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Interviewing Candidates is a Matter of Justice.

1 September 2015

I am now deep into the hiring process for my position here at MECMC. This is the first time that I’ve been in a position to offer variable compensation for a job. That is, I get to decide (within bounds) what the person working for me is going to earn. the few times I’ve hired student interns for pay, I suppose that’s been basically true, but it’s been at the level of, “I have $2000, please give me 10 hours a week for 12 weeks.” Now, I’m hiring for a position where I’m going to be presumably furnishing a person’s entire livelihood.

That means I have some incentives. Currently, I don’t have autonomous budgetary control. Meaning, my department head is the one who has signing authority for what a person is going to make, but we’re working on establishing my own budget for my own activities and reports, and that means that however much I pay someone is less money for my laboratory. My budget will have to cover software, supplies, travel, publications, etc., in addition to personnel. So if I pay someone $5,000 more, that’s a conference we can’t go to.

As this is my first time hiring, and I’ve only gotten to the point where I’ve found a couple of candidates worth interviewing, hereafter we are in the realm of anecdote, rather than evidence. But my anecdote seems to align cleanly with the evidence I’ve been informed of regarding the differences in men’s and women’s salary requests.

Candidate X is male, qualified, confident, and represents himself well. He asked for a salary right in line with what I am expecting to offer. His upper end is a little toward my high side, his lower end a little toward my low side. If I make him an offer, I’ll offer just above his floor and give him room to negotiate. Candidate Y is female, qualified, and comes across as tentative but professional. She asked for a salary more than $25,000 less than my absolute floor, set by my institution, for the minimum I’m allowed to offer.

Whether or not I end up offering her the job, I’m going to tell her that when interviewing for jobs like this one, she needs to double her asking price. There’s a lot of research around why women tend to make less than men for the same job. While the gap between men’s and women’s salaries for the same job and same qualifications has narrowed considerably in the past decades, it persists. One reason (among many) is that women tend to ask for much less money.

Given the incentives that any employer has, it’s hard to say that employers should pay people more than they ask for, as a general rule. But that’s sort of what employers do: hiring men at higher salaries than women who are equally qualified but ask for less money. Which is kind of perplexing to me. From a strictly financial point of view, shouldn’t the employer hire the woman at a low wage rather than the man at the higher one? It’s really easy to find equally qualified men and women these days. If the women are less costly, why not go with an all-female workforce?

Then there’s the issue that I work for a wealthy, prestigious institution. While my own department’s budget is strict, I see no reason to fight for the lowest possible salary in a new hire. MECMC will be just fine; we’re not a small business struggling to make ends meet. I don’t mind taking a little bit less in the way of conference and publication money if it means that I can pay my people well. And I don’t doubt my ability to advocate for conference and publication funds from my institution when they see the value I bring for them.

So, I’m still in the interview process. But I feel that justice demands I let this young woman know that she’s severely compromising her future earnings by setting such a low floor for herself. She’s undervaluing her ability to contribute. I hope that doesn’t make me just another man with (some) power telling a woman what to do.

I’m Mediocre. And Damned Proud of It.

31 August 2015

This weekend was a strange one for our marathon training. This would have been a weekend for our 17 mile run, but because we had a 10K race on Sunday, we only did a 10 mile long run Saturday. Here’s what I’ve learned about the long run: much like a vacation, it doesn’t really matter how long it really is. It matters how long you mentally prepare for it to be. Ten miles were plenty to get me ready to stop running. Even though I am usually flying along pretty well at the 10 mile mark. But recovery was quicker.

Then I bought a Garmin forerunner 225. I’m pretty sure it was a terrible mistake. The watch itself seems pretty ok, except that it measured a 1.7 mile walk as 46 calories, which is ludicrous. It should be a minimum of 140, probably more like 170. And if it doesn’t calculate calories correctly, it’s not worth anything. But worse was the fact that the website interface is utterly, utterly awful. Just crap. And it doesn’t sync to runkeeper in Chrome. Basically, it’s fancy garbage as far as I’m concerned. Which is too bad, because I like the idea of a waterproof watch instead of dragging my phone around. But I think I’ll go back to that.

