Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Flux Capacity

It's been a year on the job at this point. I'm actually kind of embarrassed that I haven't been keeping up this blog. It's been an interesting ride over the last year. I will attempt to relay some of what happened here for those who wonder what that first year outside the ivory tower might be like. However, I fear this is going to end up being one of those stories with lots of flashbacks to come. The excuse I have is that I wanted the blog to maintain generally positive overtones and that requires calming down after blow ups and waiting to see how things work out.

The biggest event that occurred over the last year is that we got a new director. The only one was removed in what can only be described as an exhibit of academic politics (very nearly) at its worst. Anyway, the director who started this whole party left and a new one was found. This process took awhile during which the second in command was running the show. If you were to look up traits of the worst bosses, Number Two would have nearly all of them. Ze does not deal well with stress. I nearly resigned a couple of times but decided to wait it out and see how the new Big Giant Head worked out.

New Big Giant Head was picked with minimal issues. BGH used to work in politics and became our director based mostly on the network ze had and ze's ability to come up with potential opportunities. We were understandably curious (or trepidatious) how this would work. It was a little rough at first. BGH was a bit shocked by the amount of petty politics in academia and how stupidly things are run. Ze still hasn't adjusted to all of it but is developing an interesting sense of resigned humor about it.

Shortly after BGH came on board, ze was approached about a project. I'll call it Project Insanity. This project is in my former academic field, so I essentially became the subject matter expert. It began with just a feasibility analysis. Then it grew…and grew…and grew. Now we're talking about large construction projects, line items in state budgets, and strategic plans. You can imagine why I call it Project Insanity. We're getting stakeholders together these days and it seems that everyone assumes I will be the director of Project Insanity, should it come to fruition. I'm not prepared for this and quite frankly, it's nervewrackingly terrifying.

During the evolution of Project Insanity from amoebic feasibility study to full-blown multicellular apex terror, my position in the center seems to have morphed from data analyst to something closer to a project manager. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

In the middle of all that, I applied for the U's MA in statistics. The reasoning behind this is that, if I want to go into data analytics, a degree in stats might be helpful. My degree in social science seems to baffle people. So, a stats degree may be more helpful. And, as a U employee, I wouldn't pay tuition. But now I may end up being the Director of Project Insanity and, while stats would likely be helpful in that, I'm not sure if my energy would be better spent elsewhere.

Oh, and BF and I are closing on a house this week. The whole house hunting saga and the stupidity of our mortgage company are fodder for another post, when I can better appreciate the moronic humor of it all.

In short, most days are fairly uninteresting from the blogging point of view but in aggregate, it's been nutty.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Life with a Job

It's been just over two months at the new job. The newness of things is starting to wear off and I'm regaining equilibrium. Having a consistent livable paycheck and health insurance has a way of doing that. I have my own office in the back with the other data analyst. The office is huge by my standards and comes with a tall window, a big desk (which I turned into a standing desk), and a chair comfortable enough to fall asleep in.

Let me offer a typical day for curious folks:

My day starts roughly at 8:30am. I commute 50 minutes one-way so no one is shocked if I don't show up right on time. That's definitely an upside of an academic setting: as long as the work gets done and you show up to meetings, the exact hours you keep are largely irrelevant.

I start up my computer whenever I get in. I have a two monitor set-up which I've never had before. It's down right decadent! Check the email and then start working on whatever analysis or report I have pending. I can listen to music, so that's usually playing in the background.

Lunch rolls around some time between 11 and 2 - whenever I get hungry and need a break. I bring my lunch but everyone can run into town and get food. There's a good sushi joint, a Vietnamese restaurant, and really good Mexican food within a 15 minute drive. There's also a bunch of chains nearby if that works for me too. Food is important. Good food can do wonders for your morale.

Then it's back to analysis and reports. It's not exciting, usually. But that's my day. It ends at 5 and only comes home unless I want it too. Some time during the day, one of the bosses may randomly wander into my office and ask about a crazy huge project they're thinking about but doesn't have legs yet. None of these projects generally involves data analysis, so it's an interesting change of pace.

