Anthems for working

You Better Work.

Unless you want to live in a Van by the River.

What reminds you to work?  Do you have any working anthems?

Ask the grumpies: When bullies bully through tone-policing

Oldmdgirl asks:

[A]ny advice on how to handle the following scenario: Say, someone tries to bully you into doing something and you hold your ground patiently but firmly — often they will claim you were “rude” in order to try to get you in trouble with your superiors. I’m not sure how to handle this type of feedback since a) complying with their request may not have been reasonable/safe/possible in any way, b) you provided a completely reasonable alternative that they rejected without listening, c) they actually tried to bully you and were rude to you. Do you stand your ground? Do you defend yourself? What is the best way to handle this sort of scenario? I had something like this happen recently, and I was wondering if there was any merit to proactively seeking out feedback about how the situation could have been handled differently in order to have avoided the frustration on everybody’s part. Thoughts?

Crucial conversations tends to suggest you pretend they’re not bullying you and to reframe what they’re saying to make sure you understand etc. etc. etc.  You would then proactively seek feedback as you suggest, following their instructions on keeping the other party safe and focusing on the situation, not anything personal.  But Crucial Conversations also doesn’t really get that women are treated differently than men. Some of their afterwards from the updated edition get into this idea a little bit but don’t offer any solutions, just say that although their recommendations usually work with even difficult people, they don’t always work with all bullies.

With bullies, I have found that what often works the best (as a woman in a male-dominated field) is to channel your inner mom/kindergarten teacher/nun (your choice) and sigh a bit, and then talk in your disappointed voice. “I wish we could do that, but you know that isn’t safe/wasn’t reasonable/could hurt someone.” “Oh, [name], I did give you a suggestion, but …” “I don’t like being treated this way/Did you just say [x] to me? Why did you say [x]?  That wasn’t very nice/constructive/etc.” Some of my female heroes have this really cool way of being firm and disappointed at the same time. I’m mostly just disappointed– I’m working on getting more moxy so I can add just the right amount of underlying “they shoulda known better”.

People seem to be able to defer to a woman when reminded of a woman who once had power over them and you address them as if they’re naughty toddlers or elementary schoolers, especially when that’s what they’re acting like.  Students stopped trying to bully me pretty much entirely once I had a toddler of my own and started treating them like preschoolers instead of adults.  The same treatment works with overbearing white guys as well.

Grumpy Nation, do you have any suggestions from the trenches?

Ask the grumpies: How to deal with anticipating/receiving difficult feedback

MidA asks:

[D]o you have any favorite past posts on receiving difficult feedback? I think some may be coming my way (though not sure what precisely–I’ll spare the backstory but suffice it to say that this is a surprise) and if I don’t have a gameplan, I’m afraid I may be noticeably holding back tears.

I don’t think we do have any favorite posts on that topic.

What I usually do that works for me (but may not work for you) is to go through every possible scenario including the worst possible ones, and then think about what I’ve learned and how not do do the bad thing again, how to put a plan in place, what larger problems does this highlight, are there structural changes to be made etc.

Usually the feedback isn’t as bad as my worst imaginings. And having a growth mindset helps to think of screw-ups as chances to change/grow/fix stuff.  Sure, maybe I did something stupid, but it was a temporary stupidity that has resulted in a learning experience for me or highlighted something that needs to be changed structurally.

As a warning though, admin often doesn’t like structural changes (even something as simple as getting a coffee maker that doesn’t set the office on fire when someone leaves a burner on) and sometimes will attack rather than explore their feasibility. That’s a sign of bad admin.

Oldmdgirl added this for when you don’t think the feedback you’re getting is actually worthwhile:

[E]ven if the negative feedback is a bunch of baloney, I recommend saying, “Thank you for taking the time to tell me your concerns. Do you have any suggestions on how I might avoid this happening in the future/ things that I can work on so that this doesn’t happen again?” Try to focus on what you can DO differently in the future. Take the focus off of who you are as a person. Depersonalize it. Then you can go stick pins in the voodoo doll you created for that purpose.

What do you do/suggest, grumpy nation?

Networking FTW! Or how to get a job in 11 easy steps

How to get a cool job while living in Paradise:

Step 1:  Send out dozens of carefully crafted applications to highly selected jobs that interest you, culled from want ads from a number of sources (

Step 2:  Get a few phone interviews and an in-person interview for a job you’d really like that goes to second round.  After a long wait, fail to get those jobs.

Step 3:  Decide maybe it’s time to apply for jobs that aren’t quite as much up your alley.  Carefully craft individualized applications for job openings you find via want-ads and company pages but secretly hope you don’t get that consulting job (which is highly paid but uninteresting and will probably eat your soul in less than 2 years).

Step 4:  Mention to the extroverted wife of someone you went to high school with that you’re looking for a position.

Step 5:  Said wife notes that their kid goes to preschool with another kid whose mom is a PhD in your field working in a job that sounds exactly like the kind of job you want.  She puts you in touch.

Step 6:  It turns out that although kid’s mom has a job that is like one you would want, the mom doesn’t actually have a PhD in your field, but her husband does.  He sends an email to say hi and says they’re looking for someone right now where he works.  He sends you a want ad for a position just like the one you want (that you are overqualified for) at the center where he works.  Only catch: cutoff for applications is today (on the day that you are emailing).

