Posts from the ‘Career’ Category

Some other beginning’s end

After a two-and-a-half hour march across Paris from the Latin Quarter to Pont de Grenelle, just south of the Eiffel Tower, I was absolutely exhausted. It was our last night in Paris, and DH wanted to see the replica of the Statue of Liberty that stands on the tip of a small island in the Seine. But after six days of walking around the City of Lights, my back and feet were relieved to plop down on a rail by the quay as he took some nice dusky pictures of the stature.

I idly pulled my smartphone out of my purse; we weren’t paying for cell or data coverage here, so I was relying on wireless internet during our trip to connect with the world back home. Our apartment rental came with free access to a city-wide wifi network, but it was a long shot that there would be a wifi hotspot here. However, I was in luck. I connected and proceeded to download something like twenty emails, mostly junk mail and advertisements. However, one message caught my eye.

It was an email automatically generated from the same automated online system I had used nearly two months before to apply to one of the jobs for which I had interviewed in August. Evidently it was news of some kind about my application. I opened it and quickly scrolled through; after many uninformative and irrelevant words I saw the ones that mattered: “You were not selected for this position.”

Halfway through our European trip was not the time to fret about life-altering decisions and revelations. After a few minutes of absorbing the news, I stood up, dusted myself off, and walked to the nearest metro stop. I thought about jobs I might apply for when we got home; we pondered the possibility of living on one income for the foreseeable future. We settled the matter in our minds and proceeded to enjoy the second half of our European trip.

One week later, after 11 hours on a trans-Atlantic flight from Rome to Charlotte, NC, I eagerly turned my phone on to access domestic cellular and data for the first time since we left. I knew my parents would want to know we were back in the states, especially since they were picking us up at the airport when we made it back to Denver. However, what download to my phone was not a voice mail from a friend or family member, but one from the very same job that, one week earlier, I was told I did not get.

All I can figure is that there was some strange goof in the automated system. The voice mail, from that very same morning while I was in the air over the Atlantic, was from a real, honest-to-goodness human being offering me the job. So, with American soil under our feet for a mere two minutes, all of our resolutions and Plan B’s were completely erased and all of a sudden I was faced with a monumental life decision.

It was too late to respond that day, which was just fine. I still had customs and immigration, another flight, and the drive home to process what was even going on. When I called back the next morning–exhausted, jet-lagged, fighting a cold–she reiterated what she stated in the voice mail and gave me until the end of the following day to make my decision.

It may seem like a short turn-around, but in reality there wasn’t that much more to think about. All the time I was applying for the job, talking to them over the phone, going there in person to interview, I was formulating the answer to the question “what if.” All the time I was waiting for their decision I was determining what I would say if they offered. I knew what my answer was going to be. I didn’t need the time to decide, only to find the courage to accept the truth of my decision in my heart.

I know it sounds ridiculous that I could know I made the right choice, know that I had peace about the choice, yet still sob into DH’s shoulder for a long time after I returned her call to let her know my decision. I knew it was the right choice, but the repercussions of it were so significant. I knew I was grieving for what I’d be leaving behind; I was terrified for the new that was to come; I was unsure of all we’d now have to do to get there.

But I knew that I was taking the job and that we were moving to Washington, DC.

After the end of the fiber, a journey I started eight years ago was now complete and another beginning.


Closing time…every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Starting to sink in

We are, inexplicably, 2/3 of the way through June now. Yikes. I have something like five weeks left here at my job. While I’ve known when my appointment would be over for a long time now, every day the reality that I won’t be here anymore is starting to sink in.

I’ve been working here for seven years now; in fact, my anniversary was just a couple of weeks ago. I’ve met a lot of people, made friends, gotten very familiar with the building and where everything is and how things work. I’m very comfortable. But it seems like life is very good at disrupting us whenever we do get comfortable with something. That’s just the way things work.

I am just beginning to process how different my life is really going to be now, when I don’t come here every day and go to the same lab and talk to the same people. Wow, change is really tough. We naturally tend to resist it, but I do find that regardless of how uncomfortable it is, I adapt to it pretty well. It’s just a matter of accepting it and rolling with it.

