Monday, May 16, 2005

Learning to Negotiate

When it rains, it pours, or so Morton Salt always claimed.

I just returned from another interview this afternoon and I am pleased to report that I was hired for an Adjunct position for the first term of summer semester. I will be teaching Anatomy and Physiology I again, but this time, I will be teaching at a different community college than the one where I currently work.

Last week, when I told my fellow Adjuncts that I had an interview with this particular school, they informed me that this school is probably as bad as the school where I currently teach (in terms of poor faculty support and few resources), so I was not very excited about this position.

It's just a survival job, I reminded myself as I wandered around the building before my scheduled interview. But when I walked down a short hallway, I unexpectedly found a glass display case full of zoological specimens in jars of alcohol. So even then, I began to suspect this employer might be different from my current employer, whose hallways and classrooms are devoid of such biological wonders.

Even when I emerged from the subway station, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the commute was very fast. I also discovered that the building is fairly new and the school primarily serves Spanish speaking adults. As a single blonde woman, I am very unusual here, even among the faculty. Nevertheless, I am untroubled by my minority status because I am also a minority in my own neighborhood, which consists mainly of Dominican immigrants.

As I walked in to the conference room where the interview took place, I met one of my fellow Adjuncts who had recommended me for this position to the department chairman a few weeks ago. After a several minutes of good-natured joking with him, the panel invited me into the conference room for the interview. I was pleased to find that the faculty are quite friendly and helpful -- a sharp contrast with my current employer -- and the interview went very well (no one asked me to name any muscles, for example).

Because I am still frustrated by the poor resources available to my current students, I remained skeptical and tried to ask every difficult question that I could think of. When I asked about dissections (as you know, this is a real point of frustration), the three faculty exchanged quick glances before naming which dissections they routinely provide to their students. These turned out to be more dissections than what my current students have.

The Department Chairman, also a member of the interview panel, had clearly decided he wanted to hire me before I had even walked through the door. He jumped in to tell me that a previous class had not used all their piglets so my students were welcome to dissect them. I was extraordinarily pleased with this very small victory on behalf of my potential students, realizing that I had accidentally accomplished something very important for them before the formal letter of offering had even been written. The panel then encouraged me to bring in dead birds or other animals for the students to dissect, if I had the opportunity to do so.

This short, casual exchange was enormously instructive: suddenly my eyes were opened to the power that I wielded at that moment. The panel clearly wanted me and were willing to provide my potential students with special favors to get me to teach for them. Until this moment, I had no clue that these sorts of negotiations occurred behind the scenes, but from now on, I will anticipate such negotiations in all of my interviews. Thanks to this one interview, I learned something very important today and hopefully, all of my future students will learn more from me as a result.

Certainly, this was a victory, but it would not be my last today. At the conclusion of the interview, the Department Chairman surprised me by declaring that I was currently not being paid enough, and offered me a $10.79 raise per contact hour (note: "contact hours" are not the same as hours worked. I typically work 3-4 additional hours for each paid contact hour). It hadn't occurred to me to ask for anything for myself, so I was surprised and grateful that the faculty were thinking about me. This raise will help me survive that looming dry spell of unemployment in August and September following the first summer term. Since the second term of summer semester is devoted to teaching non-science subjects, there will be no Adjunct science teaching positions available then and even worse, the demand for science tutors -- one of the other ways I earn a few dollars to keep myself fed -- also dries up.

So now I wait for the paperwork. For those of you out there who are keeping score on my job hunting successes, my current employment status for the near future appears to be;

Summer semester, term I: 6 weeks of Adjunct employment, teaching A&P I (contract pending).

Summer semester, term II: unemployed, hopefully receiving the last of my Unemployment Benefits earned from my postdoctoral fellowship (I can claim these benefits for one calendar year from my last paid day from my postdoc).

Autumn semester: two different Adjunct positions at two fine institutions, one will be teaching A&P I (I told you about this yesterday) and the other will be teaching genetics (both contracts pending). Both of these institutions claim that they want me to apply for a junior-level tenure-track position that opens up sometime this autumn.

Spring semester: Unknown at this point. I am preparing to interview for a spring semester lecturer position that, if I get it, will provide the best pay I've earned since my postdoc ended and will be with the best school I've taught at so far. If I get this position, I will be mightily tempted to tell you who I am teaching for because I will so want to brag about it.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

21 Peer Reviews:

Blogger Miranda said...

That is very wonderful news! Things are starting to look up and this new place sounds like a much better fit.

