Sunday, December 2, 2012

New job updates

Well, this was the end of week three of my new job. Essentially, I'm a receptionist. I answer phones and schedule people for appointments and deal with paperwork. I'm only part-time and a "fill-in". I just keep things afloat while the normal folks are out vacationing, taking care of sick relations, etc.

It's not the most exciting job by any stretch. I am bored most of the time and have little way to change that at this point. And I am using very few of the skills I acquired in academia. It's hardly a dream job. However, it pays the bills and gets me out of the apartment.

So, some random points:
  • The people I work with are pretty awesome. They are all intelligent, funny, generally happy people. The clients who come through the office are usually upbeat happy folks. It's generally a cheery place to work and a good remedy for those days when I find myself in a funk.

  • My boss is actually also pretty awesome, what little I've seen of him. He does share some of my old advisor's better qualities, which makes me a bit nostalgic and sad for what might have been. Everyone was telling me dire stories of Boss's temper and indecisive OCD quirks. Gotta say, having run into him a couple of times, I don't get the issue. Maybe they should all meet my old advisor and then Boss wouldn't seem so distressing to them. They all say he's actually a really good guy and a great boss for the most part. I could tell you stories about him but it would make you feel bad about all the things you haven't accomplished in your life and what a rotten person you are. Yeah, he was one of those annoyingly talented do-gooders.

  • Boyfriend has been acting a bit odd about the whole new job thing. Some days he's fine with it. Some days, he pushes for me to keep looking for a better job (I'm currently taking a break from all the rejection). Some days he inadvertently makes me feel like a failure and like I'm horning in on his territory. It's this last one that's problematic. Our specialties relate to each other, if not outright overlap. He was hired to be head of research for the company, eventually. They want to do research on Chewy things. Well, my research for the past several years was on Chewy things - Boyfriend's was on Gooey things (a related discipline). So I have the expertise they want while his is only related. This discrepancy is something Boyfriend and I keep to ourselves but I think he is worried I might highjack the position he was hired for. That's not something I want. This is ultimately going to be very awkward.

  • Nearly everyone in the company is a conservative Republican Catholic. I am nearly as far in the opposite direction of all those modifiers as I can get and still be considered mostly sane. It has been interesting. I try to avoid discussions of politics or religion and find common ground where possible.
All in all, it's not a bad temporary landing space. If I could find something of value to offer Boss that would justify a full-time gig and a raise, I think I'd be happy to work here long-term. Stay-tuned for updates.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Good News: Going from UNemployed to UNDERemployed

I'll be honest, the writing isn't going as well as I hoped. I'm having that same problem I had writing my diss: I need to know everything before I write it but once I know everything, I know how it ends and don't feel like writing it any more. I'm just hanging on to Chuck Wendig's advice to writers: "Finish your shit."

On to more interesting news. I have an offer for a part time job. It's a part-time, as-needed admin gig for Boyfriend's company. There are no benefits but the pay is the same as my GradU paid for anatomy TAs, which is noticeably above minimum wage. If I can get an average of 3 days of work a week, I'll be able to pay the bills. Not ideal but it gives me a chance to make some money and prove that I can work outside academia and have useful skills.

For those wondering how this happened, given my utter lack of interviews, here's the story. Boyfriend (BF) invited me to his interview with the owner of the company (owner okay'd this). I haven't seen Owner since but I guess I made a good impression. A few weeks back, BF and Owner were traveling between job sites and my lack of luck in finding employment came up. Owner mentioned that they needed a fill-in admin to cover for people who were sick, on vacation, etc. BF mentioned this possibility to me. I sent an email to Owner that I was interested. HR person suggested I shadow one of the admins to see if it was something I'd be willing to do. I was but did the shadowing thing anyway. It went well, so I said I'd be willing to do the job. I start training tomorrow. No application. No resume. No cover letter. Just network of people.

Side note: the shadowing day also gave me the dubious opportunity to discover that most of my pants do not fit. I can get them over my rather generous derriere and even button them. However, I max out the stretch around my thighs - not a very professional look (though I suppose that depends on one's profession). This led me to two realizations: 1) skirts are much more forgiving on thighs and I'm thankful I own several and 2) pants meant for skinny 20-somethings need to give way to adult clothes for women with curves at some point. In my case, that point was clearly about two months ago. On the upside, those curves look damn good in a pencil skirt. Makes me glad I bought all those business clothes when I was in academia - may have overdressed then, look pretty darn good now. See, the universe can be forgiving of your fashion choices.

I'll post an update about this new life soon. Good luck to y'all in your job hunting and turkey day prepping (would that be a food channel version of "Doomsday Preppers"?).

Friday, November 2, 2012

I am not my degree & NaNoWriMo begins

I got my degree in the mail yesterday. The actual piece of paper. It was in a giant cardboard envelope. I made a crack about the size of the degree being equivalent to how much it costs. I didn't open the envelope though. Not right away. It sat in its giant cardboard envelope on the chair in my work room, surrounded by necklace pendants and buttons for a steampunk costume I still need to finish. I left it there. In the dark. All day.

The day before, we had gotten a notice in the mailbox that there was a package for us at the apartment office. So yesterday, I went to pick it up while he was out. It was the giant cardboard envelope from GradU. I knew what it was. I didn't need to open it to be sure and I completely forgot about it until Boyfriend came home. He asked about the package. Then he was kind of surprised I hadn't opened it yet.

Let me offer some explanation why that envelope sat in the dark. I am not proud of my degree. I don't go around asking people to call me "Doctor." I actually avoid putting that suffix into my applications (it is on my resume). I am happy I finished. I don't regret doing it. However, it was just a thing I did, not who I am.

Yes, I know not everyone can do it (though I think more can than actually do) and that it is an accomplishment. But that's all it is. It's a thing I did. I know for people who stay in the Ivory Tower, this degree and the ensuing profession becomes a nearly all-consuming identity for them. And if that's what they want, kudos to them.

It's not me. It wasn't when I was in grad school. I remember other things I did before going to grad school. I remembered I wasn't always in grad school. That I was more than my education. It's helped on this transition out of academia.

The aggravating thing is, I think that's all people see in my resume. They see my degree and assume that I am only my degree, and whatever stereotype they have attached to that identity. I know the psychology behind this - that it's kind of a short-hand our brains do so that we can function at the pace of society. That doesn't make it any less annoying. For that matter, I know the degree intimidates people. If my degree intimidates you, I don't want to work for you. People should never fear a piece of paper or three letters.

So where does that leave me in the job hunting process? I've narrowed down the types of positions I'm applying for. I can't get traction on admin jobs around here. There's too many people with the specific experience they want around here. I'm focusing on data analyst jobs. These are usually considered management positions where you help the company figure out how it's doing and how to be more efficient. I seem to be having slightly better luck with these, or at least more interesting rejection letters.

Also, it is November and National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. So, I'm focusing on getting a novel written in my down time. The premise of this particular story (yeah, I've got a few percolating) is that the crazy people take over the government and convince people that they can prove there is a grand plan to the universe and that they can tell when you've served your part in that plan. It's a dystopic novel where religious views are used as a political weapon to get rid of the unwanted and political enemies. Once you're declared "Irrelevant" by the government, you get chucked into a Reserve where you're cut off from all government support and the ones you love. The main character gets thrown in since she cannot find a job and is unmarried. She loses everything and all her accomplishments mean nothing in the Reserve and she has to decide what to do next. [For some background: the Reserve has been operating for a few years at this point. People who came before her have created new economies, new cities, and new towns. New societies have sprung up there. Old friends and enemies are here. She is not alone. Oh, and the government is considering euthanizing these people to free up resources for "Relevant" people.]