So, in the next five or so weeks I need to get my affairs in order. I’ll probably go through my emails to see if there’s anything I might still need, trash/recycle/shred old papers and keep the ones that are still useful, start bringing some of my reference books home, organize my data files on the computer. I guess I’ll also have to say my goodbyes, too. We’ve had a number of group members leave since I’ve been here, and quite a few recently, so we’ve had good-bye lunches and farewells before. I guess in a few weeks it will be mine.

I still haven’t found my next job yet. I had a sort-of interview last week with a professor for a post doc, but I don’t really expect it to go anywhere. I’m not sure I’d even be happy there, either. I guess one never knows, though. I actually found a handful of jobs yesterday that I might be interested in applying for as well as a couple of possible research groups I might be interested in approaching for a post doc. It’s just that even when I come up with an idea for something to pursue, I usually talk myself out of it for one reason or another–well, maybe I wouldn’t actually like working there. Do I really want to move there? Do I have much of a future doing that? What would people think if I decided to do that?

None of that really matters, though. It’s really just about sowing the seeds and doing due diligence and then just waiting to see what will ultimately bear fruit. While the next step is indeed an important one that will play into what I do for the rest of my career, in reality it’s highly unlikely that it will be my whole career, either. So while that means more change will come, it also means that I shouldn’t feel that I’m being  “sentenced” to life in prison with no chance of parole, either. As I’ve said often to DH, even if what I do next isn’t what I really love, it’s probably just going to be for a year or two, something that will prepare me better for what’s next, and anybody can stick with something for a year or two, right?

At the end of the day, there’s only one thing I am confident about–God has something for me to do, and He will make it happen just as soon as His timing is right (unfortunately for us, His timing is almost always different than ours!). All I have to do is put legs on following through with the official bits, but there’s nothing really that I will do to force it to happen. And it will be the right thing, the job that prepares me for the next step, or maybe it will be the perfect job that I will have forever. And if I have to be unemployed for a while, He’s going to provide for our needs, too, and maybe I can use that time to do something else productive and meaningful that I wouldn’t get to have the chance to do when employed nine to five. Either way, it’s ultimately for my good. Therefore I don’t worry about it (or try not to).

Justify your existance

I presume that a lot of scientists know how to pitch their work in a way that makes it sound useful to somebody, or else they never get any funding, right? This was also a huge part of my thesis preparation, as your committee likes to see that your research means something to somebody. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, there’s some aspect of your work that might only be tangentially related but that, when Aunt Ruth asks you what you do all day, you can pull out of your back pocket so they feel like they actually know what you do (I personally find that “Well, Aunt Ruth, you know that “atomic clock” on your wall that updates itself automatically for daylight saving time? I work in the group that does that” is usually a lot more enthusiastically accepted than “I measure the amplitude-to-phase conversion of semiconductor photodiodes in the context of generating ultra-stable microwaves from optical signals”).

However, while I’m quite tired of all the things I’ve been doing, on occasion I do feel as if I’ve justified all the work I’ve done by the people who have genuinely expressed interest in it. I often have one or two people really quiz me at conferences about measurements I’ve done and the questions they have about similar things. However, I have on a number of occasions received emails out of the blue from people all over the world asking me specific questions, usually about very technical aspects of research I have published in papers. So in reality, some number of people have sought out my work to help them work out a problem they were having in their research, and a handful of them have gone so far as to contact me to ask questions about it. While I often still feel like a doofus about science and am constantly reminded about what I don’t know, once in a while I can feel good that I am actually an “expert” about some small sliver of scientific knowledge and that the work I’ve done has helped them accomplish research in even more areas that just what I’m doing. I guess that’s a pretty decent way to end a week.

