Wednesday, July 2, 2008

If it's Pittsburgh, it must be Wednesday

Well, I guess it's my turn to do the introduction thing. As a preface, let me say that not only is this my first post on this blog, it's also my first post ever, on any blog, anywhere. Yes, I'm a noob. Please educate me on blog-iquette (woohoo! I coined a word!) as necessary.

So, the short life story: I have a Ph.D. in geochemistry, which I earned in 2005 from Cornell University. (My mother was very proud.) Before that, I got a B.S. in geology from the University of Delaware.

About two-thirds of the way through graduate school, I became aware (thanks to a long series of unpleasant events that I won't detail here) that I had, in fact, very little interest in becoming a professor or researcher--at least in geochemistry. (For the record, 2/3 of the way through is a VERY bad time to figure this out. It's far enough in that it's silly to change direction, especially if you have funding; and it's far enough from the end that you have the prospect of a year and a half of not really enjoying what you're doing to comfort you at night. I don't recommend it.) I thought what I actually wanted to do was teach high school. I had become involved in several outreach/teaching activities as a grad student, and they had gotten me into classrooms and in front of kids, and I really enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, this was also right around the time that the No Child Left Behind act was starting to bare its teeth, and I didn't think I'd be able to get a teaching job without certification. And getting certification either meant paying for another 2-3 years of graduate school, or committing to teach for 3-4 years in a high-need public school while also working 25 hours a week earning my degree. Neither of these options appealed to me, so I started exploring other options.

As you might imagine, I had a rather hard time exploring those avenues. The university career services center was--to put it politely--less than useful for someone not seeking a job in business, marketing (no offense, CAE), or industrial research. My advisor was, if not negative, definitely not particularly helpful. So I turned to the Internet. (Where else?)

I started looking for jobs with museums, universities, textbook companies, pretty much anything that would let me do pre-college education without state certification. I sent out the requisite million resumes. The only response I got was from an educational content developer. They offered me a job as a science editor, and as I had at that point been looking for a job for a year or so and had had not so much as a nibble from anywhere else, I took the job. Three years later, I am still here.

The company I work for is a vendor. That means that other companies hire us to do work for them. Most of the companies we work for are educational publishers of some kind; almost all focus on the K-12 market. We've done work for the big basal publishers, and also for lots of smaller companies. We do all sorts of products, from text books to teacher guides to lab manuals to high-stakes tests and test prep. Our company works in all disciplines; I work in the science department. The department is currently quite small, so we all pretty much have to do everything; although my degree is in Earth science, last week I was writing life science questions, and this week I'm working on a teacher guide for physics.

If there is one thing I can say about my job, it is that it is never predictable. This is, I think, a function both of the type of company I work for and of the type of work I do. Because we work entirely on contract, we are never really sure how much work we will have in the future; therefore, things tend to swing from feast to famine with alarming rapidity (although, because NCLB's science requirements are now coming into effect, it's been more in the "feast" mode lately). And because I'm one of only a few editors in the department, I'm never really sure what I'm going to be doing next.

I'd say the job has its ups and downs. I'm fairly confident now that, although I enjoy the work, this particular industry is not a great fit for me. I think my first instincts in grad school--that I'd like to work in informal education, such as in a museum--were probably right; I'm currently keeping my eyes and ears open for other job options.

I guess that's about it (you should see the LONG life story...) for my background. Looking forward to your comments...

(And for those of you questioning the title: Yes, I live in Pittsburgh. Yins should visit, n'at.)


CAE said...

That sounds like a really cool job! And no offense at all at the marketing thing. I am NOT a marketer and I doubt I ever really was!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that sounds interesting indeed. And it's amazing how NCLB has mucked up people who are highly qualified to teach but decided in a non-education undergraduate program.

science cog said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing it and you did very well as a first time blogger. A friend of mine got an offer with PBS to work in their education department. He didn't take it and sometimes wonders what if.

On a different note you can teach full-time with a Ph.d. in private schools. Only the public school require certification, but even there substitute teachers don't need it.

Here's what to do - work x number of hours in a school (where x depends on your state). Then apply for a teaching certificate. Meet with the certficate coordinator in your state and describe your qualifications. That person will help you make your case. Most states have this work around.

drdrA said...

Awesome post, yet another great one.

You know, science cog- prompted by your PBS comment-...I've been doing a lot of talking with the media lately.. and boy those people (bright as they are) could use some great science help...

Mad Hatter said...

Great post! And what an interesting story. I've met so many people in academia (mostly tenured faculty) who tell me they have "always known" they wanted to be professors. I, on the other hand, have taken a while to figure out what I want, so it's always reassuring to me to find other people out there who are also still exploring.

A job in a museum sounds like fun! Would a job in, say, a city science center fit the bill too?

maddox22 said...

Science Cog, I have actually applied for a couple of private school teaching positions. One thing that's very interesting is that both of the positions I've applied for are teaching elementary school science. The schools treat science as a "special," like art or music. On the one hand, that's good, because (one would hope) the person teaching it might have a bit more science training than the average Elementary Ed student gets (I have friends--and a mother--who teach elementary school; you pretty much have to take intro bio or chem and that's about it). On the other does bother me that kids that young (the most excited, interested, curious people on the planet) get science only a couple of times a week.

I didn't know about the teaching certificate option; thanks for pointing it out. I'll definitely look into it. (And I am VERY jealous of your friend. I would LOVE to work for PBS!)

MH, a science center would probably be appropriate as well, although I think I might prefer a natural history museum. But I'm keeping my options open. That's one great thing about Pittsburgh: lots and lots of museums and other options.

The bean-mom said...


Thanks for joining us! Your job sounds fascinating! Although I think museum work sounds cool, too, and look forward to your posts as you look for that perfect fit...

And I've been to Pittsburgh. It was just a short overnight trip, but I thought it was a lovely city--so green and pretty. A lot of midwest cities get a bad rap that's totally undeserved!

maddox22 said...

Yeah, I like Pittsburgh a lot more than I thought I would. I grew up in New England. (And for a long time I thought Pittsburgh was a "midwest city" :) until my husband took me to see his family in Indiana. Pittsburgh is practically Boston compared to that.) But I'm very impressed with the range of opportunities here, especially for a city this size (less than half a million people live in Pittsburgh proper; the metro area is less than 1.5 million, I think).

Anonymous said...

So...another burgher blogger! So very exciting!