December 09, 2011

How do some people get their licenses?

I was driving to work last week and got behind a car that was going 45 mph on a 55 mph highway. I couldn't believe it! I pointed out the speed limit signs that we passed, which clearly showed 55 mph, but when the person showed no signs of increasing speed, I gave up. Then we reached an area where the speed dropped to 45 mph, so at least the car was now obeying the law and not being rude to other drivers. Then, we approached the city limits, and the speed dropped down to 30 mph, but this car didn't brake or slow down. So apparently this driver wanted to go 45 mph no matter what the speed limit was or where he was. Jerk!

Then again, I've witnessed people trying to turn left onto a busy divided highway from a stop sign when there's a traffic light providing access to the same highway just a few hundred feet away. It is as if people refuse to view all the options and choose the best one, but rather take the most arbitrary path with disregard for anyone else involved.

December 06, 2011

Committee meetings, job prospects, and holidays

I had a committee meeting a couple weeks ago to update everyone on my research and dissertation-writing progress. Of the 5 research chapters, 4 have had all the experiments completed and 1 has already been published. It seemed to me that I was pretty much where I should be, but the committee refused to set a graduation timeline. I've been in the program more than 5 years and the funding for my stipend ends in a few months, so time is in short supply. I don't understand how the committee isn't pushing for me to finish! I mean, isn't the point of having graduate students to get them to graduate and get jobs? Aren't academic institutions in the business of flooding the market with over-educated but under-employed people?

Speaking of jobs, I had an interview recently. I thought it went really well. I was cool and collected, I had the skill set the employer was looking for, and I was willing to relocate. I didn't even bat an eye when the schedule had to be completely rearranged the day of the interview. But I received a rejection letter a few days later, stating that they had gone with someone else whose qualifications more closely aligned with the job. I found that rather odd, since I was told I was the only one interviewing for that particular position. Hmm .... It's too bad that most places are restricted legally on what they can and cannot share about one's interview, so I'll probably never know what I did wrong or why they decided not to hire me.

And with the holidays coming up, I've been busy Christmas shopping, lighting candles as mini offerings for a job, and hoping that I can tell my relatives that I'm finally finishing all this education.

November 07, 2011

A whole lot of crazy in politics

Voters in different states will make history this month, and I hope they make the correct decisions.

In Ohio, there is SB 5 Issue 2, which removes collective bargaining power from public safety and union workers like the fire fighters and police. The bill is being touted as fiscally responsible, as every(Republican)one knows that the overpaid public union workers are why the economy is sputtering. I mean, it has nothing to do with the reduction in tax revenue (from tax-free holidays or loopholes exploited by large corporations) or businesses that happily send jobs overseas. Nope, that's not it.

And then in Mississippi there's Amendment 26, which outlaws abortion, certain types of birth control, and even in vitro fertilization. The bill seeks to define personhood as beginning at the moment of conception, so miscarriage and the morning after pill (which is just a stronger dose of the regular birth control pill) would both be considered murder. Amendment 26 replaces a woman's rights to her own body with her unborn fetus' even though the fetus is totally dependent on the pregnant woman. And what about women who are victims of rape or incest or have life-threatening ectopic pregnancies? Sorry -- your suffering and/or death is not Mississippi's concern.

I really hope voters vote no in both cases. But either way, it is a scary time to be alive.

November 05, 2011

A sign of the times?

I was flipping through the Toys 'R' Us holiday catalog recently ... you know, to see what the latest kid craze is ... and found myself staring at a toy garbage truck with trash can accessories. Based in Australia, "The Trash Pack" is geared toward boys as the trashies (collectible garbage-related critters) have gross names, appearances, or are squishy. Is this a sign of the times? That kids pretend to be garbage collectors and swap disease-carrying insects (blow fly) and rotting food (putrid pizza)? I thought make believe was to encourage kids to aim high and dream big? I guess make believe has been replaced with reality. Thanks, housing bubble (and sluggish economy) for reminding people that your job opportunities are severely limited with just a high school diploma.

