Friday, May 22, 2015

Depth and breadth of work

I've been working really hard for the last couple of months. Honestly, it feels a little too much like the home stretch of finishing my dissertation! Not that bad, but similar. Definitely unsustainable for much longer. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.

Due to a few different factors (all out of my control), everyone who works most closely with me has also had major demands on their time for other more important organizational projects. It's left me as the sole person holding down the fort during the most stressful time and meant that I couldn't delegate nearly as much as I would have liked to. As a result, I've not only been doing an incredible quantity of work, it has also been of tremendous breadth, and I think I've (for the most part) really been rocking it on all fronts.

Things I am doing:
-Writing for broad consumption/distribution
-Writing for social media
-Copyediting other people's writing
-Graphic design
-Stakeholder outreach and management
-Website management (& programming/development in a hacky kind of way)
-Troubleshooting bugs, testing, and managing our web developer
-Data manipulation, summation, and visualization

I feel like a real Jill-of-all-trades here, but I'm not supposed to be. Ideally, I'd delegate a big chunk of the writing, nearly all of the graphic design (and most importantly, management of the graphic design), most of the stakeholder management, copyediting, and social media. Aside from the sheer quantity of stuff I'm trying to do (which means some pieces are left undone), I feel like I'm doing a damn good job on all of these different tasks, and that feels good.

What doesn't feel good is seeing how little attention my project is getting internally. It's a big organization, and I think they'll come around, but it's almost laughable in the context of what else is going on. It's definitely not getting the attention it deserves. This is part of the reason I've been working so hard over the last couple of months. We also had the misfortunate of scheduling two events for internal promotion that totally conflicted with other higher-profile events, to the point where we just didn't stand a chance at getting significant attention.

*sigh*

Still, we managed to get some key ancillary support that could help elevate the program, and I doubt this perception of low internal support is widespread beyond the closest core team, and probably wouldn't be suspected by anyone externally. My boss knows I'm doing an awesome job despite difficult circumstances and she's trying to advocate for us too.

I know I'm doing the best I can, it's pretty damn good, and that feels great.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Supporting a former student's return to college

Last week I received an email from a former student asking for a letter of recommendation. I was her TA during my very first semester of grad school in 2007, then I wrote several letters of recommendation for summer research programs in spring 2009 (I blogged about it at the time). She then studied abroad in 2010 and I hadn't heard from her since.

In the meantime, she dropped out of college, moved somewhere else, got married, had 2 kids, and is now trying to return to school to finish her bachelor's degree and become a high school teacher. She has been accepted and needs the letter to apply for a scholarship. I very much want to support this woman. She was one of my most memorable and impressive students, and was the first in her family to be born in the U.S. and attend college.

Before I can write her a powerful letter, I think I need to talk with her directly about her path back to school. Her writing could use some editing. She sent mer her personal statement, and I actually have a couple of her old person statements on file from years ago. Her family (parents especially) loom large in her writings and there are some discrepancies between the two versions that I wouldn't expect to change with time. I also saw her transcript and she got some Fs that aren't explained at all in the personal statement. I think that needs to be acknowledged somehow if she's going to get a scholarship.

I'm excited for this student and really hope it works out. Anyone helped a student in a similar situation and have advice?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Drowning at work

I am having trouble prioritizing work recently because there are so many time-sensitive things that are important. The result of my selective focus on the most important urgent things is that there is a growing backlog of sometimes urgent but less important things. I really don't foresee being able to catch up on this until June, and that's not a great feeling.

I'm in a position lately where I'm often the rate-limiting step and I have limited ability to delegate some of the responsibilities that I would like to because I only have 50% of one other person's time, and she's stretched just as thin as I am (if not more so!). There are lots of dependencies and reviews and approval needed by other people, but most of it has to be initiated by me. Something has to give! I can only do so much, and I clearly need to be smarter about the scope and depth of what I'm doing.

I am thankful that there's not a 24 hour work culture here, and I don't want to create it! As a result, even when I'm working evenings, if I compose emails I usually don't send them until the next morning so that people don't see (or always expect me to be) on email outside of work hours.

