Sunday, February 05, 2012

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

One year

Today is the first anniversary of my "new" job. It's been a crazy day. Everyone is back from vacation and catching up with everything, and my inbox has been buzzing all day. I'm thinking back to my first day last year and wondering how the heck people could have possibly managed to orient me and take me to lunch and stuff, because we had a lot more projects going on then than we do now (although all of them seem to be at full throttle).

Somehow in the past year I've become one of the "old guard." A lot of people were hired after me, but I think I also acclimated fairly quickly to this place. The boss was always surprised when I reminded him how short a time I'd really been here.

I speak in the past tense about the boss because right before we all left for vacation, we found out that he was leaving us for my husband's company. Everyone who was not aware he'd been thinking about it for the past month was thrown for a huge loop. People are already nervous about the amount of work we have going on right now, and his departure added uncertainty to the mix. I really enjoyed having him as a boss because he threw a lot of opportunity my way -- we were really busy last year, and he wasn't hesitant to ask me to do stuff, particularly when he tried it a few times and got good outcomes. As a result, I am taking over project management on one of his projects, based on his suggestion to his boss and the new group leader. It's a great opportunity, because it's a fairly open project with a decent budget but no clear plan just yet.

So things are crazy. But even though I'll miss my boss, there will be opportunity as a result of his departure. Every leader provides opportunity but also constraints. With his departure, certain constraints are released. While the new boss will put new ones in place -- quickly and directly, given his style -- there will be a bit of a vacuum to fill. I'm ready to help fill it.

So work was on my mind today, but it's been quite a year otherwise too. I spent the last week plus goofing off with my husband, which is somehow nicer than just goofing off with a boyfriend. We spent most of the time at home, which is so much cozier than it was a year ago. This year should be calmer, although I'd like to acquire a dog if I can just convince somebody... I'm not having much luck.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New job

So, I've only been at the new job a couple of weeks, but so far I like it a lot. It's very busy. People are asking me to do legit stuff right off the bat, and there are DEADLINES! Things don't drag out endlessly. Grants and proposals get written and sent off. Stuff moves along. There are fun surveys. I love it.

The commute has also not been so bad, and last week I started with my schedule of working from home twice a week. I leave pretty early when I go in, so the commute inbound has been around 45 minutes. Coming home there was one random day where it took only 45 minutes, but mostly it's been more like an hour+. I listen to CDs and try to drive in a relaxed manner.

Working from home has also been good. I generally get up and start working right away, and then at some point I exercise (or not) and shower and get back to work. Although Thursday our router died and it was distracting not to have internet. I went to the library for a while.

The main thing about the new job is that the busyness keeps from from wandering off on the internet. I had a headache every day my first week from not sleeping as much and I just didn't care (until I got home). I work so well when there is a list of concrete tasks with deadlines.

I even managed to get my dissertation manuscript back out the door. I just sat down one night and did it. Productivity spreads out everywhere. Except maybe to cleaning...

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Work before work

There are two things I would like to get done today:

1) A manuscript review that is due today.

2) A good first stab at dealing with the few little comments remaining on my dissertation manuscript. It would be nice to resubmit, but one thing at a time.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2010 in review!

2010 was the year I turned 30, which I deemed "a very adult age." And I was right! This year, many adult-like life events occurred, and it was a good year overall.

The best thing health-wise about this year was starting thyroid medication. Now I know where the fogginess comes from and how to make it go away! I hope with the new health insurance with the new job I can find a doc who is with it about when to up meds -- I thought my current doctor fell in that category, until she suddenly stopped. And I'd really prefer my prescription to match what I'm taking.

I couldn't talk about this year without mentioning the SNOW. It was so much snow. I would be totally happy to have a dry winter, especially since I'm no longer a fed and no longer have the excitement of OPM watch. December was extra cold, so I'm hoping the rest of the winter is mild.

My creative endeavor of the year was to make a Christmas stocking for Joe to match all the ones my mom made for us. Mine is still somewhere in Albuquerque, but Joe's is up on the fireplace!

Speaking of the fireplace, it's part of our house.

Buying a house was the surprise adult event of the year. We had been planning to wait until this year to buy. We had identified a neighborhood that we liked that had nice but not-too-expensive houses close enough in that we could still access Metro. At the end of April, we decided one Sunday to check out some open houses in the neighborhood, just for fun. I had seen some online that were interesting, and we followed signs to this one, which had not been on my list.

