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All the books Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions reading in her journals

When I read the journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, she kept on mentioning all the books she was reading. She was writing between about 1886 and 1940. So it’s books from that era or earlier. Eventually, I got interested and wanted to read them myself, and started keeping a list of them. Here are all the ones I caught.

I, by the way, had access to Davis Library at UNC Chapel Hill when I started reading these books, and that library system has like 8 million books. They had most of these, even though a lot of them are now unknown or not the thing that you’ll find in a regular town library. But even after moving on from Chapel Hill, I have found quite of few of these in our small town library. And I don’t usually read books online, but since a lot of these are no longer in copyright, you can find them on Project Gutenberg and places like that.

Can I just say one thing? Having written all of the below out, and seeing all the books put together like this, I am realizing that practically all the titles or authors that are unknown today are not that good. So why am I reading them? Fine, not all. There have been some gems among the rust.

The count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas, 1844 — I read this before I knew that Lucy Maud Montgomery had read it. I read it a long, long time ago. But I think I liked it. Oh, except I do remember every woman in the book (and there’s a lot) is described as a perfection of beauty. Whenever I thought back to the book, it seemed like the standards for womanhood were very appearance-centered and very impossible to attain. Of course, the book was written by a man.

Midshipman Easy, Frederick Marryat, 1836 — this book was terrible. It’s an adventure story of a boy in the English navy, early 1800s. It’s an ugly, violent, misogynist book, and the hero himself, and all the “good characters”, are celebrated by the author for being nasty and brutish. And the “heroics” and “valor” of the hero are not so great, mostly it’s all coincidence and it gets so tiring and annoying.

Froude’s Elizabeth

Trilby, George du Maurier, 1894 – this was a best-seller from 1895. This book made me realize why though a book may be popular at its time, 100 years later no one has heard of it. It has some good points and some good passages. Otherwise, the very over-blown section describing Trilby’s angelic singing was not inspiring, but annoying. Trilby is depicted as a perfect saint and a perfect beauty, and as such, the ideal woman. It was all very ridiculous. Plus, the book says very nasty things about Jews. They don’t tell you in school that books like this were published in the decades preceding the Holocaust, became best-sellers, and showered anti-Semitism over everyone. Explains a lot.

Sorrows of Satan, Marie Corelli, 1895 — A best-seller from 1896. It was really, really good at the beginning. But later it bogged down. In part because the character Mavis Clare is so ridiculous – she’s very perfect, and the fact that she spends all her time telling people how perfect she is, apparently doesn’t take away from her perfection. I liked Sybil a lot more. I don’t think she deserved the end she got. What’s even more ridiculous is that Mavis Claire is supposed to be the author herself. Talk about vanity.

Kate Carnegie, Ian McLaren, 1896

A book that Tennyson’s son wrote about him, by Hallam Tennyson

The flower patch among the hills, Flora Klickmann, 1916

Tommy and Grizel, John Barrie — This is by the man who wrote Peter Pan. It had some of the funniest passages I’ve ever read: Tommy and his “broken” leg, Grizel’s handkerchief, Tommy’s conversations with the rich, stuck-up lady. But in other places, the book kind of dragged. And I don’t know what the point was in it ending the way it did.

Hypatia, Charles Kingsley — I have not read this. But I did check it out once, with every intention of reading it. It’s about a female mathematician in ancient Egypt, and it’s written as a fiction. So I’m going to try to actually read it one day. But the time I had it in my possession, the first page looked overwhelmingly boring. So I didn’t even start.

The end of the House of Alard, Sheila Kaye-Smith

The mill on the Floss, George Eliot — Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions reading this in her journals multiple times. It was my second George Eliot book – I first read Adam Bede, also on the promptings of Lucy Maud Montgomery. The first 300 pages and change are good – just a little bit plodding. You keep saying, okay, okay, and now … ? The next 200 pages and change are riveting, and will make you sit up and pay attention with a vengeance! I was very engrossed. Then there were about 50 pages left, and I was very interested to see how all the confusion was going to be wrapped up. Well! It was awful!!! Just awful. That was the worst ending to any book – it pretty much seemed like she’d gotten tired of writing (wouldn’t you?) and she just polished it off in the quickest way possible. And it’s not just me that thinks that, because I then read the introductory notes and other people have felt the same, and George Eliot in fact agreed!