On the bright side, rumor has it that they're going to find stopgap funding for my project. At least that's a temporary relief! We were told in a meeting that "it's not like it used to be" and "everything is dynamic" (read: no one has guaranteed job security) but I'm busting my butt to make sure they want to keep this project around for the long haul.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

It's finally published!

The chapter of my dissertation that was "almost ready to submit" for almost 2 years is finally published! I submitted and resubmitted it in November, got reviews back before Christmas, and resubmitted revisions last month. Then editor moved quickly to accept and it was online before I knew it (literally)!

It's such a relief to finally have this done after hanging over my head for so long. There's still another piece of it that I have to do something with, but this is an important milestone, and I'm going to celebrate it with a big bowl of ice cream. As my daughter would say with pride, "I did it!"

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Maybe I don't have job security?

When I got this awesome job that I love, I wrote, "This is a place I can stay for a many years and hopefully make a career." Unfortunately, it doesn't feel nearly that secure anymore. The boat got rocked seriously last fall when my boss's boss got reorganized out of a job. It was happening at the same time we were doing budgeting for 2015. I realized I didn't write about it at all at the time, but by the end of the year things settled well.

Almost.

It took a while to figure it all out, but in December we (meaning me and my boss) realized that instead of having organization support PLUS the remains of a grant, for 2015 we have ONLY the remains of the grant that created my job. For 100% of my salary & benefits and 50% of someone else's. My project does not currently have enough money to pay my salary for the second half of 2015. 

We have some prospects for other funding but nothing exactly on the way. There are people in other groups who help with stuff like this, so it's not just my responsibility, but clearly I've got the biggest stake in its success. One possibility that we thought might work out (and the 2015 budget was actually counting on it) probably won't. I mentioned that kind of casually somehow to our accounts person (mistake!) who mentioned it casually to my boss's boss's boss (eek). 

The timing could not have been worse. The organizational leadership has vaguely referred to making big cuts because of a budget shortfall, but we haven't been told what will be cut. Everyone is under pressure to save money and bring in more.

Shortly after that conversation, my boss's boss's boss suddenly appeared in my office (everyone between us was out of town) and asked if my project was going to be $X short in 2015. I think I managed to put out that fire because we still have some funding prospects, but she's definitely concerned and said we might have to make "hard decisions" if there's not more money coming in by mid-April (we're ok through June). 

My project has good longer-term funding potential, but it might need some kind of stopgap funding to get us through 2015. I have some meetings later this week about it. I am still optimistic that something will work out, but it's making me and the rest of my team sweat.

Sounds pretty much like I'm on soft money after all. I thought I'd dodged that bullet when I left academia!

Monday, March 2, 2015

"I applied for your job." And yours. And yours, too!

Last month I attended a conference where my personal theme for the meeting seemed to be "I applied for your job." It's a damn small world, and that's one of many reasons why you shouldn't ever be a jerk to anyone. Let me explain.

Case 1. On the first day of the meeting, I sat down with another person from my organization. She works in a different department and we've met but I really don't know her very well yet. She started just a couple of months after I did. If I hadn't gotten my job, I definitely would have applied for hers. After everyone else left, she turned to me and said, "You know I applied for your job, right?" No, I totally didn't. My boss had told me that the other top candidate also had a PhD, and I knew that she knew this person, but I definitely didn't know that it was her!

Case 2. I've interacted a couple of times, mostly online, with someone who works at a nearby organization. She was at the conference, and she had a poster right across from mine. I applied for her job.

Case 3. I was interviewed for a postdoc in 2013 and wrote about it as the "nicest rejection ever." They hired someone awesome who had more experience than me. Her poster was next to mine. I introduced myself and we chatted a bit, but we both had a steady stream of poster visitors.

I did end up talking at length to her postdoc advisor who had interviewed me. It was my first time meeting him in person. There are some intersections between my current work and theirs, so he invited me to a planning meeting later this month. He also said to let him know if I'm looking for a postdoc in the future! That was very kind and flattering.

One thing he said to me in 2013 at the end of my phone interview with him for the postdoc really stuck with me. He said, "I look forward to seeing what you do because I'm sure it will be interesting." I think I'm living up to that, and darn proud of it.

