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PhD Engineers in the Corporate World

September 24, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Chronicle has a nice piece on PhD engineers adjusting to corporate culture, and for once something they offer isn’t behind a paywall, so you can actually read it! Here’s the intro to whet your appetite:

You might expect to see few similarities between the career path of an engineering Ph.D. and that of a humanities Ph.D. as they transition out of academe. After all, engineers have it made, don’t they? They can walk right into industry jobs that are exactly like the work they did in graduate school and never miss a step, right?
Not entirely. I interviewed an electrical-engineering Ph.D. who earned his degree from a large public university and now manages other Ph.D.’s at a defense contractor. He asked to use a pseudonym — “Ty Webb” — because he didn’t want his comments to reflect on Ph.D.’s employed by his company or ones it might recruit.
Certainly, Webb says, Ph.D.’s in engineering have an easier time landing that first job outside of academe than their counterparts in, say, English. However, he says, former academics in all disciplines face similar challenges as they migrate into the nonacademic world.

  1. Jim Thomerson
    September 24, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    It appears to me if you want to make big bucks in the corporate world you will go into management regardless of your background or credentials.

  2. anonymouse
    September 26, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    So it would seem. I recall my grandfathers were occasionally pressured into management. Both of them did it once or twice, but went back to their normal jobs as soon as possible.
    Okay, way off topic for this thread, but somewhat related to some of your others*. But here’s a(n honest) question: Granted, a lot of the behaviors described elsewhere (tit-grazing, eg) are very much not appropriate, but how exactly DOES one go about the whole mating thing? From the beginning, and for both ‘sides’? (asketh one who, @22, still hasn’t figured out much at all of it – if any) Granted, this type of social psych(?) is not quite what you (seem to) blog about, but seems close enough to some (feminism & the trouble with men) that it might be worthwhile, As a discussion point, and a tutorial on what (you consider) is appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, etc. for that.
    (though not the least of my motives being, as implied, I’m getting frickin’ tired of being alone [in this regard] perpetually. [and no, not {as you might mistakenly infer from wise usage of my provided e-mail} to the point of rape {ever!}], and am starting to broaden my search for knowledge on the subject. There are actually more people with this problem than you may think..)
    *I’ve stuck it here to keep from getting lost in one, and because the other, while related, did not seem like quite the best place to put this.

  3. September 27, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Anonymouse: wow. Giving people advice on how to go about mating is maybe a little outside the scope of this blog, and most likely my expertise as well. I will say this: the only thing you can control in the search for a satisfying relationship is yourself. If you make sure that you are a guy who treats women decently and respectfully and views women as equals, then you are likely to make a good impression on most women you meet, which ought to significantly increase your chances of building a good relationship with someone. You might want to do some work on yourself to make sure you are not one of those guys who wants to be a good guy, but is inadvertently doing things that are not so good. One way to learn more about unexamined male privilege and how to counteract its negative effects is to check out the work of Allan Johnson, I particularly recommend The Gender Knot. http://uhaweb.hartford.edu/AGJOHNSON/
    I’m sorry I’m not able to give you more specific advice but this is really beyond my scope of expertise.

  4. Markus
    September 28, 2008 at 11:23 am

    I think anonymouse might be referring to college environment in which getting a date by directly asking for one (instead of pretending to have a special interest about that particular section of the college book store) is indistinguishable from expression of male dominance. Saying that “I saw you from over there, and decided on that observation that I wanted to ask you out” is pretty aggressive and relies on visual prejudice (sexism). And I’m not sure if such action has much success unless the other person already has mutual feelings.
    If the solution is to work as being “friends” first, then there is a good chance that you will have to change your hobbies or educational interests to something with more gender balance in order to increase the potential for such “accidental” friendships. And while this would help to solve some gender disparity in the institutions, it would also cause the individual to trade one form of personal gratification (hobbies and desired education) to another form of personal gratification (romantic relationships).
    Is there any room for direct approach in which each party knows perfectly well that the person is not just asking to be “friends”?

  5. anonymouse
    September 28, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Yeah, figured that prolly wouldn’t come across the way I intended it. Markus comes across part of it, but let me try to rephrase..
    I’m not asking for a full -ology of human mating or anything so vast and obviously off-topic for the blog, or directed personally at me. You often bring up topics related to male-female social interaction – and often, along with it, the ideas of male privilege and that everything is about ‘power’*. So, I was trying to ask how that would apply to mating behaviors? From a naive, culture-influenced view (and experience), it would _seem_ that the two sides are at odds (from the male end, anyway): the ‘successful’ use at least some elements of the default privilege and power interactions to be so, with the most successful often being the worst offenders.
    One example of such would be (having taken a fair bit from Markus):
    o The act of approaching someone seems to use – and sometimes abuse – all those elements, combined with
    o Our culture still expects males to do most of the ‘work’ – esp. to initiate.
    Or, to try and put it yet another way: What would be your comments/thoughts/expected observations, within the context and purview of your blogging, for the following situations: (1)Given a naive white male raised in your representative society of choice^, of age and interested, and (2) the same w/ respect to a female.
    *Often this seems to me less a case of malice or will, than ‘never ascribe to malice what is better explained by stupidity’
    ^To stack the deck as much as possible, naturally.
    (still don’t think I explained it clearly, but maybe now you see what I’m getting at)