Official Trash Pack website:

October 31, 2011

HaPpY HaLlOwEeN!!

At this scary time of year -- the economy is limping along, the GOP primaries are in full swing, and the general public continues to forget who really got us into this mess -- here are a couple of funny political cartoons. After all, we really need a laugh.

Lets just hope this sputters out by Christmas.

October 04, 2011

Autumn in the job search

Fall is officially here. At least, I think it is. Sure it was 88 degrees here in Virginia last week, but that must be related to global warming. Right? Right. There's a chill in the air, pumpkins are out in full force, and I have had to add blankets to my bed.

This also means that the countdown to degree completion has started. Normally, this means lots and lots of writing and formatting. But since I want to have a big girl job, I've been stuck in the mire that is the modern job search. Ugh!

I thought that all the relevant job postings for my field would be in one central location, but that just isn't the case. I've found announcements on individual department or college websites that aren't on the national society's website. And too many institutions are relying on the same awkward design that doesn't allow you to open tabs or return to the search results without having to re-select all the search parameters.

I guess when I started this process, I didn't realize how much time it would require. I've probably spent 10 hours working on my cover letter, and although I have a solid foundation, I still tailor each one to the position I'm applying for. It is very intimidating to send out information about yourself -- your accomplishments (which never seem to be significant or grand enough) and your shortcomings (which always seem more encompassing than you previously thought) -- and know that, unless you make it to the next round, you won't get any kind of feedback back.

I'm trying to stay positive. I won't be in full blown panic mode until I have the degree in hand and am unemployed. Here's hoping that my favorite season brings good luck!

Image is by Marcia Baldwin and no copyright infringement is intended.

August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene traveled up the East Coast this past weekend, and luckily for me, I was far enough inland to escape most of the damage. There was 10 hours of steady rain and 30-40 mph winds, but all in all, it was pretty tame. I didn't lose power, and there wasn't any flooding. Imagine my surprise then to check on the status of a package and see this:

A UPS first for me.

August 01, 2011

Rules to Follow

Although we all learned these basic principles as kids, they aren't practiced as often as they should be. So here are the rules everyone should follow with additional phrases that are pertinent to grad school:

1) Don't take something that isn't yours [without asking permission first].
2) If you screw up, say you're sorry [and mean it].
3) Play fair [and give people credit where credit is due].
4) Put things back where you found them [in the same condition when you found them].
5) Wash your hands [especially after you use the bathroom].
6) Don't lie [or throw someone else under the bus].
7) Treat people with respect [even those without advanced degrees].
8) Be humble and say thank you. [Arrogance isn't a sign of intelligence.]

July 02, 2011

Gypsy soul

I recently heard this Zac Brown Band song on the radio. It immediately struck a cord with me. Here I am, years after the breakup, and I'm still in love with the man. We're drawn to each other by something that is hard to put into words, but for how amazing the good times are, the bad times are just as extreme. So here's to the rambling man in my life that is meant for leaving [and for my inability to walk away].

Fourth of July

A heartfelt thank you to all the men and women who have defended and died for this country. I may not agree with the war, but I have nothing but respect and admiration for those in uniform.

June 10, 2011

Temp: 102, Humidity: High

Summer is here, so my field season is in full swing. Virginia had a pretty wet spring, but the last couple weeks have been unbearably hot. I hope this isn't a reprisal of last year -- aka the drought. The pathogen I study needs rain and cooler temperatures (70's or so), and if I hope to graduate this January, I need the weather to cooperate!

In other news, I'll be heading back to Wisconsin for a high school friend's wedding. I'm excited to see all of our mutual friends and to celebrate this important event. I can't believe it's been over 10 years since I graduated! I still have flashbacks of high school, especially if I'm in an uncomfortable situation with caddy women, out-of-my-league handsome men and/or superficial conversation. I wonder if anyone manages to get through that experience unscathed? And are we forever who we were in high school? Does that really define us?

