Monday, October 27, 2014
My other projects are currently taking all my work time, and this has been the case for the last 6 months, so I have been unable to work on any of the publications I've wanted to. So I made a decision today to work on my paper during my lunch break and after work hours. And then I actually followed through.
While I was working on my paper during lunch, my boss walked by.
Boss: "Oh, Ruby. I know you really want to do this, but I don't think we have the time to focus on this."
Ruby: "But wait, it's my lunch break; I thought I could do what I wanted on my lunch break."
Boss: "Oh, you're right. Go ahead."
I'm grateful that my boss at least admits when she is wrong. And I'm pretty sure I was in the right for speaking up when she tried to micromanage me during my lunch break. At least that's what my friends and coworkers say.
This exchange really irritated me because it should really be my boss' job to realistically prioritize projects such that I have the time to get work done on all of my work goals. I shouldn't have to spend time during lunch to accomplish one of my official work goals.
However, I learned that you shouldn't let anyone, not even your managers who dictate your performance review, walk over you. Especially don't let them take away your freedoms without your say-so. It is better for your own sanity and may even gain you respect for not being the person who lets people walk all over her.
I know this post is titled "How to accomplish your own priorities at work," so I'd better give you some advice on how to do that...
If you truly value something, you had better be willing to sacrifice to get it done. Sometimes it will be as simple as giving up your lunch breaks, but sometimes it will be worse.But if you really want something, don't let anything get in the way of you achieving it.
Monday, October 20, 2014
My point is that for women (especially single women) in a heavily male dominated contracting world, you are kind of damned if you do and damned if you don't. Our business relationships are often tainted with some level of weirdness, whether it is perceived by us or outsiders, that doesn't impact single gender relationships. It's treated as a weirder occurrence than married guys going to a strip club on their lunch breaks. It seems the only way to try to avoid the weirdness is by installing a glass ceiling above your own head as a barrier, and even that doesn't always work. It's one of the reasons I left contracting, and have moved to the other side of the table where there is no way I can be accused of whoring myself out for engineering work.
While I am much happier on this side of the table, I still wonder if there is any way to fix the Catch-22 situation where female contractors are currently stuck. And I know most engineers have never even considered it, or realize how bad it can be.
What are your thoughts? Have any of the male readers ever felt the same weirdness as contractors?
Monday, October 13, 2014
Switching departments was a tough transition and working in my new department required a TON of overtime to keep up with the new demands and with all the learning I had to do to catch up. But, I had coworkers to talk to instead of living in isolation. Plus I found the work to be not just better than before, but actually and truly enjoyable.
Fast forward to a year and a half later, and I've become a star. I've had meetings where I've gotten so much praise that I literally don't know what to say? What do you say when your boss' boss' boss tells you that you've made a priceless contribution to the advancement of this department and to the science in the field? What do you say when they won't accept your "thank you" because they believe they should be thanking you? I am totally willing to acknowledge that this sounds like I'm ungrateful and am complaining about a good thing. But really - what the hell do you say to that when you aren't allowed to say "thank you"?
Let's just suffice it to say that I'm appreciated at work, get what I want when I ask for it, like what I do, and have a somewhat flexible schedule. Some might say that I have it good. Coming from my first job in the company, I'd have to agree. I'd even raise that to saying that pretty freaking fantastic job. So when I was approached last week unofficially about a position in another department, I didn't jump on it. In fact, I was hesitant despite the fact that I was offered a promotion, which would mean I would get a second promotion only one year after my last promotion. I was hesitant despite the fact that I was offered a position in the group that does the work that I eventually want to do. I was hesitant despite the fact that I would get more freedom and visibility across departments.
What I'm saying is that I was offered a pretty good new job and I made an argument against it because I realized that my job is nearly perfect for my needs right now and is fulfilling both in terms of work projects and in terms of work-life balance.