Out of curiosity, what would you do if you lost it all and were thrown into the Reserve? What would you pay for whatever dreams you have left? Would you find something new to fight for?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Interesting question for the interwebs

I recently received an email for a work-from-home job opportunity. It sounded interesting but the actual business name was not given. I sent back an email saying I was interested in the job. I received an email in reply. Here's what followed:

The email initially reads very legitimate. It offers a salary that was on the low end for the job but was in a normal range. The benefits were pretty typical. Even the bonuses sound normal. It offers partnerships for small and medium business owners. Job responsibilities were listed that were entirely reasonable. Sounds too good to be true right?

Cue alarm bells.
  • The email was in my spam folder, not the inbox.
  • The email was addressed as "Dear Job Seeker." If you're hiring me, use my name.
  • The email claimed the company did social media/web design/digital marketing, yet the company could not be googled. If that's what you do, even if you are legitimate, you're not very good at your job.
  • The company website was far too generic for a web design firm.
  • I did a View Source on the website. It's a site, not a standalone .com
  • The text of the website is just a little awkward, suggesting that whoever put it together was not a native English speaker.
  • The email said the company was five years old but the website had no testimonials from past clients or any designs in their portfolio from those clients
  • I was now very suspicious. The company claims to be based in Houston, TX. The address does exist on Google Maps, so I called the Texas Secretary of State. The business has not filed any paperwork. No tax ID. Nothing.
So, here's my question: should I simply ignore this email or send back an email asking why a social media company has no paperwork and cannot be googled? What do you think interweb wanderers? What would you do?

I am also going to admit to a bit of naivete here and say that I have sent them my resume. It only contains basic contact info so is not a terrible inconvenience for me. Just an FYI for the rest of you NOT to do that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thankful for small blessings...and a few big ones

It's been a rough few months. I'm still trying to find my feet outside the Ivory Tower. Haven't gotten any interviews yet. I'm guessing that this is because 1) my cover letters don't really stand out and 2) I don't have anyone on the inside vouching for me. I have adjusted my resume slightly so that skills and experience are on top and have redone my cover letters to have a bit more personality. I've also extended my network a bit and they've offered to help me out if their company has an opening. So, hopefully I'll be making more progress in this dimension soon.

Given some of the stories floating around the post-academic blogosphere, I am glad that most of my academic friends are supportive of my move and do try to be sensitive about what questions they ask. I don't actually converse with my old advisor for a variety of reasons. I'm sure that helps some. It lessens the stress a bit.

In the meantime, Boyfriend has been supporting me with no complaints. He works all day and the only thing I can offer in return is good food and saving money on dog-walking. I am so thankful for having him around. He even swings by the public library on occasion and picks up DVDs. We're catching up on Dr. Who, from the beginning. The number of people having hysterics is fairly annoying and I'm not a fan of William Hartnell as the Doctor. And we're getting into The Living Dead. Far less hysterics despite the greater number of zombies.

Family also help. My parents are still willing to support me a little on my own bills. They also drive several hours and show up with things I left at their house when I moved. If I ever make it big as a writer, I definitely need to refill their retirement savings. They also help me build an inventory for my etsy shop.

Privilege is one of those topics that keep coming up in conversations about higher ed. I have to say that though I am by no means the 1%, I am thankful for the privilege I have and the friends I've found.

Aaaannnd, here's some more shameless promotion of my stuff.

Monday, October 15, 2012

I have not given business people enough credit

One of the perks of leaving academia for me was having more free time - free time I did not feel guilty about not working. Now as a still-unemployed post-academic I find I have far too much free time. So, I had to do something with it.

I started an etsy shop. If you don't know about etsy, go there and procrastinate for a few hours. It's a site where people can sell vintage and homemade things. Anyone can start a shop.

I've always been crafty. It's one of the perks of growing up poor - you learn to make stuff on your own rather than paying someone else to do it for you. Though I have many crafty talents that lead to stuff everywhere (Boyfriend has been dealing with this remarkably well), I am only selling a few things on my etsy shop.

I make hand-sewn home-made books, the old fashion way. Right now I'm just using watermarked acid-free paper to make blank journals. Once I work all the bugs out I will hopefully be using my own homemade recycled acid-free paper for the pages and designing my own covers. As it is now, I'm using decorative paper and fabric I find to cover them.

I'm also selling jewelry that I make out of clay. So far it's just macabre and steampunk inspired stuff. I make no promises as to where I'm going with this but hopefully they'll sell to the other weird folks roaming the web.

That's why I haven't been here. I've been applying to jobs and building inventory. There has been some movement in the job front. If it turns into something, I'll share the tale with you. The whole etsy shop thing has been an eye opener though.

The shop is like having a storefront. You have to deal with supplies, inventory, pricing, advertising, shipping, traffic. Take whatever it is that you make in your free time. Try pricing it. Seriously. Think about how much the supplies to make it cost, how much time it took to make, how much your time is worth, and still be competitive. And try to be a good boss to yourself too.

On top of that, you have to advertise your wares. That means coming up with a title, some description, and pictures. Oh the pictures. Pictures will be the death of me. You only get one picture for each item to get people into your shop. You have to make it good. If this was the only way I had to make money, it would seriously be stressful.

As I was writing this, someone favorited one of my items. That's the most progress I've seen in a few weeks.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Passing on some good advice

I'm working on a few upbeat posts but in the meantime I wanted to pass on some advice a reader emailed to me. The comment police said it was too long so ze sent it in a letter. Ze had a lot of good advice that might help others out there hunting for jobs...or needing to reboot their job search. Some things have been left out to protect ze's anonymity. And ze is funny and this blog has been seriously short of funny lately. So, here's some advice from someone further along the trail that I am. Enjoy.

Don't worry about the wheres and hows of skills like database design and management, or the skills that are relevant to the job you're applying for. Just create a section on your résumé called "Skills" or "Qualifications" and list them, and elucidate on them later in the interview.

Make GradU the core location for your TA work but note that you "taught across departments on a range of subjects and disciplines like [English, history, politics, law, psychology]..." (I don't know what you specialized in but the Humanities and Social Sciences cover all of these and then some, and interviewers have been surprised to learn that English is about analysis and pattern recognition, as opposed to reading old-timey poetry on manicured lawns).

Add an "Accomplishments" section on your résumé. A recruiter suggested this to me yesterday. Ever had a positive TA review? Recognized for outstanding customer service at GradU. Ever written a research or grant proposal? Developed and wrote a [$] research proposal that was awarded by the [whatever council].

Get on the temp agency band wagon. They recruit for a lot of jobs that you’ll never see advertised and pretty much land it for you. Plus, you can earn money in the interim as a temp. Apply to a bunch of temp agencies (really emphasizing every last computer and office-type skill you have) and if they don't get back to you in a week, follow up by calling them. One agency I sent my résumé to is working on getting me a three-month contract with a tech firm testing bugs for a website they're developing for Wrigley, and all I had to know was how to use a Mac. The recruiter told me that a lot of employers who go to her are simply looking for smart and capable people, so they're often willing to train on the job.

