Friday, February 28, 2014


I've had a bit of a tough end to my week. I don't think I can muster a links post.

You can still go to Wednesday's post, written before my week took a precipitous nosedive, and give me advice. No one is telling me which Twitter handle I should use if I do decide to start a blog about management (I think I'd write about both project and people management if I do this). Also, where are the witty blog name ideas??? Come on, people. I can't be expected to sort these things out on my own. It is the age of crowd-sourcing!

I'm still not sure what I will do. I may do nothing with the project management ideas except for bore my friends. I may start a blog. I may even end up doing some consulting on the topic. I just don't know.

I've been going through some career angst for awhile now. There are many aspects of my current career path that I genuinely love. But there have been some pretty large costs, too. I have worked in very male-dominated fields since college, fields where I am quite often the only woman in the room. This is not all bad- I have many wonderful male friends, and I have learned a lot from many male mentors. However, as I've acclimated to my extremely male work environment, I've developed different ways of talking and interacting with people. I project more self-confidence, even when I'm not feeling it. I am more direct, even when delivering difficult news. These traits make me less likeable to some women, so I try to leave them at work. Of course, I am not completely successful at that, and I recently had a reminder of that, which I am not going to write about in detail. This is not to say that I have no female friends- I have many wonderful female friends, too. Regardless, I am more likely to feel awkward in groups of women now, because the expected behaviors no longer come completely naturally.

At the same time, I have not completely transformed my behavior to fit in with the guys at work, and I occasionally get reminded of that, too. In fact, that is part of what made the end of this week so tough. I know that some of my colleagues think the solution to the problem is for me to just "adjust to their argumentative style of discussion" or whatever behavior is causing me issues at the time. And that might indeed make my work life better. But at what cost?

Already I feel like there is no place in my life I can be my full, authentic self. In fact, I'm not even sure who my full, authentic self is anymore, and that is making me feel very unsettled and strange. I'm not sure what to do about that, either.


OK, that is a bit of a downer post for a Friday night. So here is a link to a video of bunnies jumping over things, because bunnies are cute. I am noticing a lot more bunnies on the internet these days, and I wholeheartedly approve of the diversification of the cute from just cat photos.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cloud Asks, You Give Advice

I owe an Ask Cloud post on the basics of converting a C.V. to a resume. I was going to write that this week, but do not have the time to do it justice, and I want to do it justice, because from what I can tell, no one really helps academics write a decent resume for industry. Anyway, that is the only explanation I have for some of the awful resumes I see- I know these people are smart, so I assume no one is giving them the info they need to do a good job. I promise to try to post it next week.

Instead, I want to as you all for advice/opinions. I'm going to give you a real life decision I am trying to make and see what you think I should do. And then I'm going to go to bed and then disappear into an all day technical meeting tomorrow, about which I just tweeted:

And let you have at it in my comments section. I'll check in tomorrow night!

So here is my dilemma:

I have lots and lots of ideas about how to apply some of the project management techniques I have learned in software project management to lab work- particularly to research-y work, where people usually tell me that project management "won't work." I think a lab could take some of these techniques, experiment a bit to find the best way to use them in that particular environment, and get more productive, while the people worked fewer hours and were less stressed.

But I currently have no scope to explore these ideas at my job, and trust me- there will never be any scope for me to explore these ideas at my current job. That is fine, and not meant to disparage my job or my particular company, it is just a statement of how it is.

I've tried to put the ideas aside and just focus on refining my techniques for my current position, which involves developing scientific software.

