Leaving work after 11pm

Tonight I headed back to work after my Swedish class (18-20:30) because I hadn’t finished everything I had planned for the day by 17:25 when I had to walk out of the office to go to class. No problem, I thought, I can just go back and finish up everything and take a later bus. I figured I had about an hour more of work to do. And since it was basically busy work, it wasn’t a problem to do late in the evening but as we had committed to get the work to a collaborator in just a few days I wanted to get it to my PI ASAP.

When I made it back to the science building I was about 21 (9pm). The building was totally deserted. I thought it was a little weird to not see any students studying or working on projects in the main hallways. I know 21:00 is late but when I was a student in science we often met up to work on homework and projects after dinner. As I walked to my office I noticed that I didn’t see a single person. Not only were there no students studying but basically there were no workers walking around the halls. First, the building is set up with many wings that are closed off by security card but the way I walk through the building is past tons of study rooms, the main cafeteria and the main instrument labs, as well as, some research wet labs. This building has over 450 employees and 900 students taking classes in it and I saw not a single person.

After getting to my office I locked myself in and finished up my work. I love being at work really early or really late when there are few people around. In graduate school it was my habit to get to work around 7:20am and my favorite part of the morning was before 8am when I would have a cup of coffee, answer emails, and sing my country music aloud in my office. Even the few times that other students came in early and caught me singing (and maybe dancing) around our 15+person office didn’t damper the fun (and honestly productivity) I achieved during my early mornings alone. Tonight, as I made figures and tables I played my music loudly and sang along. I am sure if there had been anyone on my floor they would have come to investigate. However I didn’t see anyone.

I finished up the work that had to be done on my office computer about 5 min after a bus had left. The next bus wasn’t for a while since they only go twice an hour this late in the evening. I decided to work on a few other things before heading to the bus stop for the next bus.  I walked out of the building a different way than I had come in and still saw no one. Then I walked the 5 min walk to the bus stop (a huge bus interchange) and still saw no one. As I was walking, I started thinking  that maybe this was a cultural thing. In the US, at top universities you would expect to see people working all sorts of hours. You would expect the students to be studying all times of night. Is is really that the students are working and studying less in Sweden or that they are just not doing at work?

In graduate school it drove me crazy when a few people I worked with tried to make comments about the fact that I left work around 18-19 every day, when I had come in to work hours before they had. I felt that staying at work when I had put in a full day and wasn’t working very hard anymore was posturing instead of actually being productive.

One of my commitments for this postdoc was to be organized enough that I could leave work at a reasonable time (17-19) and if I needed to, I could monitor work from home. I have mostly been succeeding at this goal but honestly there have been times that I feel I am not working hard enough. These are feelings I can mostly associate with feeling like I am just not working enough. These are not new feelings for me. In graduate school there were times that I felt I wasn’t being productive enough, time I felt I wasn’t very motivated and so wasn’t giving it my all. Basically I went into almost every meeting with my advisor feeling that I could have done more.

Recently I have been feeling this “not working hard enough” feeling until I stop to analyze if maybe I am not putting in enough time. Last weekend I spent all of my time alternating between work and sleeping. I would work for a few hours and then take a nap, then I would wake up with an idea for work and roll over in bed and start working on my laptop. This kind of work schedule is one I easily fall into but isn’t sustainable or healthy. It is definitely a pattern I would like to minimize. However, no one can say that I haven’t put in lots of time in the last two weeks. So are these feelings of inadequate work real or are they socialized into me via the US Chemistry Ph.D. mentality?

Being an Angry American

Only when you can use it to your advantage.

Today I had to call the tax office about my ID brev (link to last post). My official ID has been sitting in the Malmö office for over a month and I still can’t pick it up. I was supposed to receive a letter in the mail and when I didn’t get it they tried resending the letter. That was over a week ago. Now I still don’t have the letter and thus still don’t have my ID. After calling the tax authority and waiting on hold I spoke to 2 different people about getting my ID. After asking over and over what they could do, they kept saying they would just resend the letter. Finally I said, “ how is this going to be any different than the other two times?”