Roughing it in the Bush, Mrs. Moodie

Waverley

Ardath, Marie Corelli, 1889

Undine, Friedrich Foque, 1811

Penrod, Booth Tarkington, 1914

Wooden ships and iron men, Frederick William Wallace, 1925

Our sentimental garden, Agnes Egerton Castle, 1915

The heart of the ancient wood, Charles Roberts, 1900

Tish (1911) and Tish plays the field (1926), Mary Roberts Rinehart — This is a series about a main character called Tish. The one I found in the library was: Tish: the chronicle of her escapades and excursions (1916). From how Lucy Maud Montgomery described it in her journal, I was all ready for a book about a saucy and spunky 20-year-old back in the early 1900s. Well, it turned out that Tish is 50. Yet in books today, rarely will you see a spunky and saucy 50-year-old that can match Tish. Tish knows how to change a tire on a car, and lots of other things, that I don’t know how to do. The words ‘feminism’ or ‘girl power’ are never mentioned in the book, but they don’t need to be mentioned. As I read Tish, I started realizing how many books I have read whose authors lived in the 1800s and early 1900s, and how independent and capable the female characters they created were — even though we’re kind of conditioned to think of women back then as submissive and docile. The problems with this book were 1) some of the chapters were a little boring and repetitive, and sometimes the writing wasn’t clear enough to figure out what was going on and 2) the use of racial slurs and nasty comments towards immigrants. There’s a whole chapter about a young man who’s immigrated from Syria. The author tries to make him seem foolish and worthy of contempt; but it was a poor attempt, because the contempt in the author’s words were actually unable to disguise that this young immigrant was simply a person trying very hard to make a new life for himself.

Roughing it, Mark Twain, 1872

Flaming Youth, Samuel Hopkins Adams, 1923 — I haven’t read this, but Lucy Maud Montgomery hated it and shredded it into her fireplace

Guadalla’s Palmerston

The woman in White, Wilkie Collins, 1859

Zanoni, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1842 – I was in love with this book. This book was a favorite of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s when she was a child, and I could see why. It was beautiful, mysterious, idealistic, romantic. It took me to all these places, and all these scenes, I’ve never gone before. I was all ready to tell everyone to drop everything and read Zanoni. But three-fourths of the way into the book, one of the characters does something very stupid and honestly, something very out-of-character for that character. The action made no sense. But I was going to forgive that, because the last fourth was exciting and swept me and my doubts away again — until the the last 3 paragraphs. They were just very stupid. But you should still probably read this book.

Beside the bonnie brier bush, Ian McLaren, 1894

The days of auld lang syne, Ian McLaren, 1895

Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope, 1858

Framley Parsonage, Anthony Trollope, 1861

Life of Lady Byron, Ethel Mayne, 1929

The wind in the willows, Kenneth Grahame, 1908 — I started reading this; it was very slow and boring. Mostly I got impatient with the slow descriptions of nature. But then I remembered: when I was little, I would have pitied someone who got impatient with descriptions of nature as slightly indecent. So I kept reading and it was after all a very lovely story.

The story of an African farm, Olive Schreiner, 1883

Elizabeth and her German garden, Elizabeth von Arnim, 1898 – At first, I liked it: it was kind of amazing how you could write a whole book with pretty much no action, and just talking about this lady’s garden. This was a best-seller (100 years ago). But then, towards the end of the book, the husband says the stupidest things about women, and the two women present, Elizabeth and her feisty friend whose name I can’t remember, don’t make him shut up. So it’s like the husband won. These were super offensive comments about the intelligence and capabilities of women. So I started thinking that the author must have been very stupid, but then I read about her on Wikipedia. She didn’t sound like someone who believed women are silly and nothing else. Did she make the husband say outrageous things, with no surefire pummeling in return, because the comments were outrageous enough that even 100 years ago people would have been angry, without the author needing to point it out? I don’t know. And she also made a whole awful lot of mean, unjust implications and comments about people not as rich as her.

Herodotus’s history

Little Katey and Jolly Jim, Julia Matthews, 1865 — This book was published in 1865. Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions it a lot in her journals as a favorite childhood book, and I thought from the title that it must be a very jolly, fun read. Well, it was not. In fact, it was 1/3 very sweet, and 2/3 ridiculous. Like super ridiculous. This is a book that just doles out fanciful, evangelical prescriptions to poverty. It’s in fact really annoying.

Books by the Bronte sisters, c. 1847 — these are all great books.

Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, 1857 — this was a beautiful book. It’s a biography of my favorite author, and it’s full of her letters, which are just as beautifully written as all her books. Plus, I learned all about the old English moors from back in the day. I was just in despair because right afterwards, I found like 10 huge books with the originals of all of Charlotte Bronte’s letters, and I just won’t ever have time to read them all.

Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther, Elizabeth von Arnim, 1907

Sam Pepys’ Diary, 1660-1669

Elizabeth and Essex, Lytton Strachey, 1928

The Black Douglas, Crockett, 1899

Elsie books, Martha Finley (there’s a ton of these books), 1867-1905

The cross, Sigrid Undset, 1920-1922 — This is the third part of a trilogy. The books all together are just named after the main character, Kristen Lavransdatter. When I looked it up, I was pretty excited to read it, and I stayed excited for the first 130-ish pages. And then it was all downhill. And it’s a long downhill, because the book is 1128 pages long. It’s the most boring long book I’ve ever read. There are multiple 300-page lumps of pure boredom that you have to get through, to be rewarded with about 50 pages of some interest, before things are boring again. Because it’s basically 1000 pages of Kristen being “white-faced” and all the color draining out of her face, and not being able to breathe, but still able to speak calmly in the middle of her distress! On the inside-flap of the book, some prestigious reviewer had compared the book to The Brothers Karamozav. Are you kidding??? The Brothers K, where every sentence and every scene made you stop and breathe at either the beauty of the language, or the situation, or the thoughts being presented. No, there is no comparison between that and this Norwegian clunker. This was 1100 pages of blah blah blah. There is more profound feeling and thought in Taylor Swift’s new album Folklore. Seriously. Oh, and one more thing. The author kept confusing herself (and me) by saying things like: It was absolutely silent in the night; one heard the sound of the river and the sound of the wind in the trees and the sound of cowbells echoing around the mountain and the sound of the horses stamping their feet … are you confused? Or she’d say things like: it was a still, windless night, with great gusts of wind battering everything. I mean …

The last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper, 1757

The house of seven gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1851 — This was kind of bad. When Charlotte Bronte goes on and on and on, I don’t mind because it is all beautifully written. This book was not. It could have been summed up in 20 pages. Wow, the dragging out of details was just painful. And the 15 pages devoted to unveiling that a man was dead, who we already knew was dead – well, it was a bit too much.

