Archive | April, 2019

Nostalgic for the 18 jobs I had

29 Apr

I love this thing on Twitter where people share what jobs they’ve had! For example, I love knowing that Maria Orive worked at McDonald’s (just like me). I also love knowing that Dmitri Petrov used to work as a taxi driver or that Natalie Tellis worked as a cashier.

The meme is about sharing five jobs you’ve had, but it makes me nostalgic about all the 18 jobs I had when I was in school, in college and after college.


I started working summer jobs when I was 12 or 13. I don’t think we needed the money, but in my family, it was considered normal to work in the summer. My first job was peeling tulip (and other) bulbs, because I lived in the bulb area of The Netherlands. These agricultural jobs were available for 12, 13 and 14-year-olds while you had to be 15 for most other jobs like working in a supermarket. So, during several weeks in the summer, I would take my bike early in the morning and ride to one of the farms near the coast, often together with my older sister. We’d work all day getting paid per crate of bulbs peeled. We worked hard and got blisters on our hands. Occasionally, my mom would come to say hi and maybe work with us for an hour or so. Even though we were pretty good at this job, my mom was much faster, because she did this work throughout her youth on her parents’ farm each summer. She would sometimes remind us that when she worked in the summer she wouldn’t get paid unless all the work on their farm was done and she and her siblings had time left to work on other people’s farms.

These first summers that I worked, the money I made would be split 50-50. I had to use half of it to buy my school supplies and the other half I could spend however I wanted. From early on I spent my money on trips. We’d take our bikes or the train and go camping for a few days easily spending the money we had earned.

Later when I was 15 or 16, I had other jobs. One summer I worked in a nice supermarket in our town, mostly behind the bread or cheese counter, which I really liked. Sometimes I had a job just for the two-week Christmas break. I remember one winter I worked as a cleaner in a small pharmaceutical plant in a nearby town. I hated it. For a while, I also cleaned the local table-tennis clubhouse on weekends with a friend.


The summer before I went to university I had a job in an industrial laundromat where they washed sheets and towels from hotels and homes for old people. The work was monotonous but not hard. It was fun to see the machines fold towels. I had never realized that there were machines that did that! We also folded some of the towels by hand, and I still fold my towels the way I was taught there. I was one of the few high school students who worked there that summer and I remember having to explain why I would want to leave town to go to a university somewhere else. I found it hard to imagine why someone would want to stay.


My first year at university I spent in Aberdeen, Scotland, which was a foreign country for me but part of the EU so I could easily study there. If I remember correctly, I paid almost no tuition fees. I was supported by my parents who would each send me money every month and by the Dutch government. I also wanted to find a job but my English was not very good and the only job I was able to get was at McDonald’s. Because of my bad English I usually mopped floors and emptied the trash. On good days, I was allowed to fry fries in the kitchen. It may be hard to believe, but I didn’t mind the job at McDonalds and I enjoyed learning how a fast food restaurant works. At McDonald’s I met people who needed two jobs to pay the rent and buy food for their kids. I didn’t know that was possible. Later that year in Scotland I worked in a store that sold cookies and I waited tables in a cafe that served traditional greasy food prepared by a cook who smoked while she cooked.


After a year in Scotland I went back home to The Netherlands and enrolled at the University of Amsterdam. I don’t remember what my first job was back in The Netherlands, but I slowly moved on to doing some more interesting jobs. I worked in a supermarket again, this time as a cashier. I was also a receptionist for a while at the school where my mom worked (by then as a principle). The school was a kind of community college that mostly taught Dutch as a second language to immigrants. One of the things I learned the first day on the job was that I could never give any information about any student to the police. The school’s policy was that everyone, even those considered “illegal” in the country, should be able to learn and feel safe at school.

I got a job selling newspapers on the phone, cold-calling people to ask if they wanted to receive a newspaper for 3 weeks for almost no money! This was early in the telemarketing boom and most people still answered the phone. The job was okay, and I was quite good at it. It was nice that my younger sister was doing the same job and we sometimes worked the same shift and went home together afterwards.


I also worked for a while in an office of a start-up that sold data about events – like how many people came to a festival and what age groups were represented – to people who wanted to advertise at those events. I liked data even then and seeing that someone could make money off of collecting and selling data was intriguing. Previously, I had worked for the Department of Biology analyzing student evaluations of classes in Excel. It was fun to learn to use Excel and later it turned out to be a useful skill that most students didn’t have at the time. I also created a brochure for the Department of Biology with short stories about all of our full professors. I don’t think it really registered with me at the time that only one of them was a woman. It was really exciting that I got to talk to all these professors, the photographer, the designer and the printer! I still have a copy of that brochure.


I liked traveling, but going places costs money. I held a job for a while at a company that organized outdoor adventures. This meant driving to Belgium to the hills and the forests (Ardennen) and preparing activities for groups of school kids or teams from a company who would arrive the next day and then working with these groups for a day or two. I really enjoyed the hikes, the camping and the kayaking. One year I went on a trip to Israel and handed out flyers for a hostel in exchange for a place to stay. I also got paid one summer to map out hikes for tourists on a Greek island.


