Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A rough loss

Let’s talk about my love for the Seahawks.

I have to be honest—I didn’t love football growing up as much as I loved baseball. I’m still riding the Refuse to Lose ’95 train when the Mariners made the postseason (for the first time ever), and we’ve been riding that train ever since. (And don’t even get me started on this song, which makes me tear up every darn time I hear it.)

Although my dad liked baseball, he loved football. He took me to my first NFL game (back when the Seahawks played in the Kingdome, RIP), and bought me my first NFL jersey: Matt Hasselbeck, circa 2002. We made one Super Bowl appearance during the 2005 season (after 30 seasons), where we lost to the Steelers. This was in part due to some horrible calls from the officials, an opinion shared by the vast majority of people—including Steelers fans. We didn’t seem to mind, us Hawks fans, because we finally made a Super Bowl. Life was good. We were happy to have just been nominated.

When I moved to Texas in 2008, I couldn’t watch the Seahawks because back then, Hawks games weren’t broadcasted on any Waco channels. I could watch the highlights post-game, or stalk Twitter for game updates. It wasn’t bad—I still wore my Hasselbeck jersey—but it wasn’t the same being 2200 miles away from any other Hawks fan.

Fast forward to 2013. I’m regularly watching each Hawks game (and a surprising number of Dolphins games) because me and some friends started meeting up weekly to watch football at a local sports bar. The Hawks keep winning, but I stayed tentatively exciting since I’m used to not winning. Then, out of nowhere, we won the divisional playoffs against the Saints. Then we won the conference championship against the 49ers (and spurred an awesome adrenaline-filled interview). Then we went to Super Bowl XLVIII, where we were slated as the 2.5point-underdog that had little chance of winning.

And we won. By a lot.

It was a little anticlimactic, actually—our second Super Bowl appearance, and it’s a blow out. Seriously, people actually left our Super Bowl party early because it wasn’t as exciting as they’d hoped.

To put this next part in perspective, some back story: I was living in San Antonio, city of Spurs basketball and delicious TexMex, but no love for NFL. I was no longer enjoying my choice of a career (you know, that one where I spent 5 years in school then took a postdoc), and I was having a tough time reconciling the fact that I had been living away from my family for far longer than I originally anticipated. When the Hawks won the Super Bowl, I heard about all the cool things happening in Seattle in their honor: Parties. Extra media appearances. A celebratory parade.

As I watched all the Seattle celebrations, it occurred to me that I was even more homesick than I thought. I think the epitome of it all was watching the post-Super Bowl parade "live" online while tearing up, being angry at myself for making interesting career life choices over my happiness.

That quickly changed as I married my best friend and found an amazing job in Seattle. I got to move back to the city that has always been home.

The Hawks started out the 2014 season a little rocky but gained momentum and made it to postseason for the second season in a row. Then we won the conference, and went to the Super Bowl again...the second year in a row. My work building made a huge "12" on the west side for anybody looking over from Alki or the ferry. My Seattle-based company temporarily re-branded to show support, along with numerous other companies. People wore Seahawks jerseys every day, but especially at the end of the week for Blue Friday. The city, so alive with hope and pride--I had never experienced anything like it (even though I was in San Antonio for a Spurs championship), and I relished every moment.

Losing the Super Bowl wasn't really about the football for me this year (as devastating as it was). Our loss felt like a loss. It was about the sense of community, and how sad I am to not get to be involved in the post-win celebration like last year's. It was the feeling of home, missing it for so long, and being insanely grateful to be back in the northwest so much that I wanted to share it with a crowd of 100,000+ people.

Seattle made it through the Mariners' 1995 AL Championship series loss, a loss of the full Sonics franchise, and an almost-loss of the Seahawks franchise. We can make it through one "loss" of a Super Bowl.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Nordstrom Tech's culture code

Over the weekend, a rough draft of something our lab created for Nordstrom Technology blew up. I wouldn't call it viral, but we increased our views 250%, and it was something we didn't purposefully hype or advertise (since we knew it was a first draft).

It's a pretty cool piece of work, if I do say so myself. It's a self-directed slideshow where you can flip through at your own pace. Our intentions were twofold: to show our employees that the values we preach are also the values that are currently being implemented (internal promotion), and to share it with the world about Nordstrom Tech's culture...after we worked out the kinks.

I publicly posted it on a slide sharing website solely so we could get the URL and post it to our annual employee engagement survey (which is currently deployed), and promptly forgot about it. I originally kept it private, but then we couldn't direct our employees to the show without sending them a link, so public it was. We figured nobody would happen across our page until we directed them there, and since we weren't publicizing it (except in our survey, which was supposed to be another way to get info, not our main point).

