Wednesday, February 24, 2010

steel-toe problems

I've been traveling...blogging may continue to be minimal for the next week or so. Back to your usual programming:

I needed a new pair of boots ASAP. My old boots were past the minimum time required for reimbursement, and then I went and ruined them by standing in a sticky, ankle-deep mess of bentonite and contaminated slop. Don't ask - it was one of those days.

I was new to the area, working with people who all were either male or could wear mens' size boots. My feet are way too small for that, as I described a while ago. I had the hardest time finding new boots, and nobody else seemed to know where to find them. So I got a pair of cheap boots that didn't fit terribly well. I figured I could live with them.

I would have been better off ordering good boots from the internet and having them overnighted to me. Because I was stuck with uncomfortable, minimally-padded boots that lost their waterproofing in record time ("totally waterproof!" chirped the salesguy) and that I wore 12 hours a day for a year.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

pressure cooker?

I've been traveling/otherwise busy, so I'm only just catching up with the news. So I didn't hear about the recent academic shooting until I was reading FSP's earlier blog. When I went to look for it, it had gotten buried. Here's a news link.

In some of the discussions about the shooting, one topic seems to come up a lot: that academia is a stressful, pressure-cooker environment. Now, I know how hard a lot of professors work, and the PhD/post-doc process is a long slog. And being denied tenure is devastating.

But seriously. When I was in consulting, I was running full-scale field projects - coordinating with and supervising contractors, dealing with angry abutters and their lawyers, trying to keep my picture (and any lapses in whatever) out of the news trucks that were parked next to where I was trying to work, working 70-hour weeks, and generally keeping about 15 different balls in the air. Just check out my "field rants" tag.

I've been laid off. I've had friends who were laid off who were the only ones working in the household, and they were living paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes the layoffs had no warning signs of trouble other than a new management team. A family member lost a job and became one of the millions of people who eventually gave up looking for work and finally called it "early retirement".

Where is this industry safe haven of a secure job with good benefits and no stress? I know that the grass is always greener on the other side, but if academics think that "outside" work is a cakewalk, maybe they should try it for themselves.

Friday, February 12, 2010

conference drinks

I was at the post-conference cocktail hour, where everybody tries to juggle drinks, lukewarm appetizers, and business cards. I was staying at a hotel a couple blocks from the conference center and my only bag was my giant laptop/paperwork briefcase, so I'd just brought some cash and the room card.

Nobody would serve me a drink. C'mon! I've got my conference badge with my scientific and clearly non-entry-level job title! I've got my little conference drink ticket! And it's a long, cold trip back to the hotel for my driver's license.

So I got my coworkers to order me a glass of wine and then sneak it to me when the conference staff wasn't looking.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the homely baby

I figured I'd be early on the whole bloggy baby shower thing that EcoGeoFemme is putting together. I'd like to contribute especially because I can see myself in the position that ScienceGirl finds herself in. If I were to have a kid, I would be essentially alone with my partner, in a work environment where field people simply don't have/raise babies, several hundred miles from my own fantastic support system. It would be a little overwhelming.

I am not a big fan of children. Never have been - when I was the age of babysitting, I was simply intimidated. Now I am mostly annoyed by them. And I haven't spent much time with little kids, so I don't have much expert advice.

Except...I am very close to a particular family, and I was close to the kids (10, 12, 14 years younger than I) while we all grew up.

Child number 1 had a terrible time learning to read. She struggled for years. She hated reading.

Child number 2 was a little devil child. She was so picky, her parents said she lived off sunshine, because she spent most of her time burying/avoiding food. She tormented the youngest sibling. She demanded attention. She pinched. She bit.

Child number 3 was a homely baby. Seriously. He looked...lizardlike. For years, he had these oddly huge, wide-spaced eyes and sallow skin. There aren't many pictures of this baby.

These kids have grown up to be utterly lovely young adults - gracious, awesome to hang out with, terrific students, state champions in their particular sports. And child number 3 is model-beautiful.

So hang in there. Babies may be slow to catch up, difficult, and/or homely, but they can still blossom in unexpected ways.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

$ rollercoaster $

I had a roller-coaster week. I got some money out of the ATM, and I had a surprising amount of money in my account. Sure enough, two days later, I got my credit card bill. Between travel, fieldwork supplies, and a large unexpected charge (hey, sometimes the car needs something), I owed $7,000.

I admit that I don’t keep especially close track of my money. If I’m in the field for more than a week or two, it’s not always easy to keep up with expense reports. So I get my money back all at once, and it’s like Christmas.

I have friends in consulting who live paycheck to paycheck. I always make sure to have a decent cushion – I have no idea how they juggle their finances so closely.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I was doing some pre-tax cleaning, and I came across an old file of my grad school applications. Along with a couple of copies of my college transcript and some application forms, I found some old recommendations.

Back when I started applying to grad school, I had a particular list of possibilities. For one of these school, I couldn't get ahold of the professors who were doing contaminant/dirt type research. By the time I got all my paperwork together, I'd finally heard back from the professors, and none of them were interested in a master's student.

So I have three signed and sealed recommendations that never got sent out. So here's my question: if you had access to sealed recommendations, would you open them? Call up the recommenders and ask their permission to open them? Toss them? Or just hold onto them unopened, like I did?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

wandering advisors

Usually I agree with FSP, but I've got a problem with her post from Monday. That is, when she says that if a grad student thinks that an advisor may be leaving,

" could ask your adviser a direct question about it. Either you will get a non-answer, in which case you should respect the fact that you don't have a right to know everything about your adviser's professional decisions despite the fact that they affect you, or you will get some information that will either be comforting or disconcerting."

Here's my issue, and it's one that several comments hammered away at: having your advisor leave is a really, really big deal. When a grad student's advisor leaves, it's a lot more than disconcerting. A grad student may have moved a significant distance, may be several years into a degree, and may have their entire income (such as it is) evaporate in the institutional confusion.

I'm not saying that professors shouldn't be allowed to move to greener pastures. But at least they should have the decency to make sure that they don't leave their students high and dry.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the regular

In the past I've had long-term field assignments in very small towns or very depressed areas; places with a minimal selection of places to eat. In those situations, you tend to become a regular fast.

It's nice to have people recognize you and know what you're going to order (as much as possible - honestly, if I'm eating at the same place more often than twice per week, I'm not ordering the same thing).

One of my fondest memories is of a tiny bar we used to eat at nightly during one of my long-term projects. The place had a two-burner kitchen that was likely not up to code, and we had a big field crew, so we made up most of their business. The field manager would call up mid-afternoon, tell the owner how many folks would be showing up and any special requests, and she'd have dinner waiting for us - something different every night. It was way better than anything I would have made...