Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Reading: The I Should Stop Pretending These Posts Have a Theme Edition

Are you well and truly tired of me talking about that job search ebook? Let's talk about the upcoming release of my next kids' book instead! I don't know why I tend to have these releases stack up like this- nothing much happening for most of the year and then BOOM! Two book releases in two months. But that's just how it turned out. I had lunch with my publisher today so that we could discuss our plans around the release of Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess, and we've got some fun things planned. I'll tell you more in the next week or so.

The main impact right now, though, is that I didn't spend very much time at my computer today, so my links list might be a little lighter than usual.

However- quality over quantity, right? I've got some great links to share.

First up is a teacher's story about why we need diverse books. The bit that really struck me is the one that is used in the headline:

"A few years ago, I taught a Year 2 class in East London. I had built up a good bank of multicultural picture-books and resources and shared these with the class whenever seemed appropriate. When it came time for the class to write their own stories, I suggested that they used the name of someone in their family for their protagonist. I wanted them to draw on their own backgrounds, but was worried about ‘making an issue of race’. When it came to sharing their stories, I noticed only one boy had acted upon my suggestion, naming his main character after his uncle. He had recently arrived from Nigeria and was eager to read his story to the class. However when he read out the protagonists name he was interrupted by another boy, who was born in Britain and identified as Congolese.

“You can’t do that! Stories have to be about White people.”

I’m confident the boy who announced this was being sincere and indeed, in the ensuing class discussion there was a fair bit of uncertainty about who could and couldn’t be in stories. I was surprised and confused by this. Why did they always write stories about children from very different backgrounds to themselves? And why were these characters always White? After all, I had shared a number of stories about children of colour with the class.

I just hadn’t realised what I was up against."

Speaking of racism... the research of Jennifer Eberhardt, one of this year's MacArthur fellows, is depressing and fascinating. You can watch her describe her research, or read Jamelle Bouie's article about some aspects of it.

Here is a really thoughtful and thought-provoking post about the recent XOXO conference.

I really liked this article about how we need Sci-Fi that helps us imagine a better future in addition to warning us about possible horrific outcomes.

If you've somehow avoided hearing about GamerGate and are wondering what it is, Cracked has Zoe Quinn's story. If you know all about GamerGate, it is worth clicking through just to read and lolsob at the intro, which just nails the ridiculousness of the whole thing.

Roxane Gay's post about shopping while fat is beautiful. If I ever get rich enough that I can just start a capital-intense company because I want to see such a company exist, I want to start a woman's clothing company that makes nice clothes for women of all sizes. Also, it will have a stable core line of pants that will be reliably the same, so that you don't have to go find a new model of black pants every damn time you need a new pair.

Remember when we all wanted to do something concrete to help the people in the St. Louis are? There are school teachers there asking for help.

OK, we need something happy to end on. I'm not even a librarian and this tumblr made me laugh.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Into the Wayback Machine: The Mistakes I Made in Job Hunting

One of my friends asked me what part of the advice I give in Navigating the Path to Industry I failed to follow when I was making my own move from academia to industry- you know, back in the last geological age. (OK, it was actually about 15 years ago.)

I, of course, made all sorts of mistakes. There was no handy short ebook for me to read to give me tips on running my job search! (There were no ebooks at all.) I was lucky to be graduating into a biotech boom, so I found a job fairly easily, anyway. (It didn't seem easy at the time, but in retrospect... OMG I WAS SO LUCKY!)

My biggest mistake was probably my cover letter. I found one of my old cover letters during our last office reorganizing kick, and it basically sucked. I just restated what was on my resume, and didn't even use the keywords from the job description. I may have customized it for each job for which I applied, but if I did, I didn't customize it much.

I haven't found an old resume, but I suspect it would make me shudder at its CV-ishness, too.

I managed to get hired despite my mistakes because of the aforementioned incredible timing and good luck, and because of one of the things I did right: I networked. I landed my first job, and my second job, and my third job... and all of my jobs via networking. I only heard about that first job because I was serving on an AWIS committee with a recruiter who was trying to fill that job. I suspect she felt confident enough in me to send in a resume for someone just finishing graduate school because she had worked on a committee with me, not just met me. Also, I had done another thing right and started networking more than a year before I needed to get a job, so by the time I met that one critical person, I had gotten comfortable with delivering a pithy statement about my background and interests.

Does anyone else want to take a ride in the wayback machine? What mistakes did you make in your first job search? What did you do right?

