Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Going Girlie!

I have my last meeting with my advisory committee next Tuesday, and I've decided to go with a very nice, purple, girlie layout! Male physicists need some beauty in their lives, right?

I'm actually fairly excited about this meeting. Last time, in August, they said if I could have one paper submitted and one partly written by our next meeting then they would be comfortable with my deadline of submitting my thesis by the end of the summer. Well, by their standards I'm way ahead: one paper is accepted, and the other one is ready to submit (as of today!) - we're just waiting for the okay from our collaborators! Plus, half my thesis intro is written, and I'm done the data reduction for the third project already. Boo-ya, committee!!

I've decided to have this comic as my last slide. Hopefully thesis writing isn't that painful for me.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I Think I have it

The lady that gave me a pedicure was really awesome. She was asking about what I do, and what I want to do after I finish. I gave her my regular "oh...I don't know. I haven't really decided yet" (and cringing inside because I absolutely detest answering that question).

Once we got to talking though, she told me that she's going to school to become a grief counselor. I asked her a lot of questions (I love finding out why people choose their career path; what kind of classes/training they take; etc.), and she was happy to answer.

One thing that really stuck out was when she told me about going through a death of a close family member. The support she received during that time made her realize how important it really was. She just knew, after that experience, that she wanted to help people deal with such a powerful and emotional time in their lives.

A light flicked on at that moment - the one thing (for me) that is missing from the academic life is that connection with people: being able to help or influence or teach someone. Now, before someone jumps down my throat, I realize that, yes, you do get to teach students and collaborate with colleagues. But it's not the same. That kind of interaction seems very arms-length to me, and it's not what I'm looking for, or need.

I do enjoy my research, and I like the part of science where I'm working on something that's never been done before - but it's not enough. It's not my passion.

So, I'm about 96.71% sure I have decided what my next step in life will be: I'm going into education and public outreach.

I'm not sure what direction within EPO I will go - be it teaching at a college, getting certified to teach at an elementary or high school level, working at a museum/science centre, finding a position as an outreach coordinator at a college or university, or starting my own outreach program - but, as far as I'm concerned, I'm just happy to know the general direction I'm going!

It's exciting to feel this way: to know what my next step will be. It's almost like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I just need to stick to my path, and not let the opinions of others affect me.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Paper #2 Update

My initial deadline to submit paper #2 was March 1st. Here it is, almost a month later, and it's still not submitted.

I'm a bit disappointed, but I based my time-line on how fast it took my supervisor to read my drafts with paper #1. Unfortunately, this time it has taken him longer to read and comment on each draft (although he has made far fewer comments/suggestions this time).

I gave him draft #3 on Tuesday, and he gave it back on Friday - there is minimal work left to do (just clarifying some small parts). So, my new deadline of April 1st is not likely going to happen :( I will be able to make all of the corrections by then, but - assuming supervisor is happy with draft #4 - we need to get our collaborators to read it before we submit.

I still feel ahead of the game on my thesis time-line: instead of just working on this paper, I've managed to reduce the data for project #3 and write half my thesis intro. So, I should have no problems reaching my August 1st deadline to submit the thesis!

I have a meeting with my advisory committee on April 7th, and I plan to impress the crap out of them with my progress!

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Here are the books I ordered a couple weeks ago - I'm so excited to read all of them! Hmm...where to start?

Friday, March 27, 2009

I *heart* Outreach

As I've mentioned before, in addition to my research, I am the coordinator of two outreach programs.

One of them is a nation-wide general science outreach program, which was actually started at the university I attend now back in the early 1990s. I coordinated the program at my master's university for 1.5 years, and have been doing it here since I moved in August 2005. Sometimes I can't believe I've been doing it for 5.5 years now!

Generally, what I do is set up outreach events with community groups: Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, local museums, the libraries, etc.. Then, I recruit people from our volunteer base to do science activities with the groups. We also do events with local teachers, but my co-coordinator deals with that part. We have about 100 volunteers, so we're pretty busy!