Step 7:  Thankfully, the salary range is posted right in the ad.  Decide it is ok and apply for said job at 4:16pm on day applications close.

Step 8:  Just a few days later, receive enthusiastic phone call from founder of center, asking you to come in a few days from now.  Nail interview with the amazing guy who runs the center.  It is conversational and does not include dumb interview questions like “what is your biggest weakness?”.  He talks about how, if you got this job, you could increase your income above the stated range by doing various things.  The base salary is hard money (not dependent on grants).  Hours are flexible.  Like things more and more.

Step 9:  Have a great time on the informal second-round interviews, talking with the other PhDs working at the center.  Answer lots of questions about why it’s ok that you’re overqualified.  Note that they’ve started mentioning things you want to do that are outside the scope of the originally advertised job description, like mentoring graduate students and writing grants to increase your salary (which, although low for a PhD in your field, is still higher than what you were making as a tenured associate prof in Blasted Wasteland).

Step 10:  Have your references give you glowing recommendations when the center guy calls them.  Also have them tell you that the guy who runs the center has a reputation in the field for being a great mentor.  He is hiring his trainees and former students to grow the center.  Some members have worked with him for 15 years.

Step 11:  Do a happy dance when you get the job offer on the phone!  Look sort of like a chicken/’80s dancer.  Pump fist in air, go “Eeeee”.  Have 30-minute conversation with institute founder in which he is already more respectful about your skills and expertise than your previous 2 bosses.

~~~~now have job!~~~~

Step 12: Inquire with HR person about benefits.  They are pretty good.  Formally accept offer at top end of published range.  Your new office (with door!) is shared with 1 other person and a fantastic view out the big window.  Your new email is set up right away.

Step 12a:  HR person sends you offer letter via email.  An hour later you get another email: Please disregard that offer letter and use this one instead.  The center director has begged Provost for increase in your base salary; this new letter has the increased salary.  Pay is now above the posted range in the job ad, and is a number you feel much happier about (#2:  A number that is more than my engineering PhD DH was making when he was on the tenure track…).  Accept that one and print it out real quick.  Start telling friends & family you got job (#2 said YAY!).  Converse with staff about what kind of laptop you want.  Get lunch invitation for your first day at work.  Feel like a ROCKSTAR.  Send grateful messages to people who served as references.  Discover that all your friends in the field happen to know your new boss, and say he is phenomenal, influential, and a great mentor.  Keep feeling more rockstar-y all the time.

Step 13:  Hash out benefit contributions and household finances with partner (future post!).  Fall asleep on floor while trying to read book before bed.  Start new job 5 days after offer.

Congratulate me in the comments below!  After over a year with no job I was starting to feel nervous about the growing gap in my CV.  Hang in there, job searchers.

Getting more advanced at stata

One of my goals this summer is to get better at Stata programming.  I’m mostly self-taught, as are most economists, and I’ve worked with different people who have different styles and I’ve definitely noticed there are things that are helpful in writing code and things that are not so helpful.  I’ve also been picking up tricks that I should have learned years ago.

My goals are two-fold.  I want to be more organized and I want to be more efficient with my programming.

Two books I recommend: 1. A Gentle Introduction to Stata.  This is actually a great intro-to-programming book that mainly only goes over basic stuff.  (#2 likes it, and has it from the library.)  But I’ve managed to pick up some good tricks from it (numlabel _all, add  FTW).   2. The Workflow of Data Analysis Using Stata— this is a really great book for thinking about how to organize, comment, label, etc. etc. etc. your, um, Stata workflow.  It says a lot of stuff I already knew, but haven’t been acting on, and puts it all together in a way that I hope to be able to act on.

So what does this mean specifically?  First, I’m being much better about commenting my code, particularly the part at the top that says what the purpose of the .do file is.  I’m also getting better at consistent names– my previous system would have, for example, multiple “Table 2″s every time the tables in the paper would change (#2 is shocked).  Now I’m better about saying things like, Table_2_SOLE, which would be the version of Table 2 back when the paper was presented at SOLE, and I have better more informative table names for things that aren’t official paper tables.

I’m also trying to do a better job of keeping my current files in one folder and moving out the older versions so I don’t accidentally use an older version after I’ve fixed a mistake.  Recently that has caused me some embarrassment that a referee noticed.  I’m getting a bit better about dating files as well.  #2 tends to change the name of the files to something like “data analysis project X OLD DO NOT USE” and “revised data set USE THIS ONE”.  Also #2 uses dates, but I don’t find them as useful as they should be.

In terms of programming itself, two of my big goals are to start using loops automatically instead of cut/paste/replace automatically.  I need to get more practiced at them so I don’t have to look up the code each time.  (I’m proud of myself for finally figuring out which `’ to use when in the loops!)  I also want to start using locals more, which is again something I tend to cut/paste/replace for when I really should have shorter and cleaner code that just changes the local.

It’s a bit embarrassing that I’m just making these changes now, but as always, I remind myself that lesson I learned in graduate school– later will be even more embarrassing, so given that before is sunk, now is the best time to figure out something I should have figured out a long time ago.  #2 adds, it’s never too late to improve your workflow and versioning.  I’m trying to make mine better all the time.

Do you have any self-improvement things going on in your life?

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?


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