Monday, April 7, 2014

Bad, bad, good, bad

I had two video interviews in early March, but didn't make it to the next round for either. That was a bummer, but it's the kind of thing that I may be able to apply for in the future when I have more experience under my belt (presumably!). Still, I feel like I failed in the interviews and in hindsight have regrets about how I answered some of the questions.

Those rejections made me feel like my last hope for a career in science was wrapped up in a proposal I submitted to further develop my database project from my PhD. I put a ton of effort into that application right after we moved to Hometown. I told Jon that I'd start thinking seriously about what to do outside of academia if I didn't get that fellowship. I told Dana (my part-time-postdoc PI) that I felt like it would be the end of my career in science if I didn't get it. In that same conversation, she told me the good news that she has more money in the grant to pay me for at least another 3 months full time after the 3 months of part time. At least there's that while I keep looking for something more permanent.

Guess what? I didn't get the fellowship. I wasn't expecting to hear anything until next week, so I was caught off guard and unprepared. I was going to have some beer on hand to drown my sorrows or celebrate. Instead, I was nursing my daughter when I got the email, and I just sobbed and cried. A form letter rejection telling me about all the great applications, hard decisions, and the "don't let this discourage you" crap. I'm going to email them asking for more specific feedback and hopefully that will be useful.

It's hard not to take it personally. It's really hard not to feel like 'science' doesn't 'want' me. It's also hard for me to continue to be positive, because honestly I feel pretty bitter and snarky. I must be doing something wrong, because how can it be taking me this long to find a job? I need a job, preferably with permanence (>1 year) and benefits. We really need the money, and I need it for my self-esteem. I don't even care if it's not science as long as it pays well and I feel useful. I've got to get out of this terrible mental space.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The challenges of being officeless

As someone who is still kind of drifting as an under-employed (but not unemployed!) PhD, I really, really miss having an office. There are two distinct but related problems to not having an office in my circumstances. Problem 1: working. Problem 2: pumping.

I am the kind of person who enjoys working away from home because it helps keep me focused on work. There are too many distractions at home-- even before Adele was born! I did write quite a bit of my dissertation in our guest bed in the final stretch last year, but even that was mostly on the evenings and weekends, or when I really needed to avoid people at the office. I still spent most weekdays at the office. In the fall I spent less time at my office because I was trying to work more at home because of Adele. It was easier to work with her around when she was less mobile. Even when Jon is watching her, it's hard for me to not be distracted by her if I work at home.

I've never been much of a coffee shop worker myself, but I have to say that I've started to appreciate the appeal now as a parent. Somewhere I can go for a time out of the house is great! But I need more than just a couple of hours here and there to focus on the big stuff.

So why don't I just hole up somewhere for the entire day? This brings me to the pumping. Last time I checked, Starbucks didn't have a lactation room. If I'm gone more than a few hours, I have to pump. I need an outlet somewhere private that isn't a bathroom. Ideally I need access to a sink, too. I have to bring the pump with me while I'm working, and without an office, I need to bring my computer with me while I pump. It's all very cumbersome and annoying.

In order to be out of the house all day and work, I have been researching the lactation rooms at local institutions (thank you for putting info about your lactation rooms online!) and strategizing where I can sit and work in that same building in between pumping. This hasn't been very easy. The places I've found to work aren't very quiet. Or I can't get online as a guest at the institution.

As a graduate student, I was really lucky and mostly had an office to myself. I technically shared it, but with people who never really used it. This meant that I could almost always pump there uninterrupted. It was wonderfully convenient! I just left my pump there and carried a little cooler back and forth with the milk.

Today I went to a seminar at a place I might as well call Hometown U. HU has designated lactation rooms which I've used before, but they are not in or near the seminar building. I decided I wouldn't bother trying to work there and leave the pump at home because of the hassle.

While at the seminar, I remembered that a postdoc had mentioned when I was there last week that she had a baby. Today, I asked how old her baby was (1 month younger than Adele!). I asked if she was pumping. (yes!). I asked where. She took me straight across the hall to an unused lab space of a new faculty member who was letting her pump there. She had her pump all set up. Then she took me to the kind and understanding faculty member whose lab space it was, and he promptly gave me a key to the room. All I had to do was ask the right person! Now I have a space where I can work and pump on days when I'm at HU.

