Acquired Taste

Sweet, salty, bitter, and sometimes delicious.

Archive for September, 2009

Post-doc’ing

Posted by unbeelievable on September 15, 2009

Having a Ph.D. doesn’t mean what is used to mean. Or, perhaps, what it meant in my mind before acquiring one.

It used to be, if you had a Ph.D. and a couple crappy articles, you were in to a teaching heavy school (perhaps a nice small liberal arts college…) and if you had a couple of good articles, you went straight to a Tier 1 school –a Big 12 or Pac 10 school, or even Ivy League if you were lucky, to try your hand at writing even more articles, getting in a few textbooks, and of course, getting tenure.

Now what’s the routine?

Have a few crappy articles? Well, the job market’s pretty tight. So you can compete for a fairly crappy school (for the record: crappy in academic speak means teaching four or more classes per semester at a school that nobody has ever heard of….which may not sound hard but is truly punishing for those who are actually trying to create good academic experiences for their students).

Or you can do a postdoc. More on that in a sec.

What if you had a few really good articles? It’s not so easy to get those Tier 1 jobs, anymore. You can get a decent job at a reasonable state school, but if you have had this much success in graduate school, t you know you’ve got potential. Just a few more articles, and Stanford will be rolling out the red carpet, right? So what can you do?

A postdoc.

Oh yes, you will initially be excited by the prospect of breaking the 25,000 K per year mark. And, in theory, a postdoc is just doing what you already did in grad school, minus the pressure of the dissertation, minus the need to T.A., right? Five first-author articles in the top journals.. here we come?

Except, no.

It’s quite possible you will come out of your one, two, or, god forbid… three year post-doc with little more than a few sixth author publications and a ton of wasted time.

Fact – people who can afford to hire post-docs generally have grants. Those people generally want to become more famous than they already are (to get more grants, which allow them to (a) boost their salaries and (b) offload teaching responsibilities, which the majority of professors who are truly “research academics” at heart prize). Are those people going to let you be first author on a paper, especially when you’ve only been around a year? Sorry, don’t count on it. Two years? Maybe one, if you push them and are lucky. Sure, they might give you a conference presentation or two… but if you’ve been doing anything in graduate school, you already have a ton of these, so who really cares?

Fact: You will not have time to do “your own research” as a post-doc, unless your new boss isn’t paying attention. That’s not to say he or she won’t promise that when you sign on. “Of course, our projects come first, but when there’s downtime, we encourage you to work on publications that are relevant to your interests!!” Just so you know, “downtime” to these people means Winter Break and weekends (that they’re not asking you to work overtime).

Fact: If you are any good at your post-doc job (meaning you make a significant contribution to running the lab in some way) your new “mentors” are going to want to keep you around awhile. That is, until NIMH grant #194343 runs out, and you will be dropped like a sack of potatoes. They may even hope to break your spirit enough that you become a “lifer” and never actually leave the safety of the lab, leaving you the opportunity to do glorified clerical work (better order those binders and sort the new arrivals from the lab supplies catalog) for the rest… of your life.

My advice is to be very…very…very careful with postdocs. My experience with postdoc’ing, combined with those of a few friends, has led me to believe that they CAN be wonderful in some cases…but true time-wasters in others.. and even career-killers in some. More advice soon on what to look for in a post-doc… and what to avoid like the plague.

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Updates & Happiness Project Activity

Posted by unbeelievable on September 14, 2009

I’ve been gone for the past few months, in large part, because I haven’t been a very happy camper. My finger injury (back in February) took at least a month to become even semi-recovered (I will take a picture at some point: it has a pretty small external scar, considering. But, underneath, the nerves and muscles are still a bit messed up and I am still, for example, learning to type with my finger again.

Then in March, we got evicted from our apartment. I will tell the story later, but it was quite unpleasant.

And then there is my job. There are several posts worth of work on that one. Let’s just say it is a job that is technically pretty easy, but is, somehow, the most stressful and unhappy place I’ve ever worked.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading about Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project on Slate.com, one of my favorite sites. She updates her blog frequently with stories, interviews, and tips.