And then, SlideShare promoted it as their slideshow of the day. Whoops.

I'm slightly embarrassed (it's a draft so some of the links don't work--I missed that SlideShare purposefully doesn't let you have links in the first 3 slides; Nordstrom's "Use good judgment" has an extra e due to branding, which is technically ok but still hurts my soul), but I'm also insanely proud--something we deliberately made is getting praise for being honest and true to who we are.

It's a pretty cool feeling to be 3 months into a job and be able to represent who we are.

At our lab retreat during my first month, I mentioned one of my goals this year was to share our work more broadly across the company and publicly. I'm calling this a win.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Help me help you: How to ask someone for a letter of recommendation

(This blog post is especially important for college kids who want to ask their professors for letters of recommendation for graduate school.)

Being a professor for five years put me in an awesome position to have mentored and/or taught a large number of undergraduate students. I particularly enjoyed the mentorship aspect of my job--it was great getting to play a guiding role in someone's life who loved psychology, neuroscience, or statistics, and I still remain close to a lot of my old students who regularly check in.

This also means that I get a large number of requests for letters of recommendation from these students. I've found that even my brightest A+ students occasionally suck at asking for letters of recommendation, so I made a handy guide. Feel free to use my language and just switch out the underlined part. You're welcome.

1. Ask nicely. "Hi Dr. Lake, I'm just getting ready to apply to graduate school and I was hoping I could use you as a recommender."

2. Use examples why you think your recommender would be good. "After your introductory statistics course mixed with those conversations where we talked during your office hours, I think you could accurately comment on my love for psychology, my academic abilities, and my drive."

3. Ask if they're willing to be your recommender. "Can I use you as a recommender for graduate school?"

4. Attach your application materials, such as your resume, CV, and personal statement. Don't assume that your recommender knows exactly why you want to go to graduate school (even if you've talked about it). Don't assume they know your career goals if you're applying to a job. Don't assume they know all of your volunteer activities, or that you've been to Turkey twice to teach English. Provide them with documentation to help them write you a good letter of recommendation. (Note: this step can be included in the initial email or follow-up email after they say yes, depending on how well you know your recommender.)

5. If you're applying to multiple places, give them a list of all of the programs/places you're applying to. That means that they should prepare letters of recommendation for the 8 jobs/12 schools you're applying to, and can tailor each letter to that specific job/school. Throw in the deadline dates too, so they're familiar with the timeline and when they need to get it in gear. This also ensures that they're not missing a job/school that you applied to, but they didn't send a letter. Nowadays, a ton of schools ask for online recommendations, and my least favorite thing is to get an email saying, "Please submit your letter of recommendation for Billy Student" from "Big School on behalf of Billy Student." This drives me nuts because now I have to Google search what I think the program name is at Big School that Billy Student applied to, then tailor my letter so it sounds like I know even though I'm just guessing (because guess what applicants? The form emails don't actually tell us what that program is). Make it easy for us, please. (Shout out to my former student Amanda who, when she saw that each of her letters had to be sent in with a signature on the envelope's seal, sent me a pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelope. You da real MVP.)

6. When you get into graduate school/get the job you wanted/decided to forgo where you applied to do another opportunity, tell your recommender! We clearly care about your career trajectory, so we'd love to celebrate with you!

If you're not doing these things when you're asking for letters of recommendation, you're doing your recommender a huge disservice. Remember, those writing you letters are actually trying to help you, so help them help you!


Friday, January 9, 2015

Why I left academia: A post about postdocs, grant funding, and the state of the university

Fair warning to all my usual readers: if you're not involved in academia, this may be super boring to you. I still have to get it out, because I think it's insanely important and brought me to where I am today. Shout out to the almost-Dr. Supak who I totally accidentally spewed this at in an email, which prompted the blog post.

When I was getting ready to leave graduate school, I was highly encouraged to take a postdoctoral fellowship. For those that are unfamiliar with this plight, a postdoc is a research position in a laboratory usually meant to deepen your ability to work as an independent scientist but still under the thumb of a mentor. I should clarify that I'll be talking about science postdocs because that's my background (although I know humanities postdocs exist). 

The usual career story in science academia is that you do a postdoc to show your research chops, and if you want to do a research job afterwards, you've been well-prepared to do so--and if you want a teaching job afterwards, well, at least you have some stellar research skills in your back pocket.