You will have to demystify your education in an interview. Grad degrees are mysterious outside of academia. Explain that being a grad student is a job, tell them the hours you worked and what the expectations were, and watch as their eyes sproing out of their heads. I'll be honest: I thought doing an M.A. would make me a killer job candidate but it hasn't. Depends on the employer. A graduate degree is meaningful to some, but for most it's sort of meh. Sometimes I'm like, I have an M.A.! I'm special godamnit!, but the truth is I'm not, and this was verified for the millionth time when a different recruiter informed me that graduate degrees are becoming really common.

Above all, tailor your résumé for every job. It’s a bitch, but hiring managers don’t want to have to read between the lines. If they want photocopying, say photocopying. You love photocopying. You can’t live without photocopying. I thought being a modern human being signified "can photocopy" but apparently not. As for your cover letter, show as much personality as you can (ie. steer the reader away from boredom). I've heard about the résumé black hole where people are sending their applications into the great online void, but I've had five people contact me in the last six weeks from online job ads, and I attribute that to changing my cover letter from professional-sounding to this-is-who-I-am-I-don't-give-a-fuck. I have ten years of admin and insurance experience prior to doing my M.A. and that wasn't enough to get someone to call me. Imagine the kind of person you'd like to work with and then write that cover letter.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Update to last post and a few queries

After multiple phone calls, messages left, and emails sent, GradU department has sent the necessary form to the dean's office. They claim it will be there by tomorrow. Hopefully the rest of the paperwork will fall into place and I'll officially have a Ph.D.

And hopefully I'll start to get calls for job interviews. I've got five more in the wings I'm applying for. Anthea made a good point in the comments to my "Some Days I'm Just Dumb" post awhile back about how to phrase some of my nontraditional administrative experience from being a TA and instructor. I think that's something I should do before my next round of applications.

On a related note, how do you talk about experience you have in relevant skills (such as database design and management) when they were not part of job you were paid for but skills you learned while being a grad student? I can't list "Graduate Student" as a job and "Professorial Apprenticeship" would just be confusing.

And from those of you who have worked for multiple departments within a university: do you list each separately as a different job or just as "Instructor for Grad U" for however many years? I taught for 7 years in three different departments at my GradU while working on my degree. I tutored for a few years prior to and overlapping with that. And then it's hourly jobs so far back in time that I don't even remember my supervisors' names. How do you deal with listing jobs on online apps when you can't remember supervisors' names? I don't care if they contact these businesses for a reference. I don't think anyone in those businesses would even remember me. How far back do you go in time with your resume?

Yeah, I'm trying to think about more productive things than the paperwork snafu at GradU. Any suggestions are welcome and thank you all for your suggestions and willingness to share your job hunting experience.

A slight oversight

There are two numbers in a window on my desktop. They sit in the corner of my monitor. One if for my GradU department's office manager, the other for the chair. They are on my desktop for the duration. And why, might you ask, would a post-academic have the numbers to the direct lines of the top two decision-maker's in their Grad U department? That would be because I do not have a degree yet.

Let me say that again: I do NOT have my degree yet.

That smell of hell and brimstone wafting out of the midwest is the smoke coming out of my ears. Sorry.

I have the number for the admin folks in the dean's office too but that one is not on my desktop. You see, the dean's office sent the final form to my old department for a signature...and have not gotten it back yet. No one in my department is answering their phones. No one is responding to email.

I cannot legally say that I have a degree until it is actually conferred. So if someone evaluating one of my job applications decides to verify my degree before calling me for an interview, it comes up that I don't have a doctorate degree. Now I'm sure that won't be a problem at all.

I did the work. I finished. I did the research, wrote the book, defended it, and got it accepted. No degree.

I have no degree because no one in my GradU department is willing to take up the slack left by our departing graduate secretary. She got a better job in a department that isn't nearly as snake-filled. I wish her the best of luck. However, no one has stepped in to fill the gap. All the other secretaries and admins are overstretched. No one is keeping track of which forms need to be signed and sent to who. The result is: I have no degree.

Given the circumstances, I thought my email to the department chair was very measured and polite. You can be sure that I will be calling and emailing every day until the nice folks in the dean's office let me know they have the form they need. And if you're curious, the dean's office admins are also emailing and calling for me. There may be people in the grad school calling too.

Incidentally, the reason I know my degree has not been conferred is because the former grad secretary at my department checked. Yeah, the person who left the department and did not need to do a damn thing checked and got me numbers to call to figure out what the hang-up was.

Not happy. So not happy.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Some days I'm just dumb

I've had no luck with the job search. Not so much as an interview. I think this is related to my cover letter. Honestly. I just don't think it was specific enough and didn't relate my skills to the job ad enough. I'm trying recent Ph.D's template to see if it has any effect. Check comments to my last post if you'd like to see it.

I'm also applying for a new set of jobs. Most of the jobs I was applying for had odd job titles that related to either project management or data analysis. Though grad school does give you experience in these tasks, most of these jobs want experience in this in industry, preferably with the job title of "Project Manager" or "Analyst." It can be tricky getting past HR without that. I've managed twice, though neither ended up with an interview. On a lark, I decided to look for just any job in New City. There were a few administrative assistant jobs that popped up.

Yes, it's kind of pathetic that I hadn't considered administrative jobs yet. I read recent Ph.D.'s blog. One would think this job path would've occurred to me sooner. As the title says, some days I'm just dumb. I looked up the requirements for these jobs and I have them all. I have mad computer skills, experience with database software, organizational skills, stunning multitasking abilities, comfort with working in high stress environments, and massive experience dealing with people who have a variety of backgrounds. Like many if not most academics. Seriously, think of all the administrative tasks you need to run a classroom and conduct research. You could blow most beginning admins out of the water.

So, now I'm applying to admin jobs at various companies. We'll see if I have any better luck here. I do still have some applications in for advising jobs but I have very little faith that I'll get an interview there. I applied for those before I changed how I wrote my cover letters.

I am also still working on my writing. There's a lot of fear here. I'm utterly terrified that I can't write a good sentence, let alone a good story. I'm going to try some short stories first and build up. They'll probably be really bad at first but you gotta start somewhere. New City has a fairly active writers group that I'm hoping to check out this weekend.

Also, got new music. I may be poor-arse broke but I still have change and Coinstar. They're currently running a special with Amazon where you get $5 for mp3's if you put in $20 in change and get an Amazon gift certificate. I downloaded some alternative rock, Scandinavian metal, and some tunes from soundtracks. Yes, I can cause Amazon's recommendation software to explode. Music is helping me to deal with things and get in a writing mood. See, I'm making progress as a post-aca. I may yet turn into an only marginally-bizarre human being with things like career and hobbies. Stay tuned.

src: Inevitable Life's facebook page

Monday, August 27, 2012

New Routines

Well, still unemployed here in New City. This isn't really a bad thing as many of the positions I applied for have only just begun "interviewing," according to the job application website. So, I'm attempting to remain optimistic, though I suspect I'm not good at writing cover letters (hey, don't judge, I've never done this before).

