Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Sure, you're a full-time student, but you're not a real full-time student..."

I've already announced that I'm going back to university, this time to study a Master of Arts (Writing). I found what I believe is the best course for me. This particular "me" does not learn well by sitting in semi-darkened rooms, listening to lecturers who read their slides out aloud. This particular "me" also happens to be undecided on the particular genre in which I should specialise. Therefore, I enrolled in an online course through Swinburne University of Technology, so that I can study in my own time and interact with others through my preferred medium (and chosen discipline) of writing.

Unfortunately for me, I'm not deemed to be a real full-time student, according to Queensland Transport. It seems that I'd only qualify as one of those if I signed up for a twelve week course at a university campus in Queensland (or Tweed Heads) and visited the campus for a minimum of twelve hours per week. Yes, it's true: only full-time internal students of Queensland institutions are eligible for a concession.

Now, last time I checked, Queensland Transport didn't specify that students were only to use their concession tickets to go to lectures or tutorials. The concession applies to all trips on public transport (except, of course, trips to the airport, which can never be discounted). I'm also certain they don't follow concession card holders around to ensure they're spending their minimum twelve hours on campus. They could be spending the whole week at the pub, for all Queensland Transport knows or cares. So why is the concession only available to internal students?

As more courses are being offered online and more students are taking up the offer, the concession scheme seems unfair and archaic. Get with the times, Queensland Transport.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My work has been published!

Yes, my first article just got published on WeekendNotes. Check it out, and feel free to leave a comment or subscribe to my future posts.

Edit: actually, my second and third have also been published. One of them has a pretty major grammatical error, which slipped past the editors but not past Matt. Can you find it?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It wasn't a day off at all

Hi there, and thanks for dropping by.

I've just submitted my first article to WeekendNotes and I am eagerly awaiting the editor's response. (Yes, of course I will link to it once it goes live, and you can subscribe to my future reviews.) There's another review that I want to write for the site tomorrow.

I stumbled across their job advertisement on SEEK and decided to apply as a paid writer. The application process was incredibly simple and practical. While I won't get paid a huge sum per article, it will certainly be greater than (or equal to) what I'd earn posting the same review on my blog. My main motivation, however, is that the editors are going to provide feedback on my writing and how it fits with their submission guidelines, which will be very valuable experience for me.

I'm also working on a website for a friend (and I won't post it until it's done, lest you think the current state of the site was my doing) and I've been to a couple of job interviews. So, it's all moving along quite well, I think.

But, yes, I will post something a bit more creative in the coming days. I can feel it building.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Mission critical: why employees stay

An infographic in Fortune inspired me to seek out the original document and explore its implications for companies lacking a clear mission.

The Center for Creative Leadership and Booz Allen Hamilton teamed up to survey 1133 workers in the US between July and October 2010 in an attempt to understand what motivates employees to stay in their jobs. The question they asked was: "Are you in your current position because of the mission of your organisation, because the job furthers your career, or because you are stuck and have no other options?" They also asked about their perception of the organisation and their commitment and satisfaction. They published their results in March and I found the responses fascinating.

In the private sector (including for-profit and not-for-profit organisations), 53% of respondents claimed they were motivated to stay in their role primarily because of the organisation's mission; 25% said they were staying mostly for the career opportunities; and 22% were staying primarily because they felt they had no other attractive options. Results were very similar for federal government employees: 52% were staying primarily because of the mission; 27% for the career opportunities; and 21% because there were no other attractive options.

Here's their graph, which I've clipped directly from the full report (available on their website):

It goes on to discuss how employees that are motivated by the mission show higher levels of job satisfaction (compared to those who are in it for the career opportunities), which is related to reduced absenteeism and better organisational citizenship. As you'd expect, the employees who felt stuck showed less commitment, motivation and satisfaction.

So, what does this mean for a company that has no clear mission?

I once worked in a company where the senior executives were absolutely committed to not having a mission statement. Aside from being a little odd, this made it challenging to see the big picture, especially from the perspective of an employee at the bottom of the organisational hierarchy. (That's if you could find the bottom of the structure: the org chart was another taboo.)

With no clear understanding of our ultimate goal, we set our course and hoped we were on the right bearing. Middle managers tried to devise their own mission from the subtle feedback they were given; something more inspiring than the common consensus: "Make truckloads of money." Our team of honest, intelligent workers were unable to speak up about our poor navigation, because no one knew where we were meant to be.

That was never a problem in my time with the Army Reserve. (The mission, that is. My navigation still had its shaky moments.) Everyone knew and understood the mission; it underpinned our every decision and empowered us to act. We could be flexible in rapidly changing situations because we knew the part we played in achieving our commander's intent. We knew where we sat in the big picture.