In graduate school, a "fully funded" position means you receive tuition remission (aka you don't have to pay), and you're making somewhere between $15K and $20K to take courses and teach/do research/bulk up your CV for your post-graduate school applications. Although these are significantly better than positions where you don't get paid, you're still making practically nothing while all your friends go off to Real Jobs and Careers Where They Actually Get a Salary.

So you tell yourself that the payoff (and the Ph.D., and making all your friends call you Doctor) will be worth it.

And when you take a postdoc that makes twice that (the starting National Institutes of Health guidelines for "salaries" are $42K, although when I started, it was $39K), you're excited because your income literally doubled--even though there's no such thing as 40hr weeks because you're expected to be in the laboratory running experiments or at your computer grant/manuscript/article writing for at least 50+hrs a week.

And it's worth it, really, if you want a career in science at a Tier 1 research university, because you work your butt off but the elusive tenure track research position is at the end of the postdoc tunnel. 

Except it's not. 

I was funded on a T32 grant, which is a training grant given to a director in charge of "training" postdocs (or predoctoral graduate students), who oversees part of the training but not always the research side of the fellowship. It was funded by the NIH, which means it was pretty prestigious on the scale of fellowships.

Since it was a training grant that focused on career training in conjunction with research, one of the things I was required to do was attend "chalk talks." Known for their free pizza and beer, chalk talks were low-key 2hr chats where a senior faculty member (or an outside speaker like a consultant, science writer, grant specialist, etc.) would chat about career trajectories and where science was headed. You didn't have to hold a Ph.D. to start noticing the consistent themes that were outrightly said:

1. An overwhelming number of faculty members said they would not have made it as an independent scientist, mainly due to flat grant availability.
2. Nobody likes the exploitation of postdocs (overworked, underpaid, easy to keep them in their position for 7 years) but everybody does it.
3. The numbers for open tenure track research positions vs. number of postdocs churned out are staggering. There are so few open jobs that they're encouraging "alternative careers," which is a backhanded way to imply that postdocs couldn't get a position so they had to settle for a non-academic job.

I don't say all this to discourage postdocs, because mine clearly worked for me: I realized academia (and everything it encompassed) wasn't for me. With "only" 1 year and 4 months into my postdoc, I left mine significantly before the average time length,* which for me was just in time. Now that I'm out, I can see the difference in my heart being in a career I love, in a city that is home, working with amazing people who empower me to do the best work I can.

TL;DR: Don't enter academia because the outlook is bleak, plus you can make more by getting a real job with your Ph.D. Oh, and you'll actually enjoy your life post-academia.

*I searched for this exact statistic and got so depressed reading statistics around postdoctoral fellowships that I gave up. To put it in perspective, this comic isn't an exaggeration from some of the people I knew.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Why I still can't believe Paul married me

(Subtitled: My impatience. Gifs added 'cuz I'm not a regular blogger, I'm a cool blogger.)

Marriage is pretty cool.

I don't know what I was imagining marriage would be like--I think I was more focused on the whole spend-your-life-with-your-best-friend thing. I mean, I knew I'd love having Paul around all the time, doing fun things together as our own little family (complete with a sassy cat and a waggity-tailed dog).  But I conveniently forgot about how boys are smelly, and eat a lot, and have a habit of accidentally being unthoughtful even though they were specifically going out of their way to pick you up some red wine before dinner. Thanks for that, sweetheart.

Marriage is also weird.

Occasionally, I'll find myself annoyed that Paul can't read my mind (as if he's supposed to divine all my thoughts). Actual interaction:

Me: "Oh my gosh, you know what is going to be so good for lunch? The leftover pizza from yesterday!"
Paul: "We don't have any leftovers."
Me: "Yes we do! I only ate two pieces yesterday because I knew it'd be so good today."
Paul: "...we don't have any leftovers."

I didn't realize I needed to be more clear about my plans for how far a whole effing pizza should go (or how the last time I ordered pizza, which I'm pretty sure was in college, I had leftovers for three days).


Paul is also kind of a not great driver (statement mitigated on purpose).

Since sarcasm is my love language (and I've never been shy about saying what I feel), this poses some problems. One, I accidentally verbally abuse my husband while he's just trying to get us from Point A to Point B (in my defense: I would prefer to make it there safely!). Two, it means that I always have to drive (which is not my favorite thing to do).

This is also why one of my milestones for January is to limit the sarcastic comments coming out of my mouth while he's driving. I pledge to try my hardest to be as happy as a pig with a windmill in the passenger's seat.