On a more uplifting note, Boyfriend and I have successfully excavated most of the apartment out of boxes. We now have a fairly recognizable dining room/living room, kitchen, and master bedroom. The second bedroom is more of an office/work room where the last few boxes have gone to die. Maybe I'll get that a bit more cleaned up so I can start writing in there, as opposed to the living room. The dogs have adjusted better now that they have room to run around like lunatics.

One of the most often repeated bits of advice I've seen about job hunting, unemployment, or writing is to develop routines. Day-to-day jobs tend to force routinization as 8 hours of the day are taken up by a job and you still need to eat. Those of us with more flexible schedules need this same sort of routinization. Routines free up mental space to be creative. So, I'm working on making a routine for myself. I need to find time to eat, walk dogs, go to the gym, run errands, job hunt. I'm pretty good on the eating and dog walking part due to the whole necessity thing. I'm getting better on the gym thing. Still working on the errands. Need to nail down specific job hunting times so that doesn't bleed into evening. So, life continues to be more of a fixer-upper than I would like but renovation continues.

Boyfriend and I have started to (re)connect with old friends in the area. The socialization is good but many of these friends are in academia. So far, this hasn't been an issue in conversation. It just feels weird, like putting on old clothes that you loved but don't fit anymore. He hasn't mentioned it as being an issue but I get the impression he feels similarly. We will definitely need to start making some new friends to go with our new life here and hopefully that will help the weirdness. We would like to keep our old friends but I think some new ones would help with our transitions. Hmm...maybe I should look into writing groups while he tries to find a performance group (Boyfriend is a musician in his free time). I'll keep y'all informed on the transition if you do the same. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Idle Hands = Anger at Talking Heads

Due to a deal we got with the cable guy, we have cable despite my unemployment. I've taken to watching MSNBC over breakfast in the morning. As a result, I'm far more aware of politics than I have been in years. All these hours of watching talking heads has led me to the conclusion that we need more commonsense and less crazy on both sides. And that the Ivory Tower needs to pay more attention to the larger world, as evidenced by the war on education.

The really dumb and obvious stuff aside, people actually voted against the Ledbetter Act. For those who don't want to google that one, it's the Fair Pay act that says women should get paid as much as men. Women still on average make only 77 cents to a man's dollar. So if a man makes $50k a year for a job, a women on average would make $38,500 doing the same job. Let's say they both do this job for 20 more years with a 3% raise every year. That comes out to $87,675 for the last year for the man and $67,509 for the woman with earnings over that time totaling $1,343,518 for the man and 1,034,509 for the woman - a total difference of $309,009. I don't know about you, but I'm sure I could use that $300k just as much as a man could. Yet another reason why women should definitely be negotiating job offers! Congresspeople voted against this act (yes, most if not all were Republicans). Seriously?!

To be frank, the Republican party scares me. Heading full tilt into a totalitarian dystopia scary. I'm not against traditional Republican values. I don't want big government. I think there should be fiscal responsibility in government. But these are not what Republicans are running on today. They are running on extremism and insanity. Why are Republicans more interested in regulating my body than fixing the economy? Why do they think defunding education is going to improve anything? That a trickle-down economy will work when it never has in history? Saving Medicare for one generation while bankrupting it for the next will somehow work? No one can be so dense as to think these things will help down the road. So what game are they playing? Or are they really that thick? And no, I don't think the Democrats have all the right answers but theirs don't scare me nearly as much as the Republicans' answers do.

But where are the intellectuals here? Where are the academics, public or otherwise, to explain the facts? To reveal the truth? There are ads on TV (again Republican but Democrats have done this too) that are clearly false and the candidates have said so. Where is the intelligentsia to declare these falsehoods and lead the charge for more integrity and accountability in politics? Oh yeah, they've lost of both of those in the Ivory Tower too. Guess it's time to find the brilliant, creative people outside the Ivory Tower and try to stop this madness.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Update from New City

Sorry for the delay. I know you've all been holding your breath for my next post. Don't worry, you can breathe again.

It's been a busy month. Boyfriend and I have decided on and moved to an apartment in New City. He's working an 8-5 and I'm job hunting. The dogs are adjusting pretty well. I'm still excavating us out of boxes. I now understand why some people take years to finish all the unpacking. No job yet but I'm still feeling more hopeful than I did in academia. There's also a lot more opportunities down here than I could find online. In the meantime, I'm starting work on my writing with the goal of finishing a novel that is far more interesting to read than my dissertation.

On an aggravating note, the final paperwork at my university is incredibly demoralizing to fill out. It's not the formatting revision required by the grad school (I'm on round #3). It's the surveys. They all presuppose that you are either going to a faculty or post-doc position. The only other option is something like "negotiating some other position" or "not working (family obligations)." The actual wording, compared to the more academically-acceptable options, is really kind of insulting. They would have been better served to just put "Other" and leave it at that. There are also sections of how you paid for grad school and what your background was. The instructions claim these are just for decision-making purposes. However, after doing the sections on "Future Plans," I couldn't help but feel like they were gathering data on why some students "succeed" and go to get faculty jobs and why some "fail" - meaning they would click the "Other" button.

Leaving academia does not mean I "failed". It does not make me less than anyone who toiled to become faculty. Now can we adjust the attitude please, ivory tower-ites. Hmm...maybe they need a nickname. The Ivories maybe. Makes them sound like some gang in the fifties who wore matching jackets and broke out into dance numbers frequently. Would that make post-academics a roller-derby team by comparison?

On a related note: this post from The Homeless Adjunct blog is getting passed around among academic friends on facebook. I am glad 1) that faculty friends are reading The Homeless Adjunct and 2) that they think the content is relevant enough to pass on. This post does make the situation sound a little conspiracy theory-esque. Maybe it is. But I think it's more that once this wagon starting rolling, more and more people jumped on. What disturbed me more were the comments from faculty friends on this piece. They summed up to "sounds bad". Sounds bad? Sounds bad?!? This exact phrase was actually uttered by a friend with a sterling academic pedigree whose only job offer was a temporary position offered at the last minute in a much less than desirable location with a pathetic excuse for a salary. Talk about getting smacked in the face with denial and wondering why your head hurts.

Sigh. Wish I had a better ending. Oh well. I'm off to round 4 of the grad school revisions. Think happy thoughts y'all. The weekend is coming.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Where I am Annoyed and Sympathetic Towards HR

I've been applying for jobs at New City where my boyfriend and I will be moving. I seem to be having more luck with administrative jobs at universities, but I haven't been looking at many private companies. I have, however, developed both a great deal of annoyance and much sympathy for HR departments.

I've applied for multiple jobs at Big University in New City. BUNC requires you to fill out an online application for each job, which is then reviewed by HR before getting passed to the hiring manager for that job. Four of the six jobs I applied for, I was rejected by HR. I felt I could do all the jobs fairly well and that my experience at least applied, in some measure, to their requirements. Two of the four they rejected me for I actually felt I legitimately matched their minimum requirements, no adjusting or hard sell required. And yet, I was shot down.

At the risk of being rude to HR, I think that Ph.D. on my resume prejudiced them.