I don't know whether the same survey conducted with an Australian sample would yield similar results. The closest I found was a November 2006 survey by the Australian Institute of Management, published on their website. Of the 22.5% of respondents saying they would leave within 12 months, 53.7% claimed it was because "there are no career advancement prospects". Of the 61.2% of survey participants that indicated they would not leave their employment for 12 months or more, 61.9% said it was because their job held "a sense of purpose and meaning". (Don't be alarmed by my mathematics — some respondents were just not sure!) I can't directly compare that with the US results, but one point stands out clearly to me: workers want to know what they're trying to achieve.

That's got to be scary for a company with no mission.


Jeffrey L. Herman, Jennifer J. Deal, Ph.D., Jamie Lopez, Ph.D., William A. Gentry, Ph.D., Stephanie Shively, Ph.D., Marian Ruderman, Ph.D., Lori Zukin, Ph.D. (2011), Motivate by the Organization's Mission or Their Career?, Center for Creative Leadership and Booz Allen Hamilton,, retrieved 8 July, 2011.

Australian Institute of Management VT (2006), What keeps employees engaged with their workplace?,, retrieved 8 July, 2011.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Reading is research for writing

I subscribed to Fortune magazine's Asia Pacific Edition a few months ago, when I thought it might contain some useful articles for an "important business executive" like me. (Yes, that was a joke. I never really fit that image. In fact, I even paid for the subscription out of my own pocket, rather than company funds.) I found the magazine highly entertaining, but I don't think it was very relevant for my role, which may be why I kept the subscription after I left. 

Then again, maybe I kept it because I'm a bit of a data nerd. The Chartist is a one page infographic spread of information about the topic of the day. In the July 4, 2011 (Number 9) magazine it's a really cute illustration of the growth in e-marketplaces that is driving bricks-and-mortar to bankruptcy. I'm one of the iTunes and Amazon users causing that change, and I felt somewhat responsible today as I saw the Angus & Robertson staff at Post Office Square clearing their bookshelves for the last time.

I'm really looking forward to reading about career makeovers, but first I'm going to write about a little tiny snippet of information they've thrown into The Briefing — in another blog post.

In closing, here's another recommendation I posted. It sounds very formal, and is not nearly as lovely as the recommendation that someone gave me. (You know who you are.)

Regarding Ms W

W sets high standards for her own work and consistently achieves them. An excellent researcher, she seeks opportunities to expand her knowledge base and learn new techniques. This enables her to develop the best possible solution for a problem, which she will present clearly in the most appropriate way for her targeted audience to understand. She is both a great team contributor and a strong individual worker.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Words and meanings

Posted today, with genuine concern for their poor advertising efforts:
Dear Recruiter
Thank you for taking the time to clarify those requirements that I did not satisfy — this will help me when applying for other roles, and I appreciate the feedback.
As a writer, I'd like to offer you some feedback also. Your note below that the client is "seeking candidates with construction and heavy engineering experience" has a very different meaning from what was posted in the job advertisement: "If you have previously been exposed to documents relating to engineering this will be advantageous." The former implies a strict constraint, whereas the latter implies that some flexibility exists.
Kind regards
I don't think it quite qualifies as a rant, because I was attempting to give them some useful feedback. I even resisted the urge to explicitly point out that their lack of attention to detail in the listing meant that I had wasted my time applying and the recruiter had wasted his/her time reading my application.

I haven't received another response from that recruiter.

He/she has confused me somewhat, because my prior experience has been that recruiters tend to overstate requirements. For example, I was recently interviewed for a role requiring an "extremely capable and experienced Technical Writer" (which I clearly am not).

What goes up must "bum-slide" down

Living on the northern side of Brisbane means that the Glass House Mountains are only an hour's drive away. Matt told me that he wanted to climb a mountain this weekend and, taking the word "climb" quite literally, I headed straight for Mt Tibrogargan. Our guidebook described it as a precipitous climb that only experienced scramblers should attempt. I had last climbed Tibrogargan about seven years ago and I remembered it as being steep, with a few short sections that were more like rock climbing than scrambling. My memory served me poorly. 
The first few hundred metres of the track were steep, sandy switchbacks that lulled us into a false sense of security. Before we knew it, we were on all fours, climbing up a simple but near-vertical wall of rock. This is the first of several bail-out points. If you can't face this section with a positive attitude, it will get really tough higher up. Above this climb, we got our first spectacular glimpse of Tunbubudla (The Twins), Mt Coonowrin (Crookneck) and Mt Beerwah, and (of course) we paused to capture it on camera.

Meandering a little higher (on something that actually resembled a track), we soon arrived at another slab. I don't like that word, because it sounds safe, like a flat concrete foundation. This wasn't flat, so I think the term "cliff" would be more appropriate, although it was a little less steep than the previous climb. Some markers had been painted on to guide us more safely up the rock, and there was a nice ledge just to the side of the route to stop, catch our breath and convince ourselves we could keep going. And, once again, take some photos.

Once again on a real track, conversation was reduced to exclamations of "Below!" as we sent showers of stones tumbling down onto the climbers below us. After one last slab, we were back in the tree-line and scrambling for the summit. After all of that, the view from the top required some searching and was somewhat of an anti-climax, but the sense of accomplishment was enormous. We stopped for a short picnic of nuts, biscuits and liquorice before descending.

The most popular technique for getting down the slabs is the “bum-slide” and it needs no explanation. In some places, such as the first climb described above, it is easier to face the rocks and climb down, feet first. But overall, it is a lot easier than climbing up, especially if you do what we did and accidentally take a small side track that avoids the highest slab and joins up halfway down the next one, near the photo ledge.
If you finish Mt Tibrogargan and find you still have energy to burn, copy us and visit Mt Ngungun as well. A real track winds up the mountain, past a cave, and stops just short of the summit. A mostly flat scramble will take you the rest of the way. The bare rock summit offers expansive views of the other Glass House Mountains and Moreton Bay. It’s a simple climb for all ages and a fantastic picnic spot.

For directions to the Glass House Mountains and the latest park updates, see Detailed track notes can be found in any edition of Take a Walk in Queensland's National Parks (Southern Zone) by John and Lyn Daly.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

There's one in every class, isn't there?

You know who I mean. That person. The one who always sits close to the front, so that his or her raised hand will be clearly visible to the speaker. The one who will raise that hand every time the speaker asks for audience input, and at any other opportunity.

It's not you, is it?

My first encounter with this person was in first year cell biology. It's a very general subject, covering an introduction to plants, animals and bacteria. As someone who took biology in high school, I don't think I gleaned any new information from this course (except maybe that I wasn't suited to continuing in the field). I think it's a reasonable assumption that anyone else who took biology in high school would have had the same experience. It's almost certainly true to expect a similar experience for a girl who took the same senior biology subject as me — at the same high school, with the same teacher, in the same year. I'll call her Andie, because I don't know any women called Andie, so she won't know I'm talking about her.

Andie's recollections of senior biology seemed to differ greatly from mine. From what I can gather, she was finding new information in our cell biology lectures, and making fresh links to her fond high school memories.  Unfortunately for the other 399 students in the room, she felt the need to share these insights: "So… only plants have a cell wall. Animals have the cell membrane, but no cell wall, right?" "DNA is a double helix, whereas RNA is only a single helix." Yes, Andie, that is correct, as you well know, because you passed high school biology.

The lecturer encouraged her by agreeing with her statements and starting with, "That's a good question," on the odd occasion she actually asked a question. By week three, a barely perceptible groan would resonate through the auditorium when Andie's hand went up. By week five, it was substantially more perceptible. I overheard comments like, "That girl is such a know-it-all; I wish she'd just shut up." Or, "Everyone knows that, man, what private school did she go to?" I'm usually quite proud and vocal about being educated in the public school system, but on these occasions I'd just cringe and pretend I didn't know her.

As I progressed through my studies, I encountered more people like Andie. They were less obvious in my physics subjects, most likely because no one knew what the lecturer was talking about. I remember getting into an argument with a lecturer about whether I understood the material. I was blunt: "I don't get it. Can you please explain it again?" 

He tried to tell me, "Most people, having gained your level of understanding, would presume to understand the subject matter completely, whereas you, in you need for deeper understanding, require further information to fully integrate your learning."  Ignoring the fact that I didn't understand his sentence at all, I was still pretty certain that I didn't get it and he wasn't explaining it well. I told him so: "No, I just don't get it. Explain it properly." Was he accusing me of being the know-it-all? (Rumour has it this lecturer was quite scared of me. I have no idea why.)

I've wondered whether there is a clustering of these types in certain fields of study or work. I don't have any hard data, so I can only speculate. Last night, I added a couple more points to my tiny sample.

I was at a professional development seminar on complex systems thinking, aimed at leaders and business executives. It was a fantastic seminar. The lecturer was incredible, speaking for exactly the right length of time and ensuring that he only covered as much of the subject that we could take away and use after one short session. He also had a knack for dealing with our interruptor by acknowledging, "Yes, you're right," and moving straight into the next sentence before they could speak again.

So, our interruptor… Bob (who was not really named Bob) proudly introduced himself as a public servant, perpetuating that stereotype. Yes, that stereotype. He offered us his insights by raising his hand and shouting it out, not waiting for the speaker's permission. I suspect this is a trait he picked up to ensure he gets heard. His comments started out as embarrassingly obvious conclusions but they became less and less relevant as the night went on. Was he genuinely trying to find out if his conclusions were correct? Or was he just trying to show us how smart he was. If the latter, I got a very clear picture. Tsk, tsk.

Matt, on the other hand, spoke to the presenter after the session was over and asked whether he shared the same views. It made for a great conversation, with none of those cringing moments I had suffered when listening to the interruptor.

Bob wasn't the only interruptor on the night, but I think the others were silenced, or perhaps even flabbergasted. I suspect that Bob served as a timely reminder to keep one's mouth shut unless one really has something to contribute. I shouldn't complain, though. People like Andie and Bob have helped me to repress my know-it-all tendencies and become a less annoying person. 

I said I added a couple more to my data sample. Yes, another interruptor made his way out of the woodwork at the end of the night, and shared his insights with the only audience he could find. Unfortunately, that included me. Matt later confirmed that he had attended lectures with this man, who was a regular interruptor. I'm not sure whether my groan was audible, but something in our clear lack of interest seemed to scare him off in a real hurry.

Don't let it be you.

Monday, July 04, 2011

A (not-so-) little update

I want to start out today's writing effort by thanking Dennis Connor. He is a kiwi friend of mine who has been living in America for some time now. He is supposedly working over there, but I think that's just a cover for his true agenda, which is to convert America to the metric system. That's a noble cause, but that's not why I'm thanking him. He's holding me accountable and making sure that I write daily.

Therefore, I must confess, I did virtually no writing on Friday. Instead, I attended INITIATE The Future at the University of Queensland. The conference is aimed at young leaders. I'm pretty sure I used to fit into that category, but now I wouldn't use either of those words to describe myself. I found the website while searching for Writers' Festivals (a very tenuous link, I'm afraid) and sent it to Matt to see if he was interested. His work deemed it appropriate professional development, so we spent the day together at The University of Queensland (UQ).

The agenda looked very interesting on the website and it didn't disappoint. I particularly enjoyed Professor Patrick McGorry talking about youth mental health issues. Some of my closest friends have suffered mental health illnesses in the past and I find the stigma surrounding it particularly frustrating. We don't hear much about the effects; are there many people who aren't seeking the medical help they need, because they are worried about public opinion? We hear a lot about all the work being done to open up conversations about AIDS, HIV and safe sex in the developing world. We understand the benefits of preventative medicine with infectious diseases. We acknowledge that visiting your health professionals for regular checkups can help prevent (or detect and treat) all sorts of illness such as heart disease, cancers and even back pain. So why the double standard when it comes to preventative measures for mental illnesses? Why doesn't your doctor give you a mental health checklist along with the physical health checklist? [end rant]

Another highlight of my day was seeing Bob Ansett. Back in my good old corporate days, I looked into getting Bob to speak at one of our retreats, but we decided to go with something a little more customised. I was delighted to see Bob on the program and signed up for his talk straight away. He has a famous surname but it's actually his father who founded the airline; Bob's mother took him to America when he was young, and he grew up learning a lot about hard work and big dreams. He founded Budget Rent-a-Car at a time when Avis had a monopoly on airport car hire and there were numerous other small hire services available in cities. Budget did something a little differently, though: they told you how much it would cost, up-front. I guess we take it for granted these days, but that was new for an Australian car hire company. They also did everything they could to get you a car, even hiring from Avis to supplement their fleet (which Avis took almost five years to pick up on, he told us).

We also saw Professor Ricardo Altimira Vega from IE Business School. He spoke to us a lot about the steps of entrepreneurship from the idea stage right through to the start-up. I found it interesting, but I'm still not sure any of my ideas would make it past the market study. He asked people to share some of their ideas, especially if we already had a business. Meaghan Vosz spoke up and told us about her company that provides professional writing services to community organisations. I love the idea of this business, so I grabbed the chance to talk more with her about her background and experience after the session. She hasn't had much chance to market herself, but community organisations are only too keen to get help with their grant writing, so Get It Write is doing well. It's nice to see someone profiting while helping community groups to do their work.

So, that was my Friday.

