would you choose your education/career path again?

The shu box asked a really interesting question to her MD peeps– if they had to do it all over again, would they?  We thought we’d extend that to higher education more generally, not just MDs but other post-bachelor credentials.

Do you wish you’d gotten higher education (earlier, given that you could always get some now)?  Would you choose to get higher education again?  Would you have done things differently?

#2:  I’m very happy with my education.  My PhD program treated me a lot better than #1’s program treated her, and I still talk to my dissertation advisor.  I still collaborate with fellow students in my program and we have published together frequently.  I am facebook friends with some of my former professors (and one or two, with whom I’m not friends, I’m glad I never have to encounter them again).  I probably should have published more in grad school, but I did some, and that was fine.

I am reasonably happy with my career choices, even though I’m now a career-changer.  I did what I set out to do: got a tenure-track job and then got tenure.  I’m glad I did that; if I hadn’t, I would always have wondered if I could.  I wish the job had been somewhere less soul-sucking.  But it’s turned out ok, and I can’t say I have regrets.

#1:  Man, if I could go back and redo the phd program now I would be so badass.  They would think I’m a genius.  I kind of wish I’d taken a year off and gotten some maturity and knowledge before starting, but if I’d done that I probably wouldn’t have gotten into the program that I did.  And, realistically, I probably wouldn’t have ended up getting a PhD at all if I hadn’t stayed directly on the academic path because as ambitious and amazing as I am, I tend to get interested in things the more I know about them so whatever path I started on was most likely going to be one I took to the end.  But who knows!

I do seem to have gotten over most, if not all, of the PhD trauma and I like my current job and current socioeconomic status a lot.  So I think I’m happy with the path life has taken me on.  DH is pretty happy with his current job now too, so I (mostly) no longer feel guilty about the years he spent in a job he didn’t like so much (and by extension, the PhD program he went to so I could go to my #1 choice program).  (He, btw, has no regrets, so it’s irrational for me to feel the least bit guilty.)

There’s an alternate world me out there that is probably deliriously happy moving to SF right after college with DH and the two of us making bank during the dot com boom (DH moreso than me– I probably ended up without stock options).  We’ve bought a house when the market was at a low and are happily living the good life.

But I suspect there are many alternate world mes out there in various states of happiness.  Even though it might not have seemed like it from middle school (where I was bullied) and graduate school (where I suspect birth control pills and poor eating habits added to my anxiety), I’m essentially a happy person who tends to bloom where planted.

What about you?

Making friends as a professor or as an adult

One of the problems with being a young untenured sort of person is that, outside of your department, the majority of people you meet your age are graduate students.  Graduate students have this unfortunate tendency to graduate and LEAVE.

You can be friends with colleagues, but you can’t tell them too much before tenure.  And sometimes if you get too close you realize they’re not only crazy but you have to work with them for potentially the next SIXTY YEARS.  So a little distance with most of them can be nice.

If you have kids, you will end up socializing a lot with parents of other kids, but a lot of times even though your kids may be able to discuss Minecraft for hours, you actually have little to nothing in common with them.  Of course, if you’re not extroverted, then having kids and kids having activities uses up all your people time and you’re just kind of stuck not really wanting to talk to anybody else.  (Hopefully you enjoy spending time with your family!)

If you live in a thriving metropolis, you can meet people with your interests online or through meet-ups.  Even in smaller towns you can be active in interest groups.  Maybe politics.  Maybe school board.  Maybe board-games.  If your hobbies and interests go more in the direction of watching bad tv and reading novels, that’s not going to work so well.  (Recall that book clubs seem like *work* to many academics.)

In the end, after my new friends left and graduated, and I found the right amount of closeness/distance with colleagues, and I split children’s activities with DH, most of my new friends are conference buddies.  I see and socialize with people I like and enjoy talking with (small-talk even!) a few times a year.  Sometimes we email in between, sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we miss each other for a year or two or three, sometimes we see each other several months in a row.  Sometimes we make time to have meals, sometimes we just chat at 10 min breaks.  It’s odd having closer friends that I travel and see than I have in my own home town, but I bet I’m not alone in this.

Have you made friends as an adult?  How have you gone about it?  Do you wish you had more or are you happy with what you have?

Two years after leaving academia: DH is flourishing

DH just got back from his second business week-long trip this month.  It was an important trip and really clarified some things for both of us.  I was considering turning this into my annual anniversary post, but I’ve already written one with a little bit more me-centered-ness.

