Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Looking ahead

I am here, once again, trying to restart this blog writing thing.  I might change things up a little as far as what I'm writing about.  I might try to write about science news, education or the anti-science sentiment that seems to be quite prevalent in the US.  But for now, I'll just try to be a little more consistent in posting and submit this update on myself:

First, I have a job, sort of.  I'm doing some free-lance editing for a company that edits journal articles by non-native English speakers who wish to publish in English language journals.  I actually like it a lot and believe it will greatly improve my own writing, technical or otherwise.  So I'm excited about this opportunity.  The company seems to be very well run with the potential for growth.  It's very flexible and I'm very happy for the opportunity to learn and gain experience with them.

Second, I have learned we will be moving to Okinawa in about a year for three years.  (I am a military wife, after all).  At first, I was devastated by this news.  What was I going to do there?  How am I going to continue growing in my career on an island in the Pacific?  Well, lucky for me, my bff (ok, I've never met him, but I've been in the same room with him...) Sydney Brenner (Nobel Laureate and father of C. elegans science) decided to help the Japanese government start an international research institute on the island of Okinawa to foster international collaboration and establish a graduate school.  Six years later, his vision is being realized and there are approximately 50 faculty working at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, and they are supposed to become accredited as a graduate school sometime this year. So...needless to say, I have just contacted them to enquire about positions or figure out how to enquire about positions.  While I don't necessarily want to go back to working in a lab, I'm hoping there will be an opportunity to work at the institute in some other capacity.  And if I do end up back in a lab, I can choose something new and different to learn about while I'm there.  I'm hoping that being isolated and small will work to my advantage since I imagine they don't get many PhD military spouses coming to the island looking for work.

That's about it from here.  I'm trying to enjoy our last year in the US for awhile, and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life.  I'm working on my resume, trying to talk to people, reading books like "What Color is your Parachute".  Most importantly, I think, I'm looking at life like an adventure and I have some amazing opportunities coming up to live abroad and see new and different things every day.  Hopefully I'll stay this optimistic throughout this whole process.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jobs, Italy and the beach

I've been away from the blogosphere for a little while.  You'd think, as I'm still sitting here in a beach house essentially isolated from the world (well, physically, I still have the interwebs!) that I would spend lots of time blogging.  Well, that has not been the case.  And while my days are generally low key, slow-paced and relaxing, I have kept myself busy!  I have been applying for jobs, planning a belated honeymoon to Italy and just generally researching work and career options.  I did apply for a job writing textbook chapters for community college.  I just sent them a writing sample and (fingers crossed!) they like it and will want me to work for them!  It doesn't pay much, but this isn't about the money at this point, it's about gaining experience and building a resume.  I'm also applying for any and all teaching and writing positions I can find, including ones that aren't actually advertised,  I'm just sending my CV out there and hoping for some bites.  I realize this is probably not the best strategy, but as I'm on the opposite coast of where I permanently live, I'm a little limited in what I can do right now.  But I trudge on, looking for anything and everything that looks interesting and applying to it all!

I'm still excited about the idea of moving forward, away from the bench, and I'm intimidated.  But I would say I'm more intimidated about the job search and less about changing things up.  I hope the job search doesn't have to go on too long before I find SOMETHING.  Even if it's not my dream job (which, I don't even know what that would be, actually), I know I need to do something to occupy my time and I'd just feel better having a job.  And I'm so willing to do so many different things I just hope that I'll find something.  At this point, it's all new to me, so I'd like to try out many different things!  And I truly think that at this point, for me, anything would be better than my last position-the dreaded postdoc from hell.

So, fingers crossed! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Breath of fresh air

About a week ago I went to visit with a professor at a community college.  I set up the meeting by literally going to their website and scrolling through to find bio profs and just randomly emailing them.  This woman replied right away and said she would love to chat.  So I set up a meeting.

I have to say this was one of the best things I've done in awhile!  This prof got her PhD at Hopkins, had done some teaching while there, she relocated with her husband and applied for a job at the community college to have something to pay the bills while she looked for a job.  She said at some point she realized she didn't need to keep looking for something she loved, that she was already DOING something she loved.  Wow-awesome.  I hope that happens to me!!!