Adam Bede, George Eliot, 1859 — my first George Eliot book and also the first book she wrote. It’s really quite good. I didn’t like it as much as Charlotte Bronte’s Villete and Jane Eyre. It kind of dragged in some places. And the insights are not as insightful as with Charlotte. I did like the mom a lot. Hettie is silly and annoying, and the lady preacher is good and sweet. But can’t we use a little of both in life? Was Hettie supposed to be punished so harshly, or was the author criticizing the societal notion that scandal and silliness must lead to such a terrible downfall?

Farthest North, Fridtjof Nansen, 1897 — This book was a bestseller way back in 1897! It’s about a polar expedition that made it “farthest north” to the North Pole than anyone had ever been before. Nansen was the head of the expedition, and when they got back, he wrote this book. He’s Norwegian, therefore I am obligated to dislike the book. However, you could read it for sure. It takes you along through the moonlit Polar night!

Vanity Fair, Thackeray, 1848 — I know this is a classic, but it is an awful book. The only thing clear from the book is the great opinion Thackeray had of himself – he apparently thought he was the only moral person on the planet, the only one who really knew how to live an upright life. Meanwhile, he wrote before the Civil War and he thought slavery was the best thing ever. When I finally finished and picked up “Farthest North”, I felt like my soul was being washed from all the pollution and grime of Thackeray.

The Alhambra, Washington Irving, 1832 – The story of when the author took a trip to Spain, and swung by the city of Granada, and spent several weeks hanging out at the old Moorish Castle, the Alhambra. It was nice to get to walk in his shoes, see the sights with him, and read the magical and somewhat wild legends of long ago.

Rupert of Hentzau, Anthony Hope, 1898

Rice University — is a private school worth it?

I worked at Rice for just over a year. But funnily enough, by a coincidence of circumstances, of which coronavirus contributed just 2 months, I was only in Houston for about 7 months during my whole time working there, haha.

I came to Rice (a filthy rich private school) as a committed Tar Heel, and for the most part my only reference point for comparison was my long experience at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (a public state school).

SAMSUNG
Fall colors in Chapel Hill
Rice University
February in Rice University, Houston

So how did things compare? Well, I was very under-impressed with Rice when I first got there. Partly because I was robbed as soon as I got to Houston. I was therefore very disposed to being angry at everything to do with Houston and with Rice. This is what I found out at first:

  1. Their library, which everyone seems to be so proud of, and which they all lovingly short-hand refer to as Fondren, is a complete mess. It’s completely disorganized. Oh, for the beauty and peerless symmetry and regularity of UNC’s Davis Library — the tall, austere shelves, all in order, the confirmed pathways through the books, the simple roadmap of getting from point A to B. An order reliably, simply, and flawlessly repeated over 8 stories, so no matter where you are in Davis, you at least KNOW where you are. Forget all that at Rice’s library. That one is only 4 stories; but it is a big bumbling collection of books splayed out lazily and frumpily — you never know where you are, and there’s never anyone around to ask questions — and if you do ask questions, the staff — almost all of which is grumpy men and women — is sure to yell at you. The numbering of the books are out of order. Forget nice straight paths — these books are collected in a series of caves, with no roadmap of how you get from cave A to cave B, so good luck if you need to get from cave A to cave Z. Oh, wait, did I say no roadmap? The library is apparently aware of their mess, so they actually do have roadmaps everywhere to help you figure out which cave of shelves you’re currently traipsing through — and even with those roadmaps, I couldn’t figure things out. I’ve never seen a library organized so badly.
  2. Not just that, but Fondren Library at Rice only has 2 million books, and they can’t manage any order for them. While UNC libraries have like 8 million books. There is no place at Fondren where you get that lovely faraway silent smell of miles of old books all around you — you can get that at almost any corner of Davis. I don’t even know if Fondren should be called a library, it’s such a fraud.
  3. My first impression, furthermore, when I was in the middle of having to do all the new employee paperwork, was that no one knows what’s going on. No one had a clue what’s going on. The benefits enrollment office sent me an email as follows:

“The Rice University benefits portal can be accessed through any computer, tablet, or smart phone by visiting benefits.rice.edu, selecting the “Enroll in Benefits” hyperlink and using your Net ID to access the enrollment platform.”

Did that work? Of course not. You have to call the number provided, and they send you to an entirely different website.