The other outreach program I run is focused on astronomy. This program is my baby - I created it from the ground up in 2006 and have been running it ever since. I designed all the presentations and activities we use, organize all the logistics of scheduling (of events and TAs), advertising the program, contacting group leaders, and write lots of reports to maintain our funding. I also get to do events once a week - in the first two years I was doing it twice a week, but now there is so much administrative work to do that two TAs were hired to do most of the presentations.

Both programs are a lot of work, but I love them...and I love the work. I think I really found my skill set: I have serious super-organizational, time-management, and multitasking skills. I find the work so rewarding, and it has made the last four years much more bearable.

I am going to be really sad not to be involved in the programs in just a few months. In fact, my astronomy program finishes in four weeks, and then I hand it over. It will be so hard to let go of my baby - something that I created - and leave it in someone else's hands. I have to hire someone to take over for me in the other program next month. Even though I won't be done with that program until August 1st, I'm already sad to see it all go.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Co-Author or Acknowledgment?

I'm currently writing paper #2 (I've done three drafts, and it's almost to the point of being submittable! yay!), but I'm really at a loss for who should be a co-author and who I should put in the acknowledgments.

Here's the deal - we wouldn't have been able to get telescope time for this project if we didn't have our two collaborators. However, they didn't take the data, nor did they do any of the data reductions/analysis or writing of any portion of the paper. They are not in my particular research field, so, although they will read the paper before it is submitted, they won't be able to give any comments on the actual science.

So, do I put them as co-authors (because we wouldn't have the data without them) or in the acknowledgments section (because they didn't do any work on the actual data or paper)?

Please help - I don't want to get in a situation that could be thought of as academic fraud!

Thanks for the comments so far!

I asked a couple of professors here about the etiquette regarding this situation, and both gave me some really great advice. They both agree that, basically, it's always better to err on the side of caution - and if we couldn't get the data without our collaborators, then it's safe to put them as co-authors.

I was actually quite surprised by the answers they gave - they didn't just brush me off or give me a one liner. They both took the time to really explain the situation (and even gave personal examples from both sides) and gave thoughtful, and useful answers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


1. I get to work yesterday to find a frantic email from the national coordinator of the science outreach program I run. Last week, I sent out 10 volunteers to act as science fair judges to a local school. Apparently, one of the parents felt so strongly that their child should have won first prize that, when they didn't, they sent scathing emails to both the principal of the school and the national coordinator of my program!!

After tracking down which volunteer judged this kid's project, we find out that the project, although cool, barely used any of the scientific method. In fact, all the kid did was show the apparatus and explained how it was used. There was no experiment of any kind; no methods, analysis, results or conclusions. Nothing. Of course, most of the criteria on the judging form had to do with said method, so the kid did not do to well.

So, I talked to the national coordinator, and we had a good laugh over it all. I feel bad for her because she now has to deal with the crazy parent. Wow.

2. Keeping with the same program - I have to hire my replacement in 3 weeks! I was planning on doing that in May, but the national coordinator wants me to do it in April for various reasons. Gah! The person won't actually start until August 1st (officially), but I'll need to train them before then.

3. Still with the same program - one event we're putting on this year has absolutely exploded! The last time we held it, we had 9 teams participate, and now we have 45!!! I'm so excited, especially since last year we had to cancel it. The best part are the two volunteers (one of whom is now my co-coordinator) who are running the whole thing - they are amazing!!

4. My supervisor wants me to put these little downward arrows on all my data points that are upper limits in my figures. Do you know how long it took me to make those figures the first time? Do you know how long it's going to take me to re-do them and add these silly arrows?

5. Something that has been in my life since I moved here is now gone; and it's a great thing. It's funny though, because it hasn't fully hit me, and sometimes I still think it's around.

