27 and a PhD

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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.

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Should schools or departments require profs to deposit their old exams in a database/bank?

Back when I was in college, and in even high school, one of the main questions my classmates and I had days before an exam was what kind of material would be covered/tested. Our questions would range from “is it a multiple choice/fill in the bubble type thing”, to “do we need to memorize how to derive the quadratic equation or will we be given the stupid equation in case we forget?”. But something I only experienced in college (and later in grad school) was the amount of people asking what the content of the exam would be. I would immediately roll my eyes thinking, “you gotta be kidding me! are you stupid or what? have you been missing class?” I mean, for me, whether it was a mid-term and a final, or 3-4 exams spread all over a few weeks, I always though/knew that everything a prof discussed in class was fair game when it came time to take an exam. I didn’t question or gave input to a prof on how he/she should to the test. That was(is) their business and my business was to prepare as best as I could to answer the darn thing.

We had a student help centre in college that would have copies of some of the old exams, something particularly useful for the first exam one takes with a prof, you know, to get used to the style and see what types of questions  are asked and gauge the level of difficulty of the exams. I used old exams to gauge the level of difficulty or detail a particular prof would test or want to see in the answer. And it was not the end of the world if the exam was not posted. Sure, it would be somewhat inconvenient not to know how deep a prof would want an exam or question to be answered, but at the end of the day I always knew that anything and everything was fair game and that I needed to know my stuff backwards and forwards if I wanted to ace the exam regardless of whether there was a study guide and old exams available or not. (more…)

Post vacation funk

It is just me? Or do more people feel all crappy after returning to the lab from a glorious vacation? I don’t know. I’ve been meaning to start blogging once again, as I’ve been out for a few weeks now. I get some ideas sometimes, but other times it’s hard to just get down to do it. Plus I’ve had a few things happen since I came back from vacation. If you’ve been following my tweets, I’m spewing fire due to an airline’s incompetence (and my car needing some  desperate repairs). I’ve spent two weekends doing nothing, just playing video games and sitting around doing absolutely nada. I miss my Spain, my hotel, the streets, the people. And I can’t seem to bring myself up to speed and feel productive. Bleh. I think I’m what a friend calls a post-vacation funk.

Though no scientific studies have been done on this (I’m cheating here, you see, I have not consulted PubMed to see if this is true or not), I’m pretty sure this is a real psychological phenomenon. Yes. After coming back home, from a nice place, with nice food, with a metro that takes you everywhere so you don’t need to fight people for a parking spot, after having way too many granizados, one has to go back to “real” life, to work, to study, to stay in the lab until really late so you can have results by the week’s end. And it has me all frustrated because I want to sleep in late, I want to get on the Ave and go places, I want to speak Spanish with the Spanish crowd. But instead I’m back at work. Running column after column, gel after gel, and pH’ing all over again.

When I was in grad school I felt the same way. But it would go away pretty fast. Partly due to my former boss’s attitude towards work and play (vacation hard, play even harder). But also, I had something to look forward to. I had a goal, which was to finish a thesis. I hadn’t been gone from the lab for so long. Not even for Xmas. And I’m definitely feeling the pang in my chest. I’m dreaming about exotic lands, food, flavours. A different air.

I hope to be fully functional in a few days. My sleeping pattern has been disturbed (and not by jet lag, but by staying late playing video games and eating tons of ice cream). So I’m guessing that has something to do with it.

I just wanted to stop by and say hello. I hope to start blogging soon and tell you stories about my Spanish fiesta and, of course, about all things grad school and work related.

Graduation

It is with great pleasure that I, Dr. 28 and a PhD, announce that graduation weekend came and went beautifully. Graduation was at the beginning of May and the weather was lovely, on the hot-as-hell kinda way, ha!

The BF and I flew in (as driving would have taken us nearly 2 days). Rented a car and headed for a friend’s house who, together with her boyfriend, put up with us for a little while (Thank you!). They live 20 minutes away from school and I remember helping them move and visiting once or twice before my defense. The BF and I were dog tired but there were so many things to catch up on that we stayed up close to 1am the day before graduation. Dear friend picked up my gown (after having to do a bit of arm twisting at school) and on graduation morning we all headed out. I was storming across campus as the designated parking area was ages away from the graduation grounds. But I made it safely and bid farewell to my BF and company until later. And later was later. Tons of students had to walk the walk, and eventually all professional and grad school students walked.

It was exhilarating. To see so many people, all celebrating us. YAY! I looked particularly HOT (not!) in my gown. Turns out 10 or so classmates were also walking, including a few from my old department. We took pics and then settled to do the walk. The graduation ceremony was like nothing I was expecting. It was brief (I guess since it looked like it was about to reach over 100F degrees at any moment). The protocol things were over soon enough, and then the presentation of students and degree-granting  and diploma-handing parts were on their way. That was very beautiful as students from different faculties stood up and were applauded by all. Eventually the MA’s and PhD’s were granted, at which point it was almost midday. I almost got a lovely face-tan (if it weren’t for my trusty SPF lotion and makeup). By 1pm the whole ceremony was off and off we were to take the traditional pics around campus and return the rented gown (the thing costs upwards of 500 USDs …. seriously!).

