Resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia

In between bouts of sorting, de-cluttering, and apartment hunting, I’ve also been working on my job search. Here’s some helpful links I’ve found during my search.

How to avoid hassle during an out-of-state job search.

I might sign up for freelance editing work on  things like oDesk or eLance (any tips, readers?).  I don’t want to freelance forever, probably, but a little cash here and there might help.  Mostly I’m looking for an office job.

PhDs at Work looks interesting, but I haven’t spent a lot of time on there.  Does anyone want to investigate and report back in the comments?

Miriam Posner discusses what alt-ac (alternative-academic) jobs can and can’t provide.

There is a LinkedIn group called PhD Careers Outside of Academia, which is where I found this huge collection of links and articles for scientists transitioning to industry.  (I’ve also been checking out Ask A Manager but mostly for giggles.)

 

Do you have any recommendations for resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia?  Specifically for social scientists or scientists who have some data skills and good writing skills, but only tiny amounts of programming skills, and nothing in biotech/pharma?  Thanks!

Taming the Work Week: A review

Taming the Work Week is a short e-book by M. R. Nelson, aka Wandering Scientist aka Cloud.  In it, she makes the argument that everyone has a work limit, and that working beyond that work limit not only leads to diminishing marginal return (she doesn’t use that language), it can also lead to costly mistakes that actually create more work.

She notes that although research is clear that for early 20th century factory workers, 40 hours/week is the limit, we have no idea what the work limit is for knowledge workers.  And we really don’t.  It probably depends on a lot of factors (task mix, personal ability, etc.).  However, she provides steps for individuals to figure out whether they are working efficiently, and if not, how to work more efficiently.

It’s a short book with a lot of good tips.

Some may work better for some people than for others. For example, if you get more of your socialization at work than at home or after work, you may need that daily down-time with your colleagues interspersed with work, rather than waiting until you get home.  You won’t be as efficient or productive per-hour at work, but you’re also filling that socialization need on a regular basis.  On the other hand, if your home and social life provide a lot of social interaction already, cutting down on interruptions could greatly increase your productivity, allowing you to get out of work earlier without guilt.

Similarly, just going home when you’re not being productive doesn’t work for me because suddenly I become less productive earlier and earlier in the day as the days go on because I’m rewarding bad behavior and I have no self-control.  Instead, I need to task-switch from doing thinky research work to doing unrelated scut work like teaching prep or service.  That way I’m still being productive on stuff that has to get done eventually and I’m not training myself to leave before it’s time to pick up the kids (which is my hard deadline at the end of the day).

Nelson acknowledges these different kinds of different work styles.  Probably my favorite part of the book is where she provides some of the standard “how to be efficient” advice and points out when it doesn’t work for her and why. (Just going home doesn’t work for her either, but for different reasons.)  This added discussion of “why” really illustrates how you can think critically about the advice that’s out there to craft your own methods to improve your efficiency.

The biggest downside to this e-book is that the writing is uneven– it starts out stilted (carefully avoiding using contractions, for example), then shifts to a more conversational tone that is much easier to read.  Keep reading past the opening section or two– it’s worth it.

Is who we are what we do?: A deliberately controversial post.

Usually these posts start out with someone complaining about being at a cocktail party and being asked what they do.  The person complaining generally does not have a job.  Ze is financially independent or a SAHP or HouseSpouse or unemployed etc.  Depending on who is writing, the post becomes an ode to not working for The Man (and how you can only discover who you really are through Early Retirement and going to exploitative conferences in Portland, OR), a discussion about how taking care of hearth and family is the Most Important Job, or how to turn awkward and unfair conversations into networking opportunities instead of reasons to feel bad about ourselves.  And they all talk about how we’re so much more than our jobs and we shouldn’t be defined by our jobs.

This post is going to go a slightly different route.  I don’t know about #2, but I haven’t been at a cocktail party that wasn’t attached to a conference for *ages* (me either!) and when you’re at conference, you’ve got those helpful name-tags plus everyone knows that more likely than not you have a discipline-specific PhD.  Especially once you no longer look like a graduate student.

So this post is specifically going to focus on the question– is who you are what you do?

