Applications

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So, it’s job season out there for academics (has been since August or September, and will be until about March or April).  I had a somewhat unique job search experience when I was a postdoc, because I started applying right out of grad school.  As in, I graduated in May, and then sent in my first application for an assistant professorship in October.  I don’t think that this is unusual for graduates in the humanities, but it’s more traditional for science graduates to have at least one year of postdoc training under their belts before they start applying.  It’s actually my observation that about five years of postdoc training before getting a job is the new normal.  (By the way, my early start on applications was due to the fact that Shaggy was a couple years ahead of me – I knew I had to get started right away.)

So, I’ve been through five seasons of applying for jobs. This means that I’m extremely experienced at finding job ads, applying for positions, and interviewing, and that I’m an extreme failure in terms of actually getting a job (until recently, that is).  Of course, the bulk of that was straight through the recession, so times were hard for a while.

I applied for an average of 31 jobs/year, for a total of about 154 applications.  It felt like a lot at the time (especially the last year, when I actually applied for 70 jobs), but in retrospect I’m shocked that I didn’t apply for more.  Seriously – I would say that the average advertisement in my field gets at least 100 applications in response, usually closer to 150.  Did I really think I was going to get a job applying for only 30?  Of course, some people will get a job after applying for many fewer jobs, especially if they are super-stars, or if they are just great fits for the position.

So, anyway, I’m not applying to jobs this year, although I still see the ads coming out.  Things are looking better, especially since I’m not seeing as many ‘open rank’ searches (these suck because they open the pool of applicants to not just the hundreds of postdocs who have been stranded by the recession, but also all the successful assistant and associate professors out there).  I feel for you, job applicants – it sucks, but you can do it.  One of the most difficult things is all the conflicting advice you get about how the application should look, what departments really want from new hires, and on and on.  I’ll write another post about that in the future – maybe after having gone through a search from “the other side” this year.

Anyway, I don’t know if this information is out there, but I wonder how many jobs people apply to, on average, before getting a job in academic biology (excluding biomedical research, which is quite a different field).  I would put up a poll or something cool like that, but since I have about three readers I don’t think it would be very effective.  Regardless, please feel free to discuss and just complain about the job application process in the comments section.

*Edit: Just re-read this post and realized that I started three of the paragraphs with “so”.  WTF?  It reads like I’m an insecure 12 year old.*

Listening: Praise and Perils

I’m know that I’m not the first person to say that listening is an underrated skill.  Good listeners are sometimes hard to find, and you never notice it more than when you are around an abundance of bad listeners.  I interacted with a few bad listeners as important parts of my work and hobbies in my last town, and it really started to get on my nerves.  However, it did teach me the skill of letting bad listeners “talk themselves out” until they realize how much they are saying (and, frequently, how silly it sounds).  Anyway, I would just like to give a general thank-you to all the good listeners in my life and those I don’t know.  Listeners: you rock.

I would rate myself as a pretty good listener.  I can listen to, sympathize with, and remember a lot of things that people tell me.  I think my biggest problem is when people are slow talkers.  When I am around slow talkers I have an irrepressible urge to finish their sentences.  I am working on this, but it is hard.  I have also moved to a part of the country where there are more slow talkers than anywhere else I have lived.  I consider this to be a learning opportunity (on a good day).

So, being a good listener is something I value and cultivate in myself.  However, sometimes it gets me in trouble.  I have sometimes been the repository for information I didn’t really want to know because of my status as a good listener.  This has sometimes been quite uncomfortable.

A more comical example of the peril of being a good listener is evident in small group settings.  I habitually make eye contact with the speaker and nod (unless they are saying something I really don’t like).  By the end of most lab or faculty meetings, it sometimes seems that I’m the only one doing this (everyone else is avoiding eye contact), which causes whoever is speaking to make more direct eye contact with me, and so on.  It’s a vicious cycle, and a little bit exhausting at times.  Especially when the faculty meeting goes for two hours.

That was one shitty week

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I’m not gonna lie to you folks (like, all three people who read this) – I had a shitty week last week.  I got a cold, had someone drop an 18 lb bodybar on my bare foot, and also had few personal issues come up that I’m not going to write about here.  I think I’ve dealt with things pretty well, considering, but I’ve got nothing of value to report to you other than what’s in the title.  You are welcome to tell me about your shitty week in the comments.

May I just say, however, that I find daylight saving time to be a cruel joke for runners?  I hate using a treadmill, and will gladly run outside in very cold weather, but I really can’t do it in the dark.  Here’s a before and after comparison of how my normal 5pm run looks in relation to sunset:

Calendar before and after DST

WTF, Daylight Savings?

