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The non-academic job search (Part 1)

10 Aug

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’ve decided after much soul searching this year that I will not be applying for postdocs this fall and following the steps to success in mathademia.  Please do not take this as an indictment of academia (though I also feel that;  each of those words is a separate link about academia & motherhood), and I highly recommend postgraduate study in math if you’re interested in it (so does Evelyn Lamb on Slate!)

I have loved my time doing something I love on a flexible schedule which gave me lots of time to spend with my son, organize conferences, travel, blog, bake, exercise, and have the life I wanted.  It’s also been very difficult to have the highly unstructured environment, little oversight, and lack of regular collaboration.  Also very little money, but I married a person with an actual job so he can support the kid, and as a young 20-something I didn’t need much money (especially with math conferences covering travel and accommodation costs!)  So I love math, I love mathademia, but I don’t love teaching enough to do it full-time yet, and I don’t love research enough to want to move my family only to move them again 3 years later, and possibly 3 years after that again.  Hence I am starting my non-academic job search, and I thought y’all could join me on my journey.

When I first started toying with leaving academia, a friend of mine who also has a Ph.D. in math told me: the hardest thing about leaving academia is deciding to leave academia.  It’s been several months of pro/con lists, discussions with friends and family, and days of feeling sad and hopeless vs. days of feeling inspired.  You can’t help but feel like a failure when you make this decision, because all the exemplars of success that surround you are academics.  And that’s not even true for me; I try to know a range of people who do different things, but still in my day to day life and work it’s all professors etc.  Anyways, I got through this stage but it was rough.

Next I got some books!  Specifically, In Transition and What Color is Your Parachute? + Workbook.  I’d heard of Parachute, and I talked to a friend on the phone who used to be in consulting who said that everyone who left his company was given a copy of In Transition.  So I spent a few weeks working through these, which was mostly about soul-searching and there’s some practical advice in there about informational interviews.  In those weeks I also contacted career services at Yale (they have someone dedicated to alumni) and UT Austin and got some short and helpful advice.

I rejoined Amazon affiliates so I could put these pictures in this post.  Buy the books from links above, I get money!

After using the books and career people and narrowing down to a few fields that might interest me, I used LinkedIn and the internet to find companies in those fields in the locations I’m interested in (Austin, where we are now, and where our families are).  After a few days of searching, that got me a list of 50 or so companies in a file I called “first impressions”, which I then went through again and checked out all of their websites which took another several days.  I deleted all the ones I couldn’t imagine working for or which didn’t exist anymore, which brought me to a list of about 20 companies.

I figured once I started contacting people they’d google me, so I updated my website and made it pretty and fancy!  Then, using my CV as a starter and a template that one of the career counselors sent me, I wrote a resume targeting these fields.  Based on that, I updated my linkedin.  The website took me an afternoon several months ago, the resume took me two weeks.


How many pictures of myself did I put on my website?  A lot!

In the meantime several more companies got added to my list: I’m on several email lists and one alum sent out a note that his company is hiring, I looked on which ranks consulting companies on lots of metrics, including “work-life balance” and “least amount of travel” so that added a few companies, and I added a few dream companies (AAAS) which are not where I want to live but why not explore them and figure out what makes them dreams, and what things I want in the job I end up getting?

So about two weeks ago I added another sheet for contacts to this growing excel file which still has the name “first impressions”, and I used LinkedIn to find people who work at and people who used to work at each of those companies who are in my 2nd degree networks, and I wrote down their names and the name of my connection to them who can introduce us.  I also used LinkedIn to find people who were alums of any of the schools I’ve been affiliated with.  Now I’m starting to do informational interviews with those people- I asked for half hour phone conversations, but after the first one last week I think 15 minutes would suffice.  To get introduced, I write an email to our mutual connection and include at the bottom of the email an introductory note to the person I want to connect to, so our mutual friend can just forward it instead of having to write a whole long thing.

What’s great about informational interviewing people who used to work somewhere is they have no skin in the game if I end up at that company.  They can tell me why they left!

If you couldn’t tell this has been a summer-long project that I started at the end of May (at least, that’s when I redid my website).  I didn’t start out the summer knowing any of these things, neither what the tasks were nor how to do them, but I talked to that former consulting friend for an hour in May and he made all of these helpful recommendations, and I talked to the Yale alum counselor for a half hour in June, and I met with the UT counselor in July who gave me concrete advice as well.

