Monday, March 31, 2008

And what's new with you?

In the past two weeks, a friend died unexpectedly and two of my serious ex-boyfriends got engaged.

It's been a lot to process.

One of the engaged ex-boyfriends was from way back in high school, and I was happy they finally got engaged. Symbolically, it's a bit difficult because she's 7 years younger than him, the continuation of the trend.

The other was the guy who called me in September asking to get back together and raised the question again in November when we met up for an hour when I was in his city for a conference. At the time, he told me that his girlfriend had OCD with paranoid tendencies. Two examples he gave in November: she had contamination fears, but her apartment was a mess because she was incapable of doing basic household chores because she would spend 30 minutes washing one drinking glass; she lived alone, and if a tissue were in a place other than where she remembered it, she would think that someone had broken into her apartment and moved it. This time, he mentioned that she's a checker and hand-washer. He was grateful to her for tolerating his own mood issues, however, and keeping him sane at a difficult time in his first year of working/teaching. His facebook picture is still one that I took on a trip we took together --- he was posing in front of a body of water with a 1980 travel guide that my father had given us in case we found it useful, though he cut out the travel guide --- and while his job is the kind that he can't have anything too personal on his facebook profile, a devoted girlfriend/fiancee is certainly reasonable, but he has no more recent pictures, he's still listed as single, he doesn't have an engagement announcement on any other website, and there are no engagement congratulations on his facebook from his friends.

I asked if his family is happy about it, and he said that it's difficult for them that he's marrying before his 37 year old sister (who is attractive, but difficult), and his mother is worried about money and is complaining that she's afraid that she'll have to contribute towards the wedding. He started to complain about the issues related to the engagement and wedding, which have apparently multiplied in the 5 days since the engagement, but it's obviously the last time we'll talk for awhile and I didn't want to hear about his crazy family. I feel bad for him that he doesn't have a supportive intact family, but I spent 4 years being supportive (his remark about my extended family, "They're so nice to each other!") and I'm thankful that I don't have to do it anymore. No wonder he spent about an hour on the phone with me talking about various issues before raising the issue, and only after I asked him directly if he was going to get engaged. Having grown up in such a fractured family, he has a revulsion about divorce, so this is it for him. He's a wonderful guy, and I do think that he will be a good father; I hope his fiancee is not as consistently screwed up as he described.

Meanwhile, I had coffee yesterday with Stephen for the first time since mid-October. I'd been wondering why we hadn't ended up dating --- I know that it was my idea not to date, but I couldn't remember why --- so I suppose it was good timing that he contacted me on facebook around when I'd been realizing I didn't remember. It was uneventful. We caught up. I figure we can see whether we can be friends, and then see where to go from there. I'm not in the mood to pursue relationships in any kind of intense way, plus hopefully I'll be leaving.

I went to a party over the weekend at Mike's; Mike was the guy who looked like a J Crew model, was 10 years older, "technically divorced", gregarious, and not so educated (his email to me after my successful defense said, "Congradulations perfessor!"). His apartment was completely beautiful --- the only one belonging to a peer which could truly be in one of those "beautiful house" magazines --- and had remarkably many photographs of himself on the walls. I hadn't picked up on the vanity side of his personality that would induce him to have an 8 x 10 black and white artistic-ish shirtless picture of himself on his kitchen wall, where the other pictures are of nature, wildlife, and no other people. His fridge was covered in photos, half of which were the usual friends, children of friends, grandparents, and half were of him.

When I saw his apartment, it did cross my mind to think that he still clearly likes me, he's certainly attractive, and we have complementary genes and skills: I'm smart and have high earning potential, especially if I left academia, while he's tall, attractive, athletic, outgoing, confident, doesn't need glasses, and apparently fantastic at aesthetics. It almost seems silly to marry a short aesthetically-impaired myopic guy with an Ivy degree and good grammar and spelling. I have a friend, also a PhD, who is cute but overweight (perhaps obese), and married to a tall attractive guy who's again interesting to talk with and now a doting father, but not well-educated or well-employed. And I think my father was telling me about a graduate student of his who married a cop. It happens.

Genetically, it's so logical, except I find intelligence more of a turn-on than J Crew models, so my nerd fetish will produce another generation of aesthetically-challenged awkward children to be picked on by the children of the tall athletic guys.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Liking people linked to brain cell loss

People say stupid things to the people they like, as is well-documented in the literature.

This year, I've met few single guys in my current city who seems to be potential boyfriend material. One was particularly reflective, cute, thoughtful, sensitive, smart, we have mutual friends in totally different cities, and it felt like we've known each other a really long time.

We met once, at a dinner, and then last month while I was on a job visit, we got into a conversation on facebook, writing long emails on little sleep. At the group event where we'd met, he was really upbeat and sounded excited about his life. Over email, he sounded confused and dislocated, and just completely down, and emotionally it was complete TMI, given how little we knew each other. Which is sometimes a good sign of feeling comfortable, and other times a sign of desperation.

I empathized and said that I could definitely understand, and gave some emotional TMI of my own, which was at least half stupid of me. I remember trying to move the conversation to email, so went to look at his profile and was surprised his actual email address was not listed, but I was pretty sure the rest of a normal profile was there including a friend list. He ended the conversation suddenly and strangely, and I didn't think much about him, though I told the story to a few friends.

A month later, this Friday night, we ran into each other at a social event. He is tall and was backlit and he looks different from his facebook picture, which was what I was most accustomed to, and he tried to start a conversation about my research, and I was feeling dislocated not knowing who he was, so I asked him to remind me his name. We ran into each other while walking out at the end of the event, and I apologized and said he was backlit. He seemed patient about it, but then disappeared as soon as we got our coats. I sent a 2 line generic "good to see you again. hope you're well" email via facebook on Saturday night before leaving for a party.

This morning (Sunday), I was looking for the last name of a friend of his, and decided to look in his friends list. Looking at his profile for the first time in over a month, I discovered several parts of his profile were no longer visible to me, including his list of friends. Wow, does he think I'm uniquely a stalker, and if so, was that after a month ago, after Friday night, or after my 2 line email? Or is he completely paranoid and blocks all of his friends from seeing his other friends?

Clearly this relationship isn't going anywhere. Obviously given how down and confused he was, he's not the best catch anyhow. I just feel totally off balance to realize this person (who seems otherwise really great) has such a completely wrong idea about me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The disadvantages of the best schools

Sometimes I feel like one of the weaknesses of my education was having gone exclusively to elite research universities, rather than schools which care about their students, such as small colleges or slightly-less-elite or non-elite research universities.

One of the parts of elite research universities that I've never gotten used to, after more than a decade at them, is the fact that no one seems to have any time for anyone.

