Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Week the Fifth: Jobs, Studies, and Non-Fandom Passions

It's Wednesday, time for another vintage topic from Introvert Social Hour. This week I'm supposed to talk about jobs, studies, and passions, but I've already talked a lot about my various passions so it's mostly gonna be about those first two things.

I thought it might be interesting to write about all the stuff I've done and studied throughout my adult life. I've written about bits of it here and there, but I've never laid out the whole thing as one cohesive story. The time has come to do that. *deep breath*

I was born a poor black chi... wait, that's not right.

I really did grow up in a pretty poor family though. We never had much and what we had wasn't fancy. But I had the opportunity to start 7th grade at a private school and I wanted to go, so my parents worked even harder so I could.

I continued in private school until I graduated and my two younger brothers did the same. This was obviously a strain on my parents' finances. By the time I was in 11th grade, they were so far behind on tuition payments that the school was about to kick us out. But I was determined to stay, and I wanted my brothers to stay too. So I began working as a teachers' aide in the mornings with the understanding that my wages (plus what my parents paid, of course) would go toward our tuition. I did my school work (which was self-paced anyway) in the afternoons and, if necessary, at home. I had a great time and honestly didn't mind that I never saw a penny of my earnings. I was so happy to attend school there that I would have been willing to do almost anything, but it turned out that I truly enjoyed the work, too.

My brothers and me, then and now
At the end of that school year, my family was still behind on tuition. Coincidentally, one of the full time 1st grade teachers quit because she was moving and I was offered a unique proposition: I would take the private school system's teacher certification course during the summer (the teachers didn't have to be state-certified), then in the fall I would take over in the vacant 1st grade teacher position. First grade classes ran from 8 am to 2 pm, and the school secretary left at 2 pm as well, so from 2 to 6 pm, I would work in the school office. It was quiet there so I had lots of time to work on my studies while simultaneously earning money.

I jumped at the opportunity and began training immediately. As before, I loved the work and was thrilled to be able to stay in school there. I didn't realize until many years later that I was grossly underpaid: I was credited with minimum wage for all of my work, even though other teachers were paid more. I didn't care much about the money, though, except that it let me stay in school. At the end of the year we were still behind on tuition for my brothers and myself, but the school waived the unpaid portion of mine because they knew we had done all we could do. And despite everything I managed to graduate as the valedictorian of my class.

One of these days I'll actually scan some pictures of my own...
It was all very exciting, but also exhausting. I wanted to go to college -- how else does one become a doctor, after all?! -- but couldn't imagine starting a mere 10 weeks later, so I didn't. I took a year off to recuperate and began working as a nanny to two little boys, one about 7 years old and the other an infant. I had a room in their house and could have lived there full-time if I'd wanted to do so, but I kept my room in my parents' house as well and split my time between the two. I loved the job but I was probably underpaid once again. I had the room in their home, I ate their food, and I drove their car with gas that they bought, so I figured any cash I got was a bonus. They gave me about $50 per week (in the early '80s, so it went a lot further than it would now!) and I was very happy.

I started college the following autumn but also continued nannying. The father of the family had a flexible work schedule so he was able to stay with the kids while I was in class. Unfortunately, the year before I graduated the father got laid off and they could no longer pay me. At that point I became a lab assistant to one of the professors at my university.

My job, basically
I had a great relationship with the guy, but he was 100% the stereotypical absentminded professor. Probably 75% of my job literally consisted of following him around so I could tell him where he left his coffee or when his next class was or remind him that he had a meeting at 2 pm and that he might want to consider combing his hair before he went. The remainder of my job involved doing unspeakable things to fish and frogs to harvest their visual pigments with the goal of understanding the human visual process better. I also did some research on a more efficient synthesis method for streptonigrin, an anti-tumor drug, but that was a very small part of my time in the lab.

I graduated from college with a bachelor of science degree in biology and a minor in chemistry. I couldn't work in the lab anymore because the professor was only allowed to employ students, but I was again too burned out to continue with school right away, so I got a job at the local municipal water treatment lab. We ran various tests on samples of water as they went through the treatment system to make sure everything was running properly, and on industrial and runoff samples to make sure there were no problems there, either. My specific job was to run an atomic absorption spectrograph to detect metals in the water. It was a decent job but they were so backed up when I started that, despite over a year of hard work, I never did get completely caught up. I got a lot closer, but not completely current. That was frustrating.

About a year and a half after finishing my degree, I finally started medical school. I talked about that experience in my last post; suffice to say that it pretty well devoured all of my time and energy. I had neither a job nor a social life while I was in med school so there's not much more to say about it. Let's move on, shall we?