Cheers to being surrounded by people whose work excites you so much that you wanted to do it yourself! (P.S. I think I got the best job :-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Goals for 2015

I know I'm late to this, but I think better late than never. I really like the tradition of looking forward to the year ahead and laying out my goals, even when they don't come to fruition. There's always hope!

Career
Get that chapter published. It needs fairly minor revisions. The bigger challenge right now is trying to get the data and scripts in a reproducible format. The journal doesn't require it, but I think it's the right thing to do.

Archive data from my dissertation. Not all of it, but two chapters worth. One chapter is the aforementioned manuscript in revision, and the other is data for its corresponding manuscript that realistically I will never publish. So, the least I can do is get the data out there. I admit that I'm intimidated by this task.

Define a 5-year career goal. I was so relieved and excited to get my current job that I stopped thinking about what's next. I would like to stay in this position for a while, but I know I should still be thinking about how to further my career in this new non-academic environment.

Family
Make a will. We don't have one, and we should, for the sake of our daughter.

Open a bank account for Adele. It's time she had her own!

Personal
Make a friend. We've been here for a year now and I still don't have any friends that I see regularly who are just my friends and not Jon's. I'd like to have at least one friend who fits that criterion by the end of the year!

Become a better conversationalist. I've noticed recently that I do better in social situations if I go in with a mental plan. I tend to do better if I'm alone, actually, than if I'm with Jon and/or Adele. I tend to let Jon carry the conversation too often, and with Adele I have a hard time turning down my parent-brain in order to carry on interesting conversation while trying to pay attention to her. What this means for me is that I need to take a few moments before arriving at an event to mentally prepare for being conversational and remind myself how to get conversations going.

Start a photo booking group. I want to get to know other parents with young kids in our neighborhood without the kids around, so I'd like to invite a handful of parents over after bedtime about once a month with the excuse of working on photo books. It would help me make progress on some books I want to make for Adele and would be way more fun than doing it alone. I think of this as a book club without the reading, or a scrapbooking group without the paper and scissors.

Metagoals
Make monthly and weekly goals. I stopped making weekly goals, but I think I need to pick that up again, for both work and home life.

I'm looking forward to gardening in our yard without biting off more than I can chew. I'm trying to take a long view of the yard and tackle it bit by bit. I also look forward to Adele becoming more and more communicative. She'll turn 2 in May. I'm sometimes sad that she's no longer a little baby, but toddlerhood has its delights, too (like for me, much more sleep!).

Overall, I hope that 2015 will be a year of stability and growth for us-- socially, financially, and botanically! Cheers to 2015!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking back on 2014

For several years now I've sat down to write my reflections on the closing year and assess whether or not I met my goals laid out at the beginning of the year. I really enjoy this process and look forward to thinking about what I want to do or change in the coming year.

2014 was a year of transition, mainly for me out of academia and into a non-profit job. It has also been amazing to watch our daughter grow. A year ago I still had a baby, and now I have a toddler who loves cats, can feed herself, speaks in short phrases, and is clearly developing a sense of humor. Much to my dismay, she has been remarkably uninterested in communicating with sign language. Oh well! You can't win them all!

Career
Get a job.
YES! I nailed this one to the wall! Slam dunk! I got an awesome job! I love where I work, I love what I do, and they pay me well. I love my boss. She told me in my end of year review that hiring me was her #1 accomplishment in 2014. That's hands down the biggest news of 2014. (more writings about jobs and job searching here)

Submit two manuscripts for publication.
Just one-- I submitted and re-submitted the one that should have (and could have, theoretically) been submitted before my daughter was born.

I'd like to go to a conference, too, but that will depend very much on my job and our financial situation. 
I didn't go to ESA, but I did go to and present at a totally different conference, and I even had support from a professional development fund. I had my own room! In a hotel! Interestingly, I ran into someone who was a suite mate of mine at an REU program more than 10 years ago. Small world.

Health
Complete the exercise program I started at Thanksgiving and then continue to do the exercises (or similar) at least 5x/week. 
I was doing really well until about August when I got very busy with work, and I really haven't gotten back on the band wagon. I at least do some walking every day as part of my commute to and from work and do some simple stretching, but nothing very impressive.