6. Shh - I think I know what I want to do after I finish! Or, at least I've narrowed it down, and I'm very excited about it! I'll post more later :)

7. How is it the end of March already? Do you realize that in just over four months I'll be submitting my thesis and going to South America?! It's a good thing that my thesis work is on schedule. However, we haven't done anything to prepare for our trip, and it's just dawning on me now. We are going to a talk next Monday by a woman who has traveled there three times. We're hoping that will get our butts in gear.

8. Our soccer team won our first playoff game on Sunday!! Okay, the other team didn't show up, but whatever. It's still a win; and we still got to play a nice pick-up game. So, we play again on Wednesday (for those of you keeping score, that means I play soccer twice and go to the gym three times this week. I might just die).

9. The driving range opened this weekend!!!!

10. If you haven't seen the movie Man on a Wire, do it. It's really cool.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Exercise Study

I'm taking part in an exercise study, starting tomorrow. It's actually based more on the psychology of exercise, and is questioning how imagery affects motivation to exercise.

Apparently, the participants are split into two groups. At the beginning of each week, we fill out a survey (mostly questions about our motivation to exercise under different circumstances, like low-energy, sickness, stressful times, etc.) and then we listen to a 5-10 minute recording. At this point I have no idea what the recording will say, but I'm guessing something along the lines of what the benefits of exercise are.

Each participant is required to exercise 3 times per week in the Health Sciences exercise room on campus. We wear a heart-rate monitor, and are given a minimum heart-rate we should be working at. The minimum increases every two weeks or so, and the study lasts for 8 weeks. We do an initial fit test at the beginning (I did mine last week - bah! Not so good!) and then again at the end of the 8 weeks. We are also required to fill out a survey 6 months after the study is complete, but I don't know if we also have to do another fit test then.

This study was of particular interest for me, because they are specifically targeting women between 22-50 who do not currently exercise regularly (three times a week for at least 20 minutes each session) but who want to begin exercising more frequently. That's definitely me to a 'T'. I usually hit the gym once a week, and might play soccer once, but, sadly, that's about the extent of it.

Though I'm helping a fellow PhD student with their project (which is awesome), I'm also in it for selfish reasons: I hope that I'm able to learn a bit about what motivates me to exercise, and I hope that exercising 3 times per week for 8 weeks will give me enough momentum to keep it up for much longer.

I intend to post updates - so keep an eye out!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Happy (Late) Birthday to Me

I know my birthday was last week, but oh well!

Here is what my wonderful DH got me:

I'm pretty excited for all of these books! He also is taking me out for dinner next weekend (we were supposed to go on my birthday, but we were both sick).

And here is something I got myself:

I love pedicures! They're so luxurious and make me feel womanly ;) Now I just need some sexy shoes (and dress, and to get my hair done --- and some fancy place to go) to go with it!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

April Scientiae: To Hell (and Back?)

This month's Scientiae is hosted by Candid Engineer, where she asks:
Tell us about that most firey fire through which you have had to walk in your scientific career. How did you overcome the challenge? Did you have help along the way, or was it a solo effort? And what did you learn? Why are you a better scientist given the difficulties that you have encountered?
I've been thinking about this month's Scientiae since it was posted on March 7th. I honestly don't think that I've had a really difficult challenge to overcome so far in my, albeit short, academic life. Of course, I've dealt with all the regular hardships: finishing my BSc without seriously hurting someone; actually getting in to graduate school; slogging through the graduate level Electrodynamics course, using the infamous, and very evil, Jackson textbook; writing and passing my comprehensive; and realizing that the ivory tower we call academia is not at all how I pictured it when I started out 12 years ago. Other than that, nothing really screams "to hell and back" from the last 12 years.