4. They have this pdf about the benefits and what you’d pay for the medical options. When you actually go to enroll, none of those payment numbers are accurate. Everything is more expensive, and not just that, but you pay “twice monthly”. They give you a low-looking number, and unless you’re careful, you don’t even realize that you’re paying this number twice a month. You’d think with all their riches they could update their benefits booklet, but no. I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was a big deal when I’d just arrived in Houston; I’d left everything of comfort behind; I’d just been robbed; and here I was with the expenses not being what Rice had promised. They should have accurate numbers on their material for employees.

5. When you’re at Chapel Hill, whether as a student or grad student or for a special program or as a worker, there is no end to the number of t-shirts, water bottles, umbrellas, and other fine swag that you receive. For my welcome at Rice, I was given absolutely nothing. It made me feel like, so do you actually want me? I didn’t even get a welcome pen. Seriously not even a welcome pen.

6. Chapel Hill’s school-grounds are beautiful. Rice is really fake-looking. Like someone was trying too hard when they designed (and if you look in the school history, this is exactly the case!)

7. I was trying to get my work email set up. They told me I’d get an “email” about setting it up (was the email supposed to get to the work email I still had no access to?) I don’t remember how I finally got access, but it didn’t happen the way they said it would happen.

Looking back now, a lot of my complaints seem silly (except for the part about the library and the swag, that is unacceptable, and the pretty campus, too). But the other points were a really big deal and a big stressor when I was new at Rice. And my conclusion is, filthy rich private universities brag all the time about how they have all the money to do everything, so why can’t they even do these simple things?

UNC Chapel Hill, on the other hand, I always found to be very organized. Things like moving into dorms; or paperwork that you fill out for employment; there were always clear instructions and simple forms.

Two more bad things about the city of Houston, and then I’ll say some nice things about Rice.

8. A big selling point of Houston, apparently, is that the rents are cheap. They are not.

9. Also, apparently there’s a campaign out of Houston to try to convince people the air quality isn’t that bad. Hahahahahahaha. I’m pretty sure the air quality sensors in Houston have been perched on the top of the tallest skyscrapers, where they can’t pick up on the exhaust from all the cars and the other mess spewing poison out into the air.

10. Houston is kind of a fun city, anyways, though.

Now for some nice things about Rice.

11. They have some cool classes. Here’s three of them (at the least the subjects and experiences were cool, even if the professors were not the most nurturing).

12. They have a cool place called the Print Palace where they make fabric, or they make pretty prints on paper. Well, in theory it’s a cool place. I went there once to watch them. It was all old people who got super-bent out of shape because someone with black hair had walked in. It was all those artistic, profound types who act like they’re super good, but it doesn’t take much scratching under the surface for all the greedy, nasty sludge to come out.

13. The President of Rice — I liked him. And the administration in general. They are not so tied behind their backs as all the leadership at UNC is. So when terrible, racist things are done in this country, that makes immigrants miserable, for example, the administration at Rice was much quicker to send an email out saying that Rice stood against that sort of thing. I know this might sound like not much — just an email. But “just an email” is sometimes more than what UNC can compass, and if they do send an email, it’s a very weak statement that’s more about not saying something that would offend a Nazi. Rice would issue pretty strong statements, and it does make a difference for them to say something — it makes you feel that it’s not just your own misery, but someone else is recognizing your misery.

14. In Fondren Library — yes, the stupid one — they have these puzzles out by the circulation desk, and you can sit and do them. Big puzzles that have 1000 pieces. That was what I did my first two months at work when I was stressed and sad about being at Rice. But just so you know, the libraries at UNC have puzzles like that, too!

15. The President of Rice invited all the Muslims on campus to his palatial residence for dinner once.  And they had quite a fancy spread! And I think he does that with all the minority groups on campus. And he gave us a nice speech telling us we were valued. You know, when you never hear that, it kind of makes you tear up when someone does say it. I don’t remember any chancellor at UNC ever do that. Not even after the Chapel Hill shooting of three defenseless Muslim students (that the local police department tried to dress up to imply the Muslim students were the evil ones and deserved to be shot.) And for the record, the statement that the UNC leadership put out in the wake of that statement are among those I remember being weak and stupid, with a main goal of not offending Nazis).

16. Rice gives a lot of financial support to students from poverty-stricken backgrounds, as in full rides. But UNC does the same (the Covenant) and I think UNC started the Covenant before Rice started their program. But Rice is now taking it a step further, such that even if you come from a middle-class background, apparently everything will be free for them, too. Well, it is a really rich school.

17. The free food game is quite strong. It’s strong at UNC, but I had no complaints at Rice, either.

18. Rice did something that was very nice — every Friday they had something called a Diversity Dialogue. This was an initiative run out of the top leadership offices. Everyone was invited, but mostly it was only minority students who would actually come, and everyone would get to vent about their problems stemming from lack of money, or immigrant background, or racial problems. They were really amazing conversations. I remember UNC trying to do the same thing, but I never found those conversations to be that great. I think it might have been because UNC is a much bigger school, so you can’t fit everyone in a room. At Rice, it would be about 30-50 people who would gather. Everyone would get lunch. And then they’d talk. Anyone could talk, and anyone could stay silent. It was a very homey and supportive atmosphere.

