January 30, 2013

Connecting the Dots

Almost a year and a half ago, I wrote about contemplating a career change from research science to writing. At the time, I had no idea what my envisioned new career might be, but I wondered if combining writing and science into one job was a possibility. Just thinking about changing tracks left me scared and unsure. But, as usual, I figured doing a little "research" couldn't hurt.

So, I did a lot of reading about science writing. To keep me focused and inspired about the possible career change, I arranged these books front and center in our living room, where they served as a constant reminder of my ambitious yearnings. And it worked, sort of.

Over time, I became more and more excited about this seemingly monumental change. But the biggest question remained: where to get started? How do I get my foot in the door, so to speak? I read bios and articles about how various people got into science writing, and the only common theme was that there was no one straightforward way to do this. Some people started out in science, got their PhDs even, and then decided to switch to writing. Others started out in journalism and later chose to focus on science. The path to their newly chosen career was inevitably unique. Some did a handful of internships before landing a full time job, some got lucky with the right connections. Many chose to go back to school for a masters in science journalism or science writing, and that appeared to be the "easiest" way to break into the field.

The idea of going back to school appealed to me, but financially, it wasn't in the cards. I started looking for internships, and got my first break about a year ago. A local science museum was offering a part-time science communication internship, and I jumped at the opportunity. I applied in December 2011, not really expecting to hear back. After all, every resume I had sent in response to a science writing job in the past disappeared into a black hole, not even worthy of a rejection reply. Still, I figured that I had nothing to lose.

Imagine my shock and surprise when I actually got called for an interview for this internship in February 2012. And the interview went so well that I was actually offered the job on the spot! When does THAT ever happen? Things were finally moving in the right direction for me.

But it wasn't that simple, of course. I was working in my science research job at the time and had no intention of quitting. The internship was to be two days a week (one of which was a weekend day), and paid minimum wage. My plan was to ask to switch from a 40-hour full time work load to 32 hours a week (4 days a week, essentially) at my main job, and then fit in the internship on Fridays and Saturdays. This was not an unprecedented request at our company, so I didn't anticipate any issues. My boss approved my request, and I accepted the internship position. That was on a Friday.

On the following Monday, I found out that upper management had declined my request for reduced hours. So now my options were to drop the internship (which was not happening) or work 40 hours a week at my full time job and fit in the internship however I wanted into my schedule. After some deliberating, that's what I decided to do. For the next three months, I worked four 10-hour days in science, and then two 8-hour days at the museum (Fridays and Saturdays). This went on from late February to late May. Oh, and did I mention we were planning our wedding at that same time? You could say I was a LITTLE busy that spring.

Despite the frazzled schedule, the internship was great. Maybe the best thing about it was that at the end of it, I had created something with my byline that went up on a website. I was now able to point to this creation on my writing resume and say that I did some real science communication work. Two weeks after the internship ended, we got married and left for our honeymoon. During the honeymoon, I made the mistake of checking my email and found out about the "cost-cutting" and "restructuring" being planned at my company. A month later, I lost my job.

On one hand, this was an opportunity, the swift kick in the butt that I needed to pursue science writing more seriously. On the other hand, living on one income all of a sudden kind of sucked. Especially because we had plans to buy a house. I decided to keep applying to jobs in both science and writing, to keep my options open. It was a slow process. I had some interviews at first, but then the job market slowed down and came to a grinding halt around the holidays.

And then, I saw it, the rare unicorn - a job posting for an entry level science writing position. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to apply to this job, but I wondered how to make my application stronger, how to make it stand out from the hundreds of applications that were likely to flood the hiring manager's inbox. I decided to include some writing samples, even though the job description didn't ask for them. This is when my word for the year kicked in. I chose to be confident enough in my writing to send links to some science-related posts from this blog. In doing that, I felt very exposed, but I went through with it anyway.

Perhaps I will never know if the blog links mattered at all. Or if they made all the difference. Either way, I was called in for an interview. It went well, and then I had to submit a formal writing sample before the second interview. The second interview also went well. I kept my fingers crossed.

And then... I got the job. The dots finally connected. In a very messy, totally non-straightforward way, I actually managed to change careers.

I start next week. Things are about to get real!

January 15, 2013

The word for 2013: Confidence

A year ago, Fiona (a wonderful blogger) chose a word to focus on throughout 2012, and the word was "brave". She gained so much from that experience that she is doing it again this year (with a new word). Well, Fiona, you have inspired me to select a word of my own for this year, a word that I will try to remember and come back to time and time again in the coming months.