I’ll keep you updated every few months with the progress of this!

Productivity tips for solo workers

12 Jul

I just got back from a Dissertation Writing Retreat, put on by my undergraduate fellowship, Mellon Mays .  Twelve of us planned our days, talked goals and schedules, and tried out techniques for staying productive and keeping up our morale.  The first two days we were essentially locked in a room for four hours (two sessions of two hours each) and worked on our computers, using social pressure and a shared timer.  Then we weaned off to one session and then no sessions, with the expectation that we’d figure out how to use the time schedule ourselves.  The end of each day we had check-ins and discussed what worked and what didn’t.  So I thought I’d share with you some of the stuff I learned.


#IlookLikeAProfessor #squadgoals (Faculty panel)

First, a few things I already knew:

  • Figure out where you can work.  When my partner worked from home we turned the guest bedroom into an office for him.  I’ve done parks, coffee shops, the office, and our home office and all were much more productive than the kitchen table, where I can see the dishes, the fridge (what’s for dinner tonight?!), the living room…
  • Write a task lisk for each day and focus only on those tasks.
  • Make sure to “have a life,” which in my case meant starting a baking and math blog.
  • Exercise!  Figure out some way to move your body.
  • Use SMART goals.  Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.  I don’t really know what “attainable” means vs. “realistic” but maybe it balances out people with too low self confidence (at least it can be attainable) vs. people with too high self-confidence (remain realistic!).

years of grad school and those are the things I knew.  I’ve been in a rough space for the past few months, math and life-wise, so this writing retreat was the perfect detox/jump start for me.  Here are some things I learned!

  1. Break up goals into specific, manageable tasks.  I used to look at my planner post-it each day and see things like “work on paper X” and “read paper Y.”  On our first evening we listed our main goals for the week, and then took the top goal and split it into at least three specific tasks.  So my “organize paper” became 1) copy topic sentences (lemma/theorem statements), 2) skim paper and name techniques, 3) figure out which theorems use which techniques, 4) form flowchart, and 5) rearrange paragraphs so flowchart makes sense.  Then when I sat down the next morning I didn’t have “organize paper” to look at, but a really easy softball of a task to start my day and feel productive.
  2. Set out your tasks and goals the day before.  This has helped me SO MUCH.  I used to spend half an hour each morning reviewing the previous day and setting up what to do that day.  Here’s a picture of the Emergent Task Planner pages we were using. etp
  3. Try the POMODORO TECHNIQUE.    The idea is that you break up goals into tasks, and then set a timer and FOCUS on each task for 25 minutes (=one pomodoro), then take a five minute break.  You fill a little box for each pomodoro (=”pom”) next to your task that you took, and then you cross off the task when it’s done.  If your tasks are taking 4 or more poms, you’re not breaking up the tasks enough in step 1.  After four poms, you take a longer break (15 minutes).  DO NOT SKIP BREAKS.  The breaks let you work longer and feel more refreshed and ready- in my experience, if I skipped breaks then I’d do a pom or two less that day.  The timer is great!  I use a free app on my phone as the timer.  I also go one step further and put my computer on airplane mode for the poms when I don’t need the internet.  Speaking of which…
  4. Consider turning off the internet.  I was always getting stuck on a thing, and then getting frustrated, and then checking slate or gawker or national review or reason or twitter or facebook and reading an article or five before going back to the task at hand.  I’m pretty distraction-prone, so turning my computer to airplane mode and putting my phone away helped a lot during the retreat.  In regular life I’ve been setting computer to airplane mode and putting my phone on a shelf after setting the timer (I still need to pick up if daycare or nanny calls).
  5. Keep a master task list for the project/week/month.  We made an “activity inventory” of the larger goals we wanted to accomplish over the week.  Then at the end of each day once I had finished my tasks for the day and was looking to the next day, I’d refer to the activity inventory and cross off the major goals and see what was coming up to break into tasks for the next day.


    Goals to finish this project, crossed off as I accomplished them.  Or, funnily, — if they stopped being necessary.

