Friday, August 29, 2008

News from the crime scene

Literally just as I was coming back from writing the previous blog post, including the note about the apparent suicide in my department exactly one week before, I was rounding the corner and saw that a security officer and a guy in a white shirt and tie were unlocking the suicide's office door, which is a few down from mine.

The name was on the door that morning, but by then they had removed the name. A little later, as I was going to the bathroom (the suicide's office is on the way to the bathroom), there was a uniformed police officer with a big old-fashioned camera, the kind in 1960's TV shows, taking a picture of the door. They opened the door, and went in with the camera. I overheard one of the officers saying, "It's a good thing [they] left the computer logged in." and something about a note, though it wasn't clear whether they were saying there was or wasn't one. Now there is a sign on the door saying, "Please do not enter. If you need anything, please see [administrator.]" No yellow crime scene tape, but perhaps effectively it is.

I wonder why they waited a week to start the investigation.

A friend of mine said, after I told him about the two deaths on the same project, "Driving a car into a house doesn't sound like an accident. And an apparent suicide might not be. You'll stay away from this project, right?" Which sounds ridiculous, but on the other hand, who knows.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New postdoc: the beginning

I started this week at my new new postdoc. This postdoc is at the university which is the top in my field, and theoretically should be "ideal" whatever that means, at least to people who like to speak in those terms. And in some respects, it's very nice. My office furniture is actually beautiful, for instance, which means a lot when I think about how much time I am supposed to be spending there. And obviously there are really exciting research projects and student activities. I have learned there are also ways in which I appreciate things I took for granted in my old position and every RA-ship I have ever had: printer access, computer, phone (the policy on all three is BYO (bring/buy your own)), a single contact person for administrative details, a library with books (it has only 1 of the 3 seminal books my advisor recommended; my previous medium-ranked school had all 3), a computer support department run by computer geeks.

I called my advisor's secretary to make an appointment to see him, and she asked who I was. I had to explain that I was his postdoc and tell her which grant I am under.

Plus, a creepy thing that has nothing to do with me. There have been 2 deaths in the past month in the department, coincidentally both on the same research project. One was a middle-aged project manager who was killed while sleeping when a car drove into their house. The other was a post-BA RA who, I am guessing, committed suicide. I can't avoid seeing the RA's name plate on my way to the bathroom from my office.

Good things:

1. Administratively, I am a student, so it's considered reasonable to attend/audit classes, get involved in student activities relevant to my work and there are many that could actually help my CV as "community service" of the kind faculty do. And apparently faculty get involved in these too. And there are all kinds of introductory student functions that I am automatically sent notice about.

2. There happens to be a course this term on exactly the new method that I hear I am supposed to learn for my research, so I have an excuse to meet people and get involved in something right away that is relevant.

3. I really like my apartment. It feels like home, and it feels good to be at a bit of a distance from school.

4. It's a gigantic institution, which is what makes it feel lonely and difficult to navigate, but that also means that there are ways around. There is no central departmental printer, but for some reason the library has free printing, I just discovered.

5. My office has beautiful golden wood furniture, and the office is clearly built for two people.

6. There are common spaces close to my office where I can work if I get tired of being alone.

One of the things that people talk about in college and then grad school is how you have to learn to ask for things if you want them, and this postdoc epitomizes this need. After receiving my ID card, my entire orientation to the postdoc consisted of not giving me a key to my office (they didn't have an extra) and telling me to have a nice year. Presumably I was supposed to race down the hall and sit down at my computer and write a paper.

I do have work to do. But somehow being given the empty half of a dimly-lit shared office that I don't have a key to, with no printer access, no phone to call my advisor to make an appointment, feels like I don't really have anything to do until the room gets a bit more populated. I know that there is no inspiration for work. You just have to do it. Even without a printer. And when I have a draft to print, I will have to find a way to print it.

So I will go back to my office, work for an hour, and see what comes out of it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Aftermath of this postdoc

My postdoc advisor keeps writing to me to ask me to perform various secretarial tasks --- not terribly time-consuming, but a total of 45 minutes that I don't feel like I have as I prepare to move and start a new postdoc that I am trying to be extremely conscientious about. I told him that I was surprised to continue getting requests for secretarial, to which he replied that he was surprised at my response, since he doesn't feel that I have put in as much time as I was paid for this year, though he admits he could be wrong.

I don't know how to reply to this, or if I should. It seems to me that it's water under the bridge, though I am tempted to say a few things:

1. He cut my salary in half when he hired an administrator to do these secretarial tasks, and yet continued to give me these secretarial tasks.

2. I am not a secretary. If he thinks I owe him research work, that's a reasonable issue to discuss. Discussing how many emails I have to send and lists to compile is not reasonable, and really weren't reasonable tasks for me in the first place.

Both points are reasonable, and I could tell him both of those. The third point that is of course in the back of my mind is that he lost me the second he cut my salary in half and made the first few months of my employment be 70% secretarial tasks.

But really I just want to avoid the whole issue. It was a mistake to accept the job. My term of employment ended, and I no longer have affiliation with that university. And if he thinks that I owe him something, he should have raised this issue when he was actually paying me.

That's a little overly strict, but I am concerned about maintaining boundaries so that I can succeed in my up-coming position.