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A weird thing happened at work today… June 14, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in work.
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I got a weird email from one of the admin people.

Cherish, you need to check your box.  It’s getting full of mail.

This is weird because…well…I didn’t have a box!  When I started working two years ago (my goodness, probably two years ago today), there were no slots for additional boxes.  The person who dealt with the mail said that she would just throw my mail in my husband’s box because she wasn’t sure what else to do with it.  I also was sitting at a workstation in one of the offices and didn’t have my ‘own’ desk.

So now, two years later, I’m apparently in possession of a box.  It turns out that there is a mailbox for the office I’m in, but given my other three officemates have gone on to greener pastures, no one ever checks it…primarily because no one told me it was there.  Also, the person who used to sort the mail left 9 months ago (approximately) and never told anyone just to put my stuff in my husband’s box.

It occurred to me that maybe I should now ask for my own box, but since I’m the only one in that office, I sort of already have it.  The down side is that I don’t want it: the only things in there were sales flyers and catalogs from electronics supply companies.

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Let me drop everything and work on YOUR problem March 23, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, grad school, work.
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I appreciate the fact that I have very respectful and polite colleagues.  I particularly appreciate it when it comes to my schedule.  I only work half-time, and most of them have been very good about making sure to schedule things for when I am there.  On those occasions where things had to be scheduled when I was supposed to be gone, my supervisor has usually asked me first to make sure there’s no conflict.  My hours are pretty flexible, as well, so if I have to stay late one day, I can take time off the following day or something similar.

Still, I hate having things change around too much.  Changes in schedule seriously seem to affect my concentration, and changes in routine just don’t sit well with me.  I can certainly deal, but it always seems to throw me off.

In the past month and a half, things have gotten much worse, schedule-wise.  I’ve had to do a lot of changing schedules because of some PR that the university has been doing both on my research at work as well as my dissertation project.  I have gotten to the point that I now am dressing up half the time when I go to work because, more than once, I’ve gotten a call in the morning that they’d like me to talk to a reporter or in the afternoon.  Half the time, I wasn’t even dressed like a nerdy engineer – t-shirt and jeans was it.  It’s a good thing I live close to campus because I’ve had to make emergency wardrobe trips.  However, despite all of the rearrangements, if I’ve said I had a conflict, no one has ever asked me to change anything.  People have been willing to work around my schedule, which has been awesome.

The only real problem I hit is when deadlines show up.  If the deadline is looming but not close enough that I can adjust a schedule for the week, that sometimes sucks time out of dissertation work (although I am getting more and more protective of that as time goes on, simply because it’s so easy to let it slide).  What’s worse is when there are deadlines at work and the kids suddenly have a million and one extra activities as well.  And I really hate it when someone gives me ‘vague’ deadlines, like “as soon as humanly possible”.  I usually tell them what is humanly possible for me, but I suspect that on a couple of occasions, they felt as though they could do the same thing faster.  It’s possible they could…but it’s also possible that, if they had the same schedule constraints I do, they might not.  As cliche as it is, I go back to Stephen Covey’s 7 habits book.  In it, he says he schedules everything out, and if someone drops something in your lap, you ask them what other thing you should get rid of to fit in this deadline.  (Maybe it’s surprising, but my supervisor is very open to shifting priorities when it’s necessary.  Other people…not so much.)

How do you deal with shifts in schedule and sudden deadlines?

Wordless Wednesday: Things in my office February 22, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, photography, work.
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And so it begins… January 20, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, research, work.
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Yesterday afternoon, two emails came through at work letting us know that about 1/4 of the people working at our center would be dismissed.  This morning, the front page of the local paper had the story.

Our center has primarily been funded under earmarks along with some other projects coming through industry collaborations.  When congress cut all earmarks, we lost the most significant portion of our funding.  (I find this frustrating as cutting earmarks doesn’t actually reduce the budget…it just means that no portions of the existing budgets can be allocated to specific projects by congress.  So our center losing most of its funding changed nothing in terms of the US budget.)

Today was surreal.  Someone came up to tell me they were one of the ones let go.  Another person announced it at the end of the meeting.  I had no inkling before they said anything that they were on the list.  I didn’t take it well.

Right before Christmas, two people I know let me know they’d been laid off (both EEs in technology industries).  I’ve heard of companies pulling such tactics as they approach the end of their fiscal year.  I will say that despite the fact we knew things were going to be happening, I was hugely relieved that, in the case of our center, they at least waited until after the holidays so that people could enjoy the time with their families.

And the people that have been let go are not necessarily going because they weren’t smart or hard working.  That is both the hardest part and the best part.  I know that these people aren’t to blame for their predicament – it was simply a matter of whether their expertise is necessary on some of the projects we have coming in.  I’m confident these people can move on and still be successful.

On the other hand, it sort of flies in the face of the “work hard and you’ll always have a job” mentality that so many people put out there.  That’s simply not true…and that’s why this is really hard.  I’m also feeling a twinge of survivor guilt.  I still have my job, as does my husband.  It seems unfair that I just happened to luck out to have some of the skills that will be required moving forward.

Most of the people will still be around for a month, but it’s going to be hard to work as though nothing happened.  And after they’re gone, the place is going to be uncomfortably empty.

Opposition from mediocre minds July 14, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering.
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A couple days ago, I read an article on the ‘culture war’ between scientists and engineers. (HT to Uncertain Principles.)

Being back with both feet firmly planted in Engineeringville, this topic has been on my mind a lot. Surprisingly enough, this same conflict resides entirely within engineering as well as being a conflict between engineers and scientists.

I’d say that the one thing engineers all have in common is that they like to make things. If you go into engineering, you’re not usually looking to reinvent the wheel. If you’re on the research side of engineering, you’re looking for a better way to make things, or even new things to make. To do this, they spend a lot of time training on what are the most efficient ways to design things. They don’t spend time learning how to reinvent the wheel: they learn from others mistakes.

Scientists, in my experience, are more interested in exploring ideas and figuring things out. They like to pull things apart, and figure out how they work. They like taking something seeing how changing things will affect its behavior. By spending a lot of time tinkering or thinking about things, they like to come up with a way to describe what they see or a theory on how it works. Whether or not it has a lot of practical use is simply not relevant (to many of them), but whatever they’re picking apart is usually pretty interesting.

But back to engineering, I see the same sort of conflict described in the article only in engineering. At one extreme, you have people with grandiose ideas, some of which have poorly defined details. At the other end are the people who have a set of skills which they know how to apply in a very narrow way and don’t like to budge outside of that comfort zone.

When you get these two types of people into a room, it can be very explosive. The person with the grandiose idea goes all Einstein, announcing that the other people involved “don’t know what I’m trying to accomplish! They have mediocre minds!” At the other end, they see Einstein’s crazy hair but no brain: “She doesn’t know anything about this process. She can’t use it that way, so she must be wrong.”

I think a lot of this has a lot to do with individual ideas about what is “engineering”. It’s a very poorly defined concept. There are a lot of engineers who are very ‘big picture’. They like to be innovative and try new things.

And this completely discomfits those who like to have things very clearly defined.

I think some of it could be solved with communication. I think that engineers who are comfortable with the big idea could spend more time working out the details with those who prefer more guidance. I know some people who make an effort to do this, though not all of them do so effectively. Unfortunately, it seems like the effort to broaden one’s horizons and deal better with open questions on a project isn’t an effort often made by those who prefer things nailed down, and I’m not sure how to motivate such people. Even the desire to make something only seems to apply to situations where they know in advance how to get there and what the end result will be.

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