  6. Keep track of distractions.  The Pomodoro technique recommends putting an apostrophe in your list to show when distractions happen.  I did not do that, but I do make liberal use of the “notes” section at the bottom of the ETP sheet above, or a side notebook, just to sketch a few notes about ideas that cropped up.  Also, if I got hit by the math muse, I’d run with it and write it down as a new task with little time bubbles (I believe in staying flexible!)
  7. Various one-time techniques: pre-hindsight: think about a time you didn’t achieve a goal, and try to figure out what would have helped you achieve it.  Then try to implement those tools for success in future goals.  Put yourself first: spend the best part of the day (the time you’re most awake and aware) on the work that matters to you, and then deal with other peoples’ needs.  Take breaks: “You don’t realize you need a break until you’re fatigued, and by the time you’re fatigued it’s too late (to do more good work”-Shanna Benjamin, our amazing facilitator.

Good luck with all your work, blog readers!  I think this is also useful for non-solo workers, but it’s harder to keep track of because there will be other people and other schedules involved.  I did meet with a fellow grad student and we pom’d together, including a 25 minute conversation we had trying to figure something out.  Good luck to all of us!

I am a minority in academia

5 Jul

I started trying to write this post and ended up looking at SO MANY articles and thinkpieces related to academia, minorities, affirmative action, high school, independent/charter schools, microaggressions, and interventions.  This topic is way too complicated for my humble little corner of the internet to take on to any kind of depth, so I’ll just talk about my experiences instead and maybe put in a few links.

I’ve written a lot about being a woman in mathematics (see first post, second post, nth post), and a little bit about race and a bit about the intersection (but really that link is nationality and gender).  But I haven’t written too much about being a Vietnamese person in mathematics.  Part of it is that Vietnam is in Asia, so I’m Asian-American, and the stereotype is that we’re good at math and doing great in academia since you can see a bunch of Asian professors in math.  Most of those Asian professors are Asians-from-Asia which is different than Asian-Americans.  Asians-from-Asia face a whole different experience and set of difficulties than Asian-Americans.  A quote from Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, somewhat hits this:

The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.

So that’s point 1: Asians-from-Asia and Asian-Americans are different.  For instance, Asian-Americans are part of a system of structural racism, while Asians-from-Asia can encounter this system but not have the same understanding and possibilities for complicity/empowerment/action as Asian-Americans.  There’s even a term in Vietnamese for us, Viet Kieu: “Foreign but not foreign, Vietnamese but not Vietnamese.” College friend’s blog post on being Viet Kieu.

Point 2: “Asian-American” is also an unnecessarily general term and erases the difficulties that communities of people from very different nations and backgrounds have with their relationships with the US.  I saw a link recently that I can’t find saying that “Asian-American” as a term is going out with the next census and it’ll actually break us down into parts of Asia instead of, you know, people with ancestry from the world’s largest continent.  Anyway, because of a variety of historical factors (stuff like the Chinese Exclusion Act and racism and xenophobia), lots of [East and South] Asians who have immigrated to the US are highly skilled H1-B visa holders.

Heard of the “model minority” thing?  Maybe it’s because children of doctors, lawyers, and engineers are more likely to know about how to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers.  Versus, say, if you take a swath of the general population of a country and plop them in a new country, you’ll probably get the same percentage of highly skilled workers in that swath as you do in the new country.  Probably less because the certifications of the old country aren’t valid in the new country.  You guessed it, I’m talking about Vietnamese-Americans!  There are many successful Southeast Asian-Americans, but numbers wise, we’re worse off than lots of other ethnic groups.  For instance, we drop out of high school!  Even within Asian-Americans you can compare numbers: Vietnamese poverty rate around 15%, and Filipinos around 6% (national average about 14%).

Point 3: Data time!  Especially in light of the Yale thing last year and all the stuff about diversity in academia, let’s just look at some research about diversity in academia.  There’s a Consortium on Race, Gender, and Ethnicity collecting and organizing great work on how to diversify academia.  This table is from their FAQ page:

Table 1. Distribution of Full Time U.S. Faculty, by Race/Ethnicity (1988-2010)

I’m not a big data head, but we can compare the numbers above with the census numbers in 2010:  5% Asian, 13% black, 1% Native American/Alaskan Native, 16% Hispanic, 72% white.  It doesn’t add up right because the census counts Hispanic as ethnicity, not race, but the table above doesn’t or something (also I rounded).  It looks like Asians are doing okay!  And then you remember my point 1, and the data doesn’t differentiate between Asia-Asians and Asian-Americans.  So it’s unclear what’s happening, but it’s pretty clear that programs like SACNAS are necessary (and other programs that target, for instance, African Americans and not-science).  I’ll mention here that I’m a Mellon Fellow and so have benefited from a program that specifically targets these issues.  And that leads us to…