So, yeah, that’s all I’ve got.  I hope to be back to more insightful complaining next week.

Great talk! You should be a teacher.

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So, we were having dinner with some colleagues the other night and discussing a very bright, talented, and responsible recent graduate of the undergraduate program.  One person commented that Recent Grad did a great job as a teaching assistant and should consider teaching as a part of a career path.  At the time I thought it was a logical statement, but it started to bother me a bit in the following day or two.

Basically, the person who complemented Recent Grad is a teaching professional, so recommending teaching as a career makes sense.  However, Recent Grad also happened to be a woman, and I can’t help but be reminded of how often women are told that they are ‘good teachers’ when they explain things clearly.  I feel like men are more often complimented on what great speakers they are, or on their wonderful presentation style, or just on how smart they are to understand the subject.

I remember one particularly awkward incident at a job interview when I was talking to the department head after my seminar.  He kept repeating that I must be a great teacher, and I finally said, “Well, I hope I’m good at communicating my research as well.”  Awkward, especially since this was at an R1 school where teaching was not as important as research in terms of getting or keeping the job.

Has anyone else had an experience like this?

Working while female

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Okay, so it’s been a bit of a difficult couple weeks for women in general, especially women who work, and most especially those who work in science.

First there was the hilariously pitiful “binders full of women” comment by Romney.  Srsly, dude, you’d never met a women you could think of hiring in all your time during the campaign, or during your extensive time at Bain Capital?  WTF?  The redeeming feature of this comment, of course, is the hilarious Binders Full of Women meme.  Watch out, though – if you’re anything like me, that site will prove to be a serious time suck.

Added bonus features related to the binders comment:

  • “Morning Joe” host mansplains to his female co-host that she doesn’t understand what women really care about when she brings up the binder comment.
  • Assholes who think the appropriate recourse for having an incompetent presidential candidate is to attack the person who exposed him with a straight-forward question.

Closer to home, however, is the crazy, totally inappropriate facebook comment by a professor of neuroscience about the recent Society for Neuroscience meeting: “My impression of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women. The super model types are completely absent. What is going on? Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience? Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain? No offense to anyone..”  (h/t to Drugmonkey, and see another great post by Dr. Freeride.)

I have about a zillion things to say about this kind of comment, and I’ll probably have time to go through many of them if I keep writing on this blog for a while, since these types of things come up with some regularity.  However, I mainly wanted to talk about just one aspect of this issue today.  Basically, there is a chorus of people who say that this type of thing can’t keep women out of science because it doesn’t actually say “women can’t do science”.  On that, I call complete bullshit (and, of course, even if the guy had said “women can’t do science” there would still be people dismissing it as unimportant).  Here’s just one potential scenario for how this type of comment can create a chilly climate for women in science:

  • Women are constantly told that their appearance determines their worth in society.  Many of them feel insecure about at least some aspect of their appearance and therefore their relative worth.
  • If they have enough self-confidence and encouragement, they make it into some traditionally male-dominated field – in this case, academic neuroscience.
  • They are told that science is a meritocracy, so looks don’t matter. Trusting in this, they are working hard, putting forth their best effort to succeed.
  • Then, some d00d, like this guy, says “Oh wait, actually looks do matter.  Also, you don’t measure up to my definition of attractive.  In fact, if you are attractive enough, you probably don’t do science.”
  • Suddenly, all those insecurities about your physical appearance are brought to the forefront.  The meritocracy might be a reality for some people, but it becomes evident that as a woman, you are still being judged based on your appearance.

So, that’s it.  Do I want to be reminded of impossible beauty standards by a professional colleague when my work has nothing to do with those impossible beauty standards?  No.

Also, even though I said I just wanted to talk about one issue, there is actually another one, which is the “free speech” argument.  The d00d is perfectly free to post this kind of thing of facebook, but he is not free from the consequences, which have involved public shaming and hopefully (eventually) a formal, professional reprimand from either his school or his professional society.  Also, for those who think that this should be private because he posted it on FB, get real.  I will present to you some pearls of wisdom from Shaggy, who recently took our institution’s required privacy training course:

From my privacy training: “If you use social networking sites, keep your personal and professional pages separate. Remember that anything you post could potentially be disclosed worldwide instantaneously.”

Should include “especially if you’re a dick”.

Weekend worriers

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Oops – sorry about missing my Monday posting last week!  That was lame-a-thon.  Seriously, though, I don’t understand how some people manage to post more than once a week.  Anyway, my (lame) excuse is that we had visitors in town, so my weekend was sucked away.  I also had time-intense activities the weekend before that and this weekend, so I’m looking forward to not having any commitments next weekend (other than work).