The employees couldn’t answer my questions or help me get the problem solved so I decided to use my “ugly American”-ness to my advantage and ask to speak to their manager. Imagine…yes we could try this other thing and send a copy of the letter to the local tax office directly. Feeling a little mean and very not Swedish…

Update: less than 5 min later:

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Tax Office Brev

To get my Swedish Tax office ID I need a letter from the Tax office. I paid for the ID and took all the forms and information to get it before the holidays. They told me I would receive 2 letters, one which had my information to go pick up my ID from the tax office and one with some online codes for using their system. I got the code letter (brev) before Christmas but didn’t get the other letter. I have called 2 times to the main tax office but they kept telling me just to wait. Finally I went to the office in Malmö and waited in line for hours to talk to a person.

Yes, my ID is sitting in the office, and has been there since Dec. 28. I did need the letter to get the ID though. So they had the letter resent from Stockholm. *cross fingers* *haller tummarna*

Bowling Take 2

This week for our Thursday social  we went bowling to use our 1 hr free coupons.

While I still think bowling is really boring I did have quite a lot of fun. We had 3 lanes and were all able to bowl 2 complete games. We even ended up using extra coupons and continuing to bowl for a 2nd hour. After bowling we ended up going out to dinner at a Spanish/Mexican food place around the corner. Now I ate Mexican food a total of 5 times when I lived in Chicago (5 years…not counting food I made myself). Once was for a work lunch, and the other two times were to try a few places. However the Mexican food there was neither TexMex nor the type of spicy meat sauces I like from Mexico…it was mostly lightly spiced dry meat in tacos etc. Now none of the food I tried was truly terrible but neither was it really what I wanted and since Mexican is cheap to make at home I stopped eating it at restaurants. This restaurant wasn’t traditional Mexican food or Spanish food but it was well spiced and the meat was cooked well.

We had a fun, really nerdy discussion about the type of video games we all like to play and grew up playing. As the friend of one of the guys’ girl friends said at the bowling alley (they didn’t come to dinner) it was like we were in the episode of The Big Bang Theory. I don’t think she thought this was a compliment.

As we ordered in the resturant the waitress kept responding in Swedish when anyone spoke in english (some of the guys from other european contries dont speak Swedish). So I decided to order in Swedish…I am supposed to be practicing right? The guys were all ordering beers and I asked the waitress “vilken typ av tequila ha du?” to which the waitress looked at me like I was crazy. When I repeated in English “what type of tequila do you have?” she still looked at me like I was crazy. Well apparently most people order liquor off the menu without knowing the brand, all the places we have gone have said: vodka, tequila, ….. The waitress didn’t know what types they had and had to pull out all the bottles and show me. Obviously,since I don’t drink a lot of beer, I will have to get used to the crazy looks as I continue to ask “vilken typ av tequila ha du?” “vilken typ av vodka ha du?” “vilken typ av whiskey ha du?” …

Coffee for Science, Cake for Fun

I have said before one of my favorite things about my new job is the coffee hours. Not only does this mean I never have to make coffee for myself and that I am regulating how much coffee I drink by being lazy but it is also a great built in way for new members of the department to get to know people and it fosters collaboration. It is easy for a student to ask a senior professor something simple as you can ask it casually at coffee hour. As I am not very good at remembering to go to coffee hour I have been setting alarms to remind me to stop working.

However, on Friday afternoon I need no alarm, partially because duh it is Friday but also because I eat a smaller lunch so I can have CAKE!

Today’s coffee hour was perfect, the cakes were wonderful and there were even a few that people had brought back from home to share (i.e., one from St. Petersburg) and there was lots of chocolate. But the best part was that because everyone comes to Friday coffee hour and everyone sits down for a while to eat their cake I got to witness 3 collaborations forming and 2 problems solved by helping each other. There was much catching up…”what have you been up to lately”, “oh I am annoyed ___ isn’t working” etc.