Point 4: what to do.  The American Psychological Association put together a HUGE pamphlet on “Surviving and Thriving in Academia.”  That’s great!  There was an article in Science in 2011 about a simple intervention that helped minority students succeed in college: basically it fought off stereotype threat by saying that everyone struggles with feeling like they belong in the first year of college, and then it fought off victim-ing (I don’t know the word for telling people that they are victims and need help) by having the students make videos for future students telling them that everyone struggles with feeling like they belong in the first year of college.  It’s pretty cool!  I loved this blog post about a psych Ph.D’s experiences with racism here in Austin.  Quote from it:

Being black isn’t hard; being black is awesome. It’s being the subject of discrimination that is hard, and that is a fight we can all fight together.

Okay I lied and only wrote commentary on a whole bunch of links instead of a memoir of my own experiences.  I feel much more engaged with the issue of being a woman in math than with the issue of being a racial minority in math, but I also think both of these things are very important to my identity.  So there’s that!  I’ll maybe say more about intersectionality in another blog post.

Barely related to the content of this post: here’s a video that I watched a few months ago and LOVED.  Get past the cheesy weird preview screen and production by MTV and there’s a surprising about of history, data, and analysis in this.


13 Jun

I started to write an email to a friend of mine but it reeked of “you are a member of a marginalized group therefore you represent that entire group and must feel a certain prescribed way that I, as a not-member of that group, believe that you should feel.”  The number one advice I read about acting as a good ally is to listen and make room for marginalized groups’ voices instead of centering yourself.  If you haven’t heard of the term “white tears” I suggest you look it up maybe using one of those three helpful links I’ve included in this sentence!  Essentially, if something bad is happening to someone else, the scene should not be about you and your feelings.  I sat down to write a blog post about Orlando, but I don’t want to talk about my feelings too much, so I’ll take this space to let others speak.

A major theme is that the location of the shooting matters, and that gay clubs provide a community space rather than “just” a place to go out at night:

Fifty people were killed, and as many more wounded, in their home. Maybe their only safe place in the world. By someone who didn’t think there should be any safe place in the world for them, because of who they were, because of who they loved.

Facebook note by Els Kushner about being a “middle-aged librarian” and still connecting to the community that this nightclub represents

Pulse wasn’t just about drinks and dancing—it was a place that invested in its community. Although the LGBTQ+ community in Orlando is large, the reality is that Orlando is still in the South, and the hate these individuals have to face every day requires a place like Pulse to exist.

Personal essay by Daniel Leon-Davis on Fusion, about being a member of that community

Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression.

Ultimately hopeful article by Richard Kim on the Nation, about his own awakening as to what gay clubs mean.

Another theme is just grief, which I’ve heard described as “the purest pain.”

I think of the chimp, the one with the talking hands.

In the course of the experiment, that chimp had a baby. Imagine how her trainers must have thrilled when the mother, without prompting, began to sign her newborn.

Baby, drink milk.

Baby, play ball.

And when the baby died, the mother stood over the body, her wrinkled hands moving with animal grace, forming again and again the words: Baby, come hug, Baby come hug, fluent now in the language of grief.

-Excerpt from a separate short story, which is quoted over on Jezebel<–this is an article just made for comments, to create a safe space to share feelings and thoughts.  Another open thread is available at Autostraddle.

And finally, intersectionality and a call to arms.

We need our allies to step forward. Give your money and your microphones to queer and trans people, especially to the trans women of color who face the greatest risks and have been the leaders of our movements for decades. Demand accountability from your politicians, law enforcement officials and neighbors who believe no one is watching as they perpetuate discrimination and violence. Remember that LGBTQ people of color are nearly twice as likely to be victims of violence. After this attack on a space that prioritized the safety and community of black and Latinx queers, it is even more important to make sure our efforts center on people of color.

