Harry Potter and the Unemployment Line: Job Hunting Part 1

I think that could be a new best seller right there.  Sounds like a story that could connect with the masses, right?

Considering all the spells at their disposal, I’m really curious what a wizard job interview looks like. And I’m REALLY curious what a wizard unemployment line looks like.

It’s no secret that I have been looking for a job so I could move to Michigan for the last 10 months.  I’ve mentioned it every once in a while here, but I’ve not gone too much into it.  Well, reality has full on slapped us in the face, and we’re dealing with the issue directly right now, so I thought this would be a good start to the new direction of the blog.

I have been working at Fermilab.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, it is a federal research laboratory (under the Department of Energy’s Office of Science) with a focus on high energy physics.  I have a physics degree/background which is how I got started here, but I actually work in the chemistry lab (since I also have a chemistry degree) as one of two chemists on site (it’s just me and my supervisor).  We’re a support group for the rest of the lab, and our days and weeks usually start with someone from one of the 70-some projects on site coming to us saying “we have a problem, we know it’s not a physics issue, and we can’t fix it, help us.”  On top of running the analytical lab to address these requests, I am also one of the QA/QC people on NOvA (a neutrino experiment).  I do some of the measurements myself when there’s a question, but for the most part I’m the person the data comes to for one of the components that’s being manufactured right now.

I tell you all this to make a point: I have experience, and I have experience on a level that most people 2 years out of college don’t have.  I analyze and approve QA/QC data.  I don’t follow procedures, I create them.  I don’t have someone telling me how to fix or research a problem, I have to figure it out.  I didn’t even have someone teach me how to use the instruments.  I am handed a vague task, then sent off on my merry way and have little to no supervision.  My supervisor is a great resource when I have questions, but she’s busy with her own projects as well as running our extrusion facility, so I’m doing it all myself, and I’m doing it all well enough that I not only still have a job there, but my supervisor and the head of the division have actually been trying to find ways to bribe me to stay and have Geoff move here instead (it’s kind of hard to bribe someone when you’re under a pay freeze, FYI).  I’ve used instruments most chemists don’t get to use for a while straight out of college, and I’ve worked at a government lab.  I had the same thought everyone else I’ve talked to had: I shouldn’t have trouble finding a new job.

Turns out “shouldn’t” was the operative word.  It also turns out Kalamazoo has a large abundance of PhD chemists that were laid off when the economy tanked, and none of them feel like moving, so they’re snatching up every job that shows up.  I’ve had companies out right tell me “we know we said we were looking for a bachelor’s degree, and we really appreciate your interest and under normal circumstances we’d interview you and probably hire you in a heart beat, but there are PhDs willing to take the same job for the same pay so we’re going to look at them instead.”  Since I started looking in August 2011 through the end of May, I’ve had 3 phone interviews (1 of which was for a job that didn’t actually exist anymore, that’s a long story) and 1 in-person interview (from one of the remaining 2 phone interviews) that was a for a job they weren’t actually ready to hire for yet (and that is yet another long story).  And all those interviews were only in the last 3 months.

Here’s how bad it is: I’ve been rejected from shift-work.  Like 3rd shift tech work.

The original plan had been to stay at Fermi until I found a new position.  We expected this would be by New Year’s.  Obviously that didn’t pan out, but we stuck to the plan, thinking there was no way I wouldn’t find something by the wedding.  Well, come beginning of May I was still here, so it was time for a new plan.

The new plan was to suck it up and deal with being at Fermi, even though we were already married for 2 months, til the end of August.  At that point, regardless of the job situation, I was going to move anyway, and I’d register as a substitute teacher and tutor at Western while I continued searching for a job.  It sucked, but hey, you do what you have to do.

Of course, we all know the way the universe works: you make a plan and the universe just has to eff it up.

About 2 days after we made this decision, Fermi dropped a bombshell: Congress was cutting our budget for FY13, and in order to meet it, they were going to have to let 80 people go.  For the month of May, they were running a “voluntary separation program”, meaning you could volunteer to be one of the people to go.  They’d give you a small severance package and you would leave in the middle of the summer.  They’d take up to 80 applications for it, and anything beyond that they’d reject, and anything under that they’d have to start firing people.

Sometimes I really wish I was a mean, selfish person.  That would make life easier it seems.

With the prospect of Fermi having to fire people, the idea that I would stay an extra month or two, let them start firing people, and then leave anyway made me feel terrible.  If I’m going to leave anyway, I felt it was better to bite the bullet and leave early rather than stick around for a little bit of extra time and let them fire someone, when my leaving could let them keep their job.  So, Geoff and I talked about it for a week or so, and I talked to my supervisor about it, and on the last possible day I submitted an application for the separation.  I got word while I was gone for the wedding that it was approved.

My last day here is July 13.


You know that pesky universe, always sticking its nose in your plans.  It threw a new wrench in things, but I think I’ve talked your ear off enough for now…in the next post I will continue the story.  The newest adventure is still developing, so I’m hoping that giving it a few more days will mean I don’t have to leave you with a cliffhanger.  Except I’m leaving you with one now.  Guess that makes me a terrible person…but I’m sure you guys will live until next time!


Posted on June 29, 2012, in Life, Work and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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