Then on Sunday morning I went with BB and my sponsor and we ran a 10K. It was a great race put together by an ECC running store, winding through neighborhoods of the city I’d never been in. It was a circuitous route, sometimes on streets a little too narrow for the volume of runners (about 4000, I think). I’m very pleased with my result. This was my first ever 10K race. And while we weren’t planning to really push, we ended up going for a good pace and being pleased with the result.

BB and I ran together as always, and finished the race in 56:23. That works out to a 9:05 pace. That’s kinda cool because 9:08 is what you have to run to finish a half-marathon in under two hours. And 10K is pretty close to half a half-marathon. So, cooler weather, straighter course, there’s a decent chance we could actually pull off a sub-2 half. And while I won’t cry if I never make that, it’d be pretty cool.

Overall, I finished just in the lower half of men, overall, and just in the lower half of men in my age group (40-44). I could not be happier with that. I finished about smack-dab in the middle of a large group of men who run six-mile races for fun. I’m mediocre. And I am damned proud of being mediocre.

I mean that absolutely sincerely. I have gone from being a fat, lazy, alcoholic smoker to someone who displays basic quality in a footrace among men who run. As my addictions and obesity fade in my visceral memory, it is crucial to me that I remain in a place, mentally and spiritually, committed to making progress. That’s how I safeguard my sobriety. I may not remember so well anymore how cravings feel. It can be easy to forget the shame and fear and self-hatred and drudgery. But I still know keenly that if I don’t maintain my spiritual condition, I will return to that.

Being a runner has given me a place to run to. I know what forward means, now. I have learned to make progress not only in my sobriety, as I started learning more than seven years ago. Now I am learning to make progress is all the aspects of my life. Career, relationship, fitness. In so many ways I am delayed in life. I went through puberty late. I started my career late. I got married late, and divorced quickly. Now I am finally settling in to a life worth living.

Being mediocre, middle-of-the-road, is an aspirational goal for many alcoholics. I don’t need to excel. I don’t need to surpass. I don’t need to be the best or the smartest or the greatest at anything. I just want to have a simple life where I contribute and succeed at basic measures of decency. Where I’m true to myself and committed to my path. I have a path to follow now. I don’t know exactly where it goes. But I’m running.

Fitness Dilemma.

27 August 2015

A friend of mine is signing up to do a half Ironman. For the past few months, I’ve been thinking more and more about doing that. For those who aren’t familiar, a half Ironman is a triathlon consisting of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run. It sounds hard, and I have no doubt it would test me to my ultimate. I would go in with no time goals other than the ones imposed on me by the race organizers (Finish the swim by 1:10, finish the bike+swim by 5:30, finish the race by 8:30).

I’ve never done a triathlon and I’m not really sure I truly want to. For me, the bike is the big push. I’m comfortable in the water and can swim a long way, albeit slowly. I can run, well, so far I know I can run 16.1 miles without stopping. The bike is a different animal for me. Lately I’ve been biking more, and I’ve gone as far as 21 miles in about 90 minutes. That translates to 56 miles in four hours, if I can keep the pace up. I could probably finish. If I trained right.

For me, the biggest issue isn’t the fitness attempt. I’d like to try that, I think. It would be exhausting and astonishing and I’d be really really amazed with myself if I did it, and I like feeling like that. No, for me, the biggest issue is that in the past two years, all of my fitness goals have coincided with running side by side with BB. And BB is not interested in doing a triathlon.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We’re allowed to have individual goals and personal ambitions. Obviously. No question about it. But I like running with her, and racing with her, and achieving together. That’s far beyond a fitness goal: it’s a relationship goal. We ran a 5K separately last year (same race, different paces), and if felt awful to both of us. We like achieving our fitness ambitions together.

Case in point: when I wanted to extend to a marathon, and BB wanted to run the half marathon faster first, we agreed to train for a faster half, and then extend to a full. Even though we had different goals, we pursued them together and are achieving them together. I like that. It’s important to me. I don’t want to separate our fitness goals because doing these things together is a cornerstone of our intimacy.