You asked about my major and while I started in the pre-nursing program, I have no desire to go into that field whatsoever. I would make more money in that field, that's for sure but it was the science classes that made me happy. I'm doing research on the web and with people I know who have science related jobs and degrees and trying to pick an area that interests me and will also provide a bit of cash to send my children to college when they are of age. However, I get dreadfully depressed thinking about it sometimes since I am 32, I have three children aged 11-3, and I only have 60 credits under my belt. Because of a travel fellowship I accepted (it was too cool to turn down), I needed to postpone transfering to Big State U for another year. I will likely have a full ride at that point and will need to set myself up to try and get a graduate fellowship to avoid incurring too much debt.

So, you *have* to get a job because I need to know it can happen.

9:23 PM  
Blogger : Joseph j7uy5 said...

I always had faith that you would find something, but just in case: Harvard has announced that they are going to spend $50 Million to hire more women scientists. Maybe they would let you help them spend that money.

9:53 PM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

It's bad that this school is low-quality, but apparently you're going to stumble on a good semester of theirs, at least as far as equipment is concerned.

So, good luck with next semester(s), and, as you see, you can find jobs and they can pay you relatively well. If you can secure the two positions for the fall semester then you might end up having to drop the "interrupted" part of your blog title altogether.

5:25 AM  
Anonymous abknight said...

I am afraid that I am here merely for entertainment. Nonetheless I am very please at the uptick in optimism. Fascinating descriptions of two very different interviews.

Have enjoyed your reprints of the Tim Barksdale Ivory Bill search team reports. It is sad that this bird having escaped complete genocide is now wandering the alleys and streets of an inhospitable ecosystem as it tries to piece together a "cardboard" survival hut. The great bird now lives as an outlaw and a gypsy. Glad to think you will not be joining it immediately on the park bench!

7:11 AM  
Blogger Joe said...


7:35 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Miranda: I worked to pay my way through my educational career, so I understand how you feel. This is probably the most daunting undertaking that a person can ever pursue because you never really know if all your hard work and sacrifice will pay off, nor do you have a physical representation for all your hard work, as you would if you purchased a house, for example. Trying to stay alive while working your way through school is nearly impossible, even if you have excellent health, never spend money frivolously, and don't have any expensive hobbies. To this day, the most expensive object that I own are my prized pair of Swarovski 10x50 binoculars. I saved money for ten years to buy them and paid cash when I finally bought them for Christmas while I was still a grad student.

Joseph: $50 million will buy lots of binoculars, birdpods (sigh) and other high-tech equipment! Where do I sign up?

Alon: paying "relatively well" is a relative term, of course. According to my calculations, if I manage to land one Adjunct position for each semester this year, I will earn somewhere between $12-13k for all of 2005, before taxes. If I manage to get two Adjunct positions at the same time (for autumn semester, for example), my income will increase only slightly because colleges and universities have rules regarding the total number of hours that an Adjunct is allowed to teach. The limit is 9 contact hours at one school and no more than 13 (16?) contact hours in total per semester.

I remain convinced that a life of crime is more lucrative than science/research/academics and that criminal activity is probably a better prerequisite for most real-life jobs, too.

abknight: Thanks for dropping in and commenting! I am glad that you are enjoying the ivory-billed woodpecker information. Be sure to check in here Thursday because I will make an announcement about a special surprise I have for my dear readers regarding this woodpecker. My annoucement will reveal developments that are in the works behind-the-scenes ever since the announced rediscovery of the bird.


7:37 AM  
Blogger Tabor said...

Life does go on and now you are reaching a new plateau. Take a Zen minute to enjoy this. I think that most people who run job interviews are not really good at it. They set up the questions and try to analyze the game plan, but it is like most things in life...there are few real experts. The few times I have been on interview committees, I was always looking for a slice of the candidate's personality. The resume pretty tells about experience and history. But human chemistry is an important commodity in building a working team and a face to face can sometimes reveal that.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous abknight said...

Thank you for the welcoming note. Thought you might enjoy this photo of Ivory Bill search team at rental home in Brinkley, AR. Tim is in the red cap if you didn't know. Hedwig I hope you are soon somehow back out in "the field", though I don't know if molecular biologists go outside! While you are there, though, you will always have New York and the wilds of New Jersey or Bear Mountain are not far away. By the way congratulations on your self-sufficiency and independence.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous abknight said...