That being said, I have a feeling I'm coming up to my biggest challenge yet: deciding what to do with my life after I finish my PhD. I'm scared. Seriously - and for numerous reasons:

1. I don't know if I want to stay in academia. In fact, I'm about 90% sure I don't want that to be my life. If there is something I've learned, especially in the last 2-3 years, it's that the academic world isn't for me. It's not a world I can thrive in - I would flounder - and not because I think my research skills aren't up to par. No, it's more because of the politics, the red tape, the egos, and the expectations. I've written about this before, so I won't rehash it here. This scares me because, well, it's the only thing I've known for the past 12 years. I don't know what it's like in the "real world". What if it's just as bad, or worse, out there?

2. I feel like this is my last chance to finally make my decision of what I want my career path to be. That's a whole lot of pressure: what if I choose a path and I end up not enjoying it? What if I try numerous careers and just can't find anything I enjoy? Am I one of those people that just can't stick with anything?

3. I want to find a position where I can have the work-life balance that I want. I'm not sure how likely this will be, and I'm worried that I'll have to take a job that doesn't really fit with either a) my career path or b) my life path. I want to be a mother, and it scares me that I'll be figuring out my career at the same time as starting a family.

4. I'll be finishing my PhD in six months, and DH and I will be moving shortly thereafter. We don't know where - DH will start looking for a job in August and we'll move to where he can find a position. Once we know where we will end up, I will start looking for a job - which means it's completely dependent on where we live. Of course, when deciding where to move, we'll take into account the available options for work for me. I'm still apprehensive about it though. Not knowing where we'll be going or what I'll be doing is scary to me. I'm a planner - I hate not knowing!

5. The worst part is that I feel like I don't have any mentors that can help me with this next, and very important, stage of my life. It seems the department is eager to give out degrees, but gives no guidance on what to do next. Our advisory committees are supposed to help with this, but when I asked them about possible careers they couldn't really tell me about anything besides academia (since that was their career path).

All in all, I feel like I'm stuck already, and I'm not even finished my degree. I have no one to discuss the options with that truly knows anything about all of them. So, I believe I'm just starting my venture into my "hell", and can only hope that I can come back relatively unscathed and with a new career that fits.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Questions About Life

Yesterday I ran an open house at the observatory. I chose to do the Life in the Universe presentation because it's fun, and I haven't been able to do it this year yet. In general, I talk about potential places for life in our Solar System and what we look for when we're searching for life. Then, I talk about the Drake equation, explain each parameter, and do a sample calculation (where we find, using pretty conservative numbers, that there could be 1000 intelligent, communicating civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy alone!!).

It's usually a very interesting presentation, and it gets people thinking/talking about the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe. I've done it with church groups, Guides/Scouts and school groups. There have been some really interesting discussions, and everyone has respected the opinions and beliefs of others. I generally try to make sure that the audience understands that I am talking about the science of the search for life, and I am no expert on the religious/social implications. However, if someone does ask my opinion, I will answer them honestly and openly, and this usually generates a great exchange of ideas.

Tonight though, a woman really rubbed me the wrong way. In the middle of the presentation, she interrupts me and begins with the dreaded statement of "I'm not trying to be confrontational..." - meaning she knows damn well that's what she is doing. She goes on to basically ask why we think it's necessary to spend "billions of dollars" to search for life elsewhere, when we should be focusing on the people on our own planet and our issues. She went on to say how she just doesn't understand why we think it's so important to search for life on other planets or why we study astronomy in general.

Now, it wasn't really the questions she asked - they are valid, and I understand that much of the public feels the same way (especially in this economic crisis) - it was the way she asked it. She just had this awful attitude about her that made me feel like she was attacking me personally: like because I was talking about it, it's obviously my idea and my fault. Clearly the other members of the audience heard that in her voice too, because I saw many glances, eye-rolls, and other uncomfortable movements.

So, I took a deep breath and answered to the best of my ability. I told her that, in fact, astronomers do not get billions of dollars to study life on other planets. Yes, we use telescopes, space probes and other equipment to search for evidence of life - but that equipment is used for many other things, and we can generate other interesting (and useful!) science from the data.

