Ask the grumpies: getting out of unproductive funks

First Gen American asks:

How do you suck yourself out of an unproductive funk. Do you find that allowing yourself to wallow in it for awhile is actually is more helpful than beating yourself up about being unproductive.

Yes, with the caveat that beating oneself up about being unproductive can sometimes be an important component of wallowing in it.  To get the full wallow a little self-hatred is necessary.

To get out:  Just Do IT.  Sometimes I will ask #2 to remind me about vans by rivers and request a kick in the posterior.

#2 says:  I think the how getting-out part for me has involved meeting people at coffee shops.  I haven’t done much of that recently.  Hard deadlines also make me ridiculously productive.   Unfortunately last-minute deadline blitz is unsustainable, if for no other reason than RSI.

We here at grumpy rumblings love to cross things off lovely lovely lists.  Sometimes even if I can’t be productive, I can write a list about what it would take to be productive.  Then day two I can cross one of the things off the list.  Breaking up tasks into smaller tasks is great for goal motivation.  Doing them from smallest to largest is also good for motivation, though one of us works best when she has an important goal that she doesn’t want to do hanging over her head– it makes all the other tasks on the to-do list seem so much more worthy of doing by comparison.

I guess it depends on WHY the funk.  I have anxiety which I manage with meds and awareness of it.

It’s also important to ATTEMPT to realize that it’s really not so bad once I get going.  Starting is hard! But starting is often the hardest part. Like Boice says, tell yourself to do it for 30 min– if that’s too long, then 10 min, or even 5 min. You can do almost anything for 5 min, and once you’re started it usually isn’t so bad.

What do you do, Grumpy World?

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?

I encouraged my (heterosexual male) partner to have dinner with another woman

… even though we’re planning a wedding!

How’s that for a click-bait headline?  Clickkkk baaaaaiiiiiit.

Seriously though, this is another post on the importance of networking.

My partner’s company was imploding and it was time to get out.  So he tapped a network, went out to dinner, and came back with a referral to a new job that included a raise, a better commute, and three weeks off for the wedding and honeymoon.

Wooo networks!

(And boo patriarchy for allowing the headline of this post to sound even the least bit interesting.)

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?  

Ask the grumpies: Advice for moving institutions

Mimi asks

I am an Assistant Professor at a directional state school, where I have taught for 4.5 years. I am moving after this semester to a much better, highly ranked private institution (in a much better location! with a job for my husband!) and I am beyond excited about it.

At my current institution, I did way too much service (sitting on university wide committees, directing a program) partially because I didn’t say no, partially because the institution is full of men who think that female professors should be on all committees relating to teaching and do all service, partially because I was thrown under the bus by my chair and dean. Needless to say, I am delighted to be moving. And that I am better at saying no now than I was 5 years ago.

My big question is this: what advice would you give someone who was moving about adapting to the new place? Are there things that faculty who have come to your departments / former departments did that drove you nuts? That you saw as particularly savvy or smart? I am bringing lots of credit on the tenure clock to the new place, so I have one year there before I go through the tenure process, if that matters. 

Oh gee, once again we’re pretty useless on this one.  Congratulations on the new job and fixing all sorts of problems!

Most likely you’ll be able to dodge excess service this year because you’re new and you’re doing that last-minute tenure push.  As a tenured person if you’re in a good place, you’ll take on more service than pre-tenure people do because you’ll be protecting pre-tenure people.  Unless, of course, they’re hiring you because they don’t have enough people to do service(!), in which case your load might be a bit higher than expected.  Do ask around what the normal load is for pre-tenure folk, and not just for women.

I don’t think there’s been anything off-the-wall with people we’ve had move from other institutions in either positive or negative directions.  One of my colleagues delayed going up for tenure for too long (negotiated a really long clock upon coming) which meant ze sailed through tenure, but hir letters read things like, “I thought this request would be for promotion to full,” but that doesn’t sound like your situation since you’ve only negotiated a one year clock.  (Granted, ze was able to take advantage of pre-tenure perks like leave and a post-doc.)

People hired without tenure have tended to be a bit more tentative as a group than people hired with.  They’re quieter at meetings, and don’t tend to provide opinions unless directly asked.  People hired with tenure have come in and changed things up (for the better!) or come in just as quietly as the pre-tenure.  It depends on their personality.  Who is to say what is right, though?  We’ve had first year hires every bit as opinionated and active as people hired with tenure.  As long as the goals are good and the environment is supportive and non-toxic, it’s ok to speak up.  If everyone has the same goals of moving the department forward, supporting the students, and doing good work, then disagreements become discussions rather than problems.  Still, if you’re pushing for tenure right away, there are benefits to keeping your head down.

We do think that the really important thing is to remember that academia is just a job and that there are a lot of other jobs out there.  As such, you don’t really need to try to game the system.  Do what you need to do to be a good researcher (and good teacher and good citizen) and, more importantly, to enjoy that research and teaching and service.  Focus on what gives you meaning.  Maybe stepping lightly that first year as you get your bearing, but if anything is too horrible, remember, you can always leave again.

So… not really that great advice above, but we’re hoping our readers can give better advice!  Maybe we’ll jump over and ask Historiann if she can signal boost for us so you can truly get some good advice from a variety of people in academia.

Employee initiative or employee management?

DH had separate conversations with his brother and his cousin this break in which they both said the same thing.

Whenever each asked his boss how he was doing, the boss said, you’re doing fine.  When asked to elaborate, the boss would say, you do what we ask you to do.

However, at end of the year evaluation, each was told that just doing what was asked isn’t enough to excel.  It’s enough to do ok.  But to excel each needs to show initiative and to figure out what to do before being asked to do it.

DH’s brother maintains that that’s just not his way, and if his manager were a good manager he’d manage DH’s brother so that DH’s brother would excel without having to show initiative (though he didn’t use the words “initiative”– that’s me not knowing how else to describe it) — he’d be told what to do and he’d do it and he would excel.

DH’s cousin’s situation is a bit more dysfunctional in that he actually gets in trouble for showing initiative and is thus getting severely mixed signals.  DH’s cousin’s boss sounds a lot worse than DH’s brother’s boss.

This made me think about education levels and management and what makes a good employee.

DH and I kind of agree with the brother’s boss.  We have PhDs.  We’re trained to have initiative.  We couldn’t do our work without a lot of self-direction.  We both supervise people without PhDs for whom we do the vast majority of the direction.  And it’s great when we get an employee who shows some initiative because they’re closer to the work and often see things that we don’t and it decreases our mental load (though it’s good when they ask before going off on a wild goose chase).  The PhD, in essence, is valuable in the work world because we don’t think there’s anything wrong with being asked to do self-direction and we expect to do it and we know how to do it.  Hopefully that translates over for humanities PhDs and other areas where supply outstrips academic demand.  That ability to work independently is worth money to industry and government.

DH’s brother has an MS (masters of science).  DH’s cousin has an AS (that’s the practical version of a 2 year community college degree– associates of science).  DH’s brother’s boss is fine.  DH’s cousin’s boss is pretty bad.  Why should you get education?  To make it easier to avoid terrible bosses.  And maybe each extra degree really does make you more productive– there’s a lot to be said for independent thinking and independent work skills.  Sure, there’s something to be said for being able to be a cog, but right now there’s a lot of people able to be cogs and not as many able to direct the gears on their own.  So gear direction is worth something.

So what do you think– should employees show more initiative even if they don’t want to or should good bosses be better micromanagers?  (That’s a loaded framing– perhaps you have a way to load it the other direction?)  Is higher education worth something?  Does it really teach thinking and self-direction?

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