I wasn't sure what to do with myself after medical school because that's all I'd ever considered doing. So I was at loose ends for a little while and signed on with a temporary agency. I did a fair bit of cashiering -- which I liked a lot more than I expected -- worked in a warehouse, did assembly line work of various kinds, and tutored college students.

My favorite was working for a company that took in flat sheets from printers and folded/stapled/taped/labeled/bundled/whatever the sheets into whatever form the customer actually needed them. We would do tens of thousands of pieces in each order, but it's so repetitive that after the first few you don't even have to look down anymore. So the boss would bring in huge piles of pizzas, drinks, and rented VHS tapes and we'd sit around a big table nibbling and watching movies all day. It was awesome! It also paid really well (in mid-'90s terms, for that type of work, anyway) and the shop ran 24/7 and there was no limit on the hours we could work, so I'd work 16-20 hour days, go home and sleep, and go back for more. Third best job I ever had.

Eventually, though, I needed a real job so I went to work at... surprise, surprise... the local municipal water treatment lab. I was in a different city now, though, and this lab was far more organized than the previous one. I did several different analyses every day and had a lot of fun with it. The best part of that job was that it offered flex time: We had to work 40 hours every calendar week, but they didn't care WHICH 40 hours they were as long as we got our work done. I almost always worked four 10 hour days and had long weekends. I also didn't go to work until mid-morning because I'm better off working late than early. It was great!

I left that job when I moved to get married. That's when I went into teaching, and I talked about that in my last post as well so I won't belabor it here. I will say that I currently teach regular chemistry, AP chemistry, regular physics, and honors physics, and over the years I've also taught physical science, general biology, and human anatomy and physiology. I've taught 9th grade at times, but at the moment I only teach 10th through 12th grade students.

In my third year of teaching, I was accepted into the most amazing master's degree program ever. It's complicated, but basically some professors at Texas A&M got grants that allowed them to pay teachers to get degrees. The grants not only covered my tuition, fees, and books, but also paid for all my travel (I live about 400 miles from the university), lodging, meals, AND a generous stipend. I'd never planned to get a master's degree, but how could I turn down a deal like that?! Four years later I graduated with a master of education degree in curriculum and instruction, with an emphasis in science instruction.

Backing up just a bit, after four years of teaching, I got very sick. It's a long and not-very-interesting story, but in the end almost every system in my body was in distress and work wasn't helping, so I took some time off. Three years, to be exact. When I got back on my feet physically, I kept busy by substitute teaching, doing professional development workshops for teachers, and getting more into the freelance writing and editing that I'd started a few years earlier.

During this period I had my favorite job ever: A couple of good boys had done a stupid thing and broken a federal law in the process, which meant that the school had no choice but to put them in alternative placement for the remainder of the year. That requires a certified teacher to be in the room in case anyone needs help, but the regular teachers are in charge of providing information and creating and grading assignments. So all I had to do was sit in the room and watch them work. I took a cold drink and a book every day and essentially got paid for reading. You can't beat that!

Those three years were good for me physically but it took a bite financially and eventually I went back to teaching. From that point on I've struck a balance between teaching and writing/editing. I enjoy teaching, and need it to pay the bills (and provide insurance!), and I love writing, but editing is the reason I get up in the morning. A few months ago I was hired as a writer and editor on Crash Course, and I'm loving it. Editing is the second best job I've ever had. It would be the very best but, as I said, you really can't beat being paid to read. I love it more than anything ever and if I ever reach a point where I can make a real living just by doing that, I shall certainly do so.

As for the future, there's a very good chance that I'll be moving into administration next year, as a curriculum director. That's something I've always wanted to do, and it fits my master's degree perfectly. I'm also on a waiting list to start working on a doctorate in education as soon as there's an opening in the program. That will also be in curriculum and instruction, so yeah. It all seems to be coming together at last.

I guess that about wraps it up. I hope I haven't bored you to death. Remember that you can always leave any sort of questions or comments below. I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested in such things you can also find me on Twitter.

Thanks again for reading! If you've somehow landed here from some other source and haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are: 

Jill, Kristina, Frieda & Amy

And that's it from me on this Wednesday. Best wishes! <3


  1. Holy crap. I really need to second Amy's comment, I am in complete awe, that is one impressive career. And it sorta helps me a little bit personally to know that I am not the only one who takes detours when it comes to education (I haven't talked about this on the vlog yet, but I think I'll address my current situation soon).
    Best wishes! ♥

  2. :-) You guys are very sweet. As I told Amy, it's really not that big of a deal when you're as old as I am. I've had a lot of years to get all this experience. Thanks for the kind comment though. I really do appreciate it. <3