I really like this structured yet informal way to provide both socialization and collaboration. Is there a way this could be implemented in American research groups effectively? I am still pondering the ways…

yes my name is Swedish…now can I ask in English please

Today when I got to work my building card didn’t work. I went to the main chemistry office to ask them what to do since this is where I got my card to start with. When I got there they told me that I needed to talk to my department administrator but I couldn’t get to her since I need my card to get to our offices. After figuring this out and the crazy explanation that the permanent card wasn’t here yet because the office that makes them is closed till Jan 18 for the holidays. However this post is really about my name, while I have never loved my name and have always been envious of those that can make nicknames out of their name I do love the story that my parents wanted to name me Alisa but my Swedish farmor had problems saying it so they changed it to Lisa. However, this means that my name is very Swedish.

I like that my name is Swedish sounding, in fact when I was calling the immigration board to get my visa it was so nice to have people pronounce my last name correctly, not just the baby American way I tell people in the US to say it: “it is like the boys names Fred and Dean smashed together”. When Swedish people say Fredin it sounds lyrical.

While I have been practicing and can talk in Swedish to the grocery store clerks, I don’t speak Swedish well enough to sign any important paperwork in Swedish. Everywhere I go:  the  immigration board, the tax office, the bank, the main chemistry office….after asking if we can speak in English when I hand over my ID they say “oh but you have a very Swedish name”. Yes my father is Swedish, my name is very typically Swedish…could I make major life discussions in English please….

GOAL: be able to sign bank papers in Swedish without clarifying first. Obviously not legalese but something…cashing a check maybe.

Chrismas Eve vs. Christmas Day….

In the US we open our presents on Christmas morning after Santa has come on Christmas eve. However in Sweden the big Christmas celebration is Christmas Eve. After eating a Julbord , presents are opened in the evening. I can see how at first glance this seems better that opening them on Christmas morning because you get them earlier. However I think in the end the Christmas Day model is better. First, you get to open your presents first thing in the morning, no waiting. Second, because you open presents in the morning, you get to play with them or use them all day. Some of my favorite Christmas memories were doing legos and puzzles while watching a movie that my brother or I got for Christmas. Third, there is a better defined time to open presents. By having present opening as “Christmas Eve” it is hard to define when that starts…right after dinner? when the sun goes down? what if you eat dinner in the middle of the afternoon?

Thus I think I will stick with my Christmas morning Christmas celebration and leave Christmas Eve for baking cookies (Scottish shortbread was only made on Christmas Eve in my parents house).

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Merry Christmas to all! (no matter when you celebrate)

Pepparkakshusen

This year my cousin and her husband gave me a coupon for a day of making pepparkakshusen with them. Below is a bunch of pictures from our day of fun, plus the finished products.

A quick rant to get started is that people say gingerbread and pepparkakor are the same. While Google translate might say these are the same to me they are completely different. If you have ever bought the boxes of pepparkakor at IKEA or ANNAS ginger snaps and thought they are way better than other gingerbread cookies, I agree. While these Americanized versions taste more like American ginger bread than any of the family recipes I have used for pepparkakor they still have a special spiciness to them that I love. The key is the ground cloves. If you look at most American gingerbread recipes they don’t have ground clove and if they do it tends to be less than 1 tsp for a batch of a dozen or so cookies. However, my family swedish recipies and the book we used for making pepparkakshusen (http://www.adlibris.com/se/product.aspx?isbn=9179881629) have as much ground cloves as cinnimon and ginger. So have a few pepparkakor this holiday season and appreciate the special spiciness.

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cutting the dough

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baking and cooling the pieces

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PEPPARKAKSHUSEN!!!!

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what do you do with all the rest of the dough?

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pepparkakor och pepparkaksgris

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and even a pepparkakscheese cake

Work Christmas Parties ? Why?

One of the biggest questions I am seeing answered on other blogs this season is about what to wear or what to take or how to act at a work holiday party. While these are all good questions to get answers to (see end of post for some of my favorite links) here I will just touch on my history with work holiday parties. In an academia sense there are a few types of work holiday parties. First there is a research group party, a department party, a school wide party and then even some smaller groups with in the university also have parties (like our juniors bowling party last week: http://wp.me/p2QzcO-3c).