It leaves a lot of mental space for trying to decide on my next move and has the resources for additional classes if I want them. I'm considering going for a master's in statistics. It makes sense if I want to continue in the data analytics field and the credential could be useful if I want to strike out on my own. Master's in statistics sounds more like I know about data analysis than a Ph.D. in social science does, at least according to laypeople.

I haven't been as busy as they claimed I would be. This is mostly due to a dearth of projects and to an upcoming management change. The lack of projects is problematic from a revenue standpoint but they're working on it. All the grant cuts people have seen in the big academic funding sources are echoed in the cuts to community development grants. The management change is problematic because it means no new big projects are being green lighted until the new person comes in. Since I was brought on for the big projects, this seriously diminishes my workload. On the upside, this has given me time to get some cavities filled, pick a retirement plan, and build some liaisons with people in various other departments.

So that's what life is like at the moment. Bills are getting paid. Health issues are getting fixed. Life rolls on.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Got A Job!!

Finally! It's been 21 months of un- or underemployment all together and over 100 job applications sent in. And now it's done!

I mentioned in my last post about a job at a local U that I thought was an inside job and had a weird interview. Whether it was an inside job or not, they offered me the job. It is a nonacademic position working for a nonprofit center that works with a lot of civil organizations.

So here's how the interview process went all together: I applied in October last year. I got a call for an interview in December. The interview was several hours long, most of it involved being given a case/project to do an abbreviated round of what I would be doing full time in the job. And then there was another wait of several weeks.

When they initially called to ask if I was still interested in the position, we talked a little about salary and I asked if they could get the salary higher. This was tricky since this position was offered to them by the university. Most of the positions there are grant-funded. They were able to raise the starting salary slightly. The position already came with my own office (don't know if it has a window but I think it does).

I'm not sure what the benefits package is in total. I know it comes with insurance. I'm seriously looking forward to dental insurance. You can't begin to imagine how much I miss the dentist! Down the road, I'm hoping I could get some flex time or be able to work from home, since it will be about an hour commute.

I'm looking forward to having income. There are all sorts of things I want to do that I've put on my wish list. If I tried them all at once, I would have no income for six months! Thankfully, I won't get paid until after I've worked a month (they only pay monthly). So I'll have time to figure out my schedule and figure out what all I can do with the non-working time I have before I actually have the funds to do anything.

One of the things being unemployed for so long has taught me is the need to diversify my income streams. I'm hoping to start a side business of data analytics consulting. The general wisdom is that it takes at least two years to get a livable income stream from a business like that. The position I've been offered is guaranteed for three years so, with a little luck, I'd have my own business by the time the money runs out.

So, there's an update and a bit of hope for other folks looking to make a plunge.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Not Dead Yet But I've Given It My Best Shot

I was talking about adjuncting in my last post. I know you're all dying to know what happened. Well, I did not become an adjunct. No schools around the area had available classes. The market is so flooded in New City that no one has spare adjunct appointments. That's a depressing level of phenomenal. I did promise guest lectures but people have been lax in contacting me about them. I'm ok with that.

Anyway, I've looked elsewhere. I've had a phone interview with a company in the private sector, but that didn't go anywhere. I've had an interview for a data analyst job with a policy analysis-type center at a local university. I applied for this job back in October. They went through the whole process of looking for an applicant but then had to start over for some reason. I wasn't in the first run so I don't have much hope. They won't make a decision until next year probably but I suspect that one is an inside job. They have a lot of grad students that work with them. It did give me confidence that I could do that kind of job though.

I'm still applying for alt-ac jobs at local universities and consultant/misc. jobs at teaching hospitals. Some of them I'm apparently in the running for but they seem to be moving on an academic time scale (similar to a geologic time scale). I'm also applying for some part-time/minimum-ish wage jobs to make ends meet.

