Thursday, March 29, 2012

Corporate Job

Some phrases about the working world get bandied about so much I think I know what they mean, but often don't.  You know, like how being a grad student meant you don't have benefits, or how if you went corporate you might get perks.  Yeah.  What does that mean anyhow?

I'll just compare grad school to my job at the bank- no two jobs could be easier to contrast, so here we go.  As a grad student, my health insurance was paid for and I felt pretty righteous about pulling in a modest stipend.  No amount of working more or less, taking time off or not would really influence my pay.  I didn't pay into social security, unemployment or have any retirement benefits. 

As a entry level teller, if I worked full time, would make the same modest income.  I could get health insurance, and I automatically get a 401K (with 2% matching.  It's like they pay me 102%!).  I pay into all those entitlement programs like social security and unemployment, so my modest salary is a more modest take home.  Oh, and I work for bonuses- I get referral bonuses, and we get quarterly performance bonuses. I can request Paid Time Off- I say I am not coming, they keep paying me, and no on makes me feel guilty for not working for a couple days.  This is probably less total time then a grad student can get away with taking off before you have to have some serious talk about it though.  My hours are set.  There are on-boarding training programs to complete, and further training I can opt into to move up the promotion scale.  At the bank, I dress nice every day.

In grad school, my hours were whenever, and the training I did was up to me.  I dressed nice for talks, and I dressed like an Eskimo for the cold-room.  And however hard all that failure was, I was expected to find my own way to whatever student services I might need (health center, counseling, advising whatever).

 At the bank, something bad, of an abrupt, illegal nature happened.  I fully expected my coworkers to be really supportive with each other about it, but I was surprised that lots of people from corporate have gone out of their way to make sure we are ok.  They sent a counselor on-site, there is a 1-800 number to call for anonymous counseling services 24 hours a day.  Sure, it might just be part of their soul-less corporate strategy to put caring-like tools in place to support their employees in their growth.  It makes me think that taking a corporate job wouldn't be all bad in the long run...

Oh, and since my branch is also the site of the regional training center, I still get occasional post-workshop free food too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Comparing the work environment

I've got a couple comparisons I would like to make for the sake of sorting out my own impressions.  The first is with regard to the 3 major groups I do freelance work for.  In the first, Nobo Live, I've been working with them the longest.  I edit foreign manuscripts before they go up for peer review.  The second, SciEdit, I've only been working with a few weeks but it is a similar gig.  The final is Words and Numbers, where I have done some text book editing, and also some curriculum development writing.

To compare the first two, I make $0.03/word at Nobo Live, and about $0.04/word at SciEdit.  NoboLive mails me a check, SciEdit pays me in yuan through PayPal.  In both place, my only contact is a person who is my editor, but the role of this person is different.  At Nobo Live, the editor will deal with the client, or suggest I may need to make further changes based on her own observation.  At SciEdit, I receive a QA form with comments from a separate party.  Neither has provided any training on what types of comments/changes they would like to see- which I have heard other groups like American Journal Experts do.

I'd been doing editing for a while before I actually wrote anything that needed to be edited.  It was really enlightening to go over editor's comments/changes on some of my stuff.  At Words and Numbers, I have an editor who provides me work, keeps in touch with the client, and gets my work edited.  I like that my main contact there who provides me contracts (and at SciEdit) is not also the person providing criticism for my work, but that may just be a preference thing.  There is a similar QA process, with writers and editors going back and forth to polish a piece before it is returned in the final version to the client.  I find it a little frustrating sometimes not to be able to talk directly with the client ("You wrote this software.  What do YOU think it does??"), but for the most part, I think it keeps everyone honest and unemotional.  The client only sees a near final version that they approve with some minor comments.  It's a much more corporate structure then the Chinese version which feels like it has all the structure of a hotmail account.  And I do have a lot more interaction with my editor at Words and Number than I do with either of the others.