  6. kadath
    September 29, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Hi, anonymous. I usually lurk, and I hope Zuska doesn’t mind me jumping in here, but I’ve answered your question for well-meaning but clueless guy friends of mine before, so I think I know what you’re getting at.
    Yes, it’s unfair that the culture still expects men to do the initiating, but it sucks for women, too, so we mostly don’t appreciate the “it’s so hard for guys” pity-party that some men decide to throw themselves.
    You may be lucky enough to attract the attention of a woman bold enough to ask you out, but otherwise…the one-step plan to not be a skeezy jerk when approaching women is:
    Take “no” for an answer.
    It’s not that simple, of course. You have to put yourself in the mindset of being willing to respect that “no,” first, whether it comes in verbal or non-verbal form. That’s where doing the work beforehand to confront your privilege comes in.
    You need to be willing to do the unspoken emotional work and social barometer-reading that our culture expects women to do. If you are paying attention to the object of your affections as a person, and reading and responding to her with unfeigned respect for her feelings, you’re already most of the way to avoiding the jerk trap.
    Here’re some quick tips (cribbed from the last time I answered this question):
    Be aware of context, and which ones will automatically make your interest feel threatening, even if you’re the reincarnation of Galahad. (“Gallant hits on women he meets at house parties. Goofus hits on women when he’s alone with them in elevators.”)
    Not everything will be clear-cut, but I’d hope you already know better than approach women in circumstances where they’ve been socialized to fear the rapists who are hiding behind every bush–which, as a rule, is when you’re strangers or near-strangers and alone, extra bonus points if you’re in the dark. (Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I have friends who check under my 8-inches-of-ground-clearance coupe when we’re in dark parking lots for the muggers who must be hiding under there.)
    More generally, any interaction where you have the upper hand is a bad one to express sexual interest. So, women you supervise at work are RIGHT OUT. This is especially true of service jobs, like waitressing. (You can get to know that hottie barista outside of work if you’re head-over-heels, but you have to be a pleasant, friendly regular first and you have to be slow about it and give her room to say “no.”)
    So! Assuming you’re in a reasonably-equitable social situation with the object of your affections, the next thing to do is be aware of body language, yours and hers.
    Don’t use potentially threatening body language. Put yourself (especially if you’re a big guy) at or below her level, which avoids the “looming threat” problem. Be outside her bubble of personal space. A good rule of thumb is 6-8 inches farther back than you’d like to be–you’re interested, so your bubble is going to be smaller than hers is if she’s not. Don’t block off “escape routes.” If she’s standing in a corner, stand or lean next to her, not in front of her so she’s got walls on three sides and you on the fourth. Look at her face. Do not deliver your solicitation to her breasts. (I hope that one’s remedial.) And open body language in general will be helpful: face your whole torso toward her, don’t cross your arms, that sort of thing.
    For her, you want to be alert for closed body language–turning or backing away from you, not making eye contact, folded arms, hunched up posture. These are all “I am not interested” signs at best. Abort!
    If, despite all this, it turns out you’ve misjudged a situation, apologize and mean it, but don’t fawn. “I seem to have imposed/scared you/come off as a jerk. I’m terribly sorry.” Then be elsewhere, which will do more to prove you sincerely meant the apology than anything else. If you didn’t actually scare her, she can come after you to correct the miscommunication.
    Some stuff I didn’t work in elsewhere:
    Don’t instantly go from introduction to getting your mack on. Make small talk about the weather if you have to (granted, this works better in New England than, say, southern California.) This gives each of you time to get a read on the other.
    Learn the different levels of compliments:
    Things that are not intrinsic to her person, and that she has control over are safest: “That’s a great haircut.”
    Things that are intrinsic to her and she has no control over need to wait until you’ve established that your attentions are welcome: “You have incredible eyes.”
    Mixtures of the two are opening-volley flirts: “That haircut really brings out your eyes.” She can take that as a compliment to her haircut, and move to a conversation about her awesome stylist if she doesn’t want to flirt, or take it as a compliment to her eyes and flirt back.
    Oh! The “hard to get” issue, perpetual whine of the man who doesn’t want to take no for an answer and is looking for a loophole: tough shit. Treat all “no”s as genuine. You may be missing out, but it’s much more likely that you’re instead not imposing. “Hard to get” is the artifact of a deeply fucked-up culture, the “good girls don’t” lie, and the sooner we stamp it out entirely, the better.
    I hope this gives you a starting place. You could also ask your female friends what they like and don’t like in terms of being approached. Don’t couch it as “what do women want?” That’s crap. It assumes that Woman is a monolithic class, strange and unknowable. We’re just people…even if you’re socially awkward, if we get the vibe off you that you’re genuinely trying to respect our feelings, it doesn’t matter if you’re not the smoothest conversationalist ever.

  7. April 27, 2009 at 1:53 am

    Hey Zuska,
    That’s in fact a great post. About the post what I can comment is that ultimately, when you work in industry, you are judged more on what you have delivered and produced than by what you know and how much research you have done. Go in with an open mind and willing attitude and you’re more likely to be successful.

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