Sunday, June 12, 2005

Adventures in Interviewing

It seems that on any interview trip, there must be some sort of strange transportation-related snafu. I had promised more exciting dispatches on Friday, but I ended up spending the day sleeping and recovering from my trip. As it turned out, the plane from Westchester County Airport left several hours late because they were not allowing planes to leave for a few hours and then when they did allow planes to leave, it was restricted to one every nine minutes. We were ninth in line, so 81 minutes later, we took off for Chicago-O'Hare. We landed there about ten minutes before my flight to Champaign (the last one of the evening) was to leave, so I missed that flight. But I managed to wrangle some ground transportation from the airline, a regularly-scheduled shuttle that comes every three hours to the airport, and was to arrive at midnight. Unfortunately, the midnight shuttle was full, so I had to wait until 3 a.m. to take the next one. I went through all my kata five times as I waited for the shuttle, because it was imperative to keep myself awake somehow. Once in the shuttle, I fell asleep almost immediately, which is rare for me because I have trouble sleeping in a vehicle. I got home at about 6 a.m. on Friday morning, and spent the morning sleeping and the afternoon getting my checked luggage from the airport and generally trying to stay awake.

Anyhow, I think that overall, the interview went pretty well. I am glad that the transportation woes occurred at the end of the trip rather than the beginning. I flew to Westchester County Airport via Chicago-O'Hare on Tuesday night. As we landed, I saw the beautiful rolling hills, full of trees, and it reminded me of Kentucky, although a very pristine Kentucky without cars on blocks and burned-out houses. Westchester County Airport is not much bigger than the airport here. I noticed as we were taxiing towards the gate a whole hangar full of planes belonging to IBM. Something tells me that even if I get a job there, riding on those planes will not be one of the perks. I managed to find my hotel without much trouble, and checked in. The only problem was that they assigned me the room that was the farthest away from the lobby, and the card key didn't work and I had to march all the way to the front desk and back to get a new one.

IBM Watson Research Center is on a beautiful campus. The building itself was designed by the famous architect Eero Saarinen, and it has some interesting architect-designed features, such as the lobby furniture and some of the office furniture in the older offices, and dark, uneven stone in certain places on the floor. (I avoided those areas if possible, because I didn't want to increase the likelihood of twisting my ankle.) The building is kind of banana-shaped, and the two long sides of the banana are windows and the hallways. It's great because as you walk along you have this view of the tree-covered hills, but it means that no office, not even the president's office, has a window. It was designed in an era when dark wood was in. The cafeteria has very dark wooden tables and the walls are dark too. It's really beautiful if you appreciate the styles of that era. Another interesting feature is that there are restrooms in every stairwell. There are corridors perpendicular to the sides of the banana, down which the offices are located. The office corridors are indistinguishable except that they are numbered and the inhabitants are listed.

I met with my host on Wednesday morning, and then with one of the people I'd met in Stockholm after that. At 11:00 I gave my seminar, which I think went pretty well. One problem is that I usually start off a bit weak, but as I speak I begin to warm up, and then I end up pretty strong. I was taken to lunch in the IBM cafeteria by a student intern and the second man I'd met with. I had a good salad, some yogurt, and an ice cream bar. I met with a bunch of people throughout the course of the day. They all blur together, except the one appointment at the end of the day which I was dreading, with a real geophysicist. I'm not a geophysicist so I'm always afraid that a real geophysicist will discover some sort of flaw in my scheme. But he did not seem to. He was very interesting and I had a great time talking to him.

In the evening, my host, his wife, the geophysicist, and the guy I'd met in Stockholm took me out to dinner at a restaurant in New York City. I drove my rental car to my host's house, and he and his wife drove us into the city. This was pretty exciting because I'd never actually been to NYC before. I felt really out of my league and like a total country bumpkin, but I tried not to show it. It began when I opened the menu and didn't understand what it said, even though it was all in English. But the waiter described one of the specials, which struck my fancy, so I ordered it. My host also ordered some appetizers, some of which I understood, and some of which I didn't. The one I did understand was portabella mushrooms with tomatoes and cheese on top, which was very good, tastier than when I make it. We also got something with octopus, which tasted good but was a bit chewy; something with scallops, which was also very tasty and had polenta; and some crabs that had been breaded and fried. I was worried about that because you could see their little legs and everything, and I had no idea how to eat them. But I just watched what everyone else did. These crabs were soft-shelled crabs, so you could just cut them up and eat the whole thing.