Anyhow…

When he was trying to figure out what he wanted in a job, he realized he wanted to work in teams.  He wanted regular feedback.  He wanted to feel as if he was doing something productive and valuable that would really help people.  He wants to feel valued.  He wanted to do programming but not just programming.

With his new job that he’s been working at for well over a year, he works on teams.  He gets regular (weekly) feedback.  He’s producing something valuable that will be literally saving lives within the next two years, should all go well.  (Engineering ROCKS.)  He’s doing computer programming, but not just programming, and he’s managing a project and a programmer.  He’s written as many successful grants in the past year than he did during his entire time as a professor.  Telecommuting and a bigger salary also haven’t hurt.

DH is happier than he has ever been before.  And I’m so very proud of him.  He is truly amazing.  Talking to him on the phone after a particularly successful meeting I felt my uterus twinge and had to remind it that I have already reproduced (twice) with this amazing man.

I feel a little bit guilty that he wasted all those years teaching undergraduates who didn’t realize the value they were squandering by not paying attention to their studies.  Truly we should have been less risk-averse and maybe he should have left academia earlier.  But things have worked out.  Being able to live together has definitely been a bonus and it isn’t clear that he would have been able to find such a great job 10 years ago.  Spouses of some of my colleagues haven’t been so lucky and either house-husband or live apart.  It’s hard to say what the counterfactual would have been.

Academia is still working well for me, but leaving academia is working extremely well for DH.  We are truly blessed.

Finding what interests me in a new career

One of us is job-hunting after quitting academia and moving to paradise.  I have been looking for jobs I want, but I haven’t been finding that many to apply to–I still have enough resources at this point to be able to focus my search on jobs I would like rather than taking any job.  I have applied for about 20 things and gotten 1 phone interview and no in-person interviews or offers.

What do I want?  I want something sciency and researchy, in the social sciences.  I am not a clinician and not a certified CRA.  I am not a biologist or pharmacist or engineer and I do not use Hadoop (I could learn if I had to but it doesn’t seem necessary now).  I don’t program (other than several standard social science statistics softwares and some dabbling in things like .html etc., but not like C++ kind of programming) and I don’t want to.

I have [#2: excellent] skills in data analysis, writing, editing, literature review, and many things about the research process [#2:  I fully vouch for these– she reads every paper of mine before I send it out and she’s helped me a ton when stat-transfer fails me, and more than once she’s saved my rear end doing last second RA work when I was up against a deadline and I found a SNAFU.  I’ve also shamelessly stolen a lot of her teaching stuff, but that’s probably irrelevant since she doesn’t want to adjunct or lecture.]!  (See the second table below)  I can do tons of research.

I am not an extrovert and interacting with people most of the time drains me, but I interact quite successfully in teams and research groups.  I’m not interested in being a manager of people in a pure managerial sense, though I can do some and I am experienced supervising teams of research assistants.

Ever since I was a little kid, every “career interest” test I have ever taken has always come out that I should be a professor, and it still does.  However, nope nope nope!

I played with this online thing for scientists and it was kinda enlightening.  It tells you, among other things, about what your values, skills, and interests are in a career.  Here are mine.

First, here are my values of things that are unimportant and important to me in a new career:  (for these big tables, click to embiggen).  I know this is a lot to ask for, but it represents the ideal.

My Values in a job image

Second, here are my scientific skills, what I think I am good and bad at:

Science Skills Summary image

Third, here are my interests:

Interests Summary image

The jobs it suggests for me include faculty at a research university (nopenopenope) and the things I am already applying for, such as research manager stuff.  I would be happy to manage someone’s lab, although I can’t put up with a job where the ONLY thing I do is make other people’s travel arrangements.  I could do quite a good job in something like research administration, if it focused on compliance and not budgets (though I can and will do budgets so long as it isn’t the *only* thing). I am good at teaching but I will never do it ever again.  I love collaborating with other scientists but am not crazy about managing people.

I would like to work for a nonprofit or the VA (which keeps failing to hire me over and over).  I’m not against working at a for-profit company though, especially if the pay is good and the work is interesting.  Program-analyst type stuff seems to be a title I come across a lot for job postings.  The site also suggests that I be an epidemiologist (interesting but I’m not trained for it), a clinical diagnostician (not trained for it and don’t want to be), and a teaching faculty (NOPE NOPE NOPE).  I would be fine as non-academic staff at a university.  I do not do drug testing, nor do I have any wet-lab skills.