I also enjoy pushing myself and finding out what I can do. And a half Ironman would be a really ambitious push. I know I would feel a huge sense of accomplishment from it. So I don’t know what I’m going to do. A lot of conversation needs to happen. But I know I won’t feel right about abandoning relationship goals for personal ones. That doesn’t sit right with me at all. Nevertheless, I want to find out what I can do in new arenas. So I will ponder about it. And talk about it. And see how it sits in my heart.

I don’t have to decide anytime soon.

Unsupportable Anxiety.

25 August 2015

I’ve been talking with a friend in the program a lot lately about anxiety. Like me, my friend suffers from anxiety that seems focusless and unrooted. It lingers in the air around us and seems to inveigle itself into whatever local phenomena we’re currently preoccupied with and become an entrenched participant. In my case, my house, the stock market, my job. Anxiety about all of it is constant, but I manage to keep it at bay with tools from the program and with exercise.

Today I have a couple of anxiety-producing activities. I have my annual review (which will determine my raise this year, though I feel pretty confident it will be between 2.9%-3.4% and where it falls in that range is not materially impactful). And I have a phone call with a lab director at the big fancy medschool I’m interviewing with for a professorship I probably don’t want. I’m very nervous about both.

And so let’s look at that: why am I nervous? There’s really nothing at stake in either case. My department is very good about annual reviews. Nothing is a surprise. If there were a problem with my performance, I would know it by now. I’ve been highly praised at every turn. There is simply no chance that I’ll be given a bad mark. I may not get what I’m hoping for, but I won’t be admonished for poor performance. And if I go in to the review looking for ways to improve, I’ll take any criticisms in stride.

The interview with the lab director is similar. This is someone who does systems research on a topic that interests me. A topic I’ve contributed to in the literature. I will have interesting things to say, and a lot to learn. There’s not really anything at stake. If I make an ass of myself, well, I don’t get a job I probably don’t want anyway. That’s not a real problem. I want them to want me, but I don’t think I’m in a position to change employers unless they offer me something truly magnificent.

Really, what I kind of want is to be able to look my employer in the eye and say, “One of the world’s most prestigious medical colleges just offered me a job being a professor. I’d like to make sure that if I tell them no, we have the same vision for what I expect out of my career here at MECMC.” And then use that leverage to build my vision here.

So, I get anxious about things very easily, in a miasmic, nebulous kind of way that interferes with my abilities to focus and function. So I work my program at it. And I exercise. And I try to make tangible progress on my career and relationship and life. And counting all those tangible things makes a positive impact on my psyche. And I can learn to relax. A little.

Sixteen Miles.

24 August 2015

This Saturday, BB and I ran a sixteen miler. It was a glorious day. We headed out a little after 7 am, and kept up a jogging pace. It was about 65 degF, and not too humid. A nice light breeze from time to time. My neuroma didn’t bug me too much… just a “bunched sock” kind of sticky feeling, not any “funny bone” kind of zaps. I can tolerate that. We’ve made some improvements to how we do long runs, that have really helped my endurance.

We carry a lot of water. I use the CamelBak marathoner. It holds 2L of water, and if it’s going to be hot or humid (or both) I stick a bottle of Gatorade in one of the pockets too. Water is crucial for long runs. Before, I used to have this weird, stupid bravado about running without water. That’s possible for me up to about 8 miles in decent weather, but the distances I’m running now, and the heat and humidity I have to run in to train for a fall marathon, require me to drink on the run. And I don’t know quite why I ever thought badly of it. Proper hydration allows me to run further and more comfortably, which is my goal.