In stark contrast, I actually did a fair bit of writing on Thursday — I just didn't publish it on my blog. It took the form of finalising my CV on LinkedIn and SEEK and (gasp!) applying for a couple of jobs. Yes, I really did. I was so motivated that I even wrote a letter of introduction to a recruitment agency over the weekend. This probably raises the question of why I'm not publishing my wonderful CV where everyone can see it. My reason is simple: I've spent the last ten years procrastinating. I did lots of very productive work, but it wasn't important work. I worked very hard on things I didn't care about very much and achieved great results and salaries for it but little personal satisfaction.  As a direct result, my CV is full of very impressive nonsense. (For more information on how procrastination can look like work, see Structured Procrastination by John Perry.)

Speaking of procrastination, I have several writing ideas right now. I'd like to write a few restaurant reviews, as well as a summary of our mountain climbing on the weekend. Unfortunately, the reason I'm so motivated to write so many things is that I've left another task a little too long. I really need to go sort out the pile of junk building up in my rented storage space. (It will also be nice to collect my winter coats before summer rolls back around.)

As for my CV, I'm working on that — I have started setting up some larger projects that I hope to list as experience. On Wednesday night I went running with some friends at Mt Coot-tha and came home with an opportunity to redesign a company website and rewrite its content. More on that in the coming weeks, I guess.  I also had an idea for a short story touching on depression, that I think will be incredibly challenging to capture beautifully. I will be interviewing a friend to get some ideas.

Actually, if you happen to have a writing project that I could help with, please let me know. I'm keen to get experience in all types of writing so I can have a real résumé. Whether you're itching to have your memoirs recorded, want help with a race report, need some work on your website wording or just want a report finished, I'm up for the challenge.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I can't show you their names

My writing project for today has been quite difficult, but I am persisting. I have been writing LinkedIn recommendations for my former colleagues. It's challenging because I don't want to use weasel words, but I do want corporate types to understand what I write.

I wasn't going to say any more, but then I realised that the vast majority of you won't know these people, so I've just deleted their names and published what I wrote about them.  Those of you that do know these people can see these recommendations on LinkedIn anyway, but I urge you to see if you can guess who I'm talking about first. I'll also add one that I posted last month.

The lovely Ms Z

Z has a brilliant mind and the personality to match it, making her a pleasure to work with.  She brought a contagious energy and enthusiasm to my team at COY. With the big picture constantly in her mind, she created opportunities to improve not only her own work, but processes and systems across the entire office.

Always eager to learn, Z was the first PD to really engage with the technical staff in the nitty gritty of their roles. She never shied away from a new challenge, such as researching and comparing training providers and courses in the absence of a training manager. I recall asking her to draft a PowerPoint presentation from my meeting notes, which required substantial extra research on her part. It was such a good slideshow that I asked her to present it; she did an amazing job.

Z's talents as a PD are unquestionable, but I believe she would excel in a challenging role that combined client liaison with independent or team research and report writing.

The incredible Mr Y

Y is a talented and committed developer who was a pleasure to work with. Understanding the importance of the context behind the business rules, he asks the right questions to get clear requirements from his customers. He is adaptable and intelligent, and was quick to learn the nuances of working with financial data from multiple vendors.

Have you met Mr X?

X is an enthusiastic worker who can energise his teammates to achieve great results. His thirst for knowledge enables him to apply his strong analytical skills across a broad range of interest areas.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Morning massacre

I surveyed my kitchen from an emotional state somewhere between despair and mild panic, with a definite tinge of confusion. My memory was vague, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Something had gone horribly wrong. There was so much of it. It was everywhere. It was gushing across the bench and dripping off the edge, down the low cupboard doors. It was splattering onto the floor and my slippers. Everywhere it flowed, it left  a nasty residue reminding me of something I didn't understand. I had to clean it up.

Grabbing a dishcloth, I started from the top, mopping up the dark liquid. It was hard to catch. No matter how many times I wiped at it, there was always a drop left behind, staining the surface. I lifted the teapot and cleaned the bench beneath. I moved the microwave, too. I swept a large volume of the fluid into the sink and watched it slowly make its way down the drain. Its casual pace seemed spiteful as I continued my frantic cleaning.

I cleaned the edge, and underneath. I opened the first cupboard to clean the top of the door; I hate the way these fluids will cling to the edge and refuse to drip until they pass that boundary. To my horror, the damage was worse than I had anticipated: it was everywhere. I removed sponges, scourers and the box of dishwasher tablets, and scrubbed out the cupboard. I wiped the inside of the door, which seemed to be substantially worse than the outside had been. It was getting hard to rinse the mess out of my cloth.

A flashback: I recalled a loud cracking noise. Yes, there was broken glass – I remembered that much. But what had I done?

I moved on to the next cupboard. It was one of those corner cupboards with the hinges in the middle of the door. The damage here was quite severe: the spatter extended onto both shelves and had gruesomely decorated pots, pans, travel mugs, microwave containers and even the electric mixer. The panic threatened to rise, but I calmed myself by methodically taking each item out, cleaning it, cleaning the space it had left, and replacing it. Those shelves were clearly not level. The fluid seeped deeper into the recess despite my best efforts to control its flow with my meagre dish cloth. I resorted to that sweeping action, first used on the bench. It helped with the cupboard, but splattered some new stains onto my slippers. I rinsed the blades from the mixer and placed them on the dish rack to dry. I wiped my travel plunger and left it on the bench for later.

The dog was (as expected) very interested in the substance on the floor. Before he could start lapping it up, I shooed him away. It would have been helpful, but I was fairly certain that I didn't want him getting a taste for that particular substance. If it had been the juices from last night's roast dinner, then fair enough — but not this. I soaked the mess up in the dishcloth and squeezed it into the sink, repeating a few times until the floor was spotless.

Around this time it crossed my mind that I should probably figure out what had happened. Had I hurt myself? Was anything broken?

Once again, I cast an eye over the kitchen. I had done a fairly good job of cleaning it up. This time, I noticed my six-cup coffee plunger in the sink. A hairline crack barely showed down one side and the last of my gritty coffee was slowly oozing out. It all came flooding back to me: the smell of rich, earthy, ground coffee; the whistle of the kettle; the delicious gurgling sound as I poured the water; the loud crack as my morning routine was shattered. My old friend had departed, rendering my insulated jug useless as well. I carried the plunger from the sink and dumped it unceremoniously into the rubbish bin. From then on, I would be confined to single cups.

I put the kettle back on to boil and tipped a spoonful of coffee grinds into my travel plunger.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Project code name: Haiku Dog

I've made my commitment to writing. Yes, I'm going to do it every single business day. (Weekends will be optional – if I'm inspired and available, I'll write.) I've chosen business days because writing is my (unpaid) job now and, like all professional artists, I need to practise, practise, practise. I also need to watch and learn from others, so I guess that means I get to read a lot, too. I expect that my hours will vary somewhat. Yes, this is my dream job.

Now, the astute reader has no doubt observed that I did not post on Friday and I have been quite tardy today. Never fear - I haven't quit my new job! I've been working on a not-so-secret project: my university application, which required that I update my CV and write 300 words explaining my career goals and why I think this particular course is the one for me. It's really important to me, so I spent a lot of time trying to get it right. Matt was an inspired editor, asking me wonderful questions: "Am I supposed to know what this means?" "Shouldn't you mention all the technical work in that role as well?"

Anyway, I finished and lodged my application today. Now all I have to do is wait anxiously to hear whether they will accept me.

— — — — —

Haiku have always captured my fancy, because they can be so beautiful and yet they are so simple. For those who do not know what a haiku is, here is an explanatory one I wrote some years ago:

Haiku have three lines
Five syllables then seven
Then another five

In truth, they're not quite that simple, as the Wikipedia:Haiku page explains, but we're close enough.

After I submitted my application, I took the dog for a run, and it wasn't until I got home that I realised I hadn't used my GPS, so…

Yes, I ran today -
Only a couple of k' -
Stopped along the way.
Started my stopwatch;
Didn't start the GPS
On my mobile phone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Life, in a biscuit

I can't remember back that far, but my mum tells me that I loved nothing better than to smear a good chocolate biscuit all over my face. My opa was only too happy to provide the supplies. By the time I was in grade six, I couldn't stand Tim Tams. I'm not sure if those two events are linked. The other biscuit of choice for Opa was the speculaas. Mum approved of those, whereas the various almond-flavoured goodies were shunned.

My mum also tells me that my older brother once received a toy toolkit for Christmas, and promptly got to work tenderising a homemade gingernut biscuit with the plastic hammer. I think that's appropriate, because Christmas is a time for shortbread biscuits, not gingernuts.

On school holidays, sandwiches got a bit boring. Sometimes we branched out into more exotic foods, like shredded wheat biscuits with butter or peanut paste, cheese biscuits with butter or cream cheese, or Sao biscuits with Vegemite. When my dad was home, we might also get some Jatz crackers topped with cheese and kabana or cheese and ham. If we were really lucky, maybe there'd be a gherkin or half a cocktail onion on top.

