actuality.log


All entries tagged 'job search'

Saturday, January the 16th, 2010

I’ve begun working on different applications over these past couple of weeks, and I finally finished my first one. It is to be a teaching fellow helping the development of underprivileged schools back home.

As part of the application, I had to answer several essay questions so that the parent organisation can gauge how serious I am about doing this. Since I haven’t written anything on here recently, I decided to post those questions and answers here. Perhaps it will give you some insight into why I’m attempting the sorts of things that I am. (And regular readers will notice that I have appropriated several sentences straight from the journal to populate the answers.)

Why do you want to be a Teach for India Fellow? Why is now the right time in your life to do so?

One of my very first memories is from kindergarten. To this day, I vividly remember the pattern on the gate I was railing against with my tiny palms as I wailed for my mother to come back and get me. I also distinctly remember how calm I felt just moments thereafter, when a protective hand took hold of mine, and I turned to see the warm smile of my very first class-teacher.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of being taught and mentored by several wonderful teachers. I can’t always remember their names, or the exact words they used to convey concepts, but I can’t ever forget the ideas they have impressed upon me, or disregard the profoundly positive influence they have had on my life.

Education has given me the opportunity to satiate my voracious curiosity. It repeatedly allows me to experience the feeling of glee that accompanies one’s understanding of something new. It has allowed me to travel the world and meet varied and interesting people. It has brought me economic opportunity and a sense of financial security.

I imagine a day when every little child has the opportunity to pursue the things they are curious about. I believe that a good education and the freedom it provides is not a luxury, and thus reserved for a privileged few, but is something that we as a society owe all our children. It is in this context that I am keen on working with an organisation such as Teach for India. I greatly enjoy teaching, and I want to play my part in providing effective educational opportunities to children. I hope to inspire them to be curious and work hard, so that they may accomplish anything they set their minds to.

I will be completing my stint as a post-doctoral fellow in the middle of 2010, and I am at a crossroads. I could continue with my career as an academic scribbling abstract thoughts on bits of paper, or I could acknowledge that I have an intense urge to do something more substantive with my life. It was in my search to find avenues to satisfy this urge that I stumbled upon the wonderful efforts of your organisation. And I just had to try to be a part of it.

Tell us about a time in the past three years when you were working for a while towards a professional, academic or extra-curricular goal and an obstacle came in your way. Please do not use personal examples where the obstacles were sickness or family pressure.

Please describe the goal and the obstacle that came in your way?

I entered graduate school in the U.S. with what seemed to be a fairly straightforward goal: Complete the requirements for a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, the field I had been trained in as an undergrad. My curiosity soon led me to a multi-disciplinary group whose work I found fascinating, and before long, I had commenced working on my Ph.D. project with them. My primary task was to help understand the mechanical behaviour of tissues in the body as they grew.

Working toward this goal has been the most arduous intellectual task I have undertaken, and the journey has spanned much of my adult life.

All of the significant obstacles that periodically arose over the course of my study were intellectual. These roadblocks often stemmed from one fundamental fact: I was working on an interdisciplinary problem that required knowledge from a variety of fields including mechanics, mathematics, biology and engineering. And I was only comfortable with some subsets of a few of those fields.

How did you feel when faced with the obstacle?

My natural instinct when faced with something I do not understand is curious fascination. I have enough of an ego to believe that I could understand it if I set my mind to it.

But things were rarely this straightforward.

These intellectual roadblocks were not related to a single incident at a specific time, but rather appeared periodically over the duration of my study. Oftentimes, these challenges were coupled with other hurdles such as the looming academic deadline to submit a dissertation that was both substantial and original.

In such times, my response was multi-faceted. I felt the rush of the challenge, nervousness at the thought of failure, and toward the end of the programme, I began to feel isolated as I attempted to shut out all external distractions in order to concentrate harder.

What did you do when faced with the obstacle?

In the briefest of terms, I turned to many of the avenues for support that the university had to offer–my advisors, books in the library, additional courses–and I worked a lot harder.

I had the luxury of working with a diverse and supportive group. Early on, I made the effort to learn the language of these experts. I would interact with them regularly, and turn to them for assistance and advice on how to proceed. Their support was (and still is) remarkably beneficial to me.