A desk in a secure room and a private place to pump might just help bridge this gap and keep me in science.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My luckiest day

The short version: I walked into a seminar, ran into someone I met at a conference 2 years ago, talked to her for an hour about what I've been doing, and walked out with a job. Part time, temporary work, but I will have a MENTOR and TITLE and a PAYCHECK! I am overjoyed!

The long version:

Two years ago, I attended a small conference, mostly because of its location and the opportunity to see friends and family. I went on a field trip and spent a few hours in a van with a woman who was working on a similar type of database project and has been supporting herself on soft money (i.e. grants) since she finished her PhD. She said it have her the flexibility to work part-time when her kids were young and I appreciated hearing about her research and experience. Even better, she was at an institution near Jon's hometown, so I made a special note to contact her in the future.

I emailed her in November, saying we were probably moving to Hometown and might she be able to meet with me to talk about my project and funding ideas. I never heard back, and hadn't yet tried to follow up with her further over email. I went to a few seminars at her institution, but didn't see her. Until this week.

She walked in right behind me, and recognized me but couldn't place me at first. I told her I'd recently finished, moved to Hometown to be near family, was looking for work, have a 9 month old child, and told her more about my database project and the applications I have pending. After seminar, she said, "I've been feeling like I need some help on some of my projects and it sounds like you might have just the right skill set. Let's talk more about your experience and availability."

I showed her what I've done. I told her many of my pending applications have start dates still months away even if I do get an offer.

She said not many PhDs have the particular background of mine that she needs.
She said she loves to help other moms in science because she knows how hard it is.
She said she also moved into her parents' basement without a job when she finished her PhD.
She said she can't hire full-time or long-term, but what about half-time for 3 months?
She said welcome to the lab.

I could hardly contain my tears of happiness and immense sense of relief after the meeting. I'll have a paycheck, desk space, affiliation, and another line on my CV. I'll be working with someone who does things I'm interested in, but she has more experience and can mentor me. I will still have time to work on my own projects & applications, and flexibility in terms of when I work. What a day!

Friday, February 7, 2014

I really needed a win

Over the last 15 months, I've applied for 21 different jobs, postdocs, fellowships, internships, or consultancies. I spent considerable time on each application, and was highly selective about what I applied for so I, for the most part, only applied for things I thought I had a good chance at. I had an interview in April, an interview in July, and it's been nothing but crickets and rejections for the last 6 months. To say that is discouraging hardly does it justice. All week I have been thinking to myself, I need a win. I need something positive in this job search, and I need it soon before I spiral downwards in a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure.

I got it. In the past day, I received the exciting news that I will be interviewed for two different positions! Furthermore, one of these is something I thought I had a snowball's chance in hell of getting. They are going to interview me! This application was due at the same time as another, in which I invested much more time. This application was mostly an afterthought, and I was very close to not applying at all. If it hadn't required letters from Herb and Sam that were already sent, I would not have bothered. Boy am I glad I did! I am practically in tears with relief.

Even if I don't get offer from these, the good news could not have come at a better time.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Tell me your triumph-over-career-adversity stories

Recently I became friends on Facebook with another woman I know from science. She did fieldwork in Nyota too, but before I was there. She's a postdoc a few years ahead of me in her career with several publications and she had a child since I last saw her. While catching up over Facebook, she said, "we have a very nice life here, low cost of living etc. Good luck on the job search, I never went, so my career is over. My husband has a good job here, so I guess that is it." She did interview for a tenure-track position, but she was pregnant at the time and said it didn't go well.

I am all for supporting women in their career decisions, but it is discouraging when those decisions are more like resignations.

As I sit here trying to write emails to people I want to network with while my daughter cries because she isn't going down easy for this nap, my husband is away for 2 weeks because we really need his income, and I just got another rejection letter, I need to hear some good things. I really, really, really need to hear some success stories instead of more news about how hard it is for women in science.

Please, tell me stories about people who have been unemployed after graduation and then found a satisfying job (academic or not). Tell me about someone who bounced back after a major health setback. Tell me about a new parent who took some time off at a transition point in their career and went on to do great things. Please tell me about the person who graduated without a job and didn't end up as a perpetual adjunct. Tell me how you made it work.

I need to hear encouraging stories, and I doubt I'm the only one. Please share!

Saturday, January 25, 2014


After considering joining Twitter for many months, I finally signed up. AspiringEcologist was too long of a username, so I'm anEcologist instead. Besides, I have a P-H-effing-D, so I think I can call myself An Ecologist instead of just an aspiring one now.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Titles and Affiliations (untitled and unaffiliated!)

