Thursday, August 27, 2015

"free" conference

I was still technically part of a research group after I'd finished grad school. The primary grant that I had worked under had a few stipulations, one of which was that the research group would present the findings of the work at x number of national/international conferences. The grant-giving organization had money set aside specifically for the conference attendance, and to make a long story short, I was the only one available to give the presentation.

I had just started a new job. Conference attendance wouldn't be a problem, right? After all, my travel and conference costs were entirely covered. Plus, as a newly-minted employee, I would be representing my new firm as a technical expert at big conference (related to that industry).

Not so much. New employer was fixated on the three days of admin/non-billable work that they'd need to pay me to fly out and give the presentation, so I ended up promising that I would squash three days of overtime into two weeks to avoid any extra admin charges.

I was wiped out by that overtime, plus the presentation prep time (also not allowed to be charged to the firm), and so I didn't do any actual conference networking to support my new employer.

I thought that the firm was outrageously short-sighted for not wanting to take advantage of a (mostly) free conference. I eventually figured out the office politics around having a brand-new employee jet off to a fancy conference (even though it was my research), and considered myself lucky to be allowed to go.

Now if I have a conference I'd like to attend, I make sure to have a business case for going and not just argue that I can give a cool presentation. I do miss grad school in that respect - as a grad student, I'd be able to take a free conference in a heartbeat, and not worry about more complicated financial/business development considerations.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

weight and fieldwork

I discussed this a while back, but I tend to lose weight if I'm doing a significant chunk of fieldwork (say, more than 2 months) and gain weight when I'm back in the office. When I'm in the field, I'm constantly in motion - pacing while on the phone, scurrying back to the truck/trailer/storage unit to grab something, hauling stuff around. When I'm not doing fieldwork, I'm mostly sedentary at the office and then I come home and do maybe an hour of exercise one or twice a week.

I thought that most people lost weight in the field like I do, but when I asked around, I found that many of my coworkers gain weight. This is usually for a few reasons:

1. Regular exercise: unlike me, lots of other people who do fieldwork like physical activity/exercise, and when they're not in the field, they're on an adult rec league or they hike six mountains every weekend or they go on long bike rides/runs. When they're working long days, they don't have the time or facilities/equipment to exercise like they normally would.

2. Alcohol. This really deserves its own post, but briefly, we tend to drink more in the field than when we're at home.

3. Eating outside food: some people are diligent about cooking for themselves, either for their own enjoyment/interest in saving money or because they have dietary restrictions. The rest of us eat out. A lot.

I have no idea whether it's more common to gain or lose weight in the field. Readers, do you gain? lose? or can you actually maintain a steady weight regardless of where you're working?

Friday, August 21, 2015

blogroll update

It's been about 2 years since my last blogroll update. I've rearranged some of the headings and made a few other changes. Notably:

Deletions: Diamictite and The Happy Scientist have been post-free for more than a year, and sporadic before then. I'll keep an eye out, and if posts reappear, I'll add them back in.


The field experiences of ecologists and geologists are pretty damn close, and I've found myself using Dynamic Ecology many times for post inspiration.

I'm also adding a paleontology blog to round out the geology list - check out Fossils and Other Living Things.

Feel free to poke through the blogs!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

restarting transmission

So, that was a big gap. I got hit with a whole bunch of issues (personal and professional) that sucked up all my time, and then my posting fell by the wayside when my newfangled "write on weekends, post on weekdays" schedule hit a snag.

However, I do have a big pile of post-it notes with blog post ideas, which I kept accumulating in my posting absence. Let's see how it goes...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

outside office work

As I've moved into more analysis/inside technical work, I've occasionally had to work long hours inside. Whenever I need to do this, I'm reminded of how much more draining office work is. Sure, in the field I'll work 10-11 hour days with no ill effects, but a lot of that time is running around, collecting measurements, taking notes, and watching contractors.