It was also clear to me early on that if I was to make any progress at all, I had to seriously work toward an advanced degree in mathematics, to fill up some of the bigger gaps in my knowledge. And so I did. Upon completion of my M.S.E in mechanical engineering, I started working on an M.S. in the mathematics department. Later, I also transitioned my Ph.D. degree to come from two departments, necessitating that I satisfy the requirements of both these fields.

This persuaded me to take more courses, and spend a lot more time in libraries learning about areas outside my core competence.

What was the end-result?

With the help of my peers and after over five years of study, I managed to overcome a number of significant intellectual hurdles and complete the requirements for my Ph.D. Furthermore, my efforts in understanding fields initially outside my core competence allowed me to build my expertise in multiple areas. Over the years, it has also given me the opportunity to meet several interesting academics from a variety of backgrounds. The effort has been personally rewarding, and I believe I have contributed in my small way to our collective understanding of a complex problem.

Please tell us anything else you’d like us to know about you.

Much of what I want to say has been covered in the preceding essays, but the following are a couple of concerns I feel I should highlight.

The first of these is that my knowledge of Hindi is spotty at best, and I do not know any Marathi. From my research, I understand that the Teach for India programme targets English medium schools, but I imagine that my lack of knowledge of the local language will be an additional challenge when working and living in Maharashtra. I must hasten to add that I am willing to learn, and that I’m fantasising a scenario where I can later expand your efforts closer to my hometown (Madras). I firmly believe that the skills and experiences I gather as a fellow will adequately prepare me for the challenges that lie ahead.

Secondly, I am not in India at the moment. I am spending a few months as a guest researcher at the University of Cambridge in England. I intend on being here until the end of February, after which I will return to home in Norway. I am not sure how this will impact my ability to get to your nearest Assessment Centre. I must also point out that in any event, I would really like to visit your organisation and the schools you work with in person to get a clear idea of the reality of the situation, before I can confidently make such a dramatic change in the direction of my life.

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Wednesday, December the 16th, 2009

I kinda like it here at the university. After being away from one for over a year now, I realise how much I’ve missed the fascinatingly varied talks, the thought-provoking conversations, the dauntingly-large libraries, … the scholarly atmosphere in general.

Being here at Cambridge has given me a lot of time to ponder. Unfortunately, I’ve squandered much of this time obsessing over decisions regarding my future. You see, I have about 6–7 months ’til the completion of my contract in Scandinavia, and people keep asking me what I plan on doing next. The fact that I haven’t a clue sometimes makes me feel like a free spirit, but more often than not, the thought terrifies me. There are so many dimensions and angles to this quandary, it quickly overwhelms me every time I start to think about it. Perhaps things will be clearer when presented in the form of my possibility matrix.

Please please please jump in with any ideas that you have.

What↓ Where→ Continue in Scandinavia? Return to the U.S.? Return to India? Explore options elsewhere?
  1. And if so, what do I do? Continue with stuff I’ve been trained to do well, or try something else new entirely?
  2. Live frugally off savings and attempt nothing noteworthy.
Work hard1 Feasible Feasible Feasible Feasible
Rely on nepotism Nontrivial Feasible Feasible Don’t know anyone
Quit life entirely2 Can’t afford Won’t allow Feasible Won’t allow

My possibility matrix

As I’ve said before, I really like choice. I hate choosing.

Alongside the table, I’ve also started to catalogue forty-two specific options for the future. As a first for this journal, the page that lists these options is password protected. You need to e-mail me for access if you really want to see it. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it has to be.

Saturday, March the 22nd, 2008

It seems that these past few months have satiated my yearning for wallowing in my own misery and indulging in my self-defeat, and I am now finally ready to move on with my life.

As I sit here writing this, I’m awaiting a contract from a European research laboratory; one which I’m supposed to peruse and, if I approve, sign. After going back and forth on this for weeks, I’ve finally decided to revert to my original decision of exploring opportunities in Europe. The resolution of this matter fills me with an immediate calm, replacing much of the angst that arrested me before.