19. The media office at Rice is very nice. I went to interview them so I could get some tips about how to do my job. They were so nice! Like 4 different people took an hour off from their jobs to talk to pitiful me, and they looked at my work and both gave me feedback and told me all this nice stuff.

Film-making class at Rice University

I took a film-making class while I worked at Rice University. I did not really “take” it, though, I more audited it. But I did a lot of work for it, until I quit with a month left. Here’s why.

First, Rice has some pretty cool creative classes. There’s a class where every student is supposed to write 100 pages for their own fiction book. The class is taught by a cocky (I met him) millionaire author. There’s super high demand for the class. He teaches it every spring semester, and takes about 12 students each time. Cocky or no, I would have really liked to take a class like that.

Second, there’s a class where you make comics. You go to class twice a week, for 3 hours each time! And you draw and learn how to make comics. The professor is kind of stern, though. But seems very committed, and showed us his impressive collection of pens and ink.

And the class I actually took was the film-making class. It was taught by Tish, an American, and Brian, a British guy who kept saying weird racist things all semester long that everyone just ignored. The class is nice because you get access to all this sophisticated camera and sound and lighting equipment — you get to “play” with it. I didn’t actually end up using any of it when I was making my own film, though — it’s all so bulky and heavy. You can’t walk around with that stuff when really, cell phone footage is good enough! But it was still fun to experiment with it.

We got to talk about movie techniques, and we got to learn and practicing using Adobe Premiere.

I didn’t really want to make a fiction film; I wanted to make a sort of documentary film of research in the Earth Sciences department. It was part of my job description to let the public know what sort of research went on. I was able to apply the skills learned in the film class directly to my work. I found a graduate student who was doing some cool experiments, spent a few days recording him; even recorded his advisor. His advisor was female, so I thought it was nice to show a woman professor in a science field. I even recorded the cool thing where you show someone walking into a building, going through the door from the back, and then also recording them from the other side of the door as they walk in. I felt so fancy! I had tons of footage, and I put it all together.

Then coronavirus happened and we all went home. We had the class on Zoom once a week, and on one of these Zoom classes, we all got to watch each other’s films (all the different groups), all the edits people had made since the last time we’d seen each other’s work.

Well, it got to be my turn, and for the next 30 minutes, I felt almost like I was at a firing squad execution (my own). First, Brian and Tish took turns eviscerating my film in front of all the other 12 or 13 students in class … and then, as if that wasn’t enough, each student then had to critique my work. And they, in line with the two professors, finished the work, as if I wasn’t already wounded enough — in case I wasn’t yet dead. I had to sit through each and everyone. Thirty minutes later, when they’d finally run out of bullets, I managed to say, “thanks for the feedback.” And then I waited until they’d pressed play on the next movie. Stealthily, while everyone was distracted by the movie screen, I closed Zoom first, and then flipped my laptop shut with shaking hands. And just never dialed back into that class.

Come to think of it, I never again got any emails from that class, so I must have been removed from the mailing list right away.

I think, by the way, that quitting on the spot like that was the best choice. You don’t always have to stick with things. Seeing as I was dead, I probably wasn’t going to get any more benefit from that class. And the hit to my sense of self was too deep, so that wounded needed to be tended to, rather than demanding myself to continue learning film-making. I have also already “not quit” challenging things often enough, so I didn’t need to prove to myself that I can stick with things if they’re important.

So that’s my story of the Rice film-making class.

 

The most gentle job rejection I ever got

I had applied for a post-doc — the only one I ever applied to — at the University of Pennsylvania, in their center where they study the science of science communication. Yeah, that probably sounds really boring. But I thought it might be kind of cool!

Any case, I got such a nice rejection note from them. They made it sound like: if only some of their pesky current postdocs who kept hanging around would move on, why then, you, my dear, would be our first next choice!

Because the program is moving into a second year of work on a multi-wave panel on communication about vaccination, and we did not know until recently which of our current postdoctoral fellows would be carrying over for the coming year, the process of matching the aptitudes of our applicants with our changing needs has been complicated by the fluidity of our situation.

Although the fit between our needs and your aptitudes and interests was not sufficiently exact to offer you a postdoctoral appointment, we are grateful for the opportunity to read your work and look forward to applauding your future successes in the field.

 

 

“Yes, we’ll keep your resume on file”

I’m curious, was there ever a time during which the promise to keep the resume of the rejected job applicant ‘on file’ was actually honored, and something came of it?

It never did for me. I soon learned to see this ploy for the base basket of false hopes that it was. When I read it in those curt rejection emails, I always could it hear said in a simpering tone.

I got an email like that from Descartes Lab — that was bogus. I got another email like that from a place called EAT Forum in Stockholm — another lie. And I’m sure there’s been others, I just can’t remember them right now.

