Wednesday, March 28, 2012

job hunting

When I was job-hunting, I had an incredibly hard time getting j0b-seeking advice. I didn't want to advertise my job search to the people I knew in the industry (my coworkers), so I looked online and quickly got lost in a bunch of contradictory advice.

It was just as bad when I talked to other people. For example, when I was putting together my resume, I was most familiar with a proposal resume. Not the same thing as a job-seeking resume: proposal = squash as much language in as possible to show how much experience in X I have, job-seeking = make everything short and sweet. So I had my sweetie review what I did and then handed it off to a friend who was trying to build up a resume-fixing business. Neither work in science, let alone environmental science/geology, and they were totally flummoxed by my resume. Squash everything into 1 page? Use bullets only? Include relevant coursework?

I ended up finding this job-hunting blog and spent most of a weekend going through old posts. It has an active readership and if you read through the comments, you can get a feel for generally accepted practices and how much they deviate. Although it's not science-specific, it was the best resource I found. Another option that's more science-oriented is this, but it's more academically oriented, and the few industry jobs that are discussed are all in bio/pharmacology. Anybody else have job searching resources that would be good for industry geologists?

Monday, March 26, 2012

um, spring?

It was gloriously warm for a couple weeks. Everybody got all excited and started posting things like this.

So I went off to work in a short-sleeved shirt. Bad idea - the wind picked up and then I found that the high today was expected to be 50 and that there's a freeze warning for tonight. So maybe I was a little too optimistic to bury my knit hat and my coveralls in the back of the closet for the season.

Friday, March 23, 2012

graduate office space

FSP posted recently about offices for grad students. In your academic institutions, how many grad students generally fit in one room?

In my department, we had every configuration imaginable, from one student tucked into a closet space to a big "party room" of about 25 students. I was in a converted lab with all functioning spigots and sinks, (it was "converted by throwing desks and a few random bookcases in there) and we squashed five students in an area that stretched from the hallway to the outer wall and was about 5 feet wide.

Other than the annoying ladies next door, my office was an ideal space for me: we had one window all the way at the end that could actually be opened (and climbed out of in case of emergency) for climate control, we had water for coffee/tea, and it had the perfect number of people: you generally had at least one person around to talk to, but it wasn't a zoo. I came in early in the morning and worked at least one day on the weekend, so I had a mix of time when I was alone and time when I knew there would be a crowd.

Our nasty old lab was a bit of a joke - my buddies in other departments were horrified by my digs. Yes, it was oddly noisy. Yes, we had a designated water tap for drinking because we had let it run for ages before the water ran clear. Yes, there was a problem with the former fume hood that caused bits of stuff to blow the wrong way (out into our office) on occasion. But I had room for all my books, a desk big enough to spread out maps, a lock for my laptop, and friends to bounce ideas off; and as a grad student, that was all I needed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

the basement spider

I've had to update my field characterization of spiders. In previous installments of Short Geologist's Guide to Spiders, I've mentioned spiders associated with the water bodies I've worked around and terrestrial spiders.

I've been doing a bunch of residential surveys and other indoor work, and I have gotten way too familiar with basement spiders. Basement spiders build huge, droopy webs that catch dryer lint and dust (at least that way, I can see them), but the spiders themselves are spindly and have the approximate dimensions of daddy long legs, with a pair of extra long "feeler" legs that they stick out so they can try to catch me and totally freak me out. Luckily, if I blow on them, they scuttle back into the crevices of the basement. That's fine, unless I have to reach into said crevices...

I would rather face a basement with an entire colony of nesting snakes than one with a basement spider infestation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

nicknames redux

A long time ago, I pondered the sociological implications of my nickname. If a group of people refuse to use my nickname, does that indicate something about our working relationship?

I have found myself in a new nickname situation.

When I was first starting out, I was super concerned about appearing professional. I was afraid that the nickname that I spent my entire life with was too silly, so I introduced myself using my full name ("Shortencia") and only suggested using my nickname ("Shorty") if someone asked me point-blank if there was a shorter version that could be used. It is an awfully long name.

As I've gotten older, I've become more comfortable with using my nickname. At this point, I introduce myself with the nickname right away, although my e-mail signature, business cards, and correspondence carry my full name. However, I have a new project that involves working with a large group of people, including some high muckety-mucks, and it sounds exceedingly strange - almost invasive - that they are all calling me "Shorty" in high-level planning meetings. I guess I still need to fully accept that I have an undignified name.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

flextime vs overtime

I mentioned ages ago that some firms abuse their entry-level workers by underpaying them, having them work near-continuously, and then not paying overtime.

But what about flextime? Instead of earning overtime, you earn the chance to have more time off. When I first heard of that option, I thought, "Great! More vacation!". I would happily give up a significant chunk of money for more time off. Hell, if it weren't impossible in my own working situation and culturally impossible without having offspring (oh, and there's that whole pesky health insurance), I'd work part time.

But flex time doesn't work that way, at least in the consulting world. Instead of "work hard in the field, take lovely vacations", it's "work hard for as long as we tell you, and then when we decide there's no work for you, then you can go home." I guess that can work, although when it was presented to me, it made me think long and hard about the company's viability. What if I spent two or three years building up a spectacular backlog of flextime and the company went belly-up? It makes sense for construction-type firms that have genuine off-seasons, but in my experience, if the weather gets bad and the fieldwork gets slow, that's when you write the reports to tide yourself over.

I do have some experience with other, non-consulting flextime (government work or other fields altogether), and it works out more the way I'd like it to - work longer hours now for fewer hours a reasonable time later. But can I find this in environmental work in the US?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Do GREs matter?

Almost all of the grad schools I applied to required GRE scores. I never got the impression that my scores mattered all that much, but perhaps I am projecting my own wishes, since I think that standardized tests are the easiest part of the application process to game.

I was successful at my grad school applications - I was accepted everywhere I applied, although one institution did offer only acceptance provisional on my completing an undergraduate course in a supporting science that I had no interest in and have never needed in work or grad school.

My GRE scores were... strange. I don't know what they predicted. I got in the upper 2% of all verbal GRE scores (stratospherically high compared to STEM applicants) and in the bottom 2% of all math GRE scores (pathetically low compared to STEM applicants). I had not bothered to study at all for the verbal sections (my sweetie pointed out that perhaps correcting the connotations/denotations in the vocab section of the test book was not the best use of my time), and then I worked my tail off on the math sections.

I do believe that my GRE scores are representative of my basic math/verbal skills - they correspond with how I've done in all of the standardized tests I've ever taken. But how applicable are basic math/verbal skills in a graduate program, one where you need to develop a thesis, work through the data, and determine the implications of what you've done? In my case, not relevant at all.

This post prompted by musings here and the comments.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

too fast!

I am a terrifically fast writer. If I have a report to write (or better yet, substantially edit), you will find me in a little private world of my own, pounding away on the keyboard.

This usually works well - I can save a ton of money on my projects by finishing summary reports in record time. But in the mid-winter doldrums, I need to remember that a consultant is paid by the hour, not by the report. And if I finish my writing too early, then I will have nothing else chargeable to do. I used to get scolded because I would finish far too quickly, screwing up the budget in the wrong direction, making my more casual workers work bad, and requiring continuous new assignments.

I'm getting better at this sort of thing. I usually write at my usual fast pace, and then spend lots of time polishing it to a fare-thee-well. And if I'm looking at a long block of time with little work to do, well, there's always the "drink lots of water and then take thirty bathroom breaks" method.