Right after college, I took a job working for a glamorous professor (so to speak) and he was constantly in China, Brazil, Europe, various US cities. I learned very little and felt aimless and lonely quite a lot.

One member of my committee is the inventor of a whole subfield, and sometimes made time to meet with me. Well, twice. Maybe three times. He never attended any committee meetings in person, even my defense. He influenced my thinking a great deal, but I feel like I have great gaps in my knowledge that I don't understand how things fit together, and I've just never had the chance to sit down with him and ask.

One summer during grad school, I took a job at a well-known research institute and had two mentors. I posted about this a few days ago. One mentor was at his beach house often, and both were traveling extensively, and I met with each of them less than 10 times.

In college, there were periodic crises during which the faculty would decide that they didn't know the students well enough. One of my undergrad majors decided to correct this by setting up a mandatory 15 minute meeting between 2 faculty members and each undergraduate once per year. It was laughable.

Right now, I'm at a great research center in a pretty mid-level university and I never see the guy that I'm working for because he's always traveling, raising money.

Now, I have a postdoc offer at the top school in my field. Some people there clearly have time for others, but the really good people don't. During my interview, the postdoc advisor hadn't had a great deal of time to meet with me: we had a quick breakfast, and I was groggy and very few specific details about the research were exchanged, and he had to fly off to his Christmas vacation that afternoon, right after my talk.

Once the job was offered to me, I was happy that finally we could talk: the information that I want is something that only a person can give me --- essentially, which research projects are at a point that they could take someone to join them. We bounced emails back and forth about meeting times. He suggested that I call him while he was taking his daughter around to see colleges, and gave me his cell number. I decided it would be better to talk when his attention wasn't divided.

So finally we have our long-awaited time. He had only specified "afternoon" and I'd been putting off doing things that would require me to leave my desk. He called and was clearly in his car. He starts off the conversation by saying that he has 10 minutes, and apologizing for that. It's one of those weeks. I know it is. We spoke about the practical details --- where I would work, whether there's travel money --- but when I got to the research question, I prefaced it by saying that it's really a much larger conversation and perhaps we could talk later about it. I think he could detect a bit of disappointment in my voice as I wrapped up the conversation thanking him for making time for me in his busy day. I really didn't mean to sound sarcastic.

The best schools really do have amazing advantages. I was thrilled to notice how many talks were going on, and just how much activity, and the apparent lack of limitations on the research. At the same time, this 10 minute conversation in the car reminds me of every absent professor I've ever had. I've had less mentorship than the average grad student because I lost my major mentor in an authorship dispute (did I post about this?) and my remaining advisor that I was RA to was junior and still learning the ropes himself and ended up leaving academia, so I tended not to seek him out. One of the things that I would really like from a postdoc is to work on a large project with a lot of people, in an interactive team, and just to be able to stop by people's offices every so often, as many grad students do. As I did with a mentor before we divorced.

I don't think it's a fantasy, but it's not easy to find: someone who is bright and does great research, and is around often enough to develop a relationship with them, and at a university which advances one's career in other ways.

Strategic synergies

The synergies that happen around job decision time can be useful, but delicate. Having an offer (postdoc at the top school in my field) and interviewing for a tenure-track job (at an "up and coming" school that has attracted some very good people) are both very useful statuses to have. Irrespective of what or where they are.

1. The faculty job asked me what my status was, so I said I have an offer that I'm interested in, but I can wait for a bit. They get nervous, thinking that it's a faculty offer that I have, and they seem to be clearly trying to accelerate their job search process to get all the candidates interviewed by whenever they think I need an answer by. Which makes sense all around for them.

2. The postdoc offer had been describing the exact parameters of the job, and they sounded like the usual grad student stuff. They said they'd like to hear from me by mid-April, and I said that I'm interviewing in early April with a tenure-track job, but I think I ought to get an answer by mid-April. The tenor of the conversation immediately changed. I'm eligible for a real job! They said that if I'm serious they can see about helping me write a grant to create a faculty position for myself. Given the caliber of the school and the people helping me, I'm sure we could come up with something good, and it is not a bad bet to take, though it leaves me in the hell of soft money.

3. I spoke with another postdoc who seems very interested, and they asked if I was applying only to other postdocs, faculty jobs, research associates, or a mixture. I said a mixture. They said that the salary was very competitive, and allows supplementation to be competitive with faculty jobs.

In general I wonder if it could be a good strategy to apply for tenure-track jobs at lower-ranked institutions on purpose in order to be treated better by postdocs in the negotiation. Often people apply for postdocs at the top-ranked places hoping that once they finish the postdoc, they'll be able to get a faculty job somewhere in the top tier or two. If they applied for tenure-track faculty at third or fourth-tier institutions, would they do better in the job negotiations?

In academia, we pretend that we don't care about money, but once again money is not a bad proxy for respect. As soon as it's apparent that one does not have to be making the typical postdoc salary, but is choosing to do so for professional development purposes, it seems like there's so much more respect.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Looking up!

Yesterday morning, I was feeling completely down about my prospects, convinced that I would be a postdoc reliant on and yet isolated from others forever, headed towards academic obscurity while several of my classmates got good tenure-track jobs last year.

As of then, my prospects were:

- Postdoc offer from the top school in my overall field, but I would be at a satellite campus they hadn't shown to me on my visit, a few miles away from all the main campus for my field, with no apparent colleagues in the same building other than a few faculty types who frequently have business elsewhere, and no academic activities apparent from a google search. And they say postdocs can feel isolated!

- Waiting for two potential postdoc offers: one from this bastard school that I just posted about, and one from this fantastic really nice school that I just visited.

- Probably an offer from this industry job where I'd really have to drink the kool-aid to like, and I'm really not a kool-aid drinker.

And that's it. Then I got three great emails.

- A tenure-track job at a great campus I've visited before has put me on their short list, and probably asking me to visit, pending some kind of committee approval. It's a university which is growing and has attracted some really high-quality people.

- A postdoc which seems friendly has an open slot, told me about the research that they have which actually sounds relevant to me, and wants to talk with me. They are also a couple hours' drive from the above TT job so I don't even have to take two sets of flights if I visit both of them.

- A non-academic job description which sounds completely up my alley: it involves working with others, communicating, and working on a variety of short-term projects related to my field, and it has enough of a cool factor that I am pretty sure I would be able to return to academia if I missed research or teaching.

It's amazing how easy it is to swing from despondency to hope.

Game playing on the job search

If this email were coming from a potential date rather than a potential employer, I would say that he looked like the abusive, controlling type.

1. Baseless accusation: "I just saw that you also missed interviewing with two people who were on your original list of people to interview with... I would be reassured if you finished your original set of interviews."

