Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Making the decision, part 1

I should be making decisions now, but instead I'm waiting on tenterhooks. Here's the score:

I'm waiting for:
- Tenure-track offer, which will let me know in 2-3 weeks
- 3 more postdoc replies.

My current options:

1. Fantastic school in a terrible city needs a reply this week.

2. Unfriendly school in a great city needs a reply next week. Previously, this was an almost-offer.

I suppose that I might be able to keep my current position, if they don't hate me for having spent the entire year working on my dissertation and traveling for the job market. I owe them lots of work. (Hence the sugar water in my last post.)


Fantastic school has been really accommodating and patient. I've held the offer for 6 weeks, partly because I'd been told at the faculty interview that they'd have a decision in 2-3 weeks (i.e., last week or this week), and now the decision is expected 2-3 weeks from now. Then, as I was about to accept at the deadline they gave me, the postdoc turned out only to be for one year and it was 2 weeks before they found time to speak with me to clarify. By the time that I spoke with them, they decided to offer me a second year if I needed, provided I met the predefined expectations. The training grant is only about 5 years old, and most of their past postdocs were coming from a different field where they can apparently get faculty jobs after a year of postdoc.

(1) They clearly want me.
(2) While they're very busy they do make time for me and have been accommodating.
(3) It's a great school with a lot going on, much better than my grad school (which was also good).
(4) They're by far the best mentoring opportunity. I'd be the only postdoc, and they clearly are invested in my academic future. I feel like I've missed out on mentoring during grad school. Although they're busy, perhaps I can piece together different people's time.
(5) There are enough people around that I can get to know many of them. They're the leaders in the field, I could have a good shot at connecting with them.
(6) It's my only way to continue with the research I'd done as a grad student which is interesting even to non-specialists.
(7) People seem friendly, in general. Somehow I have the feeling that I could make friendly more easily there than at other universities, and in other cities.

(1) When the faculty are around they are terrific, but they are more busy and difficult to locate than anywhere else I've been.
(2) Obviously not everyone is friendly. I had a great email exchange with one faculty member, but when we actually spoke on the phone yesterday, he seemed to be making fun of my ideas.
(3) The late-breaking details make me wary, especially given (1), and more are bound to emerge because I never had an interview, I was never introduced to the people at the research center, and the postdoc doesn't even have a website with details nor was the offer letter terribly specific.
(4) The faculty come from different field, so their professional advice, expectations, and standards may not be relevant, plus combined with (1) they may not even communicate very well so misunderstandings can persist.
(5) It's a simultaneously boring and dangerous city, and I know no one there.
(6) The subject of the postdoc is narrower than most, meaning I may be a good candidate for fewer jobs than if I took a different postdoc with a broader subject.

Personal factors
(1) Frankly, I'm scared. To go to a job which is clearly good raises expectations that I'm not sure I can meet. That sounds silly, but that's how I feel.
(2) I've never been good at maintaining mentoring relationships with mentors whom I never see. I've been put in that situation many times, and always done poorly in it.
(3) I was surprised at how unhappy I was about moving this past year. Here I was moving back to the city where I grew up, I knew the parts of the city near the suburb where I grew up, and I had a vague mental picture for the rest, I had a roommate whom I knew, I had the beginnings of friendships with people that I'd met here and there, I was excited to read the alternative newspaper again and do all the fun things of the city, and yet for a lot of the time I was totally unhappy. Partly that was the stress of finishing my dissertation, but partly I don't feel very secure about moving as a 30+ single. It's never easy to move, but it's always easier when there are lots of people your age who are single and looking for friends. Being at an age when most people are married, and coming to a city where I know no one and don't feel safe sounds like a terrible idea. The way you find your way around a new city is by getting lost. If I don't feel safe, it's not even okay to get lost.
(4) Postdocs are always isolated, and moving to a city where you don't have any friends to be in an isolated job is my idea of hell. On the other hand, people in the city seem friendly. Aside from my one bad encounter people have been willing to talk to me about the city.
(5) It's about an hour (in optimal traffic) from a city where I do have friends. I could even, theoretically, live in the other city and commute and just stay with someone M-W nights.

I can build a strong case for and against the job. That's maybe my problem in general. I can always build a strong case in any direction without having a clear idea which one I want, and it really just comes down to the issues that I already knew: professional vs. personal. I feel like professional factors should trump personal ones, but clearly I'm someone for whom the personal matters a great deal, and can interfere with my productivity if I don't take care of the personal details.

Honestly, after all this traveling, I still don't want to move anywhere. It's too much. I've just started to get used to being back here, and I don't relish the idea of moving anywhere.

An advisor who I respect enormously said the following to me. "it sounds to me like you're not passionate about it. Given this and your preference for [the other city] and your other options, it sounds like you're not leaning towards [Fantastic U]. So, my guess is that you should not feel bad about letting them know that you're truly honored by their offer and that it stands out as the best mentoring and nurtuing opportunity that you have so it's difficult to turn it down. However, for personal reasons you have realized that you would prefer to live in other city A or other city B, and you hope that they will find someone terrific to join their team and that you can stay connected in whatever way makes sense to the people there. Please recognize that I am going from imperfect information here so this may be terrible advice and you should take it or leave it as you see fit, but this is how it sounds from the e-mail....."

I think they're right. I'm so used to optimizing professionally, it's strange to me to realize that I don't have to do that if I don't want to, and I can just build my life in the way that I'm happiest.

Unfortunately, I'm terrible at predicting what will make me happy.


Psych Post Doc said...

These decisions are so tough. Personally, I think it's drummed into us in grad school that professional should always outweigh personal, but we have to live our lives. For me right now personal is way outweighing the professional.

Moving sucks, especially when you're headed to a town you don't know without any people you know.

What is your gut telling you? Do you really not know whether you could be happy in undesirable city? I find that sometimes I pretend I'm unsure when it's a tough decision but deep down in my gut I know.

Good luck with your decision.

Cindy said...

hey, stumbled upon your blog when i searched "industry postdoc." i feel like i'm reading a personal diary of mine. i just finished my phd in feb., am staying on as a postdoc in my current lab, and working out what the hell to do with my life. right now: postdoc (academic, maybe industry), healthcare consultant, tech transfer. anyways, good luck to ya!

Cindy said...

oh and your last line, "unfortunately, I'm terrible at predicting what will make me happy," is spot on!

Anonymous said...

ok first - dont drink anymore sugar in your water. that is ICKY! (not to mention its just not good for you. but you can talk to your mom about that).

no advice on the other stuff, but have you tried the reverse coin-toss?
you say heads i go, tails i dont take it. when you get your result - if you are happy with it. you know its the right thing to do. if you say: wait, lets do best of 3 - you really want the other option. go for whatever it is.
good luck!
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