Jun 23 2014

Job search musing- inequity/injustice

By under Musings

Writing my dissertation has taken me out of commission with this blog temporarily. The last thing you want to do when you’re writing and editing constantly is do more writing and editing. It’s like eating ice cream (something I enjoy) all day and then eating more ice cream as a treat. At least I have to take some breaks.

It’s more than just writing my dissertation; it’s also looking and applying for jobs. For awhile, I’ve been struggling with the “networking” your way to a job. I understand it’s the practice and there are clear benefits to all parties. The employer hires someone s/he knows or has on good authority the new employee is a good fit, the new employee has an easier time getting a job. The employee may be already familiar with the company/business so s/he can make an informed choice.

However (and this is part of the research literature/my research), people can’t always establish networks for a variety of reasons. People in some situations are going to be clearly advantaged; for instance, some undergrad alma maters have incredible networks of alums. Some people are actually excluded from making connections. It’s clearly not a meritocracy.

I understand this is part of the reality and I can’t change it; I’m actually trying to work the connections I have, because the other part of the reality is I need a job soon after I graduate. I don’t have family to live with, I don’t have a spouse or significant other, and I have savings that get me through a rather short period of time. However, I am uncomfortable with the situation as I feel like it’s hypocritical on my end. In my work and personal life, I strive to work against inequity and injustice and yet- I’m playing into this system to get myself ahead. Again, I’m one person and one person with limited power but the system isn’t like the weather and just happens; people are what sustain these systems and cultures.

Perhaps this is something to revisit when I’m more established and doing hiring.

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Jun 01 2014


By under Off-topic

Being entrenched in writing about grad students has also served as a reflective period on my own grad school experiences. The #YesAllWomen tag going around really got me thinking about my own experiences. I’ve had some horrific experiences just literally walking down the street, but the one I really never talk about is what happened during grad school. This is cut, because I figure people might not want to read this. I disabled comments, because I’m not looking for sympathy or worse, debate what has happened.

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May 09 2014

Ergonomics while dissertation writing

My prolonged absences in writing are because I’m dissertation writing. However, I thought I’d take a break from that writing and write about my home office setup.

Because of the long hours of writing and working on other things at a computer, I’ve quickly learned that working off of a laptop is not exactly comfy. I’ve moved onto a mouse awhile ago; the trackpad wasn’t comfortable for extended work. I do have an iMac, but that has dying graphics card that I need to get replaced.

This week, I realized that I should also elevate my laptop. Rather than buy a stand, I realized an old Clementine’s box puts it at a good height for me. I have a Bluetooth Apple keyboard, too, so I’m working off that. This has changed things in a positive way. I wasn’t suffering from major issues, just a little bit of a stiff neck. However, I realized that I need to prevent major issues. The box isn’t pretty, but I think I have some paint to improve it.

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Apr 10 2014

Do you agree with your program’s research paradigm?

By under Opinion

This is semi-musing, semi-advice. When selecting a grad program, I wish I would’ve thought more about whether the body of research I am doing (or at the time, wanted to do) fits in with the research paradigm of my program. By paradigm, I’m talking about the work being produced, the beliefs re. methodology, the direction of research. I don’t know why it occurred to me yesterday, but I realized that I don’t fit into their paradigm. My research is very distinct from what I see from people in my program.

Is this important? When I further reflected upon it, I think I would’ve been better off in a program that has a similar paradigm. Some of the issues I observe or experience I think might stem from some basic paradigm beliefs. I feel good about my work, and I’m churning through it- but at the same time, I think about whether I’d feel significantly better, be better supported, and not have so many other issues. Grad school and research are challenging enough without issues that don’t need to exist.

If you are in the midst of selecting program, considering these issues regarding research are important.

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Apr 06 2014

Musing on inclusion work

I normally try to keep this blog on the lighter and more pleasant side of things, but this has been getting under my skin way too long.

I’ve mentioned working multiple committees, including one regarding diversity. I don’t even know how to articulate it, but I’m just disappointed in the work. I allude to some of it here  about “walking the walk.” If you claim diversity and teaching others to respect/value diversity is really top of your list of priorities, make it important. I’ve been struggling with this for awhile, and I’m not sure if it’s the passage of time, comments, or the time of year, but it bothers me a lot that people say one thing and do another. I’m offended and hurt that I hear the same people not only don’t do this work but also make excuses for others. As I relayed to a friend, there are plenty of issues I care about but couldn’t say I truly prioritize in my work or life.

To be quite blunt, most of the things this committee is doing are for show. The way I approach my teaching and life isn’t about accolades or keeping up appearances. I’ve talked about intrinsic reward, and I believe that’s what we should strive for. Having values isn’t about recruiting x type of students or faculty or doing other things for show. To me, this work must be reflexive and something you just do. I’m not saying it’s easy, because I know I have my share of prejudices and ignorance, but it’s necessary.