What interviewee decides just to not go to interviews? One of the interviewers stayed home that day, but he never suggested that I had to make a phone appointment with the interviewer. Perhaps he forgot about that, but there's no way he could misunderstand and think that I missed meeting with two of the interviewers.

2. Failure to give the benefit of the doubt: at my interview, about 30 minutes into it, he said that he didn't take me seriously before meeting, so he just assigned me to random people. "We'll have to bring you back," he said, in order to meet people who might be better research mentor matches.

3. Stinginess. When I wrote to let him know that I'd be in the neighborhood (well, within a 1 hour flight of them) at a given time frame, he said he wasn't sure whether he would have funding for a position yet, but that I was welcome to come, although he could not pay for me to come. As if it would be reasonable for an interview candidate to pay for their own trip for a position that might not even exist!

4. Expecting "proof" of interest: "I like and respect you but am not yet convinced that we are a match and don't know how you feel about it, but would be reassured if you met more people and foundsome more kinship and also finished your original set of interviews. But it also, of course, depends on how you felt about us."

I should pay a few hundred of my own money in order to interview for a job? You must be joking.

Of course it's a nice location. It's the only position so far where I wouldn't have to go an hour away in order to socialize, which is why I didn't just tell him to shove it.

I told him that I'm still interested in the position although I already have an offer that I'm interested in, that he was mistaken about my missing interviews, reminded him about the interviewer not coming in, and I'd be happy to make as many phone appointments as he thinks would be useful, but he shouldn't interpret my not visiting at my own expense as lack of interest in the job. I couldn't afford the ticket, nor could I ask the other employer to pay for an open-mouth ticket, and had already taken many unpaid days, and (perhaps this was overkill, but it's completely true) I also chose not to go to a friend's funeral which happened to be in the same city at the same time as my additional interviews would have been, for similar reasons.

But, wow, I always know just how doomed a cause is when I feel like I have to get all defensive just because the other party is a complete bastard.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Possibly humiliating reapplication

In summer 2006, right before I went on the job market the first time, I had a prestigious summer position at a research institute, and I always saw myself there after graduation. For seemingly arbitrary reasons that I'll explain below, they didn't give me a permanent position. Now I'm thinking of reapplying.

Apologies in advance that this is rambling. Partly I am enumerating the issues for myself.


I have an MA in X and a PhD in Y with X subspecialty. X is a traditional discipline and Y is interdisciplinary.

This research institute used to be really top-notch, taking faculty from top universities, and feeding them back into top universities; that no longer happens so frequently, but they're still quite good. I'd decided that I wanted to work in such an environment because it seemed to defer the need to apply for grants, and I liked it.

The research institute has several divisions, including X and Y0 (of which Y is a subset).

I had a weird summer, though.

1. They placed me in division X, the subject of my MA, rather than Y0 the division corresponding to Y, my PhD. They prepped me for positions in division X: sending me to the lunchtime seminar, working closely with a member of that division, meeting with the head of the division. I had no idea why --- perhaps because that was my return address on my cover letter since that's where my office was.

We spent some time disentangling this assignment. I rather liked division X because it was small, friendly, and geeky. For instance, they encouraged each of the individual members of X to take us to lunch, so we had lots of small lunches with division members, and an individual lunch with the head. X seemed to pay better and be slightly easier. Division Y0 was enormous, anonymous, and professionalized, but just fine. After conferring with the heads of each division, we decided that for permanent employment I should apply to the area of my PhD subject, which I was a little sad about just for personal reasons.

2. I had two assigned mentors whom I rarely saw. The main one traveled, spent weeks at a time at his beach house thousands of miles away (how crazy to have a beach house that they have to fly to), and spent all the rest of his time at an office across town at the nearby university. The other one was nice, but seemed to have Asperger's syndrome: he was really smart, but he was impossible to interact with. (Once he gave hiking recommendations, and literally spoke for at least 10 minutes without pause, rattling off all the different locations from memory, how to get there down to the highway exits, what the trail is like with precise distances and landmarks, and even including hikes which have a 5 mile walk through a river because there is no trail (and that's just 5 miles out of the total 20). It really seemed like he wasn't ever going to stop, so I tried to get him to stop, and eventually he did, but seemed hurt. He hinted that he wasn't doing anything that first weekend, and was always happy to have someone to hike with, but I thought that seemed a bit inappropriate, so ignored the hint. He was cute, though.)

The only guaranteed time I saw anyone was at the weekly group meeting, which they usually joined by conference call. I sometimes went weeks without seeing them at all. They described their travel schedules only in the near future, as if they'd start spending large periods of time at the office starting in a couple weeks once this busy period passed. I figured I would just wait until they were back rather than bother them by phone since it's easier to communicate face to face anyhow.

3. I didn't finish my paper that summer, and in the rush of finishing my dissertation and job market talk and job applications, I actually didn't finish the paper until after defending this fall. I was clear that I couldn't finish their paper before finishing my dissertation, which professors assured me was perfectly reasonable, but the mentors occasionally turned the screws on me. Of course, now it's been nearly 4 months that they've had the completed paper and no one's said a peep about their suggestions for it.

DISSED, part 1

When I actually applied, I had been offered a VAP at an elite small liberal arts college (SLAC) that I really liked, in the field of my MA. I hadn't known that a VAP was less desirable than a postdoc; rather, the only people who told me that were also people who disapproved of teaching positions in the first place, so I didn't trust them. At the last minute, the SLAC dean whom I had been negotiating salary with (successfully!) informed me that he didn't think I should take the job. But that comes later.

Problems with my interview:

1. I'd assumed that I would go to the research institute for the vast majority of the year, but had applied to teaching positions out of my guilty pleasure of liking to spend time with other people, and had the classical crush on a job. I came to the interview all starry-eyed about the SLAC. I really liked them, and I was convinced I would take that job.

2. I trusted the people interviewing me. I had spent the whole summer with them, and in many cases had quite good, casual relationships with them. All the moreso because my actual mentors weren't around. Some people were still just as friendly, and the interview consisted of just shooting the breeze about research; I made sure to tell everyone about my research and interests, but it was clearly very casual. Others set up clear boundaries, including my Asperger's mentor, who had to cut our meeting short because he was meeting someone for beer.

The disadvantage of this trust, of course, was that I answered all their questions. Stupidly. The first rule of the academic job market is never to tell research positions that you've applied to SLACs. Never. But I did because I liked them.

3. Every single interviewer asked me whether I secretly wanted to be in division X, rather than Y0 what I was interviewing for. I said that I had no interest in X except as applied to Y0, and would totally be uninterested in X in the other contexts that people work in, and my research is clearly in Y, not X.

I was honest (again a problem) that I really enjoyed my time in X because it was so small and personal, and I hadn't been told about the Y0 options, but that was a social thing.