We liked it! It had the sort of quirks we would like but that other people might not like. It's not very trendy and pretty traditional, which we like.

While there was an appealing tax credit hanging in the balance, we decided it was too much and we weren't ready yet. We didn't even have a realtor!

Everytime we didn't have a place to put something, or the annoying dogs next door were barking, or the drug dealer people across the street were doing something sketchy, we would turn to each other and say "Janice Drive!" The house was on our mind as the weeks went by. We went to more open houses in the neighborhood to see if we hadn't just fallen in love with the first thing we saw, and we realized that while other houses were fine, we really preferred this one. It's a colonial, for one thing, in a neighborhood with lots of split levels. We also got a good realtor, with the help of Navy Federal's RealtyPlus program (which was awesome and gave us money back at the end), figuring that we'd need one eventually so we might as well be prepared. We had also gotten preapproved for a loan back in April, mostly because it was easy and we wanted to see whether we could be approved (we were actually approved for an obscene amount given our incomes -- the approved amount would eat up like 2/3 of takehome!).

Three things converged over the next month to push us toward making an offer: 1) Interest rates kept dropping; 2) The sellers dropped the price; and 3) Joey got a grant, which meant we could do a conventional fixed loan instead of FHA or an adjusted loan, both of which made us a little uncomfortable. We actually had gone to the house again for another open house on the day the sellers dropped the price. When we walked in, the listing agent (who happens to now be our next door neighbor) laughed to see us and told us the news. I think she knew all along we would end up there.

So we made an offer and got a counteroffer and then we made a best-and-final offer which the sellers accepted. Then there was the home inspection, which was mostly fine and the sellers fixed some things and rejected a few others. Then there was the appraisal which came in low and threw everything back into negotiations again. We weren't too happy with the sellers' initial solution, but they took our counter and at the end of the day, we were very close to our original offer on the place. So I sent the bank a million pdfs and we closed at the end of July!

We moved in August, and because our rental had furniture we didn't have a lot to bring. So far we've pretty much just bought couches and living room curtains and other little odds and ends (and yard tools). We wanted to re-build our emergency fund to a sufficiently conservative level, but I think in the next year we should be able to buy furniture. For now we've been eating at a card table in canvas chairs! But we love it here. It's quiet, there's a fireplace, there's room to put all our crap, and it's free of annoyances (like, for example, a kitchen floor with no insulation under it).

Our furniture buying will be somewhat deferred by the purchase of a new car, brought on by my getting a new job. The job thing is a really big shift and a surprise to a lot of people, but it's a decision I'm very happy about.

Work was going fine. At the beginning of the year, feeling physically and mentally better, I really started mapping out some research and moving things forward. I got papers out the door and back out the door again when they got rejected or needed revising. Teaching went better than ever. I was pushing some new projects forward. But I came to realize that there were some obstacles about academia and some specific to the University that made my job a poor fit.

Really it was thinking about why I loved the teaching and mentoring part of my job that motivated me to look for something else. Also hearing about Joe's experience with his job gave me insight into another kind of work that I thought might fit me (even as it may not fit him!). I am happiest when I have a useful role, when I can give advice and use what I know for a specific purpose, when I can interact with other people, when there are things that have to be done by a certain time, and when I can pursue a broad variety of interests. Teaching the core course in my field was exhausting every year because it was every day for 6 weeks, but it was also exhilarating and productive. Papers had to be graded and turned back, lectures had to be posted, students came by to chat and I could help them improve their final papers. And the topics spanned the whole field!

The rest of the year was not so much like that. Academia rewards reputation building around a carefully-focused line of inquiry. To get tenure, people have to see that you're built a reputation for being "the person who does" something label-able. I had chosen health-related stigma as my area of interest, but I found that sometimes made it hard to incorporate the other things that interested me, and even if I stuck to just that, I often felt pushed to pick a health condition. Even if that was mental health, I felt pushed to focus on PTSD or depression. It kind of sapped my interest. I'm also not at all interested in reputation building -- I'd rather my work affect something than reflect well on me.

The University also does not quite have a critical mass of social scientists, or even people who are really public health oriented. My collaborators were great, but they were also scattered and working on their own stuff. I've always learned a lot by observing others, and it was hard to do that in this setting. For me, mentorship has to be integral what I'm already doing; it can't be some occasional advisory meetings with people. So I felt socially and intellectually isolated a lot of the time. It was too easy for me to sit in my office and putter along aimlessly.