I went on to say that I understand that some people don't think it's important to find life, elsewhere in our universe, and I respect that. I told her that my opinion is that pure science, although perhaps not always directly applicable to society, leads to much of the technology we use today, and that's why we do it. We also do it because of the pure love of finding things out - that it's just amazingly interesting to find something new; to study something that 99.9999% of the population has wondered about when they look up at the night sky; to advance our knowledge of the universe that surrounds us.

She didn't look convinced, and told me so (in some not so nice words) when I asked if I had answered her question. Sigh - sometimes it's a lost cause I guess. It makes me wonder why she came to the observatory - on a university campus - in the first place. What was she expecting?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Strong Women

This week, I've been honored to watch and read about two amazing women: one is based on a true story, one is fictional, but is based on several lives.

Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins in Changeling - a film based on a true story about a woman who loses her son, and fights back when the police bring her the wrong boy back. It's a powerful, infuriating, and disturbing story, but one where the strength of the female character is astonishing. The horror of mental institutions and how females were treated in general is a frightening, yet enlightening, thing to watch. This is one of those films that will stay with me for years, and I can see why it was nominated for so many awards - including nominations for Angelina Jolie who was incredible.

Aminata Diallo, in The Book of Negroes, tells her story of being kidnapped from her village in Africa and the horrors that follow in America as she becomes a slave. This story is absolutely gut-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. She suffers brutalities that no human should ever face - losing her loved ones along the way. But, she manages to find a way to rise up above it all and learns to read, write, and work her way to freedom. Lawrence Hill is an absolute master of painting the picture of Aminata's life, and he is well deserving of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best overall book.

These two women are amazing role models for anyone - black or white; young or old; rich or poor - or anything in between. I'd highly recommend either of these for anyone looking for some insipration, or just a great story.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Big 3-0

Today is my last day of being a 20-something. When I think about it, I can't believe that I'm turning 30. It seems like just yesterday I was turning 16 or 21. I certainly don't remember turning 23, 25 or even 28. My 20s were apparently a very big blur.

I'm not sad to turn 30. In fact, just the opposite. This year will bring big changes in my (our) lives: I'll finally finish my schooling with my PhD; we will move and get real jobs; we will start a family, buy a house, and do all sorts of grown up things. So, it is nice that turning 30 coincides with all of these life-altering events. It's like a signal that this is the year where everything changes - and it's almost like starting with a clean slate or, at the very least, a new chapter. Where we will officially become grown-ups.

Another reason why I'm excited to turn 30 is that it gives me an excuse not to act like a 20-something: if I don't want to drink, I don't have to because I'm 30 and no self-respecting 30-year old would get wasted on a Tuesday night; I don't have to feel bad about staying home on a Friday night and read a book, because I'm 30; it's okay for me to want babies, because I'm old enough. There are all sorts of things that I can get away with now, because my age automatically = maturity/responsibility.

I'm not doing anything huge to celebrate. I thought about it, but what I really want is to ring in this new era with DH. So, we are going out to dinner at a new restaurant in town. Other than that, I bought a bunch of books for myself, including childhood favorites like the Narnia series and The Wrinkle in Time set. I also bought some jewelery, and am getting a pedicure next weekend.

I also made myself some cupcakes:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Barbies and Trucks

Dr. Isis over at On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess wrote a very memorable post yesterday about Barbie, Dora the Explorer, and how toys that are "womanly" are considered sexual. There are a ton of a great comments and I highly suggest reading through it all.

The post and comments made me think about my own childhood (and I should add here, that this post is not in response to either of those - it's just related). I grew up playing with Barbies, Jem dolls, Cabbage Patch kids...I even had my own kitchen set. I have fond memories of each and every one of those toys. So, it bothers me when people say that these toys shouldn't be given to girls in order to stop the stereotype of what a "woman's" role is.

