Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How not to say what kind of job you're looking for


What I've been up to

No luck in the job hunt over here.  I've gotten pretty used to unemployment.  In Germany I was just screwed because almost all of the sort of jobs I could have done really needed someone fluent in German to perform them.  We survived fine on one income, so, spoiled, I never felt pressured to take a job outside my field in order to keep afloat.  We've been surviving fine here so far, too, although I've been looking because I'm still telling myself I might have a chance at a job in my field here, now that I speak the language well enough.  Also, we haven't been surviving quite as well as in Germany. I don't know where the extra money is going but there have been more expenses somehow.  We are still fine but I'd like a bigger cushion.

Anyway, a friend of mine helped me get a temporary (aka casual) job as an administrative assistant where she works.  As an extra bonus, the place has lots of jobs relevant to my field, some of which I've unsuccessfully applied for.  We thought that if I just took this temporary position and met a few of the right people, they'd remember my name the next time I applied for something there and I might have a better shot.  Plus hey, income.

The temporary position is meant to a fill the gap someone left until they hire a permanent new someone to take it. I could have applied to be the permanent new someone.  The deadline for it was yesterday.  I hemmed and hawed a bit, but I didn't apply.  It's not what I'm looking for and I'm still being optimistic - I don't want to take that job and have them fully train me up, only to bail on them quickly thereafter when I find what I'm looking for.  Maybe that was an ignorant decision, I don't know, but it's too late now.

This morning as I was pouring everyone's tea, one of the other administrative staff asked me if I'd applied for the position.  I felt straight away I might be in trouble, and that the only good answer might be yes, but somehow I still managed to find the worst thing to say.

Prepare to cringe.

Fellow Staff Member: "So, did you apply for the position?"

Me: "No, I didn't."

Fellow Staff Member: "Why not?"

Me: "Well, it's not really what I'm looking for, and if I were to get the position I wouldn't want to have you guys train me and everything only to run off and leave you hanging when I found something else."

Fellow Staff Member: "Oh, all this time we've never even asked you about what you do or your hopes and dreams! What kind of job are you looking for?"

Me: "Well, I have a master's degree in epidemiology..." (Trailing off because the answer in my brain - explained below - is so long I'm not sure where to go with it next.)

Fellow Staff Member: "OH, MY GOODNESS! YOU MUST BE SO BORED SITTING DOWN HERE IN ADMIN!!  THIS MUST BE SO BORING FOR YOU!" etc and etc onward.  Followed by overhearing snarky cracks later in the day about people with degrees being too good and all that.  Now, the British will keep you from taking yourself too seriously every second, and thank goodness for that, but there are times when it crosses the line from a bit of ribbing to some genuine chip-on-shoulder action, and I felt I drove this person to go to that level with my hideously poor answer.

What my answer meant to me

"Well, let's see, I don't know what the hell I'm looking for. I am afraid that if I leave my field I'll never get back into it.  But I don't know what is possible to get in my field in this country, given that I have only a master's degree in epidemiology, on which I spent time and money. Although I could get a research job in Germany with this degree or a public health job in the US with it, here I can't figure it out. I can't find public health jobs listed at all.  All the research jobs require a PhD, which I don't have.  And if I say I'm an epidemiologist in answer to this question, people will think I'm a researcher, but I don't think I can be a researcher here, so I don't want to give them false ideas.  That's what happened when I first came and everyone thought I was going to be this awesome useful biostatistician that would come work with this guy they know who really needs one. I don't want to go into a detailed job history although I guess that would explain pretty well the kind of jobs I'd like.  Well maybe if I just say what I studied and to what level - so they won't mistake me for a PhD - someone here will know what you can do with that, like their niece or neighbour or someone has that and does something particular I could try, this is one of those countries where job possibilities are really narrow based on degree, right? Help??"

What my answer meant to her

"I have a master's degree so I am too good to work with you."

That totally didn't occur to me at the time and to make this whole thing even cringe-ier I've been using that answer ever since the early days when "I'm an epidemiologist" raised people's expectations too high.  So who knows how many people think I'm some pompous jackass trying to flash a degree around?  Because of D's work, a master's usually identifies me as a regular old person, a non-academic in a sea of PhDs.  And now it's identified me as an insufferable snob.


What I should have said

"Something more data-y."   Any other good ideas?

Sunday, February 09, 2014

We get a veg box now.