So, sometime this fall, after the class stuff had settled and I had gone through another round with my papers (two of which have now been accepted!), I started to poke around. Based on Joe's experience, I knew that the non-academic contract research world would probably be a good fit for me. You have to be versatile about the topic of research, you work in teams with people on lots of different studies, there are deadlines, and if all goes well the work has an immediate impact on policy or practice. Soon after I started searching, I got an interview with my new employer.

I made the voyage to Fairfax. I took the Metro from almost the end of the Red Line to the end of the Orange Line. It was far! I liked everyone I met, PhD social science and survey research nerds who spoke my language. A lot of their surveys focused on military health, which made it a sensible transition. I got the job offer that night, and ultimately, I decided it was going to be too stressful to make the commute every day and I should hold out for something closer to home.

A few days later they returned with an offer for me to work from home or from one of the Maryland offices twice a week, and some other sweeteners. I volleyed back with a little salary push and a start date after the holidays, so I could use my vacation days from the University. They said yes, so I said yes!

It took about a week to get the offer letter due to the Thanksgiving holidays. It was kind of nervewracking. I had to continue to interact with everyone at work as if I were staying forever. It was only a day or two of actually being at work while waiting, but it felt like decades! Once the offer letter came in, I told my boss, and she told the department chair, and then I had to tell my research associate (who fortunately has many talents and will likely find a job before her last day in February). It was sad and difficult at times, but I also know it was the right decision.

I think Joey had a hard time understanding what was happening, since he had wanted an academic job but ended up in a non-academic job. I got an academic job and ultimately rejected it! I think some folks also have a hard time understanding how I could leave a solid tenure-track job that also comes with many federal benefits, a hard salary, startup funding, etc. I think it's a great job, which is why I originally took it! But I think that fit is extremely important. I learned a lot about the skills that I do not possess! I cannot structure an amorphous blob of free time (and it's probably only because I got a job that I finished my dissertation -- it created a deadline). I cannot motivate myself. I cannot focus on a single research topic. I don't have enough experience doing research. I need direct mentorship. And I don't feel bad about any of these things. I'm hoping that this job will give me a lot of experience with way more studies than I could produce on my own and that maybe some of these deficits will be remedied. But I think that others might just be about the way I work and the way I don't work, and it's way better to recognize my skills and deficits and look for a job that matches instead of beating my head against the wall in a job that doesn't.

So that's where I am on the first of January, two days away from orientation at the new job. Life is good, and the new year promises a few more adult events that I think will make it even better.

Friday, December 10, 2010

File cleaning

I started cleaning out my files as part of my effort to pack my office. I have kept very neat and organized files since high school (maybe even middle school?), but I'm always amazed on the occasions I have to sort through them just how much can be chucked. It makes me feel kind of like a hoarder.

From my extensive viewing of television programs about hoarders, I have identified several factors that often converge in hoarders:

  • Compulsive acquisition, from shopping, dumpster diving, or theft.
  • Chronic disorganization -- an inability to sort, categorize, or even identify clear and obvious trash.
  • Inability to get rid of stuff, either stemming from the disorganization above, tendency to assign tremendous meaning to objects, and/or paralyzing fear that the object might be useful or necessary sometime in the future.
Fortunately, I am not much of a compulsive acquirer of paper, in the sense that I don't print too many things unless the printed version will be vastly easier to use for a given task. I printed all the readings for my class because when I'm putting together a lecture from materials across articles, it's easier to have them all on the desk open to various pages. I guess it was no surprise then that these articles gave me the greatest pause -- in one sense, I didn't need them because I have them in pdf, and I'm not going to be giving lectures anytime soon. However, I had done a fair bit of underlining in them. And I might teach a class someday. But by then I will probably want new articles in a lot of cases. So I left them in folders for the next person, with a note to alert me if he or she intends to toss them, to at least give me one last opportunity to keep them (although I'll probably just say toss).

I am a bit of a compulsive filer, however, in that once a paper does exist, I'm pretty likely to file it if there's a chance I'll need it at all in the future.

I am extremely organized, as indicated by my awesome filers. I love sorting and labeling!