Once the gown was returned, the BF and friends headed over to my old lab where more pics were taken. I then said a quick hello and goodbye to old friends and profs. And told them how much they’re missed. We headed out of school after 4pm, and finally had lunch (I only had a bit of toast and yogurt in my stomach). We had lunch at a cool eatery close to campus and I got meself a beer or two, hehe. I was on cloud 9. I also got to see some of the places I hung out, and reminisced of how much fun I’d had.

The rest of the weekend was spent shopping (or stimulating the local economy as my friends put it) and meeting up with whoever was available to meet. We headed to church early Sunday morning before leaving town and made it safely to Canada later that day. Church was good and it was great to see some old friends there too.

I’ve been back for some time now, and I can’t help but feel a pang in my heart, as if I hadn’t said my proper goodbyes to the place that was home for almost 6 years. The city and the people were the same (though the prices were AWESOME compared to Canada, I still don’t get why Canadians pay tons more for stuff and food). I truly miss the good times spent at Big Name U. Now I’m truly an alumna and I look back fondly at my memories and time spent there. In a way it was/is hard, but I also know that it needed to happen. And I needed a career and life shift.

All in all graduation/commencement was fun. And I am SO glad I didn’t miss a second of it. It’s a highly recommended event on my list of “musts” so, if you ever doubt if you should go back and attend graduation (except if your boss was an arse) … don’t hesitate. Just do it!

And to answer a dear commenter’s question about some of the post-grad goodies: my diploma is awesome, but I expected something bigger (after 6 years all I get is something slightly bigger than my high school one … bummer, ha!). I will frame it, but now it’s heading to my parent’s house to be kept safe. I’m now waiting for the graduation photos (proofs) from school and I may even purchase the DVD, even if I only look tiny on the screen, hehe. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

Congrats to all grads!

Unloading the truth … and feeling old

In previous posts I had mentioned that the BF didn’t know about my debts, how I got into debt, how I want to get out, how much, etc. Today the BF seemed a bit cold …. honestly, he felt a bit cold at times during the last couple of days. A few years back, while I was dating a college BF I remember getting that cold feeling along my spine, and bracing for a hundred thousand tears, and for an imminent breakup. I tell you, it was NOT fun. Feeling alone, breaking up with someone who’s been your best friend, your life, your everything for a few years hurts. And I am scared of feeling and being that hurt again … of not coming back from that kind of depression. That’s why, when the BF said we needed to talk I braced myself for the worst. And in a way, the best possible thing happened.

When I started writing here, a few months back, I vowed to be very honest about debt, finishing the PhD, etc. I’ve said how much I owe (23K), and how scared I am/was of people I know and love finding out about it. I didn’t want the BF to read the blog, especially those entries. But I realized that I needed to come clean. That if we were/are to have a future together we must come clean, unload our baggage and enlist each other’s help to overcome hardships.

Well, today was the day. I don’t know the exact details of how the BF got the idea, but I had been hinting about things and ways in which he could find out the name of this blog and such. And he did. I was so scared of letting him down, of showing him how irresponsible I’ve been. Of alienating him and going down a path without a way back.

We sat down, he started talking, he asked me about it …. and if felt almost as relieving as when you get the absolution of your sins by a priest (hey y’all, I’m a catholic, so this is the best example I could come up with). We talked about how and when it started, how it spiraled down and what I can do now to avoid making it worse. My worst fear was of a breakup, not only because we’ve been together for a long time, or for my fear of disappointing him, but because I had been and have been irresponsible, and in a way, I felt like I was cheating. He could not hide the sadness, but he offered his help in any way he could. Together we are coming up with ways to funnel money into the debt, and still living a decent life together. The best is yet to come, and the start of it seems good.

On a different side of life, today the undergrads started. I cannot help but wonder if I looked that young and fresh when I started college. I look at myself in the mirror now and feel kinda old and run down (it could very well be PMS-related). But anyhow, the kids just look like that, kids. I feel like I’m from a completely different world.

Seeing those undergrads walking around, some of them scared of the new environment, some of them over-confident, made me go back 10 years in time, to 1999 when I was an undergrad. I felt so scared, but in a way I also felt powerful. I remember cramming down for projects, exams, labs, etc. It was so very fun. Sometimes I feel pain in my heart, an ache for the times by gone. But I’m glad for all of it. FOR ALL, yes, even those undesirable professors (may they rest in peace), even the bad dates, the crazy hairdo’s, and the silly projects. They all helped me in my way to get a PhD. Here I am today, 10 years after first stepping in my school. Here I am, a victor, not a victim, still wanting to learn, to grow, to experience.