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2007-03-05 - 6:16 p.m.

..second entry today - passing the job by...

I've been talking quite a bit with a dear friend from Germany in the past few weeks, about a quandary over whether or not she should take a new job. She was offered a permanent faculty position at a university in the UK, and in the end, she turned it down. Her decision has had the unusual effect of allowing me to reflect on my own decisions in matters like this.

I feel for her in so many ways, because these decisions are so multifaceted. On the one hand, a permanent position in academia represents the gold at the end of the rainbow. There is no guarantee that she will get any other kind of offer in the future, when her current funding is spent.

At the same time, I so understand her reasoning for saying no. Like me, she has had a nomadic existence as a scientist, switching positions every few years. Her current grant (in Denmark) has finally given her the opportunity to stay in one place long enough to get results. Moving to the UK now would uproot her right in the middle of this crucial time when she could be thinking about her projects and writing up results. My move from Germany to the USA to Canada has been very disruptive. I left the USA right at a time when I could have started producing some new research. Instead, I've placed myself in a situation of starting from scratch, dealing with a new country, a new bureaucracy, and new 18-month process of building back up. She would be in the exact same position if she moved now.

But would these 18 months be worth it for a *permanent* position? It depends on how you feel about where you wind up. If you visit a place and think, "yes, I could really live here," then permanent might actually become permanent, in spite of all the variables. This was the risk that I was willing to take when I moved to Vancouver, and why I was willing to suffer through this nightmare of starting up again.

But the alternative thought is, "could I get used to this place although it lacks most of the aspects that I need to maintain my quality of life?" This was the risk that I took when I moved to Queens, and I wound being miserable. So when she told me that this little UK village lacked a museum, a jazz club, a wine bar, or any kind of opera/orchestra within a 100 km radius, I immediately understood that she would not want to live in this place for long. So permanence loses its appeal and advantage, and in fact can become like a prison sentence.

I felt a little bit hesitant in giving her "advice" because my experience weighed so heavily in my opinions on the matter. I chose a permanent position that didn't sit right. And although I gained some things from being there, it was the wrong thing to do. I've also felt the pains associated with moving too soon after trying to settle into a place. So I could completely understand her not wanting to uproot for a permanent position that wasn't really the best for her. So in the end, I guess I just gave her affirmation of the thoughts she was already having.

Nevertheless, this means that in another year or so, she'll be on the market again, looking for a job, and hoping for another pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And I just don't envy her that.

There are so few positions available, and so many variables within the job market. Plus, for many academics our careers become increasingly specialized with time, making the actual number of offers thrown our way increasingly small. A further complication is that she (and I) are approaching 40. We've been in the job market long enough that we can no longer be eligible for the majority of the entry-level (tenure-track assistant professor) positions that are offered. When my application for my current position was reviewed, the reviewers were already stating that I should be hired at the associate level. But the difficulty then is that, in the mid-level career path, she and I will both be competing with much more senior people - members of the National Academy of Sciences and the like. Ack, how nerve-racking.

But what could I say? I could not in good faith encourage her to take the safe path, especially when she herself was feeling strongly that it was not the way to go. Even against the job market odds, she is an extremely talented and well-connected scientist. I'd rather she bank on future success than settle for less.

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