-A column by Audrey White over at the Dallas News

It should be noted that this attack to a black and Latinx-friendly gay club happened both during Ramadan and Pride Month.  So I also wanted to include a personal essay by a gay Muslim writer, but I’m having a tough time finding something (let me know if you find something!)  Instead here’s a bit of a video interview with a gay imam, which mostly focuses on media coverage:

One of the issues I think is very important, in many communities of color, there’s a stigma about mental health. And in my pastoral counseling that I provide to not only LGBT Muslims, but also young Muslims, interfaith couples, older Muslims who are now in a different culture, we find that the shaming that comes from acknowledging that one may have some issues that may relate to mental health, often people are not willing to go and seek additional help because of that shaming or that cultural stigma that’s associated with it.

I’m having troubles with my computer so I haven’t actually watched this video by a St. Louis imam, but it’s supposed to be nice.

Here are events happening in your town.  Here is where you can donate to the victims and the victims’ families, via Equality Florida.  You can also donate to the crisis counseling center, via the GLBT Community Center for central Florida.

I’m sorry that we live in this hateful society.  All of me boils with wanting to act, to change the system, to do something, and my heart breaks in the face of overwhelming loss.  The media started saying “act of terror” very quickly (which I don’t like b/c racism-Islamophobia), and it’s also got a kernel of truth to it: that terrorism is random violence meant to intimidate us from living unafraid and joyful lives.  I like the title of Richard Kim’s article cited above: Please don’t stop the music.  Living joyfully, building community, speaking up, calling people in- I really believe this is the best way for everyday people to fight against these dark forces.  Also donate blood if you can.  And, yknow, give people hugs. And call your family (biological or chosen) and tell them you love them.

I am the get, or on role models/pressure

31 May

Awhile back I did a post on various podcast recommendations, and I pointed out a recent favorite of mine by an old classmate and her best friend, the get.  Their most recent episode really resonated with me and echoed some issues that I haven’t talked about in years (part 2), so I thought I’d revisit them and talk about why I love this podcast so much.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote this in an email to a professor, referencing an earlier meeting:

Upon reflection I believe that I felt like I was speaking on behalf of all women in a room full of men, a responsibility that I wasn’t prepared for.  It’s like having a discussion about race in a room with one person of color.  It’s a little weird.

Part of Rhiana talks about in ep14 is the pressure she feels as a high-achieving minority, to continuously highly achieve on behalf of that minority group.  Whenever you’re in a group, be it a classroom, a meeting, or a collection of role models (you may not even know you’re in this group!), if you’re a super-minority then you represent that minority to people looking at that group.  Relevant comic:


XKCD: link here

And that sort of pressure can be dangerous-I won’t tell you Rhiana’s story; you can listen for yourself and I’ll tell you my stories instead.  I’ve been incredibly lucky in my path to where I am now, with support since childhood with extra programs essentially designed to get me where I am today.  Rhiana and Ivy had it even “worse” with a Rhodes and a Ford (fancy graduate fellowships).  What do I mean by “worse”?  I mean when you have all this support and have used up all of these resources to lead you to success, you feel even more pressure to succeed.  Success begets success.  Which is often a good thing, but the pressure can be crippling.  Related digression: this movie (that I love and is directed by the Fast and the Furious director Justin Lin) is based on a real life murder that happened at my rival high school, which was also an extremely high achieving high pressure environment.

I’m planning on finishing my Ph.D. next year (spring 2017), so my thoughts have been leading to what’s coming next: do I try to succeed in mathademia, or turn my back on all of these supporters and do something else?  Here are some mission statements of programs that have helped me:

  • MMUF is the centerpiece of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s initiatives to increase diversity in the faculty ranks of institutions of higher learning.
  • The EDGE Program is administered by Morehouse andPomona Colleges with the goal of strengthening the ability of women students to successfully complete PhD programs in the mathematical sciences and place more women in visible leadership roles in the mathematics community.
  • Dedicated to furthering the success of underrepresented students, USTARS seeks to broaden the participation in the mathematical sciences

So those mission statements imply that they gave me funding/programming/mentorship/networks because they want me to become a math professor.  Also, having role models who look like you is extremely important for young people, especially underrepresented groups, to even begin to ideate what success could look like.  This belief, coupled with my experiences, makes me personally feel pressure to become a research mathematician and exist as an example and role model for others: look!  A woman mathematician!  They exist!  I recently saw this sweet video on upworthy and it’s from this program that sends professionals to grade schools:

So being a role model is great!  But defining success for yourself is a key part of being successful, and going with something without examining it is not, in my opinion, drinking life to the lees [which is a goal of my life].