Just because a girl plays with dolls, or other "girlie" toys, does not mean she's going to turn into a brainless bimbo that just wants to marry the first guy that comes along that buys her shoes, handbags and a diamond ring. I played with those toys; I had romantic fantasies of being swept off my feet and marrying my "prince charming" - so what? I'm almost 30, I'm almost a Phd, and I consider myself quite independent, intelligent, strong, and attractive. I think I turned out fine, even with these toys from hell.

I totally understand that not every girl liked playing with those toys. Just like I understand how not every woman likes dressing in skirts or heels. I figure, as long one styles them self the way they want, then it's fine by me - but 1) don't look down on others who decide to dress differently and 2) if you're dressing in a way that you think others want you too, then that's a problem. I've discussed this before in an earlier post.

Yes, I may be "girly", and (gasp!!) I have a husband - and I even took his name!!! - but that doesn't make me any less of a scientist or a feminist. To me, a feminist is someone who makes her own decisions based on what she wants - and that could be staying at home to raise the children, or being a CEO of her own company, or both! As long as they are not being forced to do something they otherwise would not.

I'm tired of the stereotypical picture of a feminist that hates men, doesn't wear make-up or nice clothes, and is basically a bitch - and it especially bothers me when other women perpetuate this stereotype by forcing their ideals and beliefs on others. I'll say it now, and I'll say it again: sometimes women are their own worst enemies.

In general, I really think our society takes everything way too seriously these days - from girlie vs. boyish toys, to avoiding confrontations for fear of offending someone; from killing 99.99999% of bacteria on our kitchen counter, to talking about our feelings until our heads pop off - it's all completely out of control. I think we all just need to relax and realize that we, as humans, are supposed to go through trials and tribulations; we're supposed to experience different things, get sick, get hurt - it's what makes us who we are!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sick :S

I came down with something on Friday and I've been practically bed-ridden ever since. It took all my strength yesterday to go get groceries. I think it's a flu of some sort - I've been feeling achy, tired, and just unable to eat much. Hopefully I'll get better soon.

One nice thing about being sick is that I can do absolutely nothing and it's okay. I didn't have to go out this weekend. I just stayed at home, napped, read, hung out with DH and the cats, and watched TV.

Yet, even though I'm in no form to go into work today, I feel guilty about not being there and not getting anything done. So much so, that I'm considering working on a conference abstract or reading papers so I don't feel like I'm "wasting" the day.

How stupid is that? I mean, really, I shouldn't feel bad about wanting to feel better. If I let myself rest, then I'll recover way faster than if I don't.

Sometimes I wish I could be a cat for a day:

Figure 1: Our cats, Izzie and Isaac, clearly not feeling guilty about doing nothing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


On my way in to work I saw a truck in the parking lot that was really dirty. Of course, someone had to write in the dirt on the back window - I half expected it to say something along the lines of "Wash me please!!" or some other lame joke.

Instead it said "I wish my girlfriend was this dirty"

I literally LOL'd!!! It made my day! I wish I had my camera with me so I could post a picture.

For more literal LOL's, check out today's Cake Wrecks post!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More on the Plate?

I just received an email today advertising a graduate course called The Theory and Practice of University Teaching. The outline is very much as the title may suggest: to familiarize students with background research and theory relevant to university teaching, and to provide the opportunity for practice and feedback on basic teaching skills.

This class sounds incredibly interesting to me, especially since one of my top career choices would be to teach at a university or college. I've wanted to take this class in the past, but it's only offered once a year and I just never got around to taking it.

The problem (?) is that it's a two month course (April and May) and sounds as though it will be very intensive. The class meets twice a week for two hours (in some cases four hours), plus there are online discussions, a ton of reading (they say 40 pages per class), assignments and a final exam. Marks are assigned as fail/pass/pass with distinction. The course would be included on transcripts, but it doesn't affect the GPA.

