Are you feeling stress in yourself? Need to make decisions?
Too many things to do and not enough time? Meeting with
new people, people with opposing views or too many people?
Feel cramped or feel inhibited?
I received a request from PP after he received a long
sought after job offer. He accepted the offer which he
pointed out included a $2000 relocation reimbursement.
Other things not mentioned in the hard offer was processing
my O-1 work visa.
I am expected to relocate in early November. Please let me
know what you think about my relocation allowance?”
This note points out that when you end your academic career,
your continuous learning process really ‘begins.’ And guess
what, there are no texts for this learning and no absolute, correct
“I also wanted to seek your opinion on employee stock options.
As a part of the offer, the company extended an option to
purchase 2500 shares of stock…the company is not public.
….attached is a document here for reference.
Before signing, I just thought of having a word with you.”
My experience is that I trusted the public relations of a firm
I worked for and purchased many shares of stock with the
promise of growth and profits. In the end, I lost a great deal
of investment dollars that I could have avoided if I studied
the investor literature and consulted wise counselors.
You should start early in paying attention to legal issues.
Online resources can provide some questions for you to ask.
Some people are in roles that it is an asset to remember and
use people’s names. Sales, interviewing, teaching, politics and
guess what, leadership roles.
Our Professional Development class is interesting because
we can use feedback from class members for future discussion
items and exercises in class.
Yahoo had an appropriate article by Maria LaMagna
about the consequences of lying in an interview when
asked how much you currently make.
This could happen in various interview formats…
screening, on-site, wrap-up with HR, or during
salary negotiations. Preparation and research
In all cases tell the truth, as they may ask you to produce
a pay stub. Alternatively it is fair to ask what is their
I feel it is appropriate to state that salary is one
component of an overall compensation package.
While it is a gauge on your value to the company,
it is fair to point out that other factors may be equally
important to you…vacation, citizenship work papers,
insurances, location, travel requirements, etc.
Reading a blog entry by B. Perlmutter, reminded me of
a section in the second class of our Professional Development
class. What I like about it is that he creates a nice context
and story about factors we need to consider in making
Our class offers fewer steps and a template to consider
classroom exercises that students might face now and
will possibly face in the future.
1 determine the facts
2 identify the stakeholders
3 identify the ethical choices
4 make a decision
5 double check the decision
Perlmutter frames his process and story in terms of situations
and risks to reputations in a golf tournament. Early in his
ethical process, he points out recognizing ethical problems,
even before knowing the stakeholders, interests and
At first, this order of process steps is not one better than
another but a different perspective about something
scientists and engineers are not often trained to think.
Ethics can be ambiguous and relative. In Perlmutter’s
perspective, ethics needs to be considered earlier. I
think this can be good and a point of emphasis.
Not long ago, this blog offered a legal perspective of
ethical decision-making. It appears different than the
first two in that it asks questions about legality,
reputation and consistency with values.
We need to understand that different people will
make a case for processing their thinking. Forni
I think states it best and has me thinking Perlmutter
says it best for me. Forni outlines the urgency to
develop and place good thinking habits as
a priority. Good thinking makes having thought,
having thought leads to a wider range of viable
choices; Good choices offer the chance for good
decisions that lead to a good life that lead to
Perlmutter’s process is documented in the
3. trust resulting from adhering to legal or social
norms that prescribe and restrict behaviors and actions.
Reading Chris Voss’s book on negotiations convinced me
that we need to keep learning. Don’t ever stop the process
of gathering new information from different sources,
2. 3 kinds of “yes”: commitment, confirmation, counterfeit
3. Ackerman plan– set your goal, then first offer at 2/3 point,
calculate at three smaller increments
use lots of empathy and different “no” strategy to counter, before
you increase your offer.
use non-round numbers in your final offer
after final number, throw in nonmonetary items
The seminar on the titled topic highlighted three
key areas that people in grad school can focus on
in addition to items successful predecessors pointed
We had an interesting problem dealing with a vendor who wanted us
to commit “right now.” It is a situation that can happen broadly in
many employment scenarios.
