Saturday, September 20, 2014

Underwater basket weavers, take heart!

I was given a review copy of this book because I had also successfully navigated the path out of academia over a decade ago and recently completed a job search. I was not paid for this review.

Wow.  I wish someone had given me this book when I was writing up my dissertation and job-seeking.

When I broke the news to my PhD advisor that I did not want to pursue academia further, he replied that I was on my own.  He clarified that he would have worked the phones to help me land me a post-doc position, but he was completely ignorant about industry and had no contacts.

There are more general job search books, but--until now--none of them address the unique situation of scientists leaving academia for industry.  If you have time, I think it is worthwhile to also read the classic, What Color is Your Parachute?  (Do the exercises, no matter how cheesy they sound!  They will clarify what you want in a job after academia.)

If you want to follow this path, you should spend $2.99 and an evening to read this concise, yet thorough, guide for how to navigate a job search in industry.  Take notes with action items (industry term).  Then follow up on your action items and chart your progress.  You are going to multi-task and learn project management skills during your job search.  ;-)

She is completely right about networking.  Start practicing it NOW.  I followed up a BA in pure math with a PhD in theoretical physics.  Those are not practical skills valued in industry*.  Whenever I met a fellow math major, I would ask them what they are doing now and how they got there.  Were they happy?  Challenged?  Making financial ends meet?

Not one math major has ever refused to answer my questions and several offered to help me when I was in job search mode.  One of them even convinced his manager to offer me a short-term contract job after a fruitless search for an engineer for one of their openings.

I would add that, it is never too early to peruse online job boards to learn what skills are in demand.  Do you have them?  What skills would you be interested in developing?  Can you learn them while performing your PhD research work?

However, I wouldn't advise learning a bunch of different programming languages or APIs du jour.  Just learn one or two commonly-used languages really well.  Coding tests are administered in multiple languages and you just need to demonstrate deep knowledge in one.  Your cover letter should demonstrate and your references can vouch for how quickly you learn.

You don't need to write cover letters while learning the lay of the land.  But, I recommend writing outlines of how your skills and experiences would map into job postings that you see.  This will help you figure out what kind of jobs fit you, or what kind of skills you need to develop in order to land the kind of job you want.  Writing practice will also make the real job search easier.   The book does not exaggerate the importance of good spelling, grammar and writing.   In industry, effective technical communication is highly valued.

The book mentions joining affinity groups for networking, particularly if you belong to a group underrepresented in STEM. The book lists several, but not Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in particular. You don't have to be an engineer to join SWE. As long as you are in STEM, you will be welcome. Moreover, they are a large and active organization that is always looking for volunteers to help run their outreach efforts to middle and high school girls. Helping out at their events is a great networking opportunity.

The book makes very effective use of how to spin skills picked up in grad school, such as underwater basket weaving. Enjoy this fun video.

* Performing a 10-dimensional symplectic coordinate transformation on stiff equations to make them more "integrable" (amenable to machine integration without diverging from the solution due to machine noise/round-off error), is an obsolete skill in this era of cheap and ubiquitous computers. I've never met anyone in industry who cares about that.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Grandma never knit like this?

The NYT put out another tired canard. Let's just celebrate that books like My Grandmother's Knitting get published. Because Elizabeth Zimmerman and Barbara G. Walker could be your grandmother.  (Lucky you!)

My favorite quote from the book:
"Our generation does stunt knitting," Wendy (Bernard) declares. Her grandma never was a stunt knitter, but everyone went crazy for her simple slippers. At every holiday, they were the expected, coveted gift.

Friday, September 12, 2014

First Snow!

I was wrong, the snow line fell below 5400 feet.
The mesa road climbs from an elevation of 5423 feet at the intersection of Table Mesa Drive and Boulder, to 5670 feet at the start of the NCAR entry drive, up to a final elevation of 6109 feet at NCAR’s Mesa Lab.
Why did I leave the ice scraper/snow brush thingy in the garage in LA?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Divergent forecasts

The view from my office window today.
The weather station on top of my office building attests to the cold and drizzly conditions.
Overnight, it might even get cold enough to snow in some parts of northeast Colorado. The NWS forecaster wrote:
Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service Denver/Boulder Colorado
754 PM MDT Thursday Sep 11 2014

issued at 754 PM MDT Thursday Sep 11 2014

Cold moist airmass will remain over northeast Colorado tonight and into Friday afternoon. Northeast winds will continue to usher in colder air. Temperatures look to stay in the 33 to 37 degree range late tonight along the Front the latest hrrr and rap indicate. However...areas above 6000 feet will likely reach and drop freezing.
I wouldn't be surprised if the snow line falls between my apartment and my office.  (First snow in early September!)  That's the main reason I moved into an apartment complex across the street from the NCAR shuttle stop.  I wasn't keen to drive to an office at 6400 feet elevation in the winter.

Meanwhile, Bad Dad says it is quite warm in the familial home.  The LA Times graphic for the NWS Sunday forecast shows that it will only get toastier. 96F at the beach?
That's not really what the NWS said for coastal Los Angeles. This part is true:
Southwest California area forecast discussion
National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard California
805 PM PDT Thursday Sep 11 2014

High pressure will bring a warming trend to southwestern California through this weekend and into early next week. Triple digit heat can be expected for the valleys...foothills and Antelope Valley through Tuesday...with Sunday and Monday being the warmest days. A slight cooling trend should then take place by the middle of next week.
But, a subsequent paragraph shows a chance of a cooling marine layer near the coast.  Whether it reaches inland in the South Bay is still not clear.
Latest acars sounding near lax indicated a very strong and relatively shallow marine layer inversion around 700 feet deep. At 700 feet the temperature was 70 the top of the inversion around 1800 feet...the temperature was 84 degrees. A very strong inversion indeed. Fog product satellite imagery was showing widespread low clouds pushing down the outer waters pushing in to the central coast. The inversion is shallow as well to the expect patchy dense fog to develop along the immediate coast. If fog does spread inland a bit farther...a dense fog advisory might be needed later tonight. Will let the next shift look at this closer. For areas S of Point Conception...confidence is pretty high that low clouds will stay away from the coast...but would not be surprised if some patchy dense fog developed near the la/vtu County coast just before sunrise.
acars refers to Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System
(ACARS), which became briefly famous in the aftermath of the MH370 crash. Until then, I wasn't even aware that ACARS existed for any other reason than collecting weather data.

Every time a plane equipped with ACARS lands or takes off from LAX, we collect a vertical sampling of ambient weather conditions.  From those reports, the NWS forecaster saw a very strong temperature inversion, which functions as a hard thermodynamic lid on the marine layer.

If you want to see ACARS data for yourself, you are in luck. We happen to give it out for free!  Learn more here.

I should make and post a video demonstrating how to request this data. Until then, follow these instructions:

  1. Register for a RDA account (registration is free).
  2. Search for dataset 351.0, and click on the Data Access tab. 
  3. Click on "Get a Subset" under the "Customizable Data Requests" column.  
  4. Enter your desired time range.
  5. Use the pull-down menu under "Select Spatial Subset Preference" to "Select region via Google map". Click "Submit Data Request"
  6. You will receive robo-email from my work email address when your data is ready for pickup.  The data will be in human-readable ASCII.