Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why I don't blog - or why I'm trying (again)

A couple of weeks ago, Prof-like Substance asked his readers“why don’t you blog?”, and instead of responding in the comments, like a normal person, I thought that I’d come back to this blog that I started with all the best intentions, but ended up being half-arsed, and then just…stopped.

I’m not entirely sure why I stopped - it fell somewhere in the mess of not feeling like I had anything to say, and what I did want to talk about and get advice on, I really couldn't talk about publicly.  I’ve also got to admit to feeling pretty awkward about blogging. It’s a little bit like standing on a chair yelling out to a crowded area “HEY! YOU! COME OVER HERE AND LISTEN TO WHAT I HAVE TO SAY!” which is fine and all, and I’m not judging. In fact, if someone was doing that (assuming they didn’t look dangerously insane) I’d probably head on over for a chat. But me on the chair? Unlikely. Unless it’s in a room full of people I know really well.  Or I’ve been drinking tequila*.

So what’s changed? For one thing I am on the job market, and I have really learned a lot in the past year from the ongoing discussion, and shared anecdotes about the job market, especially at the excellent Fumbling towards Tenure (check out the TT job search advice aggregator for a lot of great advice from a variety of sources).  Because everyone’s experience is different, and because I know I'm not the only one in this boat, I want to have a forum to vent, exclaim, and if anyone ventures over here, discuss issues that come up in this academic life.  Also, because I’m at that stage of my career, learning how to draw attention to myself in a positive way, is something that I have to learn – and am slowly learning – how to do.

Another reason for blogging is that I joined twitter. It was in a moment of madness, but turns out to be one of the better social media experiences so far. The best thing twitter has been the continuation of the conversations started on the blogs, and, uh, MOAR SCIENCE FRIENDS. Seeing more of the discussion means I want to be a part of it.

So come back for more ramblings**, and leave suggestions for topics in comments!

* Or someone dared be to do it. But that's a different story.
**Things I've learned today: Signing off is just as awkward on a blog post as it is on the phone.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

     Happy New Year everybody!
     May all your hopes for the New Year come true.

     For me, I know that 2011 will be a crazy, exciting, terrifying year of changes. I can't wait!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

and Happy Holidays.
My Hanukka/Eid/Kwanzaa/Christmas/Festivus/Saturnalia gift to you is John Cleese.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Where in the world?

When I’m asked about whether I plan to live in the US forever, or return to my home country to live, I generally tell people I can’t plan forever – I can only take one step at a time, and re-evaluate every time I’m changing jobs or making another significant life decision.  

And so, as I begin flirting with the job market and applying for a tenure-track faculty positions, I once again need to concurrently think about where in the world* I want to live and work for the next chunk of my life/career? I should note, for context, that I have spent over 10 years in the US. This is a large percentage of my adult life. I have strong connections here and close friendships. The thought of leaving, even to go back my native home, becomes harder every year.

Despite this, I have worked hard to have the option to go home**. Over the time I have spent in the US, I have been diligent at maintaining my network in my home country. I make sure to catch with them at international conferences or when I visit home, giving occasional seminar talks at my alma mater when I’m in town.  I consider many of these people friends as well as mentors, so this has been natural and easy to do. 

Carmen SanDiego never had to make this decision (Source)
What makes the "where in the world" question particularly difficult is the interaction of personal and professional factors. Is it time to move back to my home country, closer to family? What professional opportunities will I lose? What will I gain? What personally do I lose by staying away? What other factors are keeping me here? Will my home country's funding be sufficient to allow me to pursue the questions I want to look at? If not, are there other options for obtaining funding/alternative research questions? Is work or family more "important"? What will my future look like if I stay? If I go home? What opportunities will I have to go home (or come back to my foreign home) later in my career?

The real problem, of course, is that these questions are unanswerable. I know my parents are healthy now. But what about in 2 years time? 5? 10? How will I feel when a nephew or niece arrives if I live half a world away?

I understand that all I can do is make a well-considered decision now, then make the best of it. No later “what ifs”.  No “road not taken” regrets. But this is harder than I can describe. For each part of the process, I am trying to make decisions based on what I know now. I had focused on the North American market. It is here that I believe that I will have the most options, funding opportunities, and support for my career in these early stages. It is here that I am waiting to hear about a significant amount of funding. When I looked at job advertisements, there were no jobs available in my home country anyway, so I had breathed a sigh of relief and moved forward with applications with a lighter heart.

But recently I have learned that there will be jobs advertised in my home city this cycle. So what do I do? Apply to the jobs my home country, go through the process, and see what it looks like, even though for funding/career opportunities I am fairly sure I want to stay in North America? This feels like I’m wasting someone’s time and money if they fly me out for an interview.  Do I thank the professor who has suggested I apply, and explain why I will not be applying at this time? This latter option feels a little like a cop-out, avoiding a potentially more difficult decision later on. Right now I am opting to wait to find out about the funding before making the decision. If I get funded here, I won’t apply, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, I am keeping family in the loop. Explaining my decisions, discussing any questions that come up. I am lucky to have their ongoing support, even for that part of my life that means I live almost as far away from them as I could possibly live. Because of their support, because they have been there via email and phone and skype when things are hard (without offering "why don't you just come home" as a solution to problems), I am avoiding the temptation to make a decision and then present a fait accompli at the end.