Unfortunately, my job market talk was constructed to be impressively technical, which worked against me because they interpreted it to mean that I secretly wanted to be in X. That's a possibility that had never occurred to me.

4. A good thing: the interviewers understood that it was unfair for people to offer to be mentors, and then never be around. They apologized, even, and said that they had never had these particular mentors before.

So, in the end, I got a phone call from the head of Y0 who was very apologetic that they had decided not to offer me the job because the committee had concluded that I secretly wanted to be in X. They said it had nothing to do with the delinquent paper, which was 3 months past the rumored deadline. This, of course, made me really not want to finish the paper, since it seemed clear there was no point any more.

I admit that part of my thinking when I accepted my current job is the fact that it is clearly within Y0, thus proving my interest. Even if I didn't want to be with them.


I've gotten an offer from one postdoc in area Z1 and am waiting to hear from two postdocs that I interviewed for in area Z2. The area Z is related to my dissertation topic and current research, but separate from Y0; people tend to specialize far more when they're in the areas Z. Y0 tends to be hard money, and Z is often soft money. (The industry job will probably make me an offer, but I just want to hear the number.)

A tenure-track job in Y0 just told me that they are interested in my application; at least enough to have noticed that they couldn't find my letters because they'd been submitted in hard copy rather than electronically.

I don't think that I have any other real options unless I apply to more positions.

1. Part of me sees myself at that first research institute. Even though I had a bumpy time there on the particular situation, I really saw my career unfolding there. It just seemed right. I know the major people involved in my research area (within Y0), and I would like careers which look like theirs. I could also branch out and do research in areas that I haven't seen since my qualifying exams. Maybe that is too unscientific for a major life decision, but it's comfortable enough that I would like the decision whether to go there. I'm tempted to email the guy in charge of Y0 at the research institute and ask if I could reapply, explaining that I think that I demonstrated my interest in Y0 over the course of the past year, and send my latest two papers and CV. I'm afraid I'll get dissed again, and that would hurt my future chances. Alternatively, I'm afraid that they'll accept me, and then I'll decide that I prefer one of the postdocs, which is at least as bad for my future relationship with them.

2. Seeing my potential options this year --- currently just one option and staying at my current job --- I wonder if I've narrowed myself too much. The two areas of the postdocs are sufficiently different from my PhD area that sometimes I find myself thinking longingly about all those topics that my classmates pursued, but I haven't touched since my generals. I think I may just be a contrarian. Which makes decisions hard, since I always want the opposite of whatever I decide.

3. Seeing my geographic options this year is even stranger. Even if I got accepted everywhere I interviewed, my choice would be two places where I would have a 1 hour commute from the university's city to the nearest liveable city for singles = finding a place to stay on weekdays, and go back to my real apartment for F-Su? The third place is liveable for singles, but has a lower stipend and higher cost of living than the other two, and it would quite literally be difficult to live there on the stipend: the other postdocs said they only manage because of their spouse's salary.

The only bird in the hand is in an unliveable city more than an hour from the nearest liveable city for singles; and my office (along with advisor's office and others, but no other postdocs at least in the immediate area) might be a few miles from the actual main campus. It's at the best university for my area, but in other respects my current situation is so much better.

I want to go back and reapply all over again. To everything.

On the other hand, I'm pretty happy with the three postdocs I interviewed with, and I think if I picked reasonably good research areas within the postdocs, I could still keep in touch with Y0 in order to apply to future jobs in it. I want that hard money, instead of being limited to the soft money typical for area Z (the immediate postdoc areas).

Inexplicable preference for non-confidential recommendations

I ran across the following instructions on a fellowship:

Attach two letters of recommendation from academic faculty endorsing the applicant for the fellowship position. List names and contact information for the two references. Do not send letters separately and do not include letters in sealed envelopes.

Why would they possibly prefer non-confidential recommendations that the applicant has already seen?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The postdoc with a chip on its shoulder

Update: I have an offer from the best university in my area. The details are not yet clear: the people that I would be working with are at a satellite campus, away from others in my area, which would defeat the purpose of being at that university (especially since the people I would be working with are the types to never be in their offices), but we'll see. It's a relief to have options.

Around the same time, I got a rejection letter in the mail from an unfortunate postdoc. Here's the story.

When I travel more than 2 hours by plane to get to an interview, I contact the other jobs in the area that I think I have a chance with, and tell them that if they're interested in meeting me, now's a good time for that. It's been a great strategy so far: the positions understand my research interests, consider me more carefully, and the strategy doesn't even cost me any money.

Diversion on interdisciplinary PhDs

Interdisciplinary PhD risk looking unfocused: I can complete the statement "I'm interested in" in 4-8 words (depending on my audience) and stay on message for days on end, and this is the research I came to graduate school for. The blessing and the curse is that I could fit not just into half a dozen departments and research centers, but also a few different "schools" within a university, as well as research institutes, government, and non-profits, all without changing my research substantially. This flexibility looks unfocussed, especially since it's the area of only 5-10% of my PhD program's graduates: most of them study an entirely different set of issues and have more clearly defined positions.

My research is usually carried out by disciplinary PhDs, and if I'd known it was a problem to be interdisciplinary, I would have the other PhD program that I'd gotten into, which was in a discipline. Instead, I chose my PhD program over the disciplinary one for other reasons (e.g., only one possible advisor in the area and I was uneasy being so dependent on one person, crime in the neighborhood around that university). The first I heard of the "interdisciplinary penalty" was, ironically, on my first day of my PhD program. The director of the program addressed us, talking about graduates' positions, and stressing that we were very unlikely to end up in a disciplinary department in Arts and Sciences; it turns out he was partially correct, since I came very close at two elite liberal arts colleges last year. (This year, the one liberal arts college turned me down without a phone screen.)

Why I ask to visit programs as much as possible:

Because my PhD is interdisciplinary, people don't come with a ready set of cues to expect what I do. Someone in a discipline can rely on everyone's prior knowledge about an area to understand their research, but I have to provide all of that context in my application as well as assurance that I'm a serious person. In my 30 second elevator speech, I am probably more persuasive about the coherence of my research than any cover letter could be --- mostly because my nonverbal cues and intonation sound directed --- and after a 10 minute discussion, an interviewer has intellectual reasons to understand my research and consider it as addressing a coherent set of questions. It's easier to be convincing of that focus in person, so I appreciate that people are willing to meet with me even when they weren't so excited about my cover letter.

The professor in charge of one postdoc even told me explicitly after about half an hour with me, verbatim, "Before you came, I didn't take your application seriously. I figured I may as well meet with you since you were already here. Now I understand what you're doing and I think you're right that you could fit in very well here. Because we didn't take you seriously before, we just set up a few appointments, but we'll have to bring you back so you can meet the relevant people." He repeated this after the half-day interview, saying that another faculty interviewer also hadn't taken me seriously before meeting me.