James Baker provides situations where you might feel manipulated
in making decisions–
1- pressure with deadline: question how real the deadline is, test
the parties motivation and propose what will be best for both
2- pressure with competitive price, vendor or approach: ask for
details on the quality and terms of the competition. Look for other
features you offer or provide.
3- missing person to be consulted or limited authority: ask to meet
with the person who has final authority or find out who makes the
final decisions regarding delivery, price payment, exact details of
4- moral appeal: what is underlying motivation, indicate you are
looking to be fair with all and create good long term relations
5- good guy/ bad guy: understand the manipulation and understand
that your requirements and needs are included
6- name dropping or association of related situations, number of
other clients, or similar customers.
Intimidators will use every trick they have and know. When they
find it will not work, they will become friendly. It is just another
“face.” We need to find a way to convert them into someone who
we can reach an agreeable outcome with.
Another good resource is provided.
A colleague was encouraged by her PI to apply for a postdoctoral
associate (PA) position. She was screened and traveled to an on-site
interview. She reported back that the interviews went quite well
and she was optimistic. Soon after (less than a week), an offer letter
came for a one-year appointment as PA. The first paragraph also
included starting date, annual salary of $42K, the supervisor’s name
and proviso that a background check was a precondition.
[There were usual links to policies and benefits.]
My follow-up comments to her included:
- congratulations, but keep looking
- concerns about inserting phrases in the offer letter about learning
what they find in the background check, following Al Sklover
The “Background-Check” Provision in Offer Letters –
A Risk You Should Try to Reduce
- critical review of the starting salary using ACS salary comparator.
[$42K is at the 30 percentile of such offers.]
Initial back and forth negotiations said nothing could be done with
salary, but relocation assistance would cover all expenses. No
support for green card application was forthcoming but they
understood the background check concern as her name is common
and could easily lead to confusion in such checks. She approved
the offer and signed the document.
Not two weeks later did she attend another conference and met
an entrepreneur who invited her to come for an interview for a
position that looked even better than the post-doc.
She was encouraged to pursue the position. She had two separate
interviews and dinner with the firm’s president. The result was
a very nice offer, more than $20K higher, with a series of positive
incentives (including assistance with obtaining a green card).
The problem was that she had accepted a post-doc offer.
Can you go back and turn down an offer to accept a better one?
Yes! It is entirely feasible. Yet, it is important to respond
professionally on both offers. Review the second job offer diligently
and confirm the offer details and starting arrangements (like
background check as, above). Then, practice a turn down
conversation with the first supervisor. Have all the details ready
and professionally articulated.
Then, do it in person, not via an email.
“I thought phone would be better and direct rather than just sending
an email. As mentioned in this article you just sent, Dr. …. said that
my decision is certainly not convenient for them. But he appreciated
that I called in a timely manner and discussed the situation. He
realized that my preference has always been to work in industry, and
this job sponsors me for work authorization in the US. I also told him
that I would be happy to help them in finding the best candidate for their
position. So, in the end, he wished me best luck for my future career.
…After the phone conversation, I sent an email to the HR person …
acknowledge her and let her know my decision. So she won’t [proceed
with other paperwork.”
One of the books I have read recently was “Predictably Irrational“
by Dan Ariely, ‘The hidden forces that shape our decisions.’
Three concepts were revealing in understanding certain decisions
1. arbitrary coherence that directs preconceptions
2. market norms and social norms influencing what is considered
in explaining resolving conflicts
3. how ownership pervades our life and shapes many things we do.
Arbitrary coherence signifies an anchoring effect (being first to set a
price or cost or salary) that encroaches on our minds for decisions.