During term, I scored some Tiny Teddies - you know, the little plastic packet filled with little tiny boy bears and girl bears. Back then, they only came in honey or chocolate flavours, but now they come in all sorts of flavours. After school, Mum would sit with us outside and we'd have a Kingston biscuit. I couldn't figure out why they tasted so good, given that Kingston was just down the road from us and, frankly, it was a bit of a hole. It had certainly been a stroke of genius to sandwich some chocolate cream between two butternut biscuits. Even better than the Monte Carlo, which had been my former favourite.

In my high school years, the variety of biscuits available in snack packs had greatly improved. In particular, savoury bikkies now came in snack packs, and made a nice change to the crisps that inevitably ended up crushed beneath my text books. On the sweet side, I enjoyed the country style chocolate chip biscuits the best.  Genuine Oreos also started to make an appearance, perhaps thanks to the invention of McDonald's McFlurry. 

When one of my friends started fundraising for her student exchange to Germany, I felt it was my duty to support her in this endeavour. I bought many packets of jam drop biscuits from her — several cartons, in fact. I hid them in my room and ate them day and night. I took them back to school and ate them for morning tea, along with my country style biscuits or mini arrowroot biscuits. Yes, I admit that I got some inspiration from Claudia in The Babysitters' Club - her food-hoarding habits had stayed with me long after I shipped the books off to charity. (Coincidentally, I also felt compelled to help my friends fundraise for their music tours by buying huge quantities of Maltesers. I guess this habit hasn't worn off yet.)

My university years were spent developing a wide variety of bad habits, such as dozing off during lectures, cramming for exams at the last minute and eating Nutella directly from the jar. Kay and I used to get through a whole jar in a single calculus lecture. The refectories didn't offer sterling food selections. Sam would bring bikkies and dip for lunch and I was only too keen to partake. 

Studying an unpopular major has its advantages: while other students waited until their honours year to get some space, the Physics department gave the third year students a room to share. I immediately bought a cookie jar and placed it on the bookshelf. I had storage, and my biscuit consumption was about to explode. I discovered the Lemon Crisp biscuit, which has sweet lemon cream sandwiched between two salted crackers: it's a margarita cocktail in a biscuit, minus the alcohol. (I guess that makes it a mocktail.)

I had also joined the Army Reserve, where I was introduced to the wonderful Biscuits, Jam Sandwich. There are five different varieties of one-man combat ration packs, and only one of them has the Jam Sandwich. Those packs also contained old, crushed Sao bikkies (or, in the earlier days, something that seemed like a Vita-Wheat, but less digestible) that went quite well with the tinned cheese and tubed Vegemite. But, for me, it was all about the Biscuits, Jam Sandwich. So it was quite  a breakthrough when I realised that I could approximate the Jam Sandwich by combining the little tube of jam (available in all five packs) with the Biscuits, Scotch Finger (available in two of five packs).

As my honours year rolled around, I was well into the habit of eating a packet of biscuits for morning tea. It didn't seem so bad compared to my friends' habits (even when combined with half a litre of vanilla custard for lunch). I had one friend who took eight caffeine tablets per day, each washed down with a cup of coffee. Another friend lived off cheese and tomato sauce. So I felt good about my diet, but still figured some discipline was required. I started rationing my biscuits by taking two from the jar and eating them with my morning coffee; after waiting 20 minutes I could have another biscuit if I still felt hungry.

In 2007, I joined the full-time workforce. The company had a fully stocked tea room, including those cute little packets of Arnott's biscuits. Sometimes we got cream biscuits and sometimes they were the classic selection. Occasionally some gourmet bikkies would find their way in, too, like a macadamia shortbread or caramelised biscuit. One lady used to eat her melting moments with a spoon, because they were so crumbly and messy to eat. I tried this, but I'm clumsy so I just made a mess everywhere. There was also a tub of cheese bikkies, inciting the endless quarrel over which type was the best: Cheds, or Country Cheese? (Don't be ridiculous, of course it's the Country Cheese.) 

That same year, I visited America for the first time, to run the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, in California.  Chinese food makes a great recovery meal, and I was enjoying my dinner in San Francisco a few days later when I cracked open my fortune cookie to read, "You need to buy a new pair of shoes." Indeed.

The afore-mentioned employer eventually got some rice crackers as well, once the coeliac lady convinced the administration team that she wasn't just being fussy. Mum has since been diagnosed with coeliac disease, so in the weeks before Christmas I head to my local (or online) retailer and buy up on the gluten-free shortbreads. It wouldn't be Christmas without biscuits. When I visit Mum, she offers me her "yummy" chocolate bikkies. I've come to realise that there's no such thing as yummy when it's mass produced with rice flour, so I decline and take the regular biscuit instead. It's usually a Scotch Finger (without the tube of jam).