May 03, 2011

The lies they told us about Graduate School

1) There will be plenty of jobs when you graduate. Look at all the baby boomers!
2) You're really smart, so graduate school will be a piece of cake.
3) It doesn't matter what lab you complete your degree in. It only matters how much and in what journals you publish.
4) Science is desperate to have more women and minorities join the ranks.
5) Graduate school was the best time of my life!
6) Scientists strive to be unbiased. What is science if not neutral?
7) Preliminary exams are all about your coursework.
8) Your closed door session after the defense seminar is for show. You're home free when you get to that point! What is your committee going to do? Fail you??

[Thanks to YoungFemaleScientist for pointing out some of these, and boohoo to life for teaching me the others.]

April 23, 2011

People sure are lazy

When my family switched cellphone carriers, I got an iPhone. Over the last couple of months, I've become hooked on Zombie Farm. The game allows you to plant and harvest Zombies, mutate them with crops and launch invasions against a variety of enemies.

In an effort to learn as much as possible about the game and how to succeed in it, I started looking at the Facebook group. Lately, I've been answering questions on the discussion boards. It amazes me how friggin' lazy people are!

There are over 20 pages in the discussion boards, covering all practical matters of the game including: how to open the mausoleum (answer: win 3 rusty fragments and fashion a key), what to do about glitches (answer: un-enable Game Center) and how to reboot the app to get the latest Easter items (answer: restart the device). But rather than search through the pages to find the information, people just create a new thread to post their question.

If that wasn't enough, the spelling is atrocious! Does no one pay attention in school anymore?

April 17, 2011

What to do after graduate school

I was talking to two of my friends about what we want to do when we graduate and enter the real world. It use to be a dilemma of choice: do I want to work in academia, extension, government or industry? [Not to mention the follow-up question of "Do I have to do a post-doc to get a full-time position?"] Each option had its own pluses and minuses, and sorting through those to find the desired balance required careful consideration. Now, with the lingering recession and the government's budget battles, there really isn't a choice. The only place consistently hiring is industry.

Public universities are mired in financial squabbles with the state and federal governments, and the allocations given to agriculture-related disciplines have been declining. This means that even though a large proportion of the professors in my field will be retiring in the next few years, departments are combining faculty positions, so the number of available jobs is still low.

Extension is suffering a lack of funding from state and federal governments as well as from the public universities. Ironically, some of these same universities brag about their outreach within the state due to these extension centers! I heard on the news lately that some politicians are even arguing that extension has outlived its purpose and is no longer needed.

Government, as I'm sure you're well aware, is arguing over single-digit percentages of the country's entire debt. Not having a working budget, but anticipating a declining budget in the future, means government positions are slim pickings. Plus, veterans are given preference, even if they lack other qualifications.

My mentality is that it is better to have a job, even if it isn't exactly what I want, then to move back in with my parents while I search for my ideal/dream job. And if industry is the only group that's hiring, then that's where I'll go!

April 03, 2011

A birthday present to myself

I've ordered a new digital camera! My current camera is a Kodak Easyshare V530, which debuted in 2005. I purchased it around Thanksgiving and although it has been quite reliable through the years, the rechargeable battery needs to be replaced again. Since the camera is 6 years old and a lot of advancements have been made with digital cameras, it made sense to upgrade.

I decided on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS6. The reviews for this camera are pretty good and it has better zoom and macro capabilities than my old camera. Consumer Reports rated the ZS7 (the successor) very well, and reviews I found for this model say that it has the body of the ZS5 (predecessor) with a lot of the features of the ZS7. I didn't want to purchase the ZS7 because it has built-in GPS, and the major complaint on Amazon is that the battery is constantly drained because of the camera updating its location. Plus the ZS6 is significantly cheaper!

I have to admit that it took quite a while to read through reviews -- both online and in print -- and decide what options were most important for me. [Goodbye HD quality video recording!] I also didn't want to have to install a particular software package onto my computer in order to download photos. Hopefully transitioning to this camera will be a piece of cake.

March 15, 2011

Tears of sorrow for Japan

The 8.9 magnitude earthquake, subsequent tsunami, and hundred plus aftershocks have killed thousands of people (with an equal number still missing), wiped entire cities off the map, moved the country of Japan 8 feet closer to China and shifted the Earth's axis 4 inches.

