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I am 5 years into my postdoc, which has been up and down but I now have a decent publication record. I like what I am doing, am ready to manage people and can't wait to get out of the lab and no longer be a postdoc. I have many ideas and not enough hands. But, it is becoming clear that to be "successful" one has to be willing to look absolutely everywhere for a faculty position. I am in New York City, I moved here for my postdoc from London, UK, and love it here. I have friends and a support system, a husband, a great apartment. Aside from that it is relatively convenient for flying to the UK to see my family - who have a lot of problems, which I am struggling to deal with. Although I think I might want to have a faculty position, I want to be here more - and I think I need this to feel happy. My family problems has taught me that life is too short to be miserable and do things that will make you unhappy. My boss is going all out promoting me to her PI friends and telling them how great I am, asking around for positions and introducing me to people - which is incredibly supportive. But she keeps suggesting places I just can't see myself living in, and says I need to be open minded. The fact is that I simply do not want to. What would you do? If I tell my boss this, I feel like I'll lose her support and need her on my side for the next step (which also I wouldn't mind being in industry). I am really confused and don't know how to have this conversation with my boss or if I should at all. Any ideas?

closed as off-topic by Brian Borchers, Shion, scaaahu, Cape Code, Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Sep 24 '16 at 9:24

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  • 6
    Superstars can pick where they are going to live. If you're really good or really lucky you might get a choice between a few positions. If you're less good or less lucky you may have an option: take it or leave it. And, of course, some folks are left out in the cold for a hiring season. Even if they could do the work. – dmckee Sep 24 '16 at 0:16
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    This is a hard one. I actually ruled out academia early in my PhD because of this very reason. You are more invested in it with five years of postdoc under your belt... There are a lot of universities in the northeast though if you are willing to move just a little bit. i.e. it's probably just as easy to get to London from Boston as well. – somerandomdude Sep 24 '16 at 0:21
  • Two questions for you: (1) would you rather your supervisor discovered how you feel directly, or indirectly (i.e. by analyzing your lukewarm follow-up of the leads she provides)? (2) do you enjoy teaching (and do you have the potential to be good at it)? – aparente001 Sep 24 '16 at 1:15
  • For what it's worth, I did the opposite. I quit academics to move back to my family and live in a great city. Never been happier. – HEITZ Sep 24 '16 at 13:50
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Best wishes to you. This is definitely a hard decision. I chose career over my personal life and I've spent the last five years in a small city which, to be honest, I don't find all that appealing. I believe it was the right decision (I love my work), but I'd be lying if I said I was completely sure.

I certainly know of academics who made the opposite decision, and I think they feel analogously: they may have some regrets, but suspect that they made the right call.

Ultimately, no one can make this decision for you. You might also keep in mind that there is middle ground between only New York and "absolutely everywhere". There are at least a dozen American cities with direct flights to London, most of which are quite big and cosmopolitan, all of which have research universities, and several of which are not far from New York. So you might consider compromising somewhat while still ruling out places where you definitely don't want to live.

Then again, you might not. Good luck to you in any case.

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But, it is becoming clear that to be "successful" one has to be willing to look absolutely everywhere for a faculty position.

That's not true. You can (or rather, some can) be successful on the academic job market even by being quite geographically restricted, and conversely just because you look absolutely everywhere for a faculty position does not guarantee you'll get one. What is true, of course, is that, the broader your search, the higher your chances of getting a position somewhere.

You're right of course that if your constraint is "in New York City" then there are lotteries you can play with better chances of winning than that. So I think the first thing to decide is how much you want to stay exactly where you are now. If that is important to you, then I think you should search primarily for non-academic jobs, while still making sure to apply for every reasonable job in NYC (or in whatever radius of NYC works for you).

Also:

I like what I am doing, am ready to manage people and can't wait to get out of the lab and no longer be a postdoc.

Do I understand correctly that you are a postdoc in the laboratory sciences and as such have rarely set foot in a classroom in the last five years? If so, that's a long time away from the teaching aspects of academia. You didn't say that you couldn't wait to get back in the classroom; you said you can't wait to manage people. This makes me think that the type of industry position in which you are managing a lab may actually be more suitable for you than academia.

While it is very valuable to be thinking about how you value various careers and locations, you should also realize that you don't really know what your choices will be until a very late stage. So my basic advice to you is: keep all your options open. Sure, you'd prefer to have an academic job in NYC, but as I said the chances of that are rather small. Would you rather have an academic job in Boston or Philadelphia doing exactly the research you want or would you rather work in NYC doing roughly what the higher management tells you to? In many cases, I think you can't know the answers to all these questions in advance.

My boss is going all out promoting me to her PI friends and telling them how great I am, asking around for positions and introducing me to people - which is incredibly supportive. But she keeps suggesting places I just can't see myself living in, and says I need to be open minded.

You have a great supervisor. She's right in general terms: you probably do need to be open-minded, since you probably won't get exactly what you want. She may not be right that you are willing to live in location X. What I would suggest is that you, first, be sure to be gracious about all this help. Second, you should be honest about the general situation: you have some constraints, and in particular you may or may not stay in academia at all. However you can decide how specific you want to be about your constraints. If your advisor likes the idea of placing you at University X and you have a good relationship with your advisor, in my opinion it's easy enough to apply for University X and sort it out later, unless you know in absolute terms that you would never take a job at University X.

Let me say finally that I have had experience trying to place geographically constrained postdocs on the tenure track job market. When someone seems to truly want an academic job and makes too constrained a search, it makes me nervous. So I have definitely been in a similar position to your advisor, urging people to apply to places that are not the best fit or their top choice. I do think, that as someone who's watched the tenure track job market closely for over a decade, my instincts are more solid than someone who is going through the process for the first or second time. And I would rather my postdoc have too many options than too few. Much rather. There is certainly no doubt that in the end the choice is being made by the postdoc and not by me.

Good luck!

  • Please don't take this the wrong way, Pete, but is there any chance the answer could be edited a little for length and focus? – Yemon Choi Sep 24 '16 at 1:37
  • @Yemon: Yes, I pared it down a bit. – Pete L. Clark Sep 24 '16 at 1:45
  • Thank you all very much for your comments - certainly a lot of food for thought! I know no one can make this decision for me, but I'm grateful for all of the different opinions. After quite some time in academia, it is time to make that decision and it's a tough one! Appreciate the help! – Clare Sep 26 '16 at 16:19

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