I've outgrown my dislike of Tim Tams. In fact, I have a half-eaten packet of the dark chocolate ones on the kitchen bench. I'm proud to say that I started them a few days ago and I've shared them — it wasn't just a morning's work. I've also ventured into the Dutch biscuit aisle and quite enjoy an almond round, speculaas or even a slice of breakfast cake, which is not a biscuit, but makes a delicious breakfast.

These days, I spend a lot of my time at home, because I don't have a job. I'm working on becoming a writer, so I practise by sitting in front of the computer, writing things like this. The urge to snack is very strong. Biscuits go well with coffee and they taste a lot better than a glass of water. In fact, I think I might have one now.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Networking 101

I used to think that networking was a load of rot. Don't get me wrong - I knew there was a point to making connections with people with similar interests or relevant skills.   I just didn't understand why someone would go to a networking event just to talk to lots of strangers with nothing of use to share, or why they'd make so many random connections. And I certainly didn't understand how someone could enjoy it. Every time I was placed in a networking situation, I found it incredibly stressful. I'd focus on asking other people about their lives to avoid the panic of talking about myself. As soon as they asked me a direct question about me, I started to feel like a fake and a phoney.

I'm willing to admit my mistakes. I realise now that networking can be awesome.  In my defence, I was probably led astray by a running buddy, who was in the habit of handing her business card to everyone she met. Everyone. At the time, she was an academic in the field of entrepreneurship, and I was working in human motor control at a different university. She came to visit me after delivering a guest lecture, and before long my research group was taking cover as the business cards came flying at us on rapid fire.

But the real reason I hated networking events was because I didn't believe in what I was doing. It wasn't me. It wasn't real. Given the opportunity to network with energetic, exciting people who were passionate about what they did made me feel inadequate.  I would instead seek out others like me — those who hated their jobs, felt disconnected from their peers and organisation, or didn't see the point in what they were doing.

Last night, I went to an event with lots of "creative types" — mostly musicians. (It was the launch party for Clare Reynolds' new album, Colour my Heart.) I networked. I didn't meet many new people, but I listened with genuine interest to their stories and came away feeling like my life had been enriched. Every person I met was a new opportunity. And when they asked me, "So, what do you do?" I didn't shy away. I stated proudly that I'm unemployed and hoping to go back to uni next session to study writing.

So, what changed? A lot, actually. First, I left my job in mid-March. (I will leave it to the reader to interpret that as a resignation, termination or redundancy.) I hated my job. I hated the complete lack of direction that I was given. I even hated getting out of bed in the morning, because that meant I'd have to go to work. While most people may not enjoy being unemployed, I thought it was the best thing that could happen in my life at the time. I enjoyed my time off, hiking in Western Australia with my boyfriend, visiting friends and running races in the US. And, when I came back, I went to a lunchtime seminar at QUT.

I've worked with a lot of smart people. I know intelligence when I see it demonstrated. These speakers (Dr Lyn Bishop, Mike Boyd) were clever. But, more importantly, they were passionate. They knew who they were. They knew what they wanted from life — and they were determined to get it. And, in particular, Mike Boyd challenged me to seek the same. He addressed the whole audience, but somehow he spoke directly to me,  telling me that I know what I want to do and I just need to accept it and embrace it. So I took a note on my page: "Things I could do every day for the rest of my life — run, sing, write." 

Out of necessity, I applied some reasoning. Running is a good way to keep fit. Singing is a good way to keep happy. I do neither of these things well enough to make money. But, maybe, just maybe, I could find a job where I get paid to write. It won't be the handsome salary I got as an investment firm manager, and it won't sound as glamorous as being a quantum physicist, but I know I will enjoy it. First, I will need to hone my skills through practising, getting feedback and learning more about the craft. Then, I will need to hunt for opportunities.

Ahhh — networking. Yes, of course. Now that I know what I want to do, I'm one of those passionate, energised people.  So, last night, when I told others what I hope to achieve, they believed me. They believed that I'll accomplish my end goal, even though I barely have a plan on how to get there.  They believed because I believe. I'm no longer a fake and a phoney. I can network, and I can enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm starting over

I have decided to turn this blog into what it was always meant to be - a place to write. So, I deleted all the old stuff (yes, of course I downloaded it first) and I'm starting from scratch. Please give me a little while to get started.