Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Circle of Life

One of the 'joys' of your final year in grad school is that, in addition to finishing your dissertation and preparing to be judged on what is more or less your life's work (so far), you get to also apply for jobs. Boy oh boy, lemme tell ya, whenever I'm bored I find myself thinking "I wish I could be in the middle of a job search right now."

Just kidding. Job searches SUCK. Job applications SUCK. Why? Oh, I'll tell you why. That's the whole point of this post.

1. You have to take time out of your other work to actually write the applications. For jobs in academia, this generally includes a CV (which you shouldn't have to change for different positions), and a cover letter (which has to be changed for EVERY position). But you also may need a teaching statement, a research statement, and a writing sample. Hopefully you have the writing sample - a publication, part of your dissertation, etc. It's the teaching and research statements that are annoying. You may or may not alter them depending on the requirements of different job openings (Let me tell you about how I'm interested in human evolution! Wait no, let me tell you how I'm interested in evolutionary theory! Wait, just kidding, I'm really interested in primate behavior!), but it's the actual concept of them that most find mind-boggling. As in, what is your teaching philosophy? Hmm, umm, to teach? Like, I give out information and answer questions and pray to various deities that my students aren't self-absorbed idiots? That is probably unlikely to get you a job. I honestly can't say I gave a single thought to my teaching philosophy until I had to articulate it for a job application. And that's when I came up with phrases like 'dialectic methodology' and 'deeper understanding of the material'. And it's kind of not all a lie. I mean, I put together a one page document about the kind of teacher I want to be, and the way that I think I am doing things. How close have I gotten, or will I ever get? Who knows? And the research statement - ditto. Just ignore that you live in a world where there's no funding available and most people don't care about what you do because it doesn't give them more bars on their smartphone (unless that is what you do, in which case, get back to work). Just write about how your research is wonderful and life-changing, and how one day children will sing songs about how you made the world a better place by studying monkey poop, or measuring tooth bumps, or something.

2. The job market sucks. Really, it does. There's really very little point in thinking about what kind of job you want, or where you want it, because if you're lucky, you'll get one offer. One. You will take the job you get, because there won't be another. And if that job is teaching Ancient Languages at the University of Anchorage, that is what you will do, and you won't think too hard about why they hired you in the first place. So instead of worrying that you won't get the job you want, worry that you won't get any job. Because that is a legitimate concern. I hope you still get along with your parents, and that they have a super cool basement, because you may be living there soon. If you're lucky, maybe you can put a nameplate on the door. Dr. Unemployed, PhD.

3. You will be competing for jobs with people you know. Probably friends. The only thing worse than not getting a job is being the only one of your friends who doesn't get one. Also, watching your friends get better jobs than you isn't much fun either. Nor is getting a better job than your friends. Or getting the one your friend really wanted. Or getting the job your friend was fired from. Or being fired and replaced by a friend. Yeah, pretty much everything that isn't a Disney movie ending sucks in the world of competing for jobs with friends. On the other hand, maybe you'll be lucky and scoop a great job away from someone you really hate. Here's hopin'.

4. Self promotion is awkward for everyone. This is true. Introverts, pay close attention. Those extroverts you know, the ones who baffle you with their charm and social graces, the ones who seem to have such an easy time talking to strangers and playing up their strengths, they HATE selling themselves like that. It just feels so phony and ridiculous. Only self-absorbed jerks actually like being the constant center of attention while simultaneously having to display themselves in a way that tries to soak in even more attention, like some kind of black hole of neediness. But that's what job searches are like. Your CV, cover letter, statements, all your documents are about how great you are, and how perfect you are for this job. (And isn't it convenient that you're perfect for every job you apply for? Uncanny!). And if you get an interview and a job talk, you get to do it more! Hooray! Have fun at your January interview at the University of Anchorage, hope you like moose!

So there you go, 4 reasons why job searches suck. Plus, add on the fact that you will very likely (almost guaranteed) not stay at your first job forever. In fact, your first appointment will probably be term-limited, and in a year or two, you'll be looking for another. And you'll probably repeat this cycle until you get that ever-elusive thing of magic, the tenure-track position. Plus don't forget that once you have tenure, you'll use job offers at other institutions to try and improve the position you already have. So you'll pretty much be applying for jobs until you die.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Indolence: Rated R for language

Indolent: averse to activity, effort, or movement : habitually lazy

I haven't posted in almost two months. I would claim that there hasn't been anything worth sharing. But that's a lie. The truth is, I've gotten indolent. Case in point, I've been meaning to write a post about indolence, but I've been too indolent. A good question is - why?