Thank you for the welcoming note. Thought you might enjoy this photo of Ivory Bill search team at rental home in Brinkley, AR. Tim is in the red cap if you didn't know. Hedwig I hope you are soon somehow back out in "the field", though I don't know if molecular biologists go outside! While you are there, though, you will always have New York and the wilds of New Jersey or Bear Mountain are not far away. By the way congratulations on your self-sufficiency and independence.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

Such good news. I am so happy for you. Sounds like you'll have students who are interested in science, and actual labs for them. What a great summer it's going to be.

10:20 AM  
Blogger James said...

Totally, totally excellent news! You're moving in the right direction, wonderful!

I'll leave it at that. Keep pushing and looking, I've faith that eventually you'll get what you want, or pretty damn close.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

Good for you!!!

11:52 AM  
Blogger BotanicalGirl said...

This is great news! Congrats on asking smart questions and getting their respect. You deserve it.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Kristjan Wager said...

Very good news indeed. Congratulations!

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

Very cool. Congratulations.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been a lurker here for awhile, via Pharyngula. Congrats, and if it's worth anything, I'm an adult student at a community college, so I can relate sort of to your comments about dissections (not to mention similar economic situations). We got to dissect lots of rotten blobs that used to be fetal pigs (with rusty, plastic handled hobby knives instead of scalpels) , but we did get to borrow a fresh cat from one of the nursing classes. So, I don't know if this helps or not, but maybe some of your students relate to some of your frustration? I do (and I'm on the same beans and rice sort of diet). I dunno how it is up there, but most of my fellow students at this comm. college are way more respectful of our prof's than the typical 18 year old "living off the parent's teat for four years" mentality at a university.

Anyway, I've enjoyed reading your blog, and my adopted blue and gold macaw says "hello." Admittedly, that's all she can say, and she says it an awful lot, but her pinpointing eyes and tail-wagging makes me think she means it?!?!?

Oh, and I just saw my first hummer of the season, and I don't even have a hummer feeder! Nothing like a migrating bird to brighten the day, eh?


1:45 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks everyone for your congratulatory responses!

Thanks for the link to the picture of the search party, abknight! I am reading The Grail Bird right now and have developed mental images of the search party participants from that, but I am pleased to see an actual picture, too.

Even though I am a molecular evolutionary biologist, I often get out birding in Central Park, although my birding has been on a hiatus recently due to teaching responsibilities. I hope to get back out there next week, after I am done torturing my students with final exams.

Hi Jamie! It's good to see you here, and many hellos to your blue and gold macaw! From your description of her behavior, it sounds like she is flirting with you. I would love to have a B&G macaw, and I am always looking around for more birds to adopt (yes, I absolutely love being around birds, especially parrots). I hope to start breeding parrots and other birds again one day, but alas, that dream seems to be forever out of my reach.

Which species of hummingbird did you see? If you live east of the Rocky Mountains, I'd guess that you saw a ruby-throated hummingbird, but if you are in the west, well, you have all sorts of possibilities.

Your observations about students is interesting. I have found that most students are very respectful towards me, but I do have several in my class who have anger management problems.


10:43 AM  
Blogger Ms.PhD said...

See, it's good you didn't get that Starbucks job, or you might have had to quit! =D

As for negotiations, yes, precisely, this stuff all happens in a very subtle way. Most of the time you have to make requests in a way that sounds like a simple informational question, not like you're asking for something tangible. Then, since this school obviously realizes you're way overqualified for them, they'll realize they better come up with some way to make it worth your while.

As for Harvard, I think we should both go! I never in a million years would have applied there, but hey, if they're going to have a bunch of new positions opening up, it might be worth at least sending in the package.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Apesnake said...

"I typically work 3-4 additional hours for each paid contact hour."

That seems to be the way with so many jobs and whole sectors. Wouldn't it be funny if one day, skilled and educated labour became so scarce that employers had to actually pay for hours worked rather than hours hired? Not that it will ever happen but we can dream.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, have you visited recently ?

5:17 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hi Ms PhD and thanks for commenting. I am glad to see that "negotiations" are phrased as questions since I was wondering if, in future job negotiations, I should phrase my requests differently. I feel much more comfortable asking for things, but wasn't sure if this was the proper protocol. It looks like I did something correct for a change!

Hi Ape-Snake .. I think that academics are more likely to learn to speak Chinese than we are to be paid fairly for our scholarly pursuits.

Oh wow, thanks for mentioning that, anonymous! It turns out that my blog is number one in their "top 50" list! Wow! I must be doing something right! Now on to my next goal; ruling the universe!


7:39 AM  

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