We say, Yes and  No.

We were both raised Catholic.  (We are recovering.)  And if you’re Catholic or Episcopalian, then belief is not as important as Good Works.  You’re not a nice person if you torture puppies even if you feel sad when you torture them.  If you ignore the impulse to torture puppies even though you desperately want to, you have as much of a shot at salvation as someone identical who would never dream of torturing puppies, maybe more, because you resisted a temptation that most people don’t have.

In economics terms, we tend to only believe preferences when they’re “realized,” which is just a fancy way of saying, “what you did”.  You’re showing what you preferred through your actions and your choices (very behaviorist!).  In that scenario, desire to torture or not torture puppies is meaningless– the lack of torture means that you preferred not to torture given the circumstances.  You are not a puppy-torturer unless you actually torture puppies (given your budget constraint).  We don’t know what’s in the black box or what the shape of your utility function is, but we can see exactly where your utility function hits your budget constraint.

In some sense, what we do defines us.  There may be some inner person trying to get out, but we can’t measure it unless it comes out.  We are what we do.

But also, no… Who are we if we’re not what what we do?   We are what we like and don’t like.  We are how we organize information. We’re a bundle of preferences and actions– we are what the outside world sees of us, though usually we are not how the world perceives us.  The patriarchy tends to twist our actions and our very existence to fit its own warped narrative.  We are bundles of energy and stardust masquerading as humans for now.

We are social scientists, through years of training.  Our disciplines shape how we see the world: how we make sense of the external world and our internal thoughts.  The narratives we tell ourselves, how we make decisions.  One of us used to be a mathematician, but that aspect has been dulled and replaced over time with graduate training and day-to-day work.  We are feminists of various flavors, and that shapes how we interact with people and information.  What we are directly affects what we do, and what we do shows who we are.

However, we are not our jobs.  They’re what we get money for, and they’re not all that we do.  We will still be social scientists without our current jobs.  We will still be teachers without our jobs, even if we never give another formal lecture.  We’ll still be cat-lovers and feminists and book-lovers and partners and friends and almost everything else that labels who we are.  We may no longer be “professor” without our jobs, but very little will change in terms of personal essence in the instant a job is left and a new job taken (or not taken).  Personal growth and change can (and will) come before a job change and after, but we don’t suddenly lose who we are or become a new person with a change in employment.  Maybe a happier (or temporarily sadder) person, but that kind of happiness seems to be more of an “estar” (in the moment temporary kind of being) thing than a “ser” (permanent kind of being) thing.

Who are you?  And how do you even define that?

The Shoe Drop’t

I quit my job.

(Wild applause, cheering)

This means I’m getting off the tenure track by default, because I don’t have another t-t job, and I’m not willing to live in terrible places (like this one) and teach high loads anymore.  I would consider maybe coming back to the t-t for the right position, but that’s not how the market works.  If my dream job appears I might apply, but the probability is low.  The dream job involves no teaching but not being on soft money.  Uh… and a pony?  I tried to bloom where I was planted, but it turns out you can’t bloom in poisoned soil.

Quitting my job is absolutely the right move.  There has been a lot of unbloggable toxicity that’s been damaging my sanity and health.  I very nearly quit in week 2 of the semester, and all the tenured colleagues I talked to said that I probably should, based on what had happened.  My partner said he would support me if I did.  Senior colleagues at other universities have told me, privately, to run-not-walk on outta here.

However, for a long time I was ambivalent about the end of my tenure-track career.  SO AMBIVALENT!  Because now I have tenure, and I’ve been working towards that since I was in high school.  I love so many aspects of academia (intellectual freedom, flexible hours, my own office, a variety of tasks, getting paid to do research, library access…) and I will really miss the job security.  The security of tenure let me sleep at night.  I have applied for numerous other t-t jobs while I’ve been here and gotten no hits, and finally had to jump.  I don’t know what I’m going to do without tenure.  I’ll figure something out.

