As most of my fellow online collaborative colleagues and close friends know, I recently resigned from my position as laboratory research technician in a research group at a nearby university. It has been nearly a month and I don't regret this decision. On paper, it was due to "medical reasons" and was supported by every single one of my lab-mates, the manager and even the therapist I was frequenting through their Employee Assistance Program.
What keeps me up these past few nights is the ivory tower folks and their candid view on life, research and science while I am stuck with these deep dark nightmares from the dungeon. The big boss that never responded to my resignation and the HR department who never returned my phone calls. If this was the 1950's, lab technicians would be the black eyed housewives that the community so irrelevantly sweeps under the rug and tells themselves it is better to not get involved or it will get fixed by someone other than themselves.
I want you to look at this next image and I want you to know that shit like this is very real. I am not here to bash a person, business, school or industry. I am here to address the broken system and how it very nearly killed me.
What you are looking at is a picture I took one February morning of the bloodiest nose I have ever seen. would go on to have a bloody nose like that every single day, up until the day I resigned, which was March 5, 2013. Some days, I couldn't get it to stop. My lab trash can would quickly fill up with my nasty used tissues instead of the usual paper towels and aluminum foil that I was use to seeing. I looked like I got into a fist fight every single day, but I didn't know what it meant. The only continued because I was pressured into not wasting time. To stop a bloody nose, you must sit down.
The janitor would do me favors checking on me, because he was the only one who knew where all the evidence of my demise came from. Of course, he is the only one I miss as of late. I felt like he understood what it was like to be assigned to the bottom without regard to your human value. Let's explore that assumption- do you know the name of the janitor who takes care of your building? Probably the difference between me and the rest of my department.
If chemists are the human element, and the chemistry is bad, is she still human?
I would like to note here that this slippery slope started back in November, when my father left my mother after 30 years, causing me to be somewhat distracted at work. Most effectively like any person who loves their job, I sought help through the employee assistance program but quickly found out through 5 doctors, 3 therapists and one fucked up day that my depression and stress was not this life event, noooooooo. No, it was something much more arduous than that:
MY WORK LOAD AND DEMAND.
See the day before I resigned, I got my final emotionally abusive email berating me about my lunch hour. One that was not unlike everyone elses. One that was given proper notice. The only difference was, it was directed at me. It was directed at me like the hundreds of emails I received and wasn't allowed to fight back. When my male colleague (the one who also got paid more than I did, even though we had same job title) received one, he was respected when he defended himself. I was called "obnoxious" to my face and even sent more demeaning emails lecturing me on protocol. This isn't about sexism though, although it does fall under that. I am a pretty strong woman and a little discrimination never deterred me away from shit.
This is about abuse and I am sure the statistics say females are more likely victims but I am talking about myself. I am talking about how I stared at my postdoc mentor and manager one day and they had this look on their face that I will never forget. It was the saddest, most terrifying thing. It was in their eyes. Their eyes.....
They saw what I saw and I wasn't crazy. It was as if they witnessed a public rape unfolding in front of them, mine to be exact. Their eyes displayed that distinct feeling of helpless-ness for me. Yes. I said rape. Removing my humanity to justify abuse, even if verbal and emotional, is still rape.
That day after work, authorities were called to my house. It wasn't to address the crime against me. It was to address the crime I almost committed on myself. I told my boyfriend I wanted to kill myself and then I shut off my phone.
Just like that...I believed I wasn't entitled to my humanity anymore.
I was mentally beaten into thinking I was such a failure that I felt I needed to end my life. I was slowly ending it anyways with the bloody noses. Why not just throw my labcoat in and then my soul too ...just for good measure?
After my family, boyfriend and close friend helped me evaluate the situation, I decided that night I was resigning and didn't give any notice to anyone working in the lab. The next day, I got emails from my lab-mates supporting me. To protect the sanctity of the lab environment, I won't say who they came from, but I did get these sentiments:
"Don't let him win! Get here!"
"I guess you are unhappy with bosses comments, however, you should not give up your work since you have put great effort to learn it. I believe your work will be appreciated."
"It's because you were treated like a post-doc and you are not a post-doc. I bet you are happier!"
To tell you the truth, I still break down and cry when I read their words. I loved my lab and the people in it. I loved my work, up until the moment it hated me back. How is it that this was allowed and no one felt like they could help me? How come no one up the food chain took a second look into why someone who was considered valuable to many, left over-night?
I walked away with five recommendations and what felt like 5 PhDs. However, I also feel like I took to the Roman Colosseum for a gladiator battle each day at the very end. I barely walked out of there, but I still did. To tell you the truth, I haven't looked back except to write this post. The situation haunts me and I don't want anyone to feel like they're alone just because they are the technician, and not the post-doc or grad student.
One person was right about one thing,I am happier. I am healthier too. That was the best decision of my life because I tried, did my best and then accepted an unlikely solution. I don't need that lab to validate me and next time, if I decide to go back to a lab, I will know when to end a battle before the blood shed begins.
I'm still a scientist. You can't take away my work and craftsmanship.
My hands did that work
and eventually ...
I started doing
Disclaimer: Employee Assistant Programs do not protect those who are being abused. Therapists are the exception to academia's strenuous harassment policy when it comes to witnesses.