Sunday, May 24, 2009

I'm an imposter!

Friday I was up North helping one of our field offices move. He was in a space too big for just him and my company is trying to save money. They made him find something 1/4 the price. I decided to go there and help since 1) my PI mentioned they were looking for volunteers and 2) it is where I'm from and where my family lives and I was overdue for a visit. This background was just to say that I wasn't in the office Friday but I later saw I had a voice mail from another company we work with and they want to talk about the progress of a particular project that I am now the project manager on.

More background: We recently had an employee quit. He left under good terms for a better job. Him and I were working on this project together, just us, and we hadn't gotten very far by the time he left. I by default have been given this project. It's a rather large project involving no field work. I've only been given little bits and pieces of information about the project and in general when I work on it I feel greatly overwhelmed by the vastness of what needs to be accomplished. I've cut it down into little tasks but all of them are related so when I work on one tasks I read something interesting and get distracted on another tasks. The employee who left has been working in the area for 8 years and did his undergrad and grad work in the area. He was the perfect candidate for this job due to all the knowledge he had about the field area, ect. My role was to aid in his assessment but compiling data, making plots, ect.

As I said I feel very lost but don't even know the right questions to ask to get me on track.

I have a great fear that I am going to sound like an ass on the phone on Tuesday and have been sitting at the computer today trying to piece something together that I can talk about, some kind of update to let this other company know how I am doing. But in all the time I've been sitting here I haven't even opened a file yet about the project.

I fear that my fear of failing is causing me to have a fear of trying.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Wednesday night I came down with a sore throat. It prevented me from going into work on Thursday and then, on Friday, I only worked a few hours. My employer has asked that we don't come into work sick so instead of my long Monday morning commute I stayed home and went to the doctor. I only have a sinus infection, although one that has given me a terrible headache, face-ache and greatly reduced my energy levels, and one that the doctor said is still contagious. Thus I stayed home from work again today. I have work I could be doing from home but it's work I'm not very excited about so I've been using my sickness as an excuse to watch tv. I've caught up on all my favorite shows and even some of my not so favorite shows. I'm home now at 6pm, having an insatiable thirst and wishing I had the motivation to work some of this hated project. I keep telling myself tomorrow will be better but likely it won't. I think tomorrow should be another stay home day and Thursday I will go into the office. Friday I'm scheduled to help one of our other offices move, since he is located near my family and I needed an excuse to go there anyway to visit.

Overall I wrote this post to confess that even though I am really sick I think I've just been using it as an excuse not to work on this project (that doesn't really have a deadline). Wish me luck that tomorrow I'll get a few hours of work accomplished, and maybe even some tonight.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My job as a consultant

Psych Post Doc's question "why don't you tell us about being a consultant? What are the pros and cons (other than the crazy commute)? Are there any things about the job that surprise you? In a good way or a bad way? Do you think you'd want to do this long term?"

I do not think that being a consultant is my long-term goal. However, I fear that my options are limiting seeing that I'd like to work close to home. In terms of the quality of work done at the consulting firms near my house I’ve been told the one I work with is the best (by outside opinions).

To put being a consultant in context I want to inform you that I did not make a long-term employment goal before going to graduate school. I knew, as an undergrad, that I wanted to help the environment, but did not think about how I would do this. I thought being a soil scientist sounded good. The summer of my junior year I started working for a soil scientist at the US Geological Survey and continued this lab/field tech job for a year after I graduated. I would have likely continued in that group for all eternity, possibly working there and doing grad school part time, had it not been for my obnoxiously charming boyfriend who decided to move to the East Coast for graduate school. During our year apart I decided, "what the hell, I'll move out there and go to grad school." It was this stage that my career goals became esoteric and I just started to study the most interesting thing to me at his department. Turned out I really liked the work so not only did I get a master's degree but a Ph.D. in the process.

Ok, enough digression. I really had little idea of what a consultant did. My interactions with consultants while on the East Coast were people who did groundwater clean ups. My advisor interacted with a lot of consultants, I met many of these at local conferences, and when I was graduating my advisor encouraged me to apply for consulting jobs-stating that I would make much more money in consulting (which is not currently my case). Three of his master’s students that finished during my time there and one that finished shortly afterwards went into consulting, staying close to the University. I wish that while he was pushing consulting so much he would have advised his students to learn more about public policy, which is something I am highly lacking in my current job.

To sum up my job as a consultant I would say this is the process of what we do:
1) Do something marginally representing science, like a quick monitoring program or run some type of fancy model
2) Write a report about all the local, state and federal requirements of this small project you have been awarded and state how the little amount of data we collected fall within (or outside) these requirements
3) Make sure to include in the report all the future work that needs to be done, usually future monitoring or maybe a design to mitigate something, and hope you get awarded to the project to do this monitoring or to work up the design plan
4) Realizes while you are writing the report that you are out of budget and totally stress out and push that stress on to your fellow workers

The pros and cons list doesn’t reflect consulting in general but my specific company and my geographic location.

Pro: A paycheck
Con: We all took a pay-cut a few months back

Pro: I get to learn new things
Con: I have to learn new things in a short little time frame, within a tight budget that didn’t allocate for learning new things (i.e. learning should be done on my own time)

Pro: Everyone is generally friendly
Con: Everyone seems highly anal

Pro: I get to work outside some times
Con: No laboratory work, lots of writing

Pro: The projects we work on are diverse

Con: My boss seems to not realize what personal boundaries are

I just have to saw the honeymoon is over, I don’t seem to like consulting as much as I thought I would. I have to wonder if it’s my particular firm, my mindset or just my general attitude. Working on my Ph.D. taught me that one can spend 6 years dedicated to a project and still not know everything about it. As a consultant I feel like I have three weeks to become an expert on a particular subject. I constantly kick myself in the butt for wasting my time in academia when I could have been gaining work experience. I also feel way behind my co-workers who seem to know so much about the local area and while I grew up here I didn’t study the geology-hydrology-public policy here and fear my knowledge is lacking. If I gained something during my Ph.D. it should have been the process to learn all these new things. However, I became fairly bitter and cynical during my last year and I am just so dam tired of learning new things. I don’t know what my problem is, but I’m not highly motivated at this job.

I should try to get back into blogging more about life/job. This helped me write my dissertation and could possibly aid in balancing my life here. If you know of great blogs written by consultants please pass them along. I keep track of a few already.

Home sick

I stayed home yesterday with a sore throat and an overall feeling of sickness. I'm a little nauseous as well. Our work has asked us to stay home if we are feeling ill due to the outbreak of swine flu. So, I'm home sick again today. I'm feeling better and think I'll go into work soon. It's almost 2pm here and my office near home has two rooms in it. The other two employees are in the second room so I feel if contagious we won't interact much so hopefully it won't matter. I'm also hoping they will go home early. Since I've only worked about 16 hours this week I'll likely go back into the office tomorrow (saturday). It would be nice to work from home but I can't access our network and can't fill out my time sheet.

I reread my consulting post and will post it next. I didn't change it much so the overall mood of the writing is the same.