Job racism in Sweden and Europe

1. I applied for a job as a “Data scientist and GIS specialist” in Sweden. The job was located in a “peace and development” department. So the job title, and the job focus, were pretty much the summary of my PhD, which I had just finished. I sent my application in to SIPRI (Swedish International Peace Research Institute) and … never heard back. At all, ever. About six months after that, I discovered something interesting. In Sweden, you can email the person you sent your application to, and you can demand that they tell you the prior experience and education level of the person they did pick for the job. Interestingly, the reason for this avenue of information is to clamp down on job discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or how un-Swedish your name is. Well, buddies, nice try, but it ain’t working. Like, if I knew that the job applicants I reject can ask for that information, I would make sure to treat all the applications equally. SIPRI did not. I sent them an email demanding the information. And this is what I found out. That among their top 4 applicants (these were the ones who landed an in-person interview) was someone with two years of experience and a master’s degree. To reiterate, in my application, I had 10 years of experience and a PhD. But they chose this other person for the interview, who I imagine was little miss blondie, all eager to do good in the world, and they thought she was all super cute and everything, and that she would fit in really well. So they interviewed her, in-person, and they had three other applicants they also interviewed in-person, none of whom had as much experience as me. The person they chose for the job had a PhD and 8 years of experience. Again, I had 10. And what made me even more mad was that they pulled those 4 people for in-person interviews out of a larger group of 11 candidates. Those 11 candidates all had Skype interviews. So if little miss blondie with the masters degree and two puny years of experience made it all the way to the in-person interview, I just want to know (I didn’t get this information) what were the worthless qualifications of all 11 candidates who got a Skype interview? Upon finding all this out, that was the last time I ever applied to a job in Sweden. And I’m the one who wrote this, and made this video, and this video, and wished desperately for this. And do you know what hurts even more? There’s this old man who was friends with my childhood hero, Kofi Annan, who is the head of SIPRI. Or he is somewhere in the top leadership. I think this is a situation of the buck stops at the top, so I had this experience at the hands of someone I’ve looked up to for almost two decades. By the way, no Swedish language skills were wanted for the job, they just wanted someone with superior English skills. I don’t care how good the Swedes think they are at English, I’m still better than them.

2. Now, what I described above might just be one situation, but now look at this study which involved 200 000 applications. The professor running the study would send out two fake resumes to employers. The resumes were very similar, but one was fronted by a “White” name, the other with a name that indicated a non-White immigrant, or a Black person. Then, despite the resumes being similar, was the employer still more likely to contact the “White” candidate? Well, of course. But what’s even sadder is they did this experiment in 9 countries, and Sweden was one of the two worst in terms of throwing out non-White applicants automatically. I had seen studies like this before, but I always tried to turn a blind eye to them … and I was always making excuses for Sweden … and I always thought when it came to Sweden, there must be a good explanation. And then it happened to me.

3. I applied to an internship — yes, an internship — in the summer after I graduated with my PhD. Yes, it’s a crazy world. You’d think that by the time you have a PhD you’d be beyond internships, but no. It was an internship in Sweden (here we go again!) and actually, I applied right at the time I was applying to SIPRI (first bullet above). This second application was to a place called EAT Forum which does research on environmental impacts of growing food. The internship I applied to was in science communication. I got an interview — so that was good — except they knew I was in the US, and totally ignored the time zones, and set the Skype interview at a time that was comfortable for them, but where I had to get up at 4 am in order to get ready. And I didn’t want to say anything to them about rescheduling, because, you know, I didn’t want to seem difficult. Even though, after the pre-sunrise interview, due to my disrupted sleep, I was neither awake nor asleep — neither dead nor alive — for the rest of the day. I couldn’t do a thing, so I just lay in bed all afternoon and stared at the ceiling, with a headache, unable to get up, and unable to fall asleep. On top of all that, of course I didn’t get the internship — which in my crazy stupidity was all I wanted, yes, please, an internship to go with my PhD degree, just as long as it gets me to Sweden. Now, I am not accusing anyone of discrimination here — I didn’t do that great during the interview (since I was half ASLEEP) and I do believe that another candidate had the better set of skills specific to what they wanted. But what does make me mad is stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. I know a girl who’s half Swedish, half American — and all nice and blonde, and she has the right name and everything — and she got an internship with one of these science organizations in Stockholm upon graduating … with her undergraduate degree. Yeah, that was all it took for her. An undergraduate degree. But I had a PhD, and I didn’t get anything.

5. Now let’s look at clues from the general environment of things. There’s an organization in Sweden called FORSKOM, that’s short for Forskning and Kommunication, or something like that — that means research and communication. In short, it’s like a professional group of science communicators, all supporting each other. Just you look at the names of the group leadership … as if someone like me, with my name, and with my experiences of being pushed away from Sweden, would ever, ever see my name fit in with the ones there. They’ve made room, as is typical, for the one British guy to give a regal touch, and that’s it. I’ve met some of the people of this group at conferences. They’re all super unreliable.

