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Why are you asking for a letter of recommendation?

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.

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I started this entry on Feb 8. It would have started like this: “Inspired by this entry on committees not updating candidates I’m venting about search committees and letters of recommendation and the lack of communication once you get them.”

But it has since changed a bit. See? I was ready to give up and get pissed off at the world once again. One of the things I am good at is giving up, especially when it comes to work. I am a professional at giving up on me, on my scientific and technical aptitudes, on my worth, both as a woman and especially as a scientist. If you doubt it, read this. Or maybe this. My high school BFF always said that I was fishing for compliments. Maybe I was, maybe I am. But the truth is that when you think that you have what it takes to apply for a job and all you get back are replies about how the committee didn’t think you were good enough or how there were more qualified applicants, it starts to look pretty bleak. Also, those things piss me off. A lot. And I have a temper, and I get pissed off very quickly.

It all leads to me beating myself down on top of everything else. And I am good at it. And sadly, sometimes, it pays off, it becomes a reality. A self-fulfilling prophecy. I guess I do it because I fear that if I dare to hope, my worst fears will come to the surface and I’ll have to face them dead on and not run away. This is scary.

What I fear the most right now is that, as my the end of my contract is mere months away, I may not have a job, or a real job prospect in place. This is hard because, from now until my very last paycheck, I have every cent counted. Every cent has a purpose. I have very little room to wiggle. I have to file taxes in two countries again. I also have to deal with (possibly) maxing out one of my credit cards to deal with yet another move when the current gig is up. Why you may be asking? Well, in order for me to work (legally), I need a work permit. The thing costs over 150$ (including copies of documents, sending it via expedited mail … seriously, mailing things here is a ripoff). It takes over 2 months to process it, if you go the slow way. They never update you. One day it just shows up. Not only that, but since I already told the boss I am actively seeking job, he may not be up to extending my stay … given my lack of passion for what I do. He could, but I fear he won’t. In his credit, I haven’t brought up the possibility of extending my stay. It would give me the chance to tie things up here, and that would be good for the two of us. But I really don’t know what to expect. These things worry me … and it worries me even more that, as I try to go back to my former field of study, in a supporting role, I am not finding job postings, or people interested in me.

Yesterday it was especially tough. For God only knows what reason I was very, very down. I was beyond down. It seemed as if all the news I was getting were about  friends moving on, getting new jobs, getting ready for interviews. In the meantime, I was not getting calls, or interviews, let alone replies to my informal inquiries. I am extremely glad that people I love and care for are moving on and finding bigger and better things … but I felt like the one girl in school who wasn’t asked out by anyone to the prom (actually, I did the asking, a week before prom, the guy was older, but very awesome). I was beginning to think that maybe I needed to step back and reconsider whether I was doing the right thing. I thought that maybe I needed to “man up” and apply for a TT job instead. That maybe the universe was trying to tell me that by having people not reply to my emails or inquiries I was knocking at the wrong door and I needed to reconsider my path. I was fed up. Tired. I wanted out. I was so ready to give up and say “ok, universe, the hell with it, you win, I lose, I’m out, I don’t know what else to do.” No one had answered. And I knew that things take their time … but it had been a weeks already, and nothing. What I forgot was that a staff position usually takes consideration not only from the PI, but from a committee that evaluates you and your merits, especially if it’s a core lab where multiple funding sources make sure you’re paid and work gets done. I should have known better.

Yesterday morning I had an argument with the hon. I can’t remember what started it, but he was pissed. And I think with good reason. Anyways. As I check my email first thing in the morning I see a message from a guy who asked for letters of recommendation a little while ago (mid January to be exact). I didn’t want to talk too much about it for fear of jinxing it. But I am very candid and honest too, so it was hard to keep it quiet. So, said guy says that though the search committee for a staff  position at fancy-pants structural biology institute is still accepting applications, he’d like to have a chat with me, since he thinks I have some valuable experience that matches what fancy-pants institute is looking for. I am scared shitless, and excited. And scared! Fancy-pants prof is doing the weeding out of candidates, which means that my professional life for the time being is in the balance. This job has the potential of having me meet with one of the gods of my former field. It is also a permanent research position … which aligns well with what I’m looking for. But this preliminary interview/weeding out stuff has me crapping in my pants!!

