Thursday, March 13, 2008

Conversations

“I feel that this is a bad time to be a young scientist,” I noted to Dr. CurlyHair just after I completed my seminar. “So I understand why you’re all looking at my CV and asking why I’m interested in a staff position rather than looking for a faculty job somewhere. And I appreciate that you want someone who really wants to do this rather than a person biding time until the funding climate improves. But the fact is that I look at being a faculty member - writing grants and feeling the constant tension over funding in order to be able to do what I do - and I don’t think I want it badly enough. I don’t have that particular passion and drive. I feel too worried about building a lab and hiring students and watching it disintegrate around me because I couldn’t get a competitive renewal. I love what I do - I think it’s valuable and fascinating - but I can be passionate and effective at guiding other people.”

He nodded, looking thoughtful as he leaned back in his chair. I took another moment to admire his haircut - as elegant and chic as his name was (which is to say a considerable amount) and the diamond that twinkled at his left earlobe.

“It is difficult,” he sighed, “though as a tenured professor, my salary is paid through the university.”

“Well, that’s delightful,” I smiled at him across the table. He blinked at me for a mere moment then his face creased in a smile.

“It is delightful, actually,” he laughed. “And I enjoy teaching and think highly of our student population. Still, it is a stressful job and the uncertainty is considerable. It’s not uncommon to see very talented people leave science for something more stable lately.” He shook his head again and his earring caught the light, distracting me for a moment. It’s a bit odd to face an older man who is undeniably much more beautiful than I am. And while I wasn’t attracted to him, I was struck by his appearance as well as his personality. We talked and laughed together for several more minutes as I engaged in mild scientific flirtation.

“How long have you studied that?” I asked after he gave me a brief description of his work at my request. “It’s just that it’s cool enough that I seem to remember learning about it in a graduate course I took.” PhysoProf is right, by the way. It’s easy to charm people by asking good questions and offering sincere compliments about their work. And when everyone I met was focused on something I found impossibly cool, albeit in different ways, my interest was genuine and effortless.

“I appreciate your honesty,” Dr. WhiteHair noted in a different meeting, looking a bit taken aback by how I answered a question. “Not everyone is so forthright about their qualifications.”

“I recognize what you’re trying to accomplish here,” I told him. “And I respect that a great deal and want you to find the right person. It isn’t that I’m without an incredibly valuable skill set. I’m very good at a number of things. But that particular technique is something I’d have to learn and practice. And while it’s something I’d be interested in doing, it’s impossible to say there aren’t people who could do it better.”

“In terms of personality and certain skills,” he paused, cocking his head, “you really are the perfect candidate. You’re approachable and smart. You seem to understand people and tell the truth in a way that’s easy to accept.” He nodded for a moment before beginning to grill me again. But I enjoyed him - I disagree with some of his politics and analyses, but I rather liked that his opinions were so strong. Such people are forces to be reckoned with and tend to elicit strong feelings.

“So what do you do,” Dr. EasySmile asked as he leaned back and propped his ankle on his knee when I faced him for yet another meeting in yet another different room, “when faced with intense personalities? When a scientist is screaming at a clinician and they both have good and bad points?”

“Honestly?” I asked and he grinned at me. I found him tremendously likable. He knew my work and that of Advisor. He was also well acquainted with Boss and knew I’d worked with people who were incredibly smart, yet dignified and kind. I’d confided that I didn’t like a particular faculty member in my past - found him to be intimidating and aggressive to the point where I’d rather avoid him. When EasySmile nodded, I mimicked the gesture.

“OK,” I said, “I’d separate them. I think that people calm down if you give them a chance to be heard. And I’m happy to listen to someone’s ideas and problems and complaints. There are, as you noted, often valuable pieces of information within such a tirade. But when one is interrupted and his ideas devalued, there is a tendency to get irrational and angry. I tend to be understanding and patient in those situations - I like people to feel comfortable and happy around me - and so playing mediator is an easy role. Not everyone will be happy all the time. But I find that if I can understand and articulate that comprehension of their displeasure, people find a way to cope.”

He regarded me in silence for a moment, and I gave a mental shrug. That’s my strategy - if it wasn’t what he wanted, it was still how I’d handle the situation. Honesty, if nothing else, means I don’t have to wonder if I gave the right answer. As long as it was true, I was content with a response.

“You’re wise for one so young,” he finally said. “I hope you retain that - the patience and knowledge of people and that belief in their underlying goodness. It should be fun to see if you do or if you finally say ‘fuck it’ and leave them all to rot.” Then he grinned at me again and I smiled back readily. I enjoyed that meeting most of all.