That's a bit extreme, but illustrates the value of finagling meetings: I wouldn't have been offered an interview, and now they are looking for money for me.

The add-on positions have always paid the marginal costs associated with the visit, such as a $100 flight change fee or a rental car, and some have even offered to pay for things I didn't need, such as a hotel when I was staying with friends.

My most recent experience

I contacted a school to let them know that I would be in the area, and she seemed willing to talk with me. She sent me two 2 hour blocks that we could meet, and I replied that I wasn't sure yet of my flight plans and would answer once I had found out., Over time she narrowed her time available to just one hour at 8 am. I agreed to the time, and just said that I'd hesitated at that time slot originally because I was staying 20 miles away and didn't know how late I'd get in from my flight. She said in that case, we should just make it a phone call. I said that I'd really like to meet her in person, but then came down with flu with 103 fever, so ended up postponing the trip and wasn't able to meet in person anyhow, so it was just as well that it was a phone call. Throughout this email exchange she kept calling me "Dr. NewPostdoc". I had started the exchange by addressing her as "Dr. Smith" since she was a bit older and I wanted to err on the side of caution. She kept it up, and so 10 emails into the exchange, I was still "Dr. Postdoc."

Once we were on the phone together, she called me "Dr. Postdoc." I laughed and said, "Please, call me New." From that moment on, she didn't call me anything. She did inform me that my application was incomplete. Apparently I had forgotten to attach the cover letter to the email; that's a huge oversight, and I've never done that before, so I apologized profusely for it and said how embarrassed I was. It was bound to happen to some school with more than 90 applications sent out, however. The general etiquette with attachments is that since people list all the components that they have attached in the short mail, the administrator would generally write back to say that they were missing one of the 6 attachments, and it's not completely unheard of, in general.

She then said, as if raising a devastating point, "In fact, your application is entirely incomplete. You didn't send in the application form." The application form asked for name, address, ethnicity, age, gender, and all the other things they're not supposed to collect on an application. I had instead attached a word file with all of this information since the application form was a PDF, but apparently they needed the form itself.

That was almost the entirety of our conversation. She attempted to talk with me about the program, but kept interjecting remarks like, "I really don't know how you would fit into our program because I haven't seen your cover letter." You would think that she would have told me this sometime during our 10 email exchange rather than waiting until the phone call to raise it since she felt it was so critical.

The rest of the conversation involved her completely misunderstanding everything that I said.

I ended the conversation with an apology for having not attached the cover letter, and that I would send it right away. She replied to this with, "You better hurry to get your cover letter in in the next 2 weeks because we're going to meet to evaluate the applications in 2 weeks." So apparently she thought that the cover letter never existed, and it would take 2 weeks for me to write it. She repeated this warning one more time before we got off the phone, in case I was hard of hearing. I sent it the same day.

Not surprisingly, I got a rejection letter from them.

I can't make sense of this in professional terms, but thankfully I've learned from dating that it almost never matters exactly what you say to someone. If they like you, they'll like what you say. If they don't like you, you're not going to change their mind. She acted as though she thought that I was an uppity bitch, and I have no idea what happened during our email conversation to lead her to that conclusion; perhaps I took too long to answer one of her emails. Perhaps she didn't like being addressed as Dr. Smith. Who knows. It's impossible to know.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The million dollar question: valuing my time

A family friend sent me the following email:

I was at a party and my dinner partner was a head hunter. He deals in very high powered positions. I asked him to elaborate. Companies pay his fees, not the candidates. He mentioned a company with a position for a specialist in [the field of my MA]. I mentioned that I knew a recent grad. He told me the position could be @ a million a year. If you are interested in contacting him, give me a call on my cell

I thanked the family friend, but declined to contact him because I'm happy in academia, and whatever the job is, it probably requires 80-100 hour weeks and most of the salary is tied up in bonuses with substantial risk attached. I've turned down lucrative possibilities before: lots of people with my academic background take impressive jobs making money for big corporations, and get paid very well for it. While I find these kinds of jobs interesting enough to read a newspaper article about them, or even an in-depth magazine article, I can't see being motivated by money.

I am very motivated by what I see as the ultimate purposes of my academic work, when I think about it. There's probably some psychology which show that people care more about the day to day realities of their life than the ultimate big goals, but even the intermediate goals motivate me: do research, and publish a paper on any of the subjects that I am interested in, and have the chance to affect others, maybe get quoted in a newspaper. And I have a list of easily half a dozen, but probably a dozen, papers that I can write relatively easily. I have all the materials here. I could get into a routine of a paper every month or every other month. They're easy, low-hanging fruit, and because hardly anyone in my subfield has my particular set of skills, no one has ever done these papers before.

The thing is: I don't do them. Or at least, not as fast as I could. I work for a certain amount of time before distracting myself. Or I get absorbed by my pressing problems, so right now, I'm looking for more postdocs to apply to in case the current ones don't turn out.

I recognize that human behavior frequently doesn't make sense, but I think my behavior here makes even less sense than most: in some alternate reality, my time could be valued at a million dollars a year, and yet if you laid out my procrastination time end-to-end, it could easily fill at least a year.

It might be worth a million dollars a year to me to actually do my real work, but it's clearly not worth a million dollars a year to read blogs and watch youtube. Arguably, I value my time for so little that I'm willing to spend a few minutes here and there because that's all dimes and nickels. If my time was a few dollars a minute, losing an hour here or there really does matter.

[Actually, I'm surprised that's all a minute is worth if you're making a million dollars a year. Post-tax, it's 600,000/year, or 12,000 per week, and if it's a not-atypical 80 hours per week job, that's $2.50 a minute.]

Maybe the million dollar job doesn't really exist, but does it make me value my time any more to think that I could be making an order of magnitude more than I really am? Or does the part of my brain which makes me decide to procrastinate operate beyond all realms of reason?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Job talks as a privilege.

Out of 7 interviews this year, only two involved a job talk.

Last year, nearly all of my interviews involved job talks, even for positions at research institutes that would require me to set aside my own research until I got my own grants, tenure-track at a regional commuter school whose courseload was too high for research, and visiting faculty at an elite small college where the faculty guiltily confessed to me that they had just about given up on their own research. In one case, they didn't even have a position for me, but the department chair for the field I have my MA in was very friendly, the university is rapidly expanding and my field will eventually have openings, and I was in the neighborhood, so they brought me in and I gave a talk and had lunch with the faculty; that was my favorite interview, perhaps because it wasn't an interview, and I got the career advice that has influenced me the most.

I took for granted that all interviews include job talks. Jobs without an interview process didn't have job talks, of course. Two postdocs gave me an offer without meeting me, and my current postdoc came about by accident; naturally, none of these involved job talks.

