succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The pros and cons of my potential dream job

This is mostly just thinking out loud, so there's not a lot of organizational structure to these lists.

The (potential) job (which I have not been offered) is with a non-profit doing human rights work. I've been a huge fan for years and always describe them as a near-perfect example of how statistics should be used. Human rights problems obviously involve huge, complicated, emotional collections of data, and statistics can boil that down in to an (arguably) objective collection of evidence for one conclusion over another. This organization has been doing that for over a decade, tackling questions like does the pattern of refugees fleeing Kosovo fit the pattern of MiloŇ°evic's military action or NATO's bombing campaigns? Is the rate of violence in Colombia changing, and if so, does that change fit with the demobilization of paramilitaries? Etc.

  • Simply being wanted for the position - there's something dangerously intoxicating about being told you're the ideal candidate
  • It would be doing something - there are real world, tangible ramifications of this kind of data analysis
  • It matters - I think this company is doing some of the most important work, and asking some of the most important questions, out there
  • Geeky community - my sense of the company is that it's staffed by people like me - nerdy, curious, passionate, and driven. That's a nice group of people with whom to surround yourself
  • Interesting problems - I don't think there's any risk that I would get bored with this kind of work - every problem is different, and no problem looks like something out of a textbook
  • Location - northern CA
  • Travel - both a pro and a con
  • [UPDATE] Knowledge and experience - while there's probably going to be a pretty steep learning curve involved (which I guess technically is a con) I would gain some serious knowledge about software development, database management, and tons of new (to me) programming languages (as Steve clarifies in his comment, one of the big questions here is how would this job set me up into the future, and I think the answer is nothing but positives - even if I shifted focus a bit later in my career, the hands-on experience, the complicated data structure and problem solving involved in this gig would be invaluable and I'd gain some pretty serious 'street cred')

  • Burn out - I can already tell that the intensity of this work is not sustainable. Nor is the eat-drink-sleep-breath attitude of my potential boss. But I think it fits where I am right now
  • Travel - I'm excited about the possibility of traveling a lot and seeing a lot of the world. I'm not sure I'm cut out for developing country/unstable government settings - I'm a trooper when it comes to uncomfortable conditions, but I'm concerned that I'll discover I'm actually quite wimpy when it comes to personal security issues...but I also think I have a really skewed perspective about personal security issues in developing potential boss says they're very good at risk assessment, and I should probably trust his opinion of such things more than my own
  • Lone statistician - years ago I said I didn't want to work somewhere where I was the only stats person, and this still makes me nervous...but it sounds like I would still have plenty of brilliant people off whom to bounce ideas, so I don't think it would feel particularly isolating to be the only person with my specific degree (certainly something to discuss during the in-person interview)
  • Timing - they essentially want me to start right now, and are willing to hire me on as a consultant until I graduate...I'm just nervous about enforcing my own boundaries enough to put them off until I wrap up my dissertation/continuing to take on more and more and more and making my life hellishly hectic for the next 7 months
  • Prestige - while I think the work they're doing is incredibly important, and within the human rights world they're very well know, this isn't exactly the sort of career decision that my alma mater can use to recruit new students. Not that that should be a deciding factor, but it's in my head...
  • Fellowship - I put a lot of work into a fellowship application, and I won't even know if I made the first round of cuts for that until December, so I would likely have to decide about this job (if it's offered to me) without info about that one (though I will call the fellowship committee and see if I can get a sense of things)

Fellowship vs. non-profit
The fellowship is also pretty tailor-made for me - it's interdisciplenary and disparity/social justice focused. But it's much bigger picture, research focused as well. The idea is you spend the next two years doing post-doc-type research, with the aim of launching into government or non-government and developing policy and getting into leadership positions where you shape the basic infrastructure that affects public health. It would be much more 'comfortable' - I'd likely end up in Boston (if I got it), though there are other location possibilities, and though the non-profit and I haven't talked money, I know the fellowship salary and I'm guessing the non-profit couldn't match that. On the other hand, the fellowship is open to anyone, at any point in their career, so I could do on the ground human rights work until I burn out and then turn to more structured, big picture research...

One of my mentors in the field (the one who recommended me for the human rights gig) told me not to stress too much about my first job, because I'd likely only have it for a few years and then move on to something else, which certainly does seem to be the norm in my field. And this human rights job doesn't seem sustainable in the long term...but is it bad form to enter into a position with an end point in mind? I guess that's more fodder for uncomfortable conversations during the in-person interview...

Speaking of which, I'm supposed to be putting together two job talks, not directly related to my dissertation, so I guess I should stop procrastinating...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Growing up is like jumping out of an airplane
(or so I imagine)

Eep! So I had a telephone interview tonight for a job. A real jobby-job. And it went incredibly well. I've had a crush on the company for years, and it seems a little too perfect the way things are coming together. I've been invited up for a proper interview and job talk. It's time to start laying out the pros and cons in a rational fashion, but the voice in my head is too busy saying OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD over and over again, so that will have to wait until tomorrow. I'll be looking for input from all of my peanut gallery, but in particular those of you who have traveled to/lived in developing countries/states with potentially unstable social/political climates (the job is US-based, but there would be 6-8 weeks of travel every year, in two week batches).

Meanwhile, it looks like one week from today I leave for DC, Sunday I fly to San Diego, and now Tuesday or Wednesday I'll be heading up to SF (it'll be a rapid-fire blow-by, so likely no time for visiting, but local people - I'll keep you posted if I can work in a meal or drinks or something). The complicated piece is that I'm already scheduled to do ATL to DC to SD to ATL on Delta, and apparently Delta doesn't fly directly from SD to SF (seriously?!). So how do I do this? Cancel my last leg on delta, then book a separate one-way on some other airline SD to SF then another one-way on delta back to ATL? Or two separate one-ways on whatever other airline, SD to SF then SF to ATL? So complicated! (and exciting and scary!)

Monday, October 13, 2008

After my good night last night I wandered upstairs to discover e-mail from the parents saying that my great aunt Fran died. She was always one of my coolest relatives - a college graduate, when women weren't exactly welcome at most colleges, and an artist, and a wicked sense of humor, to match her husband's. They were married for 67 years! Sixty seven years! We should all be so lucky. Should you feel so inclined, toss a few dollars toward House of Hope or Florida United Methodist Children's Home in memory of a great lady.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Good Night

I haven't truly relaxed in a very long time. I've gone out, I've had a good time, I've been not working, but work has always been on my mind. And while I'm sure somewhere my brain was working away on my research, because I'm in that mode, tonight I finally felt like I managed to fully relax, at least for a little while. We had a virginia highlands dinner party, sponsored by the letter M (meatless meatloaf, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese, mixed nuts, malbec, more wine, and moist chocolate cake) then the roomie and I headed home for more wine, scrabble, and old records (The Big Chill soundtrack, Simon and Garfunkel, and Carol King). Sounds lame, I know, but it as perfect.

Something else happened today too...but it will keep until morning.