But I will NOT miss teaching.  The more I thought about it, the less I even *want* another t-t job, because I am soooo burned out on teaching.  I just can’t, with the teaching, anymore.  Not even a leave of absence or sabbatical would fix it, because I would still have the residue of this university on me like slime that won’t wash off.  No more.  Not even grad students, not even small classes, not even my favorite topics.  Not online, not in a seminar.  I can’t handle students sucking my life force anymore.  Every semester for years on end: too many students, too little money, and twice a year two hundred 19-year-olds get to write inappropriate comments about my personal appearance on course evals, and then my boss reads them.  Who needs it?

I don’t know what I’m going to do about my next job and/or career.  Something research-based, perhaps.  You may see some self-absorbed bloggy rambling (e.g., my ideal work day).  We are very lucky that my partner makes fat bank and is willing to support me while I figure things out.  First-world problems.

Let’s tally the blog peeps right now: I technically have tenure this summer but after that I will be formerly tenured and (temporarily?) out of academia entirely… and unemployed for a while.  My partner has never been an academic, thank FSM.  #2 is currently tenured.  Her husband is a former academic who is much happier in industry.  (#2 is also much happier with her DH’s non-academic salary!)

I guess it’s true that people who have just quit their jobs are the happiest people in the world.

We are moving out of state and back to civilization as soon as we can (Current plan is end of August).  It was going to be sooner but this state is trying to kill us, and we haven’t been physically able to plan and implement those plans.  First my partner got the flu real bad for 2 weeks (which never happens), then we had 1 week of being ok, then I got pneumonia, which I’ve had for 3 and a half weeks(!) now and am still not well.  Also my partner needs frequent physical therapy for his genetically-misaligned knee and might need knee surgery.  The cat is not well and is now on a specialized diet which may or may not be working; I’ve been too sick to get back with the vet and I had to cancel my massage and dentist appointments due to pneumonia.  HALP.

I will miss the horse I ride, and a few of the people here, but that’s not enough to make me stay in such a toxic place.  (#2 notes: she also got paid next to nothing, even with the tenure bump.)  We are working on downsizing from our ridiculous-large house out here in the boonies to an amount of stuff we can maybe afford the housing for in a city.  We have plans about when and where we’re going apartment-hunting, when we’re moving, summer travel plans that were previously in place, work, insurance, legal stuff, we have a plan.

Wish us luck.

Your Ideal Work Day

A few years ago, get a life phd asked readers to think about what their ideal day would look like.

My ideal work day definitely does NOT include teaching or ANY emails from students.  It does, however, include research and friends.

I was at this conference when I realized I was having my ideal work day.  No students.  No student emails.  I talked to colleagues about research:  theirs, mine.  I got inspired to learn about a new statistical technique.

I saw good friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I ate good food.  I had time for a nap in the middle.

I met a new research collaborator and we talked about what research we do and could share.
I could choose what was most interesting to go hear talks about.  Setting my own schedule is awesome.
That is an ideal work day.

#2

I think mine would start off with me checking my email to find a desk accept.  :)  Or an R&R from a top 2 journal.  Follow it up with a request to do something relatively trivial using my expertise for a large sum of money (like reading a proposal or giving a discussion).

These ideal day exercises aren’t so useful to me because my fantasy scenarios mainly depend on things that are outside of my control (last week was not an ideal week– the summer started with two conference rejections and a journal rejection, also our unscoopable paper that coauthor sat on for two years got scooped), and because I’m pretty happy with my life as it is and trying to optimize instead of satisfice just makes me grumpy.  It may not be a perfect life, but spending time and mental energy trying to make it better tends to make it worse and take time and energy away from things that actually help my life improve.  I remember the morning that I first heard about the willpower research on only being able to make a limited number of decisions each day, I was completely useless because I’d second guess making any decision instead of just making it, thus adding to my mental load.

Now, if I were miserable or unhappy, then the amount of time thinking about what makes me happy would be totally worth it.  A little bit of introspection might be able to make big short-term changes.  Fortunately for me, that’s not where I am right now (rejections aside).  We will see what the future brings.

What’s your ideal work day?

Calling sociology readers!

One of us has a question about the AJS– if you can help, can you shoot us an email at grumpyrumblings@gmail.com ?