Considering where this preconception arises and how irrational it
may be can allow us to bypass this habit of mind. (think: negotiation
and other numerical choices)
The most telling concept for me was the difference and impacts of
market and social norms on decisions. Social norms seem to be
common in collective cultures. It results in collaborations that lead
to a benefit to one person or group and builds on a social relationship.
Market based norms are revealed when money is involved and you
feel like you get what you pay for. It can be controlled by contracts
or involved when rewards are given that have a certain monetary value
Companies like to influence a market based transaction by bringing in
a social component. It is this mixing of market and social norms
that changes the nature of decisions and the appearance of ethical
Companies also like to bring in social based norms in motivating
Finally, Ariely highlights how we feel the influence of owning a
physical (house, shoes, pen, whatever) or
nonphysical item (idea, virtual, insurance)
on decisions to change. Ariely introduces several lines of thought
that help us manage our urges when ownership can impede our
There are many situations where managing these psychological
concepts can lead us to more professional behaviors.
One of the short discussions we had in our class this year was
on the role of critical thinking. It was not elaborate or drawn
out with many inferences and examples like it could.
It was about reading with a “thinking” attitude.
One of the members brought up how he would teach undergraduates,
especially how to read the technical literature. The citation he used
mentioned the old paradigm structure of the scientific method, as
if it were gospel.
Another view is to seriously evaluate the source who funded
the work, who gains from its publication and the true value? What is
it do you want to learn from the report, communication or
article? Is this too hard to ask?
This blog has cited Galea’s Fortune piece which points out biases.
Scientific literature can be read [or mis-read] with a structure
to influence the readers’ take-away message.
The Economist offered a remarkably insightful piece about corporate
financial results on which we depend on for employment, investment
and purchasing. It should be totally unbiased and reflect truth as
well. The article puts forth the “carnival of confusion, obfuscation,
and fibbing” that would make “even presidential candidates blush”.
The article speaks to Valeant, Microsoft, SunEdison, GM, GE
restating earnings, adjusting figures, and using measures of
profit that do not have regulatory significance.
Rules of thumb: profit should be revealed in standard accounting
rules, without adjustments for mature firms
firms should not have large and persistent gaps
between official accounting and adjusted profits
firms should not have low tax payments, since
it should be reporting profits to investors and government
look at the “cash flow”
Look at this before sending in your application!
TECHNOLOGY REALITY CHECK: PATENTS
For the first time I have seen CEN talk about reading the patent
literature [and not an ACS journal article] to learn about something.
The recent issue revealed more significance can be gained
from reading the patent literature. While not the headline
or example, this statement is something we will not find
many research professors teach our students and post-docs.
There is something legally binding in patents. When researching
the literature about your work or potential job applications,
patents should be a must area to review.
It is an essential part of the interview process that you will
provide references and they will be contacted. As we know,
it is wise to ask if a person can provide a good reference for you
before you offer their name for a reference.
Recently, I was asked if I would act as a colleague’s
reference. After her interview, she and I skyped to
share what the interview was like and to get prepared for
my part of her interview.
The reference checking can happen before you might
interview in places that know your reference. That can
act as a sanity check to go ahead with more detailed
It can happen after the interview in two or three ways.
One is a phone reference check. A second way is
to ask for your reference to complete a detailed form.
And a third variation is to ask for a letter of reference,
which would be similar to the common letter of
recommendation sought for academic position applications.
The reference checking process can be done by a HR
staffer or more frequently these days by a contracted firm
that specializes in this service. Both the candidate’s
performance and my credibility are tested.
So, during our Skype I asked the candidate what she learned
about the position and the company. In addition, I asked for
a few personal/professional details so that I could strongly
describe that I knew the candidate. She was involved in several
seminars, a course I led and we traveled to an international
meeting at which she overcame weather problems.
In our reference checking conversation, I confirmed personal
history and information about her strengths, weaknesses and
near term goals.