On the inability to get rid of stuff front, as noted above, potential usefulness can sometimes give me pause. What makes hoarding so insidious is that many of the decision processes are not wholly wrong -- they're based in something rational that just goes off the rails a bit. Usefulness is a wonderful criteria for deciding what to keep. But the line can't be drawn at "could be useful to someone at some time in the future under some kind of conditions that have more than a zero probability of existing." It has to be based on a realistic likelihood. So you have to purge the 4 sizes too small pants when it's pretty likely that even if you lose weight, it won't be until those pants are out of style. I had to purge things that I know I have on my computer, and while these copies might have notes on them (homeworks fall into this category), I'm unlikely to dig out the hard copy over firing up the electronic version.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a laptop my first year of graduate school, so I have a lot of printed articles and lectures from that year. This was useful when I was teaching, however, because I used a lot of my first year grad courses as material for my lectures.

The process of chucking stuff involves a lot of rapid decision making, which is tiring no matter what (and why Hoarders in particular evokes a lot of drama, because it's impossible to clear an entire house in two days without bypassing the main decision maker, who is at their limit. Hoarding: Buried Alive is a lot more responsible and realistic -- and boring -- because they clean over the span of months). I finished my main filing cabinet, and I have a whole nother filing cabinet to do next week. One whole drawer will be tossed because it's my dissertation data, and it's past the expiration date for that stuff to be kept. I have some limited files from grad school and even college that will be more purgeable now that a few more years have passed since my last sort.

But then all that stuff comes home, and I'm kind of wondering if I should go through my files here!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sitting room

Thanksgiving was good. Wednesday we did things around the house. We drove up Thursday morning and came back Saturday morning. Saturday we finally found a place with decent fireplace stuff and we got a hearth rug, a thing to hold wood indoors, and a tool set.

When we put it in front of the fireplace, it looked so nice and cozy! This lead to much pondering about what to do with the space. It could easily be an eat-in kitchen with just a table. But it was labeled as a "sitting room" on the real estate listing, and now we see why perhaps that was the case. It would be nice with some seating and a TV and a lamp, especially in the winter when we'd like to sit in front of the fireplace all night. But then where do we eat? Maybe a high table or island/counter to separate it more from the kitchen?

These photos from before we move in illustrate the space (currently the part in front of the fireplace has a card table and canvas folding chairs).

We are still pondering, but the fun thing about being fiscally conservative is that every new thing makes the house look more like a real person house and brings great enjoyment little by little!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


My vacation started yesterday -- the only reason I went in Monday was to give a lecture. Today Joey is also at home (although not at the moment... he's gone to get a haircut with the groupon I bought him), and we're just doing stuff around the house. We contemplated going up to the Jerz today, but there's plenty to do around here and driving up tomorrow morning will be easier. This morning there would have been commuter traffic along with travel traffic and we would have had to have left very early. Last year we left at 4am or so Thursday morning, and there was no traffic at all. We might allow an hour or two more sleep this year because I think things are fine until the afternoon when people are making shorter trips for dinner.

Pretty much every retailer who sends me emails or fliers has deemed that tomorrow is a good day to be open. I predict in the next 5 years that stores will be open 24 hours starting on Wednesday on through the weekend. We'll probably hit the outlets Friday night for a few clothes, but other than that we're staying away. Although I do have to go to bridesmaid dress fitting sometime Friday in Pennsylvania. Thrills.

We'll probably come back Saturday, maybe at night. It's nice to be able to have a day at home before a big day at work on Monday.

I'm looking out my office window into the backyard, our backyard, of the house we live in together. This year I decided what I wanted and went out and got it despite all the anxieties it provoked (and provokes still). It's good to be young. It's good to eat at a card table in captain's chairs until we figure out what we want and have the money saved. It's good to take a leap. It's good to be together.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I said, how about this too, and they said yes, and I said yes.

Three weeks of discomfort, two weeks of vacation, a new year with new things.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Not yet

I said, I don't think I can, and they said, maybe this? And I say, hmmm, maybe.

Either way, I'm taking most of this week off to not think much about anything.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Thursday the plumber came. He said that the leak is coming through the tile, and it seems like maybe the whole shower will need to be ripped out just to figure out where the water is coming from. It's a huge pain, but I guess that's why we save our money so these things are easily paid for (although still painful). Now we just need to find someone to deal with the shower, and we are using the other one. It's like moving all over again to use a shower we never use.

Thursday I got a paper accepted. I got phone call about people liking me, but the people are far away. I went to work Friday. I took off yesterday. I visited the people, but they are too far away to visit regularly. Transit is meant to move people from the suburbs to downtown and back, not from suburb to suburb. That task is left to the roads, which are parking lots.

