You gotta know what you want!

Today I woke up with that Rolling Stone’s song in my head: “You can’t always get what you want”. Really? In fact lately I’m leaning towards the “Be careful with what you wish for”. But this brings the big question: Do I really know what I want? Do YOU really know what you want?

Professionally speaking, of course postdocs want a job. A REAL job, one that brings stability, professional realization. Personally, as a single woman reaching my 40s, I still hope to find someone that I can share my life with and start a family. Am I asking too much? That’s what I’ve been telling myself for a while now. But is it? Really asking too much?

I described myself as a postdoc looking for a TT position. That’s always what I’ve dreamed of, having a lab, gathering people around to continue my research. Teaching undergrads and graduate students to be scientists. Lately I have been very cranky and thinking a lot about my future. Of course, this has a lot to do with a certain Mr Handsome that appeared into my life. That bothered me a lot, specially because I don’t want to change any plans of life because of anyone. At least not now. But after reflecting on the issue for a couple of days I realized that this has nothing to do with him. He was just the trigger.

I explain. I’ve been seriously disappointed with the academic situation. I’ve been attending to job talks at my University where all I see are candidates with glam publications or grants. As I have neither of those, my dream of getting a TT position gets farther and farther away every day. But as always, I tend not to really think about my problems, and keep postponing the pain. After meeting him, and being directly asked if I wouldn’t want to continue living in this town (he probably couldn’t move anywhere), it really made me think.

Is a TT position what I really want?  Do I want to deal with the pressure of getting grants and tenure status? Would I be happy if I would just do science somewhere? Is it really that bad if I turn into an research assistant and continue here if our R01 gets renewed? I feel like if I had a little bit more freedom in my research (i.e. get a personal grant) I would be pretty much happy and with a certain stability. Food for thoughts…

I’m scared

Earlier today in response to this very powerful post, I told Dr24hours: “Because we all get scared, but only some of us have the courage to write about it”. So here it goes…

Every time that there’s something that bothers me, I tend to set it aside my thoughts. A la Scarlet O’Hara I always say “I think about that tomorrow”, and keep postponing it forever. I know that our grant is going to finish in the beginning of next year. I know there’s little chance of it being renewed. I know I’m too old to look for another postdoc somewhere else. I started applying for TT jobs, tried to aim to “middle options”, avoiding the really famous and the really small Universities. I know the job market is tough lately, but i thought that my CV was ok and it was worth a shot. Received a couple of rejection responses, but that still didn’t alarm me. The wake-up call started to come when I started to attend to job talks at my University. I’m at a tier 1 research institution, but I wouldn’t consider it as one of the top Universities. All the candidates either 1) have glam publication(s) and/or 2) have grants. Then I looked back at my CV and without any of those attributes it seems pathetic. Then I regretted having overlooked those small Universities, those teaching positions.

Today I’ve attended to a talk about tips to find jobs outside academia. I’m not hopeful at all about my job applications, and the thought of being jobless in about a year terrifies me. If there’s no place for me as a TT, maybe I could expand my horizons somehow? Big mistake. That talk was not really about finding jobs outside academia but career change. Alternatives for what to do if you hate graduate school. At every slide and through the whole talk, the only thing I could think was “But that’s exactly what I love about my job, that’s exactly where I want to be”. Realizing that brought me a tremendous pain. I believe that even without realizing that’s the reason I never really looked for jobs outside academia. I think about that almost everyday, but there’s always something else to do. Me and my usual denial. I don’t look for jobs outside academia because I don’t want to get out. And on the other hand I stopped applying for jobs at academia because I feel like I’m not good enough for that. And that left me with the sensation that I’m not doing anything and can’t do anything to avoid being jobless in a year.

I know I’ve neglected some precious years of my academic life investing in my personal relationship. I wanted to get married, to have kids and build a family. Of course, I was still working, but without a professional goal. My partner didn’t want to leave this city or his job, and I just passively lived my life by his side. When I finally woke up and realized that things were not going to work between us, it was already late. It took me a while to set my feet on the ground and look towards the direction I wanted to go. Then my visa problems kept me one year out of the US, and despite still working, all I could think and wish was to be able to come back. When I finally came back, I was ready. I spent a whole year hoping and planning what I was going to do once I was here. I completely immersed me into a working mode, wrote a grant, started a collaboration, worked on job applications. Totally closed myself to relationships, at first in home country because I knew I didn’t want to stay there, and later here in the US, because I just don’t want anything or anyone to muddle my goals.

About a month ago I started to have second thoughts about that. I started to miss feeling something, and unconsciously started to lay down my guards. Allowed myself to look around. And to be looked. It’s amazing how being alone is just a matter of how you feel about it! Then it happened. I met someone. Everything was unexpected and we still haven’t met again after our first rendezvous. Before anything he was really honest and told me he was still recovering from a broken relationship and I thought “Great. I’m not looking for anything serious, so let’s go”. But words and feelings are such different things! After a couple of hours I started to realize it was a big mistake. That he was a really nice and sweet guy. I secretly wished that he wouldn’t ask for my number so I could avoid trouble. He asked. Then I thought that he would never contact me and he just asked for my number for politeness. He texted. We’ve been texting everyday since then and despite feeling happy to receive his texts, deep inside I wish I had the strength to cut it off. I know I may fall in love for him. I know I might get hurt, but what terrifies me the most is to let my feelings get on the way of my professional goals, again. But he asked me to get together and watch a movie sometime this weekend and before I could even think about it, I said yes.

I’m scared. But at least writing this post made me stop crying.

Salary guidelines for postdocs

According to an NSF study, the number of postdocs increased about 25% in the last 5 years. We are a massive group of research in the academic world, doing research and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students. But still, in most of the places we are still aliens in the University world. We are not students, but we are not faculty either. I’m trying to get funding to attend to a very important meeting in Sydney and I was told by my program and University that simply there is no funding available for postdocs!

In the postdoctoral association we’ve been trying to establish some salary guideline for our University. Of course, there are the NIH salary guidelines, but this just applies to postdocs being paid from an NIH grant. We wanted to put that table in our website because at least it would be some kind of guideline, but were told that no one follows this guidelines in my University, even the labs with NIH funding. Also, as a beginning association, we shouldn’t mess with that because PIs could feel “pressured” to follow the guidelines. Seriously?

How are the salary guidelines in your University? Is there any internal minimum? Or maybe people actually follow the NIH salary guidelines? I’m curious to know how it works out there!