To Do:

To_Do_List

I live by my To Do lists.  During the craziest times in my Ph.D. I had my To Do list broken down not only by day but also by time of day.  It sounds a little, or a lot, hyper-Type A, but it kept me calm in the swirl that was getting my dissertation research done.  I’ve always relied on actual written lists.  A recent article in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/business/laptops-not-during-lecture-or-meeting.html) highlighted the advantage of writing over typing in terms of retention in our memories.  To me, there’s something about the tactile pleasure of checking an item off my To Do list (always with a different color) that is motivating.

Recently though, my tried and true strategy has been failing me.  I think that there are two reasons for this.  One is that I haven’t had time in the past few weeks to update my To Do list which means I definitely haven’t had time to get through the list.  Secondly, which is a consequence of the first problem, is that I constantly feel as though I’m just fighting fires instead of having time to sit and think about the larger items that need to get done or review my notes from meetings or piece together various bits of information I’ve gotten throughout the day.  Compounding this issue is that I’m still trying to learn both what the organization does and how to be a manager.  I know, I know, waa, waa, waa, complain, complain, complain.

We’re all super busy.  Every manager has days that are packed with meetings and less and less time for reflection and to gather thoughts. Everyone feels underwater as they adjust to a new job.  None of this is front page news.  I have felt some of this before in the many transitions I’ve made over the years.  I feel that the magnitude of this transition is what is overwhelming for me.  Currently, there are two main pain points for me in the transition, learning and time management.

I’ll tackle the learning component first.  I’ve heard the first six months to a year at an organization described as “drinking from a fire house” and it can definitely feel that way.  My current struggle is trying to find the line between how much I need to learn about the technical details of what my team is doing and how much I need to learn general management skills.  Now, I know the answer to this question.  I need to focus way more on learning general management skills.  I have a team of middle management that are very skilled technically that I can rely on and others in the organization that I can go to with questions.  It is much more important that I learn how to manage and lead. While I know that is true, every single scientific bone in my body is saying “you have to be a technical expert.  That is the only way people will respect you”.  That message was driven into me so many times throughout my career so far that it’s a hard one to silence now. It is a message that I still get.  Even though I have a PhD, the fact that I don’t know all the ins and outs of this particular field still results in some skepticism that I can feel and that sometimes is voiced.  The result is me feeling pushed and pulled in different directions and spinning my wheels instead of focusing my energy into the activities that will most likely result in my success. Aside from talking to mentors, my boss, etc to get feedback on what I should be focusing on (something I do regularly), one item that has helped as been “The First 90 Days”.  I really can’t say enough about this book and since this is a new blog, you can rest assured that I’m not getting paid to promote it.  Even if you have been in your current job forever, you should read this book.  It is a super practical guide to how to set yourself up for success coming into a management position, what to focus on, how to go about learning, etc.  I read the whole thing through and now I’m going back through to implement certain parts……if only I had the time.  It does advocate for learning only what you absolutely need to know to effectively manage your team, and contribute to the organization.  This has been and will continue to be a difficult lesson for me as a battle my inner scientist screaming to be the smartest person in the room.  Swallowing the ego would be so much easier if it wasn’t quite so big.

Which brings me to the second struggle, time management.  I used to watch the managers and leaders I worked for flit from meeting to meeting, the better ones always being on top of what the meeting was for, always having germane and insightful input, and never seeming to have time to do anything else. And, I still wonder about that only now I’m locked in that cycle too. My days are packed with meetings.  I filled my office with things I like to make it a nice work space and I’m rarely there.  There are several solutions to this such as blocking out time on my calendar, answering emails before bed, etc that are fairly easy.  I think what I’m struggling with more is how to time manage my brain.  How to be able to shift gears relatively quickly.  How do I go from meetings, to down time, to meetings again and retain everything, synthesize everything, pull it all back up together into an overall vision for my team?  These are skills and strategies that good leaders learn along the way and I’m at a loss for how to learn them. I’ve been toying with the idea of hiring an executive coach for some time now and I’m thinking more and more that that is the way to go.  I will of course continue reading books and articles (Harvard Business Review is a fav) and attending courses at work but I think I need individual coaching from someone outside my organization, someone who has worked with other professionals before and can provide an objective opinion.  I will of course continue to use my tried and true strategy of To Do lists but I know now that, as with much of what I carried into this job with me, they are not enough.  That is one of the chief lessons of “The First 90 Days”, the skills and qualities that got you to this new management position are not enough to allow you to succeed in it.  It’s more than a bit sobering and I’m hoping it will also be motivational for me soon too.