My heart is breaking.

March 02, 2011

Crisis in Dairyland: Revenge of the Cheese Curds

The protests continue in Wisconsin over Governor Walker's legislation to strip collective bargaining from unions. He says this is necessary to balance the budget, but public employees have already agreed to all the financial concessions he wanted -- higher healthcare premiums and higher pension contributions. Besides the fact that the public unions that cost the state the most -- i.e. the police and firefighters -- are the only two unions exempt from these new policies.

Anyhoo, while I was educating myself about what was "really" going on in Dairyland, I came across this blog post by Jonathan Cohn, who put it all in a new perspective.

But I wonder if this whole debate misses the point. Suppose public workers really do make more than private sector workers. Who’s to say that the problem is public workers making too much, rather than private sector workers making too little?

For example, according to official Labor Department statistics cited in a recent National Affairsarticle, the average salary for a janitor working in government as of 2005 was $23,700, or around $26,700 in today’s dollars, while the average salary for a janitor working in the private sector was $19,800, or around $22,326 in today’s dollars. But does that mean the woman cleaning toilets at a county courthouse was making too much? Or that the one cleaning toilets at a corporate office was making too little?

Perhaps, like Jonathan Cohn says, the real problem is that everyone turns a blind eye to how little private employees are paid. Afterall, some of the most profitable companies pay their CEO's hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars while paying nothing in corporate taxes.
Public vs. private employees: is one's compensation too high? or the other's too low?

February 27, 2011

WI protests continue

"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society."
Martin Luther King Jr. (October 7, 1965)
Defiant governor digs in as Wisconsin prepares to evict protesters

February 19, 2011

Protests in WI; Republican assault on unions

If you've been living under a rock, you may not be aware of the impending doom going on in Wisconsin right now. Governor Walker, a newly elected Republican, is trying to correct a $131 million budget deficit by having teachers and other public employees pay more toward their own health insurance (12%) and their retirement/pension (5%). But that's not what the protests are about.

The protests are because Governor Walker also has language in this bill that strips unions of their collective bargaining rights with the exception of cost-of-living wage adjustments. How would this provision help the budget? It doesn't. It is simply an attack on unions -- a blatant attempt to bust the unions. For now, firefighters and police are exempt from these changes, but if the law passes, then it will only be a matter of time before they are affected too.

Wisconsin is a stronghold of unions and has been instrumental in union rights for 50 years. I understand why the Democratic senators left the state to prevent quorum from being reached and the Senate from passing the bill. [Both the Wisconsin House of Reps and the Senate are Republican controlled.] And kudos to the state troopers who "can't find" the few dissenters.

All these extreme measures deemed necessary to balance the budget didn't seem to factor in when Governor Walker passed $200 million worth of tax cuts for the rich. Hmm ....
Walker rejects union offer to accept concessions

Rachel Maddow says WI is on track to have a budget surplus this year

Local business community may be starting to turn against WI Governor Walker

January 16, 2011

Extreme couponing

I was watching a show on TLC last night called "Extreme Couponing" about 4 people who, through the use of coupons and store promotions, purchase a lot of groceries for pennies on the dollar. One woman bought $250 worth of groceries (including pasta, pasta sauce and toothpaste) for $6. Pretty impressive!

But the longer I watched the program, the more I noticed the extreme couponers aren't just being thrifty -- they're obsessed. They get such a thrill from beating the system (i.e. getting stuff essentially free) that they end up accumulating huge stockpiles of products. It reminded me more and more of a hoarder. One man on "Extreme Couponing" had turned his 2-car garage into a warehouse, and he had enough deodorant, lotion, and salad dressing to last the rest of his life. Yet he went grocery shopping every week and continued to stockpile more health and beauty items because they were on sale. He actually took an entire display worth of toothbrushes and dumped -- literally, dumped -- them into his cart.

I guess "Extreme Couponing" just shows how fine the line is between practical money management and irrational obsessive frugality. Sheesh!