Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Random career bullets

Look what I got!

And it only took a year and a half...
  • The sign serves a very important purpose that has nothing little to do with massaging my ego. I sit at an open-plan desk right outside my supervisor's office, in the exact place where his former secretary (who has never been replaced) used to sit. Combined with the fact that my boss was away for my first week on the job and so was unable to introduce me properly, a lot of people assumed that I was his new secretary. This assumption has been very difficult to reverse. Even now, his many collaborators from other departments often drop by to ask me to schedule meetings and do other secretarial tasks. (And on the frequent occasions when there is no-one else around, I usually end up doing them, because otherwise they won't get done). Even when I am able to refer the person to a colleague, the constant interruptions really break into my day. I've mentioned the problem several times, and things have got gradually better as a result. But when it came up again during a recent performance review with the department's admin manager, she suggested that we order the sign. I spent ten minutes or so on Friday deciding on the best position for it, and it's now directly in the sight-line of anyone who makes it past the filing cabinets that we moved in front of my desk to give me more privacy.
  • The environment in my industry job was quite rigid in some ways, one being an outright ban on wearing jeans (in our department at least, the lab people were allowed). I maintained this dress code in my new job for, oh, maybe a couple of weeks, before tentatively wearing jeans one Friday. No-one commented (I doubt that anyone even noticed), so I started to wear them more often. I now wear jeans two or three times a week. It's great. I love how academia recognises that what you wear bears no relation to how well you do your job. I've also noticed a relationship to the first bullet; when I wear nice trousers or a skirt, I get treated more like a secretary, and when I wear jeans, I get treated more like a scientist.
  • Other things that academia recognises to be unrelated to job performance: turning up after 9 am, and listening to music while working. I no longer have to dash back early from the gym to avoid the disapproving 9:02 comments. And the first time my boss saw me listening to my iPod at work, as I yanked the buds out of my ears and apologised profusely, he said "why would I mind if you listen to your iPod?"
  • My last job really did mess with my psyche. Prior to the aforementioned performance review, I had filled in my form in industry-sanctioned levels of detail, mentioning every single mistake I'd made and how I'd dealt with them, and ticking off the "I have met this standard most of the time" boxes rather than the "all of the time" options. The admin manager thought it was the funniest thing she'd ever seen, and suggested severe edits. The second version was almost unrecognisable, and much more flattering.
  • The sun has got his hat on, hip hip hip hoooray! It's warm (20C, five days after it snowed - April is weird), people are smiling more, and a complete stranger even started a conversation with me in a coffee shop yesterday. This never happens in Vancouver and I think it's about time that changed (although this girl was actually a bit over-friendly, even by non-Vancouver standards, almost to the point of weirdness). Yes, this is work-related; what other reason could there possibly be for my boss to use a smiley face emoticon in an email yesterday?


  1. Haha - two points:

    1. The sign's not big enough. It should be a banner that hangs over your desk.

    2. Is that a bag of chips on your desk? If so, it's also not big enough - don't waste your time with anything less than 200 or 300 grams.

  2. Damn, that would be annoying! I feel your pain a bit. When someone comes into our office, my desk is right beside the door. So, many people will ask me where so-and-so is, or when they'll be back, etc.. I don't KNOW - I don't keep track of everyone in the office! grr.

    Yay for spring though! It was spring here, and now it's snowing again. Stupid eastern Canada.

  3. PiT, let's go the whole hog and get "PhD" tattooed on my forehead! Woooooo! That way I'll get the proper respect even when I'm away from my desk! Oh, and those aren't chips - weren't you paying attention last week?!

    Mrs. CH, yeah, I get that a lot too. I think we should put GPS transmitters on all our PIs, so we can actually figure out where they are when they're supposed to be in meetings, and display the information via Google Maps on a big screen by the elevators. This idea has gained some popularity with others in my department.

  4. Congrats on the new sign, Cath! And there's nothing wrong with a little ego massage =)

    I started off my new job by trying to dress nicely, too. I've since regressed into standard postdoc uniform--jeans and sneakers. It's interesting that there certainly seems an inverse relationship betweeen nice dress and academic rank. I've noticed that the more junior administrative staff at my institute are actually dressed more nicely than the senior administrative staff. And my PI? At my initial job interview, he came in wearing shorts and a T-shirt (I thought this was a bit surprising, even considering the casual standards of the research world). Actually, the sharpest dressers at my institute are the security guards. They're all in full-on dress pants/suits.