I spoke with Evelyn Lamb, a friend and personal hero, about this tension between living up to expectations and figuring out your own path.  She pointed out, rightly, that she’s far, far more visible now as a math writer than she was as an assistant professor.  So if the goal is to show people that women can do math, she’s reaching the goal much more effectively by going her own way.  I’d be remiss not to mention Erica Klarreich here and promo my math field with her incredible article.

To sum up: despite massive amounts of pressure from your own underrepresented group/your supporters/your funders/your family/anyone, you have to make your own decisions for your own success and happiness.  Maybe you’re incredibly motivated by the idea of being a role model for others, and that’s enough to launch you into whatever career.  I don’t personally feel that way, and I want my kids to see their mother loving her job and actively choosing it.  The goal of being a role model and showing people that women can do math is to encourage young women who might not realize they can become mathematicians that it’s a path available for them.  It’s not to pressure capable young women into some path that I’ve pre-determined as correct or better than whatever choices they’ll make.  Empowerment is not restricting choices, it’s expanding choices.

Last bit: what do I mean when I say “I am the get”?  It’s from the first episode of Ivy and Rhiana’s podcast.  I can’t say it as well as Rhiana can, so here’s her words:

One thing that always stuck out is that she told me that when I walk in there, like, I have to remember that I am the get. I am the thing that they need to have, I’m the thing that they want, and that I am…not a prize, but something to be gotten. I am an asset. […]we want our listeners to always remember that they are the get, that you are an asset, a thing to be gotten! You’re the thing that people want—and it’s so easy to forget that, especially if you’re a woman, especially if you’re a woman of color, especially if you’re a member of the number of marginalized groups in the US. So, we just wanted that to always be a reminder of self-love and of just how fucking awesome you are, all the time.

I’m out!  Maybe baking next week; it’s been a while!

Uber and Lyft are no longer in Austin

10 May

Depending on who you ask, Uber/Lyft have been forced out of Austin, or they left because they threw a hissy fit and refused government regulation.  (You can tell how I voted on Prop 1).  I wanted to let you know my experience/view of what happened in Austin, as it will certainly happen again in other cities (Chicago, I see you coming up).  Also, Uber/Lyft lost the election 56-44, but they’ll learn from their mistakes in Austin and not be so egregious (probably).

Over the past few years I’ve run across plenty of articles online about Uber drivers committing various crimes against passengers: here’s a list someone compiled online, conveniently organized by crime (homicide, assault, kidnapping, etc.)  Uber and Lyft apparently run a different (cheaper) kind of background check than usual taxi companies, which use fingerprint background checks.  At the end of last year the city of Austin board decided that, to keep Austinites safe and avoid showing up on that online list, they’d require some phased-in fingerprinting checks, marking the cars with emblems (to avoid the “imposters” section of the list), and ban stopping in travel lanes.  Then in January, 65,000 Austinites signed a petition to put this up to a vote.

Here’s the proposition:

Shall the City Code be amended to repeal City Ordinance No.20151217-075 relating to Transportation Network Companies; and replace with an ordinance that would repeal and prohibit required fingerprinting, repeal the requirement to identify the vehicle with a distinctive emblem, repeal the prohibition against loading and unloading passengers in a travel lane, and require other regulations for Transportation Network Companies?

In March I went to the Austin Kite Festival and as we left we were approached by a canvasser asking us if we knew about the special May 7 election.  He said “They’re voting on whether to keep Uber in Austin or not.”  We both immediately said we’d vote to keep Uber in Austin, and he handed us a leaflet to remind us of the election.  I also put it in my google calendar so I wouldn’t forget about election.  Silly me… I should’ve realized I’d receive 12 flyers in the mail, 2 flyers attached to my door (I live in the suburbs it’s hard to attach things to the doors!), a phone call, and a text to vote for Uber’s side (which is voting for Prop 1).


These are just the six flyers that were in my recycling bin from one week.  Note the former mayor on one of them, who was paid $50,000 to appear in that ad.