Because this is dealing with education, I feel particularly disappointed by all of this. I also feel like there isn’t a lot I can do. I want to graduate soon. I am not faculty or a dean, and even then, I’m sure what can be done. Part of my concerns are the few things my subcommittee is doing (which I believe have the possibility of encouraging an intrinsic reward) will go by the wayside very soon. It makes the work seem pointless. What do you do in these situations?

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Mar 13 2014

Walking the Walk

By under Musings

I’ve been participating in a lot of discussions on a bunch of topics or for work. What I realized is that so many people don’t go through with what they believe in. They’ll talk a good game but at the end of the day, they’re not walking the walk. This is true about multiple things. Race/ethnic discussions, supporting events/programs, etc.

For some of this, I’ve been told that people need an incentive. One example is to incentivize the speaker advertising an event. These are the kind of events where it’s a labor of love on everyone’s part; there are people like me devoting considerable time to these events and not being paid. I don’t think people need to devote all their time, but at the same time, if the speakers really believe in the event/purpose and know how these events are, I think it wouldn’t be to much to ask them to help advertise. Even super famous bands help promote shows they’re playing.

I hear the excuse everyone is “busy.” I personally get a little offended, because it indirectly implies I am not. I have a very full plate: I’m an active part of multiple committees for various organizations, I mentor, I work a part-time job, I volunteer my services for several things around the university, and I’m doing dissertation work (writing and analyzing data) and trying to find a job. I’m not saying this brag or to make people feel bad that they’re not doing as much, but I’m saying this to explain why I’m offended.

This is more of a rant/complaint than anything, but the point is that I wish people would consider whether their actions line up with their beliefs.

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Feb 26 2014

Professional Societies: Get Involved Early

By under Musings

I’m still in recovery mode from a refreshing but tiring 3.5 day trip for a professional physics society committee I serve on. Apparently, I never wrote being elected to a committee last year. I think it was just a stressful time for me at that point.

Being elected to a committee (one on grad students) comes with its share of responsibilities. I tend to be someone who takes elected positions seriously, so I try to get involved and be actually involved; some people try to be involved with things only on paper, which I find to be incredibly poor form. Anyway, my involvement has allowed me to be the liaison for a committee on women in physics. Because I have been fairly active, I was able to go to a meeting that was sort of the “state of the union” for the greater society.

While I can’t emphasize enough how tired I am (work didn’t cease, as I was greeted with a text message from my boss when I arrived at the meeting and had a phone conversation with him on Sunday), it was rewarding to attend this meeting. One of the reasons I ran for an elected position was because I was curious about the greater physics society. I’m really glad I joined, because my respect and admiration has increased. There is always something indescribably wonderful to be around people who are working on causes greater than themselves and are more than likely never going to be rewarded or honored for this work. They’re doing the work for something beyond themselves, not for ego or money.

Coming back from the weekend, I realized how important it is for young folks to get involved in committees. While I’m rapidly approaching 30, I still am considered young and am certainly young in my career path. Besides the feel good aspects and working on something important, there are other good things that are a little more- selfish (I use selfish loosely and not as a judgment). I learned a lot about funding issues, open access, and open data. These are important for anyone in academia. These meetings also provide ample opportunities to make connections in one’s professional network. Being involved with a committee or two has meant I have met a lot of scientists; I learned a lot about fields and job paths. For me, it isn’t so readily applicable but I can bring this info back to my friends who are in physics. My involvement with everything I have done at my university or through various organization has translated over to practical skills; I know how to organize a conference, for instance. Skill development is certainly low on my list of reasons to get involved, but I also can’t deny that I haven’t benefited from participating in various organizations.

I thoroughly recommend becoming involved whatever professional society/societies interests you. One can gain so much, and I really love being in a room where everyone cares enough to volunteer their time and is doing amazing work to benefit a greater good. It sounds so cheesy, but that’s one of the reasons I take out time to work with these organizations. Even if you’re young, I think it is so worthwhile to become involved.

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Feb 25 2014

Picking your grad school/program: A Nuanced Guide

By under Opinion

With all of my experiences in grad school (unfortunately, not all positive), readings on grad experiences, and application acceptances are starting to roll in, I thought I’d write a small guide that expands on a previous post. My previous guide wasn’t bad, mind you, but it isn’t complete. Not saying this guide will be 100% complete, but it provides more- nuanced perspectives than the other one. With that said, here are more tips to how to pick a program.