The thing is, I’m sure I could make my weekends more efficient and get more work done even with these other activities, but I like having a few days of the week where I don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time or feel pressured to do any one thing in particular.  I know that this lowers my productivity a great deal, but I like to think it gives me a ‘reset’ from the week.  This might have to change, though, given how behind I’m getting on various commitments.

In fact, I’m beginning to think that this unstructured-weekend idea is one of those things that I assume about myself but haven’t really tested.  It’s like telling yourself that watching TV is relaxing, when it’s really not helping you to unwind mentally (or something like that, I’m not trying to pick on TV in particular).  Maybe I’d feel happier and more relaxed at the end of a weekend if I actually got my ass out of bed earlier and scheduled enough time to get things done rather than just hoping they would happen magically . . .

One thing I know for sure is that I need to be willing to keep trying new time-management techniques as things change.  I know that different techniques work for different people, and I also know I can get into some bad ruts where I just keep trying to handle things the same way even though it’s not working for me.  Actually, this reminds me of my music lesson last week, where my teacher talked to me about a technique to practice in a time-efficient manner.  I’ve never actually been taught how to practice before (except how to use a metronome), so that was a real eye-opener for me.  It was a good reminder that even something like learning music can (hopefully) happen within a reasonable amount of time.

Just in case . . .

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Although I almost never ask, I am usually curious about why people choose to have children.  I don’t know how many people would have a good answer for that question (maybe a lot of people have reasons – I don’t know). To some extent it’s the next step after getting married, and most people have always imagined themselves having kids when they are adults.  I’m guilty of the same thing, of course – sometimes I’ve made big decisions without considering all the possible alternatives, just out of inertia (e.g., I didn’t really consider if actually getting married was the best way to stay in a relationship – I was in love with someone, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes).

Here are some reasons I’ve heard for people having kids, either from people I know or from the interwebs:
– to have someone to take care of me when I get old
– to carry on the family name
– it’s the only way to make a difference in this world
– to stay young
– to have someone to play role-playing games with
– to watch a child develop over time (yes, this person was a scientist)
– because being a mother is the most important thing you will EVER do with your life
– for the good of our country and society at large (I’ve never actually heard someone say this when they’re planning to have kids, but I’ve definitely heard it afterwards in other contexts)

Obviously, I can’t pass judgment on other people’s lives.  I don’t have kids myself and I don’t plan to, so I probably don’t understand the deep need that some people feel to reproduce.  (We can talk about this more in a future post, but this is something that is unrelated to my career – I’ve known I didn’t want kids since I was in junior high, back when my career goal was to be a writer.)  However, I do find it fascinating that people will admit that they are having kids, even if they aren’t sure that they really want them, just in case they want them later.  I guess I understand the fear of missing out due to biological cut-offs, but do these people consider the cost/benefit analysis here?  As in, what if you have a kid and you never really like being a parent?  Don’t tell me that doesn’t happen – we all know that it does.

There are a lot of things I will do “just in case”, even if I’m not completely sold on them at the time.  These include things like:
– buying an extra six-pack of beer if my favorite brand is on sale
– snorkeling in a cenote in Mexico, even though I am afraid of both water and caves
– trying some crazy unknown raw fish in a sushi restaurant in Japan
– karaoke at a bar in New York City

There are also a lot of things that I will not do “just in case”.  They include things like:
– getting a tattoo
– buying a house
– joining the military
– growing another person inside of me, being legally responsible for it for 18 years, and emotionally entangled with it until I die

All of these things are great things to do if you are really committed and excited about them (and ready for any consequences).  I just don’t think they should fall into the “just in case” category.

So, I don’t know, maybe a lot of people have had kids “just in case” and have found that it was wonderful and they love it.  Maybe it’s not such a good idea after all.  Probably people won’t really want to say one way or the other.  The only thing that’s certain is that the decision to have a child or not is a personal one and not something that anyone else should have a say in, even if they opine about it on their blogs.

Signs of Respect

Lately, I have found myself talking about “signs of respect” a lot.  This makes me sound like either a freshman anthropology student or a D-grade mafia trainee, but let me explain.  Here’s the issue underlying the appearance of this phrase in my daily conversations: I’ve become more attuned to the relative levels of respect shown to me and to other faculty members since starting my new job.  For example, when I introduce myself to a faculty member who I haven’t met before, I make it a point to ask them what they work on and express at least a nominal level of interest.  When they do not reciprocate, I consider this to be a lack of respect.  I can’t really think of why you wouldn’t return the question, unless you’d already decided that whatever the other person worked on was unimportant.  A much more straight-forward sign of respect is for undergraduates to refer to their professors as “Dr.” or “Professor” until they’ve been invited to switch to the first name.  I know that a lot of students have become comfortable going straight to the first name, but I prefer to retain the title for at least the first semester I have them in class.