I have considered going back to school for another masters degree. I inquired about this possibility in Old City and was told I do it there without cost to me (PhD's are useful for winning competitive GAs). The field I have in mind is actually related to my old research, so it wouldn't be a stretch. The field is known to people and the degree would offer some flexibility in jobs for the future. I have been un- or underemployed for two years. Something needs to change.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I've been hunting for post-ac jobs here in New City. I've been considering starting my own consulting business. I have a friend who does business consulting and is willing to help me out. Somewhere in the midst of this, I thought about research. Here's what happened next:

I thought about a research idea. I did a bit of hunting on google scholar. I even did a bit of a thinking of how I would design the experiment, who I could talk to about it, and where I could find funding. All things which I think qualify as a knee-jerk reaction for an academic. The research, incidentally, was completely unrelated to the post-ac job hunt. The upshot was that thinking about such things did not cause me to start twitching. However, it did make me wonder if I would consider teaching again. So, I set up meetings with some academics in the area that I had connections with. This is a handy way to find local restaurants, if you're curious.

Everyone has been friendly. No one asks why I spent a year unemployed and no one tries to convince me the market is going to turn around or that I should just adjunct for awhile. They have offered to put my name in to adjunct but implicitly or explicitly express that this is a temporary solution.

Many departments in my field do not have funding for new faculty. The people I talk to suggest other departments that have more money hire folks with my background. They offer their lab equipment if I want to do research, free of charge. They offer ways to get a foot in the door and progress to a full-time job. In fact, all of them genuinely appreciate that I have been unemployed for a year and am adamant about maintaining boundaries in my life, if I come back to academics. That could be because I freely admit to burnout. There have even been suggestions of working in a specific department that does not even offer TT appointments so that I would not be required to take on graduate students. I was kind of shocked that people understood my unwillingness to contribute to the overproduction of PhD's, though they may only view that as me not taking funding from their students.

I'm not sure if I would take a job if it was offered but considering it no longer sends me into a post-traumatic stress episode. For the record, I am still looking at post-ac jobs. Academia is just a job, one I am trained for and good at, but nothing more. If I can maintain that boundary and have others respect it, I might consider a subversive life in the Ivory Tower.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I've been hunting for data analysis jobs for awhile. I even put a few apps in for corporate research gigs. The more I've looked into this field, the more confident I am that I can do this kind of work. That hasn't translated to getting past HR departments but I'm making slightly more progress of late.

One thing that has come up in my informational interviews around the area, is the idea of doing data analytics consulting. This could be anything as simple as sales data, association analysis (what stuff do people buy together, think Amazon suggestions), or even something as complicated as survival analysis (how long to customers stay around, why do they leave). I can program SQL and R. I can make excel dance. I can even program macros...on a non-Mac. Macs suck for programming macros. Honestly, you can do all that too. There are several websites out there that will teach you. But people don't want to do that and are willing to pay someone like me to consult on this for them.

This terrifies me on a number of levels. I'm sure I can do the work itself. It's the idea of owning my own business that scares me. I will freely admit to having no business acumen. I have no idea how to go about this. I suck at selling stuff. How do you go about finding your own free-ranging health care and retirement fund? Taxes?! I hate cold-calling and that's really the main way to find new clients. Referrals help but you need to start somewhere to get referrals.

Sometimes I contemplate how to go about this. Maybe start by offering data analysis services to charities. They usually need some numbers crunched for reporting and grants. I could run their numbers in exchange for recommendations and referrals. Seems like it might work. Perhaps I would offer data analysis to some small businesses and let them pay in trade (a month or two of gym membership in exchange for number crunching for a fitness center, for example).