Right now, I am title-less and institution-less. I'm unemployed, but hoping to bag a research postdoc. I have several questions that I would love for you, dear readers, to weigh in on.

EDIT (1/26/14): I want to clarify that these questions (revised) all pertain to courtesy appointments, not actual paid postdocs. I know how to search for and apply for actual jobs and postdocs, which is my first choice! But in the meantime...

1. How important is it for me to have an institutional affiliation, even if it's just an unpaid title? Will being institution-less hurt my job prospects? Will it make me look like some kind of academic leper?

2. Where should I try to affiliate? I'm sure I could get a courtesy title at my graduate institution, but we no longer live there. Would it be better to be at an institution here? 

3. What types of titles do people in this position (i.e. unemployed/volunteer postdoc) usually have? Of the possibilities, which are better?

Finally, if anyone has been in this position, I'd love to hear encouraging stories of how you made it work and landed somewhere with a paycheck.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Inside candidates

A good friend of mine from grad school was recently interviewed for a fabulous job. It was in a place she wanted to be doing what she wanted to do. However, when she got there for the interview, they told her that she wasn't meeting the head honcho because he couldn't be on the search committee due to a conflict of interest. His wife was also a candidate for the position. So, my friend went through the rest of the day-long interview feeling a bit bummed, but it also took some of the pressure off. Her odds of getting the position were low, so she might as well swing for the fences and really tell them her vision.

They offered her the job. I am so excited for her! I love having such awesome friends! I can't wait to see what she does in this position.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking forward to 2014

I think 2014 will be the year of transition. We just moved, and we'll move again in a couple of months. Hopefully I'll find a job before long. Jon will probably be transitioning into a new career, too. And Adele is continually learning and doing new things.

With so much unknown about my future employment, it feels a little difficult to set goals related to my career, but I do have some.

Get a job. This is a carryover from last year! A fellowship counts too. Something that will pay me on a regular basis, preferably research-related. I have research ambitions that I'm not ready to give up on, and I feel like I would be if I took a job that removed my from research completely.

Submit two manuscripts for publication. I think I can submit one before the end of January. Beyond that, I'm not sure which one I'd go for next. I've got to get my head back in research!

I'd like to go to a conference, too, but that will depend very much on my job and our financial situation. The rates go up now that I'm no longer a student, and if I can't get any financial assistance then it might not be possible. We'll see.

Complete the exercise program I started at Thanksgiving and then continue to do the exercises (or similar) at least 5x/week. It is gentle and doesn't take very much time. It's a matter of making the small amount of time to do it.

Get to the point where I can run and dance again without pain. This means that I need to continue to heal from birth by being mindful of how I move, and doing the exercises I mentioned above.

Go to 2 dance workshops and go dancing at least 10 times. I am hoping that this will be a way for me to make new friends, too.

Complete 4 photo books of Adele. There are two that I wanted to do before Christmas, but that didn't happen!

Give birthday gifts & cards on time! This year we were pretty bad about being on time with birthday gifts for nieces and nephews.

Go to Quaker meeting at least 12 times this year. This will also be a good way to meet new people. I went sporadically in Big City but it never fit well into my routine with all of my traveling and other weekend events. I would like to make space for it in my life again.

Schedule time for blogging each week. This is one that I didn't meet last year, but I think I should give it another shot this year. In the process, I should also think about whether or not to move to a new setting. I'm no longer an aspiring ecologist, I am an ecologist! Should this blog grow with me? Or have I outgrown it?

Refer to this list when setting weekly goals. I did a great job of setting weekly goals in 2013, and I'd like to continue. However, I did not refer to this list! I can do that, and it won't even be hard.

Add to and revise this list as necessary. I didn't make any changes last year, but this year could warrant some when I get a job.

This list of goals is scattered, but these are all things I'd like to make more room for in my life this year. Cheers to a new year in a new city!

I hope all of my readers find a way to make the world a better place in 2014!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking back on 2013

One year ago, I knew this was going to be a big year. I didn't explicitly write "give birth to a healthy baby" on my list of goals for 2013 out of some kind of superstition or because that's not really much in my control, but clearly that was the most monumental event of the year. Adele's birth in May was followed by about 7 minutes of bliss, then the most critical 2 hours of my life completely out of my hands when my uterus inverted and I lost ~3.5 liters of blood, and then several weeks of difficult recovery, re-hospitalization, and physical weakness.