We carry a lot of calories. On this sixteen miler, I ate two peanut butter Powerbars (260 kcal each) and half a strip of Cliff’s shot bloks (100 kcal). This being after a breakfast of coffee and granola that was probably worth 300 kcal. So, in total, I had almost 1000 kcal before and during the run, which my GPS estimated at 2311 kcal. Of note, there, is the kind of calories you burn. Some people put on weight during marathon training because they think they can eat anything because of all the calories they burn. But it’s a lot easier to EAT 2000 kcal than to RUN 2000 kcal. I have to be careful this way. I will easily delude myself into thinking I can eat way more than I should.

Body Glide. Chafing is a major problem for me if I’m not careful. My nipples used to get it, but I discovered a good fabric for my shirts, and that wearing them a little tighter and giving up on modesty and self-shame about my body allows me to avoid the upper body chafing. But I will chafe at the thigh without a significant slathering of Body Glide. And we are now getting into distances where I’m going to need to stop and reapply.

Salt. I sweat a lot, and it’s very salty sweat. I get little salt crusts on the zippers of my arm bands and things like that. Losing electrolytes will really screw with your performance and how you feel. So we’ve started carrying a little Ziploc baggie of salt with us. I’m considering looking into a salt tablet of some kind. I also like the shot bloks that have extra sodium in them. Being able to keep going long distances when you sweat like I do requires attention to electrolytes, because hyponatremia sucks a lot and can be fatal.

So I’ve discovered that running long distances requires a lot more planning and thinking and equipment that I expected. It seems like you ought to be able to just go out and run and run and run. But when I try to do that, I’m limited by about 10 miles and I feel like hell at the end. This weekend, doing things right, I felt pretty good at the end of 16 miles. It took us nearly three hours. We weren’t breaking any speed records. But we ran and ran and ran, and I’m really happy with the result.

In the Empire Business.

19 August 2015

I need to learn to cook meth, I guess. If you don’t get that, go watch all 45 hours of Breaking Bad. It’s a show which is almost but not quite as good as all the hype about it.

I am slowly now building my empire at MECMC. Currently, my empire consists of a single cubicle on the first basement level of the main hospital. One day, maybe, I’ll have an office in one of our glittering towers. A man can dream. But as of today, my tiny little empire is set to grow. Here’s how I did it:

1) I was lucky enough to find a hospital that was willing to invest in what I do. What I do is fairly rare, and is usually only done, when done at all, by academics and their students. It’s vanishingly rare to find people doing this professionally at hospitals, as part of the operations group. But because I had demonstrated success, MECMC – always a forward-thinking organization – decided to take a risk.

2) I started working at the tasks assigned, and rapidly demonstrated that I don’t suck at the job they hired me to do. This was because I’m pretty good at what I do, and also because I managed their expectations well. Don’t over-promise. Don’t under-promise and then way outperform your predictions. Do what you say you can do, ideally on a slightly faster timeline than you said represents a normal workload.

3) I stretched the vision for what my department could offer the hospital. Not only in terms of bringing a new skill set they hadn’t had before, but in terms of our output venues. In the two and a half years I’ve had this job, I’ve published four manuscripts on our work, and two others that I did for fun. I also have won close to $20,000 in small grants and awards, which is a first for my department. (And tells you how little money it takes to do what I do when salary isn’t attached.)

4) After a year and a half in my job, I wrote myself a promotion. I didn’t ask permission. I just did it when my manager asked me to update my job description to take my unique responsibilities into account. I made it clear that I knew I was delivering a lot of value, and I expected to be rewarded in kind. It was kind of a ballsy move. But it worked.

5) I proposed a new concept for what I expect out of my career. Working with my manager, department head, and senior VP, I outlined a growth plan for 5 years, and put in benchmarks for what I expected to achieve during that time, and the points along that timeline where I wanted increases in support from the hospital.

6) I spoke a lot at internal venues, to make sure there’s steady demand for my services. Operations planning committees, the COO’s briefing, etc.. And I made sure that when other people were talking about their projects I’d assisted on, that I gave them any support they needed including slides of my work. This meant that my contributions were often mentioned in public.

7) Once I had buy-in from my chain of command, and the COO, I wrote an entry-level position for an employee to report to me. I got that approved through a several-months-long administrative process, and now it’s live. I will hire a candidate ASAP.