Another eventful week

It’s Monday again, and thus starts another eventful week. My parents will come into town on Wednesday, and we will have a couple of graduation festivities to attend. Thursday afternoon is the Physics Department graduation ceremony, and Friday morning is the university-wide commencement. The physics department affair will  be smaller and probably a bit more meaningful than the huge ceremony. However, I guess since I worked so hard and was here so long I couldn’t really just skip the other one. However, I am not looking forward to it–it’s ridiculously early Friday morning, and traffic is always a nightmare just getting to town that day, and I can only imagine what it’s like actually having to maneuver through it and find a parking space. Well, it’ll work out somehow, and at least it’ll all be over by noon.

I was surprised to learn that I will receive my actual, honest-to-goodness diploma after the ceremony on Friday. I thought I’d have to wait for it, but I guess they thought that all the advanced degrees waited long enough to get theirs, so the Graduate School will have them available for pickup afterwards. Now I have to figure out a cool way to display my expensive piece of paper.

All the while these things are going on, I have one more thing to think about…I actually got a job offer this morning. There is so much to consider about this job…most importantly, the whole having to sell our house and move there thing. I have not yet made a decision, but I will have until next Monday to decide.

I seriously did not anticipate how hard it would be to decide what I want to do when I grow up. Whatever I choose to do now will not likely be permanent; the typical path for a physics grad is a post doc, which lasts 1-3 years, but even taking a teaching or industry job would most likely only be a step toward something else in the future. But it’s a little unsettling to slog through eight years of graduate studies only to realize that I will probably be less stable now for a few years than I was all through grad school. Academia is comforting; you know the end is coming, but you know it’ll be a few years before it happens. Newton was definitely onto something with the whole body-at-rest thing.

Is this why some people never leave college and get five advanced degrees? I’m beginning to understand.


An eventful week

Evidently I took an unexpected hiatus from the blog! The last week has been pretty eventful–in good ways and in bad.

First of all, I actually had an interview on Monday for a potential job. This required flying out on Sunday morning and spending the day traveling there. I had a dinner meeting Sunday evening and a full day of activities Monday before flying back that evening. Everything seemed to go pretty well, so we’ll just have to see how this develops.

As evidenced by the fact that I flew there, this is not a local position. Therefore, if I am made an offer, the whole moving thing will be a significant factor in our decision. At this point, I am aware that moving is a very real, and highly likely, possibility, but deciding where to move and selling our house in this economy aren’t trivial decisions either. But it’s still early, and though time sure flies these days, I do have some time to deal with these issues. Who knows, I might even find something local yet. We’ll just have to see.

I was back at work on Tuesday; however, I got an unexpected day off yesterday. I felt fine Tuesday, a little tired from my travel, but nothing very strange. I even ran four miles that evening and felt pretty good about it, too. However, before bedtime I started feeling a little weird, and by the time I got in bed, I was feeling a bit ill. All of a sudden this fever and slight nausea came over me, and I felt bad all night long. I didn’t sleep well, and at one point I had a fever of 102. By morning, I was sort of feeling a little better, though very tired and still with a tiny fever (much less than 102). I decided to stay home from work; my rule of thumb is to wait 24 hours after a fever goes down before being around too many folks, just in case. After resting yesterday and a much better night’s sleep, I’m back today. I must have picked up something on the plane; that’s all I can figure. But I’m thankful it was very short-lived.

That’s pretty much what’s going on at the moment. Next weekend will be eventful, too, as I will be actually graduating! The final culmination of all my labor, I will have my PhD officially bestowed upon me next Friday. I’m not so excited that the school-wide graduation starts a, like, 8:00 a.m., but since my parents will be here for it, I guess I can get up early enough to deal with the traffic and crowds, just this once. Or I hope it’s just once…who needs another PhD?!?


Two days

It’s Tuesday, two days until my defense.