---------------
In very much related news, you have a little less than one week left to enter the raffle to win my review of your resume and/or cover letter. You can use the prize anytime in the next two years, and you can transfer it to a friend if you don't need the advice yourself. Details about how to enter are on the book release page.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Values vs. Imposter Syndrome

Thanks to @RowGirl2012's twitter feed, I came across this old article from Ed Yong about how having students spend 15 minutes writing about two or three values that are important to them essentially closed the gender gap in performance in a college physics class.

I had heard of the earlier work with high school students cited in this article, but had forgotten about it. I am grateful for the reminder. I am already thinking about how I might use this exercise with my kids. More immediately, I think I need to do the exercise myself.

I am in a weird place right now. I am very excited about my new career direction, and having a great time with the projects I'm working on. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to try to build something new without forgoing the income to which my family has become accustomed. I am, quite simply, having a blast.

At the same time, I am fighting a massive case of imposter syndrome. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I have no proof that I can succeed in this new venture, and no real feedback yet to give me confidence that I will succeed. As much as I tell myself that it doesn't actually matter if I succeed- the important thing is to try and learn, and trust myself that if this doesn't work out I'll take what I've learned and find something else great to do- there is apparently a large part of me that does not believe it.

The worst thing about imposter syndrome is the way that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So far, I think I'm doing a fairly good job of ignoring the doubting voice inside my head and just following through on my plans. However, I also don't take it for granted that this will last.

So I'm going to do the exercise suggested in that article. I'm going to write about my values. And there is no time like the present!

I picked values that seem relevant to what I'm doing. They are in no particular order, and in fact there might be other values that matter to me more but that I'm not writing about. I didn't do a careful analysis of what matters most to me- I just wrote about the first three things that came to mind.

Value #1:  People and work both matter
Doing great work and being great to people should not be in conflict. Too many people think they are, and too many workplaces are set up to make employees choose. I didn't go with "people first," because too often I see that used to explain decisions to decrease work-related ambitions. If that's really what someone wants, that is fine, but I suspect that in many cases people really want to keep pursuing their ambitions but are forced to choose between ambition and family* because something is putting them in conflict. My firm belief is that they are only in conflict because we have set them up that way. The problem is, the systems that put work and family in conflict have been in place for so long that we've started to see this conflict as just the natural order of things. I don't think it has to be that way. I think we just haven't had the imagination and/or the will to design better systems yet. Changing this will probably take a lot of time and iterations. I'm aiming to contribute in some small way.

*I'm using "family" as a stand in for "the people who matter to you."

Value #2: Everyone should get a chance to reach for their full potential
I didn't have a term for my belief that our skills and abilities aren't fixed until I read Carol Dweck's Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Now I know that the term for this is "growth mindset." Regardless of the term, I really believe that everyone's capabilities can improve, and that we waste a lot of our human potential by depriving people of the chance to improve and grow. I think this starts in school, and continues into the work place. The fixed mindset that holds that people are just either "smart or not" is particularly pernicious when combined with stereotypes and biases, but it is harmful to everyone. I want to stamp out the fixed mindset. I want everyone to understand that our mental capabilities grow and improve with practice, just like our physical ones do. We should all marvel at the miracle of brain plasticity!

(I'd obviously love to stamp out stereotypes and biases, too - and actually, I think getting people to really understand brain plasticity and the way our environment effects our development might help with that... but that is waaaay too big a topic to tackle in this post.)

Value #3: Life should be enjoyed
This may be the most controversial of the values on my list, but it is my list, so it belongs here. I don't believe in reincarnation or an afterlife. I think this life is all we get, and so I want to find the joy, beauty, and meaning in it whenever I can, because these are the things that make me enjoy living. And I want everyone else to get to enjoy life, too. In fact, this is the value that is probably most responsible for my hatred our current situation of widening inequality. Too many people lack the bare minimum resources they need to have a chance at enjoying life. This is another thing that I think people assume is just the natural order of things but that is actually a result of how we've set up our systems. We could change it if we wanted. For instance, I'm seeing a lot of press about a universal minimum income. That is one idea for improving things. Who knows what other ideas we'd come up with if we decided this was a bona fide problem that needed a solution? I don't think we all should have the same level of resources, but I do think we should aim for a society in which everyone has enough resources that they can survive.