This is just my long-winded way of saying that I didn't realize how happy I was with my current job until I had this offer come and slap me in the face with my happiness. I didn't realize how happy I was until I was forced to reflect on it. And I realize now that I was right in recognizing my unhappiness in my past job, recognizing what would make me happy, and taking the opportunity when it came to me. Yes, part of it is luck. But part of achieving happiness is taking a moment to reflect on what you need, what you want to avoid, and where you want to go in the future. For now, my current job is taking me on the path to the future I want and at the same time is keeping me fulfilled in the present. Keep an eye out for what can get you both those things, and you'll be happy, too.
Monday, October 6, 2014
So here are a few fun little projects for you (the kids are totally optional):
Oobleck (a classic)
Set the stage by letting your subject put their hand in a bowl of water. Note how the water reacts as a fluid. How motion is permitted no matter the speed. Now have the subject put their hand on a table. This is a solid (obviously) and note how no matter how fast or slow or how hard or soft you push, the table provides equal and opposite force keeping your hand still. It seems silly to go over these obvious actions, but this understanding is crucial to showing why Oobleck is so unusual (it's a non-newtonian fluid).
Make Oobleck with this recipe (if you are working with a kid, let them measure out everything and put it together with your instruction).
I suggest using some green or red food coloring. Once you have the oobleck, remember what you previously determined about solids and liquids, and then explore the behavior of your new alien creation.
Send Letters With Disappearing Ink
Dry Ice Fog and Fun
Electronic Special Effects
PS. What are your favorite ideas for creepy science experiments and projects?
Monday, September 29, 2014
What are the facilities like? The environment in which you work can have a massive impact on your experience at your job. Some jobs have you in the field working with or around dangerous equipment with only porta-potties nearby, and others are working in cubicles in shiny office buildings with glass walls. If you are interviewing on site, then this may be self evident. Otherwise, if you have any doubt about your work environment and one of the possibilities is unacceptable to you, ask a specific question to get clarity.
|Some people aren't cut out for "roughing it"|
How much overtime do employees work on average? How much overtime is expected? A lot of jobs end up requiring "unexpected" overtime regularly. The two questions may provide slightly different answers and can help you ascertain if you can maintain the work/life balance you want, and if working 40 hours a week will make you a below average employee.
Is the position exempt or non-exempt? AKA are you paid for your overtime? If not, are there performance bonuses? A lot of times engineers work endless hours and feel like they are taken advantage of. If there isn't a financial award system for people who work longer and harder hours, then there is a good chance there are also a number of dissatisfied employees.
What is the n year attrition rate? Pick a number N that is acceptable to you. I'm partial to 2 years- because many people in the younger generation are only willing to stay 2 years at a job they don't like. This question is important to save until after you've been offered a job, since it may hit too close to home for certain companies.
Am I expected to be on call? How often? This is another requirement that people often find out after starting a job. Some manufacturing, utility, and other engineering jobs require employees to be on call like doctors. That means no drinking and no travelling when you are on call- and the potential to be interrupted from everything from a hot date to a good nights rest. It also means you may not be guaranteed to have regular holidays.
With these questions out of the way and information about salary and benefits, you'll hopefully have all the information you need to decide if you want to take the job or not.
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Monday, September 22, 2014
Here's some tips I've learned over the years about finding mentors:
No "Define The Relationship" talk is required. Before I started full time work, I read a lot of books which suggested walking into someones office and asking if they would be your mentor. A mentor and mentee relationship doesn't have to be a formalized process involving three letters of recommendation, weekly progress reports, and regular meetings. In my mind, a mentor is just somebody who you can count on to provide guidance. In engineering, I've noticed a lot of experienced people can be intimidated by the idea of having a formalized mentoring relationship because of the time commitment required. By just casually asking questions when you need help, you get to avoid an awkward conversation and most people are more than happy to spare a few minutes here and there to help you.
|Nobody wants to deal with this awkward moment|
Have multiple mentors. In most environments, everyone has something different at which they excel. Each mentor you have can offer a different perspective on your work and your career, and splitting the work of mentoring makes your personal improvement less of a burden on the mentors themselves. You don't have one professor in college, so why learn exclusively from one person after you graduate? Identify what you want to improve about yourself, and find someone (or multiple people!) to help you do that.
