Old Trappings

I haven’t done any field research in a couple of weeks. From what I can gather, the graduate student who’s doing this project just wanted the data for the first week after the first storm event of the season, and that’s what we got. And this past week she was on a business trip in another state, so there was no field work done.

But as part of the process of me getting into graduate school in Ecological Systems Engineering, I’ve been communicating also with the student’s major professor. A week or so ago, I finally got to meet with him for the first time; he was very encouraging, and gave me a number of good ideas to improve my chances of getting back into school.

He also offered me a job on the spot.

Of course, I would like to say that it’s a well-paying job, and that I was offered the job because he saw that I’m a brilliant person with a sound mind, etc., etc., etc. But in truth, the main reason it happened was because he discovered that I was doing field research as a non-University-affiliated person, and there were liability issues at stake. I remember thinking it was kind of odd that I was allowed to go out into the field in slippery mud and dirty places without having signed any waivers or anything, and I mentioned that to the graduate student. She was puzzled too, but since no one had mentioned anything, we all assumed it was all good. But when Professor X (a sinister-sounding nickname, I know; he’s a great guy, I swear, but I have to call him something), he asked me several times, "And you’re NOT a student? Are you sure?"

And so, while it sounds great to say, smugly, "Yeah, Professor X offered me a job on the spot," the truth is that it was more of a formality than anything else. But there is still something positive to it: the student had told him that I was helpful and understood directions well, so that probably helped. He could have simply said, "No more field work, sorry," but he didn’t. I’ve been told by several people that Professor X is a nice guy, and having met him, I’m inclined to agree.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from Professor X telling me that he had some library research to be done, and asking if I was interested. I said yes. And so today, I went back to the University, met with Professor X, and filled out a bunch of paperwork to once again be an official employee of UC Davis.

All the trappings are back. I have another staff ID card. I have a library card. Next week I’ll have a ucdavis.edu e-mail address again. The pay is a pittance, of course; even if I were working full-time, it would pay less than half of what I was earning at my last job, and my appointment is only 25%. What I’ll be earning won’t even be enough to make a dent in my UI checks.

The department secretary was surprised to see that I’d worked for the University before. "Wow," she said, "You worked in IT as a computer resource specialist. What did you do?"

"I was a web programmer," I told her.

"Oh, wow," she said. "So this is quite a switch for you, isn’t it?"

And then, later on:

"This staff card will let you get an e-mail account with the University. Have you ever used e-mail before?"

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. Asking me if I’ve used e-mail is sort of like asking me if I’ve ever eaten food. But, of course, not everyone knows me or my history, and even though she knew I was a web programmer, she may not have known what that entailed. It’s certainly not because she’s stupid, it’s just because it’s outside her realm of experience (I’d be completely lost, I’m sure, if I had to do her job, filling out departmental PO’s and making the financial side of things work smoothly). So I smiled and told her that yes, I was familiar with e-mail.

Professor X gave me a stack of papers at least an inch thick and a floppy disk with a meg of information, all to review for this current project, which involves rainfall simulators. I read through some of the papers while eating my lunch, and while it wasn’t all as exciting as, say, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s still pretty interesting stuff.

So now I’m on my way. It all feels a tiny bit closer now. I’m still finding myself in a strange position, though. And if any of you out there has any insight into how to enter graduate school in a science field ten years after getting your bachelor’s degree in a completely non-science field, I will definitely appreciate the help!