Ridesharing Works for Austin was the organization paying for these flyers, phone calls, myriad yard signs, and canvassers.  It had $8.6 million dollars in its budget (filed with the city).  This is the most that has ever been spent on an election in Austin (a far second was the $1 million that Steve Adler, the current mayor, spent on his campaign).  The against coalition had $100,000.  The money worked in that more people turned out for this special election (held on a Saturday) than in the normal primary election.  But it didn’t work in that it made Austinites suspicious.  According to NPR, Uber/Lyft spent $200 on each vote, and still lost.  How could they lose with all that money?  The tone of the flyers reminded me of the Airbnb PR debacle last year, when Airbnb posted a bunch of billboards that pitted the corporation against the city.  These corporations seem to forget that people love their cities a lot more than they love corporations who shirk civic responsibilities/regulation.  Here’s an example:


I love Austin.  This flyer pits a corporation/political organization vs. my city hall.  I choose my city hall.

After about the fourth flyer, I started looking for anti-Prop 1 literature/propaganda.  I didn’t find any, except one homemade yard sign on my way back from the office.  This was very fishy.   Eventually the Austin Chronicle and the mayor said they were against, mostly because they didn’t want to be bullied.  Nobody likes a bully, and we (Austinites) felt like Uber/Lyft were handing down an ultimatum: we don’t want to do the thing you want us to do, and let us have our way or else we’re leaving:

“A significant part of this election is about how we make decisions in Austin.” (Mayor Steve Adler)

Also the thing you want us to do, we have offered no real good reasons for why we don’t want to do it.  But if you vote against us, we’re out of here!

“Nobody wants them to leave and we’re not asking them to leave,” Councilmember Ann Kitchen told KUT. “The voters have spoken and they want these requirements and I know that we can do that… I don’t know why they would leave. We held the election that they said they wanted.

So that’s my story of how my vote went from Yes, Ways to Get Around!  To No, Bullies I hate you!  (You may recall I dislike bullies).  It very well may happen to you too.


The backs of the flyers above.

The day Uber and Lyft pulled out I had to get to the airport, so I took a Super Shuttle which forgot me and paid for a Yellow Cab.  I chatted with the taxi driver about Prop 1.  She told me: “I talk to Uber drivers and they talk about the Saturday night pickups, girls are drunk, as a ‘meat market.’  That’s rape.  That’s not giving people a ride, that’s rape.”  Disclaimer that the next sentence is hearsay/taxi gossip.  She also said that Uber/Lyft don’t actually run background checks, they just say they do.  So.. those two allegations are concerning.  Also I’m not sure why someone would make them up after the vote.

There’s a lot more to say about this (regulation, the sharing economy, workers’ rights, etc. etc.) but I think my post is already long enough.

Other takes on what happened, on most pro-Uber to least, listed below.  I always like paying attention to the subject and the verb in headlines to figure out where people stand.

Forbes: “Austin’s Regulatory Regime Drives Uber and Lyft out of Town”: With the failure of Proposition 1, Austin’s innovation-friendly reputation has taken a hit. The city’s decision to saddle ridesharing apps with an extensive list of petty, burdensome, and unnecessary regulations is driving Uber and Lyft out of town, effective Monday.”

Wall Street Journal: “Uber, Lyft Shut Down in Austin over Fingerprint Vote” -newsy story

TechCrunch: “Uber and Lyft Shut Down in Austin after votes defeat Proposition 1″ -newsy

(my fav headline) Breitbart: “Austin Voters tell Uber and Lyft to Shove It” This is just a collection of tweets

Austin American-Statesman: “Prop 1 undone by campaign’s underlying motive, threatening tone”: “We love our drivers and our customers so much, the companies said, that if we don’t get what we want from the City Council, we will throw the drivers out of work and leave the tipsy customers on the curb holding darkened smart phones.”  I love my city.

Parenting and grad school thoughts

4 May

I am a mother of a toddler, also I am a graduate student.  My advisor suggested the project I’m working on right now over Skype when kiddo was six weeks old, so my project is almost exactly as old as he is.  There’s a few topics I could hit here, but I’ll try to talk about: how to parent while a grad student and how to grad student while a parent.