Finish my dissertation.
YES! I did this. I defended successfully. Sending my dissertation to my committee was, at that point, the most satisfying and relieving thing I had ever done. It is topped only marginally by the first moment I felt my newborn daughter.

Submit two chapters for publication.
Ugh, no. Not even one. I have a chapter that has been nearly ready to submit since FEBRUARY. It probably needs only two or three days of my undivided attention. Between finishing my dissertation, recovering from birth, preparing a different project for a conference, applying for jobs, teaching in two places, and then moving, this just hasn't happened.

Get a job.
Not yet (being an adjunct this fall didn't count). I've applied for 18 jobs and had two phone interviews. The right thing will come along.

Present at a conference.
YES! Adele and I went to ESA with my mom in August. I had a great time and I'm so glad I went.

Update my webpage bi-monthly (and transition to my own domain name).
I did the domain name change, but not the bi-monthly updates. I updated 5 times, but not in a few months now, because with nothing submitted and no new job I haven't had much to update. It's due, though.

Exercise 4x per week.
So, this kinda went out the window. My definition of exercise changed radically during pregnancy. I injured myself by moving a heavy box, which shifted my pelvis. This made many daily tasks acutely painful. I started physical therapy and I did the exercises they gave me twice per day until Adele was born (very low intensity but they took about 20-30 minutes each time). After she was born, I had a hard time walking for several weeks, so I didn't get much exercise. I did some kegels. Around September (4 months post partum), I could finally walk consistently at my normal speed for the first time since January. I went back to PT, where I had a variety of exercises that I didn't do consistently at all. Now I'm on a new, low-intensity core-strengthening routine that I am trying to do every day. It's been a physically difficult year! I still intend to write in more detail about my recovery.

Do a race.
No, and I don't have plans to do one in the near future.

Go dancing at least 4 times.
YES! I managed to go dancing 4 times between August and November. I still have some lingering pelvic pain, so I need to be careful about what songs I dance to and who I dance with.

Improve dog's socialization and walking.
No, but as of last week she is living with 3 other dogs until we move into our own place, so that might help improve her social skills!

Do 5 more things on our Big City bucket list before we move.
??? I don't know if we did any more of them at all!

Schedule time for blogging.
No. I have so many things that I want to write about, and just haven't made the time to do it.

Refer to this list when I set my weekly goals.
No, but I'm not sure it would have changed things much if I did. I might have blogged more.

Add goals to this list as necessary-- in case I think of something else important.
I didn't think of anything important enough to add!

One year ago I wrote:
"I have no idea where we'll be at the end of this year. Maybe we'll be in Jon's hometown. Maybe we'll be in some small university town. Maybe we'll still be in Big City but getting ready to move."

Hometown it is!

May your 2013 end better than it began!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Goodbye Big City, Hello Hometown

It has been several weeks since I posted, and quite a lot has happened. Right around that time, we decided to move back to Jon's Hometown in December. I mentioned before that we were planning to move before Christmas, but I really hoped it would be with a job. Unfortunately, I haven't made the short list for a job since July. But Christmas was a good time to make the move. We went to his Hometown for Thanksgiving, where we made plans to move in temporarily with my mother-in-law and then into a house she rents out once the current tenants find a new place. As we were headed home, I had the realization that it was only 3 weeks from then until our planned move. Yikes!

After Thanksgiving, we went home to Big City, where I wrapped up the semester at both institutions, we had one last big party, and then we packed everything and loaded it onto a truck. Thankfully we had plenty of help, since I am still not 100% recovered from birth (7 months later!) and therefore didn't lift any heavy boxes or furniture.

It was hard to leave Big City. We lived in the same building all 6.5 years of grad school. During that time we got engaged, both my grandparents and my sister died, we got married, we got a dog, I spent more than a year in Ukenzagapia, we made some wonderful friends, we had a baby, and I finished a PhD. I got really emotional when I thought about moving, and I sobbed as I drove away. I cried again when I lost the signal of the local NPR station. And I cried as I rounded the bend in the road with a view of my new Hometown.

I left with Adele and the houseplants in our car the day before Jon so I that I could go to a family wedding. Then we met up and stored most of our belongings in my father-in-law's garage and moved the short-term necessities in with Jon's mom.