  5. "when I wear nice trousers or a skirt, I get treated more like a secretary, and when I wear jeans, I get treated more like a scientist."

    Funny how that works. Some years back, I thought I needed to dress up more to be taken seriously. Now, I am not so sure.

    I hope your fancy sign works its magic!

  6. And, I like your idea of GPS for PIs. I would also put a transmitter on my all-popular husband who's coworkers assume I know where he is at all times; apparently not implanting one into his wedding ring is a gross oversight on my part.

  7. weren't you paying attention last week?!

    Haha - obviously not. I love hot tea, but those things sounds horrible!

  8. C'mon, you KNOW some halfwits are still going to wander over and ask you to preform secretarial duties under the pretense that PhD stands for Professional Help Desk.

  9. BM, my ego is actually pretty healthy, I'd prefer a shoulder massage! I'm glad it's not just me who's dressing like a postdoc (although I'm wearing boots with my jeans today rather than runners).

    SG, thanks! I hope so too. I'll report back if I notice any real improvements!

    PiT, they are teh awesomeness.

    Hermitage, I actually LOLed at that. Professional Help Desk! That's awesome.

  10. Awesome! I hope it helps. All those interruptions must be annoying. It really is funny how dressing up at work makes us look like secretaries. Or managers, I guess. :)

    I have my name on my office door. There used to be someone in charge of that sort of thing because there used to be mail delivery to each office. Now the mail goes to one big mail room for the building. The name plates and the directory at the start of each wing of the building are now about 4 years out-of-date.

  11. Niiiice. I do hope it makes all the interruptions stop. If people still bother you, maybe you can just point at it until they go away.
    The sign outside my office has the previous office inhabitants name on it instead of mine. Now I am kind of itching to change it.

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  14. 1. You should wear the sign around your neck! You should come to SciBarCamp while wearing the sign around your neck. If you do that, I can almost guarantee that people will say "Did Eva invite you?"

    2. "one being an outright ban on wearing jeans". Which is odd, because taking them off would be considered far more inappropriate in most (but not all!) work environments.

  15. EGF, yeah, each interruption only takes a minute or two to deal with, but they can really add up!

    MXX, pointing at the sign would be pretty funny! How long have you had someone else's name on your door?

    MH, that's what the sign really means. I'm hoping that most of my fellow PhDs (plus the MDs) are smart enough to figure that out!

    PiT, but what if someone like HotDoc came by?

    Eva: 1. Are you sure they wouldn't just direct me to the nearest psych facility instead?! and 2. well, the one time I wore jeans when my boss was actually in the office, I got soundly told off for it, but I didn't actually have to strip. So I guess I could have phrased that differently!

  16. PiT, but what if someone like HotDoc came by?

    I was going to be crude and say something about flipping the sign around to read something different, but I'm not going to go there :)

  17. PhD could also stand for "Pleeeeeease, Hot Doc!"

  18. Hahaha - that made me laugh out loud after a very, very long day that won't finish for several more hours :)

  19. Someone else's name has been on my office door since the day I started...Jan. 5, 2009. I was kinda thinking that if people couldn't find me, then they couldn't bother me, so I left it. Now I am wondering about what special kind of hell I have set myself up for. :)

  20. PiT, glad I could help!

    MXX, it all depends on who the other person was, and how they were regarded!

    I had 3 interruptions yesterday, all people asking if I knew where my boss was (I didn't. I almost never do). We really need those tracking devices.

  21. Congratulations on the sign.

    Regarding dress codes - it's funny how different they are between companies, and even more so between countries.

    Recently I heard about a test of an website which (among other things) had a picture of some people working.
    They were dressed nicely, if casual (i.e. shirts, no jeans, but no tie). Most Danes consider that fitting, or even a bit overdressed, but one American commented that it was unrealistic - no person would go to work dressed so casually.

  22. Obviously not an American academic ;)

    So many things are so different between companies, and the only way to figure it out is to work there for a while. I hate unspoken rules!

  23. Sorry for the deleted comments. They contained my surname, which I usually keep off this blog - and a Google search on my full name just brought up this post, the first time I've seen this happen for this blog. I have no problem with you all knowing my real name, hence the photo, but I'd much prefer Google to find other sites and not this one!


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