27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: February 2011

Thank you and updates

Seriously, blogosphere and twitterverse, you blow me away. Thank you for your kindness, emails, DMs, RTs, every tidbit of info on how to do good in an interview, what to ask and when to ask it. I’m deeply, deeply in debt with y’all and if there’s ever anything you need, do write, DM, tweet or email.

So, what’s going on. Well, I did send and informal request to a guy on the other side of the Atlantic and he graciously forwarded my info and CV to PIs he knows. I’m extremely glad for this. I also sent an application to a pretty high-up place in research in Canada. I can’t give too many details, but they wrote back and want to ask me some questions. I’m not sure whether this is a prelim interview or what, but I’m hopeful. We’ll see how that pans out.

I’m getting ready to deliver a tiny little talk on the class I signed up for as a lecturer. It’s only one lecture and it’s very short. Slightly longer than a TED talk, but nothing too fancy. I’ll be introducing the topic and technique I loved while in grad school. That’s happening soon and I almost can’t breathe. Seriously, I feel like I don’t want to do a bad job and I want to convey the correct idea, limitations and uses of this approach. I just hope that what I prepared it enough and that students will like it.

I also have an interview in the next couple of days. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s a nice place and the PI has been extremely nice by keeping me on the loop. I really like this position, but I’m a bit worried I’m too junior for it. We’ll see. I’ve been to visit this place once before, many moons ago, so it will be a nice break from the lab and my frustrations. I look at it as a mini vacation. I go to a nice place, meet (hopefully) nice people, I give a short talk on what I consider my strengths and they see if I’m a good fit for it and them. I was asking about interview tips for this as I’ve never interviewed as staff for anything in my life, and since this is in an academic setting but not as a postdoc or research faculty I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I still don’t know what to expect, but I’ve got some good feedback and tips and I feel more confident.

For now this is it. I will be off the radar for a few days, as I take care of the interview (or interviews) … so if I don’t update as much, or tweet as often, it is because of these things keeping be super busy.

Thanks for reading and for understanding. I hope to emerge somewhat triumphant from this, especially after sending in all these applications. I hope things work during this cycle.


Peoplez of the Internetz and the Twitterz, I need your halp

Based on that title you can tell I look at way too many LOLcats at all times of the day. But what I am about to ask is serious, no, seriously, it is serious. It’s about my future, about my way to stay in academia (somewhat) while not being a postdoc or a prof.


Halp a fellow LOLperson

You know of my struggles to feel competent, to look for a job, to stay or leave academic science, etc. An opportunity has presented itself… and in about two weeks I’ll be interviewing at a cutting-edge core lab where good, solid science is done. It is also in a very desirable area of the US (I’m probably going back; I’ve tried applying to jobs in Canada but the market is slow and it seems to be twice as hard to find the kind of job I want here in Canada). The group is ginormous and serves a good chuck of institutions and departments. I’m very excited, but since this isn’t technically an academic job, I have no idea how to prepare for it. They will ask questions about my former field and my expertise and experience and pretty much all the projects that ever came in contact with my hands. They will also ask me about my postdoc project and my current results (which aren’t publication material yet, but exciting stuff is happening on my end too). I’m guessing that I should prepare as if this was a “normal” job interview, but of course it’s in science, so I have some elements of academic-type stuff present. This is for an associate something something staff position, like a cross between a lab tech and a postdoc, with better benefits. So, my question is … do you have any tips you can share if you’ve ever interviewed for a staff (non-faculty) position? I’ve checked Dr. Becca’s super awesome TT aggregator (go check it out, it’s fantastic!) and some of the stuff I know because it was very similar to stuff I experienced while interviewing for grad school and the postdoc. But, I have no clue as to what to expect in terms of the type of interview (though I’ve been told I will meet with a couple of staff and faculty members to learn more about their projects and the kind of person they’re looking for), questions, what to ask them, etc. Is it still fair or expected to ask for an interview itinerary in advance? Is it frowned upon? What things do committees of PIs and staff people look for in a colleague? What are your dos and don’ts? Any particular advice on handling why I’m returning to the field and how come I was successful in my former field but haven’t had the same luck in the current one? I think I know some of the answers, but it’s been a while since I’ve interviewed for something other than an internship or school/study position. I will give a 60min talk and I will meet with other faculty and staff members of pretty nice institution. But I’m wondering how I should prepare, as far as fair and necessary questions, what if I’m asked to give a ballpark figure for my salary (I have checked glassdoor.com and have clues, but it’s usually for a senior scientist position, not a junior-like person such as me). What sorts of questions should I expect? It would be super helpful if some of my TT tweeps could pitch in some ideas and tips, as they have probably interviewed peeps in my position before.

Any and all help is greatly appreciated! I hope that if this job search/interview season goes well I can write-up a similar aggregator as Dr. Becca’s for non-faculty, staff peeps.