Go to 2 dance workshops and go dancing at least 10 times.
Not even close. I didn't go dancing once. Boo.

Get to the point where I can run and dance again without pain.
Well, I didn't try the dancing, but I think I'd be ok. I haven't done much running at all this year, but when I have, it hasn't hurt my pelvis. I never wrote in depth about my postpartum recovery (though I still might), but at about 10 months I felt like I could lift and move things again (including my daughter) without having to think much before I did it. I've made some very intentional changes in my footwear (no more elevated heels-- minimalist-style only) and paid more attention to how I feel when I walk or stand differently. This woman's writing has influenced me tremendously, and fits well with my worldview that I am capable of making changes to how I move (or not!) in order to diminish pain and improve function, rather than accepting these postpartum difficulties as inevitable.

Home
Complete 4 photo books of Adele.
No, but I did two! I'm thinking of trying to start a monthly photo booking club so that I make time to do it regularly and I like the idea of hanging out with other people while I work on it.

Give birthday gifts & cards on time! 
Some of them? This is a dumb goal. It shouldn't be that hard.

Go to Quaker meeting at least 12 times this year.
I went only once, and something just didn't ring in me to want to go back right away. I guess the spirit didn't move me?

Blogging
Schedule time for blogging each week.
No. Not even once a month! (but almost)

Metagoals
Refer to this list when setting weekly goals.
I only set weekly goals for about half of the year, and I did not refer to this list when I did it.

Add to and revise this list as necessary. 
No revisions!

I've been thinking about my goals for 2015 and will share those soon.

Thank you all for your support! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I did it! Twice!

In the last week, I submitted the never-ending project, got rejected by the editor without review, and re-submitted it to a different journal. I'm going to count this as a success for the time being. I'd better write this post quickly before the status changes!

It took me 18 months from the time I was "nearly ready to submit" to actual submission. Could I actually have gotten it submitted if my daughter had been born on her due date instead of 2 weeks early? How much time did I truly spend on it over those 18 months? 

It turns out that I have the data to answer both of those questions.

Yes; I spent approximately 40-50 hours on it over the last 18 months.

It's kind of depressing that it was that difficult for me to find a week's worth of working time for it, but considering everything that happened in 2013 and earlier this year, I'm not surprised. I need large chunks of time that are hard to find. Here's hoping that I don't have to do too much more to it, because between work, home, child, and friends, I just don't have much time to spend on it.

Please, patron saint of academic publications, let it stick here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Never-ending projects

I'm in a serious funk right now about the manuscript that has been "on the verge" of submission since my daughter's birth 16 months ago. I made good progress on it in July and August by taking advantage of a little extra free time from work. My goal was to submit it in late August on the last day I had earmarked for this task. There are four coauthors on this paper: Me, Theo, Dr. K, and Sam. Theo and I had been corresponding about it all summer. Sam and Dr. K hadn't commented on it in over a year, which I didn't realize until I asked them if they could give feedback in a week so that I could submit. I felt like I had some momentum, it was getting close, and I just wanted it done. The perfect is the enemy of the good for this project, and we're way past the point of diminishing returns on time spent word-smithing. Sam replied that he needed at least two weeks. Totally understandable, but very unfortunate for my timing. I completely lost steam.

September has been a very busy month at work in which I worked a lot of evenings in order to prevent myself from being the rate-limiting step. Now it's six weeks later, and I finally forced myself to look at the comments from Sam and Dr. K. Nothing huge, but it feels so overwhelming. I'm trying to force myself to do a little bit of work on it each night, and tonight all I'm doing is skimming the comments, writing this blog post, and generally being cranky about it. I've got to get this damn thing published, archive the data, and archive the data for its sister project that is realistically never going to be published as a manuscript. There are just so many things I'd rather be doing.

My actual job is going great. They don't care at all whether or not I ever publish this manuscript, which doesn't help me get them done. It doesn't count as work there (and I've got more than enough to keep me busy anyways), so I've got to carve out time at home on evenings and weekends.

While I'm on the topic of never-ending projects, there are some loose ends of a project from FIVE YEARS AGO that I tried to help tie up before we left Big City, but it didn't come together. Now I've got an eager colleague who wants to finish it (she's ISO tenure!), but we're hung up by the unreliable colleague who is now the only one left in Big City who can complete the crucial step.