They also ordered some wine to go with the dinner, but I did not partake. I don't like to drink; for one thing it's empty calories that I would rather spend on something delicious like dessert, and for another, I figured I needed all the sobriety I could get if I expected to find my way back to my hotel from my host's house. I tried to graciously decline, but people get kind of embarrassed if they are drinking when you're not. I made some jokes about the empty calories and the fact that I'd lost a lot of weight and was trying to keep it off. That seemed to work.

My entree was a fish that had been encased in salt and baked in the oven. The chef himself came out and disassembled it for me. First he removed the thick layer of salt. The salt was brown on the outside, and at least an inch thick. Then he removed the skin from the fish, and took out all the meat from the inside and put it on my plate. Finally he put some olive oil on it and squeezed a lemon over it. A waiter came and ground some pepper over it, too. It was served with spinach, which is what had finalized my decision about getting that entree. I thought that the fish was pretty good. I was actually not the only person who ordered that entree at the table, and everyone else was raving about how great it was. Don't get me wrong, I thought it was delicious, but I felt like a phillistine because I didn't really get what they were making all the fuss about. It was definitely good and I savored every bite.

For dessert I had warm, flourless chocolate cake, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. There was also this brown twig coming out of the ice cream. I wasn't sure what it was, and unfortunately I was the only person with this dessert, so I didn't eat it. But the cake was delicious. It had been drizzled with raspberry sauce, which made a nice contrast. And the cake wasn't too sweet, either. Perhaps I am more of a dessert connoisseur than an entree connoisseur, because I definitely appreciated the high quality of the dessert. If the fish was as good as the cake, then I can see what they were raving about.

I got back to my hotel at about 11 p.m. I called and talked to my husband about my day and the evening's culinary experience before heading for bed. I woke up the next morning and packed my bags and got ready for the next day of interviews. I met with many people and once again they all blur together, except that one of my interviewers had an emergency at home and interviewed me over the phone from home. At the end I talked with my host. I figured I had nothing to hide so I told him that if they made me an offer, I would probably accept. I was really impressed with the people and the work environment and I think I would fit in well. He said that they were interviewing three people, and I was the second. He also said that it was going to come down to a match between me and people with funding. I could be the best candidate in the world, but if the funding's not there for what I want to work on, I won't be the person they choose. I said I understood, and I also mentioned that the job search is kind of like dating, and there has to be a mutual match, and I hoped that their enthusiasm for me matched my enthusiasm for them, but if not, I'd appreciate being told as soon as possible if the answer is no. He assured me that if that was the case, they wouldn't string me along, and he also said that if I got an offer from someplace else before I heard from them, to let him know. I said I definitely would, because I'd rather work there than anyplace else. So I think we had an honest discussion about what was going to happen.

I made my way back to the airport, but I had a hard time finding a gas station to refill the car. Eventually I found one and made my way to the airport. Once I got past security, I realized that there were people packed into the waiting area of the airport like sardines. I found the restroom, which was blissfully uncrowded, and changed from my purple silk suit into more comfortable clothing (and, more importantly, more comfortable shoes). Then I found a wall and sat down next to it as I waited for my flight. You know what happened next because I've already told you.

It turns out that either I'm no longer allergic to silk, or I didn't wear that suit long enough for it to affect me, because I had no rash from it. True, it was lined in a different fabric, but there was no lining at the very ends of the sleeves or the skirt. My feet were cramping a lot from two days in heels, but I think they have recovered, just in time for me to wear heels again on Tuesday. And the menstruation gods were on my side this time. I had killer cramps all last night and I'm still suffering from them now, but that's a whole lot better than suffering from them tomorrow or the next day.

I'm leaving bright and early tomorrow morning for Oak Ridge. Hopefully my chronicles will resume again on Wednesday, although I make no promises. Chances are, however, that I will experience a different type of transportation-related snafu if I experience one on this trip!

1 comment:

Laura said...

Sounds like it went really well, Bec. Good job! I hope you get the job there too. And wow, a purple silk suit? I want to see a picture. :-)