One of Rubin’s tips for unhappy folks is to identify the problem(s). After some thought, I realized a few months ago that my primary problems are:

1.) Living in an unfinished house. After the eviction, which was not our fault and could not be avoided, we had to immediately move in to our construction-zone house. At this point, we don’t have drywall, insulation, heating, or a real shower. I tried to deny that these factors were making me feel unhappy for awhile (trying to keep a positive attitude!) but, you know what? They are. Now that I’ve identified the problem, we’ve made small steps to fix the problem.

a.) We’ve moved all of the tools and construction supplies OUT of the front part of the house (that we are living in). Not having to step over saws or staring at stuff I need to return to Home Depot when I step in the front door has made a big difference.

b.) We’ve bought some furniture. We lived in a TINY apartment for years (400 sq ft), and we had a bed, a couch, a desk, a desk chair and a kitchen island. That was all that would fit!

We now have around 600 square feet of usable space and we filled that space with canvas folding chairs and a plastic table that we bought at Sams. It made the living room (and temporary dining room) look like a campsite.

Last weekend, we went to Ikea and bought some real furniture: a comfy chair and a real dining table with four very comfortable chairs. Now our house really feels like a home! We made dinner last Sunday and had people over, and, for the first time, I felt like I didn’t have to apologize for where I live.

c.) We’re trying to get the house to some sort of stopping point within 6 months. I think it is going to be difficult (especially due to budget concerns) but doable. Sitting down together and making a plan made us both feel better (believe me, you begin to think that these projects will never get done after awhile).

2. Money Concerns. Isn’t money always a problem? Basically, we’ve been trying to finance the construction of this house on our own, and we’re are in quite a bit of CC debt at the moment. It seems like every time you turn around on a house you are spending 10,000 dollars at a time. Plumbing? 10,000 dollars. Stucco? 10,000 dollars. Roof? 10,000 dollars. Framing? 10,000 dollars. Pretty quickly, you begin running out of tens of thousands of dollars.

We financed some of it (about 20K) on a credit card (AMEX) with a fixed low interest rate. This credit card has recently informed us that they are raising our rate (despite no late payments or bad behavior on our part) to 15.99%. Wait a minute.. what? I thought fixed meant you couldn’t change the interest rate? Well, apparently, they can. They just have to send you 30 days notice, and there’s no opting out.

Solutions:

a.) Got out my copy of the fabulous program “You Need a Budget!” I haven’t used it in awhile because, to be honest, I’ve been trying to avoid reality. Now I have a handle on what our finances are and we can try to plan accordingly.

b.) Started making major efforts to pay off the AMEX. Once it’s paid, it’s getting canceled and I’m never, ever using them again. So far, we’ve got the 20K down to about 14,700. We are getting some cash from our landlord (still hasn’t given us our deposit back or paid us for the 1/2 a month we missed due to being evicted) and I am selling one of our cars, and hopefully we’ll be able to pay it off within a reasonable period of time.

c.) I negotiated at my current job (I was being severely underpaid) for a raise and will soon be getting yet another raise (more on that later).

3. My job… oh, my job.  Well, that’s another post altogether.  I feel like I could write a novel on the topic!  More later!

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Way #45312 to lower your employees’ morale

Posted by unbeelievable on September 12, 2009

Don’t learn their names.

“What’s his name” will do just fine. Or how about calling someone by the wrong name? Katie for Catherine, Lisa for Liz…close enough, right?

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What is wrong with this country?

Posted by unbeelievable on September 8, 2009

My friend is one of the subjects of an article in Newsweek (check it out! I am SO proud of her)

http://www.newsweek.com/id/214989

… and was asked for interviews by CNN, radio, and stations like NPR…

…and she turned them down.

Why? Some white supremacists that read her article became obsessed with her, looked up her facebook profile, looked up her address, and began speculating about her choice of husband and made threats against her family (she’s got an adorable little toddler…seriously.. cutest kiddo ever).

I am so, so sad about that. They have won, in a way. It makes me so angry. And I can’t fault my friend — she is trying to protect her family from people who are clearly psycho. I would likely do the same thing.

All I can do is hope that their time for spreading hatred is limited… that at some point it will be come so atypical–so out of the mainstream–that nobody will bother.

Please read the article! I think it makes for an interesting discussion, no matter what side you are on. Just don’t be on the side of “na-na-na-na-nahh, I’m not listening!”

And yes.. it has been a long, long, long while since I have posted. Basically I have been miserable at my job and have given up blogging for a time. I hope that will soon change. I had a lot of drama in early spring that turned my life around and I will blog about it at some point. I’m finally to the point (almost) where I’ve clawed my way out of the dark depression that I have been in for months.. ironically after my “The Secret must be bunk” post. Maybe I was paying a karmic price for that one?

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