I had a very nice Easter weekend, even though I did spend Sunday afternoon and evening working on my presentation. My sacrifice paid off, however. I had another practice talk on Monday, and that went oh so much better than my previous one. I even nailed it in under 45 minutes, which is my goal. A little more refining over the next two days, and I should be able to do it under 45 and not talking 90 mph like an auctioneer. :p

At this point, my greatest concern  will be making sure I am fluent in all aspects of my work, being able to confidently field questions from the committee. I don’t necessarily have to know all the answers, but I need to think well on my feet and be able to speak to at least some aspect of a question. This is the most terrifying part of this entire thesis process; some questions can come way out of left field and you have no way to prepare for it. However, if I sell myself and my work solidly in my presentation and answer most other questions intelligently, then hopefully they have no reason to say that I am not qualified to be deemed a PhD. I just have to be confident, feel confident, and believe that I’m confident.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I intended to apply for a job. I managed to get my application and paperwork to them last week, though they are still missing one reference letter; I’m working on that today. Without going into too much detail, I will say that I am getting a favorable impression from them. It’s certainly not done and we’re still in the initial stages, but we’ll just have to see how serious it gets. I still have one specific job I want to apply for as soon as I get time to work on my paperwork for it, and then I haven’t even really begun to look in earnest either; I only intended to begin that after I defended. So there are still lots of options and nothing narrowed down yet. I have to admit I can let myself be almost as nervous about the next step as I am about my defense, but that’s just silly. Something will work out in the right time, and there’s no reason to be fearful about stepping out in faith into the real, professional world. Change may be uncomfortable, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, it’s that it isn’t at all about comfort.

One week

The defense is one week from today.

This has been a surprisingly hectic week, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t get posts out Monday or Wednesday. I had a practice talk yesterday, which was a hot mess, but I got a lot of feedback for how to hone my truckloads of information into a concise yet precise 45-minute affair. I’ll continue to spruce it up and have yet another practice talk early next week.

I have a friend in town this week for work, and DH and I went down to Denver to have dinner with him. That was a lot of fun, though dinner dates just aren’t long enough to catch up. Going down into Denver on a weeknight is also unusual, and it cut slightly into my prep time for my practice talk.

I’ve been running around getting things together for my one job application, and yesterday I finally found a third reference to provide a letter of recommendation. That was a big relief. I have no idea how this job application will go, but at least it’s something to have one out there. There’s another one I really want to apply for, and I feel that getting it in sooner than later would be best. I just need to squeeze in a few minutes to update my application materials from the previous job to make it relevant to this one.

Today is DH’s birthday, too. I love birthdays, and I love to make a big deal out of them. Unfortunately, I’ve been so preoccupied this year that I did quite get to put as much forethought into it as I wanted to. However, he’s a very understanding man, and we agree that we’ll get to celebrate a lot more next week. I did manage to wrap some gifts and whip up a birthday cake for today, though, which I consider minimum requirements for an excellent birthday.

On top of it all, we finally got a spring cold snap. March is typically the snowiest month here, and we got nary a drop of precipitation the whole time. It seems like our whole winter got shifted forward this year, starting a month early in October and ending a month early in February. And while it’s been 60s and 70s and beautiful here for weeks, I knew we’d still get a little more snow eventually. Fortunately it didn’t stick much and barely got below freezing, but I was definitely sad to feel cold again.

In other news, I have, for some strange reason, evidently agreed to run a 5k on Memorial Day. Oh Lord, what was I thinking? I am not a runner; however, you might recall that starting up running again was something I had on my list of things to do after I am done. It turns out that my good friend is challenging herself to start running, too, and she was going to aim to start now and train for the 5k coming up in just about eight weeks (that’s typically a good amount of time to train for that length of race, even if you’re starting from zero). Like a fool, I publicly agreed to join her while commenting on her blog. Well, maybe I’m not a fool; it’s generally considered wise to commit to do things with a partner who will keep you accountable. Well, she’ll have to take me to task since I haven’t done anything since last Saturday (I told you, it’s been a busy week!). But I’m hoping I can squeeze in a couple of miles today now that the weather is looking up and my practice talk is over.

So that’s where we stand with one week to go. I’m still not all that anxious, though I was going into the practice talk. I’d rather get all my nerves out now and be assured that my talk is stellar and that I am completely prepared before even walking in the door next Thursday.