But what was so refreshing was just talking with her about what her job is like.  She says she teaches people who are at all levels-some of her students can barely read, others are high achievers looking to go to a 4 year university but are just saving money, others are returning students looking to change careers, going to school while working a full-time job and raising kids.  She was so excited and so motivated to help all these people reach whatever their goal was.  It was just so refreshing to talk with a professor who loved teaching, who loved the challenge of teaching.  There was no ego, no worry about grant money or when to publish the next paper.  All she had to do was teach and plan her lessons.  Of course, I make that sound like 'all she had to do' is no big deal. I don't mean to diminish the difficulty of teaching AT ALL.  I realize it's very challenging, perhaps even more so in an environment with such a diverse student population.  But this challenge sounds so much more appealing to me than the environment I had just come from: a start up lab with a PI trying to get tenure and be a 'high profile' professor.  Someone who isn't at a university because she wanted to teach but to just further her own career and gain prestige.

All this being said, money in my state for higher ed is in the toilet.  That is pretty much true across the board.  The community college I visited doesn't even have money to run summer school this year at all.  So...this sounds great, but there are little to no job openings.  But I will keep my name out there, keep talking to the chairs to see if I can sneak in there somewhere and maybe try out teaching for awhile.  Of course, I'm still looking at writing and editing opportunities, but I don't have to pick just one thing, do I?  I'm starting to get excited about trying something new!  Now I just hope I'll be able to find a job!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Does your career define you?

It's been a few days since I last wrote.  Part of that is because I've been busy (well, relatively busy), and part of that is because I haven't thought of anything interesting to say.  But that in and of itself got me thinking: Now that I don't have a job, have I become a less interesting person?

Obviously, my gut reaction is to say 'of course not, that's ridiculous'.  But, is it?

The past couple of weeks, since I've been sans employment, I've done a lot of cleaning, been to the gym often, read a lot, watched some tv, done my volunteering job, and worked on networking and chatting with people about careers.  But other than that, my current situation sort of prevents me from doing too much more.  I'm leaving on Saturday to go to the opposite side of the country with hubby while he does some training.  I will be spending 6-8 weeks in a beach house in a remote, small town.  Which *sounds* great, but I may go all Jack Nicholson in The Shining by the end of it.  Thank god our rental has wifi.  After that, we return for a couple of weeks only to take off again for Europe for a belated honeymoon.  That's a very exciting couple of months, something new and different that I should be excited about.  AND I don't have to work!  So why am I so blase about it?

I think it's because, whether or not it's true, part of me feels like not having a job makes me somehow less of a person.  For as long as I can remember, I've been working toward some sort of goal.  Whether it was getting into college or grad school or graduating or publishing, there was always a job and always a set of goals.  And I'm seeing now that the job and those goals were very much how I identified myself to the outside world.  When you meet a new person, one of the first questions is 'what do you do?'  Now I don't have a good answer for that question.  Well, at least I think it's not a very good answer.  But why is it that I can't be ok with just being me, figuring things out and moving on?  Or perhaps this is the transition that people go through while seeking employment after being gainfully employed (or studying) their entire life.

So does not having a job make me less interesting?  No (maybe if I say enough times I'll believe it).  But deep down, somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious, I think not having a clear career path makes me feel like I have less worth than I did before.  I feel like my opinions don't matter as much, like I'm not a functioning member of society.  And maybe that's why I feel like I'm less interesting.  Who wants to listen to the opinions of a 'housewife'?  But as soon as I walk down that road I think 'shame on me' because I know people who choose to stay at home to take care of things (most of the time that means children), and I don't think any less of them for it.  So why do I think people will think less of me for taking a break to figure things out?

Anyone have any insight?  Or experience with this themselves?  It seems like such a silly thing and I feel like a spoiled brat complaining about time off and trips to new and different places.  I'm trying to come to terms with it all so I CAN enjoy myself and figure things out and maybe learn a thing or two about myself or the world along the way.  So any advice is appreciated...or you can tell me that I am in fact being a spoiled brat and to shut up about it now....

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Last Day

Well folks, today is officially my last day as a postdoc!  I guess I'll have to change the description of my blog.  I haven't really done much this week, didn't even go into lab yesterday as I have very little to do.  I think this whole thing is actually starting to hit me.  The prospect of being at home with not much to do for awhile is a little strange-ok, A LOT strange!  I know I'll get used to it, but I'm glad I'm not someone who enjoys not doing much because that means I'll be motivated to keep trying to get back out there and find something I really like to do.

