27 and a PhD

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Daily Archives: August 8, 2011

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I’m employed (Act 3)

My apologies for the length of time it’s taken me to sit down and conclude the story of how I got my non-traditional job. I’ve been so busy. But, here it is. Thank you all for your comments, tweets, and kind words of encouragment.

Part 1 is here and part two is here.

Hon was more than a bit irked by the people at new job city. He kept asking me (pretty much every day) if I’d gotten any emails or calls from them. He couldn’t believe my bad luck (or blessing); every single place that approached me for an interview decided on someone else, closed the search, or something. Something happened, and it caused all my offers, and near offers to come crashing down. I cried, and prayed to the powers-that-be to give me some sort of answer. I was so confused and lost. I doubted I’d ever be back in research after my postdoc appointment ended. I was desperate and frustrated. But I also tried to do my part to stay competent by attending career seminars (please, even if you’re not in a position like mine, always, always keep an eye for career seminars, they might give you a different perspective and enhance your current skills). I went to workshops on new updates to pieces of software I already knew (or thought I did), salary negotiation, post-academic careers, writing effectively (I hope it shows!!). And although my CV is now peppered with these workshops, seminars and certificates of completion, I wish I could have gone to more of them earlier in my career, especially during my PhD. My PhD institution has some really talented people putting things in order and bringing good speakers and resources to help students choose a career path and get there, both in and out of the tenure track. Even if I fought and got frustrated at our postdoc affairs office initially (they were just getting started), they did a fabulous job of coming along and bringing interesting speakers, people from different paths and careers, counsellors, etc., to showcase some of the options available. There’s a common theme here … most schools I know have some sort of office or resources to help students keep current in different school/life affairs. These people put an incredible amount of time in doing that … if you’re in doubt, or need help or want some counselling, do get in contact with them. Now! I’ll wait …… If not, try seeking out the alumni office from your previous institution or help get one started at your current place. I guarantee you there’s a TON of people out there just like you.

By the end of April another ad came out, this from a place close(ish) to my PhD school, with a great reputation and impressive structural bio facilities. I applied, got a call, and by mid-May I was waiting for them to get back with some sort of schedule. I was happy that there appeared to be a glimmer of hope somewhere. I churned out a ton of data, made my peace with the gossipy labmate and kept on going. My temporary plan was to stay in Canada while waiting to hear from the close-to-grad-school place, then head home and start a new application cycle if nothing worked out. It wasn’t all nice and fuzzy like it appears here, there was a lot of turmoil in my head and heart. I was agonizing.

I also considered going back to school (something which I haven’t given up on … at some point I may want to try to get a software or hardware certification, at the very least), but it was too late to apply and get my stuff in place at that point.

Close to the end of my postdoc appointment, on a day when I had more experiments planned than time to run them, I noticed a missed call with an area code I recognized as being from new job city. I’m a glass-half-empty kinda person, so my mind immediately started thinking about the negatives of it. The caller left a message. It was the ad guy. He said,  with a strong voice, that we needed to talk, that he had news and wanted to see how things were going with my search. I started some experiments and sat down to answer the call, my hands shaking in disbelief. I knew a decision had been made just by the tone of his voice, I just wasn’t sure it was in my favour. When ad guy answered his voice was very calmed and pleasant compared to the voicemail, and after giving me an update on what was going on with the search (along with an apology for the length of time it had taken) he asked, point blank, what I was doing and if I had a job. I answered, adding that I’d be jobless soon (in a matter of hours almost).

After talking about a couple of other things he said that there had been some changes in new job city, and that they had a junior level position open, which they thought I’d be a better fit (I was applying to a mid-to-senior staff position originally). After going through some of the details, and thinking about the possibilities (ie. from jobless and homeless to job in former discipline in cool new city), we both agreed that he’d go back and talk to the committee, come up with an offer and see whether I liked it. I was definitely interested. Now it was just a waiting game.

The cool thing was that, for the first time in a long time, someone asked me what I wanted, what would make me happy and would make me seriously consider the offer. The guy was/is very matter of fact, and he asked me what I’d like to see in paper and ink to bring me there ASAP. He wanted the offer to be so good that I couldn’t say no (except if I’d won the lottery, in which case, screw it, I’m getting my own lab to study my own thing, AFTER a LONG vacation). Ad guy asked what things I’d like to see spelled in the offer, benefits, access to what, etc. Before I answered I went and read a bit on negotiating (via the TT aggregator, which I think it’s a great tool for negotiating salaries, even for staff positions). One of the main points which people kept mentioning over and over was that, it is better (necessary I’d say) to have everything you want on paper, clearly stated and spelled-out so that later the employer won’t come down and try to say something different. If it’s in paper, there’s evidence to back your claims and prevent your employer from screwing you.

I wasn’t so thrilled with the original salary. I did some research and remembered what the salary was for a similar position in Rainbow Lake. I used that as a starting point, and though they never matched the full amount I would have loved, I did get an increase in my original offer which was enough for me to seriously consider it.

I got a small relocation allowance, permission to go back and get my cat, and other things later on, and a flexible starting date, so I could rest, take a break from science and recover  between the end of my postdoc and the beginning of my life as a staff member (though the family drama in the last couple of weeks has been biting me in the ass, ugh). I accepted the offer and moved to cool-city-with-tiny-apartments-and-insane-rent a few weeks ago. I’m learning to juggle more senior things and make tons of decisions which I’d never done before. It is exciting and thrilling, and scary. The position seems to fit my needs and wants for now. And it gives me the chance to evaluate my career under a new light and see if this is really what I want to do.

So with that dear readers and tweeps, my job search concludes (for now, anyways). I’m very happy to start in a position with room to grow, acquire new skills, and polish existing ones. Job city is closer to my mom, dad, sister and nephew, and it’s at an intermediate place where hon can travel more easily than when we were both in grad school. New job city has many challenges, and it’s forcing me to grow out of my shell, and become of a go-getter … but it’s hard. Once things have stabilized I’ll be taking care of a couple of health issues (not too serious, but important enough to improve my life in a significant manner). I already feel better career-wise at the new place, and I’ve only been there for a few short weeks. I’m giving myself a year to see if the new job and new job city are worth it, or whether it’s time to hang up the scientific gloves and switch paths. I’ll try to explore my options to grow professionally and personally outside of work.

I thank you, my readers and tweeps for your encouragement, kind words, thoughts, prayers and the meetings IRL to provide support. Besides my family (especially my mom and honey), you have been at the heart of this saga. It takes a village to raise a scientist, I’m sure of that. I’m extremely lucky to be friends and tweeps with you. You know who you are, but I’ll be sure to give you credit where it is due, no worries. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now, onto that pesky apartment hunting thing I need to solve ASAP 😀

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