I think this class would be great experience for me, especially if I end up applying to instructor positions. But, I'm trying to finish my PhD! Do I have the time and motivation to add even more to my plate?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Possible Career Paths II

In the last post I listed several career paths I could take that are in physics/astronomy that I could follow with my current qualifications. Here are some other career paths that interest me, but may require additional education and/or a complete change:

1. Interior designer. First, to clarify, I don't mean interior decorator (i.e., painting walls, furniture, curtains, accessories, etc.) - I mean the actual architecture and design of building/house interiors. This has been my dream job for as long as I can remember. In fact, I was accepted to a program in Chicago at the same time as I was applying to my masters program. I told myself I'd do my masters if I got in, and I did, so here I am. I don't regret the path I took, but it would be amazing to see the other side of the coin. Doing this would require at least another 4-year degree.

2. K-12 science teacher. I love teaching, but in order to do it in primary or secondary school, I would need to get a teaching certificate. That would be another 1-2 years.

3. Accounting. I know this sounds boring to most people, but it totally fascinates me. I love working with numbers, especially if it's something that's challenging BUT doable (unlike much of physics). This is also something I could do out of the home, which is a nice benefit. To do this, I'd have to become a certified accountant, which would take 2-3 years(ish).

4. Personal organizer. Seriously. I would love to help people organize their lives, be it their messy closets, offices, or their lives in general. It's also another option to do out of the home. This wouldn't necessarily require more education, but it would be difficult to start my own business with little (relevant) experience.

5. Event planner. This is similar to #4, but obviously I would concentrate more on events like birthday bashes, weddings, fundraisers, and other large events. Again, I probably wouldn't need more education, but starting a business would be difficult. Another "out of the home" option.

And, of course, another option that really doesn't fall into any category would be a stay at home Mom :) I would absolutely love to stay at home and raise our children - at least until they are old enough to be in school. We will seriously consider this, but it will depend on where we move, what the cost of living is like, and what other job options there are for me.

So, I do have a lot of options. They may not be your typical academic choices, but that's the beauty of all of them! When I look at this list, and the one from my last post, it excites me! I want to do them all at some point, and maybe I will. I'm very much one of those people that would like to have many different jobs in my lifetime, and have as many different experiences as I can.

In the end, I think I will attack my job search differently than most people. Instead of focusing on what position I'd like (i.e., post-doc, instructor, or whatever) I'll be focusing on finding something that meets my wants and needs. This way, I won't pigeon-hole myself into accepting a certain type of job just because that's the only criterion I have. I believe doing it this way will give me a better chance of finding a career path that I truly love. It will be an exciting time!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Possible Career Paths I

From the list of "demands" I had in the last post, it's probably unlikely that I will find a post-doc that meets all of my wants/needs. We will be moving to where DH finds a job - if he gets multiple offers (which is a distinct possibility, since he's received a few already) then we will decide which location is the best for both of us. We will take many things into account: the job he's offered, the city, the quality of life we would have (housing costs, educational systems, etc.) and what job opportunities there would be for me.

My plan right now is to completely keep my options open. If I can find a post-doc with a great PI doing something I really would like to work on, then I'll probably go for it. If something else strikes my fancy, then I'll do that instead.

So, with that, what would I do if I don't do a post-doc? Here is a list of possible careers in physics and/or astronomy that I could pursue with my current education (stay tuned for a post on other career paths):

1. Research Associate. I could see this suiting me very well because I'm not particularly strong in the original research game. I would be completely be fine with doing work for someone as long as it's something interesting.

2. College/university instructor. I absolutely love teaching. Enough said.

3. Outreach program coordinator. I have years of experience with this, and coupled with my mad organizational skilz, this might be the perfect thing for me. It might be something where I work in the science outreach department at a university or college, or maybe I could start my own program.

4. Researcher at an institute. This would include NASA for instance. Of course, I would probably lose out on the teaching aspect, but I'm sure there would be many opportunities to do outreach.

5. Museum/science centre curator. I recently met someone that does this in Big Canadian City and it sounds like it would be fascinating! Coming up with what should be put on display, designing exhibits, organizing events for children - it brings together all of my favorite things: outreach, design and astronomy!

