One of the illusions you lose about life pretty quickly is that the world is your oyster. Careers are not constructed like Lego from a big box of options in an open space. They resemble a dash through the woods, where occasionally you enter a clearing with only a couple of paths ahead. And you never know what is around the next corner - both in the bad and the good. After I had finished my 5+ years of post-doc I did not have any top-10 journal papers and so I did not have many choices for a faculty position. Against the advice (but with the support) of my mentor I went to an OK place, because I was ready for independence. This is not an unfamiliar condition in a career that keeps you as an underpaid, overworked trainee for close to 10 years... At the time SciMom and I decided that my career would take precedence - we were trying to have kids, so this seemed right to both of us. After a few years at OK place we were approached to consider a move. We went to Good place.
The latest move - which is most relevant to SciMom's recent post - grew from that first decision. I had in fact not looked for this move - we were both very happy at Good place where we had gone together, quite equally. While Good place had its limitations, the microenvironment was very supportive and we could have stayed there longer. But it was not a place that made research easy or that offered long-term possibilities or where it was easy to recruit good people for the lab.
Then I was approached by one of a handful - three or four - of top places for the work that I do (let's call it Top place). The difference is that if I told 10 randomly picked scientists the name of Good place and Top place, all would know Top place, and maybe 1 or 2 would know Good place. Plus, the position they asked me to compete for had a leadership aspect - literally one of a few positions like it in the world, in my particular area of interest. So, rather than me being restless, and moving around at the expense of my spouse, I seized a possibly once-in a lifetime chance to get one of the best positions for someone like me in the world!
As SciMom has said, we made some mistakes, that resulted in part from my excitement and my admittedly somewhat selfish desire to seize this amazing opportunity. Timing was rotten, in the sense that the kids are at a needy stage, and she decided to step back, which is more difficult at more demanding institutions. Also, how supportive the Chair is varies - and you don't know it until you are there a while, trust me.
I think the situation can be fixed - it will take some time, perhaps some changes in the funding climate overall and some more work on both our parts. I am trying very hard to obtain additional funding to support SciMom, and in return she is taking an active part in my work. The aim is to develop enough funds to hire a post-doc to work with her on her projects, with a view to getting data for a new grant. It will take a few years, but it can be done.
Friday, January 26, 2007
So here it is - the first of two installments from SciDad in response to my previous post regarding dual careers. SciDad says: