Monthly Archives: July 2009

Colleagues or friends?

As I prepare to start a new chapter in my life, I have been reflecting a lot on the last four years I’ve spent at my current job. I’ve gained a lot of new experiences, got the opportunity to serve on several committees, learned a lot of different writing styles…but most valuable of all, I have made lifelong friends.

I’ve found people, no matter what their status in the hierarchy, have genuinely loved and supported me. They’ve bent over backwards to help me and have always looked out for me. A smile here, a hug there, a word of concern, a nod of approval — they’ve been my family.

I feel blessed to have known such generous, warm and affectionate people to spend eight hours with every day. It’s felt like home.

People say work environment isn’t that big of a deal, but I say it’s one of the most important factors when looking for a job. It’s true, you aren’t going to make friends with everyone, but where there’s professional respect, personal camaraderie will soon follow.

If you don’t have this kind of work environment, here are a few simple steps you can take to change it:

  • Be a teamplayer.
  • Grow and let grow.
  • Take initiative but don’t step on people’s toes.
  • Always be professional.
  • Be conscientious.
  • Be genuine.
  • Be respectful.
  • Don’t just say you care — mean it.

To borrow a much quoted phrase: be the change you want to see.  It won’t happen overnight, but if you’re patient, you’ll soon see people smiling when they see you.

Love the job you do and the people you’re with — there isn’t another fool-proof recipe to making the 9-6 routine an absolute treat.

Here’s a shoutout to all you folks who’ve made the last four years of my life truly enjoyable and memorable. I will miss you!

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Three blogging questions: Why? What? When?

I think we’re way past the time when blogging was becoming a rage and just about anyone who had any Web savviness to boast of was already on the bandwagon. In this age of “micro-blogging” a.k.a. 140-character tweets and myriad social networks, what is the relevance of blogging?

Well, here are my top three reasons to blog:

  • I have something substantive to share that can’t be encapsulated in 140-character tweets or 500-character Facebook messages.
  • I want to be part of an online community of engaged people who want to discuss and debate, ponder and elaborate, read and update…
  • It’s my “me” time — in an age when all of us are so time-pressed and cater to multiple demands of family and professional life, it’s very hard to set aside time to think, evaluate, and question…life becomes a steady stream of activities with no time to pause and reflect. Blogging allows me that break.

What to blog about was not an easy decision — there are tons of experts generating unique, useful material online but what is it that I can offer? Where’s my niche? What’s my specialty? What am I passionate about? What interests me? It boiled down to writing about things I know from my life experiences that others can benefit from, interspersed with commentary on things I’ve read that left an impression on me.

When to blog? For some people, it’s got to be every day (especially those posting newsy items or other timely informational content), for others it’s a weekly post. I decided to remain free of those confines. Not because I don’t like a regimented routine, but because I have to have something meaningful to contribute. Splendid ideas don’t come to me in 24-hour bursts.

So, if you’re new to blogging, or contemplating having an online presence that goes beyond @ prefixes, figure out the why, what and when and then Just Do It!

Also, read the 16 Misconceptions About ‘Serious’ Blogging before you get started.

Update: My blog schedule has changed since I wrote this post. Now I write every day except weekends.

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Laying the groundwork

It is amazing how much pity I’ve garnered in the last three decades just by virtue of being an only child. From relatives to friends and acquaintances everyone has given me a fair share of sympathetic support. It has been endearing while at the same time amusing to be the object of affection of such an assortment of people over the years. My parents, however, have never been a part of this pampering brigade and it is because of them that I am a self-reliant, responsible, independent and gregarious young woman today.

As much as I owe my parents, I have to give a major share of the credit to my teachers at La Martiniere Girls’ College, my second home for 14 years. My mentors were always there to provide educational guidance and emotional support. They made sure that all of us excelled academically while grooming us to become athletically robust and aesthetically sound. Making career choices while in school is never easy. My teachers’ guidance and my own interests led me to pursue science in high school — what attracted me most was its systematic and factual approach. This knowledge area helped me build an analytical, logical and evaluative bent of mind and, I think, in some ways a stronger heart (dissections were a nightmare!). I am also proud to say that school helped me blossom as a debater, an elocutionist, an athlete and a painter.

I was 16 when my poems and short essays started getting published in various magazines and newspapers. Fueled by my teachers’ words of encouragement I wrote many thought-provoking pieces — not the norm for teenagers, especially not for Bollywood-besotted females in those times. These became a regular feature of the school and, later, college magazine. UNICEF awarded me a prize in 1994 for a poem on the sexual exploitation of little girls in India. Impressed by my inclination towards social causes, All India Radio, Lucknow, invited me to recite some of my poems on a regular basis on their weekly youth program, Yuv Vani.

My scholarly interests, coupled with my active extra curricular life, perhaps, influenced my election as a prefect in the last year at school. The responsibilities I was entrusted with were many; the upshots manifold. It definitely resulted in my emerging as a more confident college sophomore.

College was an eye opener for more reasons than one. After more than a decade of following a particular dress code and adhering religiously to disciplinary rules under the strict supervision of non-indulgent teachers, I stepped into a world where rules were meant to be broken, not followed. It was hard to maintain a studious composure in the midst of all the fun and frolic. I, however, managed to maintain my good academic record and decided to major in psychology and economics, with English as a minor for my B.A.