I fit the extra office-type work in the office. I'm not the sort of person who can work well at home - I prefer to have a clean break from whatever is stressing me out. Even in grad school, where my setup for my apartment and my office at school was essentially the same, I would still make the trek in to do my homework. That means that in a pinch, I'll haul myself all the way to the office on a weekend to work. And because I'm a morning person, and if I'm stressed/under deadline, I will tend to go to bed early in an attempt to get more sleep and then wake up extremely early, I do all my extra office work before hours. By the time close of business rolls around, I may have already put in 10 hours and am wiped out.

I have coworkers who prefer to work extremely late, and ones who prefer to hide out at home to avoid distractions. I also used to work with someone who would take his stuff to a local bar to catch up on work. Of course, the best alternative would be to have a reasonable schedule and not have to work a ton of hours to catch up, but with project-based work, we rarely have the luxury of spreading out the workload.

Monday, March 16, 2015

paying speakers

Thee was some grumbling last week in the comments for this AAM post regarding payment to speakers. Some people were upset that the original poster was trying to get free speakers, and implied that this was similar to not paying interns.

I've been both a free speaker, and the person trying to arrange other free presentations. Here's the thing: in both situations, at least in my line of work, the speaker is getting paid, just not by the organization they're presenting to. A technical presentation is a form of marketing, and is usually budgeted as such.

My vendors love to give sales pitches presentations, and I'm ok with that, as long as the presentation has some reasonable technical meat. Making it a "lunch presentation" and having the vendor spring for pizza also works.

Because I'm on the consulting side of things, I'm not usually selling a particular product in my presentations. But if I've worked on a cool project and learned something useful, and I share it in some sort of public forum, I'm educating others and also keep my name out there as a smart person who does interesting stuff. Sometimes I present at conferences, and sometimes a big client will request a presentation for their own technical staff. I'm paid for my time (more or less) by my organization, and I may get a conference discount, but I'm not getting anything more.

Of course, sometimes I do volunteer. Maybe it's for a science career fair at the nearby high school, or they're short a speaker for the local branch of a geological/environmental society meeting. But it's not something that's keeping me from my paying job.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

a rough project...

I haven't told any nightmare field stories in a while...

I was in charge of a big field project that was just a big mess. Budget, politics, technical requirements, personality conflicts... everything was hard. And on top of that, we had epically bad luck. Things broke that nobody knew could even break. If there was a utility line located anywhere on the property line, we would find it the hard way. Maybe not by drilling (because soon I was utterly paranoid and had the drillers hand digging to 5 feet), but by driving over it, running into it - you name it, it got damaged.

Sometimes projects are lousy. But this project was not only terrible, but it dragged on and on. The core field people (those who were in the project for the duration), who had a combined 80+ years of field experience, all responded differently to the stress.

One person slowly built up a bottomless pit of rage, to the point at which he started pacing and muttering incoherently. He never actually released it (he did that on the next project), but he got so bad, with anger just radiating out of him, that even the client representative and regulators were afraid to approach him. Another broke in a different way: he got so sick of stupid interruptions and changes in direction that his repressed sarcasm boiled over and he got booted off site (permanently) for insubordination. When I heard about that, I yelled at him, "you were supposed to direct them to me when they're being ridiculous! It's my job to debase myself and agree to outrageous demands so that we can keep this job moving forward and end it!"

Me, I became The Girl who Cries in the Trailer.

I would get screamed at, or I'd have to referee a fight between subcontractors, or something would break, or the oversight person would announce that we had broken another of a million little rules and the job was shut down until I could fix it, and I would go into crisis management mode at the scene. Then, I would drive off to the trailer, start the incident report or the updated schedule or the work plan modification, and I would cry over my paperwork. Or, I'd close the door behind whoever had just made my life miserable and bury my face in my hands for a few minutes.

We survived, Mr. Insubordinate and Mr. Rage and me. We went on to do other difficult and technically challenging jobs. But we all agreed that we would not work on another project as bad as that one again.