But I can't. I want to tell the world about my ideas and see if they help or not. If they don't help, fine- but I really want to know that, and to think about why. What can I say? I'm a bit of a management geek. Anyway, I'm trying to decide how to get my ideas out there within the constraints in my situation, which are:
  1. No paying side gigs at my current job without executive committee approval. I am not kidding. I even have to get my children's books approved before I publish them, which amuses me so much that I may try to sneak something about drug discovery into a future story just to see what happens. I have an offer on the table to write about project management for another site, and I have been trying for months and months to get approval, and have not yet succeeded. I am beginning to think I may never succeed.
  2. However, my understanding of California law is that they can't really limit what I do on my own time for free, as long as I don't break any non-disclosure agreements I've signed. (Frankly, my understanding is that they are on shaky ground on #1, but I don't really want to find out in a court of law.)
  3. I make more than half of my family's income, and we cannot afford for me to just quit my job and pursue a new career in research project management. Anyway, there are almost no jobs in research project management in my area of scientific expertise- we don't tend to bring project management in until development phase.
Given that, my ideas are:
  1.  Try to line up a paying engagement as a consultant (in any capacity), then quit my job and pursue leads for consulting with scientists on project management. The downsides of this option are that my best leads for consultant work are people I know through my current job, and we are all skittish about me leaving my current job and going directly to one of them. Also, I am not at all convinced that any scientists would hire me to give them advice on project management- it has been close to 20 years since I was in a wet lab, and scientists tend to be convinced that only someone with recent experience in a field almost exactly identical to their own could possibly give them any ideas about how to run their research. I completely understand this impulse- a lot of people come in with no real understanding of how research works and make truly ridiculous pronouncements about "what scientists should do" and how are they to know I am any different?
  2. Start writing about my project management ideas here on Wandering Scientist. The downsides of this are that I don't currently associate my real name directly with this blog, and I'd like these ideas out there attached to my real name. Also, I don't want to stop writing about all of the other random things I write about, and I think that might dilute the project management message.
  3. Start writing about my project management ideas on a new blog. The downsides of this are that I think I could only manage to post once or twice per month, which might not be frequent enough to build an audience. Could I really keep THREE blogs going? I'm not sure, and I don't want to abandon this blog or Tungsten Hippo. Also, I'd need to come up with a new blog name and I suck at naming things. If I go with this option, I think I'd link to posts on New Blog here, much like I do with Tungsten Hippo. I don't mind having my name peripherally associated with this blog now, perhaps because I have stopped caring so much if the dudes in my industry decide I'm unhireable. This may not be the smartest thing, but it is true. I have no idea what I'd do about Twitter, though. I did snag a handle that would work for my real name way back before I even set up the @wandsci account. But I really don't think I want to try to run three twitter feeds, so maybe I'd acknowledge both blogs on @wandsci? Would I link to the @wandsci twitter feed from New Blog? I don't know. I find thinking through all the ramifications of this option a bit headache-inducing, really.
So, brilliant internet friends: what do you think I should do? Which option should I choose- or do you see another option I haven't listed here? Tell me what to do! I don't promise to take your advice, but I promise to read it all.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Earn It

I have a friend who is facing a frustrating situation at work. She is smart, competent, and extremely good at her job, but a couple of her colleagues are not treating her with respect, and their mutual boss is insisting that she just needs to "earn their respect."

This is, of course, impossible, since her colleagues have decided not to respect her, and choose not to see the awesome work she is doing. I do not know why they do not respect her, but it is probably a combination of gender bias and discipline-related arrogance (they are in a discipline that considers itself "harder" than hers). I ran into a similar situation once, early in my career, and I am still convinced there is no real solution, and that if you find yourself in a situation like this you should just start a job search. (If anyone out there has figured out how to turn a situation like this around, please share in the comments.)

This sort of situation, though, is my answer to the people who ask me why I default to respecting everyone. In general, I respect people and assume they are smart and competent until they thoroughly demonstrate otherwise. I know many, many people in science and tech who do the exact opposite: they assume people are stupid/incompetent until they prove otherwise. They do not understand my approach and think I am a hopeless Pollyanna, fated to waste untold hours on unworthy people.

This has not been my experience, but even if it were, I would stick to my method of requiring people to lose my respect rather than earn it.

The reason is simple. Who suffers in the case of a mistake? I would rather pay for my mistaken impressions myself, not project the cost of my mistakes onto someone else.

Also, although all of the people I know who insist that others earn their respect are sure that they are unbiased in the application of their rule, it doesn't look that way to me. They are blind to their own implicit biases, which include scientific/technical discipline as well as the usual gender, race, and sexuality biases. I see that people who are not straight white men usually have to work harder to earn respect, and that people working in disciplines perceived as "softer" or "easier" may never be able to earn the respect of their peers in the "harder" disciplines.

And that doesn't even consider the ways in which women and people of color are penalized in this respect-earning competition for behaviors that are completely fine- or even respected!- in white men.

It also doesn't consider the way in which having to continually earn respect can have a disproportionately discouraging effect on members of marginalized groups, who have probably been told all of their life that they aren't meant to be doing whatever it is they are doing. Trust me, the effect of having to constantly prove yourself is like stereotype threat on steroids. I recently joked to my husband that for a woman in tech, the message is: "you aren't as good as the boys, girls don't do this, you aren't as good as the men, you're good at this... for a girl, if you were really good we'd know, this is a meritocracy so if you aren't at the top you don't belong there, if you haven't been coding since you're 13 you can't be any good" until one day the message is "your problem is that you don't have enough self-confidence!" It is crazy making, and I want no part in subjecting anyone else to that nonsense.

I know myself well enough to know that I still have plenty of implicit biases lurking in my subconscious. It is far safer and fairer and just nicer to assume everyone is worthy of my respect until they do something to lose it. Also, I feel better about myself this way.

But of course, saying this is one of the things that makes some of the guys I work with respect me less. Because, of course, REAL scientists/tech people make other people earn their respect.


In other news, this week's Tungsten Hippo post is about steampunk, inspired in part by a recent incident in which a local steampunk group was asked to leave a mall. At first I thought this had nothing to do with today's post, but I actually think it is part of the same theme- it is better to give people the benefit of the doubt. And I'm going to do that and assume that the mall guards wish they had given the steampunk group the benefit of the doubt, and feel a bit foolish now that they know what steampunk is.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Great Links, No Theme Edition

I have some great links this week, but no unifying theme. So let's get straight to the links:

Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates both wrote powerful pieces about the Jordan Davis case.