I understand that BUNC likely gets hundreds of applications every day. And that some poor, underpaid, overworked individual is forced to sort out who matches the requirements for each job and who doesn't. This is why I have sympathy for these folks. That does not sound like fun. Would you want to be responsible for deciding if someone with a nontraditional background is worth the hiring managers time or not? The need to be that objective and unbiased is bound to keep good people from making it to the hiring manager but that may be the lesser of two evils. Inundating the hiring manager with unacceptable applicants is probably going to make that (likely more powerful) individual very cranky.

On the flipside, I get annoyed with HR because I am more than capable to do any of the jobs I applied for, yet hiring managers are not seeing my materials because they can't get past HR. There isn't really any remedy for this problem. I did email HR about the two jobs that I felt I did actually meet the requirements for and they offered to look at it again and see what happened. One asked for a degree in social science, among other possible fields. I have three but my application was rejected because I "did not meet education requirements." I thought that was bunk and emailed my query about the decision. The other was a difference in what "experience in project management" actually means.

I had a similar problem with a private company I applied for. I'm hoping to find some smaller companies once I get there that may have jobs. Companies with no HR departments. This is one of the hazards of the post-academic job search. Not sure how to fix it. I'm sure whoever in HR is tasked with sorting applications is not paid enough to deal with such problems and I'm not going to ask them to unless they get one hell of a raise. I think this is where knowing the hiring manager for a particular job comes in handy.

So, the moral of the story is: build your network. If you can get to the city and talk to folks, you may be able to avoid this headache.

Send happy thoughts to Currer Bell who is currently battling the rental market in Pittsburgh. I picture this as a battle with a basilisk and all she's got is a butter knife. Send her good vibes, swords, and phoenixes! Good luck to Currer and all the other post-academics out there with their new or existing jobs.

Monday, June 25, 2012

(Almost) Real-World 2-Body Problems

I know it's been a month. It's been a busy month. And no, my diss revisions are not done yet. It's hard to get motivated on something that you know no one will read, including your committee. I'm hoping to start writing fiction soon but refuse to start until I finish the last paragraph of my revisions. Seriously, there's only a paragraph and some citations left.

So what busy things have been happening? My lease was up at the end of May, so I had to move out. I moved into my parents garage. Well, my stuff moved into the garage. I moved into the basement. It's not ideal but at least it's rent free. My parents have their moments of being pretty awesome. They're housing me, being a bed & breakfast for my brother until he finds a place in a new city, and still doubling (tripling?) as a daycare for my sister & nephew. See? Awesome!

And why am I in my parents' house and not with my boyfriend? BF has an actual career already. He needs to do one more year of residency before he gets certified and an actual full time, well-paid gig. Since I wasn't that far down my career path, I decided to wait until he knew what city he'd be heading to before I looked for a job. Well, he got a good offer last week and we now have a destination! This has led me to two very different problems:

1) I need to find a non-academic job in New City. I'm looking at non-traditional jobs at universities and for positions at large companies. These are not the only places for Ph.D.'s to get non-aca jobs - I need to stress that. That's where I'm looking at the moment because these are easier to find from a distance. And I have found some good possibilities.

But the more I look at non-aca jobs, the more people keep trying to get me to look for adjunct gigs. These are the same people who have been supportive so far about my leaving academia. However, now that reality is setting in, people just can't seem to get past the "only job a Ph.D. can do is teach" mentality. They usually couch this as "it'll be an income for awhile". Everyone seems to think that I can make a little money adjuncting. Let me stress "little money" here. I've looked up the schools in this area on The Adjunct Project and they pay about $2500/class. For the math-phobic out there, I'll crunch the numbers for you. That's $20k/year for a 4/4 teaching load. And that's assuming I can get 4 classes at one or a combination of universities. No benefits, by the way. It's aggravating.

2) I never pictured myself as a trailing significant other. This may seem like a minute problem compared to the first one but I think it's about equal. I always thought of myself as an independent woman who wouldn't give up her career and follow a man. Well, I gave up the career I was working on for a mountain of other reasons unrelated to my romantic relationship. And now I found myself following a man who is working, sometimes single-mindedly, on his career and working around that. I am glad he's focusing on options near New City, which wasn't hit as hard by the recession and has lots of possibilities. It's still hard to put my entire life on hold while he made a decision and now have to adjust to that. To be honest, I didn't think this would be this difficult to deal with. It's a lot of identity changes in one shot. I just keep trying to tell myself that this is a practical decision and in no way makes me any less awesome.

To top it all off, I seem to be the one who has to find the new place in New City for me and boyfriend commuting to two different cities and two dogs. BF doesn't seem to understand how much that is going to cost and that he may have to pick up the rent on his own paycheck for the first month or two, depending on when I get a new job and start getting paid. Oh the joys of real-world two-body problems! If he had been the trailing significant other, I could be the wage-earner and he could deal with these financial and logistic issues. Here's another place those Ph.D. skills come in. There's some serious project management skills needed to accomplish all this!

So that's what's eating up my time. I'll blog again as interesting things happen. Meanwhile, check out what's happening in other post-academics' lives through the links on the right.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rejection Apathy

So, I've been rejected from the last two academic jobs I've applied to within the span of 48 hours. It's been a week, if you want to count all three. Well, I haven't actually been rejected by the third but the jobs wiki says the offer has been made for that job (then rejected and made to someone else). That was the one where they addressed me by the wrong name after interviewing me. Incidentally, the second one essentially said "We don't want you. Go look somewhere else." It was a very brusque three sentences.

Here's the thing: I don't care. I thought I would, at least a little, but I don't. Not at all. Literally, not a thing. I cared about as much as if some distant acquaintance was telling me that ze had decided to change hir shirt from blue to green because ze "just wasn't feeling it, ya know."

I thought I liked the work: teaching and research. I was good at it. If I did like it that much, surely I would care if I didn't get the job. Nope, nothing. Maybe I didn't like it as much as I thought. Maybe all the time I've spent imagining myself in some other job has paid some sort of dividends here. I don't know. I'm more stunned by the apathy than the rejection. It's not even numbness. I read the rejection and my brain just went "meh" and started thinking about how much bubble wrap I needed to buy to move my apartment.

I'm hoping this means I'm through most of the mourning period for leaving academia. Sure, there will likely be more down days to come. However, I'm much more excited about what my next adventure will be (and thankfully I have friends who phrase it that way!). I'm holding off on job hunting until I know where my better half will get a full time job, since he actually has a career.

I just want to give a shout-out to my Better Half. He's a career changer himself, three times over. He's been in and out of academia. He gets it. He doesn't press me about jobs or what I'm going to do next. He'll ask my advice on research design or quantitative analysis then go back to his work and I go back to running amok in the kitchen and reading books. I don't know if I'm as lucky as Currer in this regard but I ain't complaining.

In other news, I just got myself a kit to make my own hand-sewn hardcover book. Hmm, maybe I'll take up antique book repair. I'll keep y'all up to date on where this craziness will end next. Good luck to all those who are currently interviewing for your next adventure!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Academia Broke my Optimism Bias

Here's a TED talk for you. It talks about the optimism bias and whether or not we should keep it. It has funny bits and a happy ending. Go watch it.

The last few years have been fairly unpleasant in many regards. Being blown off by my committee, betrayed by my chair, and realizing I had no job prospects in academia were not the stuff of happy thoughts. The result was that my optimism bias broke. Shattered into little pieces, like a grenade in a barrel of oatmeal. That's a line from Foghorn Leghorn but I like the image and cartoon quotes are always useful for academia.

