Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A confession: how I got my current postdoc, and what I think of it currently

I have a small confession: I haven't been entirely honest with you, dear reader. (That's in the singular because I have no proof that I have more than one reader.) I had wanted to be vague for anonymity reasons, especially since I intended to cover more general issues, but now I really want to puzzle something specific out, so here I present the real story.

Back last year at the beginning of the job market, I applied for a postdoc abroad. I would not normally apply outside the US, but I had my reasons at the time. In order to get this postdoc, I had to find sponsors, spent literally two months sending emails around the relevant schools, and finally dug up two sponsors with interesting research opportunities relevant to my past research. I wrote a proposal, they and their school wrote letters of support, and the whole application entered the vast bureaucracy. My reasons for applying for the postdoc became no longer relevant, it looked like I had other jobs lined up, and I forgot about the postdoc abroad. Around the time that I was discovering that it was a bad idea to accept a position with teaching that I'd been offerred and was on the verge of accepting, and that things were otherwise not going as expected, I got an acceptance to this postdoc program abroad.

The idea of living abroad was exciting, and I felt like I was definitely ready for a change like that. At the same time, I had a few reasons against accepting it:

  1. Searching for a job from abroad is a big pain.
  2. It's recommended to keep American health insurance while abroad in addition to foreign health insurance, which can be expensive on a foreign postdoc salary.
  3. A letter from foreign people may not mean as much, and I might end up out of the US network.
  4. The logistics were a bit daunting given how much else I wanted to accomplish at the time.

Suddenly, I got an offer for the postdoc here which would let me do whatever I wanted. Right after my visit to that postdoc, I got increasingly urgent emails from the postdoc abroad asking whether I was going to take it. I decided I liked the postdoc abroad better than the other, so accepted the postdoc abroad and turned down the other. My current postdoc still hadn't entered the picture.

My current postdoc entered the picture when I spoke to the guy running this project while interviewing for the other postdoc here. He told me he had a few month long project, which would pay a lot, and let me travel a lot. Taking the short postdoc in addition to the postdoc abroad seemed to answer some of my problems. So I accepted the short postdoc, and told the postdoc abroad I would be delayed.

The short postdoc deteriorated. Money was reduced to 50% of that promised. Travel was reduced to 30% of that promised, and just today to 15% of that promised. Duration of the project has nearly tripled. And I'm doing work that at any other school you would give to an undergraduate research assistant, and the guy I'm working for comes to his office less than every two weeks, so I haven't seen him for a month and don't have any other co-workers on the project.

The one part of the postdoc which interested me consistently was the travel, and now the most interesting part of the travel has been cancelled. One major reason remains for me to stay with the project: I said I would.

Phrased in stark terms: I can keep a promise or I can make a good career decision.

Fortunately, that's horribly over-simplified.

Another post will detail the dilemma. Which is a post that I will write primarily for my own interest, not anyone else's.

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