Last year, I waited to decide whom I was interested in until I found out who was interested in me. As we know in dating, knowing others' interest changes your perception: the Heisenberg Principle of Dating, if Heisenberg had been an "older single." Someone who seems too interested seems fishy, and someone who turns you down suddenly occupies your thoughts, even if you hadn't thought much of them.
To avoid such conundrums, I am going to think about which postdocs I like before I find out whether they like me. There are five, and one of my recent interviewers seemed to imply that they would make me an offer as early as early this coming week, so I want to make up my mind about what I think of them before I get an answer.
Before I talk about the individual postdocs, I want to formulate what I am looking for in a postdoc.
1. Professional development: I want to feel confident in my ability to write grants, and submit a small federal grant application during the postdoc. I really have no idea what I'm doing here, and need to learn before I can get a faculty job.
2. Work habit socialization: I feel okay about my ability to write and publish papers. If I continued just as I have, with no outside help, I'm sure I could have a respectable career. My work habits are substandard, and I have spent far too much time on youtube and facebook and wikipedia and everywhere else.
3. Mentorship. I feel slightly divided on this one. Mentorship is always helpful, but it has to be the right kind. Taking on a new advisor is always risky because some apparently act as though they own your time. On the other hand, these types of advisors may be more helpful in finding jobs for their students. Since I've become used to a more hands-off model, I suppose I would err on the side of hands-off, but ideally it would be someone who is around that I can stop by if I need to. The most tricky part.
4. Viable research direction: Based on my past experience, I have really good research ideas, but I don't have a coherent vision of a research agenda which is simultaneously sufficiently focused to be manageable and yet broad enough to be important, and which is fundable and has good academic opportunities. Because of my field, I have a fair amount of flexibility in finding direction like this.
5. Smart peers with similar interests whom I can learn from, both topically and methodologically. I don't want to be the most methodologically sophisticated person in my department; I want to learn from others.
6. Research community: Seminars and other signs of an active research community to keep up with the research, both topically and methodologically.
7. Personal life: A city where I could have a viable personal life and meet smart people to befriend and date.
8. Health factors: Easy to get good produce, exercise, sunshine, breathing room, etc. People seem happy. Money is a factor here, of course, because it would be very hard to live in expensive cities on a postdoc salary, while others are very comfortable on a postdoc salary.
9. Next step: Postdoc is prestigious and well-directed enough that the next steps are both clear and attainable. Ideally, postdoc is open-ended enough that if the market were not great one year, I could stay another year to go on the market.
10. Likeability. I want to feel comfortable with and like the people in the department.
Those are my criteria. The next post will discuss how each postdoc measures up.