My word for 2013 is confidence.

Confidence. From here.

It is an all-pervasive concept, really. Confidence is something that I could use when I dress in the morning; when I am offered a challenging project; when I consider huge life decisions, like a career change. It may be a bit of a surprising word for me to choose, since I generally think of myself as a confident individual. But I have my moments of doubt. They creep up on me unexpectedly, and always at the least opportune occasion.

You see, I have a bit of a history with this word. Back in high school, I must have been the only (though I hope this is not the case) teenage girl who was not concerned with her looks. I don't mean that I made a conscious decision not to care what people thought about my appearance. It's just that... it never occurred to me to worry about things like weight or bra size at that time. I have to say, this carefree attitude made for a healthy body image.

All that changed with college. Every freshman was told about the inevitable "freshman 15" (as in, the inevitability of gaining 15 pounds in the first year of college as a result of separation from mom's cooking and easy access to junk food 24/7), and suddenly, I became aware of my body. I was not overweight by any measure (I still look approximately the same as I did eleven years ago, plus a few more wrinkles and gray hair), but just the potential of gaining weight made me body-conscious.

My body did not appreciate me that year. Or rather, I did not appreciate my body. But that is a story for another day, perhaps. I have moved on since then, and I am happy with the way I look. But sometimes, I open my closet in the morning and exclaim that I have nothing to wear. What I actually mean by those words is that I have nothing to wear that I will feel confident in, like a young, 29-year-old woman should feel. There is a reason for this problem: because my body hasn't changed much since my college days, neither has my wardrobe. But I have outgrown it.

So, one of the things I am planning to tackle this year is get over my fear of department stores and my dislike for shopping, and finally revamp my wardrobe. And, you know, figure out how to dress my 29-year-old body. I bet that will do wonders for my confidence.

She believed. From here via Pinterest.

Confidence is not all about looks, though. There have been times in my career when I was handed a challenging project, and immediately, I would begin to doubt my abilities. Do I really have the knowledge to solve this problem? Am I smart enough to figure this out? Those questions would plague me, and my only recourse would be to push them far enough away to drown out the doubting voices. But all that doubt is crazy talk. I thrive on challenging projects. Of course I am smart enough to handle them. Otherwise I wouldn't be in a position to be offered such a project. And if I don't know something, I am going to learn it. That is how challenging problems get solved in the real world. I just have to remember that long enough to stay confident in myself and my abilities throughout my career.

And confidence is certainly something I could use in my career transition. I have been planning a change for a long time, and this year, the dots may finally begin to connect. I only have to believe that it is possible, and that I could do it.

So, here is to the word of the year: confidence.

January 2, 2013

Holidays with our families

Our holiday season this year was filled with family time, yummy food, tons of presents, and happy memories. For Christmas, D's family rented a house in Connecticut, and we spent Christmas eve and day with D's extended family. One of D's aunts lives in CT, and we all got together at her house for the celebrations. It was wonderful to reconnect with everybody. We got into the holiday spirit by playing Secret Santa, which worked out really well for this large crowd of about twenty people.

The house itself was amazingly decorated in a very modern, minimalist style. I tried to capture it on camera before the sun went down.

The living room.

Lots of open space. Note the long table set in the background.

Whimsical place setting highlighted the holiday spirit.

As a total coincidence, my family also decided to rent a house in Connecticut for New Year's. This is one of the biggest holidays for my family, and we try to spend it together every year. The house my parents chose was a beautiful, spacious carriage house with lots of open space and a view of a lake.

The carriage house.

Snow finally arrived in the Northeast, and we celebrated the New Year in a winter wonderland. We mostly gravitated towards the first floor, which was one huge space that encompassed the kitchen, dining area, living room, and a very functional fireplace.

Hanging out on the first floor.

Closeup of the kitchen with the marvelous stove.

My family generously offered me and D the master bedroom, complete with a four-poster bed, a walk-in closet the size of our current bedroom, and a bathroom the size of a golf field (with a jacuzzi!). The master suite had way more space than I knew what to do with. It was intimidating!

Master bedroom with a four-poster bed.

On New Year's eve, we ate way too much excellent food, and then got together around the fireplace to exchange gifts.

Presents and fireplace.

It was so wonderful to spend the holidays with our families. And as a bonus, I got to enjoy beautifully designed houses along the way. What a great way to start the new year!