In undergrad I attended the department holiday party and the 2 years I was in a research group I went to the group holiday party, then some of the clubs I was part of had parties. All of these were pretty fun. The department party was sponsored by the department so the food was pretty good. The club parties tended to be pizza but sometimes had a fun activity. The research group I was in at the end of undergrad was really small the first year and it was just a potluck, hang out type party. The second year when we were larger we went to a fancy bowling place for food and bowling (which our boss completely paid for) but as I am not a huge fan of bowling and this happened right before I needed to take all my finals I didn’t stay long.

When I got to graduate school we were officially accepted into our research groups right around thanksgiving so the holiday party was the first big event to get to know your research group in a social setting. I of course attended both groups’ holiday events, the department holiday party, and the graduate school holiday party each year. Now the department party was food, alcohol, and some kind of drawing or raffle with some music and games some of the years. I always dreaded going but it was a good time to catch up with friends in other groups who I didn’t see often and I always ended up having a pretty good time. The graduate school party was often at a nice location (the alumni club right on the lake downtown for 2 of the years) and the food and drinks were good. Since it was free as long as you signed up on time I often combined this with a shopping trip at some downtown stores, plus good free dinner. Finally the two research groups I was in were large (>25 people at all times, up to about 45 in one of them). This makes planning holiday parties more difficult. One of the groups (the larger one) had the tradition of going to a fancy restaurant for dinner. The first few years we had a prefix menu where everyone paid ahead of time and you got 3 courses. This cost about $30-40 per person but I would just budget this into my holiday expenses. Then the group started picking other restaurants and the method for paying became more and more messy. I don’t mind splitting a bill with people but graduate students are cheap and no one would pay their share with out being forced to. Plus splitting a bill with 40 people is just a pain…even when we split between 6-8 at a table it was a pain depending on who you got sat by. The biggest problem I had with this type of party is that you actually didn’t get to meet anyone in your group. You sat by people you commuted to the restaurant with (i.e., the ones you knew) and then you couldn’t move around to talk to other people so you were stuck with the same people for hours. My other research group had a holiday celebration that I enjoyed much more. This event was a whole weekday in Jan or Feb at our boss’s house. We would show up around 9am, have some bagels and coffee and then have a day full of fun science talks. Sometimes they were project ideas that someone had just tried thinking they would never work, sometimes they were talks on how to use a useful tool (I did an in depth end note talk a few years in a row) and sometimes they were talks from group alumni about what they were up to now. Then after  lunch (Chicago pizza) we would go outside and have  snowball fight, build a snowman, or just fool around for a while. After the rest of the talks we returned to campus around 5pm. This structure was nice because it offered multiple hang out times to talk to people. Of course some people sat in one place or talked to only their friends but I was able to use the food and coffee breaks to talk to people about what they were working on and I started 2 different collaborations at these events. As an added bonus this event being in Jan removed it from the stress of the rest of the holiday season.

As I have explained before I have a go to the holiday party even if you don’t feel like it policy so when the sign up sheet for the holiday party went up in the coffee room, I signed up. Then when I learned from a discussion by others at lunch that we had to bring food…I said I would bring cookies. No one corrected me so when I saw the sign up sheet for the food and the only options were traditional food for the Julbord I was a little miffed. After deciding I could cook meat balls (I make Swedish meatballs often to eat myself) I realized the problem that the party was a Monday after work. How was I going to bring warm meatballs to the office then? Were they going to be able to heat them up? what was the plan? I kept asking these questions of the guys I eat lunch with and never really got any answers so I decided to cook my meat balls at my apartment on Monday afternoon and take them straight to the party. Of course they wouldn’t be hot but at least they should be warm. Turns out they had decided on a way to reheat the food onsite (sorta) and the schedule was much more complicated that I knew.