You can be sure that my cover letter and resume are shiny, personalized, revised, and proofread by #2 [and, #2 notes, more importantly, the career office at her former grad school went over her resume when she did the change from cv to resume].

I’m not expecting to go in at the highest level, and I don’t really want to. I am definitely willing to work my way up to some extent, but not all the way from the proverbial mailroom. My retirement funds are anemic and if the job is really poorly paid, it might be more profitable to spend that time searching for a better job, rather than being tied to a job that’s both low-paying *and* boring.

Mostly I’ve been applying for jobs that I find on Indeed.com.  But I need to expand.  And yes, I know I should be networking more (and I swear I am networking!)– this post is part of that effort.  ;)

I promise I’m not as much of a special snowflake as I sound like here; I have skills that would really help an employer if only I could convince them of that [and, #2 notes, if she could find more job openings, preferably before they’re advertised…].  Help!

Grumpeteers, what say you?  How can I get a job that pays decently and is also suited to my skills, interests, knowledge, and background?  

On budget constraints, endogeity, and interconnectedness: A deliberately controversial post

I was reading another mommy blog off a blog roll and came across an article talking about another article.  The original article made the argument, Fly-lady like, that if your life is a mess, then your bathroom floor is a mess, and to make your life less of a mess, you need to clean your bathroom floor because this is all interconnected.  Sort of a broken windows hypothesis for your life.

How do you know your life is a mess, asks the article?  The proof is whether or not the area behind your child’s car seat is sparkly clean.  Ignoring for the moment that that test says that all but the most OCD or wealthy enough to afford servants have lives that are messes, there are several logical and mechanical reasons that making a causal link from cleaning your house to cleaning your life doesn’t make sense.

Let’s start with the mechanical arguments.  As Laura Vanderkam is fond of noting, there are 168 hours in a week.  Every hour you spend cleaning behind the car seat is an hour you don’t spend organizing your paid work, your meals, your finances, your exercise routine, or anything else that people find worth organizing that makes them happier.  I’m guessing that area behind the car seat that is just going to get messy again ranks pretty low on most people’s priority list.  (Unless, of course an apple core got wedged there, then clean away!  But the example in the article didn’t include potential for rot or bad smells.)

Adding to the time-based mechanical arguments is research on willpower.  If cleaning is unpleasant, it takes willpower to do.  We have limited reserves of willpower that are replenished with sleep, rest, and food.  Willpower used on cleaning behind the car seat is willpower not used at work.  Or it is willpower to be replenished with sugar leading to unhealthiness.

Finally, even if there is a correlation between having a clean bathroom and feeling together with the rest of your life, that doesn’t mean that the clean bathroom *causes* you to have (or to feel like you have) the rest of your life together. There could be endogeneity.

Endogeneity comes in two flavors.

The first is reverse causality.  Here, feeling together would be the cause of the clean bathroom, not vice versa.  Maybe you have free time from being organized and good at delegating so you can clean the bathroom.  Maybe you’re so awesome at work and confident in yourself that you can easily hire a housecleaner.

The second source of endogeneity is omitted variables bias.  That means there is something else that causes both your bathroom to be clean and you feeling like you have your life together.  An omitted variable could be something like, being Martha Stewart.  Or having a really low sleep need and high reserves of will-power.  If you only need a few hours of sleep per night you have more time to do everything and to have a clean bathroom.  Or maybe having a partner who is supportive and enjoys cleaning– that could lead to both clean bathroom and the rest of life working.  (Just like having a partner who acts like an additional toddler rather than a caring and sharing adult can lead to messy bathrooms and unhappiness in other areas.)

 

Do you think that if you want to be perfect at one thing, you have to be perfect at everything?

Apparently I am too young for a midlife crisis

So my mom sent me this link and asked what I thought about it.

The post-tenure slump is a real thing that lots of academics experience, but I didn’t.  I felt great about tenure.  Then I moved to a location far less sucky and I feel super-great these days!  I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time.  Perhaps I’m not old enough yet?

My friend had a quarter-life crisis but I was too busy working on my degree and having grad-school woes to have a crisis about my age and stage in life; I was having crises about the state of my research instead.  At quarter-life (25) I felt overall good about where my life was heading, despite the struggles.  That feeling did take a dip in my previous shitty city, but it’s back these days too.  Quitting a sucky institution in a sucky state and moving to paradise will do that for ya.