This project *will* end. This project *will* end. This project WILL END!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Professional development fund

For the first time in several years, I am not attending the big ecology meeting. I love going to ESA, so it's a bummer, but I've had several months to mentally prepare for not going.

September: Failed for the second year in a row to coordinate with colleague from a different institution about organizing a session on a topic of mutual interest. We both just had too much going on and not a clear enough vision. Oh well.

November: Still didn't have a job lined up, so prospects weren't looking good for getting funds to go. Also, the price goes way up when you aren't a student anymore!

December: Moved further away from meeting location.

January: Still no job so no new projects, nothing really worth presenting on from my dissertation.

February: Deadline came and went, and I decided I definitely wasn't going.

May: Late-breaking deadline, but still no real project to present on and no funds to help cover the cost, plus prospect of exciting job.

Then yesterday out of the blue, my boss mentions that everyone gets $1500 to spend each year on professional development, which could include attending a conference. WOO HOO!!!

But I'm still not going to ESA… this year. Next year I definitely plan to go, and I've got an idea for a workshop I want to organize.

Apparently I have to spend this money by the end of the year, so I'll probably attend a new conference that I've never been to before. This job is the best.

Monday, June 30, 2014

…I have a feeling I'm not in academia anymore

I've been at my new job an entire month now, and I'm definitely not in academia anymore.

My thoughts:
Week 1- I work in an office. I am not in academia anymore!
Week 2- How many different people am I working with?!
Week 3- I can't believe they hired me! I work here!
Week 4- I am getting the hang of this, but I need nicer shoes.

Research (i.e. publishing papers) is not an explicit part of my job description (I have a job description!). My first few weeks were overwhelming with hours and hours of meetings to get me up to speed. It overall feels much less isolating. I thanked dozens of people in my dissertation, but those were more people helping me out; very few people were actually invested in my research. In my new job, many more people have a stake in what I'm working on. It's fascinating to me.

The work culture is pretty 9-5 or 6ish. Dress is officially "casual", but I'm taking my cues from my colleagues, and my academic attire of 1 or 2 pairs of jeans with 20 different t-shirts isn't going to cut it. The upside is that I'm wearing more cute dresses and skirts that never get enough sunshine. The downside is that I have to shave my legs and wear makeup all the time. I am ok with this tradeoff.

So far so good. I can't believe my luck!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's official- I have a job!

Exactly one year after my daughter was born, I was offered a job. This is after a year and a half of actively searching for and applying to jobs while finishing a dissertation, having a baby, and moving. As regular readers know, I was pretty damn discouraged for about 4 months this winter. I applied for several different competitive fellowships, advertised postdocs, and some positions for which I was probably overqualified. I've been feeling like a bit of a science loser for not even being able to land a postdoc in my field. I mean, I know tenure-track jobs are scarce, but it seems like almost everyone who wants one finds a damn postdoc! (That said, I did land in an unplanned postdoc, but it feels different because it was so hasty and I didn't apply for it). I figured I'd eventually find something for 1-2 years and then be on the search again. My unimplemented academic escape plan ("post-ac" career) was to network the heck out of some programming meet ups and see if I could land a much better paying job with benefits that way.

I applied to this job 2 months ago, and wasn't so sure about it. After learning more about it at an informal meeting, I was much more excited. After my half-day interview, I felt like I nailed it. I walked out of there feeling that the odds were good they would offer me the job. However, I didn't let my job fantasies run wild. We've been trying to keep enthusiasm in check and not jinx anything during a week and a half of positive indications.

This job search has a happier ending than I dared hope for. This is a real, permanent job with benefits. Excellent benefits. Every benefit I've ever heard of except onsite childcare. It's a 35 minute transit commute from our new home-- just 4 miles away. Their location isn't moving. Neither are we. And the salary? It is much more than a typical postdoc salary in biology-- honestly closer to an assistant professor salary. It's more than I would have dared to ask for. I didn't counter offer. I'm excited about working with my boss. This is a place I can stay for a many years and hopefully make a career. It positions me well in the non-profit world. It combines my interests and experience in a way I hadn't imagined possible. I get to do lots of networking, which I love. I'll start in June!