So here we are, back in the land of Jon's family and friends. We have some savings to help get us through, and Jon will find enough work to keep the lights on, so to speak. My job is to get a job. There are many people around to help take care of Adele when necessary. I've restricted my job search to this area, and I'm ok with that. There isn't a better place for us to be now.

Tomorrow I'm going to see how I did with my goals for 2013. At least I know I got the big ones!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Six months!

Six months! Adele is six months old today! In that time she has more than doubled her weight (7 pounds 10 ounces to 16 pounds 9 ounces), learned how to smile, laugh, babble, roll over, sit up unassisted, and reach for toys. She has tasted a few foods (sweet potatoes, pasta, bread, apple) but has gotten all of her calories from breast milk. It's pretty amazing that I have the ability to feed another human.

Motherhood got off to a rocky start, but I am thankful that I have gotten stronger faster than she has gotten bigger. I am glad I was able to return to work on my own schedule, so I could ease back into working full time. Teaching this semester has been way more demanding than I hoped and expected, but I have still had a fair amount of flexibility so that I have been able to bring her to school with me sometimes (getting help from friends there) on days when Jon can't watch her. It's frustrating when I can't get anything done because I can never get my hands free, but she's been a pretty easy baby overall. Here's hoping for an even better 6 months ahead!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

13,507 hours

By my estimation, it took about 13,507 hours of work to get my Ph.D. Six years. September 2007 until April 2013. By Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, that definitely makes me an expert in... getting a Ph.D.

But seriously, that's a ton of work. How did I get to this number? Since 2010, I've been keeping careful track of how much time I spend working using a program called Time Tracker. I have breakdowns for different tasks and I can export all of the data as a .csv so then I analyzed it in R. Honestly, I've been excited about doing this for months. I know, I know, sometimes I'm too nerdy for myself.

In 2010 I worked 2,373 hours. That's about 46 hours a week across all 52 weeks of the year. In 2011, I worked an insane 2,829 hours, which is about 54 hours per week. I was in the field for 6 months of 2011, including my most intense field season and my last field season, so I was hardly doing anything other than working during those times. In 2012, I returned to a much saner 2,239 hours (43 hours/week). For 2013, I only counted until the end of April. In those first four months, I worked 954 hours. That works out to an insane average of 56 hours per week. If anything, that's a bit low because the time I spent reading on my iPad before I fell asleep wasn't usually counted. That was the home stretch, and boy did it feel like running a marathon. Every day. Pregnant.

I only occasionally kept track of my working hours for the first 2.5 years of grad school, so I'm estimating that 2008 and 2009 were probably something like 2012 (not 2011 because it was my year of intense field work, and 2010 had a fair amount of field work too whereas 2008 and 2009 did not), so I used the data from 2012. For the fall of 2007, I used the data only from Sept-December 2012 as an estimate (634 hours). I started in August, but for simplicity I've excluded that month since I didn't start at the beginning and was just getting settled in.

I might not have worked quite as many hours in 2007-2009 as I did in 2012, but overall I think this is a good approximation. I taught 2007-2008 and took classes 2007-2009, and I applied for a ton of grants during that time. Keeping track of my working time for the last 3 (nearly 4!) years has helped keep me accountable and on task, and it also helps me feel justified when I'm done working, which is a graduate student conundrum that was wonderfully articulated over at GradHacker.

All these data mean I can calculate my hourly wage. I haven't yet, but it's probably going to be depressing. Stay tuned, because I'll write about that and show some pretty graphs of my work habits later this week.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Signed, sealed, delivered

My dissertation is revised, I paid the fees, I filled out the forms, got signatures on pieces of paper, and that is that. After hanging onto my dissertation to hang on to my student health insurance and paycheck, I'm officially graduating in December. This gig is up. I'm still looking for a job, but we're leaving Big City at Christmas no matter what.

It's exciting but a little scary and bittersweet. I'd rather not think about it too much right now.

For months now I've had some posts in mind that I'd like to get out. Tomorrow, I'll write about how long it took to get my PhD.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Missing deadlines

I generally pride myself on being very organized and deadline-aware. I usually have a good sense of when things are coming up and what needs to happen when to meet the deadline.

Since Adele was born, though, I feel like I've been missing deadlines left and right. I just realized that they changed the deadline by a month for something I was planning to apply for. That ship sailed. Ugh.

Something will work out, eventually. But it would be nice if it happened sooner rather than later!