One Co-Captain was quiet and sincere. I have some documentation that he wants to use as a guide. I briefly considered withholding it unless they offered me the job, but I find I’m unable to justify that action - I'll send it when I return to my office. The other co-captain was cultured and outgoing. Somehow the mix of technical expertise embodied in a man from China and artistic flair from a man undeniably French seemed to work for the culture of the institution. The former’s office was stark, the sunshine streaming in large windows and reflecting off of white surfaces. The latter worked across campus with his group. His offices on the fourth floor flowed from one room to the next, shadows cast from the indirect light coming through leaded glass windows framed with rich wood. His group was friendly and uniformly beautiful. We walked through open doors the connected the various rooms until we reached his private space. He was effusive and warm, wanting to be sure I understood the position and that my impressive publication record would suffer as I focused on the research of others.

I found I was most comfortable with the high-level administrator. She was professional and warm, joining me for coffee in the morning and lunch in the afternoon. We talked and shared philosophies on the business of science. She confided that she was worried about finding the right person for this job - to fit in and guide and grow the quirky and brilliant group of men who worked here. I soothed her, saying it was a wonderful opportunity and I thought she’d find the right person from the three top candidates she told me they’d selected. I was, as I suspected, the first of the three to interview. So they won’t make a decision until mid- to late April.

“I’ve really enjoyed meeting you,” I told her as we shook hands toward the end of my visit.

“I absolutely feel the same way,” she told me. “And you’re definitely my favorite so far.”

“The benefits of going first, I suppose,” I said with a smile. “At least I get my moment in the sun.”

I had a different - more literal - moment in the sun this morning. After many, many emails and a couple of unreturned phone calls, Industry Contact told me to expect his call at 9:30. I replied that I’d be driving home from Chicago, but would look forward to speaking to him.

“Why?” I groused at 9:45. “Why do you lie? Why do you continue to blow me off, dammit? I’m going to call you - I have your number. At 10:00, I’m going to call and try to be pleasant when I ask why we keep hitting a wall! If you’re not interested, be honest about it. If you’re so incredibly busy that it takes me 4 months to get a phone call set up, I don’t know that I can work for you! But I will continue to try,” I vowed, frowning darkly, “if for no other reason than to prove that sometimes you do have to deal with people in some sort of fair manner.”

“Industry Contact! Hello!” I said in an entirely different tone when my phone rang. We exchanged pleasantries and started to discuss what I’d been up to since I interviewed for the same job out of grad school. I was mid-explanation when I lost signal, hanging up on my hard-to-pin-down person.

“Lovely,” I congratulated myself, speeding ahead down the back roads until I found a little spot where I could pull into a corn field. There, staring at the patterns of dead plant matter and rich soil in the bright sun, I returned his call.

“I’m sorry,” I said when he answered with a “Hello, Katie.” “My parents live in the middle of nowhere and apparently the mobile signal isn’t great. But I am now parked in a field and will give you my undivided attention.” He laughed and continued to ask general questions that I answered easily. The good thing, I suppose, about bugging someone about a job for so long is that I’ve had plenty of time to consider my interest and qualifications.

“Well, good,” he concluded. “There’s actually a new post that might be more suited for you so we need to get you up here to interview. Can you send me the number the website assigned? And an updated CV? Sometimes the HR department is slow.”

“Really.” I said mildly, but agreed to his requests. The hell of it is that I am quite interested in the job. So I’ll jump through his hoops and wait for as long as necessary and see what happens.
And from the time I drafted this in the early afternoon to when I’m posting it after dinner with my family, I received an email with a list of potential interview dates. So. Here we go again. Honestly? I'm tired. I also fielded a call from LightBlue this morning and need to touch base with him tomorrow re: a faculty position. I don't want to move that far away so I need to be honest about that even though it may make me an idiot for passing up such a wonderful opportunity. But I feel overwhelmed with uncertainty and options and frantic questions of what I'm going to do if none of my three options pan out. So I'm mildly freaking out while in desperate need of some uninterrupted sleep. But I suppose it's going as well as can be expected.

5 comments:

doc-in-training said...

The people you interviewed with do seem to be good people to work with. I also agree EasySmile that you are quite wise in terms of how to deal with people. I wish I had half of your wisdom.

Things are looking hopeful, Katie. So exciting.

flossie said...

Good job! Sounds like you nailed it! I wish I had that kind of confidence with potential employers.

Brigindo said...

I knew you'd ace it. Way to go. Soon you'll have many job offers, I'm sure.

post-doc said...

Doc-in-training:
You're sweet, but you definitely have a great deal of wisdom. It's a matter, I think, of learning by doing. And dealing with difficult people - as you've done lately - means that you develop strategies for coping. And wisdom appears. :)

Flossie:
I hope so - I guess we'll see. And confidence - if I have any - comes from doing this a lot. I hope you don't ever have to interview so extensively that you become really awesome at it.

Brigindo:
Aw, thank you! I just need one offer - please, please, please let me get one offer.

Psychgrad said...

That sounds like a really satisfying interview. It's nice to feel comfortable to just tell it like it is, hope that they like you, but feel comfortable with whatever the result is because you know you were being truthful.

Sounds like you've got some great opportunities. Congratulations.

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