The last line of Eugene Robinson's article is particularly poignant:

"We don’t just have to change laws. We have to change hearts and minds."

This is the work we white people need to do. We need to change the assumption that so many of us seem to have that a young black man must be up to no good.

And make no mistake, this is our work.

I was thinking of this when I read an article from Clementine Ford about what it means to be "decent." Which then made me remember the awesome take down of sexism from another Australian, which I have posted here before, but am going to post again because it is just that awesome:

The standard under which innocent young men can be shot for listening to loud music or walking home from the convenience store is not a standard I am willing to accept, so I can not walk past the lazy and incorrect stereotype of young black men as dangerous. I must confront it and change it.

I don't know what more to say.

I also don't know quite how to describe this short post about 2700 years of female silence, but you should go read it, anyway.

Greg Knauss wrote an app called Romantimatic and a lot of people apparently hated it. His reaction to that is awesome, and thought-provoking.

I really liked this HBR post from Jules Pieri about being an "older" entrepreneur.

I had a classic yak-shaving experience earlier this week when I set out to close one open story in our project, so this post on yak-shaving made me smile.

This also made me smile:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Now That the Dust Has Settled: Post-Move Logistics Update

I think it is time to update my strangely popular series of posts on the day-to-day logistics here in the Cloud-Snarky household. (Hmmm... I should perhaps turn that order around and have it be the Snarky-Cloud household, and make Snarky Cloud the name of my next band...)

Anyway, I promised I'd update once we'd settled into a routine after my company moved. Well, my company moved in December, so I think it is time to acknowledge that this is my new routine.

First, the details of what changed:

My old office was roughly 11 miles from my home. Google maps tells me that it would take me 15 minutes to drive there right now, and that was indeed roughly what my morning commute was most days. Some days traffic would be a little worse, and my morning commute would take 20 minutes. On a really bad traffic day (i.e., rain, an accident, the stupid golf tournament) it could take 30 minutes. I do not think my morning commute ever took more than 30 minutes.

My evening commutes were harder, because the traffic getting out of the area in which I worked was truly horrendous. I dealt with this by shifting my schedule such that my commute home (after picking up Petunia from day care) was roughly 20 to 30 minutes and it reliably took less than 10 minutes toget to day care. On Thursdays, I did not pick Petunia up (Mr. Snarky did, so I could go home and exercise) and the drive was reliably 20 minutes. On a really bad traffic day (heavy rain, accident requiring lane closures, some jackass setting fires in the freeway median), the commute could be as long as 45 minutes- but that was rare.

My new office is roughly 15 miles from my home and requires more non-freeway driving. However (and this is the saving grace), there is not usually much traffic. After much experimentation, I have found routes that make my drive to and from work take 30 minutes most days. I'd estimate I get a 30 minute drive to work 4/5 days per week and a 30 minute drive home 3/5 days per week. The other days, something random happens somewhere along the route (today, it was a stalled school bus on the surface street I take from the freeway to my neighborhood) and my drive takes roughly 45 minutes. It has rained once since we moved to the new office (yeah, we're in a severe drought), and that day, it took me 1 hour and 10 minutes to drive home, even though I left a little early. Mr. Snarky cannot be relied upon to leave early when it rains, so he and Petunia also got home late- very late. Our entire routine was messed up and everyone was grumpy. It was a really rough evening. I think that if it had been raining the next morning, I might have quit my job.

The other thing that has changed in this new configuration is that my work is now nowhere near day care. Driving between work and day care takes roughly 20 minutes and is out of my way, so if I drop Petunia off, the drive to work takes an hour. Therefore, Mr. Snarky does most day care drop offs and pick ups and I take Pumpkin to and from school (which is 2.5 blocks from our house). On days when Mr. Snarky has an early meeting, Petunia watches TV until his meeting is done and he can drive her to day care. I am not thrilled about this, but it doesn't happen often, so I've made my peace with it.

So, with that long preamble out of the way, here is the new routine:

The Base Weekday Schedule

Both grown ups get up at 6:20, unless Petunia has woken up earlier. If she has, I get up with her most times, because by the time I wake Mr. Snarky up to get up with her, I am awake already. I use the time to catch up on blogs, so I only half-resent the early wake up. I'm staying up later at night for reasons I have not analyzed, so the old routine of getting up at 5:55 for a short run has been dropped.

Petunia almost always gets up as soon as I get up (another reason to drop my attempts to get up early). I wake Pumpkin up at about 6:45 if she hasn't gotten up earlier.

We all have breakfast, the grown ups shower, everyone gets dressed... the usual morning stuff. We all leave the house together sometime between 7:40 and 7:50. I walk Pumpkin to school. This takes me about 20 minutes, round trip, because although the gate to her school is only 2.5 blocks away, the room her before-school program is in is literally as far from the gate as it could possibly be, which is the equivalent of another block and a half. Also, there's sign in, etc., etc. But I like this 20 minutes, and driving her would only reduce it down to maybe 12 minutes... so now I walk. Mr. Snarky drives Petunia to day care. Since he works around the corner from where I used to work, I suspect it takes him 30 minutes or less (15-20 minutes to day care, 5 minute drop off- day care is far more efficient at this than the school program is, 10 minute drive to work).

