Monday, November 26, 2007

Brass tacks: Will I stay or will I go?

While I've been running around the world, some assorted US travel, then my postdoc-specific conference abroad, then for visiting my postdoc and some friends, picking up the flu on my 10 hour plane flight back to the US, spending Thanksgiving with my family, and preparing for my dissertation defense (this week!), time has been passing, and the time to decide whether I'm taking the postdoc abroad has crept up.

After so much running around, it's really tempting to decide that I just want to stay in one place because geez I don't want to move around anymore, and be done with it, but being more systematic would be helpful, so the old-fashioned pro-con method:

Advantages of my current position:

1. This project is exciting but not interesting, but other research projects are really interesting: huge range of projects after this short-term one, many points of overlap with my past research; some research topics unique to here, on something I've always wanted to look at and never had the chance.

2. He is well-funded: i.e., (a) can stay as long as I want; (b) continued collaboration after I leave is possible; (c) adequate resources necessary for research; (d) hopefully I'll learn to apply for grants and develop my own relationships with these funders; (e) pay is ~15% higher than other postdocs I've seen; (f) I have my own office with a window for the first time ever; (f) the printers here work well (clearly the most important feature in any postdoc!).

3. Starting to like some parts of the city: I'm close to my parents and some extended family, I like my roommate (also a postdoc, who I've known for awhile before this, with an inspirational work ethic), the guy I've been dating, my apartment, and some of the entertaining things around the city. I admit, the guy is the main thing which turned my attitude around; it's very lonely to be in a new place.


1. Not much connection with others: seminars in the department are only about monthly; there are weekly seminars elsewhere which are geographically far away so hard to attend; haven't met many people, partly my fault for not knocking on random people's doors to say hi, but partly I'm surprised that's necessary to meet people. Rephrasing: I have to work much harder here to connect with others, compared with a place with more frequent seminars and related departments closer together.

2. One of the major parts of being a postdoc is finding a mentor, and I would have to work very hard to find one here.

3. Dislike some parts of the city: weather, culture/community feel, not many other academics around, commute, not sure I'll end up making more friends beyond the people I already know from academic settings and places I've lived before.

Advantages of new position:

1. I'd really like to live there, both for the general opportunity to live abroad, and to specifically live there, before taking a permanent position and feeling tied down to one place. I would not go so far as to say that my life would feel forever empty if I didn't go abroad, but I do sometimes long to be abroad. The more cynical side of me says that if I can't be fantastic in my field, at least I can be personally interesting! But truly it's great to be there, and when I visited I realized how much I missed it.

2. One of the advisors seems like she'd be a fantastic mentor, and she seems really to care about working with me and helping my career. My grad school advisors were always very hands-off, reading drafts on completion, meeting no more frequently than monthly, and I've thought it might be a good idea to have a closer advising relationship before moving on in my career.


1. Research is more uncertain: they have some good projects going, but I don't know a great deal about them and there will definitely need to be some negotiation. Likely, some projects will be helpful for my career and others will require some assertiveness on my part to make sure I only do work which is helpful for my career rather than a general feeling of gratitude to the postdoc advisor.

2. Difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to travel for interviews, on a salary which cannot support a great deal of extra expense. Especially if there's a second body involved by this point. The extra coordination involved could make it hard to get a good permanent job straight-away.

3. It's emotionally difficult to move halfway around the world, and then leave again. My family is afraid I'll move and stay there. I know many people do stay longer than they intend.

As complicated at the decision is, it's reassuring to look at these reasons and conclude that's the sum of it.

No decision yet, but I feel good to have laid out the issues.

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