This year I have realized that I should be prepared for a soft-money environment, so I have focussed my search to postdocs in well-funded fields which will teach me how to apply for grants, and it's been a surprise to see how few have job talks. The two interviews which asked me to give a job talk make me lean so much more towards them --- should I get an offer --- because they show that they respect me as a researcher. The fact that some places skip job talks also made me realize how much trouble they must be for the department, especially the ones which get a huge audience. My December job talk had an audience of over 40, and this was close to Christmas-time.

My best interviews last year, such as my one tenure-track with an elite college, had a huge audience; I even got a DVD to show my parents.

Meals are also a sign of interest, especially when they can get a few prominent faculty or many people to show up. Nearly all of my interviews last year involved at least one meal with faculty, but the postdoc interviews rarely have much of a meal. So far, I've had pizza with RAs, lunch at a food court and being allowed to tag along at a fancy dinner with a visiting speaker (clearly, the reason for the dinner), and two small catered lunches with faculty (one of which included another candidate!); two had nothing. The food doesn't matter as much as who they get to come. After my December job talk, I had tuna salad with the most prominent faculty, including a woman who must have been 80 years old, whom even some of the younger faculty at the lunch had never met; she asked a lot questions and really seemed to care about my research; that really impressed me!

The interviews which have at least 3 hours of interviews, a job talk, and a meal are exhausting, and I know that they are extremely time-consuming for faculty, who don't manage to get anything else done during interview season. At the same time, by making this kind of effort, departments get to signal that they (1) care about the research of emerging researchers; (2) want to enrich their department by sponsoring a talk, which many departments don't have many of; (3) see postdocs as a citizen of the department, rather than serfs in academic feudalism.

The extreme opposite is signaled by being the interview that I declined: 45 minutes with person A, 30 minutes with person B, and a phone call with my mentor-to-be who doesn't even live in the city, so I would never see them after starting the job.

Now off I go, to try to find more postdocs that will have lunch with me and have me give a job talk.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

College students' worries

While I was on one of my interviews, I stopped at a student organization's display of students' secrets. They put up a clothes line and students were supposed to write their secret on a 3x5 index card and attach it to the line. So many of them sounded familiar, painful, or funny.

- I'm worried [university name] has killed my self-esteem and motivation.

- I'm a CS major with a 4.0, but I've never been loved.

- I tell everyone I'm a diehard Democrat, but if it's Obama vs. McCain, I'm voting GOP.

- Sometimes I wish I went to another school.

- I never feel that I'm good enough, so I spent a lot of time being afraid.

- As much as I want to fall in love, part of me just wants to get laid. A LOT. [Female handwriting?]

- Although it disgusts me, I have a sexual relationship with my dog.

- When I was young, I burned down an unfinished house out of anger. No one knew.

- I'm terrified I will never really be happy.

- People tell me to be myself, but I don't know who I am.

- I masterbate. [and can't spell.]

There were stories about how a poster's father shot himself last year when they were sleeping down the hall, and another poster's best friend bled to death, but it wasn't a secret and everyone knew about it. A community college student came to visit the university for motivation. A guy slept with his best friend's sister, and then felt too weird to ever speak with his friend again.

Some secrets are scary. Others are surprisingly universal.

The Blog Logs

I flip through the logs for this blog about monthly, and am always amused at what brings people here, especially the ones which tell stories like:

* leaving academia women regrets: Did finding my blog help or hurt the case for academia?
* Not heard from people who phone interviewed me for postdoc
* I failed as a postdoc: I'm sorry that you feel that you failed as a postdoc. You probably didn't. Just take a vacation and see if you get a better perspective.
* i have gotten no postdoctoral offers yet (for which I'm the #1 listing)
* "I want to be responsible" "postdoctoral": From Korean Google!

People seeking skills:
* working efficiently
* "critiquing papers"

People seeking me:
* blog of a new postdoc: Someone looked for me!
* An Israeli academic blog ("Life at the beginning of the academic ladder") put me as their top link.

People seeking entirely different things:
* "my fetish": Ha!
* employment humanities academia
* albatross research
* hot post doc: I'm third in the search results, and was talking about the weather.
* dating views in different cultures: I talk about the cultural divide between sciences and humanities. Probably not what they meant!


This fall, I applied for what seemed like the perfect postdoc, but two months later got a letter informing me that the advisor had turned down the entire pool of applicants. Which stings: it's one thing to be beaten out by qualified people with known good qualities, but quite another to be beaten by absolutely no one.

Now the advisor has sent the notice of the postdoc twice to the professional society mailing list, and the second time urged people to send their students to come talk to her about her fantastic postdoc at an upcoming conference.

My job dance card

Pending decision: I've interviewed in person for 6 postdocs and one industry job: 3 rejections, 1 probably rejection, 2 unknowns, and I don't care about the industry.

* Fall interview 1: This was the postdoc that turned everyone down.

* December interview 1: Silent. I think that's a rejection, especially given how nervous she acted around me at a conference in January. This was the interview where the role of the postdoc is to get tenure for the junior faculty member; i.e., lots of papers where I would be at best the second author or probably the third or fifth, with almost no time for first author papers.

* December interview 2: They'll let me know next week. This is the only job that asked me to give a talk for them, and the only one where any large number of faculty made an effort to meet with me. It's in an awful city, but I really appreciate the respect for my work that it shows to have asked me to come speak.

* January interview 1: I turned it down because I was overwhelmed by all the travel and pretty sure I liked my current job better and thought it was disrespectful of my time to ask me to fly down for a 75 minute interview (spending all day in airplanes). In retrospect, that may have been a mistake, though I'm still pretty sure that I wouldn't have wanted it. It would have been nice to have an offer by now, though.

* January interview 2: Same fellowship as January interview 1. Had 49 applicants, and reviewed 13 applications for the slots around the country. I think there were 5 people interviewed for this slot. They sent their rejection last week.

* February interview 1: I was really excited about this postdoc until after I visited. They talked about how well they prepared their postdocs (they have a whole cohort of them) for applying for funding, and I was initially impressed by their thoroughness and professionalism that they instilled in their postdocs. All of the postdocs took the optional 3rd year, and the job outcomes for the alumni of the program were not terribly impressive. The combination of these factors made me realize that both funding and the job market in this subfield must be really tight, so the postdoc may not be the best career move.

They list two dozen research projects on their website and I thought that I was a good match for many of them, and was particularly excited for one of them. I applied for the postdoc because this professor who does exactly the same thing that I do (and I've never had a mentor in my exact same area of research) said he would work with me if I came. It's a training grant and so theoretically postdocs can work on anything, but only 4 of the 24 projects were "funded" and so eligible to take postdocs. Likewise, this mentor didn't have the right kind of connection with them. While writing my application, I had mulled over the 24 projects and mentors, and it turns out that most of them weren't eligible. During the interview, it was a complete surprise that there were only four eligible projects, and really just one or two were remotely plausible given my interests.