We work/go to school/play at day care all day. I leave at 4:30, get home between 5 and 5:15, and walk to pick up Pumpkin. Then I make dinner. Mr. Snarky leaves at 5, picks up Petunia, and is home by 6, when we eat dinner. He refuses to time shift as much as I did (he likes his lunch breaks too much), so he spends more time in traffic than I used to.

I usually do work-related reading while I eat my lunch, and take a 20 minute walk most days at lunch time. One day per week (usually Tuesday or Wednesday), I have a short workout in the company gym instead of the walk. The new building includes a decent little gym. I wasn't going to use it (I am a manager, and female, and a little heavier than I'd like... and either you get why or you don't, maybe I'll explain further in a future post), but then they installed a really nice heavy bag and I decided "screw it, I want to hit that." So I spent roughly 30 minutes figuring out an acceptable work workout outfit (again, either you get this or you don't...) and now I go hit/kick the heavy bag for ~15 minutes once per week. With cool down, changing and showers, this takes 40 minutes. I may be able to shave that down to 30 with practice.

(Aside: I will someday write a post about the reactions of the men I work with to learning that I like to kickbox and/or to seeing me hit and kick the bag and realizing that I really meant kickbox and not cardiobox. But this post is already too long and I'm only up to lunch time.)

On Mondays, we both leave work a little early (4:15 for me, 4:30 for Mr. Snarky) and pick up our assigned kids for swim lesson. Mr. Snarky picks up Petunia, changes her at day care, and drives to swim lesson. I pick up Pumpkin, bring her home to change (it is on the way), and then drive to swim lesson. I drop Pumpkin off, and then drive home and make dinner. Mr. Snarky stays with the girls and they get home at about 6:20.

On Thursdays, I go for a jog by Mission Bay. Except for that awful Thursday when it rained, when I came home and did a dance workout in my garage. This is made possible by the fact that we pay our Chinese teacher to go pick up Pumpkin, walk her home, and give her an hour long Chinese lesson. Pumpkin loves this part of the new routine. The downside is that there is no flexibility- I get my workout time on Thursday, and if it is raining, well, I can figure something out. There is no just switching the workout to the next day.

On Fridays, Mr. Snarky leaves work at about 4:15, picks up Petunia, and takes her to soccer. They get home at about 6:30. I come home at the usual time, and make dinner. We almost always have Boboli pizzas on Fridays because I am just done with real cooking by then. Most Fridays, I have to give myself a pep talk just to make a green salad to go with the pizza.

If there is time after dinner, we play/read/fall down internet rabbit holes, as our fancy takes us. At about 7 p.m., the kids have bath. We alternate nights giving bath. The grown up not giving bath works/blogs/takes the trash out/does the finances/whatever.

After bath, I give the kids snack and make the next day's lunch for myself and part of the lunch for Pumpkin (Mr. Snarky makes the rest in the morning). I pack a snack for Petunia who insists on taking "lunch" and eating it as soon as she gets to day care.

After snack, the kids watch a show or we play a game or they just play- it varies. Then at about 8:15, Mr. Snarky gets their teeth brushed and we each get one kid to sleep. This involves reading stories, and if you are getting Petunia to sleep, lying in bed with your back to her while she "snuggles" (a.k.a. "gently kicks") your back. I read short stories or tweets during this time. Mr. Snarky sleeps. The parent who got Pumpkin to sleep (read her stories, kiss her goodnight, turn on music, spray "monster spray"- i.e., Febreeze- and leave) does the dishes.

Then the grown ups work, blog, read, watch TV, play video games... whatever.

I try to go to bed at 10:30, but usually don't get to bed until 11, as you'll confirm by checking the timestamp on this post. I have no idea when Mr. Snarky comes to bed most nights, because I am usually asleep.


We continue to have Friday Night Beers. That is sacrosanct.

Gymnastics is now at 9, which sucks for me sleeping in (i.e., I don't get to) but is great for leaving us more family time in the day. I usually take the kids to gymnastics and Mr. Snarky stays home and does laundry.

Every other week, we also have a 30 minute Chinese lesson for both kids. That is sometimes on Saturdays after lunch and sometimes on Sunday mornings.

I sleep in (sometimes until 8! or 8:30!) most Sundays. If our schedule permits, Mr. Snarky goes for a run once I get up, while I sit around and drink tea and write. The kids play and interrupt me roughly every 15 minutes.

I do the grocery shopping Sunday afternoons. Usually.

We plan out our weekend during Friday Night Beers, and try to always include at least one "family fun" thing, which ranges from a trip to the park to a trip to Legoland to riding a ridiculous bike around Coronado.

We do a lot of chores on weekends. Or at least Mr. Snarky does, because he refuses to pay someone else to do our garden work. I haven't been able to determine if this is because he actually enjoys the gardening or if it is another one of his weird "I can do it so I shouldn't pay someone else to do it" things.