Incidentally, I also don't think that valuing enjoying life is necessarily in conflict with ambition to do great work. To the extent that it is, I think that is also an artifact of how we've chosen to arrange our work world. I still struggle to fully articulate my thoughts on what is wrong with our current work environment, but it boils down to something like this: we've largely set up work to be an all or nothing, no holds barred competition. I think we'd all be happier, healthier, and more productive if we found a way to make work more collaborative. Maybe eventually I'll get my thoughts to crystallize enough on this that I can write a manifesto of sorts. For now, I just want to note that things don't have to be the way they are.

So those are three values that are really important to me. Do you agree or disagree? What values would be on your list if you did this exercise? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Dawning of the Age of Questioning

Pumpkin is seven and a half now, and for the last six months or so, we have been answering a lot of questions. Very little gets past her these days. Things that used to float over her head she now reaches up, catches, brings down and insists we explain.

For the most part this is easy enough to do, if a bit tiring. For all the hand-wringing in some quarters about how same-sex marriage would be hard to explain to children, it was one of the easiest things we've explained this year. We have not had the occasion to explain the fact that there are transgender people yet, but I don't anticipate that will be all that hard to explain when the time comes. Explaining why other people have such a problem with LGBTQ people will be a lot harder.

One result of the increase in questions is that our discussions of racism have gone a little deeper recently. I expect my annual attempt to make MLK day mean more than they teach Pumpkin in school will be more challenging next year. I guess one advantage of stumbling through a discussion for the last two years is that at least I won't be going into this next discussion without some practice.

We have the privilege of metaphorical and physical distance from the recent events in Ferguson, MO, and I chose not to bring them up with her. I am not at all sure this was the right approach. I think it is time for Pumpkin to start knowing more about how the world really is, ugly injustices and all. But... she is a very sensitive kid- she can't even watch most movies, because they scare her. So I am struggling a bit with how to start teaching her about just how ugly the real world can be. Mostly I have been letting her questions guide us. If she notices something and asks about it, I explain honestly. If she doesn't notice, I mostly let it pass, except I have started pointing out and discussing how not everyone gets treated the same by other people, and helping her see that this is not fair or right.  I am painfully aware of how so many parents don't get the luxury of going slow with their sensitive kids. I am also painfully aware of the limits of my own knowledge in this area. I have been trying to work on this, but I know I will fall short of ideal. I will just have to explain that, too.

To be honest, I am also struggling with explaining how the world can be unsafe for her. Here again, we've settled on letting her tell us that she is ready to know something by asking us about it. Therefore, while she knows our rule is that she can talk to people she does not know, she is not to go anywhere with a stranger, she doesn't really know the reasons behind that rule. I assume she'll ask before too long, so I'm thinking about how I'll explain it without scaring her unduly.

I've also started laying the groundwork for our eventual talk about how what she does with her body is up to her, and how if anyone makes her do something she doesn't want to do, that is never, ever her fault, no matter what. Obviously, when she's a little older, we'll have to add in the talk about the things she might want to do... but I've got a few years left before I have to face that one. Presumably, I'll grow into it. Right now, I'm just working to not let my anger about needing to explain bodily autonomy to a seven year old interfere with me actually doing that job well.

We've had a lot of more prosaic questions, too. Mr. Snarky and I trade off explaining various science-related questions, based primarily on which of us has a better memory of the subject. This means that I have to explain just about everything biological, and he is in charge of explaining optics and electricity. She hasn't asked too many questions about history yet, but the American history questions are mine to field. I'm not sure I can count on Mr. Snarky for English history, either- he completely flubbed a question about Guy Fawkes day, and in the end I and another Kiwi who was there at the time had to piece together an answer for what it was from our vague recollection of high school history and checking the Wikipedia article on our phones.

By far the hardest question to date has been one that came up quite early in this phase. We were at a beach in Coronado with some friends from day care. One of the fathers had built a small boat, and he was taking two kids at a time (plus one other grown up) out on the bay to fish. The other kids and parents were playing on the beach. One of the other fathers chastised his daughter for not finishing her applesauce, and made an offhand remark about how there are starving children in China who would love to have her applesauce. It was a time worn cliche (although I have no idea why he picked China), and I didn't really notice it at first. But then Pumpkin looked at me, with deep worry in her eyes and asked, "Really?"

"Yes, sweetie, there are really children in China who don't have enough to eat."

"But just there?"

"No, sweetie, there are children who don't have enough to eat in a lot of places."

"But not here, right?"

"No, sweetie, there are children here in America who are hungry. That's why we donate to the food drive every year." (We do always explain that when we're taking the bag in to donate, but I guess that explanation was one of the things that floated over her head.)

