Tag Archives: careers

Advice for Successful Career Decisions

I give students a lot of unsolicited advice.  I talk to both graduate students and undergraduates, and they are mostly worried about the same things:

  • Did I make the right choice when I decided to study ____?
  • Will I get a good job?  Is *this* job (graduate program/major/whatever) the one for me?

I actually have a mathematical formula that I use to help people figure out when they are in the right major or the right job, or if a career change is a good idea.  And I’m going to give it to you, for free, because you read my blog, and are, Post hoc ergo prompter hoc ipso facto, cool.


puppy!Here it is.

Job = Puppy

Yep. A job is like a puppy.  When you first get a job (or start a degree program), it’s wonderful and cool. Here, look –>

Doesn’t that make you smile?

Puppies are awesome. And if you have an actual puppy, you realize that puppies also have some downsides. Like…..poop.

There is no such thing as a poopless puppy.
There is also no such thing as a job with no shitty tasks.

The trick is to find a job that maximizes what I call the cute to poop ratio.

In other words, the quantity

recipe for happinessmust be greater than one.

If  the cute of your job is overwhelmed by the poop–it’s time to start looking for a new job.

I’ve made some really radical career changes–including walking away from a tenure-track faculty position.  Each time it was because the amount of poop in the job became overwhelming, and drowned out all the fun and cute elements.

Obviously, right now is not the easiest time to be starting a career, or make a career change.  Other things can modify this equation; health care benefits, for example, can turn a negative cute : poop ratio into a positive for me, at least in the short term.  If you are someone just starting out on your career path, taking a job that is not exactly what you want may also balance out, so you can get your foot in the door and start building a resume.

Just don’t stay in a job where the crap piles up around you and you are miserable longer than you have to be.
Life is short.  There has to be a balance.


Do Scientists work too hard?

A recent article in Academe Online had some startling numbers that I had long suspected, but wasn’t able to back up with data until now.

Over half of scientists surveyed–regardless of gender–reported they work 50 hours a week or more.  This work-intensive lifestyle is one of the most frequent topics students (grad and undergrad) ask about when they see how haggard all their professors look.

I think this statement from the article is quite true:

Universities have developed over the past two hundred years to fit men’s lives, both as faculty members and as students. From the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, university professors were predominantly men—with stay-at-home wives who organized and cared for the household.

One of the reasons I jumped off the tenure track was that it was not a healthy choice for me, a person with a disability. I don’t, frankly, think it’s a healthy choice for very many people, aside from a few superstars who thrive on stress. An academic life can be wonderful…but too often it’s a toxic environment.

Too much work/too little time is a problem with academia, and also a problem for Americans in general, since Americans have little or no vacation time, compared to other developed countries.  The Academe Online article caught my eye because it  actually was about the role of housework in adding to the burdens of female scientists:

“female scientists do nearly twice as much housework as their male counterparts. Partnered women scientists at places like Stanford University do 54 percent of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry in their households; partnered men scientists do just 28 percent. This translates to more than ten hours a week for women— in addition to the nearly sixty hours a week they are already working as scientists—and to just five hours for men.”

This pretty much validates what I’ve been hearing from friends for many years. While some women have wonderful husbands that help with parenting and housework, most of them still do the heavy lifting around the house.

When you combine this information with the recent National Academies publicationGender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty“, you realize just how important home/house work can be.

In every science field they measured, the proportion of female applicants for tenure-track jobs was significantly less than the number of women completing PhDs in that field. Women received 45 percent of the Ph.D.s in biology awarded from 1999 to 2003, but they accounted for only 26 percent of applicants to tenure-track positions.  Same story in Chemistry –36% of PhDs earned,  18% of applicants for tenure-track positions.

In every field, women were underrepresented among candidates for tenure relative to the number of female assistant professors.  In chemistry, for example, women made up 22% of assistant professors, but only 15% of the faculty being considered for tenure.

I hear–often–from grad students “I don’t want to work in academia because I want to have a life/family/kids.”  I hear it from both men and women.

What does it mean for Academia that some of our best and brightest see it as a machine that grinds up lives and spits out bitter, tenured dead wood?

Where should I look for a Job?

One of the most common questions I get from students around this time of year is “Where should I look for a job?”

The question they actually are asking is “where ONLINE should I look for a job?”, and it’s the wrong question.  The vast majority of jobs for students are filled informally, without a search.

I always have extra work, and when I manage to have money + work that needs to be done, I usually tend to hire people I know–either a good past student, or someone recommended by a friend.

For full-time jobs, the question is a bit more relevant, but still, applying online doesn’t yield the results that using your network of contacts will.  If I happen to know someone involved in a search, and I send them a copy of your recommendation letter directly….yeah, that immediately moves your resume up to the top of the pile.

So, before I give you my list of places online to look at:  Let me ask, what is the ratio of time you are spending pasting your resume online to the amount of time spent chatting with your friends and professional contacts about where you want to go?

My favorite places to look for Ecological/Environmental type jobs:

Two other things to try:

  1. There are a lot of new job indexes that basically work by harvesting other websites. Indeed.com is a good example of that type of service.
  2. Don’t forget to look at local university and state websites! While the funding may be shaky long term, for those starting out in the job market, there are usually lots of opportunities.

Have I missed an important resource? Please suggest it in the comments!
[Note: I will be especially harsh on spammers for this post–if you are suggesting a link, it needs to relate specifically to finding job postings in environmental science/conservation]