Friday, April 11, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Completely Lacking in a Theme Edition

I've got no theme for my links this week. But I have some good links!

First up, Andie Fox, who writes the Blue Milk blog, had a beautiful article about grief, uncertainty, parenting, and facing your fears.

On a more prosaic but still quite important topic: if you haven't seen this post on tipping yet, you should check it out.

I love this answer to the ever popular "why do we menstruate?" question.

Somewhat related (really, it is)... cows on the internet!

There's been a lot of discussion recently about whether or not a PhD is useful if you aren't going into academia (or another field where it is generally required). Nicoleandmaggie have discussed this a couple of times recently. I came across this post from someone who left a lectureship to go into the software industry, and I think it makes a lot of good points about some of the "transferable skills" you gain in academia.

I know that my own experiences are not generalizable, since I am in a STEM field in an industry in which PhDs are fairly common. I have held jobs that require a PhD and others that do not, and I have a mix of PhDs and non-PhDs in my current group.  Still, I agree strongly with the skills that are highlighted in that post. Maybe no one's experiences are generalizable once we leave the standard career paths for our fields, because all of these "alternative" careers are so different. And maybe that is one of the things that makes transitioning out of academia and/or off the beaten path so hard- all of your life you've been following a fairly well-defined map, and now you don't have a map to use at all, and that is scary, particularly early in your career when you don't have a large network of professional contacts to help you plot a new course and a large buffer of savings to keep you in supplies while you do so.

In one of the posts over at Nicoleandmaggie's place, they replied to my comment asking what fields I'd tell a non-STEM PhD to consider. I've been thinking about that, and will include some thoughts on how to find new career options in the book I'm writing now. Some concrete ideas I've had are: People in history, classics and other fields that have probably exposed them to a lot of interesting stories could consider game design (computer or tabletop). Probably any PhD would have the basic skills needed to do technical writing. I know that there are more options out there for non-STEM PhDs wanting a non-academic career, but I haven't tried to think of them before. I'll keep thinking!

Lots of people were talking this week about the French rule against answering emails after 6 p.m. (which turned out to be a false rumor). My own husband sent an article about this to me with a note about wanting to move to France. I wrote back that he could implement that rule all on his own, no help from the government required. I was only half joking. I do not routinely check work emails after I get home. I do so when I have something specific to check on- and then I look for those emails and only those emails. Even when I was in charge of IT at a small biotech, I only checked my work emails twice per night. Granted, my IT administrator checked his more often. He and I were working on a plan to set up a rotation for who needed to be checking emails after hours when I was laid off. The plan was that we would alternate weeks, and even on our "on" weeks, we would only be expected to respond to true emergencies. (No, I don't think this plan had anything to do with my being laid off.)

Those of us in knowledge work jobs usually have more power to set boundaries on when we do our work than we think- and if you think there will be negative repercussions to setting some reasonable boundaries on after hours work in your current position, I suggest thinking about finding another position. Really! There are healthier workplaces out there. I'm not saying that we don't have a cultural problem with overwork- I'm just saying that we can usually say no more than we think we can and put at least some boundaries in place.

Which brings me to an interesting podcast I listened to about women, obligations, and our sex lives. I don't agree with everything in that podcast, but there are certainly some interesting things to think about, and I completely agree that it is OK to say "no" to work to have time for relationships. (That podcast is from the Broad Experience podcasts that Ashley Milne-Tyte puts out, and I have enjoyed several of them- I think this will be one of my "regular" podcasts. I'm finding enough interesting podcast series in my searches that I think I'll eventually do a "my favorite podcast series" post- but please do keep leaving recommendations for new podcasts in my comments!)

Let's end with a couple of lolsob comics:

xkcd explains the heartbleed bug in its usual clear and amusing style

Listen to Me and "Not All Man".

And a fun performance:

Happy weekend, everyone!


  1. Dr. Confused3:35 AM

    The company I work for is paranoid about IT security. It is therefore impossible for me to check e-mail if I am not physically on the site. It is mostly impossible for me to do any kind of work from home (exceptions are reading/editing reports, which is a small fraction of my work, and thinking about thorny problems, which I can't avoid doing). There is also generally a culture that you try hard to not call people if they are sick or on vacation, though I have received one call on vacation once. This makes a strict separation between work and home, and it is GREAT.

    I live in Germany, but my company is international. I don't know if the UK or American divisions have the same sort of culture, but they do have the same paranoid IT system.

    1. My IT environment is only slightly less paranoid- we don't have webmail. If I want to check my email, I have to get my work laptop, log into the VPN, and then check. It certainly makes me less likely to do a quick check. I had strong boundaries and personal rules about checking email at home even when I worked at a place with webmail and that allowed VPN from my home computer.

    2. Dr. Confused9:03 AM

      Only managers get company laptops, and I am a peon.I have heard that managers are more likely to take work home.

  2. Anonymous6:57 AM

    We have friends in game design... it may be more competitive than academia! The one who does tabletop seems to have a more relaxed life than the ones who do video games, but he also has a technical skill that is both necessary and rare.

    1. That doesn't surprise me. Most "cool" jobs are quite competitive. Frankly, right now, most jobs are pretty competitive.

      Another type of job to consider would be product management. It is a job where strong analytical skills and the ability to think about a lot of different streams of info and figure out what the team should do is important. You'd have to be OK with a marketing component though.

  3. Cloud, thank you for posting the link to that beautiful article by Andie Fox. I'm a frequent reader at Blue Milk, and I've always loved her writing. I found this piece particularly moving, since a colleague of my husband's recently passed away, leaving two children. Since then, my littlest has been asking a lot of questions about death. And I confess, I have such a horror of imagining my children's life without me, it never would have occurred to me to respond the way Andie did to her daughter, but see that is how to respond, and now I have a new script to rehearse in case my children ever express this fear. Pretending like bad things cannot happen does not create confident children.

  4. Anonymous10:00 AM

    Please do a post on your favorite podcasts! I would love to see more options for my own Podcast Favorites List.

  5. Hey, there! It's caramama!

    I actually started a new job last week, and the culture here is very different than my previous company (where I was for 12 years). This company is an employee-owned company, which was a totally novel concept to me. Perhaps the most major thing I've had to get used to is separating work from home--they don't provide laptops and don't usually give out Blackberries! So when I leave work, I really have been leaving work!

    Of course, it helps that as a new person my workload is pretty light right now. ;-)

    Hope all is well with you!


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