The person I spoke with, Sharon, politely confirmed her information
about me that the candidate provided. Then, she asked if it was a
good time to complete this assignment. I indicated yes.
There are standard questions that are usually asked:
- how long is the business relationship and what was the formal
- is there any reason this person is not qualified to work in the
- provide details of directly working with the applicant on a project
- assess the applicant’s performance on the project
- please describe the candidate
- what are her leading strengths
- what performance factors could the applicant improve
- would you recommend we hire this applicant
So, knowing specific personal strengths with examples and areas
the applicant needs to improve are very important. Having an idea
of the applicant’s reflection of how the interview day went will
reveal if the applicant was comfortable with the culture and
people experienced. The reference needs to find a way to express
strong desire with the opportunity and be an advocate.
The title is written to get wider attention. Legal is the lead word,
but I will start with insurance.
I noticed a “rider” on our homeowners insurance policy. It is
an extra “technical support program” service they provide. I called
the number and learned that they will offer remote phone and
remote access of your devices to solve technical problems.
When you buy a new computer, this service costs $150 and up
yearly. Worth your while asking for and using this free of charge service.
[devices: computers, smartphones, iPads, tablets, Office
applications, Printers, scanners and network connectivity;
LEGAL - WILLS, TRUSTS
A helpful guide on trusts and wills was sent out by our estate
planning attorney firm about the terms wills and trusts.
A will is a “death document,” as it only goes into effect when
you die. There are six provisions: distribution of assets by name
and through court probate process, guardians, executors. It is
usually shorter (cheaper) and does not allow for tax complications.
A trust is a living document that evolves by your direction through
your life. It is enacted in cases of disability, covers all aspects of
wills and can avoid probate to settle after death. It can manage
all succeeding affairs regarding your estate and beneficiaries.
These documents are important as our estates exceed our
debts. SOURCE: Cody, Cody McCarthy: Estate Law)
LEGAL - CONFIDENTIALITY
Al Sklover provides definitions, examples and exclusions
of confidentiality and non-disclosure that help us understand
what confidential information is, the four exceptions and how
to protect yourself.
His four exceptions are truly noteworthy– sharing to perform
specific duties, when the information is already in the public
domain, to comply with the law, and with the consent and
direction of management.
For a decade, the biomedical field has been struggling with one
problem– oversupply of trained post-doctoral fellows with poor
outlook for full time career positions.
For at least the same amount of time graduate students in certain
fields reveal that their advisers keep them from graduating until
they are in their 30s (personal knowledge of Biological and Physics
related fields). Then, even after graduation, the PI keeps the
trained professional as a post doctoral fellow of convenience by limiting
meeting attendance and exposure and supplying references.
The Boston Globe and other media have reported on the problem
that post docs are “holding tank positions” with little hope of
landing a full time position. The biomedical field has an oversupply of
trained scientists and engineers that outstrip demand.
The blame is given to a surge of federal funding for research during
1980 - 2000 that beckoned for an increase in staffing at all levels.
Large universities got even larger, small universities moved into
graduate research and new federal bureaucracies sprung up.
No one foresaw what could happen and could imagine the
unintended consequences of various decisions all taken on
an individual basis without looking at the larger system.
-We invite many foreign students to attend all US universities.
Many do not have an inkling of prospects upon graduation.
-Many mentors continue to amass larger research groups without
considering being able to mentor and facilitate each grad
students and post-docs career growth.
-Salaries are absurdly low. Training for future career positions is not targeted.
Very little practical outcome and collaboration with practical
needs organizations is managed well.
Chemistry and related fields are here already. Yet only a
few islands of practical reform are apparent. There is little
motivation for doing something that will help the field.
On a case by case basis we can help one individual figure out
the maze of satisfying employment searching. The situation
will grow worse with another economic slowdown.