On my way home I stopped at Metro Center (Metro Center! All the way downtown and only halfway home!) for Five Guys. My head hurt. It was too full.

I had to sleep. I was aflurry this morning. I wrote it out. I realized about the farness. I wrote to people who were closer who I hope will like me. I have to call the faraway people back, but it's hard to tell people you like them too but they are just very far away. It's hard to say no to people who like you. It's hard to wait for closer people to like you. It's hard to wait when you're ready.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Last week: minor headaches pretty much all the time. This week: inattentive, unmotivated, foggy. Time to get another thyroid update.

Last night we watched "Dogs Decoded" on NOVA. It was awesome, but it made me want a doggie sooooo much and I bothered Joey like a little kid. We're probably too busy to have a dog right now, since we just got this house, but this does not prevent me from wanting a furry creature.

Feds have tomorrow off for Veterans Day, and I'm also taking Friday off. We have plumbers coming tomorrow because there is a leak somewhere above the living room that dripped through Sunday, but has shown no more dripping since. It will probably be a small issue, but better to deal with it before it becomes a huge issue. I think two four-day weekends in a month is about 50% correct.

Joey and I went on our first date four years ago today!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Checking things off the list

1) Got a flu shot.

2) Resubmitted paper (2 weeks after I would have if it were only up to me, but things have to go through the co-author carousel).

Something I failed to check off the list was refilling my mini bottle of Advil that I keep in my bag, which was a mistake.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Friend of the project

A while ago I read the obituary of a communication professor in which the author recounts a story from "a talk we had early in my doctoral student career after his work had been publicly criticized in one of our journals. I asked him how a scholar handles harsh criticism. Dr. Bormann replied that he appreciated criticism when it came from a "friend of the project." He went on to explain that a "friend of the project" is motivated to make the work the best it could be, rather than self-aggrandize."

This notion encapsulated for me both what was so helpful about good reviews and so noxious about bad ones. Since then I've definitely tried to incorporate this principle in my reviewing and grading, with what I perceive to be success. But it recently occurs to me that this is a principle that is worth extending to other aspects of life as a sort of test. My friend Storey has written extensively in the past about writing openly about his life, which includes his interactions with other people. Over time in my own public writing, as I think happens to a lot of bloggers, I've excised a lot of personal stuff as the audience has gotten more potentially diffuse. But I also edit in memory of a cringeworthy episode of internet sniping that I ended up excising because I was just angry. Although, oddly enough, that whole episode was about failure of openness and honesty that instead left me feeling helpless and that completely resolved once honesty was restored (in ways I hadn't even anticipated).

So I guess I'm pondering where the line should be for openness and honesty with other people in our lives, particularly when there is a public aspect that is not mutually consensual. Storey's probably not surprised to hear I'm not sure which side of the line he falls on -- from the viewer's perspective, I think it's obvious that details are more interesting than "keepin' it cryptic," but that's only tangential to the question. So I guess I return to the standard of "friend of the project" -- is the openness and honesty serving to move people and relationships forward? Sort of like, I like or love you enough to be honest with you and about you. Or is it serving some internal emotional need or some need to score points? In my cringeworthy episode, I settled on the latter assessment -- I wasn't doing anyone any favors by sniping on my webpage, and the result was unkind. I don't think I was exactly enlightening the reader either.

And I'm not sure these motivations are mutually exclusive, just as I don't think there is a bright line between helping someone with their writing or research and tooting your own horn a bit. I have to think I'm awesome enough to give you suggestions about what to do with your project that you've been working on and I'm just dabbling in long enough to critique you. Talking openly about one's life is vastly less compelling when life is boring and peachy and your mind is not in a whirl. It's possible to be open and honest in a way that accomplishes noble goals while fulfilling internal needs. Which I guess is what makes the line so blurry.

Taking a step in a related direction, I think this is a good standard for daily communication, and it's a standard I fail at far too often. It's so easy to get to point counting and feeling wounded. It's hard to focus on the project -- which I guess is how we got to this discussion in the first place.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Managing pain

Working from home is the only way to deal with having a mild cold and trying to respond to comments... I manage to make a few edits, and then I have to clean the toilet or some other less noxious task.

Also, no one ever suggests cuts, just additions, leaving it to you to divine what you can trim to get the paper back to the word limit.