Jobmageddon

I believe most of you know that our R01 grant was not renewed. Our score was pretty close to the payline, what means that “maybe” it can be funded in a couple of months. The thing is, we don’t have a couple of months. After the money from our current grant ends, that’s it. Everybody is jobless. I know we’ve made several mistakes along the way, and now we are paying for them. But there’s no time to blame or shame, now it’s time to look forward! I cannot say I was surprised. I saw it coming, and I guess I had my deep crisis during the holidays. So now when the news was finally out, I just had one thing in mind. It’s time for jobmageddon – apply to ALL the jobs!

As weird as it might seem,  I was almost happy with the news. Reading @IHStreet post about feeling you are just not enough, I realized that’s exactly where I was before the grant news. I receive several job alerts in my email, so I knew that there were jobs that I could apply. However, after having applied to several jobs in 2013, unsuccessfully, impostor syndrome was all over me. I thought I was just not good enough for TT, so why bother to apply? But there’s nothing like a kick in the butt to make you move forward! In reality, with luck I will have a paycheck for a couple of extra months. So now I NEED TO BE ENOUGH FOR SOMETHING. Anything.

And it made me think. What are my options? What’s out there besides academia? I talked to several people on twitter and IRL, read articles, really tried to open my mind. The more I read, the more I felt I really love academia and didn’t want to quit. I am not saying I could not be happy working in industry or something related, but I realized I simply LOVE the academic environment. I like working in the bench, but not for the sake of pipetting. I love the whole research process, with a purpose! To come up with ideas of new experiments, designing and performing them… and then getting the data. There’s a special joy on plotting your data that’s almost addictive! And then there’s mentoring and teaching. Showing a whole new world to your students, and feeling really rewarded to see their progress. How can I live without it?

Then I made up my mind. I am not quitting. I am not giving up. Not yet, and not without a fight! On the other hand, the idea of getting a TT position in a R01-Institution kind of started to scare me. The actual funding situation and the constant pressure to get grants and to publish. And also realistically, I know I missed the TT boat long ago. There are holes in my CV that cannot be filled anymore – my research is not very sexy (at least not for NIH standards) and I don’t have any US grant or glam publications in my CV. But R01-Institutions are not the only available jobs in academia! There are SLACs 🙂 I cannot say how lucky I am to have a collaborator working in a SLAC. As a foreigner and academically ‘raised’ to just aim for a R01-TT job, I didn’t really know what a SLAC was until starting our collaboration. I know my CV also has holes for a SLAC position, I have very little teaching experience. But this hole it’s easier (and more pleasant) to fix, IMO.

So here I am now. I am not literally applying to ALL the jobs, but now that I see no light at the end of this (grant) tunnel, I started to look at job adds with a different mindset. I am focusing on job adds in the Chronicle website instead of Naturejobs or Sciencecareers (more SLAC jobs there, and also more VAP, that could buy me some time AND improve my teaching skills). I am still applying to TT jobs, and with my eyes opened to local *alternative* jobs. I am hopeful. My applications look better. I am still the same candidate, I still think I am not enough for a big tier 1 University position, but I must be good enough for SOMETHING!

Now I see that if our grant had been renewed I’d probably just have continue here, doing more of the same and with no real perspective of a future in academia. It may still not work, and I may have to try to be happy outside my beloved academia, but at least I am trying. And in a way I feel I must thank NIH for denying our grant. Without this shake in my life, I feel I would be forever still.

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Visiting Professor Opportunity in a SLAC. Worth taking it?

Today was one of those days that I’m really glad to be on twitter and have awesome followers! All started when I had my weekly skype meeting with my collaborator and we talked about a possible 1-year visiting professor position at the SLAC where she teaches. Then I posted this tweet, and you can follow all the input that I’ve got from there all day long:

After talking (and thinking) about it during this whole day I believe I can write down my thoughts so far. Most of the people said “Apply anyways, you can always decide later if you take the job or not”. This would be true, if this was not a position in a place where I have a strong collaborator (and friend), where I’ve taught the last two springs, and personally know the chair. If I eventually apply and get this job, I can’t turn it down, unless I get a permanent offer. If our grant is not renewed, the decision becomes much easier – a job is much better than no job. Period. However, our grant is very close to the payline and there’s still hope it will be funded.

But even if the grant is funded, should I stay here? I’ve been in this lab for 7 years, clearly doing research that’s not competitive enough for getting grants. I’ve been doing much of the same and not being able to grow (research-wise) at all. My R03 was not discussed because I’m a senior PD with no strings attached to the University. My PI said that if our grant is renewed, I would be promoted to research staff and then I could re-apply for my R03 grant. But there’re no guarantees that it will get funded and even if it does, I don’t think it would make my CV improve that much in order to be realistically competitive for a TT position in a R01 Institution.

I really don’t want to give up academia and research. And I really enjoy teaching, so a position in a SLAC looks appealing to me. However, despite having some experience teaching here and then, I was never fully responsible for a course and that’s a big gap in my CV when applying for SLACs. So staying here in the same lab will not improve this, unless I find some teaching side-job in a community college around here. Most of the comments on twitter were positive about applying to the temporary position to get teaching experience and improve my CV, if ultimate goal is to apply for SLACs positions.

Of course, I don’t even know if I’ll get the job to begin with. But it’s good to be forced to think about it, because in the end of the day it’s not about this job in particular, but where I want to go with my life! So far, the pro’s of applying are that I’ll get more experience teaching and will have a more competitive CV after that year. I could use this year to doing another PD somewhere else, but I believe the research hole in my CV (no grants or glam pubs to get a regular TT position) is much harder to fill than the teaching deficiency (needed for a SLAC position).

On the other hand, there are several things that terrifies me. First, the SLAC is in a tiny town (7000 ppl). I am really a city person, and for me, the bigger, the better. I’m currently single and usually I stay home 2-3 nights per week. Simply cannot stay one whole day at home and crave for social interaction all the time. I know getting this job would mean a LOT of work and this will probably slow me down for a while. But I know how miserable I get when I don’t go out and have social interactions. I know small town doesn’t mean that I won’t have social opportunities, but the idea of living in such a tiny place scares me. A lot. And I’m not talking about being not confortable about it, I’m worried about getting depressed and not able to make it. I had 2 experiences when I tried to spend a weekend out of civilization and had panic attacks. Literally, I cannot take silence, green and peaceful environment. It sounds weird, but that’s exactly how I am.

Then you may say, it’s only for 1 year, it will pass so fast you won’t even notice it! True. But then comes my second point. Regardless my professional life, I still have dreams of finding a partner and having kids. I’m almost 40 yo now, and in my mind, spending this year in a temporary position means to literally give up any dream that I still have of having a family. And last, as I said, it’s a temporary position. What are the real chances of getting a real TT position in a SLAC after that year is done? I’d be applying for new jobs after being there for 3-4 months, and interview process would be in the middle of that crazy year.

I believe I covered everything I wanted to say. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!