Looking, with Confidence

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog. The main reason I thought to update today is that I received shocking information at the doctor’s office yesterday. I, who am so in love with cats that I snuck one into my dorm and also named my blog A Cat Nap, am allergic to cats! Crazy!

That aside, it’s a good time to write. I’m still looking for a new job, but I feel much better about it now. I sent out a couple applications in February, to which I heard no response. In March I was very busy preparing for my first figure skating competition in a decade (successfully!), and helping my students prepare for their end-of-the-season ice show. Once those events passed, I was too exhausted for an earnest job hunt.

So it wasn’t until April that I began to send out more applications. This was good, though, as by then I’d had more time to learn and think about my options. While I am fortunate enough to have numerous choices, this made it challenging to put all of my efforts towards a single goal.

Should I try a different area of environmental work? Should I look for something more directly related to my degree? Should I (gulp) go back to school so I could continue in research? Should I go for a more general use of my analytical and business skills? Or maybe grow on my Internet start-up experience?

I considered the factors that I wrote about in my last post. I decided I was willing to give a little on community benefit. I still refuse to do anything that I perceive as having a negative or questionable impact on society, but I’m willing to do something more neutral than cleaning up pollution. After all, it’s just not always practical, and a girl’s gotta live, right?

I also decided to pursue a less direct application of my degrees. Considering how much I had gone through to get them, this was not an easy choice. But I had realized that there were significant factors that would keep my career trajectory from what I’d originally had in mind. Primarily, there aren’t many of these jobs in cities, and I now know that I want to keep NYC as my home for a long term. I also am unhappy with the typical work culture and the lack of options in career trajectory.

The choice was made easier by the presence of an enticing industry right here in NYC: software. I’ve got experience from my web startup, so I’m not starting at 0. An analytical background is a benefit even if you aren’t on the coding side. The office culture and community are a much better fit for me. My husband and brother both work in computer science, and I’ve always felt at home amongst computer fans and gaming geeks. And it pays better too. So I’m feeling pretty good about this choice!

I’ve sent out a number of applications, and I had an interview about two weeks ago. While I’ve since learned that they chose another candidate, they expressed that they were impressed with me and want to keep in touch. This has helped my confidence as I seek a new job, and I’m continuing to push ahead. I know I’ll find something that is a better fit for me, I just need patience and perseverence.

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Looking again

Well it’s a year since I last job-hunted, and here I am ready to go again. I’m eager to move on from my current place, but this past year hasn’t been a total bust career-wise. I’ve learned about a field entirely new to me – environmental remediation. And while there are aspects of it that I am quite happy with, I think when looking at the big picture it’s not the right field for me. The other integral thing I’ve learned this past year is about what type of work environment I want, and what will and won’t be conducive to my happiness.

It has been 10 months since I started this job, and for the past 6 I have been various levels of unhappy with it. It was December when I started thinking I should look elsewhere, but not until January that I really came to a firm conclusion that I want to leave.

My final reasoning is based on what I was looking for when I took this job, which is rather low-paying for my skill set. There were 3 main reasons I was happy to accept that pay:

1) I wanted to learn about environmental engineering and environmental science.
2) I wanted to be making a positive contribution to society.
3) I wanted a job that wouldn’t ask me to be a workaholic.

I think I only got 1 of those for sure, and that one (# 3) was in overkill! Not only are most of my coworkers not workaholics, anumber of them seem to be perpetually in do-the-least-possible-without-getting-fired mode.

The other two I got to some degree, but from what I’ve learned, I don’t think this field will wholly fulfill my needs, especially for challenge, creativity, and connection to the people whose lives I’m working to improve.

I actually think it may be time for a career shift, staying in STEM but moving to a different field and industry. I have a clearer understanding of my needs in a career and in a job, well beyond the factors I considered when choosing a major for my degree. I now realize how much I value community, work culture, location, societal effects, and the structure of a typical workday.

As I explore this further, I’m reading a book about career change, with the major questions to consider in order to determine the career path that is best for all of your needs. I hope to write about this as I ponder these questions.

Career Questions

It’s been nearly 3 months since I last wrote. I did write a post in December, an enthusiastic review of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” but it was lost when my phone crashed, and I couldn’t bring myself to rewrite the whole thing.

And of course there were the holidays – work to do and visitors and visits to be had.