The side effect has been that many days I don't feel like I can do anything. This is what the researchers call a pessimism bias. It's really bad for you. When you have an optimism bias, you attribute all the good outcomes to your awesome skills and all the bad stuff to external forces. With a pessimism bias, you attribute all the bad stuff to your inabilities and all the good stuff to dumb luck and reality will catch up with you next time. This pessimism bias is not a good way to live. But that's the result of all my years in academia. I read job descriptions and decide that there's no way I could ever get or do a particular job, even though I could do everything in the "Job Requirements" section. I'm working on this but it's been difficult.

I'm feeling better these days. Not because of graduating or leaving, I still haven't found a next job. I'll probably move back in with my folks when my lease is up at the end of this month. That's not really uplifting, quite frankly.

No, I'm attributing my improved mood to avoiding revising my diss, a great deal of wine I'd rather drink than move, and the playlist on my ipod. Mostly the playlist I think, though the wine does help. Seriously, I loaded my ipod with all the cheery, triumphant songs I could find. Recovery-from-breakup songs are also a good choice. If your optimism bias breaks, music is a good replacement. It can greatly improve your mood and makes you think that you too can find a nonacademic job that pays enough to cover your student loans and still let you eat something other than ramen noodles. It's like an optimism prosthetic.

Unfortunately I have not yet decided on what I want to be, on the off-chance I grow up someday. I'm currently applying to adjuncts visiting lecturer positions. I like these jobs, not because I think they'll lead to a TT job, but because they give me 9 months of adventure somewhere else in the country and of time to figure out what I'm going to do next - all without commitment. Yes, I'm embracing the commitmentphobe-ness of nonacademic jobs. If you don't like the first one, finish out the contract and find another one. Awesome.

I still want to be a writer. I know this is not a job one normally supports oneself on. However, that's what I want to do. When people ask me what I would do if money were no object, I say I'd like to write fiction. Sci-fi, fantasy, or dystopic fiction. That's what I read and that's what I'd like to write. Alas, a near-decade of academic writing does not lend itself well to creative fiction - creative nonfiction maybe, but I don't feel like writing journal articles at the moment.

So, I'm planning to do a bit of creative writing and maybe finding a reading buddy to keep me honest. And I'll keep looking for other jobs to support my wine or pez habits. Maybe I'll be a barista or a sommelier or an incredibly nerdy chef…or a number-crunching cubicle monkey. Who knows! Knowing I could do just about anything doesn't really help in limiting the nonacademic job options. And I don't really care what I do to make money. I want to write. The rest is just paying bills.

To those out there hitting a rough patch with your transition, I wish you good luck, good hope, good booze, and cheerful drinking buddies. And listen to cheerful, happy music. Listen to the uplifting, triumphant stuff at the end of big blockbuster movies where the hero/ine gets what they need. You'll get to your next triumph and the next adventure soon!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Treading Dangerous Waters

Here's the first of my stories from the back log. Over my spring break, many moons ago, I went to Major City where my boyfriend is currently employed. They have many museums there where I could theoretically find either employment or an avenue to continue a "life of the mind" as a post-academic and do my research.

I met with Big Wig at one of these museums to talk about working as an independent researcher there. Ze assured me they had no jobs and weren't planning on getting any soon. They were already operating at an absurd level of budget crunching as it was. The research thing seemed doable. Depending on the job, I could even volunteer there (you have to commit to a certain amount of time during the week) which would come with free membership and parking.

It all seemed potentially doable. Sure, there were constraints, but it wasn't out of the question to continue my research. I do actually enjoy research and teaching. I could still do it as a post-academic. The conversation got a little weird when Big Wig didn't know specifics about things ze should know but otherwise, all good things.

However, as I rode public transit back to my boyfriend's apartment, I got this gut feeling. Maybe it was all the posters advertising The Hunger Games on the trip but I got this feeling that I was treading very dangerous waters. It wasn't a niggling feeling where you think maybe something's off. It was full on, swimming-with-sharks feeling. Seriously, I felt like I could practically see the sharks. My instinct is shockingly good. It hasn't failed me yet, even when I've failed it.

I should point out this was not an instinctive "NO, DANGER!" feeling. My gut wasn't saying no, don't do this. It was more of an "Oh, by the way, there are large things swimming nearby with big, pointy teeth which may suddenly decide that you are crunchy and good with ketchup. Just an FYI. Try not to look weak or otherwise edible." No, my gut doesn't talk to me but that's a good idea of how the feeling was interpreted.

The meeting seemed like the usual awkward but good conversations nerdy academics find themselves in all too often. Nothing raised red flags. And yet I had this feeling of lurking danger in the whole escapade. I think there are three possible reasons for this:

1) I could just be paranoid. It's a fair possibility. Now that Fluffy is finished, the whole career change thing is a lot bigger and change is scary. It could just be fear. Except that my gut is usually not swayed by such things and this all happened before Fluffy was even half-drafted.

2) It could be a reaction to what keeping up with my research would entail. It means having to go out of my way to get access to journals on the cheap. It means giving up free time and possibly work time to collect and analyze data. It means that this is likely where any free time I gain from the real world would go. On the one hand, it wouldn't be that big of a change from academia: working all the time so that I can spend my free time researching. On the other hand, that defeats one of the reasons for leaving academia: free time.

3) There really could be something fishy going on here. The weird thing about gut reactions is that sometimes they seem to have more available info than you do. Maybe there was something in what Big Wig said, in hir body language, that gave away some serious issues that might come up to bite me if I followed through with this plan.

This feeling has only intensified since then and led me to abandon at least this avenue for continuing my research. Even now, if I seriously think about doing this, my gut responds with an ever increasing sense of danger. It's something specific to this particular situation.

I don't mean this to be a diatribe against maintaining those practices from leading a "life of the mind" that make you happy. Clearly, there are ways to do it. This is meant more of a caution to think about what continuing to do those things will do your new life. If you're in a field like mine, it means having to track down data in one form or another, possibly having to travel to get it. It means having to find a way to run statistics and, of course, to keep up on recent research in journals. These are not un-doable. They are highly inconvenient and expensive at times. I'm not sure I'm ready to walk back into a situation my gut tells me has a high probability of ending badly.

If this last academic job offer falls through (a likely scenario), I think I'll just rip off the bandaid and leave academia entirely. My instinct tells me this is the better plan for me. Of course, then it spirals into a self-loathing depression as it contemplates 9 years of sunk costs. Sometimes I think it may be either defective or mal-adaptive. I know, those costs are already sunk. No sense in raising the Titanic here. No one's going to make a major motion picture out of it. They probably wouldn't even look good in 3D. But I digress, frequently.

My rambling point is that I looked into keeping up with my research and it seems possible. Maybe not a good idea but a possibility nonetheless. But I think there are strings attached, at least for this particular scenario, and depending on your field, those strings could be made of razor wire. Proceed with caution but don't give up hope. And now, for your moment of zen...

If you need a laugh, Google image search "flying shark". This meme has legs...err, fins!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Holy Update Batman!

It's been awhile but it's been a bit crazy here. I've got a boatload of posts to put up. Let me start with the biggie:

Fluffy is vanquished!

