Sunday, September 30, 2007

Win or loose - writing the cover letter

I'd like to say I'm working on a cover letter for my job application, but rather I'm fretting over getting started. I'm now on my third cup of coffee this morning and a good deal of surfing on the internet, laundry and baking preparations have been done in lieu of writing. It shouldn't be so hard. It's only one page of text after all, and it's about myself whom I know fairly well and I have already thought a good deal about why I would want this job and why I think I would be a good fit. I have also thought a good deal about the fact, they this particular department in the past have tended to hire people with significantly more experience than me and about my embarrasingly short publication list.

I know this institution, I know what's important to them and I know they think I'm a good fit, but I don't know a single soul in the evaluation committee who will be judging my application. I have no idea what they will be looking for and how to emphasise my strenghts in a way where they will be convinced those are more important than my weaknesses. Outlining my strenghts in a well-organized and compelling way in a one page narrative suddenly seems frightening beyond reason. It's not that I don't think I have any strenghts. I know I have a strong teaching record. I have gotten grants. I'm in the middle of succesful research that will yield publishable results. I have ideas for future research that I think would fit the goals for this particular institution and ideas about how to involve students into this. But looking at the cursor on a blank page make me sick to my stomach.

I think that more than the doable job of jotting down notes, reorganizing sentences and crafting the strongest possible letter, what I really worry about is putting myself out there. Actually joining the competition where you win some and you loose some. It's so easy for me to put all the arguments for why I should be a good candidate together in my mind, but so difficult to send these thoughts off into the world where they will be scrutinized by people who don't know me, who don't care about what I would like, but care about getting the best candidate. It also makes the job search real in terms of the possibility of leaving my current job. Once the application is out there, it's official that I'm looking for something else. Even though I am looking for something else, for a different type of institution and more focus on one of my sub disciplines than the other, it's strangely sad to let go of what I have here.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Advising - in hindsight

I think I got little and poor direction during my PhD and in my acknowledgements I wrote only a subtle compliment for the two people who had been co-advising me for four and a half years. I still believe lack of direction was directly contributing my delay in finishing and financial frustrations related to this delay. It took well over a year before the anger towards a difficult process and a system allowing this to happen subsided, and I'm surprised to find that I don't resent that phase of my life anymore. So why open this can of worms once more?

Almost two years have passed since I defended and I haven't been dependent of my former advisers for as much time. I started in my current job immediately after the defense and moved away from grad school city. I have kept in sporadic contact with both former advisor and keep a friendly relationship with them that fits the level of contact we have now. But I sometimes regret I didn't thank them profoundly in my acknowledgements for my dissertation, because truth to be told, I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am today, if I hadn't come across these particular people.

They did not fulfill what I consider to be basic requirements of practical help especially at the beginning of the research and writing phase, but they did make a difference in a, for me, significant way. They saw my potential, picked me out of the crowd and made me do my best. Some people have the self-confidence to stand up for themselves and ask to be given opportunites at an early age, but I didn't, and I wouldn't have gone into academia or into an interdisciplinary field or been able to make notice of myself without this initial motivation and introduction.

As much as I think former advisor #1 wore me out for a long time, because she didn't realize her perfectionist tendencies and mine put together would make me work till I dropped, she also recognized a potential that I had no idea I had. As much as I resented the flailing ideas of my interdisciplinary project and the lack of overview from advisor #2, I think his vision was right, and that my combined background gives me something unique to bring to the table now. I also know that if advisor #1 hadn't recommended me to advisor #2 and he hadn't introduced me to his network of colleagues I would not have held any of the positions I have held since the end of my PhD.

I still think proper advising during the PhD should be a minimum requirement, and I'm talking about actually getting involved in the project and assisting in navigating the process. I didn't get that and I hope I will be better on that front for my students, but I still think my advisers should at least have gotten a thank you note for getting me where I am today.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

So what's new around here

I've gotten married. A couple of weeks ago, at a beautiful ceremony in the town where we live . We couldn't have done it a better place and got to share a small piece of our life here to family and friends from home. After weeks of downpour we got clear fall skies for part of the day and light wind and drizzling for dramatic effect during our photo session. We got to gather family and friends, who otherwise never meet, for a few days and see them have a good time together, and to meet all of them at the same time. With being perpetually on the move keeping a social life together is always an issue, and seeing friends and family together is an extraordinary event. I cherished the time before and after the wedding we were able to spend with our families and to see how much they enjoyed sharing the day with us. Much of this wedding was planned last minute and on the phone from far-off places and yet I couldn't have dreamed of a more perfect day. Afterwards, I've had People ask me if being married makes a difference, and yes, I think it does.

I am maybe on the job market. It's all a good thing, I think, but also strangely unsettling. Deep down I don't really like change. You will get to hear more about this one way or the other, but for now I can't say much.

I'm home. For the first time in months I am not only here as a short stopover to do laundry and repack my bags, but I'm actually going to stay here - uninterrupted- for weeks on end.

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Monday, September 24, 2007


Sorry for leaving you all behind without any notice whatsoever. The more time I spent away from the blog, the more difficult it was for me to get back to it. I've been dreading this site to the point where I didn't even go back to look at my blog roll, but somehow I knew that I wasn't about to quit but just didn't know where to go.

I've contemplated changing the format, the theme, the language and everything else about this blog, but keep coming back to the idea of keeping the style I've got. I'm not sure I like my own voice here. I feel it tends to be too bragging and self-congratulating since acknowledging my own achievements is partly what I have used it for or the other option is to be too whiny. At the moment I don't know exactly where I'm heading but I know I still want to write here and that I need the blog and the community here to help me process the thoughts about career and life-issues that I can't really share with my colleagues.

This summer have been one of the most stressful times of my life. I know other people cram more activities into their days than I do, but apparently my limit is here. I have been traveling on and off, but more or less continuously since mid May, done extensive field work for two different projects each with their difficulties, had my first experience as expedition leader under difficult circumstances with a malfunctioning group, taught a summer field course, taught regular classes and given my first key-note lecture at a conference. I have been burned out to the point where the mere thought of popping in here to leave a note about my lack of presence was unfathomable. Lately all sorts of physical ailments have been popping their head out and even I can tell it's time for a change of pace.

Sorry to be such a downer, but maybe the story of burning oneself out too easily isn't just my story, but the story for many of us early career people, working too hard to get ourselves established.

I'm back in a more reasonable work pace for now. After last weeks guest lecturer stint I'm now back in my own office, with my own projects. I'm also off the hook as department head as the person I was replacement for is back from sabbatical. I'm actually looking at full days of research time and no imminent deadlines hanging above my head.