Let me outline the plan for you since you must be curious. (You’re here, aren’t you?)

I’m going to be employed by a Norwegian research group situated in Oslo. I’m also going to be working with a professor in Cambridge. This will involve some shuttling between Norway and England, and I’m now working on some paperwork (for the necessary work permits and visas and such) to get the ball rolling. Independent of this, I’ve got a conference to attend in Venice in June–July, so at the very least, I ought to have lived in/visited three European countries between now and early next year!

Have I made the “right decision?” I sure as hell don’t know. But I do know that the big breakthrough in my turbulent decision-making process came with the following simple realisation: This is just a job. It pays very well and if I enjoy myself, great! If things don’t work out the way I would like them to, I can surely move onto other things later.

Nothing is set in stone.

Friday, February the 22nd, 2008

I’m going to keep this brief because I am not in an environment (or a frame of mind) that’s conducive to writing. Also, I know that the entries over the past weeks haven’t been the most enthralling, but I give you what I can.

After over five years, I stepped into a “barber shop” earlier this week. It’s not like I’d let my hair grow into an unmanageable mess in the interim, but for years, I was getting it done in places that referred to themselves as “salons.” Now I know why: Men don’t know how to cut other men’s hair.

But that’s not an important story, for supposedly my hair will grow back. Or the rest of it will fall off, or something.

What is important is something else that happened over the course of the week. Since I’d received a work permit to legally pursue employment in this country, I had the option of reinstating my salary as a grad student while I pondered my future employment prospects (since I do some work for my uni bosses from time to time anyway). When approached about this, I declined, quite enjoying my “free bird” status. You see, I don’t need the money right now, and I’d much rather idle guilt-free instead of getting paid… and feeling guilty about idling.

Regarding my future employment choices, I seem to be my biggest stumbling block. Even so, I intend on finalising my decision by the end of this month. I just wish I were as enthusiastic about science as I have been about colour over these past weeks.

Coloured flour

Wednesday, February the 13th, 2008

“But do you feel she’s pretty?” I push on, knowing fully well I can’t implicitly trust her answer. My mother has this odd way of rating the attractiveness of women, and someone who’s a 9 in her eyes is realistically more like a 6. But I chose to ask anyway, for I’d decided to let such details factor into my life’s decisions.

You see, as slowly as things have been progressing, they’ve generally evolved positively and I now have few job options on hand—spanning Europe and the United States. I’ve even received official word from the Homeland Security-types that I am not evil and can legally pursue employment in this country.

But even so, my life has been relatively stagnant. The sticking point seems to be nothing in particular other than me circumspectly dragging my feet—hoping to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of every one of these opportunities, so as to make the one true right decision™.

Incorrectly reading this to be depression-driven sluggishness, my mother occasionally tries to help out by stepping in and helping with an other entirely different problem—mate selection. Not wanting to really exert herself however, she sticks to her tiny, close-knit grapevine and attempts to casually bring up in passing conversation her friends’ nieces and daughters. And since my work search is rather wide, geographically, there are times when it snags one of these women as well. At which point I push her for details, for I am evil like that.

Hey, if you’re going through so much rigour to make the one true right decision™, you might as well work all the angles with all the facts, right?

Thursday, January the 17th, 2008

In a little town far far away, I once tipped a waitress more than what my clique’s dinner cost me. Quite plainly, she really was breathtaking and I absolutely could not resist the urge to do so. Perhaps it was just my imagination running amok, but I believe my act elicited one of the warmest smiles I have ever seen. I don’t think I was alone in feeling that way, for the men in the group I was with for dinner kept insisting we return to the same table at the same restaurant three times that evening. And quite certainly, they couldn’t have been that famished.

But this was a long time ago. So why am I recounting the tale now?

Being the kind of person that I am, I rarely remember the specifics of any event, and instead only carry with me a vague notion of how the event made me feel. It’s experiences such as this that leave me feeling warm and fuzzy every time I think of that little town so far away. And, it’s perhaps why I’m actually looking forward to a research position that’s slowly coming my way.

I get to move to that little town.