From my end, I’ve realized that I need to work on showing respect in some different situations.  I’m embarrassed to admit that when I was escorting one of our seminar speakers to their next appointment, I ran into Shaggy and introduced the speaker using nothing but her first name.  What was I thinking?  Why didn’t I introduce her has “Our speaker today, Jane Doe?”  Not only did Shaggy have a hard time remembering who Jane was, which made it awkward for him, it was just rude of me not to show her the respect that she deserved as an invited speaker who was putting quite a bit of work into the day on our behalf.  Sigh.  Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson.

Do any readers out there have any good examples of ways that you think people show respect, or refrain from showing it (either on purpose or accidentally)?

Hilarious sexist comment

Well, it’s hilarious in a sad way.  Because I’ve been engrossed in the details of trying to set up a lab, I’ve gotten completely behind on my literature.  Luckily, this study in PNAS was brought to my attention (h/t to Potnia Theron).  You should read the article if you have access to the PNAS site (I don’t know if it’s behind a paywall or not), but it basically shows that if you send out an identical resume with either a male or female name on it, both men and women will rank the male as more qualified, more hireable, and offer him a higher starting salary.  This general pattern has been shown before, of course, but this is focused on people in academics (the position is for a lab manager), so it has additional implications for the dearth of women in science.

Sean Carroll has a post on the article as well, which is attracting a lot of comments.  One of the comments, by an individual who identified as TW, justified hiring men over women (with the exact same qualifications) by stating the following:

The woman on average worked harder to get the same qualification, leaving a man with a greater potential for growth.

As mentioned before, women are more conscientiousness. Across my student years, many just got better marks, because they did homework well and studied more regularly. Even though some got better marks than myself for example, I always felt they were closer to their limits.

To which I say: WTF? What the fucking fuck?  This d00d assumes that if men and women have all the same grades, and same qualifications, that men still have some mystical untapped potential?  And that you should hire them because (as another commenter stated), they will someday become less lazy and actually work up to that untapped potential?  BWAHAHAHAHAHA!  This makes me want to laugh that someone would be stupid enough to think that, and sad that it basically makes them think that even the least qualified male is somehow magically smarter and more capable than just about any women.

Obviously, I have a lot more that I can and will say about this topic, but I just had to share this tidbit today.

CYA

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So, yoga was great last week, although it totally kicked my ass.  This was less of the gentle, stretching yoga that I had learned in my previous town, and more of a hard-core, fast moving yoga designed to turn your abs into washboards.  It still contained enough stretches that I think I’ll be happy with it.

It brought up a new question for me, however, as I was glancing around and noticing that I was one of the older people in the room . . .  Is there a dress code for faculty when exercising at the predominantly student gym?  It seems pretty easy for dudes of any age – shorts and a T-shirt.  As long as they aren’t super-short shorts, you’re probably fine.  My workout clothes (for yoga or strength-training) usually consist of a tight shirt and leggings, though, which are a bit more revealing.  This is a functional choice, for the most part, as I find that loose clothes get in the way too much when I’m doing yoga poses or twisting around with weights.  Because I think my clothing should be functional, and that exercise is necessary, I guess I come down on the side of dressing however I feel like when I’m in the gym or running.  I’d be interested to know if people feel otherwise, but that’s what I’m going to go with.  (By the way, there is a great post on fitness clothing at Fit and Feminist that really informed my thoughts on this issue.)

The thing that I’m struggling with more is whether it’s appropriate for me to walk back to my office in said workout clothes.  The office/lab is my professional arena, and while I wouldn’t hesitate to wear casual clothes on the weekends or at night, I’m not sure that tight, sweaty leggings are the best choice.  I usually work out in the evening, so by the time I make it back to my office it’s after 6pm.  I kind of consider that to be “after hours”, but there are definitely still undergrads around (our building is right by the dorms).  I don’t hang around, but I do have to pick up my work stuff before heading home, so I’m around for a while and visible as I walk in and out of the building.  It would be a huge PITA to change back to regular clothing in the gym just for the sake of the 15 minutes I might be in the science building.  I don’t know – should I invest in some CYA gear?

One interesting thing (to me) about all this is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen any examples of what to do.  I’ve had two women and two men advisors now, but I don’t think I’ve seen any of them exercise outside of hiking.  They either didn’t exercise or they did so before or after work, so that there was never any intersection between the activities.  I guess I’ll just wing it and keep an eye out for any clues as I go along.