In the last few years, we’ve known several people who receive veg boxes (CSA shares) in the US.  ("Veg" is a British English abbreviation for vegetable that can be singular or plural.  In the US we only used veggie(s) this way as far as I remember.)  In Germany, we never really felt the need for one.  We lived close to a really good twice-weekly market where we were able to get good quality seasonal produce whenever we wanted.  In the UK, that hasn’t been the case.  There is a monthly market in our neighbourhood, but the produce selection is very limited (and sometimes there isn’t produce at all).  We live close to a supermarket and a greengrocer, but both are a little hit-and-miss – so when we got a chance late last spring to try a one-month veg box trial from a local (ish – it’s in Leamington Spa) farm, we decided to give it a shot.  It wasn’t just about availability of good produce, but also about forcing ourselves to eat more vegetables.  I did buy and make them, but more often I would make one-dish meals like chili, mujaddarah, or basil chicken and not bother with anything else – so we weren’t eating many vegetables.  Why not challenge ourselves a bit?  The trial became a full-year membership and we’ve been now getting a veg box for about 8 months.

The box comes once a week, and I pick it up at the food co-op where I volunteer. It costs about 14 pounds a week (including membership in the farm and delivery to my neighbourhood) for a medium size, which is on the large side of what two people can get through each week. I often have to give things like potatoes away because we don’t get through them.  At one point I’d built up a stash of almost 50 potatoes!

Having to think up ideas to use up the food we have, instead of getting an idea and then shopping for the ingredients, hasn’t always been an easy shift.  In the summer, there was all this lettuce.  There just aren’t enough interesting things to do with lettuce. Then there was all this pattypan squash. I think it’s delicious, but we’d get 8-10 palm-sized pattypans a week on top of zucchini (aka courgettes) and on a given day you can only get through one or two, so if you don’t have squash every day there could be trouble.  We ate a lot of this for a while. One week the fridge went a little crazy for some reason and all the squash froze. I thought I could still use it, but because it had softened after freezing, it almost immediately all started to mold.  Then there were the cucumbers.  D doesn’t eat those.  I pickled like crazy, and even made cucumber bread/cake.  It often felt like a race against time to eat everything before it could go bad.

Things have improved with the arrival of winter, because winter vegetables keep so nicely.  There’s no panic that the beets and parsnips will go off before the end of the week.  Even cabbage lasts a really long time, and winter squashes are the best because they don’t even need to go in the fridge!  Speaking of cabbage, though, wow.  That’s been the winter version of pattypan squash. I like it, but there is a LOT of it.  We get about a cabbage a week.  It doesn’t sound like that much but one cabbage goes a really long way!

I’ve learned I like some things I didn’t think I liked – the best example being rocket (aka arugula/rucola).  I think I just got unlucky in the past and had bad experiences with it when it was a trendy restaurant ingredient and was thrown in places it maybe didn’t belong.  But, being forced to eat it because I can’t stand the thought of wasting anything, I realized I actually love it. I did know I liked Brussels sprouts, but I didn’t realize I liked them this much. I’m always so happy to see a little bag of those in the mix. 

Some things, however, haven’t gone over as well. I always thought broad (aka fava) beans were not worth all the trouble of getting at them.  And…I still think that. I have no idea how delicious they’d have to be to be worth the prep to me, but they’re not anywhere near that mark. No change on kale, either.  Kale is good and I enjoy it, but it’s not the orgasmic life-changing vegetable that Pinterest would have you believe.  Then there’s my changing attitude toward green beans - in Germany I was always wishing they were more cheaply available.  Now I don’t know why I did – I’m just not that into them. I end up throwing them into stew just to get them out of the way. 

I also learned that you can’t drown a slug.  Well, maybe you can.  But it would take a long time.  Baby slugs often come in with the greens and I leave the greens in water for a little bit in an attempt to get them all out.  I end up finding the slugs at the bottom of the bowl of water with their antennae all tucked in.  They climb up the side of the bowl and out of the water, then pop their antennae out.  Truth is, it’s cute as hell, but then I have a slug to get rid of and I often wish it had just passively drowned without me having really known.

It’s been good overall, I think.  When our year is up, though, we might downgrade from a medium to a small.   The size of the medium has had some downsides.  There are times when we really wish to make a certain dish – we haven’t made that beloved mujaddarah in months – but feel that we just can’t fit it in what with all the vegetables.  It also takes some of the fun out of going out to eat with friends or getting the occasional curry, knowing that this means there’s no way you’re going to get that bag of turnips out of the way before the next load of turnips arrives. Also, we just signed up for an allotment, so maybe we'll have a few vegetables of our own to eat this year!  (Not to be overly optimistic....)

Before my comments fill up with these common suggestions that I get whenever the topic of vegetable gluts comes up, I know that I can make broth, mash, or whatever else and stick it in my freezer.  My freezer is jam packed right now with frozen vegetable broth, frozen mashed potatoes, frozen braised cabbage, frozen pumpkin puree, and frozen stew.  There’s hardly room for a pint of ice cream now.  I give away vegetables pretty often, too.  We are not going to starve, that’s for sure!

Have you ever gotten a CSA share or veg box?  How did you  manage when there were bumper crops or large amounts of something you just aren’t that into?  What did you love or dread to see in the box?