The only jobs I had with a clear relevance to my current career were the teaching jobs I had at the University of Amsterdam. I was a TA many times for a mathematical biology class and a biostatistics class. I liked those jobs and they made me feel like I was part of the department. I was often teaching together with some very good friends. One of them later became one of the co-founders with me of a start-up. She now works as a math teacher and we still hang out together.


When I dropped out of my first attempt to do a PhD, I needed a job again to pay my rent.  I ended up being a bartender at the best jazz club in Amsterdam, Het Bimhuis. I mostly made cappuccinos or poured beers for the people who arrived early for an 8PM concert, and then I got to enjoy some jazz. I felt a little out of place here because I knew almost nothing about jazz and nothing about alcohol. But I liked the music and it paid the rent for a while in the fall of 2001 until our start-up started making money early in 2002. In 2003, I became a PhD student again and I have been employed by universities ever since.


The Code Lab visits Tel Aviv!

8 Apr

In February, 10 of us from the Code Lab visited Adi Stern’s lab in Tel Aviv, Israel. It was stressful to organize the trip (filling out so many forms, waiting for permission, finding reasonably priced tickets…), but now that we’ve done it I think it was totally worth it. The trip was really good for the lab and for our research. We are grateful to NSF for funding the trip (as part of a collaborative grant between the two labs), to everyone in Adi Stern’s group for hosting us and to the folks at SFSU who helped us (and are still helping us) with the administrative side of this trip!

Here are the best things from the trip:

1. We bonded as a lab!

Emily: One of the things I enjoyed the most about our trip was getting to know and meet people. There are many different individuals in our lab who I don’t know very well and this trip was a great opportunity to spend time with them!

Anjani: We were mostly together as a group during the trip and it made our bonding stronger than what we had when we left SFO.


Jasmeen, Anjani, Caroline, Geo, Stuart, Ryan (all SF)

2. We got to know our current and future collaborators from Tel Aviv and learned about their research.

Caroline: One thing I really liked about the trip was how welcoming and organized the Stern lab was even though we arrived sooner than initially planned. I got really excited seeing the HeLa cells and hearing about the different projects revolving around them. Olivia: I really enjoyed talking to Talia about her research on the Tilapia virus. This virus is found in both wild and farmed tilapia. I found the questions she was asking interesting because it affects people all over the world.

Ryan: Everyone was very cool and super nice.  


Caroline Solis (SF), Talia Kustin (Tel Aviv), Moran Meir (Tel Aviv), Anjani Pradhananga (SF), Jasmeen Kaur (SF).

3. We presented our work and got useful feedback.

Olivia: Sometimes it feels like I haven’t been able to finish or see a product, but I used my old poster that I had created for the COSE showcase (…) and found that I actually accomplished the aims/next steps. It was a nice feeling to learn that I have done something as I was updating my poster.

Kaho: I really enjoyed talking to Adi, Maoz and Sherry about research. The discussion we had was helpful and gave me clearer directions for the next steps of my research, and it was great to find out we have such cool collaborators!

Ryan: I also loved meeting the Tel Aviv lab because it made me see out research, not only from the dry lab perspective, but also from the wet lab side too.


Oded Kushnir (Tel Aviv) and Ryan Winstead (SF) look at a poster.

4. Visiting new cities and a foreign country

Emily: I was glad to see that Tel Aviv had a vibrant and openly queer community.

Getting to see the historical sites was equally important to me. Though I am not a fan or organized religion, (…), I learned many of the stories from the old and new testament, so seeing the actual places where they occurred was really cool. My grandma would have been so happy to see my pictures and hear about everything, and though she is gone now, she was in my heart the whole time.

Ryan: At first, I was very nervous about traveling so far from home. However, as soon as I was on board the plane, I felt excited about it. Tel Aviv was an amazing city and seeing it and the university was rewarding.


The Code Lab with our Tel Aviv guides Danielle Miller and Omer Tirosh from the Stern Lab. Clockwise from Anjani (taking the selfie), Caroline, Olivia, Geo, Emily, Danielle Miller, Omer Tirosh, Ryan, Stuart, Jasmeen, Kaho.

5. We enjoyed the food!

Stuart: Trying out new foods and deserts were a blast at dinner.


Shakshouka is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and garlic, commonly spiced with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg.

What we didn’t like as much

There were only a few things we didn’t like. Some of the students had never had a jet lag before and they hated it. We also didn’t like when we felt cheated by taxi-drivers or bartenders and we were sad to see and feel the tension between different groups in Jerusalem. One thing that we’ll keep in mind for our next trip is to schedule more time for the posters.

But all in all it was a fun, interesting and memorable trip!


The Code Lab and the Stern Lab. Front: Pleuni Pennings(SF), Yaara Ben Ari (Tel Aviv), Gal Goldman (Tel Aviv), Jasmeen Kaur (SF), Kaho Tisthammer (SF), Adi Stern (Tel Aviv), Tal Zinger (Tel Aviv), Olivia Pham (SF). Standing: Danielle Miller (Tel Aviv), Sherry Harari (Tel Aviv), Talia Kustin (Tel Aviv), Maoz Gelbart (Tel Aviv), Oded Kushnir (Tel Aviv), Caroline Solis (SF), Ryan Winstead (SF), Stuart Castaneda (SF), Anjani Pradhananga (SF), Geo Pineda (SF), Emily Fryer (SF)