Thank you all for your encouragement and advice along the way. I am excited to start this next phase of my career!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

That interview

My interview went very well. I met with several different people involved in the project and got a good vibe from everyone. I went back today to meet with the people I'd be supervising. I filled out more paperwork for HR, and I should hear more by the end of the week.

I'm trying to remain calm and detached during this waiting period. Jon keeps reminding me that it will be ok if I don't get this job, and there will be more. But my goodness, this is a damn good job for me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Falling into place

Although I was really down when I wrote my last post after yet another rejection, several good things have happened over the last 4 weeks. It feels like things are falling into place, and I am generally in a better mental place.

First of all, we moved into our own place. I only mentioned it right when we moved, but from Christmas until April 1 we lived with my mother-in-law (and a bunch of other people too, actually, in an intentional community). We had two bedrooms in the basement of a shared house so most of our stuff was stored elsewhere during that time, and our dog had to stay on a farm with my sister-in-law. It was great to be there with my amazing MIL while we started to get settled, but we were ready to have our own kitchen and living room again! We were waiting until the tenants in the house she rents out found a new place to live, which was delayed a month longer than originally planned. We are now thrilled to be reunited with our dog and the rest of our belongings in a house that is plenty big and even has a yard! After 6.5 years in Big City with a balcony, I am excited to have some dirt to dig in.

Then Adele and I went to visit my parents, and they watched her while I spent a couple of days at Small Friendly College. I talked with students about graduate school and my path as a woman in science. I was feeling pretty awful about my career going into this time, and I joked that I hoped I'd get some useful insights-- and I did. I realized that the students I was talking to faced the same challenge I did-- to convey their diverse skills and experiences in a way that makes them come across as broadly qualified without sounding scattered and enthusiastic while being genuine. While talking to people there about my part-time postdoc, they helped me view it more positively and stop presenting it like it's not a real job. I came back feeling generally more optimistic and patient about my career.

Right after returning, I had lunch with a woman who I met several years ago when she interviewed to be my boss at the field station where I worked before grad school. Now she works at Exciting Non-Profit in Hometown and last month I applied for a job there. During our lunch conversation, I learned more about the position and she told me they were planning to invite me for a formal interview! It is scheduled for tomorrow, and it's four hours long! More about that below.

Last week, my postdoc advisor Dana told me that now she has not just 3 months part-time, not just 3 months full-time, but SIX months of full-time hours budgeted for me now, which I can spread out as long as I want while I continue to look for jobs! I'm about to start in a big re-analysis of some data for her, and there are two more similar projects. All projects that I can be a co-author on. Dana is almost single-handedly keeping me in science right now, and I am grateful.

Another thing that has been a source of frustration has been juggling work around caring for Adele. We've been in a childcare catch-22: We need to work more to be able to afford childcare, but we need childcare to be able to do more work. This is true for both of us. I truly feel like I would have already found a full-time job here if I wasn't so tied up caring for Adele. There are several jobs that have come up in the last month as well as unrealized networking potential, and I just haven't been able to do it, let alone make time to advance my dissertation chapters (UGH!). After moving where we intend to live for the foreseeable future, we started looking seriously for childcare. I thought starting her 2-3 days per week would be a manageable expense, but then after discussing with Jon the amount Dana has budgeted for me, we decided to go for full time. We contacted a few places that wouldn't have an opening for her until August 2015 (more than a year from now!), and I was generally overwhelmed and discouraged by the whole thing. But to make a long story short, last week we visited a friendly, organized, in-home daycare that is less than a mile away with an immediate opening, so we started her full-time yesterday! This frees up both of us to work MUCH more, and I think it will be good for her to spend time with other kids.

I am excited about my job interview tomorrow, but I am not going to pin all of my hopes and dreams on it. I have a job for at least 6 months now, so I'm not desperate. I don't need this job. There will be others. I can go in feeling good about the work I'm doing now and present it and my journey over the last year positively. No one wants to hire a bitter, desperate person any more than they want to date one, so I'm incredibly thankful that things have started falling into place.