All three are easy to work with.  The first two tend to give me short to very short deadlines (I recently got a paper to edit in 2 days).  The third tends to give me a lot of time to schedule things (would you be willing to take a 20 hour contract in the next month or so?).  Between the three styles, this week has been very busy, and it's nice to be making some cash.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I'm not sure customer service is for me

One cool thing about working as a teller is that it is giving me a chance to explore a professional identity I hadn't had the chance to consider.  Like it or not, banking is a LOT about sales and customer service.  I took the job because I figured, what the heck, I'd like to be around people more.  And I do like that part of the job.  We have regulars come in, we get to chat with them about lots of different business; I get to learn about the challenges of retail, or accounting or consulting from our clients.  That's cool.

But not all of our clients are like that.  Sometimes they are having a bad day, some of them are jaded with the banking industry, sometimes we really screw things up for them.  And I am supposed to be nice, positive and helpful will all of them.  I don't have much of a problem smiling and saying, "Why don't I have you speak with my manager about this?" but it really makes me wary of who is coming through the door next.  Sometimes they don't want to speak with a manager, they are busy and believe *I* should be able to deal with their problems, or they take offense that because I can see enough of their financial identify, I will suggest products to them. (In their defense, might not be very good at this part yet.)  This isn't the major interaction I have with people, but it really dampens my enthusiasm for seeing other clients walk through the door. 

Much like my thoughts on research, I either need to figure out a way to deal with the downside of this job, or accept that customer service and sales are not for me.  This possibly doesn't seem like a major leap, but Clontech is currently trying to recruit a Ph.D. to a sales position in my region.  I was contacted by a recruiter on LinkedIn about the position, and am very confident that No, that's not where I want to take my career.

On the other hand, as a teller I get to learn more about what is called Operations, which is a job I might be more interested in pursuing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stories from the networking trenches

Last week I went to this really generic networking event organized by Prolango.  They create events to bring together job seekers, recruiters and the employed who want to expand their network in a very non-smarmy kind of way.  I was impressed, I met some nice folks, and even some other scientists.  I've been basically following up with those people all week.

1) I went to my first "cloned" meeting.  I wanted to meet with the two scientists I met at the Mixer, who apparently get together to share ideas and encouragement regularly, so all three of us got together.  It turned out to be awesome for me to pick the brains of two seasoned scientists who are in career transition.  We talked for 2 hours.  Wow.  I hope they thought it was useful too.

2) I'm growing the LinkedIn thing.  Most of the folks I met at the Prolango event I had really nice conversations with, and we agreed to connect on LinkedIn.  It's helping to grow my network towards new hiring managers and recruiters.

3) Speaking of which, I had a meeting with a recruiter at Aerotek.  I think recruiters are meant to be vague, I have no idea whether he thinks I'll ever find a job or not, but it was a decent practice interview.

4) One of the people I met at the event who had a vague seeming job in a company that "drives consumer interest to major retailers" and I thought might have some writing work for me was actually an Amway sales lady.  I felt silly thinking I was going to client meeting only to realize I was the product.  Dang.

5) All this networking is starting to feel like it is paying off.  I had an internal reference for a position at Amgen.  Sweet.

Next week I'll be headed to the Eastside Networking Event, which is supposed to be pretty good also.  I'm taking a wingman with me, which might change the dynamic a bit.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Breaking out of the tedium

Job hunting is boring.  Checking job boards, filling out the same forms online, sending emails and leaving voicemails... it's the monotony that is really wearing on me these days.  I just got a rejection for a job I don't remember applying for, what does that say?  It says I need to try something new so I don't present myself as a zombie candidate "Want JOOOOOBB...."

Folks usually have similar advice for me, " Have you tried the UW?" "Your network is really important." (Why do you think we are drinking coffee here?).  I chatted with a really cool guy at one of the not-for-profit research institutes here about new ways to think of and look at the job hunt, so I wanted to share them.  He suggested some ideas I hadn't thought of before, including industries I hadn't thought I could break into.

For example, bio-surveillance is growing in this area.  It's driven by federal money to the Navy and their contractors (Northrup Gruman, Boeing).  Or he suggested approaching clinical epidemiology for the major insurers as a biostatistician. ("Can you do a two tailed T test?  You'll be fine.")  He also suggested watching real estate announcements in the paper for major purchases by out of town biotechs, that's how he learned of a new major player in pharma moving to town.  He encouraged me to go to MeetUps (people still do that), since there are some good professional ones in Seattle, which sounds like a less stuffy way to interact with folks.  See, new, fun ideas to get over the tired old job hunt.

