Archive for the ‘Career’ Category

Grab your permission slip and a sack lunch, because it’s time for a field trip!

In the last few weeks, my group at work has taken two trips to visit other research labs in the DC area. Visiting the lab of a fellow researcher is pretty standard practice in physics. If you’re in town for a meeting, you might call up someone you knew in grad school or who is doing work related to yours and stop by and chat about their work. You usually learn something new about a different topic and also trade advice and tips on the gritty details of experimental physics. There are plenty of research establishments in the DC area doing work that’s tangentially related to ours, so when some recent opportunities to go visit a couple of labs arose, our group decided to pay them a visit.

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After a long weekend out of town over Thanksgiving, I made a quick turn around at home, then boarded a plane this morning to cross the entire country, from one coast to the other. I’ll be attending a conference for a few days in the Seattle area; I’m giving a talk and also serving as a session chair, something I’ve never done before. It should be a good experience.

You may recall that Bart and I are tracking the states we’ve been in together since we’ve been married. I also have a running tally of states I’ve been to myself. Before today, I had never been to Washington, so I’m also excited to check this off my list. I still have three to go before I’ve hit all 50 states. Oddly enough, they never have conferences in North Dakota, so it might be a while before I catch them all.

I’ve already seen the Space Needle from the airplane and possibly Mount Rainier in the distance. And forget Jingle Bells–I heard Alice in Chains playing in the airport. I’ve seen plenty of Starbucks. I have, however, seen neither a sparkly vampire nor rain (maybe those two are correlated?), but I did only just get here today.

I won’t get much of an opportunity to sightsee since I’ll be mostly conference bound, but I had most of the day today to explore a little around the hotel. My initial impression of Seattle is “Colorado with water.” Lots of evergreens, snow capped mountains, people with North Face jackets. There’s also the outdoor vibe I’m used to that Washington DC totally lacks. But while Colorado is clearly landlocked, Seattle has the Puget Sound, Lake Washington, and the Pacific for an extra dose of scenery.

I already foresee the time difference between the two extreme coasts of the US being quite challenging. I woke up at 5:00 am this morning, spent six hours on a flight, and I was still greeted with a “good morning” at the hotel. I’m going to wake up somewhere around 3 am and fall asleep in my dinner. But hey, maybe this will be the first conference ever where I will be awake enough to not doze off during the talks. I mean, I would never do that… I will pay the piper when I get home Thursday, though. But even with the time difference, I’m thankful for the opportunity to see some new places while doing one of the most interesting parts of my job.

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Holy cow. I just realized that yesterday marked one year since my last day at NIST in Boulder, where I worked seven years while competing my graduate research program at CU.

One year ago today, I became unemployed for the first time since high school–and unemployed and and not in school for the first time since kindergarten. For essentially the first time in my life, I was was totally without professional and educational purpose in life. For someone whose whole life was practically defined by learning, it was very emotionally challenging, as what had been a part of myself for so very long was totally gone.

It was made all the more alarming by the fact that at that point the duration of this hiatus was indefinite. I had a few job applications out and I was interviewing a couple of places, but nothing was set in stone. So essentially I was going to be unemployed as long as it took me to find a job. That can be a very terrifying place to be; fortunately we were financially secure, but for a lot of people an unemployment situation is not that way.

Thankfully, on my last day of work, my boss had encouraged me to apply for the job announcement that eventually resulted in my current position. I submitted my application, and just a couple of days into my sabbatical I got an initial call from my now current boss. So God was providing for us and moving us toward where we are today, even if I couldn’t see the end result. That’s the crux of faith, I suppose. And mine was definitely tested during the entire period between graduating and finding a job last year. And to be honest, it continues to be tested every day as we deal with the various aspects of moving here.

Being unemployed wasn’t all bad, though. I got to sleep in a bit. I got to take my time eating breakfast and having my quiet time in the morning. I got to hang out with Bart, who was working at home. I got to have lunch with him every day. I got to stay out of his way while he tried to work from home. I hung out with people and built relationships. I cleaned the house and started getting rid of stuff, just in case we ended up moving (and to lighten our mental load even if we didn’t). Most importantly, I planned our two-week trip to Europe (which ended up being a full time job in itself!).

The date caught me off guard when it came back to mind today. It brought back a lot of interesting memories, and it’s interesting to compare my state of mind and situation in life then and now. While I still feel unsettled here sometimes, I definitely feel more peace about my situation than I did. I’m also just struck by how ridiculously fast life moves these days. I just told Bart it’s almost scary how fast it goes. If anything, I’m learning to not let it slip away without doing anything with it.

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Technically, my first furlough day was last Monday, but since I craftily leveraged it to create a five-day weekend for our New England trip, it didn’t really feel like it. Today, however, is the first day I’ve been forced to stay at home after working four days the rest of the week. Rather than be frustrated, annoyed, angry, peeved, or otherwise malcontent about an unpaid day off because DoD couldn’t get their act together, I’m going to choose to enjoy my days off when I don’t have to get up ridiculously early and fight traffic and try to use them productively. I’m tentatively scheduled to take Fridays off, but I can shift them around so as to be of the most convenience to me. So, let’s get started with this temporary (no more than 11 weeks, at least during this fiscal year) feature on the blog: Furlough Friday.

