The main issue before me was whether to accept or turn down the postdoc at the good school. No one else needed to know yet, and right now I am just waiting until I hear from the faculty job who just interviewed their last candidate on Monday.
My decision was somewhat complicated by a few new postdoc possibilities coming up just now: a solid place where I interviewed and liked them, one in my current city with someone that I'd actually wanted to work with last year but that hadn't worked out, one in my former city, and one with the government where I had simply the best phone interview possible.
Despite these distractions, I had a bird in the hand, and it was getting restless. The other bird in the hand was a solid offer, but the research is nebulous: the one project which sounded good would let me do a study I proposed on someone's blog in January 2007, but never had the resources to do; they have taken so far about two weeks to get back to me, and people in the other projects there have been similarly difficult to contact.
My main concern was whether I could be happy in that city, so I spent a lot of time on the phone with people who live there. I found lots of people who hated it, but they had all chosen to live in the same claustrophobic suburb filled with strip malls. One former postdoc I spoke with said she'd moved into that suburb because she was coming from far away, and her sister found her a place in the same apartment complex. The interesting thing about the suburban people: they had never even thought about living anywhere else, even though they were unhappy in the suburbs.
Finally I found two people who lived in the city, and liked it. Finding them were complete coincidences. One guy was someone from a dating site who I emailed with ~4 years ago because a close friend noticed we went to the same public high school and for some reason decided that meant I should email him. I wrote to him while searching a dating site for his city, he wasn't a paying member, but found me somehow through facebook, and we arranged to speak about the city. Even though I'd never met him, I knew that we had similar baseline expectations for places and toleration for ambient crime.
He acknowledged that it was not the most exciting or urbane place in the world, but in his five years there he had made friends that he had kept. By contrast, in his current city he felt like people regarded friends as more expendable. He still goes back to that city to visit for weekends, several years after leaving. That was my gut feeling about it: everyone that I spoke with was really nice. Partly they were nice because it's not the most exciting place, but nice is nice: I won't look a gift horse in the mouth.
I also got in touch with this woman who I found similarly randomly. I posted to an internet site, and a guy wrote to me and put me in touch with this couple, who were long-time residents with related ties to the university. Somehow they just seemed like people I'd like to know. She told me about all these off-beat things that go on, the type of events which are fun and self-consciously wacky, and invited me to stay with them, and gave me other people's contact information.
Both sets of people also said it was safe, and they never knew anyone who was mugged. It's not going to be easy to meet people, but I am finally convinced that if I want to be happy, I can be happy there. If I want to be happy is a key phrase: sometimes it seems like I find reasons not to be happy. It's a funny psychological trick that options become less attractive once you have them. Maybe it's a self-image thing, and if I had better self-image they wouldn't lose attractiveness just because they were options.
A few more things convinced me:
- I have friends 1-2 hours away who I'd like to be near, and recently found out about more taking jobs nearby.
- My field there has a huge number of activities and seminars and lectures. It seems like the center of the world, especially compared to my current school with weekly seminars, if that. My interdisciplinary PhD program left me spread thin across two campuses a few miles apart, so I never really got to go to seminars and activities regularly in my major field since I lived closer to the campus of my minor field and spent my time and had teaching jobs there.
- The research is a natural follow-on from my dissertation. I'd been reluctant because the research center is narrowly focussed in a poorly-funded area which is not taken entirely seriously. (Illustration: at least two interviewers in related fields actually told me they didn't take me seriously before meeting me.) The advantage is that I'm already well-positioned in the field. It seems silly to redirect to something else when there are senior faculty around the country who know my one published paper, and everyone agrees it's in a good journal.
- I started to be able to picture my life there. I have only vague memories for what is where, but I could live near the "hip areas" a mile from campus (which is itself in a terrible neighborhood) and bicycle to work.
Still, I have written my email accepting the postdoc and it's sitting in my drafts folder. I think this comment from the psych postdoc really resonates with my situation: "Personally, I think it's drummed into us in grad school that professional should always outweigh personal, but we have to live our lives...I find that sometimes I pretend I'm unsure when it's a tough decision but deep down in my gut I know."
Part of my gut is really seduced by my alternatives, but these are not birds in the hand. The nebulous research place I wrote to on Wednesday, and they said they'd get back to me yesterday. I suppose I will sit on the acceptance email for the rest of the day and send it if I have not heard from the nebulous research place by the end of the day. I want to write to them to tell them this, but it feels weird to make an ultimatum.