In all seriousness, marriage is awesome and I wholeheartedly recommend it (and, no worries y'all, our communication is fabulous minus the fact that it's weird to me to have to spell out that I expect leftovers from a meal that I used to eat for four days straight because the recipe was that large). 

What about your transition to marriage (or long-term partnership, if you're not married) surprised you?

[Editor's note: I had Paul proofread this to make sure I didn't say anything too mean, and he approved it. I told him thanks for checking it over, but then accidentally spouted off, "...even though you put my life in danger when you drive." This tells us two things: 1) I'm sucking at my January goals, and 2) it's still amazing that he married me.]

Saturday, January 3, 2015

How to set rockin' goals for the new year

I'm not one to make specific New Year Resolutions, but I've been a goal-setter for as long as I can remember. One of my goals in 2015 is to blog more, because I love the community and have just gotten out of the habit of blogging. Two of my good blog friends [1; 2] are back to hopefully regular blogging, so here's hoping we can all keep it up like it was 2012!

Anyway, with my heavy psych background, I always understood the art of goal-setting (and goal-finishing!) as a psychological trick--it's easy to do once you know the basic steps.

First, we'll start off easy:

1. Start broad.
Step one is really to do some brainstorming to decide what you want to change. Are you adding something to your life? Taking something away? Deciding to change it up in some way? Here's where you think about things from a very large perspective. For example, my broad goal (among many) is to blog more.

2. Refine into concrete goals.
The next step is a little tougher: refine those broad goals into concrete milestones (I like to do a milestone at a time, but other people prefer to do them all at once--take your pick!). That means that your goal should be small enough that you can easily do it, but also measure whether or not you did it. "Blog more" is awesome, and I guess you could measure it if you were comparing the number of posts, but it's still too broad. Thus, my milestone that is refining my broader goal is to blog at least twice a week. That's a little bit more measurable, plus it's a lot more concrete in terms of knowing how well I did on the short term, not just long term.

3. Write 'em down.
Did you know that if you write down your goals, you're more likely to complete them? True story. My statistics professor in college (who is quite possibly the most successful person I've interacted with) once told us that he has 1-, 5-, and 10-year goals written down and taped on the inside of his desk as motivation and to hold himself accountable. I like to write mine in my planner (or PowerSheets, which are a rockin' tool!), but I've also had friends post them up on their bathroom mirror for inspiration, or have an "inspiration board" 

4. Tell people.
That sounds like the worst step, but I promise, it will keep you accountable. No really, you're more likely to feel tied to your goals (and obligated to keep your friends updated on your progress). Plus, your friends and loved ones can help you keep the goals by cheering you on, or taking a larger part in your goals. I told y'all

5. Celebrate small victories!
The last way to set amazing goals is to remember to celebrate the small victories or milestones that you have. The people you told in step 4 will love to celebrate with you, along with yourself--you held yourself accountable, so you deserve it! I would not recommend celebrating a weight loss goal by a food spree (don't undo all your good work!), but buy yourself a book instead of going to the library, or watch an extra 30 minutes of Netflix that day. Celebrating will also reignite your passion for making the original broad goal in the first place, so make it happen! 

I set a handful of goals for 2015:

1. Have healthier eating habits. My milestone for January is to bring my lunch to work 4x/week.
2. Be patient with Paul (more details on my impatience soon!). My milestone for January is to not make sarcastic comments about my life or safety when he's driving.
3. Read more. My January milestone is to read 2 books this month. 
4. Exercise more regularly. My milestone for January is 3x/week (no time limit). 
5. Blog more. I'm starting January with 2x/week.

What are your goals for 2015?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dear 2014

Dear 2014,

Thank you. You've been pretty awesome.

I didn't have an explicit word-of-the-year for you like I did for 2013 (it was "be"...I think I rocked it), but I know you'd be good for me. I had just completed my doctorate and was a few months into my pretty prestigious postdoctoral fellowship.

But you started off with a little bit of a stumble. I didn't know that I'd despise that fellowship, not love San Antonio, and have really only one friend in the entire city who made me feel like it was tolerable (shout out to Mormon Mark: you're awesome).

I also didn't know that I'd fall in love with my best friend and decide to elope, have a small wedding/honeymoon in Maui, and have the most gorgeous wedding photos anyone could ask for. I didn't know that I'd find my perfect job with the perfect company in my perfect location. I didn't know that the majority of the not-so-great beginning part of the year would be heavily overshadowed by the wonder and awe of the second half.

I wouldn't have done anything differently.

I guess what I'm really saying, 2014, is thanks. I'm so grateful you happened, and even more looking forward to what your younger sister 2015 has in store.