6. Now let’s look at some other organizations in the rest of Europe, for example, a place called EJR-Quartz. I applied for a job here, and I still don’t know what the EJR is supposed to stand for. But this organization works closely with the European Space Agency, satellites and all that my PhD research dealt with. My job application process with EJR-Quartz was totally fine — I didn’t end up getting the job, but it was probably my fault, and I did at least advance to an interview. This was a few years ago now and I have no complaints when I remember back. But what did give me a little pause was when I went to investigate their Twitter account to prepare for my interview. It was all White people, top to bottom, back then (and it still is today!) Please, how much would they really want me around? And when I do and think and say things a little differently from what they’re used to, what would they say? I especially remember, that main Twitter account led me to some Twitter accounts of the people working there, so I clicked around here and there. And I found a photo — from a work event, mind you, like at some sort of satellite conference — of an old man — the head of the organization, or something — standing with a young female employee right in front of him. She was tiny, her face only coming up to his collar, and they both had huge smiles on their faces, and his arm was stretched forward and embracing her from behind, going right across her chest. It was a weird photo from the gender perspective, for sure — but you know, maybe they’re both fine with it, so whatever. But I saw that and thought — yeah, there’s no way all that hugging and smiling and camaraderie would extend to me if I got the job and ended up working there. Like, you get to a point where you have too many experiences, and you know at a glance where you’ll be the odd one out.

7. At the very beginning of this year — pre-COVID, so ancient times — I saw a message that a European Union project called Food Unfolded was “looking to expand its editorial and contributor team”. I thought, sure, I could use some extra money and write about science stuff for them, why not. And it was about food waste, so there’s lots of environmental themes. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time preparing my material, but I did put together a portfolio and CV and sent it to them. But the thing was, by that time, I’d already had so many mysterious silences when sending job applications to Europe, I already knew to expect my material to be thrown out at the first glance. And I was right — I never heard back. I suppose the sight of my name had them clutching their pearls.

 

 

Job rejection: “never got through”

(Back in February 2019)

I applied for a job in October at an environmental research center at UNC Chapel Hill. One of those jobs through a university application system where you get the feeling you’re tossing your information into a black hole.

But for a wonder, this black hole chucked something back out, because they actually did respond, within like a week, and wanted an interview. Now, I had to travel 2 hours to get there for the interview, and they were “unable” to provide compensation — and there’s nothing I hate so much as putting time and energy into other people, all at their whim, knowing by that same whim they can choose someone else.

However, I went for the interview, it went really well, and so I wasn’t as gloomy coming out as in.

Then they told me, it’s going to be a while until we get back to you.

I sent them a follow-up email thanks; they answered, okay, okay, but you know what, it’s going to be a while! But with an assurance I’d hear back.

The supposed start date for the job was December 1. But they implied during the interview that this was flexible, because they didn’t even except to have made the final decision by then. So December rolled around, and I didn’t worry I still hadn’t heard. Then it was Christmas soon enough, so I still didn’t worry. They had to do all these background checks on applicants.

But on the other side of the New Year, it suddenly seemed a lot less likely they would still be selecting their pick. I thought, maybe they they just canceled the job altogether? I mean, they told me multiple times in the interview that I’d hear back eventually, even with a delay, and then in an email they again reiterated: “We will be sure to let you know as soon as a final decision has been made.”

I emailed them today, finally, in February, and lo and behold: “it appears the reply we sent you never got through.”

Wait – are they serious? Or is that a straight-up lie? How does an email reply never go through, unless you just never wrote the email or never bothered to press send?

People are honestly so annoying. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

How does it make me feel? Like I don’t want to try to do anything.

 

 

More wildflowers in the Piedmont

A continuation from this post.

First, I found this really nice website that has pictures of flowers. I was able to identify some that weren’t in my book using it.

Partridge pea — this made me really excited. It’s a very beautiful yellow flower, and it has taken over the area where the yellow whorled-leaf coreopsis was earlier blooming. It was so pretty and so profuse that I feared it was invasive; and also it wasn’t in my book. But then I found it online. It is native to this area.

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partridge pea

Asiastic dayflower — from the name, you can kind of tell this flower is really from Asia. So it’s not native. It was nestled in with the partridge pea. The flower blooms for one single day. I didn’t know I was looking at something so fleeting until later. It was not in my book, but it only has two blue petals atop a yellow fuzz, so it was easy to search for.

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I found this string of light purple flowers … and they kind of look like the ‘everlasting pea’, but I don’t think that’s actually it. I saw them two days ago, nestled in among the partridge pea; and today it’s gone!

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Same with these small white flowers spreading out of a bell shape: so pretty, but I’m not sure what they’re called either.

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A cautious online presence for a PhD student?

When I was a Ph.D. student, I got “the talk” quite often from family members, telling me that my online presence was going to be “problematic”. Not because there were pictures of me doing drugs or anything. But because I was writing an opinion column for the Daily Tar Heel (the nation’s finest university paper), and apparently I was saying things I ought not to say. What will my fellow grad students, professors, future employers think if they see some of those articles, I was cautioned?

So I held back a little bit — just a very tiny little, mind you. I thought: as soon as I’m done with school, and I don’t have to worry about what the department chair thinks of me, then I can be totally uncensored. As soon as I don’t have to worry whether if something I wrote online affects whether my dissertation is accepted, whether I get a slot speaking at a conference.

