Saturday, February 17, 2007

Time Travelling with Scrooge McDuck

So say the boyfriend,

I can't believe it's 11:25 am on a Saturday, and I'm already pissed off at the department today.

Okay. Let's back up.

I attend panels. I don't know why, because 90% of the time, the panels I've attended are less than mediocre. They are generally made up of four people with the exact same perspective. They are all the same because whomever was given the task of organizing the panel did so at the last minute. Moreover, the panel moderator doesn't moderate, and instead talks more than the panelists themselves. The result is a panel that answers 3 questions in 1 hour, and thanks for coming folks!

There have been one or two panels that have been really valuable. The panelists were caring, informed people with good ideas, and the panel was well-moderated. Maybe that's why I keep going. It's like the time I did a really awesome flip-turn in the pool. I keep trying to do flip turns, thinking back to that awesome one, but I usually just get water up my nose, and push myself into the floor of the pool.


I'll be honest. My perfect panel would consist of multiple clones of myself that had made very different life choices and gone forward in time to live out the next 10 years of their lives. For the panel, they return from year 2017 to report back to me what they'd seen. I'd ask questions like,

"So, "fcsgs B," who decided to get married but stay childless. You now work at Carnegie Mellon. How are things for you? You published 10 papers this year? Wow! But, do you have enough time to do the things you want, like practice yoga and write your novel? Do you regret not having kids?"

"And you, "fcsgs A," who quit school, had two children by 36, and started a successful chain of self-serve dog washes in Seattle. Do you feel intellectually fulfilled? How do your children feel about your upcoming divorce?"

"How about you, "fcsgs C?" You are still single. You haven't published in two years because of all your teaching responsibilities at University of Portland. Are you hopeful that your sporadic research will make an impact on the field? Is it important to you to make such an impact? Did your shoulder ever get better?"

And for some reason, Alan Young of the original Time Machine would be there as moderator, entertaining us with his Scrooge McDuck voice acting.

Okay, I didn't say "ideal" was at all "realistic," so I keeping attending the panels of this world, hoping to catch a glimpse of my own future clones. I haven't found them yet. It's been a little wearying, really, not having anyone that I can talk to about this. It doesn't even have to be a clone. I'm just searching for someone with an open mind. Someone who doesn't want me to be just like them. For most people here, students and faculty, any mention of not applying to the Top 10 is received with scoffing. "Why wouldn't you?" Or, "At a small school, you'd be teaching all the time, you don't want that."

I don't?

In an effort to have a real conversation about this, I got a membership at MentorNet. It's a website bringing together people who are looking for mentors with people who would like to be mentors. I decided to be more proactive in looking for this magical person I've described. I decided to find that human being interested in mentoring, one who would give me advice about the small school vs. big school issue. A person who'd been through something other than working like a dog and making sweet love to the University of GradShitTownVille.

At MentorNet, members can configure their profile, including setting preferences for a mentor. The preferences are things like,

Field of Study
Work Sector (e.g., private, government, university)
Alma Mater
Geographic Location
Professional Memberships

My only preferences were "[Computer Science or Computer Engineering or Electrical Engineering] + PhD + University." And MentorNet reported,

Unfortunately, there are no mentors that match with your preferences at this time.

Sigh. In fact, the only PhD's in MentorNet in my preferred field of study, are these five people that all work at Texas Instruments. I appreciate that they've volunteered, but I don't need to talk about industry, thank you.

Here at University of GradShitTownVille, there's been a lot of attention lately paid to graduate students getting academic jobs at the top schools. Perhaps by "attention" I should say "propaganda," which is honestly getting quite old. Recently, a "club" was started for students interested in academic jobs. I inquired with the club president that perhaps a panel would be of value. Perhaps a panel of people who could candidly discuss the pros and cons of working at the small liberal arts school versus the Big Top 10 University. The question was essentially ignored, translated into this defensive "Why not work at top 10?"

To these people, when I ask questions like that, I may as well ask, "Explain to me the benefits of breathing in and out, versus not breathing at all."

And so, with telling the boyfriend that whole story, comes that quote,


kb said...

