Thursday, April 30, 2009

I just signed my life away!! With special SWINE FLU bonus!

...well, 50% of it, anyway. For the next eight months. I'll be working again in the same place I worked previously, half-time because the position can only be full-time if I have a yet higher degree.

Jobs are very strictly defined here, I find. Certain job titles can only be given to people with a certain degree - full stop. No amount of prior experience in the field, no amount of proven intelligence or ability to be trained, nothing can substitute for that degree. I was talking to a German friend about the work I did when I lived in the US. Job titles there are all over the map (within a company, or especially within the government, perhaps rigid, but on a grand scale, wide open to interpretation). My job title there was analyst, the day-to-day work of which she thought made it a match to the German position known as Wissenschaftler(in) - scientist. So she couldn't conceive how it was possible that I worked my analyst position in the US - with job duties similar to a scientist position here - without having had a degree higher and more specific than bachelor's. Here, that just couldn't be done, no matter one's previous experience, without the right degree. It's interesting. Most jobs in the US will require a certain degree, but it can be substituted with years of experience (often much more useful than the degree anyway). Also, I find they're often willing to work with you if you appear to be someone who will learn quickly and can be trained or went to a good university.

Now I am qualified to be hired as a scientist in Germany, which I wasn't before. The bonus of such a position, which falls into a special group called "highly qualified", is that a non-German, non-EU person can be hired for it without the position having to go through a long wait/review by a special German work board that decides if the job should/could go instead to a German or EU citizen. So, I got to go to the Auslaenderamt for my work visa just yesterday and skate right through with no wait, sign the contract today, and start work Monday. Nice!! Also, now that we've been here more than two years, I can be here on my husband's visa and, with the permissions I got there yesterday, work any job. No need for an extra sticker in my passport saying I can't work any job except for the one specific one noted on the sticker. I'm glad for this since I'm running really low on passport pages!! (I will need a page refill before the year is out. I heard Frankfurt is not a nice place to go for this service? Anyone?)

I look forward to the income and having continuously career-related stuff on my resume. But otherwise, meh. I am quite worried that the half-time hours are going to turn into full-time hours with half-time pay. Few things infuriate me more than working over what one is paid for - in my world, everyone would be paid hourly. Of course the US only moves ever more toward salaried workers.


In other news, Mary asked:
As a capstone to your MS, how about a post on swine flu. Is this really something to be worried about? I can't tell if it's a serious disease, or just a widespread one.
I don't think I can really add much valuable to what's already in the news. I don't think there's enough data yet to know how serious it is as far as the mortality rate. We know there were a lot of deaths in Mexico, but how many unreported cases that didn't end in death? Ben Goldacre over at Bad Science had a very good post about the portrayal in the media and the fact that it's really not known what will happen.

I would just encourage you to follow the link but I'm afraid no one will, so here are a few snippets. It's better if you go there and read it all. Some context: Goldacre's job is usually to write about how poorly and inaccurately science is portrayed in a sensationalist media - so he's a very good person to be commenting on the matter.

. . . I have been genuinely weirded out by the number of people inviting me to be a naysayer on the aporkalypse. I’m not, it’s a genuine risk. . . .

First it was the emails, and the tweets. This is all nonsense about the aporkalypse, surely? Just like with Sars, and bird flu, and MMR, is this all hype? The answer is no, but more interesting is this: for so many people, their very first assumption on the story is that the media are lying. It is the story of the boy who cried wolf. . . .

. . . All people have done is raise the possibility of things really kicking off, and they are right to do so, but we don’t have brilliantly accurate information. Someone has said that up to 40% of the world could be infected. Is that scaremongering? Well it’s high, and I’m sure it’s a bit of a guess, but maybe up to 40% could be. Annoying, isn’t it, not to know.

Someone has said 120 million could die. Well I suppose they could: I’m sure it was done on the back of an envelope, by guessing how many would be infected, and what proportion would die, but I don’t think anyone’s pretending otherwise.

. . . Everyone is just saying: we don’t know, it could be bad, and the newspapers are reporting that. Sure there’s a bit of vaudeville in the headlines, but they’re not saying things that are wrong, and do you really know actual, real people, normally pretty solid, who are suddenly now panicking?

By Tuesday, pundit-seekers from the media were suddenly contacting me, a massive nobody, to say that swine flu is all nonsense and hype, like some kind of blind, automated naysaying device. . . .

I assumed they were adhering, robotically, to the “balance” template, but no: he kept at it, even when I protested and explained. “Yeah, but you know, it could be like Sars and bird flu, they didn’t materialise, they were hype.” Simon Jenkins suggested the same thing. It’s not true, I said. They were risks, risks that didn’t materialise, but they were still risks. That’s what a risk is. I’ve never been hit by a car, but it’s not idiotic to think about it. Simon Jenkins won’t be right if nobody dies, he’ll be lucky, like the rest of us. . . .

I just think it’s interesting: because not only have the public lost all faith in the media; not only do so many people assume, now, that they are being misled; but more than that, the media themselves have lost all confidence in their own ability to give us the facts.


  1. Congrats, Mrs Scientist!

    RE: THe Frankfurt consulate - I've used it a few times and have never had a problem. Just get there about 15 minutes before it opens.

  2. The consulate in Frankfurt is not that far for you, I had new pages sewed in last year. I left a blog post about my experience which might help you avoid making the mistakes I did.
    Congratulations on the new job, I hope it bestows you with that precious commodity, Beamtenstatus :)

  3. I hear you on the degree thingy. That is what I was fighting with all the time. I am not even going into it...LOL

  4. First off, congrats on the degree and work permit!

    Second, thanks for sharing the Goldacre article. (yup, I clicked through)e

  5. Congratulations! I love telling people in the States that I'm a Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin.

  6. Congrats to the new / old job. being German doesnt stop me to wonder about titles and degress whilst experience and attitude are of no importance. Howeever it means I am now very highly qualified and have experience. Love THAT combi. Paula

  7. J/Vailian: Thanks for the info on Frankfurt! That is helpful to know!

    Nelly: So it's normal, eh? :/ I was hoping it was just my program that was so disturbingly disorganized. I won't miss dealing with it. It does make me appreciate my undergrad university all the more!

    Naechste: Yay, a fellow Wissenschaftlerin! :D

    Snooker & Paula: Thanks! :)


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