He runs a well attended LinkedIn group in Computational Biology- if this even slightly overlapps with your interests, I'd recommend you check it out.  It's quite relevant.

What's holding me back?

I'm a big picture person.  I can't help myself.  I worry about my job hunt because I'm not sure where I'll be in 20 years, I just want to get on a path.  I've been looking for a job in science for longer then I hoped, but I think I am much more likely to end up in a position I will actually like in the long term.  Meeting people in different fields, in different roles has really helped me shape my expectations and aspirations.  And have been realizing recently that both of those are things I need to resolve before I can find a real job launching career. 

What do I mean?  People ask me what kind of a job I am looking for, and I usually say that given my background, a job in pharma or biotech would suit me well.  But, I'm not really married to bench work.  I enjoy thinking about science more than performing experiments, I'm more journal club than lab meeting, if that makes sense.  It's not important to me to get "credit" for my work, but I do want to know I am working on a good cause.  And I don't want to get bored- I am looking for a position that can lead to other opportunities, and not just in terms of salary growth.  But really, I'm not sure what type of position I aspire to, so it's hard to set my expectations accordingly. 

Here is the thing, when my friends pester me to talk about what I've done lately that I liked, I almost always point to my volunteer work that the Science Center.  I loved playing with science, sharing my enthusiasm with kids and their families, and I've come to realize that Science Centers may play a really integral role in communities and in the future of the STEM economy.  But, I presumed that my volunteer/outreach work needs to be supplemental- it seems insincere to encourage kids to go get a job in science if I couldn't be bothered. 

But, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle is hiring right now.  They aren't hiring molecular virologists, but they are looking for a grant writer.  And I realized two things, 1) I had previously discounted working at a Science Center because I wasn't sure it was "important," but I now view it as part of a bigger picture solution to the worlds complex problems- encourage kids to believe they are innovators at a young age and when they grow up, they'll have the capacity to stop global warming. 2) I was worried about growth.  I figured you join the team as a grant writer or volunteer coordinator, and there is nowhere to go.  I don't know why I thought that, ignorance obviously.  Clearly, I need to expand my circle of informational interviews to include this professional arena. 

And I applied for that job.

Monday, March 12, 2012

My new professional life

In addition to my part-time job at the bank, this week I am starting as an intern at the Center for Commercialization at the UW (C4C).  I've been assigned my first project, which will be helping in some regard with an SBIR.  An SBIR is a grant award via the Small Business Administration to help provide vehicles for commercialization of ideas.  I'll write more about this once I've read some more, but researchers who do more applied research are interested in these types of grants.  I spent the afternoon reading about the differences between patents and trademarks, and searching which was kinda fun.

I also accepted a new contract from another mysterious Chinese editing company.  I must say that dashing out of the bank to campus, then fighting through traffic to come home and look up the Instructions to the Authors for Pediatric Surgery International is pretty much where I thought my career has been headed.  Someday we'll get to look back on these posts and laugh, or maybe even reminisce about the good old days when I was editing for Chinese Yuans and chilling in the U district.  (That's what I'll call waiting in traffic when I am old and nostalgic.)  For now though, I have 4,000+ words to 'polish' and format for publication before Friday.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I must admit, this week I applied for a post-doc.

I know, I know.  I'm the one who said a post-doc doesn't provide me the experience I need to get on the vaguely defined career path I am interested in.  I don't want a faculty job, but at this point, working in science would be great.  And Seattle has all these non-academic research institutes.  I gotta be honest, this is is not a concept I was familiar with before I moved out here. 

Maybe other cities don't have this always, but The Gates Foundation had prompted all this funding for soft money institutes.   Because the funding doesn't rely on the NIH, the money is better (am I an ass because I care about that?), and the research is more product oriented.  I have a friend I ought to interview about her job at IDRI, but she has given me the impression that unlike academic work, the entire lab at these not-for-profit gigs is all working towards the same objective.  In her lab, it's finding a cure of TB, in other labs, vaccinate against malaria, or other global health issues.  The upside is that your work is of dire importance, you still get to work on your publication record (if you want to go academic later), and you get paid a bit more than the NIH would recommend.  You might start at 45k, but a little bit more than the NIH suggests can feel like a lot if you've been on grad student wages for half a decade.