Mr. Snarky cooks dinner on the weekends. We usually have my sister around for dinner one night (or sometimes go to her place for dinner instead). We sometimes have other people over, too.

And that's it. The sick kid routine is unchanged. Petunia gets sick less often now, although she did just get sent home with a fever today. She is also more willing to let the grown up who stays home do a little work- particularly if that grown up is Mr. Snarky. She likes me to "snuggle" her on the sofa (which again means "let her put her feet on me") and I like to sit and keep her company, so I don't argue too much.


So, what do I think of the new routine? I'm not sure. I love walking Pumpkin to and from school, but I miss picking Petunia up and watching her play soccer.  I don't care for the longer commute at all. I know that it is not long by many people's standards, but... we sacrificed a bit on both space and neighborhood to buy a house in a location where our commute wouldn't be too long. Now I have the smaller house and the more boring neighborhood, and I still have a long commute. I'd be lying if I said this didn't annoy me. I also hate the ever-present risk of a much longer commute. I always allow 45 minutes for the commute, and I think that I'll need to allow at least 1 hour 15 minutes on rainy days.

I'm not sure what I'll do. I like my job, and I would not be able to find another similar job right now. So I am trying to decide how much, exactly, I hate the commute. It feels like I drive for such a long time, and it feels like wasted time. I've tried audiobooks, but I don't like them. There is not a lot of traffic, but there is some traffic, and I kept missing important bits when I had to focus more intently on the road. Also, I like to highlight while I read, and you can't highlight an audiobook. I might try podcasts next, but right now, I'm just listening to music I like and trying to enjoy the drive.

I dislike Mondays the most, because I leave work at 4:15, and don't get home to stay at 5:30, and must then start dinner almost right away. We're considering having me stay and watch swim lessons (which would be fun!) one or two times per month, and then going out to eat afterwards. This scrunches our bath/bedtime routine, so it is not without cost. But it might help make Mondays less unpleasant.

So what do you all think? Am I just being a commuting wimp? Anyone with a long commute want to suggest ways to make it less sucky? Other suggestions for optimizing my routine? Want to share the best/worst parts of your routine? Just say hi? Leave me comments!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Our Role in Solving the Problems We See

This week's Tungsten Hippo post is more like what I write here than most. It is about why I have a problem with solutions to society's problems that start with "they should just...." It is long by Tungsten Hippo standards, but short by Wandering Scientist standards, so I hope you'll all go over and read it.

It was interesting to notice the difference between writing a post like that for Tungsten Hippo versus writing it to post here. Even though my audience here is much bigger, I think I took more care writing the post for Tungsten Hippo, perhaps because I do not know my audience there as well. That is a bit ridiculous, because I of course have no control over who reads my posts regardless of where I publish them. But being ridiculous doesn't make it any less true.

Since I spent so much time agonizing over word choice on my Tungsten Hippo post, I don't have much more to write here. The verdict in the Dunn trial in Florida reminded me of the post I wrote after George Zimmerman was found not guilty. The essential point remains: we white people have skewed perceptions of black people, and those perceptions are all too often deadly for innocent people. It is our responsibility to fix this.

Once again, I would rather point people to things written by others than try to say anything meaningful myself.

Paul Campos' writes in Salon about the role of Stand Your Ground laws in this travesty. This actually links back to my Tungsten Hippo post- if you are looking for something concrete you can do to make things safer for young black men (and indeed, for everyone) in this country, working to overturn Stand Your Ground laws would be a good place to start.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is his usual eloquent self.

Stacia L. Brown wrote a brilliant and sad essay.

The #DangerousBlackKids hashtag juxtaposes beautiful kids with the ignorant stereotypes they will face as they get older.

Please feel free to leave more reading suggestions in the comments.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weekend Reading: The I Am Not Broken Edition

I almost wrote a post on Thursday about how great I felt. I had spent two or three weeks feeling really run down and then 10 days with a slightly unsettled stomach thanks to antibiotics. No one really took the run down feeling all that seriously, including me for the first couple of weeks. We all assume that a working mother of two young kids should of course feel exhausted. But that is not normal for me. I am normally a fairly high energy and happy person. After a week and a half, I finally was worried enough to contact my doctor, who ordered a bunch of tests. Those came back normal, so once again everyone- including me- was willing to just drop it and assume I was just tired. But then I got a weak symptom that made me wonder if I had a urinary tract infection. I made a doctor's appointment for the next day and found out I was right. After two days on the antibiotic I felt energetic again.

Moral of the story: I need to take myself more seriously. I knew deep down that there was no reason I should feel so completely exhausted, but I was still happy to go along with the standard narrative that I was just tired because I work and have kids and have such a busy life.

(The other moral of the story is that I need to do a better job of remembering that I am prone to "silent" UTIs since having kids...)

