of thought. Discuss Judeo-Christian creationism alongside Buddhist creationism, Native American creationism, Hindu creationism and Muslim creationism. Somehow, I don't see that debate going quite as far.