So no snappy things I’ve learned bullet points to end this post.  Just a plea for help/suggestions.  If you have any tried and true organization/time management/how to restructure your brain tips you use, I would love to hear them.

 

You want what?!?

We left our heroine (not the drug) on the phone in a state of disbelief at what she was hearing.  Based on an interview for a less senior position, someone thought she would be a good candidate for a senior management spot.  I think my jaw is still on the floor somewhere.  Throughout my job hunting experience this time around, I took the rather undignified stance of complaining about the process.  I wanted the fairy tale job experience where someone sees me from across a crowded networking event and says “You, you are the right person to lead my team!” Then the clock strikes midnight and I have to run for a Lyft, and I leave my beautiful, sequined Louboutin shoe behind as the only clue that I was there.  Hmmm…I might be conflating day dreams.  My feet are far too big to fit into Louboutins. Regardless, I thought that I was at the point in my career where I could reasonably expect to be recruited. I had grown so weary of feeling like I was begging for a job, all the resume tailoring, all the cover letter writing, all the interviewing.  It really takes a hit on your self-esteem.

Little did I realize that like all good fairy tales, the myth of a the perfect job just dropping into your lap is untrue.  You can indeed have a job find you, but it takes work and sometimes it takes some time before the work pays off.  I alluded to that work at the end of my last post.  Being clear about what you want, and don’t want, and about what you can bring to an organization.  I found it also helps to be deliberate about your career and to try and position yourself in the best way possible for future success. I’ll elaborate on how my seemingly erratic career path was actually deliberate in another post.

Back to our story.  That phone call resulted in several rounds of interviews with other senior members of the organization, the individuals who would become my direct reports, and key partners to the organization.  It was a fairly lengthy process and I can discuss interview techniques elsewhere to avoid making this post roughly the size of a Dostoevsky novel.  Then came the moment….the offer, or should I say the negotiation of the offer.  I was beyond nervous about this part of the process.  I had read “Lean In” and all the articles about how women (and everyone) needs to negotiate, I was committed to the process, and I was petrified.  What if my salary demands were too high, what if my other requests were unreasonable, what if they withdrew their interest?  Fortunately, I a great resource on-hand, “Five Minutes to a Higher Salary”.  This slim book has useful tips and actual scripts for all sorts of scenarios for negotiations.  Using tips from this book and the qualifying language expected of women (“Do you think it would be possible?”, etc), I emailed the recruiter my response to their salary offer and some additional requests.  Something to keep in mind is that salary is not the sum total of compensation.  Things like vacation time, flexible schedule, professional development, and others can all be negotiated.

Much to my surprise, much of what I asked for was not a problem.  We came to a good agreement and I had a new job!  I set my starting date to make sure I had a few weeks off in between, something I always do.  Then, the panic set in.  What in the world was I doing?  I was going to manage a team of 50?!?!  A team of 50 statisticians when I have no deep technical knowledge in this area?!?  What was I thinking?  I’ll talk about my still on-going adjustment in the next post.  For now, here’s some thoughts to leave you with:

  1. You can set yourself up to be recruited, even without the sparkly Louboutins, by:
    1. being confident and relaxed in your interactions
    2. going after opportunities that you might not initially see as “good”
    3. speaking about the value you bring to an organization and backing it up with concrete examples
  2. Have a little faith, in yourself and other people.
  3. NEGOTIATE!!!  It’s beyond uncomfortable for most people but it’s so worth it.  Don’t forget to include things like a work laptop/cell phone, flexible schedule, the ability to renegotiate salary/title at six months pending a performance review, other benefits.
  4. Be yourself.  I was my slightly over-the-top, expressive and outgoing self at most of the interviews and I still am for the most part at my job and I think it’s working out for me.

Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.

Long Post Ahead:  Towards the end of my fellowship at the Gates Foundation, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to end up.  I had had a series of unhelpful conversations with people in various organizations and internally.  I had interviewed places and not gotten any offers.  It was really disheartening.  In the round about way that these things often happen, a conversation with a colleague led to a lead.  I ended up transferring to a temporary assignment on another team that I thought would be good to buy more time to find something more permanent.