I have been networking, through friends, LinkedIn, and cold calls/emails to people in my area doing things I might like to do.  So far, I've been completely amazed at how kind people have been and how willing they are to share their time to talk about their career.  I e-mailed a professor at a local community college completely out of the blue, gave her a short description of my situation and asked if she'd be willing to chat with me about her job.  I'm meeting with her next week.  I realize that these are just 'informational interviews', but I still think it's the best way to find out not only about what a job really entails, but help find out about opportunities that become available in the future.

I'm looking at various types of writing and teaching right now.  I have little to no experience with either of those things (at least formally), and therefore don't know which I would like to do.  I just want to make an informed decision about my next career move because I feel like maybe that's where I got into trouble with my postdoc.  I applied and interviewed at only one place, the lab I ended up in (obviously).  I wonder if I had spent more time on the job market then, if I would have found something that would have been a better fit.  I guess I'll never know, but I can try to prevent that from happening again this time by being more diligent and doing the research.  I mean, I am a researcher, right?  That's the one thing I know I've been trained to do!

Anyway, c'est la vie!  Adios postdoc, and most likely benchwork altogether!  It's been real!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Learning Experience

As I sit here, finishing my last week or so of my postdoc, I am finally able to begin to reflect on my experience, and where it all went wrong.  I can sit here all day and play the blame game by either blaming myself or blaming my PI.  But I think in the end it's a combination of the two.   Let me explain.

The more time I spend at the bench, the more I realize it's not for me.  At one point, my PI said 'if you don't wake up at 3am thinking about an experiment, science isn't for you'.  And at the time I took that very negatively, but in a way I think she's right.  The fact is, I don't wake up at 3am thinking about science. 

It's 3am-do you know what your experiment is doing?

Now, that doesn't mean I don't love science.  I do.  I love thinking about it, talking about it, reading about it.  Many days I even love doing it.  But the nitty-gritty, day to day task of slaving through something, troubleshooting, all for the perfect image for a paper or the perfect set of data is not fun to me.  All the time, effort, and long hours that go into that one 'aha' moment, or the one exciting piece of data that feeds you for months on end is just not worth it to me. Without giving too much away about what I work on (although you might be able to guess from my 'name'), I remember thinking one late night while looking through a microscope 'what the he*$ am I doing here counting dead animals in the middle of the night?'

However, being on this path of self discovery that I didn't even know I was on, I do think my PI failed, or was at least lacking, in her job as a mentor.  I found this old article that's definitely worth reading on the Science Careers website.  My PI did not do many of the fundamental things that are suggested here.  She did keep close tabs on me, meet with me weekly, make sure I was doing experiments the way she wanted them done.  She did not, however, let me write my own papers, design and implement experiments without checking with her first, or allow me any freedom whatsoever to explore science on my own.  And since I came from a lab in grad school that did allow me that freedom, I found this environment stifling.  And I brought up these issues with her, and she just said she wasn't comfortable giving me freedom.  I always wondered, why did she hire a postdoc?  Because we have better hands than most techs?  What she should have said is that she wasn't comfortable giving anyone any freedom and wants to have her finger on everything going on in lab.  Maybe this is the curse of the new PI, but I'm afraid it may backfire in the end.  At some point you have to trust that you hired good people and let them do the job you hired them to do.  Not just have a lab full of techs.

So in the end, I figured out I don't want to spend more time at the bench (or at least much more time...I may have to for a little while to pay back the government).  And I figured out I don't work well with certain types of people.  And maybe that knowledge is going to be invaluable to me in the future.  No matter what, you should be able to learn something from every experience, good or bad.  So I'm still figuring out the important things I learned from all this-and I don't think it's anything that went into any of my papers.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Title Change

Ok, since I just started with this whole blogging thing, and I admit it wasn't necessarily very well thought out, I've decided to change the title of the blog.  I searched to try to make sure no one else had that title...(if someone does, please let me know and I'll change it!!!)

Anyway, this is really what this blog will be about going forward, since I'm 2 weeks away from making the leap from academic post doc to...well, something else.  I just haven't figured that next part out yet...