First there was a talk which I had never seen on the schedule, then everyone went upstairs for dinner. Dinner was a Julbord buffet that was a mix of all the food people had brought. There was a lot of food but also a lot of people so the organization of where the food was, what was hot and when people should get in line wasn’t great. After the dinner started there were signing groups, drinking songs, and a trivia game during and after eating. After all of this they announced a treasure hunt. Since the party had already lasted for 3 hrs and I had planned to do some work before I went to bed, I snuck out to head home.

What I learned is that scheduling a holiday party is always difficult and there is probably no good way but just like with any social event making it cheaper for the planning group just puts the costs off onto the guests, either in actually money, time, or inconvenience. A good party balances these costs and work parties are always a mess.

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Holiday Party Attire Links

Festive Attire (That Won’t Make You Cringe) – Sociology of Style

Things That Make You Sparkle – Sociology of Style

5 Outfits of Christmas – Sociology of Style

Casual Party Attire – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Party Looks – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Red Pants – Capital Hill Style

Some Good Coworker or Friend Gift Links

Holiday Hot Coco – Capital Hill Style

Gifts for Co-Workers – Capital Hill Style

May your work holiday parties be classy and at least not boring 🙂

Bowling and Christmas Table (Julbord)

Bowling…why is bowling a group activity? I don’t understand why people want to go bowling or skating in groups. I don’t find either of these activities particularly fun but I will suck it up and go when the group is going. The “juniors” in the department announced that it was a holiday tradition to go to a bowling place in the city and then eat at their attached restaurant with a traditional julbord.

So what is Julbord? It is the traditional Swedish Christmas dinner. From listening to the guys at work discussing it and seeing all the adverts for different locations posted all over the city (at bus stops) it seems like it is pretty popular for groups to go out to have a Julbord for holiday parties. Julbord consists of a large buffet with many types of sil (pickled herring), smoked salmon, eggs and then a large selection of cold cuts of ham, and salami, cooked potatoes, and meatballs. Obviously it is easier to go out for this kind of meal to get a larger variety in each type of food than if you are buying them for just your family at home. The place we were headed to for work was supposed to have 40+ types of sil (not that I was excited as I don’t like it but hey).

I am all for doing some traditional Swedish activities but the price for bowling and the Julbord is my weekly budget for food (most often it is what I spend for a week and a half for longer). OK well I have the policy that you do whatever the group culture is for the holiday parties so I sucked it up and went. On the bus ride to the city others in the group were complaining that more girls in the department didn’t come for bowling. I wanted to explain to them how much this cost vs. the benefit was not worth it so that was probably why.

When we got to the bowling we had to pay to check our coats (really?) and after changing our shoes, which is the first thing I hate about bowling…the ugly, uncomfortably flat, smelly shoes, we split up and went to the bowling lanes. I have always thought that group activities like bowling and skating our really divisive since you end up dividing into groups and especially with bowling it is not easy to change groups and mix with different groups of people. Our group was spread out over 3 different lanes and it was hard to talk to anyone at the other lanes as you felt like you weren’t paying attention to your lane or they were always calling you for your turn. We had paid for 1 hr of bowling. I did OK the first game (I am not horrible at bowling…this isn’t why I hate it), then I got bored and stopped paying attention to my turn 🙂

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After we finished bowling we headed up to the Julbord. While the food was fine it definitely wasn’t worth the amount we spent on it. I am not sure why most gradschool guys have decided that buffets are a good value. I wish they would actually figure out how much they pay for the meal vs. how much they eat and that for 90% of people it is a really bad deal. I almost always pay 2x as much for food that is not as good as a plated meal when I go to a buffet. I guess if you eat a lot a lot it could possibly be worth it but seriously you shouldn’t be eating that much of the kind of food that is available in buffet form. We did get free hour of bowling coupons so hey we get to this again in January, score.

Honestly the best part of this whole night was my 25 min walk home to my apartment through the snow covered city. I decided not to wait for the bus and instead wondered home with fun music blasting in my headphones :). I had so much fun wondering home and looking at all the fun old buildings plus I love the sound of a city at night in winter.