Though I was prepared with an arsenal of Holy Hand Grenades of Antioch and an army of killer bunnies willing to protect the magic carrot, Fluffy died with a whimper, not a bang.

Let me back up briefly. Two days before my defense, I was doing a dry run of the presentation with my chair. Hir only suggestions for improvement were to add a few summary slides so that ze wouldn't have to pay attention the whole time. Just as ze was getting ready to leave, ze says that there are some people in the department who think I'm stubborn and willful and might try to put me in my place. Though I am both willful and stubborn, the only person who would attempt such a petty move would be my advisor. Yeah, I got threatened by my advisor two days before my defense because ze's passive-aggressive and petty.

I posted this threat on facebook and asked for suggestions for a response. Some serious, some funny. My personal favorite was from a family friend who suggested creepy late night phone calls full of vague threats. That seemed on par with the transgression and liked the image. No, I didn't do it but it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

The appointed time arrived. I was armored in a business suit and pumps. FYI: patent leather shoes with a broken big toe nail is really unpleasant. Anyway, I looked awesome, there was coffee, and several of my killer bunny army brought food. We discovered years ago that it is much harder for people to be arses if their mouths are full.

The presentation went well. Everyone laughed at the appropriate points. Important people nodded agreeably throughout. People had only those bizarre questions they come up with when they can't think of anything relevant. Folks got hung up on something that was utterly inconsequential but it made for easy questions. Most importantly, my advisor didn't get a chance to be an arse.

And then, that was it. It was done. Some revisions are needed. Papers were signed. The food was cleaned up and taken care of. Friends went out to lunch with me. And...well...that was it. Not with a bang at all. I went home and took a nap. This is apparently a typical ending.

I haven't really recovered from the stress. Some of that is due to going pretty much straight from the defense to a conference where I also gave a paper. And then there was a job interview there. But it hasn't kicked in yet that this whole escapade is over. Really. Seriously. I don't feel a thing. It's a little weird.

But that's why posts haven't been forthcoming. Hopefully soon I'll catch up on this backlog of posts. Here's some teasers for some upcoming ideas:

- Treading Dangerous (Psychological) Waters
- WTF! Where'd that interview come from?!
- Deciding When to Hold 'Em and When to Fold 'Em

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Can an Academic Job be a "Next Job?"

So, a VAP has come up in my field. It is a one, maybe a two year gig with a 4/4 teaching load. There will be a TT line offered for this position in two years but the department head freely (and honestly) admits that whoever takes the VAP may have a leg up for that line but no promises.

I'm considering applying for it. No, not because I think it'll somehow magically turn into a TT line. I want the job because of where it is. It's in a place I've wanted to live in since I was a child. My significant other still has at least a year and half before he's done with his residency in Major City. So, this seems like a good time for an adventure. For the curious, said significant other forwarded the job ad to me, so he already knows about it and was a little hesitant to send it, knowing my view of academia these days.

Granted, this job would require moving across the country and away from family. Most of my friends these days are academics, so spatial separation there is inevitable. And it would mean at least another year in a long-distance relationship, but that too is looking more and more inevitable too.

But the academic culture doesn't appeal to me so why, in the name of all things holy and unholy, would I consider applying? Because I want to live there, at least for a bit. I want that adventure. If I happen to add anything to my CV during that time, what a bonus. Yeah, no exclamation point there - read it deadpan, with a sarcastic twist.

Given my ambivalence (leaning towards bitterness) towards academia, a 1-2 year gig actually sounds appealing. If one or both parties decide we'd be better off separated, I finish off the contract and no hard feelings. It would also give me a more time to figure out what I want to be if I grow up...or at least which direction I'm heading off in. And I would have a better sense if my bitterness is due entirely to academia in general or just to spending the last near-decade in a dysfunctional department with an advisor who has turned into a despot.

Notice, I did not mention research or publishing in there. If you're paying me for a 4/4 load, that's what you're getting. If you also want me publish too, you either need to pay me a serious salary or I will laugh in your face. I research the cost-of-living differential and I know what my bills and student loans will be. When negotiating, it's important to know your bottom line. And unlike some of my colleagues, I know there's a life outside of academia and I'm not above just saying "(Oh Helllll) No" to an unacceptable academic offer.

Don't worry about the school. They'll get at least 30 applicants. On the outside chance that they actually want to hire me and can't afford me, some other poor desperate schmuck will take them up on the lowball offer.

It's just a personal thing. I feel like I should at least apply. I can at least say I tried and academia officially did not want what I had to offer. On the upside, I'm getting more confident in the idea that there's something better out there...and I could still do my research. But that's a story for the next post.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fluffy Update

I think I've recovered sufficiently from this episode to write about it. A little over a week ago, my committee was supposed to decide if my dissertation is defensible or not. The date was March 14, specifically.

Two days prior to this, my chair had the "sudden" realization that my committee needed to read my chapters. I use quotes because I have been reminding and pestering him to read them for two months. The ensuing panic resulting in two more of my committee members finally coming clean and admitting they hadn't read anything either. The fourth member had actually read and commented on several chapters. Two of the members refused to sign off on it until they read a few chapters. A mental breakdown began to boil.

Thankfully, the graduate secretary in our department has an in with a secretary in the Dean's office and was able to give my committee more time. This may have single-handedly staved off multiple murders on my campus. I doubt this is the first time ze's had to do so...or the last.

The committee finally agreed it was defensible 5 days later. Given the comments I've seen, I'm still not convinced they've read anything.

All the paperwork is in now. Fluffy is set for release on April 5th.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day

Given the animation I have in lieu of a profile pic, I thought I should at least post again for Pi Day. That's right, it's time to celebrate being irrational!

I do think we need to celebrate the irrational in our lives more often. It'll keep you from taking yourself too seriously. So, in honor of the day, try to think of at least five things in your life that are illogical, irrational, or otherwise lacking in reason but make you happy. Here's some of mine:

1. I have a wind-up toy of a monkey riding a horse. This is my dissertation in a nutshell. It is currently sitting in the middle of a chess game being played between my house mammoth and wooden spider monkey. There's a disturbing amount of potential symbolism here.

2. My boyfriend is teaching me how to play the ukulele. He plays in a ukulele group. Yeah, 10-15 people get together in a tiny corner coffee shop and play ukuleles together. It's awesome. You should try it.

3. I am obsessed with getting a card game called Killer Bunnies. Your goal in the game is to take out other people's bunnies and protect the magic carrot. I think Fluffy would approve of this game and I really want to play it, post-defense, while drinking an immoderate amount of wine.

4. My dog is obsessed with tennis balls. We think he imagines by catching and hoarding tennis balls, he is somehow saving the world. Maybe he is. I don't know how the universe works.

5. I own a top hat. It sits in my living room, on top of my filing cabinet. I guess that means my filing cabinet also has a top hat. I bought it at the Renaissance Festival where I wore it to the smoking tent. The pirates put on a show there where they offered the best advice I've heard for grad school: "Get in! Get out! Quit F&$%ing about! Yo ho! Yo ho! Yo ho!"

Other new posts will be coming soon on such entertaining topics as a life of the mind after academia and can an academic job be a "next job." Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Update on Fluffy

Yes, I've named my dissertation Fluffy. See this previous post for a picture of Fluffy.