Yep. I feel so out of touch that, even though my department is supportive and etc., I can't seem to address anybody with the questions I really want answers to. (Will I be able to get a job once I finish all this?) On the positive side, I talked to a friend here in a very similar situation, and she has a job interview this month -- in the city. Wow. So she told me, "It can happen! It can!"

Do you really feel you need someone to help you decide what you want (wrt research school vs small college, I mean)? Or do you just need someone to affirm that it's ok that you don't want the same thing your department thinks you should want? And perhaps help you figure out how to get there?

Sigh. Hang in there.

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

I think it's "Other."

I worry I've romanticised the whole "Liberal Arts College" thing. While I *know* that no job, no career, and no work environment is perfect, I actually have no idea on the real drawbacks of the small school. I think I want to have this conversation so that I know what to expect, the good and the bad, so that I don't show up totally unprepared.

You know, so I don't show up to the first day of work completely oblivious, like I showed up to University of GradShitTownVille.

I am glad that your friend reported it can happen. I'm glad it can happen.

Redhotcurrydish said...

Why is it we can't get anyone to help answer questions? It's the same in corporate world I'm in. I can't have a frank discussion with anyone about how to navigate having kid(s) and a career as well all the women I work with our past thier child bearing ages and are not "career" women. Yet if if even broach the subject I'll get labeled as "going to take siginificant time off in the next X years there fore lets not promote her/give her opportunities" Well no shit my child bearing years coincide with my prime advancement years. It's enough to make my head spin.

Although while stuck at the salon i picked up O and read an intersting piece on finding mentors. How for women we're told you need "a mentor" and how the author figured out all this time that one mentor wasn't really possible but instead she had bits and pieces scattered around her life already. That's the model I'm using.

Dang that was longer than I thought.

kb said...

Ah. Other. That makes complete sense.

I'm just afraid of telling my department I want to stay here for fear of them telling me it's impossible. And the two people I have tried to tell haven't responded yet. I'm glad I have this friend, but I don't know any CS or EE people who recently took or are thinking of taking a job at a small liberal arts college. Nor, I suppose, do you.

I like the distributed mentorship model. I'll have to think about implementing that one in my life.

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

RHCD: Thanks for the great comment. I think "pieces of Mentors" is a useful idea, and I've used it before. I actually have about 10 faculty here I talk to about 20 different things, but none yet about this particular issue. I'll keep looking.

I'm sorry you are feeling the same way, though, about having kids in industry. I wish you the best in figuring it out.

kb: Distributed Mentoring. Possibly a thesis topic for me, as long as it's "Real Time Distributed Mentoring with Safety Interlocks."

Jane said...

Hey, FCSGS, I may be able to point you towards a useful resource/mentor. Drop me an email (seejanecompute at yahoo dot com) if you're interested.

Jenny F. Scientist said...

I read things all the time that make me wonder "Is this person actually in the same town as me?" But no, all dysfunctional programs are dysfunctional in the same way, and only happy departments are different.

Around here, one daren't even mention the possibility of NOT being R1 faculty. What, there are other jobs? Gasp.

I went to a SLAC, and I do think some things are better- the competetiveness (less), the (diminished) focus on cutthroat research, etc. On the other hand, the politics aren't always less vicious; 40% of my chem department quit in 2 years while I was there, including someone denied renewal against the unanimous recommendation of the department.

One of my undergrad chem professors had a tenured job at U of Chicago, and gave it up to work at Small Midwestern Liberal Arts College. I can put you in touch with him if you have any desire for his perspectives (in lieu of the ideal panel, alas). He claimed he wanted to spend more time with his family, but I don't know what the real reason was.

regehr said...

Random data points: out of my grad school cohort, two of us went to research I type schools and four went to teaching schools. Out of the four, one didn't like it and bailed back into the research world. Three seem to be enjoying the teaching life.

One kind of school to be cautious about: the teaching school with research aspirations. Imagine spending several years teaching a heavy load of CS classes, and then not getting tenure because you didn't pull in enough grants. This is happening these days largely, I think, at big-name liberal arts schools with recently-created MS and/or PhD programs. Obviously the assistant professors at these institutions are in a very difficult position since they are not given the resources needed to jump start a research career.