Interestingly, Freud and Jung’s contributions in explaining the complexities of the human brain, and consequently those of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious levels of the human psyche, have influenced my interactions and my writing style. The study of economics, on the other hand, proved to be a monetarily gratifying experience. The class on budgeting was perhaps more interesting than studying the dynamics of the macro and micro approaches, mainly because it taught me how to plan a monthly budget for myself (which is essential to do when your pocket money is $2 a month)!

A valuable lesson I learned in college was that education could not be restricted to the four walls of a classroom. My final year project on the need for achievement in Indian women was an attempt to translate theoretical knowledge into a practical handbook. My writing abilities, psychological inferences and knowledge of economics helped me research and document my findings. My diligence and interest in my field of study resulted in my obtaining a distinction in psychology. The same year I received a certificate for scoring the highest overall marks in B.A.

Next, I found myself working…first as a freelancer and then as a full time writer and copy editor. And in 2002, I arrived in Iowa City to get my master’s in journalism. Read more about why getting a master’s degree is worth it over here.

As I look back, I realize what a critical role the experiences at school and college played in my life. Had it not been for the encouragement I received from my biology teacher in class 11, I wouldn’t have pursued writing seriously…I would’ve probably tried becoming a doctor and failed miserably. Everyone told me I had the brains to become a lawyer, an IAS (Indian Administrative Services) officer, an engineer or anything I wanted, but I chose to be a writer.  It doesn’t pay as much as all the other “choices” I had, but it’s satisfying. It’s where my passion lies. It’s what challenges, motivates and inspires me. Had I not had those teachers or those experiences, who knows how I would have utilized (or underutilized) my “talent.”

Even though it should be a right for all, education is still a privilege for a majority of the people in the world. The takeaway lesson? Be thankful that you’re one of the privileged and make the best use of what you’ve learned…the paths you choose in the future have a grounding in your past.

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What is the most popular source of information for you?

Poll: What is the most popular source of information for you?

Click on one of the hyperlinks below to reflect your choice

1) Online social media sites (examples: Twitter, Facebook)
2) News sites (examples: CNN.com, Huffingtonpost.com)
3) Newspapers
4) Television
5) Friends/colleagues

If the most popular source of information for you is not listed above, please add it in the comments field. Thanks!

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Protected: An ode to my best friend

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Why get a master’s degree?

I’ve had this discussion quite a few times with a close friend, always seemingly failing to convince her that it’s not an effort in vain and it’s certainly not a waste of time.

Yesterday, The New York Times published a debate showcasing viewpoints from experts in the industry and academia on what a master’s degree is worth and, although, I can understand their focus being a simple return on investment, I think a master’s degree is not just about getting a higher salary. What I learned during my two years as a master’s professional candidate at The University of Iowa helped me become a better journalist. And, perhaps, a better person.

For me, it was a process of personal awakening. Here’s an excerpt from my master’s thesis:

This project represents much more than my ticket to graduate from The University of Iowa, although that might be counted as one of the goals. This project traces my own quest to overcome my fears of disability. I ventured into this project laden with assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices. As I waded through texts on disability studies, I began to realize the complexity and depth of the issues involved. But it was meeting and talking with people that brought the issues to life. Books analyzed the schism between the worlds of the disabled and the non-disabled; human beings illustrated that divide – and also showed me how it could be crossed. Although I still haven’t overcome my deep-rooted fear of confronting disability in myself or a loved one some day, I have come to appreciate and understand that disabled people have lives whose quality should not be judged by those of us who have never experienced disability first-hand. It was not easy to open up to those I regarded at least subconsciously as lesser than me because of their disabilities and my so-called abilities. But by the end of the process, they had helped me learn more about myself than I ever imagined.

As a master’s student you are afforded the privilege to learn, not by rote, but by stretching your mind. You exercise your brain muscles, you learn rigorous research skills, you care about the subjects you choose, you exhibit focused interest and you’re exposed to a lot more intellectual debating that you probably never had time for, or cared about, as an undergrad.  You also get more time with professors, aligning your interests with theirs, making it more of a symbiotic relationship than one where you’re just absorbing like a sponge and spitting out learned material.

You discover yourself. You find out your strengths and weaknesses and you get a chance to polish the former while eliminating, to whatever extent possible, the latter. And when you step out into the world, you know better.

When I applied for my first job right out of grad school, I wasn’t considered a fresher. Those two years of my life accounted for valid “professional experience.” And people value that, no matter which industry you’re in. Down the line, you’ll see how many people are impressed by the fact that you have a master’s degree — why? Because not many people do. (Almost) Everyone gets a bachelor’s these days…that’s basic. What you have to offer a prospective employer is something more.

You were passionate enough about a subject to set aside the time to explore it further; you went through extra academic trials; you persevered for something you have a demonstrated interest in; and you thrived. A master’s degree on your resume reflects a lot of who you are.

At the end of the day, if it gets you a higher-paying job or that coveted promotion, great! But know, that that is not the real reason why you pursue graduate education. You do it because you love learning, you want to grow, you’re inquisitive and you’re committed. It’s because you want to grow personally and professionally. It’s because you care.



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