I was reading Recent Ph.D's post this morning on the love of words. Atrocious and obtuse writing is considered an ideal in certain parts of my field. I'm also willing to admit that my own writing has gotten significantly worse during my academic tenure. I'm known among friends and family for my ability to pack tons of stuff into a relative small volume. I apparently now do the same with clauses in a sentence. Is there a 12-step program for comma-addiction? I've mostly recovered from my affection for the semi-colon; however, I still occasionally relapse. On a related note, I thought I would send an update on Fluffy.

One (out of four) committee members have read a few chapters of Fluffy and made comments. These comments consisted almost entirely of rewriting my sentences so that they were "clearer" and "more academic." Yeah, I laughed too. Ze has changed every "so" into a "therefore" or "consequently" because those sound much more science-y in hir opinion. I haven't run the statistical test yet but I think the increase in semi-colons is significant. All this while wanting to delete sections that actually form important parts of various arguments because those are not hir field and ze wasn't interested in them. Maybe next round I should use the academic sentence generator and see if that makes anything "clearer." I suppose I should just be happy someone is reading it. Guess the rest of my committee is going for the surprise reveal at my defense.

Sorry posts are not getting any more regular. Fluffy sends its regards from the toxic genetics lab where it's being mutated into an even more hideous and fuzzy creature.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

This is gonna be interesting

A fellow student from my program is working with my advisor to get out the write-up from a project they worked on 6 years ago. I did some data analysis on part of it at that time for a class project. This student has warned me that my advisor may steal my work (the class term paper) and put his own name on it as first author.

I am a pretty decent writer. I am considered a subversive deviant. I am more technological literate than my advisor. Yes, I'm in the process of wiping out any trace of my work from every lab computer, back-up file, and external hard drive in all our labs. Yes, I would magnetize the CD with my paper on it if I could find it. Yes, I will raise hell if my work walks off without me.

This could get interesting. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wild Dreams

Dissertation update: Chapters 1-5 have been sent to the committee. They are now officially procrastinating over reading it. So, marginally more regular posting may or may not ensue. Sorry, I like to keep y'all guessing.

I'll admit to an absurd fondness for dystopic stories, in either written or cinematic formats. They don't even have to be particularly good stories, mediocre will work. Most recently, I watched The Island. It's actually not bad and is generally considered underrated entertainment.

If you haven't seen it, it's a story about clones being created and used for spare parts for the rich and famous. Two discover what's going on and escape. Eventually they come to realize that their clone friends are going to be killed and…well, I won't spoil it. Suffice it to say, there are enough sci-fi cliches involved that you could play cliche bingo with it. Good special effects though. Shiny. Colorful. Predictable. Not going to strain your brain if you need something flashy to watch on a Friday night.

There's a lot in the movie to work with if you use movies to start discussions in classes. You've got the ethics of cloning, questions of who gets to live and who dies, what does it mean to be human, and what does it take to regain one's humanity. Lots of deep thoughts and you get explosions to boot. It got me thinking about paths not taken, about how I miss a good story.

Good stories can be read all different ways. A group of people can read it and all find something different in it that resonates with them. I always wanted to write such stories. Stories of complex characters, none entirely good or evil, just people with their own agendas trying to survive in a complex world not of their own design. Recently, I've entertained the idea of writing a dystopic novel of academia. It wouldn't take much imagining, it's pretty dystopic as is. A novel where perceptions and expectations do not match reality, of the prices and consequences of hard choices.

What would you do if you lost everything and ended up in a place worse than any you had imagined, only to find that it may be the one route that offers true freedom? What if you got all you could hope for, only to find it a prison where you were both guard and inmate? What if your identity was built on your self-reliance only to find that your life hinged on the kindness of strangers?

I cannot write good stories of life and death struggles, the quest for civil freedom, or a life of hardship. I have not experienced those things and feel such stories should come from those who have. I cannot speak to the emotion and power of such trials. Those who have should be given a voice. I honestly believe that knowing such stories, seeing the worst and the best of our species, would make us all better human beings.

I can write of smaller struggles though. I used to be good with words. With a little practice, I think I could again write of the small victories in everyday life, of the emotion of silence, of our ability to deceive ourselves, of losing pieces of ourselves and the price we must pay to re-member them.

The last nine years took a lot from me. But it gave me a lot too. It gave experience, if not always a life. I think if I were to write again, the words would be better. They would do more. Stories bring us hope. Maybe my words can one day bring hope to people. To know that whatever situation they've gotten themselves into, they can survive it and find a way out. That's the kind of story I want to write someday.

There are two chapters left to write in the dissertation. Then I can begin the hunt in earnest for a job that'll leave me with the mental energy to write. Good luck to all the post-acs out there hunting in earnest already. May what you find far exceed your expectations.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Law of Dissertating Inertia

It's been awhile since my last post. I figured that out by looking at the date on that post today. Yeah, I know - it's obvious. However, it's just after the holidays where I did absolutely nothing productive and it's taking some time to start thinking again. Don't judge me! The whole situation reminds me of the law of inertia.

You read that right. It's the law of inertia: a grad student in motion tends to stay in motion while one at rest tends to stay at rest, unless an external force is applied. Click here for a description of this for comic fans. Well, this grad student has been at rest for awhile. A long while. Alas, this must change.

As per the events of my last post, I've been looking into a career in R&D. I like the idea. I enjoy research and discovery. I also enjoy being employed and having free time. R&D appears to be better aligned with such ideals than academia is. See any of the blogs to the right for a multitude of views on work/life balance, the crappy academic job market, or lack of intellectual freedom. Though R&D seems to be a better job market than academia, I have a nontraditional Ph.D. (read not STEM) and will likely have to take a more guerilla job search approach. Since that can be time consuming, I'm rabidly trying to finish my dissertation draft before the semester starts.

On a fairly random tangent, I like the word "rabidly" for describing dissertating. Such an activity should automatically conjure up a sort of unhealthy, foaming-at-the-mouth image. It really is a pointless exercise. Even as I'm writing my diss, I know it is unlikely to ever to be read or to be worthy of another's time. And that's before my committee gets there teeth in it.

I firmly agree with Einstein that if you cannot explain something simply, you do not understand it well enough. As a result, I can explain my entire dissertation research in under 150 pages (I think - I haven't finished it yet). The last two dissertations that passed in my department were ~250 and ~300 pages respectively. I really don't want to fluff my dissertation to such a bloated state just to satisfy faculty egos. I'm not going into academia anyway. Only in academia could you get a final product that is both dense and fluffy. "Fluffy" is used here to mean light and lacking in substance while "dense" refers to something that is impenetrable, for those who need definitions of everything. Let it be transparent! Let it be substantial! Let it NOT be painful!

Anyway, that's what I'm doing when I'm not posting. I'm hoping to defend by March 16th, mostly because I'd like a really good reason to be really trashed on St. Patty's day. Since I'm not adverse to drinking any other day of the year, I feel like I should have a reason to do it on St. Patty's day. You know, it makes it "special" that way. So, I must finish this beast and allow the faculty to begin their shredding of it. I'm sure there will be at least two rounds of revisions before all is said and done.

Wish me luck in my endeavor. I wish you luck in yours, whether it is leaving academia, finding a job, or otherwise maintaining what's left of your sanity. Cheers to us all!