And the answer is, I don't know. But it will happen at least once to all grad students. You can't really call it complacency: self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies because there isn't really any self-satisfaction. It's more like all the fucks you  had to give are gone.


Typically what happens is that you've been giving all the fucks, all the time. And you burn out. Sooner or later, you just reach a point where you can't. You just can't care. About anything. You can't be bothered to act, or think, or want. You're going to do whatever requires the least effort, and you're not even going to enjoy it. You have a huge pile of data that needs analysis. Whatever. You have a deadline coming up. So what? You've been living off take-out and Golden Grahams for weeks. Who cares? You haven't worn underwear in a month. Big deal.

This is never good. And not just because your friends are probably put off by your new and interesting lack of personal hygiene. Because, quite obviously, you're not getting anything done. And if you've gotten indolent, it probably means you've fallen through an accountability crack, and no one with the authority to shame you into action KNOWS you've slipped. Which means Lassie is not coming to get you out of the apathy well, you need to pull your own lazy ass out. And THAT means you have to figure out how to spontaneously generate a fuck from a barren wasteland of fucklessness. For me, the key is fear.

If I don't give any fucks, I don't get any work done. If I don't get any work done, I don't finish my dissertation. If I don't finish my dissertation, I don't find a job. If I don't find a job I have to move back in with my parents. I CAN'T MOVE BACK IN WITH MY PARENTS!!!! Fuck generated, back to work.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Wall

I'm tired. I have about 2 1/2 weeks left here in Research Land, and I'm ready to be done. I'm over it. I miss my friends, I miss my bed. I am worried that my apartment has been robbed and vandalized and that hobos have moved in and turned it into a crack den/brothel and let the freezer defrost and the pipes burst. I am worried my cats will not remember me. My bitterness over being still a little too dizzy to drive is outweighed only by the bitterness that I can't afford to take the time to go anywhere, anyway. That happy equilibrium I briefly touched, which included work and yoga and exploring and socializing was sucked away with that mysterious attack of vertigo, and for the next 7(!) days that I still have access to the research room, we will be running 3 or 4 animals a day to try and get all the data I can. That's a pace that I can't possibly hope to keep up with from the side of processing, compiling, organizing etc, so things are about to get really out of hand on my end.

I have to wonder, what happened? It wasn't that long ago I was having a great time. Research was going as smoothly as possible, I was rocking it out in Bikram yoga, I was people-watching during solitary long lunches on Saturdays, I was content, enjoying myself, feeling a sense of lightness and freedom that only comes when you're really hitting life on all cylinders. Now, I'm pouting and cranky. My neck is sore. I want to sleep in. The almost constant alarm-calling of the lemurs has gone from awesome to novel to obnoxious and repetitive. The annoying predictability of some of my study animals' chronic underperformance would be comical if it weren't so infuriating.

People talk about being 'in the zone'. You've got a lot of data to collect in a short period of time, and when things start working right, you find yourself in the zone. You can bang out 11, 12, 13+ hour days as needed. You've got a system and a schedule and it's the same every day and everything is just working as it should. The problem with the zone is that it can be exhausting. Rely on that self-imposed tunnel vision for too long and you're going to start to long for whatever is happening outside that tunnel - no matter how badly you wanted to get away from it when you started. I am sick of this zone. I want to start analyzing and interpreting my data, I want the time to think about bigger pictures. I want to spend less time DOING science, and more time EXPERIENCING science. I want to go home.

Maybe if I hadn't lost most of last week to dizziness, things would be different. I would have 4 more days for data collection. But the sifakas would still refuse to participate, Esther the red-ruffed lemur would still be a little insane and hard to work with, and maybe I would be in the exact same place anyway. There's no way to know, but I can definitely mark that morning when I woke up and the world was spinning as the turning point - where this went from being and adventure to a chore.

But I guess this has to happen to all scientists. If it didn't, we'd spend all our time collecting data and none of our time interpreting our results, and no one would get anywhere. So I'm going to live through the insanity of running 4 animals a day when we usually only do 2, and then I'm going to take a week to sort through it all and work with some collaborators on how to analyze the mess of it, and then I'm packing up the shop and going back to Ancestral Homeland. Where I will take a week OFF. I promise.