I’ll spend a year training this person, working with them, and then publishing with them. It will allow me to get more work done, and I’ll hopefully be able to demonstrate that I’m a capable manager. To make sure that I can do that, I’m taking a 6 month internal management excellence class.

That will take me to the next phase, which is my last phase for this career stage. A directorship of my own lab. Within two years, I anticipate being able to ask for better space, an office instead of a cube, another promotion which involves a better title, and the opportunity to hire at the PhD level.

I don’t have any idea how other people build careers. This is how I’m building mine. In the absense of a defined career-ladder for my field and position, I’m making my own. By making it clear that I can deliver what I promise, and then letting my administration know that as I increase my value, I expect to have my authority, standing, influence, and compensation increase as well. And for now, it’s working.

Six Years of Clean Air.

18 August 2015

Quitting smoking and quitting drinking were very different things for me. I never gave sobriety any real attempts until I was just done. Alcohol had so thoroughly defeated me that I was ready to quit or die. Which is where we – that is, people who drink like I drank – have to get to in order to attain sobriety. A place of complete surrender and abandon. There was no more doubt in my mind that I could not keep drinking. I was a walking dead man. And so, when it came time to let it all go, I was ready. It was hard, but I knew it was real from the start.

Smoking was not like that. I continued to smoke for about 18 months after I sobered up. I tried to quit in my alcohol rehab. I remember asking when I signed up to go, “Can I quit smoking at the same time?” I was delusional about who exactly would be doing the work. I thought they were going to fix me. Luckily I was rapidly disabused of that notion. I tried, I took Chantix. It didn’t take. And it didn’t need to. I was there to stop intoxicating myself. Cigarettes could wait.

I had quit a few years prior, while I still drank, for about a year. But being a drinker and a non-smoker didn’t work well for me. My self-destructive nature rears up regularly, and if I drink at the same time, I tend to say, “Fuck it.” Then I smoke a pack of cigarettes and feel dramatically depressed and creative and deep and sophisticated, as a defense mechanism against feeling useless and stupid and ugly and worthless. All of it is my diseased brain’s way of convincing me to give it access to the chemicals it loves.

So when I quit smoking, after I became a sober man, it was a different kind of work. I didn’t feel defeated by cigarettes. The “war” metaphor for addiction to alcohol doesn’t work for me. I didn’t battle my alcoholism. I was vanquished by it. Utterly. But I fought cigarettes. I fought like hell.

I had help. When it was time for me to quit, there were a couple of fits and starts. Finally, I did what I should have done long before and listened to my sister. She had quit using nicotine gum, and she told me that I needed to read the directions and use it as indicated. Fancy that. But in sobriety, we become people who are not ashamed or afraid to take direction. So I did that. I read the packaging and I took the medicine (well, poison) as directed.

That was August 17th, 2009. I tried to make that my quit date. But I also gave myself permission to fail, without failing. Meaning, I knew that if I needed a cigarette or two over the next few days to make it through, I would allow myself that. And so, driving home from work the afternoon of the 17th, I had my last cigarette. August 18th, 2009, until today, I’ve had no tobacco of any kind. I kept using the gum for about 4 weeks. I feel confident that I would not have succeeded without it.

I feel differently about my status as an ex-smoker than I do as an ex-drunk. Even though we take sobriety one day at a time, my ex-drinking status feels permanent and solidified in a way that I’m not sure my ex-smoking status ever will. I haven’t had a craving for alcohol since day 12 of sobriety. I have occasional cravings for cigarettes to this day. But I let them move through me and pass away.

My life as a non-smoker is a good one. Obviously, I can run now. Even if yesterday I quit after 2.2 miles in the 93 degF ECC heat. But I’m so much healthier than I was. And according to all the stats, I ought to be only half as likely to have a heart attack as a current-smoker. And my lung cancer risk is dropping steadily. I’ll never be what I might have been. But that’s true of all of us. What I am is here. Now. Sober. Clear lungs. Looking forward, living the life I make for myself, instead of imagining what I wish I were.


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