We should all be alert to what happens to employees at
DuPont and Dow as the two leading chemical corporations
as they process their merger and carve outs forming new
entities. We may not be directly involved but it adds to
what technical professionals will face more of in our future
Jacob Bunge wrote that 1700 job cuts will happen in
Delaware to DuPont (see also Morningstar source) which
will flood the market with outstanding talented scientists
and engineers. It can be traumatic for each person directly
or indirectly affected. It is a message that there is no “safe
harbor” and job security is the knowledge that you can obtain
another desirable position if your current one is in jeopardy.
It can also mean that you are given some time to evaluate your
options and pursue your personal and career goals.
SOURCE: A. Tergesen, WSJ1-2-16, “Target date
funds must rethink bonds“
There are a number of comments to this article that describes
how bond components of target date mutual funds might be
overweighted. This impacts retirees, the author emphasizes.
Target date mutual funds one commenter points out is a marketing
tool for those needing investment advice in making investment
choices mostly in tax advantaged funds.
Another pointed out the benefits of target date funds are
risk management and “diversification” with a projection
of lower price. Because all managers “race” for yields
risk has been sacrificed. Conditions have shifted so assumptions
about return projections and costs have changed. There is no
prescription for those who have invested in target date funds,
but it does indicate another risk factor, not in the prospectus that
nearly no one reads.
SOURCE: A. Sklover, 1-6-16, “16 Questions for joining a
There are several things Al Sklover brings up in this
article about joining a start up company to aid in decisions
about joining and negotiating what things you and other
employees, founders, advisers and consultants should share.
The way it is done is classic-Sklover, tell a story and its
outcome and offer salient principles, actions and resources.
Since the financial items out number the psychological
ones, we will start out with them.
Have you been paying attention to the budget agreement
Congress has passed on to President Obama? It takes
away a Social Security provision that allowed retirees
certain benefits and could impact those nearing retirement.
A second financial item relates to a mislabeling of
of municipal bond yields. Evidently bonds are offered
issued at a premium over par. They are often called
before maturity. Meaning– lower yields than labelled.
A third financial item relates to benefits to ACS
member who are unemployed.
The non-financial item is about a book describing
“productive habits” we all might benefit from.
NEW SOCIAL SECURITY RULES
SOURCE: A. Tergesen, WSJ 10-31-15, “New
social security rules to end key filing strategies“
I sent my brother who recently turned 66 this article
that spells out the end of social security spousal
benefit upgrade for some retirees. There is a
six month period before the regulations go into
effect. This could be several thousand dollars a
year difference for those who are affected.
MUNICIPAL BOND MISLABELING
SOURCE: J. Zweig, WSJ 10-31-15, ” How
Muni Bonds Yield 4% in a 2% World”
Those investing in low risk, no tax municipal
bonds might be in for a shock to find the real
return is nearly half of what is advertized. Zweig
suggests asking your broker or adviser to
reveal the “yield to worst’ on your municipal
bonds, adjusted for return of principal.
ACS MEMBER BENEFIT
SOURCE: T. Connelly, letter for the executive
director to members, 10-1-15
In this letter seeking our membership renewal,
each one of us 158,000 (~5000 less that last
number in memory), might benefit from the
“members-only benefit” of up to 3 years free
membership (not sure if it is sequential or
additive) if you are unemployed. There are also
some benefits that you should ask for if you are
faced with such a personal challenge. In our
new world of temporary or episodic employment
this might be meaningful.
SOURCE: Peter Bregman, “Four Seconds“,
Harper One, 2015
Bregman goes into how we instinctively form
habits to live through our daily lives. He breaks
them down into mental, relationship, work,
self-defeating, and what I call productive habits.
He spends effort on boredom, how we become
our worst critic of ourselves, perfection and
What I liked were his descriptions of “productive”
habits– taking a “4 second pause” to develop options
when you face a problem, a 4-second pause when
attacked to ask questions [reducing tension in a
situation], a 4-second pause to establish focus each day,
to follow through and to prepare each day what are
short term and longer term priorities.