  • What is the experiences like of students who are similar to you? Most, if not all, guides recommend that prospective students talk to current students. I strongly suggest that you take it a step further and talk to students who are similar to you. This can be race, gender, sexuality, social class, occupation, etc. You can typically ask on a message board anonymously for the ones that aren’t so obvious. I bring this up, because these factors can matter. The white male student may have a different experience than the white female student who has a different experience from the Latina female student. I know of instances where one would hear two very different stories, depending on who is asked. Even when we don’t consider race, occupations matter too. Some programs are very supportive of part-time students while others not so much.
  • How many faculty members are interesting to you? Faculty members retire, leave the school, die, lose funding, have too many students, or you don’t get along with them. For pretty much all of the above, I’ve had friends who have had those situations happen. It’s important to have other options available to you.
  • What is the departmental/university culture like? Grad school is a work environment and one in which you spend many, many hours. Make sure the culture gels with you. Culture includes how you socialize (or not) and attitudes. Is this an environment where they will work to teach you how to do research, or are the professors looking for a person who knows what s/he is doing already and are essentially getting a piece of paper, versus gaining skills? And again, consider how demographic aspects affect that. Certain department and university cultures are very inclusive of some people and not so inclusive of others.
  • Where is the department/university going? Programs in every field have ideas of what kind of reputation and image they want. The administration will typically invest money in the programs accordingly, from providing research funding to whom they hire to whom they admit as students. In the context of education, if your school typically supports people trying to become teachers and then they shift over to focusing more on research, this changes the culture in many ways. I have had friends who have felt that they are not as well supported by their advisors because of conflicting career paths.
  • What do policies look like for women/LGBTQ students/etc.? Policies aren’t perfect, by any means, but they do give some indication on values of the program/university. Additionally, women who become pregnant can be very much affected by this policies.
  • Is the program producing students who have career paths similar to what you want?  PhDs and master’s are not one size fits all. Some programs are training their students to become researchers in academia, others in industry, and others don’t have a path. Find out the value of your prospective degree before you sign on.

This is a brief guide, and one I hope is helpful. Are there any other points that are important?

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Feb 18 2014

iPad Air for Academia

By under Review

One of the reasons my blogging has taken a backseat again is because I am doing all of the following:

  • Research/writing the dissertation
  • Teaching a class
  • Serving on two APS committees
  • Serving on one committee at my university
  • Misc. volunteering at the university or elsewhere
  • Working as an assistant for STEM education initiatives

The last position is new and means a bit more money in my pocket. After months of consideration, I went to get an Apple iPad Air. I love my ereader, but annotating image PDFs on it is challenging. I also wanted something to carry around at conferences to quickly respond to email. Typing on my phone isn’t impossible but it is cumbersome.

I haven’t had the iPad very long, but it has proven itself quite useful. I use a program called iAnnotate to annotate papers; it can access Dropbox, which is useful because that’s where I store papers. For teaching, it serves as a second monitor. I can have my notes up on the iPad and use my laptop to scroll through our discussion papers. It’s a small thing, but it actually is nice to do this rather than flip through windows.

As it is now, the iPad won’t serve as a computer replacement for me. However, it has some really good uses.

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Feb 13 2014

Professionalism and Personal Relationships

By under Teaching

This has been weighing on my mind for this entire week, and I’d love feedback if anyone has it.

An issue at work has arisen where a student is afraid of mentioning discomfort in a situation because s/he knows the person is friends with the supervisor. I am outsider to this, in that I am not the student, person the student has issues with, or the supervisor. However, I am tangentially involved and trying to make the most of things for the student. Please not that no one is in any kind of danger (that I would report), but it’s sort of personal conflict issue.

The situation has me thinking about how to encourage students to speak up when they’re genuinely unhappy with a situation. I have encouraged the student to speak up, but s/he feels uncomfortable because of knowing the existing relationship between the supervisor and the other person. I don’t know how strong the friendship between the supervisor and the other person is, but I can see how it is uncomfortable. The questions for me are not only what should we do about this particular situation, but also what can I (or any of us, really) do to prevent these tricky situations from arising?

We can’t expect people not to have friends with their professional contacts. Friendships develop, and it isn’t a bad thing. In the the best situations, that can help foster community and a warm environment. I remember one of my favorite things about my undergraduate physics department was that the faculty and staff felt like a family. I think it helps make the environment feel less like business. However, in situations like these, people can fear offending someone (which is what I suspect is the student’s perspective) or retaliation (I hear rumors of these fears but have never witnessed them myself- not saying that is doesn’t happen).

I think about how in my life, I try to speak positively of those I introduce to one another. Some of these are just like little introductions, some of these are really to develop good working relationships. The reason I speak so positively of those involved is to get everyone excited (sometimes, there is fear) and to let people know that they matter and decisions were made for optimal matches. I don’t want to create an environment where people feel afraid to speak up if situations don’t work out. How to create that environment where it is warm and personal but can be objective?

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