Guest post!

Today LabSpaces featured my entry on failing the qualifying exam. Go visit!!


Randon thoughts. Thought # 2

So apparently I am not the only one who thinks about stuff like this. Thanks be to God! Hehe.

But random thought #2 isn’t funny or quirky. This is just genuine curiosity. As regular readers and tweeps alike know, I am job-searching and have been for a while. I’m aiming at my former field of study which I feel is a better match to my wants and needs. I’m emailing tons of people on a regular basis, I’m listening to my mom’s advice on applying to jobs that I like and where I meet most of the requirements. I’m trying to be proactive about it, knowing that I shouldn’t get frustrated by hitting the send button on application form #77 … because who knows if this is THE ONE.

Anyways, random thought #2 comes from the adventure that is looking for a job. It isn’t as random … but I’ve thought of this stuff even when I wasn’t job-searching. Recently I got a call from one of the places I applied. This place is high-profile, and I was scared out of my mind when I got the call. It was just for a pre-screening interview. Since the application process is still going on it may be weeks before they let me know if I get an invite  for a talk or not. I’m not sure of how well it went, since the person I talked to was a bit hard to read. I probably spent the first 10 minutes babbling on. I kept playing parts of the conversation over and over, things like, “but you ARE familiar with X and Y protocol” … “why, yes I am, but we did it a bit differently in my lab” … to, “did you read such and such paper which proves the point you made on X paper?” “Why, yes I did … but I didn’t look at the materials and methods in detail.” “Well, you should have, can you guess how they obtained X value for Z?” “My best guess is “… and yada yada yada. I’m such an idiot when it comes to interviews. I get all flustered. Even when I practice. I had this boyfriend in college who used to say that I knew how to sell myself. I don’t know if I was really good at it and lost it or what … but lately I feel that whatever talent I ever is gone, or at least well hidden.

Long after the phone call was over, I started thinking about the other side of the conversation. The image that this person has of me, my body of work and my experience. But more than anything, the whole process made me wonder if, when a prof or high-ranking lab person makes a screening call, they get as nervous as the interviewees gets? Are their palms sweaty? Do they fear they’ll stumble? Confuse names, CVs or any other sort of info? Do potential employers worry that they’ll say something which will scare a great candidate away? I know that when you get a call for an interview the ball is on their court up until the point they make an offer … but, even knowing that, do interviewers get nervous when conducting an interview?  I want to know whether they are anxious, relaxed, happy, pissed or even bummed when talking to a dead-end candidate. I want to get a feel for what’s on their minds.

Once I joined my grad lab there was a vacancy for a tech position nd the boss started to actively recruit people. I liked how the ex boss ran stuff regarding interviews, and even manuscripts. Even when I was just a few weeks in and still doing large amounts of reading to try to understand the language my former lab spoke, boss started sending manuscripts my way. I was a bit surprised since I was the newest lab member and had no clue what was going on research-wise … or it felt that way anyways. So I asked other lab members if manuscripts came their merry way also, to which they replied that the boss liked the input from everyone in the lab regardless the stage they were in.  I can certainly appreciate that now, it’s a way to bring you up to date when you’re new and clue you in as to what other people are doing, and you’re providing a fresh perspective, which may help to bring to light issues that aren’t obvious to those fully immersed in the topic. This process helped a lot. I think I still have some of those early manuscripts. And boss was also the same way when it came to interviewing people, meeting prospective graduate students, and guest speakers.

So, back to when we were interviewing people for that position. I remember meeting with them for 30-45 minutes, asking them anything and everything, and paying attention to everything they did … from the way they sat to the reason(s) they wanted to join our group. It was also interesting that one of the candidates, while very married and with a pregnant wife said that they were divorcing and started to lean forward in my direction, asking me questions about my life, interests and other details. You have no idea how this sleazy bastard was behaving … it is one of the yuckiest experiences I’ve ever had. The best part was telling the boss that he was a no go … and thankfully the boss felt the same way. But the whole “interview” creeped me out so much and I was so ashamed about the whole incident that I didn’t even mention until after I had my defense. I said that if the lab was ever considering someone again they’d better make sure no female grad students or postdocs were there because he will more than likely hit (and impregnate) them. Ewwww, just gross. Yuck.

So you could say that as part of an interviewing team I’ve never been really nervous or worried I’ll say something that will scare a candidate away. Unless said candidate is creepy, very married and with a pregnant wife. I haven’t felt too nervous … but I don’t think I was in a very powerful position as I was still a subordinate in the lab.

I ask you dear readers then, if you’ve been on the other side of the spectrum, how do you feel when interviewing candidates? Are you ever nervous, worried that you’ll mess something? What’s been your worse interviewing experience, from either side? I appreciate any and all input, and all sorts of creepy/weird/OMG crazy stories.

Why are you asking for a letter of recommendation?

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!!