You should ask me again in 10 years!

#2 was too busy to have a post-tenure crisis.  She did have a bout of pre-tenure angst, though.

Have you had any fraction-life crises?  How did they go?

Why I Quit Dieting: A Guest Post

Here’s a guest post from another friend of mine.  She is a white, able-bodied, heterosexual (I think) woman.  She is a wonderful person to be around, and she reads Dances with Fat (who reminds us that we can’t hate ourselves thin), too!  We were having a conversation about radical self-love when she agreed to let me use this piece.

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Why I Quit Dieting

Even though I was an average-sized kid, I went on my first diet at age 9 because I thought from example that it’s what you do when you are female.  It lasted a day because I was nothing but hungry all day.  At 15, I got better at fighting hunger and lost weight by eating only an orange and then drinking Diet Coke and chewing Trident bubble gum during the school days  – days that frequently included a couple of hours of tennis team practice – so I could go home and eat a normal dinner and not tell my stepmother I was on a diet.  I definitely lost weight and for years my mother went on and on about how good I looked when I performed in a play at the end of that spring.  I later revealed I was only that thin because I had basically been starving myself. Of course, I gained weight back.  I went through about 3 more of those 15-pound cycles into my late 20s, one of them “accomplished” during a college summer by eating 800 calories a day, chewing on candy but spitting it out, and running about 2 miles a day.  (I hereby apologize to the library information phone line librarians who had to answer all of mine and my friend’s questions about how many calories were in different foods before we had the internet.)

One of my first steps toward empowerment was after a re-gain when my mother called me and asked how she could help me lose weight.  She had experienced a time when her mother read a newspaper article about one of her major professional accomplishments and her mother only commented on her hair.  So, when she called me, I said something along the lines of: “You know how you felt when your mother only commented on your hair?  Well, that’s how I feel right now.  I am proud of what I am doing and the person I am. My weight is none of your business.”  And then I lost about 15 pounds – because that’s what I wanted to do at the time.

A couple of things helped me shed the ideas of what NOT to eat and focus on eating nutritious foods:  one friend said that to lose weight, he ate fruit instead of a hot dog for breakfast.  It was so simple, but something about that got me to eat a substantial, healthy breakfast every day, something that is an essential part of my life now.  After a thyroid crash in my second round of grad school, I worked with a naturopath who gave me a list of foods to eat every day and foods to eat every week to recover from my many inflammation-related conditions.  I recovered from the thyroid crash, focused on what TO eat and stopped paying attention to what not to eat, except when I got rid of migraines by eliminating some foods.

I love my current naturopath who has never weighed me, but reports all of my kick-ass results of true health indicators (I think it was my C-reactive protein number that she said was the best she had seen in a long time). It feels so good to use my assertiveness to tell the medical assistants at “regular” doctor’s offices that “I do not want to be weighed today.”  I’ve learned so much about what a poor indicator of health the number on the scale is and carry it through in my actions.  Since I jokingly call myself an “empiricist pig,” I trust the research that shows that the number on the scale on its own is not useful as a predictor of health, that 95% of weight loss efforts do not last beyond 5 years, and that losing and re-gaining weight is bad for health.  I’ll go with the real predictors:  eating fresh fruits & vegetables, regular moderate exercise, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation.

I am so much happier and comfortable my current size than I ever was at the smaller clothing size that I “could” be.  My size is not a (secretly) temporary size.  It’s not full of regulations, obligations, or shame. It’s my size.  It’s the size I am when I eat and relish the joy of delicious, healthy, whole, real foods most of the time (and relish less healthy foods sometimes as well – because they are delicious, too!).  It’s the size I am when I enjoy exercising multiple times each week.  I have always been physically active in many ways, but it is even more fun to exercise now that I do it for how much I love it, how good it feels to move, how strong it makes me, and for how much energy it gives me  – without any concern for its effectiveness at changing my body size.  Loving movement, loving food, eating when I’m hungry (until I’m not hungry, and not feeling guilty about anything I put in my mouth or even an occasional full week without exercise), is the most joyful and peaceful way to live.

 

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#2 notes that focusing on fun and new things to eat has gotten her through a lot of pregnancy and related eating restrictions.  There’s a whole world of healthy yummy food out there for all sorts of restricted eating, be it whole foods, gluten-free, nut-free, etc. etc. etc.

Got comments, Grumpeteers?  Be nice.

 

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