Part of this whole elaborate fantasy has been trying to figure out what I would charge. Imagine it yourself. Do you charge by the hour or by the job? What is your time worth? Taxes? Benefits? What will the market support? I've hunted around for answers to all this. I'll save you the googling and sum up what I found. Start with what you would expect to be paid to do the job full-time for someone. Add in the cost of benefits, including retirement, and taxes. Now take that number and divide by 48 (weeks in a year) and by 40 (hours per week). You're not done yet. Consider that this type of consulting is usually a one shot deal. You need to factor in time to find new clients, advertising, administrative work. All that stuff that would be handled by other people at a consulting firm. Take the number you calculated and multiply it by 3 or 4 to account for all this other work you'll need to do. I came up with $125-150/hr. That number scares me. I'm used to grad student wages.

As for the by the hour or the job question: the consensus from consulting forums seems to be charge by the job. The reason for this is that you can't be certain how much time it may take you to do a job. Businesses often want the total cost (or at least max cost) up front. You trap yourself into a certain amount of hours and have to finish the job even if it takes more time than you thought - even if you have to work for free. Conversely, if you can do the job faster than people think it should take, you get a bonus. So now what do you do with your hourly rate? Time to come up with a menu and starting prices. Try doing some standard analyses and time how long it takes you. Add some buffer time and now you have a starting price. There will likely be negotiation. Be prepared for that. I've never negotiated myself, also terrifying.

And all that is before dealing with legal things, like going solely as self-employed or starting an LLC or something.

People can start consulting while in grad school. I'm currently unemployed. I have even more time I can put into this idea. It's just terrifying. But imagine if you could make it work, if you could make a career of it. Imagine making $5000-8000/month. Tempting, isn't it? How fast could you pay off your student loans with that? Own a house? Imagine how many shoes you could buy! Definitely tempting but so damn terrifying. I don't know if I'm ready for that. Could you do it?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Notes on an Interview

Time for a bit of debriefing on my interview last week. To set the scene, the interview was for an institutional research gig at my GradU. It was a number-crunching position for the university at large.

The first half of the interview was just with the associate director, who would be my direct supervisor. It was a bit of "this is what we do," since so few people actually know, and a bit of "here's my standard list of questions." Ze was a bit brusque but was also dealing with a phone call, an email, and two questions from analysts in the hour we talked. I had my list of questions to ask hit all ready and asked most of those that were not answered in the course of our talk.

The second half of the interview was with that associate director and some of the analysts. There were 5 analysts there. We all introduced ourselves and insanity ensued. One of the analysts clearly had English as a second or third language and was difficult to understand. Ze also asked a question about religion that several people at the table squashed and told hir that ze couldn't ask that. I felt really sorry for hir because they all pretty much jumped down her throat. Another analyst had 3 solid pages, single-spaced, of questions to ask me. The rest were just sort of flying by the seat of their pants. The conversation went off on several tangents with several topics set aside for their Thursday staff meeting. I had a list of questions for them as well and asked a few, but tried to avoid anything that might be sensitive in the situation.

All in all, I think it went relatively well. It was odd but they were an odd bunch. I don't mind odd. I'm pretty odd. Put all together, I felt like it could be a good fit for 5-10 years. Ten years would be handy because I could get the 10-year loan forgiveness that way. Loaners would never see that money, bwahahaha!

My only issue was that during the talk, the director pointed out (and the analysts kind of confirmed) that people who get into institutional research stay there forever. I like crunching data and the interview confirmed that they do a lot of different kinds of crunching and there's a lot of variety however, the idea that this would be all I do for the rest of my life is terrifying. And there was very little room to move up in the organization. It was definitely something to consider.

Additionally, there's drama at GradU. Serious drama. I'm worried that if I move back there I'll get pulled into the drama and revert to my bad habits as a grad student. Risking temptation seems to be one of those lifestyle factors you can't really measure ahead of time but it's still something to consider. And Boyfriend would be a 5.5 drive away. That would suck.

On the ego boost side, I ran into the professor I used to TA for in the parking lot. Ze gave me a hug and commiserated about being unemployed (ze was for awhile after hir degree). Ze said "If it's any consolation, all my grad TAs have sucked since you left." Aww, shucks, thanks. Ze used to call me hir Girl Friday. Good to know I'm irreplaceable that way.