Don't limit yourself by your job description. Sometimes the mentor that you need for a specific task is not in your department. Sometimes they are not even an engineer. For example, I've learned a lot from the union workers and technicians about how parts actually function in the real world (not just on paper), and I've learned from administrative assistants how I can fast track processes.
Communicate your questions clearly. If you are worried about seeming incompetent for a question you need to ask, pretending you know what you are doing could lead to disaster. You can always ask questions by saying "I understand that *basic information about how the system works*, but I was wondering if you know how *specific question*". By stating what you know as part of the question it both gives relevant background and shows that you are competent.
Ask your own questions. While asking questions is not a bad thing, being the funnel for answers is not a great thing either. When you are new somebody asks you a question you can't answer, give them the information to try to ask the question themselves.
Thank mentors for their time. It's common sense, but when people take time out of their day to help you succeed, make sure you at least say "thank you".
Mentor somebody else. If you expect for other people to help you, remember to give back to the circle of mentoring by helping someone else out. That can mean helping other people learn something you do well, even if they are generally considered more experienced than you. For example, I taught one of my technical mentors how to write basic scripts in Excel.
Mentors are not always right. Getting mentored is great, accepting facts without questioning and understanding them is not. Like all human beings, even mentors can be wrong. So make sure you think about the advice critically.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Cue you eating delivery pizza and drinking wine in an apartment filled with unpacked boxes watching reruns of TV shows on Netflix. And then telling your friends who are hundreds of miles away about it on Skype, SnapChat, Gchat, Facebook, and Twitter. Sound familiar?
While a night in can be great and old friends are "gold" (according to Girl Scout campfire songs), making new friends is an important part of starting your new life somewhere. Starting fresh can be difficult, but it is also a great opportunity to reinvent yourself. Life isn't about wallowing in sadness, so take ownership of your move and try a few of the following ways to meet new friends.
Sit With People in the LunchroomIf you have a lunchroom at work, take it upon yourself to find an empty seat and introduce yourself to some new people. Sitting at a new table can be oddly scary, but it is a great way to get to actually talk to people at work. You will definitely not make new friends by sitting alone at your desk, so what have you got to lose?
Go to a MeetupMeetup is a great way to find people nearby who are looking to do things with new friends. If you are worried about safety, go to ones organized in public locations. In bigger cities, you can find people who have specific similar interests. In smaller towns... you can find people!
Try VolunteeringTry doing something good for your new community, and meeting nice people at the same time! If you don't have a charity with which you have a particularly strong connection, check out VolunteerMatch to find new opportunities.
|Those were supposed to be hairnets, but they came out looking more like colonial garb. Again, I never said I was an artist.|
Find a Cultural/Religious OrganizationIf you identify with a specific culture or religion, try to find a branch nearby. These can be easy ready built communities.
Take a ClassMake new friends while you broaden your horizons and learn a new skill. I'm partial to taking art, exercise or language classes since they are so different from my profession. These are offered at colleges, community centers, gyms, art galleries, etc. Poke around and see what fits you best!
Join a Professional OrganizationBuild a strong network and meet new people in your area be joining and becoming involved with a professional organization. If you somehow made it through college without being inducted into any professional societies, SWE, ASME, IEEE, ASCE, AIChE, MRS, or whatever other organization that is related to your field are all great options.
However you decide to meet people, make sure to take the initiative to invite your new friends to hang out. Don't forget, making new friends is a process. Keep trying new things and you'll find yourself feeling at home in no time.
PS. What other suggestions do you have for how adults can make new friends after a big move?