*I should note that everyone has the option of moving anywhere in the world. I could also look for jobs in a third country. I am not doing that – the thought of starting all over again, AGAIN, is frankly incredibly unappealing.
** Perhaps I should have saved myself the stress of an impossibly hard decision and just cut all ties? But in the beginning, my plan was to leave the US as soon as I was finished with graduate school. Yeah. Right.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

For the first time in a really long time, I am home with my family for a major holiday. Not that it's actually a holiday here, but Thanksgiving is an American tradition I have happily latched onto since living in the US.
So today I am thankful for being with family to celebrate thanksgiving, an early Christmas, and a handful of other important family events.  I am thankful for my "adoptive" families in the US - my friends and their families who have taken me in for Thanksgivings, Christmases, Passovers, and weekend escapes over the years. Most of all, I am thankful for being with my family, and their support of me living so very far away.

And when I get back to the US, I will be baking a pumpkin pie.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fun times with travel restrictions

I'm traveling - some work, some fun, some visiting family and reuniting with friends I haven't seen in a few years. Loving every minute of it. This trip I'm doing a lot of flying, long flights.

I don't even mind the long-haul flights, except for one minor thing. I have dietary restrictions, which always means a "special meal". Happily I am on a non-American airline this trip, one that usually has decent food. This makes me especially happy because on the last long flight, one of the meals was a single rice cake. The dry variety. Urgh. Without butter (which I can eat) or jam (ditto) or nutella (and let's face it - nutella could make a rice cake a happy thing).

I've been on one flight where my special meal went missing, others where I didn't trust what was handed to me. This restriction is by necessity, not choice, and because I need to avoid cross-contamination, I have a very hard time finding alternative food (other than apples) to eat.

A long haul flight with not enough food? Unpleasant.

These days I travel with snacks. Which leads to another set of problems, namely security screening at one end of the trip and customs at the other.

From experience I can tell you that yoghurt counts as a liquid about 2/3 of the time - although I did manage to convince someone that greek yoghurt is more like goats cheese and therefore a solid. (Seriously though, yoghurt?!). Smoothies are a definite no-no and bananas get squished in your bag unless you have one of these. But really, who wants to explain that to security?

No, really! It's a banana case!

At the other end of the trip, you run into customs. Many countries have a No Food policy, and some have sniffer dogs at customs to make sure. Yes, that's right, sniffer dogs for food. Or drugs. But here's the thing - you never know which dog is which. And when the handler says. "Put your bags on the ground", you could cut and run, but that's not a good plan. What is amusing* is when one of the dogs start barking at your bag. Especially when you've just deplaned from 20 hours of cumulative traveling, with no sleep, and are at the point where you either giggle or cry (or both) at the slightest provocation.

So picture this: dog barking, a young woman, disheveled and giggling hysterically with tears running down her face, adamantly stating that there are no drugs in the bag, or trying to, but not quite forming the words coherently.

It's amazing I didn't get arrested and drug-tested on the spot.

The customs people were still looking at me funny as they rifled through my hand luggage.

The contraband? A couple of sticks of string cheese and a bag of almonds.
I've been careful ever since to throw everything out before I get to customs. But next time I'm bringing crackers and foie gras on the plane. If I forget about it and get caught, at least it will be worth it.

*several years later

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What did YOU do today?

Sometimes I wonder what I do everyday. Today is a good example - I was busy all day, and suddenly it's dark outside, I'm exhausted, and I have no idea what it is that I've achieved.

Empty boxes = work done
It used to be easier to pinpoint progress - I could look at the lab work I'd gotten done, often produce a graph, the number of waste containers full of pipette tips, number of papers read, or when writing, a number of words written (sometimes words deleted). Whatever it was, I had some kind of measure of "Work Done".

These days, although I am generally more efficient in the lab, I spend a lot more of my time taking care of administrative and other responsibilities, things that don't have a definitive feeling (or measure) of accomplishment.

So what did I do today?
As part of a general lab clean-up, I sorted through a huge pile of reagents, for which I will receive both gratitude (no-one else wanted to do it) and gruff for doing it my way (but no-one else was going to do it, so WHATEVERRRR!),  taught two people a technique, did some benchwork in preparation for testing out a cool new toy that should arrive any day now, edited paper drafts for two of my lab-mates, plus I'm pretty sure I ate lunch (I should bring more memorable lunches).
    I did a lot. I was busy. So why do I feel like I got nothing done? It still feels like this is not my "real work".
    I guess I need to get used to it - or better, modify my view of what "getting stuff done" away from purely how much I produced in lab - before I am in the position of running my own lab.