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Pauline Lerner

Novel Paradigm

February 3, 2007 at 8:10 AM


I’ve been told that I’m a Novel Paradigm.

This week I started a day job, which will last for a few months, and it’s quite a change in lifestyle. My official title is Quality Assurance Case Manager, but the title in the job ad, science writer/editor, is more informative. I’m working at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, strangely enough, as a scientist in an HR office. This is a new role (novel paradigm). NIH employs thousands of scientists who collectively engender, at a reasonable estimate, millions of HR documents per year. All these documents are read and evaluated by personnel and administrative people, and many are peer reviewed by scientists. It makes sense to have a scientist like me helping to write and edit these documents, and that’s where I fit in.

I had some performance anxiety before I started. Years ago, I worked as a government bureaucrat, and I wasn’t sure that I could do it again. Working as a violin teacher with occasional gigs as a science writer/editor is very, very different. Now I have a 9-to-5 lifestyle. I have to commute to and from the office. I have to understand and fit into the organizational structure. I have to deal with the layers of bureaucracy. The big surprise is that it’s not as hard as I had feared. I’m even learning the latest bureaucratic jargon pretty well.

I want to continue teaching as many of my students as possible, and that means major rescheduling. I’m essentially working two jobs now, and I have very little free time. My practice time has been drastically reduced. My practice log tells a sad story. I made a written schedule for myself for this week, and, in one small block, I wrote “ME.”

So far, my biggest problem at work has been getting lost. The buildings are huge and sprawling. Different wings and floors have been built at different times, and I sometimes feel like a rat in a maze. The campus, too, is big and sprawling. On my first day, when I went a short distance to another building to get my badge (ID card), my boss had someone accompany me. That was an act of kindness. My guide left me to do her own work, and, after getting fingerprinted, photographed, and “badged,” I had to find my way back myself. When I returned to my office, I found my boss and several of my coworkers huddled together and waiting for me anxiously. They told me that people sometimes get lost for hours. I’m building my skills now. I’ve learned landmarks like the sign that says “Entrance Closed During East Redundancy Loop Construction” and the entrance to the morgue.

I have finished my first week and survived. TGIF! Only one problem: I have to work this weekend.

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