Last time I had an interview it went fantastic. Or so I thought. I thought I was going to get the job. In fact, I sent a thank you email twice, for fear that the PI hadn’t gotten it, or that maybe the government had intercepted it … who knows (I get all sorts of crazy ideas in my head sometimes). That prof I interviewed with got the email but replied that he was waiting for somebody else to answer and sadly, he couldn’t offer me the job because said candidate had the exact set of skills his group needed and I didn’t.

Dear readers, I was crushed. I didn’t cry … mainly because the coolest thing about the job wasn’t necessarily the science, but more the chance of being close to my family. But as an awesome tweep and blogger pointed out, it’s better to be farther from your loved ones if the career is fulfilling and one is not nagging and complaining about how much the job when one’s close to them …. like I currently am doing with the BF.

So anyways, important PI from fancy-pants institute asked me to give him times and dates during which we could talk. And I am scared because I may get too attached to this chance … the second real one I have, and then I screw it up. Or maybe I say or forget to mention something that it key to me getting an offer for either an in-person interview or even the job! And I tend to babble on …. like crazy. I’d love to get an offer from this place as it is a) in a GREAT location, b) a few short hours away from the family via plane, and c) it is a staff position. They have clearly stated that the person who takes this job won’t have to write grants unless they want to, and will be training people and collecting data …. just what I’d like to do. I wouldn’t mind writing an application or two for moolah … but I’d rather immerse myself in the research first, and then dive into that once I have a better grasp of the projects and the ins and outs.

But because of what I have stated before, I fear I may not get an offer, or that I’ll fail to impress fancy-pants PI. This PI is also a former employer of a friend of mine who crossed paths with my lab and is not in good standing with them. I’m sure that this PI is very nice (this person was always talking about how fab of a PI he is) … but I wonder what’s the impression that he has of my former group based on what happened. Granted, it wasn’t interviewer PI’s fault, nor was it my lab’s. But it’s still a sour spot in the life of my former lab. Maybe it’s silly …. but you never know. This field is smaller than one thinks and I’d hate to talk about a situation I don’t know much about and never talked in detail with my former PI or the former labbies.

I am really excited to see that there is hope … but I fear losing that hope due to a bad, or at least not good,  pre-screening interview, or the ever-present someone who is more qualified than me. Ugh. I don’t know. These things get to me and my stomach. I fear I’ll do poorly, or say something stupid, or forget about selling my science, my expertise and my talent … or undersell it.Which I’ve done in the past. I’m well aware that I have a good set of skills … but I also know that there are other candidates whose skills may be more refined or a better fit for this institute. I know I can’t control that. But it still worries me.

So, I am a big ball of nerves. I hope to have good news soon. Maybe I’ll get an invite to fancy-pants institute … or may be not. For now I’ll try to stay focused on the good news, and keep my head screwed in right so fancy-pants PI can see how truly awesome and excited I am for this and for the research I could help him do. And hopefully I’ll meet the criteria that the committee is looking for. We’ll see. Wish me luck!

**** I started writing this entry on Feb 9. The phone call did happen by the time this entry hit the publish button. As I mentioned over on twitter it was hard to decipher/read the prof. I had an image of this prof as being very serious and business-like. By phone it was hard to tell if he’s warm and fuzzy, or if he even liked me (it was that hard to decipher). But we hung up with the promise that he’ll keep me posted regarding an in-person interview once all the pre-screening is done. Fingers crossed bitchez, fingers crossed.

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13 Comments

  1. Pharm Sci Grad says:

    *fingers crossed* over here for ya! :)

  2. katiesci says:

    Fingers officially crossed! Sounds awesome!

  3. Anthea says:

    Fingers crossed for you!!!

  4. Alexandra says:

    Such grrrreat news! See, there is hope for us, poor PhDs :)
    Keeping my fingers crossed for ya’.

    • Dr. 29 says:

      Thanks Alexandra!!! You’re so sweet. I’m trying to stay positive and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll have exciting news to share. Thanks for stopping by :-)

  5. [...] 50 applications to all sorts of jobs in North America and parts of Europe. After one particularly discouraging bout, I was ready to give up. I hadn’t been updated from any of the jobs I’d applied which were in areas compatible [...]

  6. GillBear says:

    Randomly found your bloggy and just going through some of these job posts it’s like I’m reading my own life O,o Of course I only have my MSc but the same situation just happened to me (ideal amazing job, good interview, no such luck). Glad you got a job though!

  7. [...] I was knee-deep into the job search craze of 2011 I was all over the place looking for resources, from how to prepare for an [...]

  8. [...] epic job search of 2011 was … well, epic. It stemmed from feeling like I wasn't getting anything [...]

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