They rejected me almost exactly a week after my interview. They said that I was a solid candidate, but not a match for the research projects, which I agreed on. Still, the head of the postdoc seemed to like me, and seemed to hint that they would contact me.

* February interview 2: These guys told me that they didn't take my application seriously until they met me. After meeting me, they said they took me seriously. "And now that we take you seriously, maybe we will bring you back so you can meet a larger array of potential mentors." They only met me because they are not too far from February interview 1, so it wouldn't cost them anything to bring me in.

Before I came, they told me that they weren't going to reimburse anything and that they never reimburse anyone, so after staying in a nice hotel for the first day, I took a long long public transit ride out to stay with a friend the night before this interview. I did have to change my flight plans in order to come to the interview and I couldn't submit that expense to the first interview, so I submitted the $100 receipt for the change to them, and they told me that they will reimburse it. Apparently, (1) they are taking me seriously; (2) the administrator may have lied about the reimbursement policy; or at least (3) it really never hurts to ask. They bring in enough people for interviews for this postdoc that I can't imagine that they don't reimburse anyone.

No idea when I'll hear, but I do appreciate their frankness. Honestly, though, they're doing a project that is inferior to a similar project at my current university. The only difference between the two projects is that my current university has a mediocre reputation and this university has an elite reputation, so the project might receive more recognition out of this university in spite of its inferiority.

* February interview 3: Industry. They'll tell me at the end of the week (so presumably tomorrow since that's Friday), but I am not accepting it. I hope they offer so that I know what the salary would have been, though!

With only two already-interviewed-for job possibilities left, I am getting nervous. I had a phone interview this week that went well, and have another 10 applications out that could still turn into phone interviews, but I am starting to think that I should apply to more jobs. Yikes.

Dating book review: The Four Man Plan: A Romantic Science

As terrible as its name sounds, the Four Man Plan was funny and surprisingly empowering, and actually the kind of book that I could see changing positively how its readers approach dating. I nonetheless feel the need to explain how I came to read this book because it is a bit ridiculous. Waiting for job replies, I am having trouble concentrating on work, so headed to my local public library to pick up some books for distraction, the latest books that I'd heard of, mostly serious nonfiction with a few entertaining books thrown in. While getting Sex in the City writer Cindy Chapuck's Between Boyfriend Book (entertaining, but fluffy), I ran across The Four Man Plan by actress and new age-type Cindy Lu, which I picked up because it seemed so ridiculous. I gathered a stack of books and sat down to figure out which ones I would leave the library with, and decided to start reading the ones which looked least likely in order to eliminate them, so the first one that I started was the Four Man Plan since it was the most ridiculous. I got so absorbed by the book that I ended up having to postpone a phone interview 15 minutes. Which went very well.

Behind silliness such as a nonsense equation, I think that Lu speaks a few kernels of truth.

- Keep an open mind about everyone, and accept every date and contact unless you already have a "full dance card"; don't exclude or eliminate anyone unless they treat you badly, make you feel bad about yourself, or are otherwise out of the question. Most people do not experience love at first sight; assume you're like most people, and that you don't know right away. The dance card idea is that women should date 4 man-equivalents at once, where each date gets weighted by the intensity of involvement: a promising contact counts for 1/4 man-equivalent, a couple of promising dates counts as 1/2, getting more romantic counts as 1, sex counts as 2 1/4. Game over if exclusive.

- Keep perspective and don't assume anything prematurely: date other people, even if one says that he loves you or sleeps with you; it's not exclusive until you both agree that it is. Don't think too seriously about anyone who lives out of town.

- Keep your wits about you (think with your head, not anything else): believe that there are enough good men out there and that women do not need to compete with each other, and don't rush into anything. Sex on the second date (or whenever) is okay, but not out of a mistaken belief that it will make men more interested or keep them from losing interest; unfortunately, the infamous double-standard --- that men don't value women who put out too early --- is often true.

- Look for someone who is honest, loving, and willing (e.g., to try new things and help you out), and be the same. Any other specific qualities probably won't work out.

Lu uses her Chinese background for comedic effect, saying that she came upon a mathematical theory that would allow her to stop sucking at love, and she even comes up with a silly equation to go along with it, but she acts like the scientific veneer is a joke that she and the reader share, rather than seriously an answer.

The New York Times's book review was, in my opinion, unfairly critical, relying on stereotypes rather than what the book actually says, summarizing it as, "Its familiar premise is that women ought to defer sex with `honest, loving and willing' suitors, because men like a challenge." Lu tells her own experience of having not been patient before, and found it refreshing when she did start to get to know the men better before having sex with them, waiting 2 months, which is hardly coquettish or unusual.

One of the case studies that she quotes was a woman who always had sex very early on because she thought that there was no way that men would like her otherwise. This woman was actually surprised when she found out that men would like her even if she didn't have sex with them on the 3rd date. The reviewer talks about the book as if it's anti-feminist, but to the contrary: some women apparently feel obligated to have sex with the men that they are seeing, especially after a certain number of dates; no one should ever have sex out of a feeling of obligation.

The theory is one that I've been applying all along, when I remember. The one time that I've gotten hurt in the past year was when I decided that I was devoted to a guy before he was devoted to me, so I was relatively vulnerable when I left town for 3 weeks and he started to seem not so interested when I came back. During my 3 weeks of travel (two different places), I was in date-like or romantic situations with 2 guys; we didn't kiss though we really wanted to, or have an explicit date. With one of them, I think there was (probably still is) real potential were he not across the ocean. At the time I felt guilty about them, but now I realize they're what kept me from being too badly hurt; if I had read the book earlier, I really could have let things develop a bit while I was away. After all, I'm guessing that's exactly what that guy did, explaining how he came to have an instant girlfriend the second he broke up with me.

Counting the number of man-equivalent-units that I'm dating, though it's nebulous:
- Facebook guy: 1 date with second planned, 1/4.
- Fifth amendment: 1.
- Engineer. It's not going to be a relationship, but we like each other: 1.
- Guy who weighs 20-30 lbs less than me (and I'm short and normal weight): several dates, 1/2.

Apparently, I have 1 1/4 slots left on my dance card, which produces a perverse incentive. Either I have to meet 5 new people (who all start off as 1/4) or start making out with at least one of the people on the list. Somehow that doesn't seem like the best way to approach dating.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Singledom and the fetishists you meet

Being single lets you see parts of the world that you wouldn't otherwise see.