So anyway, I am not broken. This week's links are further affirmation of that, in various ways:

Anita Bell argues that we should stop trying to teach women to be more assertive in meetings and the like and start trying to teach men to shut up and listen more often.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox argues that we should stop trying to fix women in the workplace and start trying to fix managers.

Vivek Wadwha points out that the cutesy brainteasers some tech companies like to use while hiring and the over-reliance on employee referrals contribute to under-representation of women in their workforce.

Company culture matters, and it is hard to fix once it is broken. I argue this a lot when talking to other people about why management matters. Seemingly small management decisions can shape the culture.

This was apparently the week that the Harvard Business Review vindicated me, because it also published a story about how planning ahead for a vacation makes the vacation more relaxing.

My last two links don't follow my theme, but I want to share them anyway:

Ariel Waldman's Pastry Box post about getting adults involved in science is very thought provoking. I recommend it for all the scientists in my audience. I don't think I agree with her completely, but she makes some really good points and there's a lot to think about in that essay.

And I love this tumblr of Chicago Dibs.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ask Cloud: Making Space for Blogging

It is time for another Ask Cloud post! This one comes from an anonymous reader, whose kind words in her question make me blush:

"I enjoy your blog a lot. I am also a working mother (to a toddler), who has a blog that I write for both personal and professional enrichment. I was wondering if you could get a bit "meta" for any readers who may be interested in this sort of thing, and share a bit about how you fit blogging into your life. What specific purposes and benefits (on a day to day basis) does blogging serve for you? And more to the point (for me), how on earth do you balance all of the things you blog about (motherhood, being a wife, being a person who enjoys doing fun things, and being a professional with both main projects for your job and side projects like writing books and creating websites -- all awesome, btw!) -- how do you balance a full and enriching life (including working motherhood), with the time and space needed to reflect, process, and then write about all of it, in a consistent and regular manner, as you do here on your blog? I am amazed at this balance you strike, and I was wondering if you could address it specifically for those of us who also blog, wish to blog, or are just interested in process-related things like this. Any tips or strategies you can offer about this would be awesome. Thanks in advance! 
--Wants To Blog More and Better"

I think the easiest way to answer this is to break it down into two parts.

What specific purposes and benefits does blogging serve for me?

Blogging is a lot of different things for me, and different aspects are more important at different times. 

Probably the most important thing blogging gives me is a place to work through my thoughts and feelings about things in my life. This has no doubt kept me out of therapy once or twice (particularly in the early days of motherhood), and is also probably a good thing for my marriage. I'm the type that needs to really work through big decisions and issues, and writing about them helps me do that without boring my husband to tears when I want to discuss the same damn thing for the 500th time. This is not to say that I don't discuss the things I write about with Mr. Snarky- I do. But sometimes I'll take a crack at figuring something out in my blog first, and then discuss it with him. And then maybe write about it again. And then discuss it with him again. Examples of this are some of my career angsty posts.

Blogging (and writing in general) is also a way to use the creative parts of my brain. For years, music filled that role, but once the kids came along, I struggled to make the time to do music well enough to enjoy it, whereas I somehow manage to fit writing in around the edges. 

I also really like the community of readers/commenters, Twitter friends, and other bloggers I have found online. I learn a lot, and have also found kindred spirits that can be hard to find when you work in a field as male-dominated as mine is. 

Given all of this, I think blogging has evolved into something that I consider to be important for keeping me sane and happy, so I don't feel bad prioritizing it as something I do.

How do I balance all the things I blog about with the time to think about and write blog posts?

This one had me stumped for awhile. The glib answer is that I prioritize blogging, so it gets done. That is true, and important- but it is far from a complete answer. Maybe the better answer is that blogging helps make more space in my brain, so I see it as a useful thing to do, and will stay up late (sometimes!) or skip a game or two of Go Fish (again, sometimes!) to get time to blog.

But maybe what you really want to know is: once you've decided that you want to prioritize blogging, how do you fit it in?

This will probably be different for different people, but here are the some practical suggestions I have:

1. I carry a small notebook with me at all times. If something is bothering me or I am trying to work through an issue, snippets of text about it or just a rough outline of the things I need to cover will often come to me at random times during my day. As soon as I can, I take out my notebook, and write them down. Then I go back to whatever I'm supposed to be doing. I don't feel bad about doing this at work, because once I write the distracting thoughts down, they go away, and I can concentrate again. Also, I have the same thing happen with work problems, and I'll stop what I'm doing at home and write down my ideas for those, too. I figure it balances out.

2. I don't watch a lot of TV, so the time after the kids are in bed is prime blogging time for me. You'll note that I don't blog every night, though. That is because I like to spend time with Mr. Snarky, too. Sometimes we even watch TV- but I almost never watch it on my own. If you want to blog, pick a time when you can get 30-60 minutes uninterrupted and use that.

Recently, Sunday mornings have evolved into prime writing time for me. Mr. Snarky usually goes out for a run, and is gone for 1-2 hours. The kids are usually happy to play together with only occasional help from me. I make a big pot of tea, catch up on my blog reader and Twitter, and then write something. Sometimes, I work on the kids' story that I have in progress, but more often, I blog.