But … that’s not the case! Because as soon as you get your degree, then you want a job … if you’re worried about how your online presence affects your dissertation, then won’t you worry about the impact on your job search? And once you have a job … maybe you’ll eventually want a better job. And on and on. At each stage, there will be people evaluating you and snooping around your online life. When I was in the PhD bubble, I seemed to think that if I could just finish up, I’d be free from all such concerns. But no … they stick around indefinitely. So are you going to stay quiet about things you care about forever? What if other people can learn by the things you write about, or identify with the same experiences? Especially if those experiences have to do with racism or injustice of some type … or just how to navigate a difficult process … are you really going to keep all that bottled up inside you because you fear what future employers and your PhD committee will think? Cause if that’s the case, you’re have to keep it bottled up forever — or at least until retirement — although I’m sure in retirement we can find yet someone else whose disapproval censors what we write online.

Also, as far as I know, those Daily Tar Heel articles never became an issue for anything I ever applied to. I even have some of my favorites posted on this website, and I never ever during a job application process had a lot of people clicking on those links (WordPress tells me if people do). Even if you went onto the page with all my articles on the Daily Tar Heel website … see, I wrote 24 articles in total and a lot of them were very trusting and humble and begging. You’d have to go through all of them to find the angry, vindictive one, and a busy hiring manager doesn’t have time for that.

Also, at this point, I have even more writings online! I have this website and blog; then I have the articles I wrote for WIRED magazine; plus the articles I wrote for the Daily Tar Heel, plus other miscellaneous webpages about this and that and the other. Buried in all this, you’d really need to search to sensitive topics I’ve written about. Most people don’t have time to do that, and I guess they see the nice surface veneer of everything, and would never think anything else is lurking underneath!

So the doomsday predictions never came true. And just to be clear — I was definitely not throwing around racial slurs or anything disgusting in what I was writing about. I was mostly writing about Islamaphobia. And people told me that would cause a problem. Well, you know what? My soul might have died and the respect I have for myself would have died had I not written those things. I’m not saying I was 100% right in everything I wrote. In some cases, I realize that I even think a little differently now. But the idea of having censored myself for fear of what future employers or my PhD colleagues would have thought — it just smacks too much of mercenarial overtones and lack of integrity.

Also, and here I rest my case: Once upon a time a woman at UNC Chapel Hill was enrolled in the Ph.D. program for epidemiology. While writing her dissertation or something, she took a short absence and went on the Bachelor TV show as a contestant! Like, she was wearing pretty and skimpy dresses, and talking about her boyfriend and dating status, in front of the entire nation. She got lots and lots of press. But now she has graduated and is a professor at Duke and has published tons of epidemiological articles and shows up in videos saying very complicated epidemiological things. So if she could go on the Bachelor as a PhD student and still pull through, why should the rest of us be worried?

 

Should you take time off after your PhD?

I took time off after my PhD, and here’s my thoughts on the matter:

1. I was very tired after my PhD concluded. I really wanted to rest. And this felt like a more important consideration than needing to find a job right away for the sake of being able to have a ready, assured answer when people asked, “so … what are you going to do next?”

2. People say that you can’t have gaps in your employment/educational history … but people parroting the conventional wisdom are often wrong, so this seemed pretty safe to ignore. (Except more on this below, avoid this if possible.)

3. I did not want to go into academia (still don’t) so for my personal circumstances, I didn’t need to get on the post-doc job search interview campaign.

4. I could move back in with my parents. The whole “take time off” thing sort of hinges on being able to live rent-free somewhere, I’m afraid. I really am so grateful that I could do that.

5. I got on Obamacare for health insurance. When your income is 0 (or fine, I had the PhD stipend from the first half of the year, but still), then Obamacare is free — at least, here in North Carolina, and as long as you get a Gold Plan. If you have lots of serious health problems, the Gold Plan might not cut it. The next step up, the Silver Plan, would have cost me maybe around a hundred dollars or more a month, I don’t quite remember. Also, I’m not entirely sure, but possibly the prices go up as you get older (Shouldn’t that be illegal?) So yes, this whole take-time-off experiment of mine also hinged on being relatively healthy. And hopefully on not getting in a car wreck or anything like that.

So, since I had the optimal circumstances, I decided that I would indeed take time off. I didn’t want to run around with my head cut off trying desperately to find a job, any job. I luckily was able to delay that stage by a few months (unfortunately, it eventually found me). And I guess I should also add, I applied to about 30 jobs during the last year of my PhD and the summer after. If I’d gotten any of them, I would have taken them. But the point is, I didn’t get any of them, and also, I didn’t really apply for all that many. It was not a super serious job search that demanded I find a job. I was more or less fine not having found a job.

But … I did realize that it wasn’t an option to do absolutely nothing. Also, I didn’t want to do nothing. I wanted, since nothing else was in the offing, to run my Animations with Kids program. I wanted very, very desperately to do it in Sweden, but everyone knows how that turned out. But as long as I was living rent free in rural North Carolina, I could just do it here! So I did. I worked with 170 kids and they made seven animated films about science, and it was great. It was nice, because programs like this usually are exclusive to big cities with the resources, or rich schools. But this was all in rural North Carolina with many poorer neighborhoods among the school catchment areas. It was really, truly doing something that wouldn’t have been done otherwise, and that is a super-great way to take time off after your PhD. See, you’re doing a fun project … and it’s not full time, it’s all very flexible, so you still get to rest … but it still is a lot of work and it is something definite that you’re doing, so now you can write about it on your resume and you don’t have that pesky unemployment gap everyone is always howling about.