The downside, (and I am searching here), 1) this is still a training position.  I am coming up on my 30th birthday, I am ready to settle down.  Why would I want to take a  job that commits me to take a new one in 3 (or so) years? only to find a new one later.  2) All your pubs will have a whole host of authors.  I'm trying to pretend like this is a problem- I was in drug discovery in grad school, which means all my pubs had at least 14 authors (not exaggerating).  Is it important to you to publish papers that indicate your authority on the subject- like just you and your PI? I don't have that feeling, but if you do, not-for-profits might not be for you.  But, if working on a legitimate cure for a major global health issue is for you- you should look into these not-for-profits. There isn't the pressure to make a profit or a product that there might be at companies like Amgen or Zymogen (Bristol Myers Squibb).

Who am I thinking of? IDRI, the Institute for Systems Biology, or Seattle Biomed.  I'm told there are more, but that's a start.  I'm not convinced this is the dream job, but it might be the direction I need to go to get there, so I am trying it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Related to the last post

I've finally updated my voice-mail on my phone.  I've been told that while not saying anything inappropriate, my old outgoing message made me sound unbelievably young.  So, it's been updated.  I'm also having a friend come over to take some profile pictures for LinkedIn- nothing fancy, but slightly better than you can take yourself with your own laptop computer.  And since I am still wearing my work clothes from my job at the bank, I think I look reasonably well put together.

And speaking of the job at the bank- working is good.  Training is good.  Learning new things is always great, and getting to interact with society it refreshing.  I'm wearing slacks everyday, testing out my wardrobe for professionalism and practicing doing my hair and make-up.  It's nice to do this in the context of an entry level job, I can figure out what works and doesn't without ruining my whole career.  But I do need some new shoes.  And I don't think I should wear mascara to work.  See?  I am learning new things all the time.

I'll probably be back to the bank job in future posts, but if there was ever any worry about whether or not I might just settle at the bank, don't worry.  Whenever it gets out that I have a Ph.D., the kids who are working their way through college until they can get a 'real' job laugh their heads off at me.  No one means to be mean, but I always get asked "Why don't you get a job as a biologist?" Ha.  As if it were that easy.

It's a little harder to balance my time with apply for jobs, meeting people and meeting my other obligations for volunteer and contract work now.  But I feel so much better about doing it that I am sure it is worth it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"You aren't who we were expecting..."

A few too many times recently, I've gotten the above comment "You aren't who I expected" when I meet people in a professional context.  I could diatribe that being a young-(ish) female scientist puts me in the way of all kinds of bias and discrimination.  But given that presenting myself too young or girly is actually something I've worked really hard to scrub from my professional communications and presentation, that's not exactly what that comment means.  I may have bleached all the personality out of my applications- possibly to my detriment.

I do a lot of informational interviews- which usually means I find via a contact someone who might be willing to talk with me, have a couple emails back and forth and meet in person.  There is always that hesitation about approaching a stranger, but I had someone tell me recently they just assumed "Dr. Sandlin" would have more grey hair.  Plenty of folks that I meet face to face tell me I am very personable, not at all like the stereotype of a scientist that they imagine.  Or that someone with my passion for science shouldn't be unemployed.  It's flattering, but it does make me wonder- am I doing something wrong?  Have I drained the passion and personality away from my CV and resume in an effort to look like a moldable, blank canvas of a candidate?  Would I have a job if I led the professional summary on my resume stated "Ph.D. who is much better with people then you would think, actually likes talking and communicating and really gets jazzed up about exciting science"?

I doubt it, but I have decided to give a once over to my professional documents again.  I have a very plain-Jane business card with my contact info- which I like.  I have a fairly bleached out photo of myself on LinkedIn, which I need to update to something less pasty.  And I might retool the language there and on my resume to be a bit more honest about where my passion is.  I already don't have my dream job, but I work enough to pay my bills.  That should give me the leverage to really focus on just those pie in the sky opportunities- I don't need to be that blank canvas of an applicant anymore.  I can focus on being the best candidate for only the types of jobs I would LOVE to do.