2018 Week 2: What is your biggest failure?

Career
This was my first week at ONI and it was great. The team is brilliant, and represents almost as many countries as it has people. In my previous job, as in this one, a personal blog is not the place to discuss the specifics of work (that might be commercially sensitive), but it is an exciting and satisfying environment to be in.

Languages
I’m on a 14 day streak for Chinese on duolingo. I first heard about duolingo from the TED talk of Luis von Ahn, which is probably a little dated, but certainly interesting from a “history of crowd sourcing” perspective. Notably it seems to have grown to be much more about learning languages than translating the entire internet, which is not to say crowd-sourcing has been unsuccessful (see Niantic and PokemonGO). Freakonomics did a podcast about how (financially) valuable it is to learn a second language,  talking with Albert Saiz who wrote a paper. In short, it’s not particularly valuable, unless the second language you’re learning is English.

Reading
Before we get serious I’ve discovered a guy here called Chris McIntyre writes a weekly email called “Interesting Things I Come Across” and it lives up to its name.

Failing
There are some questions that seem to come up in interviews no matter the position or experience. Having a concise answer to “Tell us about yourself” or “why do want the position”.  One I found difficult is “What is your biggest failure”, and in answering it over and over I’ve started to make sense of it. My failure is quite literal. I failed a number of subjects during my studies at University. Specifically 8 discontinues, 6 absent fails, and 3 fails, from 2014 to 2016. It still stings to look that up, and look at a rather large hole in an otherwise reasonably good transcript. I’m still afraid to admit it.

For most of my life I held the foolish belief that it was impossible for me to burn out. I thought that I was intelligent, but lazy. I relied on the “Panic Monster” to push through days without sleep so I could start a term’s project a couple days before the deadline. I remember explaining the reason I had so overwhelmingly over-committed myself was that “I could never have the discipline to do things gradually over time, but I always managed to scrape through, so the best way to be efficient  was to do lots and lots of things”. These beliefs were so core to how I saw myself that eventually when I did burn out, it was took me 3 years to finally accept and change these unhealthy views.

Thankfully I’ve since learned that I, like most, do not have an unlimited capacity for pressure. That I do need rest. That being smart is not all that matters. That talent is important, but consistent application of effort over time counts twice as much. Perhaps most important of all, that it is OK to ask for help.

That’s an imperfect summary, but it is certainly a good place to start.

Written (mostly) from the Oxford Hackerspace.

2018 Week 1: Production Scientist to Nano-image-r

It has been an excitingly busy start to the year

Career updates
On Friday I had my last day as a Production Scientist. On Monday I start at Oxford Nanoimaging. I’ve enjoyed my time with Alere Toxicology UK (which became part of Abbott) but I want tougher problems to solve. I was fortunate to have good colleagues; I’m coming to the belief that who you work  with matters more than what work you do, though the two are linked. The next project will be with a company three orders of magnitude smaller (~100,000 to <100), and the work is likely to be much more challenging. That is very exciting, but also a little daunting.

Catching up with old friends
I have been consistently terrible at keeping in touch with friends. This is in part due to a strong proximity bias favouring interacting with people physically closer to me over interactions I might enjoy more. It is also due to setting unrealistic expectations about how those long overdue catch ups ought to go, i.e. that they somehow have to “make up” for the gap, even though it has never been clear how that might occur. The result is procrastination. This week I was successfully prompted by circumstance, and it was lovely. Two great discussions were on how magnets can affect moral judgements and how positive and negative feedback can shape preferences and identities.

New years day
I stood on Lambeth Bridge in London to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks. It was extremely crowded, but jovial. London’s transport system impressed by coping incredibly well with the flood of people leaving central London.

Writing from home.

Focus and LaTeX

Job Hunting Update
My primary goal is still finding work. So far that looks like:

   Positions Considered          200
   Applications             50
   Rejections               7
   Recruiter Calls       Many
   Interviews               6
   Offers               0

Unfortunately still no offers. Progress is accelerating, having found clarity in my own goals.