She dropped the subject at that point, but the look on her face clearly said "WTF is wrong with you grown ups that you haven't fixed this?"

I had no answer to that question, and still don't.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Release Week Edition

Obviously, I've been a bit distracted this week by the release of my latest book. (There is a raffle in that post, by the way....) There are a couple of reviews up on the Amazon page, and Actuarial Eye published a really nice review on her blog.

Over at It's a Jumble, Vanessa Fogg has some new releases to announce, too.

And of course, Apple announced some new releases this week. Zeynep Tufekci has a great write up about how bigger isn't always better in a phone, and how the fact that everyone in the tech world seems to think that it is provides yet another indication of what a male-dominated world that is.

John Dick from Civic Science analyzes some of his firm's poll results about parents vs. non-parents, and finds that parents report having every reason to be less happy than non-parents, but actually are more likely than non-parents to report themselves as being happy. When looking at these numbers, particularly the time use ones, keep in mind that these appear to be from self-reporting, a notoriously error-prone way of finding out anything, including how people use their time (i.e., results tend to be skewed by our own expectations).

But let's assume the self-reporting in that previous link is all qualitatively true. I think this next link might hint at what makes parents happier. Can you imagine how happy and proud you'd feel to read an article like this awesome article about the importance of Hermione written by your 14 year old daughter?

On a less happy parenting front (but still in the slightly suspect realm of self-reporting), Brigid Schulte writes at the Washington Post about a new study that finds that male scientists want to be involved fathers, but mostly aren't. I can't access the study to read it for myself. Maybe next time I'm on campus, I'll get it. (Too bad I didn't see the article earlier today- I was on campus doing some old school marketing for my book.)

I continue to hope that maybe someday all of those "too busy to have any life outside of work" people who make it hard for the dads in the previous link and for moms and for anyone else who wants to have more in their life than their work will someday read the research that indicates that their "all in" mode of working tends to produce worse overall results. Here's the latest- long hours make you less likely to follow the rules.

Here's a thoroughly depressing round up of the many reasons women struggle to advance in tech (and I suspect, in other fields). Spoiler: there's still a lot of implicit bias against us.

Speaking of implicit bias and its pernicious effects... Vanity Fair released another list of media disruptors. Annie Lowrey asks why the disruptors are always white guys- pointing, among other things, to the fact that Vox.com was founded by her husband Ezra Klein (white dude), Matt Yglesias (hispanic dude), and Melissa Bell (white, not a dude). Ezra Klein makes a point of emphasizing that they are equal co-founders. And yet Ezra Klein is always the one listed as the disruptor. I wonder why?

Speaking of white guys who are disruptors, Clay Shirky's take on the Amazon vs. publisher fight is really worth a read. Here's one quote from it, but I encourage you to go read the whole thing.

"It used to be that if you were OK with the residents of Podunk having inferior access to books than people in Brooklyn, you were just a realist about the difficulties of making and shipping physical stuff. Now if you’re OK with that, you’re kind of an asshole. In the twenty-first century, not being able to correctly stock or distribute a product whose main ingredient is information suggests a degree of technical and managerial incompetence indistinguishable from active malice."

Speaking of access (in a sense)... Tressie McMillan Cottom's post about John Oliver's epic takedown of the for-profit college sector is simply great. As she points out, people choosing for profit colleges aren't idiots. They're people trying to solve problems and who don't have a lot of options. Taking away the crappy, sort of exploitative solution that is what the for-profit college sector seems to have become doesn't take away those people's problems.

I am dismayed by what has been happening in for-profit colleges. It seems to me that they used to serve a reasonable role: they provided trade school like education and a path to a basic college degree for working adults whose advancement was being blocked by the lack of that credential. I have worked with (and even hired) systems administrators with degrees from for-profit colleges, who got into the field via the hands on and specific training their programs provided. I have worked with administrative assistants who needed to get that degree so that they could continue to advance in our company. These people got value from those degrees.

But then the sector exploded out of control, and began to offer and aggressively market degrees that are in some cases worse than useless. I don't argue with the assessment that the industry is now dominated by companies that can be fairly described as predatory. I'd be happy to see those institutions go away. But what will take their place? Are we going to finally fund our community college system well enough to do this job? I wish we would, but I am not sanguine about our chances of doing so.

Ah, but it is the weekend. Enough ranting. Let's end with some lighter things.

OK, this is a sort of freaky thing: an artist makes animated gifs out of historical photos.

But this is just sweet:

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