But there was also the greyness. A feeling of running in a hamster wheel. Days of happiness, excitement, and energy – followed by days of stress, worry, or exhaustion.

I’ve seen the psychiatrist monthly, and I really think my current combo is helping. In a sense, the world has gone from gray to colorful again. It’s merely that I can see intense blue as well as bright yellow.

Work is… Disappointing. I feel less of a sense of purpose and direction than, frankly, ever before. Even as my passion waned somewhat in my darker times, I’ve always known what I wanted, where I wanted to go. And usually I had the determination to work hard to find it, to earn it.

But now, I’m unsure of what I would like next. There are things that call to me, but with each there are aspects that take my excitement down a notch. I know this is common for young adults, but the feeling is foreign to me.

I know that I am lucky that I have so many skills on which I could base a career – and likely a successful one. But I feel equally pulled toward each, but unwilling to yet give up any. As of late I’ve been dreaming up ways to incorporate them all. I may have an idea, but I don’t know yet how realistic it is. But I don’t like to leap without looking. I wish to gather information.

And that’s why I’m writing now. I would like to interview people with knowledge or experience in a number of areas. It could be over e-mail or phone (or in person if you can meet in NYC). I could write a post about it, feature you and links, or I could keep it private or anonymous.

If you have knowledge about or experience in a career in any of the following areas, please contact me!

Figure skating coach – basics
Figure skating coach – freestyle/test track
Figure skating program director
Environmental eng/scientist – government regulator
Environmental eng/scientist – government researcher
Environmental eng/scientist – consultant for private companies
Environmental eng/scientist – consultant for government
Environmental scientist – public interest researcher
Science writer – magazines, news, or books
Science professor – adjunct (lab instructor and early undergrads)
Project manager – web company
Pro blogger
Etsy shop/home business owner
How-to writer

I’m extra interested in hearing from you if you are a mom!

Results from the NYC Panel on Climate Change

I haven’t started the new job yet, but I’ve been reading up on various aspects of city government and the state of environmental protection and sustainability in New York City.  There are a lot of great reports available on the city’s web site.  Today I took a look at the recently released report from the NYC Panel on Climate Change.  Their predictions aren’t pretty:

  • Temperatures are expected to rise, 1.5-3 degrees F over the next 30 years and as much as 7.5 degrees F by the 2080s.
  • Annual precipitation is expected to rise 5% over the next 30 years and up to 10% by the 2080s.
  • Sea levels are expected to rise 2-5 inches over the next 30 years and 12-23 inches by the 2080s.  According to models that include ice-melt, sea levels may rise by as much as 55 inches by the 2080s.

But what do those things mean? As we’ve already begun to see over the past few years, these climate changes can make for uncomfortable and dangerous conditions.  According to the report, “short-duration climate hazards” can lead to these extreme events:

  • Heat waves are very likely to become more frequent, intense, and longer in duration
  • Brief, intense precipitation events that can cause inland flooding are also likely to increase
  • Storm-related coastal flooding due to sea level rise is very likely to increase
  • It is more likely than not that droughts will become more severe

And what will this mean for the city infrastructure?

Temperature-related impacts may include:

  • Increased summertime strain on materials
  • Increased peak electricity loads in summer & reduced heating requirements in winter

Precipitation-related impacts may include:

  • Increased street, basement & sewer flooding
  • Reduction of water quality

Sea level rise-related impacts may include:

  • Inundation of low-lying areas & wetlands
  • Increased structural damage & impaired operations

I already thought the city was too hot in the summer.  And the drainage system hase some serious problem spots.  This is going to be just great…  At least the silver lining is that we recognize this and are planning for it.

A new career direction

I’m extremely pleased to share that I may have found a new job.  A regular day job, with a salary, benefits, and vacation time.  It even has a 35 hour work week and a good helping of holidays.  What I’m most excited about is that it’s doing something good for the city of New York!  So what is it?

Well, I’ll tell you this.  It is in environmental engineering.  This is a shift for me, as I’d studied a broader, related field.  I’ve found myself wondering, over the past year, why I chose to study the field that I did.  And the answer, most clearly, is that I love the material covered in it.  But in choosing that field I neglected some other factors that are important to me: societal impact and geographic location of jobs.