CV and Resume
In this job application period, I’ve used 3 CV/Resumes:
CV Version 1:   Simple bullet point list.
CV Version 2:  Google docs template, better design but less content.
CV Version 3: LaTeX template, content dense whilst still fairly clean.
I am happy with the result of Version 3, and hopefully it impresses some employers. The process of formatting content was itself an act of introspection, a useful reminder that presentation is intertwined with content in transferring meaning. Also it is hard to send a message if you are not sure of the content yourself.

Personal Aims
In preparing my latest CV, I felt the need to include my personal aim in this job search, which I’ve distilled to the following:

Find a career solving complex and rewarding problems, with opportunities to develop skills and knowledge. Work with a diverse and experienced team, aspiring to one day lead investigative research and development.

I want to find work where I can grow, and while education and finance are interesting fields, it is the application of scientific and logical tools, rather than the content itself that interests me. Career progression in scientific research seems to require a PhD. The fastest path would be to do honours at the University of Sydney, but having spent nearly 7 years in and around USyd I feel it is time to diversify my experience. Additionally maintaining a relationship over the longest possible distance can be quite tedious.

LaTeX
Last weekend I finally familiarised myself with the document preparation system LaTeX. I had played with it a little before, but hadn’t taken the time to go through a tutorial in its entirety. I’m using the editor texmaker and have been happy with it.

Writing from the Oxford Hacker-space.

July 2017: Job Hunting and Rock Climbing

I left Sydney for Oxford in early July, so a month having elapsed, this is what I’ve been up to:

Job Hunting
My primary goal has been finding work. So far that looks like:

   Positions Considered             81
   Applications             16
   Rejections               6
   Recruiter Calls               4
   Interviews               3
   Offers               0

Unfortunately no offers. I’ve focused on jobs in Oxford, so have applied to positions from the university. In a wider search, reed has seemed more relevant to me than indeed,  and making a profile there has been the main source of calls from recruiters, which seems promising. It’s probably time to extend the search to include London, though I’m still hoping to find something here in Oxford.

Reading
Aside from many job descriptions, I’ve been reading Huffington’s The Sleep RevolutionThe Economist, and reddit.

Hackerspace
Having become a member of the Oxford hackerspace, I’ve been helping out a little with the 3D printing service. Producing tangible objects is very satisfying in contrast to job hunting.

Fitness
I’ve tried two new activities: squash and rock-climbing/bouldering. My staples of running/cycling and weightlifting leave a gap over hand-eye coordination, which squash fills in well. After about 8 hours I think I’m starting to develop muscle memory for basic play. I was surprised to find climbing has a huge mental component; planning and executing the correct strategy seems just as important as strength. It’s certainly fun, and much more mentally involved than lifting weights or running, but for pure fitness training not as effective.

Chess
I’ve played 207 games of chess. I haven’t improved much, so should add structured training rather than just blundering repetitively through similar openings. It’s probably also been more procrastination than relaxation this month.

Berglabs
And, of course, I’ve resuscitated this domain and updated it with a WordPress theme.

Travel
Life has taken me to London (by train) and Eyam (by car).

Writing from the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford.

CVs and Résumés

I’ve been tinkering a little with this website, and so far it’s essentially becoming a curriculum vitae (CV). That’s probably a useful thing for potential employers to get to know me (and see that I have basic web/IT/media skills), but once I find a job that might be less useful as a front page/home page for my personal website.

Currently my actual CV is just a google doc bullet point list of various things I’ve done. As a document it could definitely be formatted better, and likely ought be tailored specifically to each role I apply for.

I thought I’d share some CV’s I’ve seen that I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve noticed in interviews so far in Oxford that interviewers will “discover” something in my CV and ask about it during the interview. This highlights the short amount of time that prospective employers will spend skimming the CV, so it’s probably sensible to cut mine down to one page, and try to better highlight the major achievements, and relevant experience. That reformat is probably this afternoon’s task (as well as doing a little re-wiring of some networking cable here)

Writing from the Oxford Hacker-space.