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.

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

Twitter!

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.