Saturday, February 16, 2013

Trying to be Professional

I was working on the project for the last year without pay and my savings were running out. I could not really do anything without money. I needed a job or some kind of assistantship. There were no jobs in my field to which I could apply, not to mention competing with others. Since Anthony was not finished yet, I really wanted to stay to help him finish his Ph.D. because I knew how stressful it could be close to finishing.
     I applied for a number of jobs not directly related to my field. I was not surprised when I did not get them. In the meanwhile, my pathology professor tried to convince me to work for him in the summer as a student while considering pursuing a Ph.D. The work he wanted me to do was sectioning tree roots in the lab to prepare the tissues for electron microscopy. He had a contract from somewhere in the Midwest. I saw that his sectioning machine was so old that even the one that I used in China was better. In fact, he could not even section a sample thin enough by using that machine. “This is like cooking, you know. You will do a better job sectioning them since Chinese are good with a knife,” he said. “I could only pay you $5 per hour due to funding limitations. I understand that you have your Masters degree now. When our new proposal is submitted for funding, I will have money to pay you more.” I told him that if I had not found anything by the summer then I would do this job for him, but if I found another job then he would have to find someone else. He said that he understood.
     Then, I saw this ad in the paper for a job at the medical school. They wanted a full-time histologist. Basically, it was the same thing that I was going to do for my professor in the summer. The difference was this one dealt with animal tissues and the other with plant tissues. One used wax to embed the tissues while the other used ice. The tissues were mounted on a slide for further observations by microscope or electron microscope. One of my officemates could not find a job anywhere after completing his master’s; then, he did find a job with full benefits including vacation time in the medical school. So I applied and I was one of two interviewed. My interview went very well and the professor showed me his lab and introduced me to others as if I had already been hired. He gave me his own office number and asked me call him anytime if I had a question. He was interested that my pathology professor was working with plants so I gave him my professor’s number and asked him to call him. I did not know that was going to be the biggest mistake.
     The next day before I even started to tell my professor about the interview, he said, “Hi, Ying, you really know more people than I do. This professor at the medical school called yesterday afternoon. Another pathology professor I didn’t know. He was so weird and asked me all those weird questions like do I know the difference between plant and animal tissues. How the … do I know the difference? I am a plant pathologist. I only study plant disease. Actually plant viruses.” I started getting nervous and said, “Of course you know the basic difference is that animal cells don’t have cell walls or chlorophyll for photosynthesis—that’s biology 101.” “Oh, yeah, yeah. He asked me about your experience with sectioning and wax embedding. I told him that I don’t use wax and I don’t know what you did in China. But he sounded like he was going to hire you. He sure liked you. Oh, who is going to do the ice sectioning for me? I cannot do it and all the students are gone for the summer.” “I don’t think he is going to hire me after he talked with you,” I said with a chilly feeling at the bottom of my heart. “Oh, I bet they have a lot of fancy things there,” he said. “Yes, he showed me around his lab. He has one full-time technician there already. Everything is so new and you could tell they have funding. He has four paraffin sectioning machines and also an ice-sectioning machine that they are not using right now. They should let you have it. It is a much newer model.” “Oh, maybe, I could use his better ice sectioning machine for you on the weekend,” I continued. “That would be nice.” He laughed.
     A month passed and still I had not heard anything from the professor at the medical school. So, I called him since he gave me his office phone number before I left. He told me more than once to call him directly if I had any questions, anytime. He answered the phone. I asked him how was the progress on the position for which I had applied. He answered me very impatiently and coldly, “Oh, I don’t know, you have to call the personnel office.” Then I called the personnel office. They told me that they had hired someone else. It was all so clear to me that I had to go back to work for my professor at $5 per hour instead. Now I understood more why Mark had to leave without his degree, after three years of study and research with him.
     I was losing my options. One thing was for sure that I would not pursue my Ph.D. under him. For my ash wood samples, I had collected more than 1000 tree cores from a total of 500 trees from five states in the Northeast. It was such a waste of the samples just to measure them and go to all that trouble for nothing else. I had wood science for my undergraduate study and I knew the wood. I wondered whether the department of wood science could do anything with my wood samples, since the wood is for baseball bat. Maybe I could do something before Anthony finished since I didn’t have to go out to collect cores, saving a lot of time. Maybe the professor there would be interested in doing a study with my wood samples. I could finish another MS degree there in two or three years since I wouldn’t have to start another long, tiring field project.
     I made an appointment with a professor in the wood science department, also the director of a wood research institute. I also brought along my thesis and a sample of wood. I told him my thoughts and asked him what the possibilities were. I also told him the reason I wanted to do this in two or three years. He seemed delighted and said that he could help me initiate a little project depending upon my abilities. I could get a Masters or Ph.D. in wood science. I was delighted too. I told him that I wanted to know the possibilities before I discussed it with my former professor to permit me to use my wood samples for another project. He agreed to call my professor and to discuss possible collaboration.
     Obviously, he reached my professor before I could. When I talked to my professor the next day, he said, “What is going on? A professor from wood science and engineering called me about your possibly pursuing another degree. I told him that he must have mixed you up with someone else since you didn’t want to pursue another degree. You wanted to find a real job. You were going to work for me this summer and our project was not yet done. What are you doing meeting with a wood science professor in our college? I didn’t even know him in person except for speaking with him on the phone.” I just said, “I thought that I could find a project to finish another degree without more field work that took most of my time and energy. I had boxes and boxes of wood cores. I thought we could do something together.” He said, “Oh, I know how hard it was in the field for you especially drilling those cores. You know how to be a pathologist. Just like cooking in your kitchen. Look around my lab. You don’t need that much field work,” So much for an idea. The next thing you know when I went for my appointment with the other professor, he said that he cancelled it because we didn’t have anything to talk about.
     I did keep my promise, working for him part-time at $5/hr, only I would do it whenever I was free. I did not want to see him again. Then, I started working in a German restaurant for an average $10/hr.