Today, my main focus is preparing for two rounds of visitors we have coming in the near future. My uncle, aunt, and their grandson (my second cousin? twice removed? I have no idea) are arriving Sunday for a couple of days of touring Federal City. They were gracious to let Bart, Murphy, and me stay with them on our cross-country trek when we moved out here last November, so we are happy to return the favor. My brother and his crew will be coming the following week on their family vacation. Therefore, I’m taking the opportunity to address some neglected areas around the house, plan some meals, and otherwise tackle routine household chores. I confess that renting makes me less motivated to keep everything gleaming and ship-shape, but that’s no excuse to let things pile up!

My progress today has been interrupted by the local wildlife. I put the bird feeder out yesterday since I would be home to enjoy watching the birds out the kitchen window. However, a whole friggen squirrel posse showed up throughout the morning to raid the goods. I don’t mind feeding them; they’ve got to eat, too, and they are actually fun to watch. It’s just that they decimate the birdseed and don’t like to share with the actual birds. I have let Murphy sic ’em a few times, as it’s good entertainment for him. I’ve also let him out and in and out and in and out and in about two dozen times when he was desperately intent on investigating something outside. We also had another bird trapped in our sunroom, which happens at least once a week. It’s totally screened in, but we leave the door open so Murphy can access the yard, but that also allows critters (including bugs) and dirt to get inside. Here’s a bird I can’t identify from a couple of weeks ago.

Little bird trapped in our sunroom. Can anyone identify?

Little bird trapped in our sunroom. Can anyone identify?

Usually the birds make it out eventually, so when I lost track of this one, I assumed he’d made his escape. However, Murphy was quick to find the bird lying right up against the step down, completely inert. I was just certain he was dead and alerted Bart to the situation; however, when he looked more closely, he realized he was indeed still alive, just maybe hurt a bit. A gentle poke with the broom handle sent him flying around again, and within a few seconds he found the door and flew off into a tree. I hope the little guy’s okay. We decided it was probably time to shut the sunroom door and not keep it permanently propped open, although it’ll mean letting Murphy out the other back door, which is slightly less convenient but still possible. We’ll see how it goes.

My morale was also sidetracked by a trip to the grocery store. Now, I realize I was purchasing more food than usual due to our house guests, but I was pretty peeved at the grand total for this trip. I make a big effort scour sales, clip e-coupons, and use my store card for maximum savings, yet it’s incredibly disheartening to see the bill sometimes. Groceries are so ridiculously expensive here, even compared to Colorado, which I assumed had a relatively high cost of living, too. But it’s nothing on Maryland. Everything is expensive, and the quality of the produce is less than stellar. Also, I stock up on items that are at their rock bottom sale price, which saves in the long run, but when it is time to purchase those items, it makes one particular grocery bill artificially inflated, too (part of the issue today). I made it out of the store without an aneurism, though, so that’s a victory for the day.

I’m currently on a mid-afternoon snack-and-blog break, but I’m about to get back to my list of tasks for the rest of the afternoon. Cleaning and picking up are rather unsexy tasks to tell you about for my first Furlough Friday, but hopefully once that’s out of the way, I can share some more interesting projects in the coming weeks. Hope you’re having a wonderful Friday, either at home or at work!

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Before moving, both my husband and I had been to Washington, DC before. It had been a while for him; I’d had a few conferences here in graduate school and spent a day sight-seeing with a friend a couple of years ago. While we knew a lot of the stereotypes about it and had limited personal experience, it’s hard to say you really know a place until you’ve spent some real time there.

When looking at jobs after graduation, our preference was either to stay put or to move generally closer to where our families live in Arkansas. However, when you’re in a more specialized field like I am, you don’t always get the choice of picking where jobs exist. I explored the idea of teaching physics at a university or college, which would broaden the number of opportunities and locations. I even got a job offer to move to a small town and do so. And while the lifestyle that smaller Southern town afforded was more similar to what we desired, I really struggled with the decision. Ultimately, Bart and I knew it wasn’t quite right, so I kept looking.

The unfortunate reality was that if I wanted to stay more or less closely related to my field of time and frequency, most of the opportunities were going to be on the coasts, and primarily in the Washington, DC area. I really balked at the idea at first, and Bart wasn’t all that excited about the prospect, either. However, one day a job announcement came across my email through the graduate school, and it was so very similar to what I’d been doing that we were both very excited about it. Then we realized it was located in Washington. That was the moment that changed our perspective about moving there.

After I graduated and finished my previous research job, I had two interviews in Washington within about ten days. That was two completely separate trips to the area nearly back-to-back. In fact, I was at Reagan National Airport headed home for one when I was answering an email to come interview for another. While technically in the same town, these two trips ended up being worlds different. I flew to two different airports, I rented a car once and took public transportation once, I interviewed in Virginia just across the river and also in the District proper. I got a better sense of the city during both those trips, and in a way I interviewed the area just as much as these jobs interviewed me. If I saw DC and knew I could never live there, then I knew there was no point in even considering these jobs.

While I definitely had concerns about the area–traffic, high cost of living, crowded, just to name a few–when I got the job offer to come work in clock development, I knew I had already made up my mind. It was an excellent job and a ridiculously good opportunity, and while I had misgivings about living here, my decision was pretty clear. Any delay in making it official was just me taking time to get brave enough to accept it.

Coincidentally, we moved almost exactly as far away from Arkansas in the other direction than we were in Colorado. At least the drive will be more interesting this way. One can only appreciate Kansas so many times.

Being here for a little over three weeks, I’ve learned a lot more about the city. Not all of it has been bad, but let’s just say it takes a fair amount of optimism to deal with some of the District’s quirks. You bet I’ll be sharing all about these in coming posts!

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