3. I keep a "blog ideas" list that I can access anywhere (I use Workflowy, but a plain Google Doc would work, too). I like to keep this electronically, so I can search and so that it can be reorganized easily. I will often jot down an outline of ideas for a post in addition to the topic or title.

4. We plan out our weekends, and one advantage of that is that I know we'll always have some good family time, so I don't feel like I have to devote all non-chores time to the kids. They'll get their time from me- I can also take time for myself. The side projects get scheduled into our weekend plans, just like "regular" work would if I needed/wanted to do that. I occasionally schedule in time specifically to blog, particularly if I feel like I haven't written much lately. I don't find that I need to schedule in time to blog that much, though. This is probably because I tend to write posts either because there is something I just HAVE to work through (in which case I'll stay up late to get the post written, because I know I'll sleep better for having done so) or because I feel like writing and don't have anything more pressing to do. In the latter case, I can go to my list of blog ideas and pick one rather than wasting time casting about for something to write.

5. I don't have high expectations for myself. I would find trying to keep a rigorous posting schedule stressful, and that would probably make me blog less. Blogging works for me because I enjoy it and can do it on my own terms. I do have a schedule over on Tungsten Hippo, but in that case I have structured things so that the posts I intend to make every week (the new book recommendation and the new quote) are easy to do- I just pull from a list- and the blog posts that are a bit harder I am OK with skipping some weeks.

Perhaps the general principle here is to look at what you can realistically do, and structure your hobby or side project in such a way that it can get done in the time you have and still be a fun thing, rather than yet another thing that stresses you out.

I hope that helps. If I didn't cover the aspects you wanted, let me know, and I can try again in the comments or another post.

Readers- do you have any tips for making the time and mental space for blogging? Or do you feel like talking about what blogging brings to your life? Do so in the comments.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Looking for the Guideposts

This week's Tungsten Hippo blog post is a short one with a few ideas for sci-fi and fantasy ebooks to read for Valentine's Day if you, like me, prefer a low key celebration.

In other bookish news, I recently read Cutting for Stone,by Abraham Verghese, which I suppose proves that I do still read things that aren't short- there are many adjectives you can apply to this book, but short is not one of them.

I really liked the book. It is a vast story, in all of the best ways. I do not have the time or energy to write up a comprehensive review, but I definitely recommend it. One thing it does really well is convey the randomness of life and the idea that this means we should love and appreciate the good that comes our way to our fullest capacity. I highlighted one quote that seemed particularly apt:

"It seems we humans never learn. And so we relearn the lesson every generation and then want to write epistles. We proselytize to our friends and shake them by the shoulders and tell them, "Seize the day! What matters is this moment!" Most of us can't go back and make restitution. We can't do a thing about our should haves and our could haves."

This message came at a good time in my life. I am not liking my new commute. I outright hated the commute when it rained one day last week. I am struggling to overcome a combination of my own insecurities and other people's egos at work, and between that and the commute, I find myself dreading the start of each week. I am genuinely torn about what my next step should be.


There are beautiful sunsets when I walk Pumpkin home from school.

Not shown: 6 year old skipping home from school
Petunia is loving life right now. She throws herself into her activities with such a huge smile on her face that you can't help but smile, too, when you see her.

Pumpkin is growing so much, physically, mentally, and even emotionally. I am a bit in awe of the things she can do now, and feel so privileged to get to watch this growth up close.

Every day I spend with my family is a gift. It is one of those sappy truisms that really is profoundly true. As Varghese observes, truly knowing and living this is something that we cannot be taught, we have to learn it for ourselves. Others can give us hints and point out the guideposts, but we have to find our way to them on our own.

Petunia insisted on steering without help. My job was to push the accelerator.
I feel like I am halfway to the path right now. Reading Cutting for Stone when I did pointed me in the right direction. I can see where I want to be. I just need to find the last few guideposts.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Weekend Reading: Getting Real about Work Edition

This week I came across an unusually large number of great posts and articles about work, so of course I decided to make that the theme of my links post. Here you go, a bunch of links that get real about work:

First up, Dynamic Ecology takes on the idea that you have to work 80 hour weeks to succeed in academia. I have not been in academia since grad school, so I can't add my own opinion about how long you "need" to work in academia, but I agree that even people who charge hours and have every incentive in the world to work as many hours as possible rarely put in anything close to 80 hour weeks. I have written before about how when I had a period as a contractor in which I was paid extra for hours over 40 and I actually tried to work as many hours as I could, I maxed out at about 55 hours per week. It was during a period of my life when I wanted to make extra money and had few true commitments outside work. There was plenty to do on the project, but we had a strict ethics code about what counted as chargeable hours... and I just could not get to more than 55. These days, I work between 35 and 45 hours most weeks.

If you are curious how many hours per week you actually work, you can try time tracking. Laura Vanderkam has an article in Fast Company with a list of apps that can help with that. (I use Toggl.)