For instance, it's something that people joke about, but I had no idea there were real foot fetishists. At least, enough of them that they would contact me on a dating site:

"I hope I dont freak you out to what I'm about to say but

I was wondering if you'd like to chat. I'm not looking for sexual intercourse. I'm looking to explore my fetish. Foot fetish that I'm wondering if you're curious as well? I bet you'd like to have your toes sucked don't ya? wb if you're intersted..unfortunately we can't chat unless we save each other as fav's. Hope to hear from you"

Another guy from 700 miles away wrote the following brief missive, "Have you ever played tennis with a laundry hamper on your head?" and his profile picture was in fact of him playing tennis with a laundry hamper on his head. He mentions laundry hampers three more times in his profile.

I saw a profile on Craig's list in another city that I sometimes spend time in, for someone looking for a long-term relationship with a bisexual because he likes to wear women's clothes. He seemed really nice, and since in high school and college I went through that feminist stage where I saw all gender as a meaningless social construct, I thought I shouldn't hold his transvestitism against him, so I contacted him. We emailed a bit, and after awhile he started to seem really confused about his sexuality. I guess I picture transvestites as the typical psychologist's profile: straight-as-an-arrow men who relax at the end of their day by putting on women's clothes. He had actually gone out to gay clubs dressed as a woman to get picked up, but he assured me that he didn't enjoy it. Even if I believed him that he wasn't going to decide one day that he was gay --- I've already had that happen --- I didn't even want to contemplate the disease risk, especially since he sounded wishy-washy enough that all the sex might not be protected. Also, he was a struggling writer who didn't like his day job. I let the correspondence peter off, but then he got offended that I didn't want to keep emailing.

The foot fetishist actually wrote to me back in December. By March, I'd forgotten all about him, and got a second email.

i notcied something about one of your pictures.. you have the prettiest im have a nice arch...wb..let me know if you'd like to chat sometime...or if i freaked you out or

I was feeling friendly, so decided I may as well send a "no thanks," which he responded to by asking, "not even for me to massage your pretty feet or kiss a toe?.."

As tempting as it was, I turned it down.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mysterious endings: ubiquitous!

I feel so much better about the out-of-nowhere ending to my fall relationship, where the guy broke up with me by being extremely busy at the end of his semester as if I might see that as avoiding me, after reading this book excerpt about boyfriends who just disappear.

"Lone Rangered: To have had a relationship end in a mysterious and annoying way --- with no goodbye, no answers, just the vague feeling that you have no idea who that man was....Every woman, with the possible exception of Cindy Crawford, has a story like this. She may have dated the man a few weeks or a few years. They may have shared a cab or an apartment. It doesn't matter. For some reason, the man thinks that the decision to break up is none of her business." (Cindy Chupack, the Between Boyfriends Book.)

Two months later, occasionally when reminded of him, I find myself thinking, "How could I have been so stupid?" before I stop myself and think about something else. Now that I've seen it written in a pink paperback written by a Sex in the City writer as a universal truth --- arguably, one that you need to have in order to be able to say that you've experienced the wealth of the single life --- maybe I won't think that so often.

Monday, March 3, 2008

An industry interview

This summer, I submitted my CV to a conference career fair, and got a few industry inquiries. I turned all of them down at the email stage, except for one company which is famous for being a very good place to work; that company's email I just ignored and left in my inbox. Two weeks later, a second copy of the email came, which I ignored. And two weeks later, a third copy, which I gave up and answered. It was a questionnaire asking about my experience in different areas, and I dashed it off without really caring.

That email led to two phone screens, which were interesting because when they would ask why I wanted to work there, I said that I didn't apply for the job, but thought I'd see where the interview process led. It sounds terribly arrogant to say that, but I didn't have a better answer, and amazingly, they let it pass, so I won the grand prize: a free trip to visit. I flew in in the morning of the previous day, so I got a full day to wander around the area, and then visited some friends for the weekend, so it was a nice mini-vacation.

I was not persuaded by the interview to go to industry, but I did learn a few things.

1. PhD or other well-educated types who become managers are really sharp, both smart and affable. It's a fantastic combination, and if there were any incentive to enter industry, this would be it: to attempt to become one of them. Though I know that I really just wouldn't care enough about the job to succeed.

2. All industries try to get the most work out of their workers, and pay them the least they can. It's an uncomfortable fact of economics which we tolerate for cog-in-the-wheel professions, but some people are extra uncomfortable when it's educated knowledge workers. I have a friend with a PhD who had a job in Silicon Valley for a few months in the peak years before he started feeling like his company's business model was to take advantage of smart people who are willing to follow directions.

Companies do all kinds of things to keep their employees in the building. While I was there, there was a service giving free oil changes to employees, and a barbershop on wheels giving haircuts, both with cutesy names and mottos which make it sound like they are continually making the rounds of different companies. They also add weird luxuries: they have heated toilet seats with little bidets built into them.

One employee put it as, "You just need to do your work. Everything else is taken care of." They even wash your behind for you.

3. By creating good will with employees, they will accept conditions that coerce them into doing more work. The well-known example is with law firms where people stay past 7 to order in on the company's tab.

Here, people are placed in an office or cubicle with 4-5 people each, and the cubicles are also close together. If you have facebook open, everyone can tell. Personal phone calls are out of the question.

4. If you ask the right questions, you can discover if people are really happy in their jobs, or if they knew what they were getting into.

A. An exchange that I had with an interviewer who had left his university position, where he had been a semi-independent PhD in a larger lab:
Me: How did you transition to this job as far as your motivations go? That is, in your academic field, you might have been driven by curiosity, the desire to understand [a specific thing], and to add to science. How do you go from that to a job whose goal is to maximize profits for this large company?
Him: This company is very collaborative, and everyone's nice. I don't have a problem making money for them. It's not like I'm working for Raytheon; it's goals aren't unethical. I wouldn't work on the [Company] Bomb.

He then revealed that the only reason that he came to industry is because his lab was moved to another country and he didn't want to move with them. That contextualized his answer more clearly. He could have said that he is motivated by contributing to the US economy in the way that his company does, and clearly it does, but instead he said that it's not unethical. That was the saddest part.

B. With another interviewer, I asked what he had done his dissertation on fairly early in the interview because it fit into the conversation. Shortly after, he said that he had expected the work to be like his dissertation, but it was very different. Which seems like an important detail to tell someone before they accept a job. At least he was happy with how it turned out.

5. Out of the perhaps 100 people that I passed at their desks, two were asleep. One had his hands still on the keyboard.

These facts about industry would not have surprised me --- people work extremely hard, don't have control over what they do or where they sit, sometimes end up not so enthusiastic about their work or doing things that they hadn't anticipated, no apparent thought to career development of employees --- were it not for the fantastic reputation this company has as a great place to work.