I. How to parent while a grad student:

This part is short!  You parent while a grad student the way you would parent if you were not a grad student, that is, you do your best and feel like you’re drowning in laundry and spit-up (a cute version of vomit!  But it’s still vomit!) and sleep deprivation.  Not to mention the many needs of an adorable helpless creature whose delicious chubby cheeks and arms require both snuggles and food every two or three hours and endless tedious mind-numbing work of diapering and cleaning and rocking and feeding.  Also you compare your horrible laundry and spit-up- covered apartment to the other new moms who have beautiful Pinterest houses and coordinating nursery+layette sets with babies who sleep through the night after a month, and feel awful.  Also you’re overwhelmed by advice and opinions and anxiety.  Actually it’s a lot like being a grad student, but with more cuddles and less sleep.


This is as sleepy as my eyes get before I’m asleep.

II. How to grad student while a parent:

Convince someone to pay you before having a baby!  We grad students aren’t covered by FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act of 1993) since most of us have half time teaching appointment positions, if that, and research doesn’t count as a job.  FMLA is worthless anyway; it just ensures that your job will be there when you get back after three months, but doesn’t say that you’ll be paid any amount of money during that time.  Believe it or not, you have to keep paying rent when you have a baby!  Also, you have to pay for the baby!  It boggles my mind/scares me that doctors go back to work six weeks after having a baby, because I do dumb things when I’m waking up every three or four hours to feed a screaming thing, and my decisions don’t affect other peoples’ health or bodies.

Once you’ve convinced someone to pay you, consider asking for more money!  I recently met a woman whose partner was in the military, and her department paid her more in order to pay for childcare.  My kid went to a fancy daycare for months 3-6 of his life (because I could walk to it in five minutes even when it was 0 degrees out and not worry about baby frostbite), which costs $2300 a month if your kid goes 5 days a week.  At the time I made $1700 a month.  Like I said, that’s the fancy daycare: the church down the street from me now offers daycare for $1000 a month, and infants are the most expensive.  So research daycare/having a parent move in/getting a nanny or au pair($$$, but perhaps more cost effective with more kids).  Good thing you’re a grad student and good at research, because you’ll get INUNDATED with data.

This is the advice I got about having a kid by a professor who is also a mom, about how to do research after having the kid:

For the first year, just show up to your office and pretend.  Pretend to work, and one day you’ll find out that you’re actually working again.

This totally worked for me!  I stayed home with the kid until he was 3 months old, then started coming to the office three days a week.  After three more months, I went in to the office four days a week, and to a coffeeshop one day a week, which is my current schedule.  Those first three months back I’m not sure what I did.  I was very sleep deprived.  I must have started this research project then, and looking back at my notebooks I see that I wrote a lot of nonsense (at the time I thought it made sense).

The next three months I wrote more nonsense, but at a faster pace and there are bits of sense peeking through.  When baby was about a year old, one day I came in to the office and realized that my mind was back!  I’d been sleeping reasonably for a few weeks, had stopped breastfeeding, and could look back at my nonlogical arguments and pull at the bits of logic that had been appearing more and more frequently over the past few months to make something sensical.  It was so great!  And I hadn’t known my mind had left because I was so sleep deprived that I wasn’t really taking stock of my mental status, so it was a pleasant surprise to be back.


He’s not the most helpful for math research.

Now I’m in more of a rhythm- so my advice is “survive the first year” and then “find a schedule.”  Maybe you’re better at not sleeping than I am, in which case it’s really “survive the first few months” and then “find a schedule.”  In any case, a schedule is important.  It’s important if you don’t have kids, but it’s essential if you do.  I used to do a few hours of work on the weekends, and now that is possible but not probable because by the time the kid is asleep, I’m mentally and physically exhausted (I think I am more physically weak in general; I know plenty of people who work when the kids are down and plenty who netflix when the kids are down).  Also 6-8:30 a.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m. are both kid chunks of my day, which means I have a business hours schedule for math.  This is probably reasonable to you if you are not a grad student, and some non-parent grad students stick to this too (it’s maybe better for your mental health).

I have hopefully said this before and I’ll say it again, the best grad school and life advice I’ve received:

Swim in your own lane.

I am not a pinterest-er, I am not a marathon runner, I am not a world traveler, I am not a social media maven.  But I am a mom, and I’m a grad student, and I’m doing okay (I feel like I should say “I’m doing my best” here but I’m not sure that’s true).  I’m swimming in my own lane.  You should too, and just ignore all the advice I wrote in this post, which was mostly me talking about my personal experiences anyway.


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