I really liked this Inside Higher Ed  article by Matt Reed about how changes in the work environment impact higher education.

And over at the Chronicle's Vitae site, Jacqui Shine has a nice article about how loving your work is specific to the upper classes.

Someone on Twitter shared this awesome post walking through math explaining why women in male-dominated fields experience more sexism than their male peers- even if men aren't more sexist. If you only read one of my links this week, make it this one. I can't believe this math never occurred to me before.

Several people shared the Atlantic article debunking the idea that women's productivity is necessarily lower when they have kids. It is interesting (if limited) data, but something bugged me about the article. I haven't been able to really put my finger on what. Maybe one of you can! Or maybe you'll all love it.

Derek Lowe posted a discussion about being overqualified for a job. I haven't read all the comments. I will say, though, that my perspective as a hiring manager is that I'll consider senior people for my junior positions. I think that in general, your case will be greatly helped if you can write a cover letter that convinces the hiring manager/committee that you see this job as more than a stop gap until you can find something better.

Nicoleandmaggie posted their meeting pet peeves. Surprisingly few people know how to run a good meeting, which is evident from the number of pet peeves in the post and the comments!

I came across a particularly apt quote this week.

An my obligatory funny at the end is the conference call in real life:

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

On Productivity

I had a doctor's appointment this morning. My doctor's office and work are in opposite directions from my house, so I worked from home until it was time to go to the appointment. This gave me a little extra time in the morning,and I decided to walk Pumpkin the couple of blocks to school rather than drive her there. It was delightful. She told me all about the things they do on Tuesdays at school and I could focus on what she was saying rather than buckling her into a seat, finding a parking spot, unbuckling her, etc., etc. The route to school includes a short stretch with a beautiful view down to Mission Bay and out to the ocean, and we both remarked on how clear and crisp it was today, after the rain we had yesterday.

I don't know why I don't walk her to school everyday. I already walk to pick her up most days. That seems more acceptable, though, because I'm stealing minutes from our home routine, not from work. As I walked back to my house this morning, I thought about that distinction, and decided that it is BS. I might be five minutes later to work everyday if I walk Pumpkin to school. So what? Why is it OK to be five minutes later to making dinner but not five minutes later to work?

Don't get me wrong: I know I can get a lot done in five minutes. In fact, making good use of the little bits of time in your work day is one of the things I recommend in Taming the Work Week.

But I've grown disillusioned with how we talk about productivity these days. This might seem like a strange thing for me to say, since I write so much about productivity. However, I am not disillusioned with productivity, just with how we talk about it. We talk about being productive as if that is the ultimate goal in life.

That is not how I think of productivity at all. To me, being productive is the means by which I can achieve my ultimate goal, which is to live a happy life, in which I have the time and money to pursue the many various things that interest me.

I am not independently wealthy, so I need to work to earn the money part of that equation. I am lucky that the substance of my work involves some of the things that interest me, but there are many other things that interest me. Like my children. And travel. And writing. And short ebooks. And music. And baking. And... the list could go on and on.

I've written before about how I view my life as something to build out of the various blocks of my interests. Some of the blocks produce money. I care about productivity so that those blocks don't squeeze out all of the others.

So much of what I see written about productivity seems to focus on doing more, more, more, always more work, whereas I'm more interested in doing the same amount in less time.

I know that rising productivity is an indicator of a healthy economy, and I understand why. I wonder sometimes, though, if we are forgetting that our measures are just markers for what we should really care about- which to me is giving everyone the opportunity to lead the best and happiest life possible. I remember when Bhutan announced it was going to focus on increasing its Gross National Happiness more than its Gross National Product. A lot of what I read about it in the Western press was bemused at best, and condescending at worst, but I've always been intrigued by the idea. What if we're optimizing on the wrong indicator? Can we find a better indicator to use?

I am not an economist or a philosopher, and am still working to learn all the fundamental concepts I'd need to understand to really tackle those questions. I think they are important, though.  I look at what is happening in our economy right now, and I see workers pushed to be ever more productive, and the rewards of that increased productivity largely going elsewhere. Is that because we're optimizing our policies on the wrong thing?

We may be seeing the beginning of this discussion in the wake of the Congressional Budget Office's estimate on the impact of Obamacare on jobs (somewhere in this report but here is the NY Times article on it). While some pundits worried about "lost jobs," Adam Weinstein at Gawker and Matt Yglesias at Slate both discussed a different interpretation: that people might start choosing to arrange their lives differently when they no longer require a full time job for health benefits. I personally think it if the threat of losing health care is the only thing keeping someone in a "standard" 40 hour week job, then it is a good thing if they get the freedom to choose differently. Maybe our workplaces will even learn to adapt, and start offering workers better options.

I would really like to see that happen, both for myself and for others. Right now, if I want to work fewer hours in my current line of work my only real option is to become an independent contractor. I'd like to have more options, even if I might ultimately decide to stick to a 40 hour week. I would like to work towards a world where we all have more options. In the meantime, I think I'll walk my daughter to school more often. Work can wait a few extra minutes for me.