I’ve always felt that the fundamentals of the field were principles needed and worthy of understanding and study, but the ends to which these principles are put to use left me feeling something lacking.  While society could not function as it does without practitioners of this field, they most often are found in corporations working towards profit, profit which is mostly seen by shareholders and executives.  Meanwhile these corporations often have large lobbying components and are parts of industries that I see as being corrupt or under-regulated.

So as I dove further into the subject and the field, I found myself drawn towards continuing academic study or teaching.   By working in that part of the field, I could work in a city (industry jobs are largely in rural or suburban areas, where there is land for the sprawling corporate campuses and industrial plants, but I am uninterested in living outside of a city).  By working in academia or teaching, I could make an impact by helping future generations, or by moving the edge of science along.  But I found that I don’t like much of the culture and requirements of academia, nor do I care for the scarcity of jobs and low salaries available in teaching.  I came to this realization mostly over the course of 2008, when I left graduate school and, in the fall, taught lab courses at a local college.  There were parts of that which were great, but, as a full career, I’m not sure that it’s quite right for me.

In December, I found myself looking back at a year in which I’d seen a lot of changes.  Husband and I, working hard at our startup company, were living sparsely.  Bill collectors were calling often, we were constantly declining when our friends proposed nights out in the city, and we found ourselves once again unable to share more than love, friendship, and thanks during the season of giving.  We had, and always have, our love and companionship, and I was still happy. But I was also tired and stressed, and by the end of 2008 I finally felt like it was time for me to start planning what was next.

I was in the fortunate situation of having multiple directions to choose from, and I barely knew where to start.  I perused job postings and the career website from my Alma Mater, looking at a few different career paths that seemed possible and at least somewhat interesting.  And I discovered that environmental engineering might hold what I was really looking for – the interesting topics, rigorous problem solving, and teamwork that I found in my previous discipline, but with the important added aspects of a positive societal impact and jobs in urban areas.  On top of that, the field looks poised to grow as the green movement gains strength and political support. I’m enthusiastic about the potential in this new area, but I still only know a little bit about it.

Nonetheless, I had the good fortune of a successful job interview a little over a week ago, and now have a tentative job offer, which is going through the steps of paperwork approval.  It even appears I negotiated for a top salary in the department for my position!  I’m very excited and immensely looking forward to learning about this new area for me.

Readers, does anyone have any advice about the field or great books to recommend?

Baby’s smiles and brain research

I’m having a grand ole’ time working hard for the company that husband and I own, but I miss being immersed in science on a daily basis.  My particular passions are math and chemistry – as they have been since high school!  So one thing I’ve been doing to make sure I get my dose of science is to add the Scientific American, Wired, and Science Magazine homepages to my firefox homepage tabs.  The Science Magazine one I linked up through my school’s library, so that I have full access, which is something I get to keep as an alumni – yay!

Anyhow, today I read this article on baby’s smiles and the mother-infant bond.  It was an interesting article about a study in which the researchers studied first-time mothers’ response to pictures of their 7-month old babies.  The moms had not seen the pictures before, and the researchers showed them to them while monitoring their brain response with functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.  They found that the baby’s smiles triggered a strong response in the reward centers of the brain, and used this to theorize that the baby’s smile acts as a strong reward.  While I respect their efforts to study the brain with the scientific method, I can’t help but think “well, duh.”

I am curious about different questions.  Sure, none of us are surprised to hear that an infant’s smile is a reward for mom.  But how are the brain responses different in dad?  What about primary caretaker dads (like SAHDs) versus fathers who leave most of the baby raising to mom?  What about nannies that spend more time with the baby than mom?  Those are, to me, more interesting questions.

I feel a strong connection to the babies I care for, which grows in intensity usually based on how often I care for the baby and how long I’ve been working with that family.  In my own experiences, there have even been times when, spending 20 hours a week with the baby and observing his interactions with his mom as well, I’ve felt there were certain signals that I could read better than baby’s mom.

I would definitely be interested to see research not just on different parts of mom’s brain responses but also comparing this to brain responses in dad and other caretakers.  While I have no doubt that the mother-baby bond can be exceedingly strong, I think sometimes society assumes that only the mother can understand the baby that way, and implies that all mothers should.  Really though, in today’s society, families all do it differently, and those old assumptions don’t make much sense anymore.