More generally (for those who don’t want to email but do have info):  If a person wants to write a “Comment” on a prominent AJS article (new research finding exactly opposite results, for example, that don’t contradict the findings of the paper but show that the paper is not externally valid for an important subsample), what are potential outlets for that?

Crucial Conversations: A Book Review

Someone somewhere recommended that someone read Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, and we thought that was a good idea, so one of us checked it out from the library.  She had to recall it, and it has been recalled on her, so up on her Amazon wishlist it goes.

We think this is a great book, and wish everybody would read it.  As #1 was reading it, she thought back to previous crucial conversations and how the ones that went well tended to follow their advice and the ones that went off the rails really could have benefited.

The basic premise of the book is that if you pretend to (or actually believe in) give (ing) the benefit of the doubt to people and keep your thoughts focused on the end goals with that in mind, attacking problems instead of people, you’re more likely to get what you really want, make good decisions, foster a positive environment, deescalate potentially fraught situations, and get a reputation for being professional and reasonable that will help you in the future.

They summarize their technique with the following steps:

1. Start with heart. Focus on what you really want, and what you really don’t want.
2. Learn to look. Pay attention to emotions, problems, silencing, and the conversation no longer feeling safe for at least one party.
3. Make it safe. Fix misunderstandings, apologize as necessary. (I’ve found this step incredibly helpful in blaming things on miscommunications and going back to the big goal– what we both want– really does seem to defuse situations.)
4. Master my story. Separate facts from narrative– know which is which. State the facts.  Choose a good narrative. (This is where you give the best possible story behind the other person’s actions rather than the one that may actually be true. I have found that occasionally when I ascribe positive motives to people, they tend to start believing those motives themselves.)
5. STATE my path. Share your facts. Tell your story. Ask for other’s paths. Talk tentatively. Encourage testing. These are all things a good leader will do– you’re more likely to accept a decision you don’t agree with if you trust the process that came to it. (The difference between our provost saying, “I’m the decider” and a better communication of, “Here are the pros and cons of each choice. These are the reasons I made this choice over the other choice.” I really wanted to send hir a copy of this book. BTW, hir decision was terrible and has already had some pretty nasty consequences.)
6. Explore other’s paths. Ask. Mirror. Paraphrase. Prime. Agree. Build. Compare. These are ways of talking about alternative views and coming to the best decision for your main goal while making people with other views feel validated and focused on their main goals.
7. Move to action. Decide how you will decide. Document decisions and follow up. (A meeting in which you discuss, come to an agreement and then don’t do action items is a waste of time.)

They share a lot of really helpful language along with their process.  While reading the book, I thought back to good bosses I’ve had and bad bosses I’ve had, and the good bosses almost instinctively use these techniques.  Heck, my father-in-law uses these techniques.  It’s been helping me a lot with some of the dramatic fall-out of the provost’s bad decision.

It’s not a perfect book– it almost seems like there’s some victim-blaming in the middle, and it isn’t until very near the end of the book that the book specifies that no, a woman does not have to put up with sexual harassment on her own.  This is a shame because some of the examples they use are very close to sexual harassment, and although the actions they suggest are appropriate, they come too close on the heels of admonitions to accept the role you had in whatever tragedy is going on.  Their example seems to suggest that muggings are the only crimes in which the victim is not at fault.  Sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault, and they would do well to point that out far earlier.

The book doesn’t separate by gender.  It tells everybody to use some of the softening language that Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office tells women to avoid, which may be problematic.  We know that people have different reactions to male and female managers saying the same thing in the same way– are the suggestions in this book truly gender neutral?  We don’t really know.

An interesting thing to note– in the back of the book one of the authors mentions that they get fan mail from people who have only read the introduction and the first chapter.  Apparently those first ideas of just giving people the benefit of the doubt and focusing on the big goals make a huge difference for some people.  We do think the rest of the book is worth reading through because it gives helpful language that does deescalate situations.

Also:  We’ve posted this on a Monday because it’s about work and career, but many of these techniques also work well in personal relationships.  They also give examples from marriages and dealing with teenagers.

What do you find works for dealing with other people at work?  Do you have recommendations for books on communication or otherwise dealing with coworkers?  Have you read this one?

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