Professionalization the CAPS way

images (1)Confession time: I’ve never applied for a job.

Sure, I’ve applied for graduate schools, grants and scholarships, teaching assistantships, and once, a course lectureship. And I’ve had  jobs outside of the academy too, ranging from gymnastics coach to in-China program instructor. Some of these applications required CVs, a cover letter, or interview, but none required all the elements (that I’m told) are part of getting a job. Needless to say, as I near the end of my doctoral degree, it’s time to start wising up about getting a job.

In a bid to professionalize, I registered for McGill’s Career and Planning Services (CAPS) workshop series.

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Where?

Warning: this post contains angst.

The third year of my PhD work is quickly coming to a close (Omg. Aak. Eeek.) I’ve been thinking a lot about post-docs. About the type of research I want to do and the type of researcher I want to become in the long run. About fellowships and funding applications. About finding a great lab and a great mentor.

There’s one other unknown that seems to consistently overshadow all these other considerations, no matter how much I try to convince myself that it shouldn’t be super-important:

where am I going to work?

That one word – “where” – stirs up a flurry of other stressful, intrusive thoughts: where will my wife and I live? Will we stay in Canada, or will we have to move to the US or even overseas? Will we be able to find a nice place that lets us maintain the quiet country existence we’ve both come to love? Will we have to sell our beloved old schoolhouse – or maybe we could just rent it out for a while? Will we be ABLE to sell our beloved old schoolhouse if we need to (the real estate market isn’t exactly on fire right now)? And then there’s our pets – if we move overseas we’ll almost certainly have to put them in quarantine – would we be able to manage that? What about our families? What about my partner’s career (she also returned to school last year to pursue a new path as a social worker)? Will we be able to live someplace that recognizes our marriage – will we both be able to get health care and feel safe in a new community?

This issue of “where” is awfully big. I feel like everything else is manageable, but this one…I don’t know. There are a lot of long-term implications and emotional investments wrapped up in “where”, and frankly it scares the poop out of me if I allow myself to think about it too much

I’m not sure what will ultimately settle the “where” question. We might have to simply follow the available funding. Maybe funding won’t be an issue and I’ll be able to carve out a nice niche for myself in a lab more of my choosing, and someplace where my wife can equally pursue her own dreams. (And maybe pigs will fly?)

I know many of you reading this have either recently made the decision to move to Montreal to attend McGill, or perhaps you are still contemplating it. Others among you may be at a similar point in your grad school careers and are having similarly angst thought. To all of you: what were/are your primary considerations when looking for post-docs/jobs/higher degrees, in terms of the “where” question?

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cross-posted at www.thebuggeek.com

Does teaching matter?

I’ve written about teaching already this year, and I find myself writing about it again now, in the hopes of getting some opinions from other grad students.

I’ve been the teaching assistant for a lab the past few years. When the powers that be restructured the lab in a major way last year, I made some fairly significant contributions to its new format, in terms of the material being taught and how it was presented. I am tweaking things even more this term, based on feedback from last year’s students and on some new pedagogical approaches I’ve learned.

I think that the current labs are definitely better but not best, and would really benefit from a thoughtful and thorough revision and updating. So I got this idea that I would approach the chair of our department and offer my (paid) services to do the work, perhaps over the summer since my field component won’t be so heavy this year. Not knowing whether this was even remotely feasible, I went and spoke to my advisor and told him my idea.

I mostly expected him to say: “It’s not really appropriate for a student to take on that kind of role,” and I would have accepted that. If that didn’t happen, the alternative I’d imagined was something like, “Cool. This would be a great course development/teaching experience. Approach the chair and check it out, but make sure you’re still getting your research/publications done in a timely way,” which I would have perceived as both awesome and perfectly reasonable.

But what I heard, and what surprised me, was this: “No one reading your CV is going to care about something like that. It’s not a good use of your time. Write and publish papers. That’s really all that matters.***”

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Post-Post-Grad

So – that was that.  My master’s degree.  Was I dreaming?

I have been recently hit with the common post-grad-school realization that I can do ANYTHING I WANT!  I have no familial obligations, no contracts, no school, no… ah wait.  The financial obligations are massive and heavy coming out of this endeavor.   This new stage of life is exciting, terrifying, and very different than anything I have ever experienced.  It is time to find balance – a balance of risk-taking (after all, we are still young!) and responsibility (after all, we are going on our thirties!).  It is time to find a way to work, play, make money and spend it all at once.

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