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I'm back... my amazing story

S. Boomer sarai at u.washington.edu
Thu Jun 19 15:13:50 EST 1997

Hello you all,

	Well - I feel like I fell off the planet, which in some ways I
did.  I logged onto this newsgroup for the first time in six months and
thought, well - if the same old crowd is still here, then I'll write a
hello and my story.

	Here's my story... which is relevant, I'm sure, to many topics
relating to women, careers, science.

	I am the one who finished my PhD gloriously last year and was
preparing to head back to get a masters in education and focus on
highschool/community college stuff after a year of applying for small
college things and getting NOTHING.

	Well - problem one.  My partner of five years left a month after
my defense.  He had promised to support me through my masters program (and
still offered to do the financial support - but that really wasn't what I
needed per se - the emotional support for that career change was what I
really was counting on after the last difficult years of school/career). 
We were actually working together in the same lab doing post-docs when he
left me.  It was WAY devastating.  We still work together - but that is
another story (suffice it to say that we are finally respectable friends). 
So... point number one: women, don't ever count on the couples thing,
don't ever get yourself to a point of being dependent on a man like I felt
I was.  In some ways too, my plans were centered around him - being that
he got the long-term local post-doc and mine was sort of a part-time gift
from my thesis advisor. The things I have learned about career dependence
have been, frankly, stunning.

	For two weeks in January, I pursued work in the highschools -
still intent on pursuing the masters on my own.  My boss happily agreed to
keep me on as a post-doc, though this meant working with my partner (and
that was not going well).  I, however, grew to accept that the highschool
atmosphere was NOT acceptable - it was a sorry substitute for my dreams of
teaching a small liberal arts college.

	So - I made some BIG revisions.  First, I accepted a long-standing
offer to post-doc at the NIH with a thesis collaborator.  I had avoided
this year-long offer for many reasons:  my partner, the fact that I really
saw no hope in the career market for PhDs at the college level after being
rejected for a year, the fact that I really didn't enjoy being a part of
grant-driven high stress AIDS research anymore (although the final year of
my PhD work WAS exciting and I knew I was sitting on three manuscripts if
I pursued the post-doc).  The NIH boss couldn't take me until August of
this year, though.  I was, admittedly, upset about moving the east coast,
being the mountain-loving gal who I am - but, life changes and all, I felt
it would be a good and necessary move.  And so I tried to find interesting
ways to occupy my time in the mean time.

	Given this timeline and the growing stress in the lab, I did
something really wild (with the full encouragement of my great boss):  I
went to Patagonia for five weeks of mountain trekking.  I had never
travelled overseas - and I went with a woman friend post-doc who is in the
process of leaving science after nine years of post-docing and no job
prospects.  We had a blast - made the whole thing up as we went along, saw
everything, were blown away (she had done a lot of international
travelling before so it was not like we were both idiots).  So - point
number two:  this jibberish about taking time off... hey - live life to
the fullest... once I get to the end of this roller coast tale, I will
argue that that kind of decision to leave for awhile didn't affect my
ultimate success.

	I returned a new woman.  My boss took me as a part-time post-doc
and secured for me a formal part time facultyship here so I could boost my
CV on both ends of the spectrum of research and teaching, all aimed at the
ultimate goal of pursuing a small college job in a few years.  Entering
the classroom again was the ultimate rush, though.  It affirmed all my
life-long scientific and career goals.  I finished that up last week with
outstanding evaluations and the knowledge that I was back on the right

	Somewhere during my three months post-Patagonia, I applied for one
small college position that I could not pass up.  I was terrified at some
level to apply for it - to ask my boss for a rec. letter because I didn't
want her to think I was bailing on the NIH, something I truly thought she
would crucify me for doing (although I had NO faith that I stood a
chance). I also fell in love (which I didn't think I was capable of- but
was sane about it and took it as a sign that I was healing), broke several
hearts, got the big regret speech from my finally-depressed partner (who
crashed and burned as I rose from the ashes), broke some more hearts, and
started growing my hair way long again.

	Well - then something amazing happened.  I got the small college
job.  Both my boss and my NIH boss fully supported my taking it - they
point blank said:  it's your dream job and you simply don't mess around
with career opportunities like this these days.  I will turn 29 this
summer and I begin a tenure track professorship.  I am the first one in
the nine year history of our lab - including the boss - to get a tenure
track "real" job.  Talk about karmic payback.  I don't have any choice
words of advice.  I lived through hell and I truly consider this payback
time.  My CV was broad enough to get me to the interview stage and I knew
if I got there in person that I would soar - and I did.  I begin this
September.  I love the school, the faculty, the facilities.  And I did
something perhaps more amazing... I managed to convince them that shotgun
cloning viral sequences was no different than shotgun cloning 16S genes
from environmental samples.  My research project is TOTALLY different than
my thesis/post-doc work - I am going from AIDS research back to my old
undergrad. love:  evolution and diversity of thermophilic bacteria from
hot springs.

	An hour after the dean called with the glorious offer, my old
undergrad. boss (who does classical bacteriology on Yellowstone hot spring
mats) called to offer me a part-time sabbatical replacement position at
the old school (completely out of the blue, I might add).  I had the
pleasure of saying: thank but... Here's the killer, though:  she asked
what research I'd be doing and I told her I wanted to develop the things
she taught me into more molecular evolution projects (16S phylogenetics). 
And then she says the icing in the cake line:  Sarah, I would be honored
if you would collaborate with me - we are heading to Yellowstone next week
and I'd like to help you get your project started.  Come out with us -
I've got a paper on some of your old stuff and a book chapter and let's
write it together for your future.

	Women in bio - this is like the grandest homecoming I have ever
felt.  I knew that my undergrad. connections would be meaningful to me
personally and educationally my whole life - but to find myself a PhD,
future professor - and have these connections mean something so
professional and scientific - I am totally blown away.  It is an honor to
feel this welcomed.  And I am SOOOO excited.  I leave Sunday for two weeks
of basic micro. in the field again.  This is why I love science - this is
what living science is about to me.  Needless to say, the prospect of
being an outdoorswoman and having the chance to haul kids into the
mountains for research on springs in the cascades truly blows my mind.

	So - I am back and, as you can tell, I am back with my usual
verve.  Part of me is scared of the responsibility - that part of me that
was up at midnight perusing Brock's Micro. text and feeling VERY daunted
with creating all the lecture notes.  The faculty member with whom I
bonded with the most at the small college, though, said something SOOOO
meaningful to me.  He took me out to dinner and I was tired after eight
hours of interviews and talking and I just confessed that I was surprised
no one grilled me (because everyone had been really great).  He, an older
molecular biologist who teaches some non-major AIDS issues classes too,
looked at me puzzled and asked why.  I said - Bob, in my program it seems
the object was to basically break students a lot... you come out feeling
like you know nothing to a job market that is terrible and proves that you
know nothing... and here I am walking for my first interview ever and all
I can think about is:  how can these people NOT ask me something like -
how the hell do you think you can run a course... you have no experience. 
Bob looked at me and just said - you gave the best talk I've ever heard, I
KNOW you can do it.  All you need is the time and opportunity.  And I will
be there for you as you test the ropes.  I was FLABBERGHASTED.  He raised
a glass of beer and toasted the future and I knew, then, I had the job.  I
co-teach with Bob this fall - the cell and molecular part of the generals
class.  I am truly honored.  Because finally I feel affirmed, like someone
sees my ability and values it. 

	I'd love to hear from the gang!  Alas, though, I will be
incommunicado starting this Sunday.  

	Cheers,  the unsinkable Dr. Professor Sarah Boomer


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