This new assignment had me coordinating a new model of working for data scientists and content experts such as nutritionists and pediatricians.  It was very interesting and very rewarding work.  The model took off quickly and soon the requests were pouring in for data scientist time using this new way of working.  I probably could have stayed on that team and expanded and refined the process and really built something great.  It would have allowed me to stay at an organization that I believed in and in a group that was supportive.  I wouldn’t have to navigate new relationships and a new work place and all the newness that comes with big career changes.  I could be comfortable and stable and all those good things.  And yet…..I knew deep down that I needed something different and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find it at the organization I was in.

My long-term career goal is to hit the C suite.  I’m still waffling on CEO vs COO but I definitely want to be up there.  At this point in my career that means I NEED management experience.  I don’t have any management experience, at least not in the direct report sense, so I gotta start climbing that ladder.  For me, I didn’t see that path where I was so while I was happy, and supported, and all those goods things, I also knew I wasn’t going to move up, at least not with any sort of speed.

While I was still applying for jobs I came across one on a job website.  It was for a project and portfolio manager for the Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention (SCHARP).  I went back and forth on this one.  The job seemed interesting, however, I wasn’t sure that I was fully qualified, never having had any formal project management training.  I eventually applied after the post had been up for awhile.  To make a long story even longer, by the time I got called in for an interview I had switched teams at the foundation and so was not in immediate need of a job and they had already identified a candidate.  The result was the most honest interview I have ever had.  At the end, the interviewer said there was an open position that I might be good for.  Of course, I thought that was just a line.

Much to my surprise, I got an email shortly after asking to introduce me to the director of SCHARP.  And thus began a series of interviews that would culminate with me in my current position, one that I would have never envisioned for myself, yet one that I think is very well-suited for this stage of my career.   I have to admit, when the director said he wanted to talk with me about interviewing for the head of a team of statisticians, I thought he was out of his mind.  From the beginning, I was very honest about the fact that I had did not have any “traditional” management experience and that I was not a statistician myself.  I know that is not what we’re taught about interviews.  We’re supposed to highlight our strengths and turn conversations about our weaknesses into conversations about our strengths and all that good stuff.  At this point, I was just so tired of all the conversations, all the informational interviews, the actual interviews, the get-to-know you interviews that I just wanted to be really candid about what I wanted in my next position and what I could offer.  The feeling of being that open was refreshing and, much to my surprise, it worked!

Since this post is already verging on way too long, I’ll save the details of the interview process and negotiations for further posts.  What I took away from the spinning top that was my job search was:

  1. The more you can define where you want to go and what you do and do not want to do, the better off you are and the more people can help.
  2. Know your value – what can you contribute to an organization.  Make sure you can communicate that and provide concrete examples.
  3. Don’t get too comfortable.  If you have a big dream, make sure you don’t get stuck somewhere because it feels nice and cozy and comfy.

New Year, New Me?

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One of my good friends is excellent at setting yearly goals.  She just kills it.  Me, I’m more of a long-term goal person.  I can see where I want to be in 3-5 years and roughly how to get there but breaking it down into yearly goals is definitely not my strong suit.  In that same vein, I’ve never made New Year’s resolutions because I know they would evaporate about a month, if sooner.  This year though, I really want it to be different.  So I crowd-sourced one goal for 2018 and created one of my own.   The crowd-sourced goal is to get back to dancing (check out my Instagram to see if I meet that goal) and my own goal is to get FINALLY get this blog thing going.  I don’t want to completely psychoanalyze my reasons for not keeping up with the blog (just a little bit of fear of exposing myself), nor do I want to go down the path of blaming being a busy mom, etc, etc.  What I do want to do is acknowledge that I do have something to say as a women in data science and as a PhD working outside the “traditional” career path and that there are, hopefully, people who want to hear it.  So, here we go.

I think the best place to start is with an update on where I am now and a little bit of how I got to this new job.  I can then go into looking further back into my career if that is of interest.

Update: I am currently working at SCHARP, the Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention.  I lead a crack team of statisticians and programmers that support clinical trials for HIV/AIDS prevention and vaccine trials.  It truly is an amazing organization to work with.  I talk about it more later if people want to know how it’s structured, what exactly we do, etc.  But for now the key points are:

  1. I went from never having a direct report in my entire career to managing a team of 50 people (eek!)
  2. I switched fields yet again to clinical trials and HIV and more importantly, statistics. Which means that yet again, I am not an expert in anything I have to do for my job. This explains the header image of this post.
  3. I am even further removed from the ground work that to defined my image of what global health work involves and this is something that I am still struggling with.
  4. This may actually be the most important and impactful work of my career.

I think I’ll leave it there for now.  Next time I’ll start the story of how I got this position because it’s definitely an interesting one.