Monday, January the 14th, 2008

Ever since the end of December, I’ve done little but laze around the house—eating like a pig and catching up on months of lost TV time. The funny (or is it sad?) thing here is that all this wasting away is shamelessly occurring not at my own home, but at my Aunt’s.

Not having a job or a regular means of income, I’ve given up my apartment in Ann Arbor and moved bag and baggage to their home in a town nearby. I am not particularly pleased with this scenario, but I am not exactly perturbed by it either. At least, not perturbed enough to do very much about it. But, just so you don’t come to the conclusion that I’m completely hopeless, I have to let you know that I’ve sent out some (a couple of) letters of application to other bigwigs in the field, and I’ve also had the chance to meet one in person for quite a while as he was touring these parts. From what I can tell, it appears as though people in general are impressed by my credentials, and something ought to materialise soon enough.

It’s just, I’m still wrestling with my existential crises (as always), and I’m unable to firmly put my foot into any door; which isn’t much of a surprise given I’m not certain I want to enter any of the doors before me. Either way, to add to the generally muddled state of affairs, I’ve been seriously contemplating a couple of things. Firstly, I really do want to take a proper break from all of this. I know that my state right now could be easily confused with a break in itself, but it’s not what I would deem a proper break. To this end, I’ve been looking up the usual relaxation hot spots (I seem to be particularly fixated on Hawaii right now) and trying to plan something which ought to help clear my mind.

And secondly, even if my offers materialise sooner rather than later, I don’t want to begin my academic work right now. I want to spend some quality time away from all of this and do something real with my life.

Now, all I need to do is figure out just what that is.

Wednesday, December the 19th, 2007

now makes you weary.

I’m disappointed to report that the group funding my Cambridge gig has decided to pull their support, leaving me a “freshly”-minted doctor without a job. (Is there any other kind?) It’s not so much the science I am going to miss, as I am the opportunities to travel and meet new people.

As I’d expected, even prior to the arrival of this news, my mom had noticed my generally mopey behaviour and talked to me about it; repeatedly. After arguing about it for a while, I eventually said something along the lines of “I’ll start moping less when happier things transpire around me.”

Thankfully, my cheerless demeanour has little to fear from this incident.

Friday, October the 26th, 2007

Much of the recent silence you’ve been noticing is because I’ve been busy tying up loose ends, and attempting to return to some semblance of normalcy. It’s proving harder than I expected to get out of “technical writing” mode and into “daily whiner” mode, but I hope to get there soon. For starters, I’ve indefinitely shelved a bunch of nascent entries that soon turned very geeky.

Working feverishly against my quest to just chill and focus on other things, the higher-ups have all decided to jump on the “You’ve got to try this faculty position, it’s right up your alley. Ooh, and this one, and oh, that one too!” bandwagon. Honestly, I don’t believe I’m nearly ready for a step such as this—besides, I have so much else to sort out in my sorry little life—and that’s why I’ve opted for the Cambridge gig. I’m looking for some breathing room, and I’m hoping it will afford me some interesting opportunities, like getting to tour parts of Europe.

There was one thing that came up during a related discussion recently that I wish I’d known and followed in other aspects of my life. At least, in one. Someone sagely mentioned that I ought to try for interesting positions—whether or not they are exactly what I am looking for. The experience that I’d gather while interviewing, giving talks and generally going through the process a few times would allow me to hone my act; allowing me to really impress future higher-ups when I’m trying for a position at a place I really want to be.

It turns out, the same thing is true of talking to women.

Spending ages closed up because no one around fancies you enough to evoke any emotion, or even the need to spark a conversation, is the perfect way to rot your (already meagre, in cases such as mine) communication skills. And when the cutest, sweetest woman comes along, you will botch the encounter up because you don’t know what to do. She’s clearly trying hard to nudge you along and make things comfortable for you, but you end up blowing it anyway; constantly shooting her down with your honorary ogre-worthy charmlessness.

Perhaps if someone had been as gung-ho about my social life as people are about my academic life, I’d have been constantly reminded to try my hand at things—even when they don’t seem to matter—so I’d be ready for when they really did.

I wish I were bright enough to manufacture a reason to see her again.

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