One of the reasons I feel like I probably won't find a post-doc is the seemingly well-spread idea that going into academia means that one must "take what they can get" and not have expectations for a certain quality of life. Yes, I like my research, but I'm at a point in my life where I don't want to sacrifice everything for another 5-10 years just so I can maybe get a TT position. One piece of advice that my DH has received is to treat yourself like a commodity - you are in demand, so act like it. Otherwise, you'll end up working at a job or location you hate because you feel like you have to sacrifice everything for work experience.

A few months ago, I met a really interesting professor. Currently he's tenured at a really big USA university - but the 15 years(ish) between his PhD and that position he worked in industry! And not just astronomy related, but in computer science and other areas. Two things he said that really stuck with me were 1) don't just take what you can get - find a job that you enjoy and things will fall into place; and 2) taking shitty post-doc positions is not necessary to get a job in academia later on.

It was so nice, and eye opening, to meet someone that didn't take the typical path to TT, and that he was so honest and open about his experiences. I wish there were more people like him, and at the very least I'm going to try to emulate his attitude: that career isn't the most important thing in one's life, and if you find something you love to do, screw everyone else and their expectations ;)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Academic Turn-Ons

In my last post, I listed the reasons why I'm no longer keen on academia. However, I hinted to the fact that perhaps things may be better elsewhere and that I might still give it a shot. Here's why:

1. I like research. Generally, of course - there are days were I want to throw my computer out the window and go work at McDonalds, but that happens to the best of us. I enjoy learning about Astronomy, and honestly what I do is pretty cool.

2. I like teaching. Running two outreach programs has been one of the best parts of my PhD experience. I love showing the public how cool, fun, interesting, and important science is, especially kids.

3. I'm super organized and can multitask the crap out of everything. Seriously - I have mad organizing and time-management skills. This is something that would help me greatly in an academic career, since you have to juggle so many things at once (research, teaching, service, grant writing, plus "real life" stuff). I think I would be bored with a job that just has one main task.

4. Other departments sound much better. In fact, my undergrad and masters experiences tells me that there are definitely better places to work. I also get that feeling when I visit or chat with grad students/faculty from other departments. Clearly there is something odd about where I am now, and that it's not the norm.

5. The prestige. Yes, honestly, this has a bit of weight. I would love to be a professor.

The problem is do the negative things of academia outweigh the positives? What would it take for me to continue in academia? I would have to find a post-doc:

a) in the area we move too. This is non-negotiable. DH and I have agreed (for various reasons) that he will find a job and we will move there, then I will start looking for something. I also don't want to do the long-distance thing, especially since we want to start a family ASAP.

b) with a supervisor and a department that is supportive: with science, of course, but also the workings of academia as a whole. I want to feel like I'm part of the department, by sitting on committees or organizing events. I want to learn about grant writing, ethics, and all the other things I mentioned in the last post.

c) where I'm doing research that I really want to do. I don't want to spend my days working on something that doesn't interest me. I made that mistake with my PhD, and although I find my work somewhat interesting, it's not at all what I signed up for.

d) that includes teaching and/or outreach. I love it and don't want to give it up.

e) where they understand I have a "real-life" too. We do want to start a family, and I don't want to feel guilty for doing so.

f) where I might have the chance to move up the ladder. We want the next place we move to be permanent - we're tired of being nomads. It would be nice if there was at least an opportunity for advancement.

g) where I can learn skills applicable outside of Astronomy. In case f) doesn't pan out, I want to be able to transfer my skills to other career paths. Again, this is what I wanted in my PhD, but it didn't happen.

This may seem like a list of demands, but I'm starting to realize that this is my life and I need to start making decisions that will make me happy (because no one else is going to do that for me). If I can't find a post-doc position that I will truly enjoy on all levels, then it's just not worth it to me. Of course there are things I would compromise on, as with anything in life, but I need to make sure I don't sacrifice so much that I end up hating my job and myself.