Friday, October 17, 2008

The Postdoc Search Begins

Hello all! I'm a graduate student theorist in an engineering/physical science discipline, and I'm graduating next summer-ish. I've been thinking of starting a blog for awhile, but today a bunch of events came together (I have something on my mind, my old blog--just updates to friends--is not working well, and I thought of a reasonable name) and I started this blog. Maybe I will do more intro later, but this post is about what I'm going to do with the next few years of my life. As I want to be a professor, and the departments I am thinking of would not likely hire me without some more experience, I recently started looking for postdocs.
On my mind today is whether I should apply to a postdoc in my hometown. I have been looking at top departments and top people in the field, and a few national lab positions. None of the very top (top 20, say) schools are in my hometown, but there is a government research lab which I just learned has postdocs in my field. I feel qualified for the position and I am sure I would learn a lot there. Moreover, it is the perfect location, and while I had resigned myself to living far away for several more years (or life), I have gotten myself really excited about the prospect of living at home again, if only for a year or two.
The problem is, it's probably not the ideal position for someone who's looking to be a professor. The person there who would be my adviser is not a professor and maybe not as well connected as some of the other advisers I'm considering. Also, based on my initial impressions, the research there isn't as fundamental as I would like it to be. (My future undergrads would probably appreciate someone who understood applications or "the real world" a bit, but I doubt this project is applied enough to make a difference on that front--after all, it is still theory/simulation.)
So, what to do? I am not prepared to significantly hurt my career for one year at "home", but really this would be, at worst, taking a small risk of slightly dinging my career path. In fact, maybe being happy at home will make me the ultimate researcher and I will get tons done and therefore help my career? The deadline is fast approaching!!! ahhhhh!!!


capella said...

Oh, yay! I am pleased to see you have started a (real) blog. I am especially excited about the ELP (even littler poker), and particularly to see how you handle the LP and the in-situ ELP simultaneously in March.

About the postdoc. Is the deadline just for applying, or does it require an actual decision? It can't hurt to apply, really, and while I realize it is a giant pain, which is part of why I never applied to national labs, it might be good for you in the long term; you will have to know what your research interests are eventually, and the sooner you start thinking about it, the better.

As for actually taking the position. I don't know exactly what it is or what the scientific benefits/drawbacks are, but I would say that if your advisor says it will be bad for your career, you should listen; he is not always right, but it is a very bad idea to bet that he will be wrong. I know it's tempting to be near home, but a postdoc is only a year or two, and a tenure-track position is (potentially) forever. You want to have the most choices possible when you are going for the latter. This is true for everybody always, but it is particularly true now (crappy funding situation that is likely to persist and/or get worse). It is also particularly true for you, because you have both a two-body effect (both you and Mr. T have to get jobs in the same general location) and a desired geographical area. To maximize the chance of a mutually positive outcome for permanent positions, you want to makes sure you are both attractive candidates for as many of them as possible. So I think you should choose the postdoc that you and your advisor think will be best for your chances of getting the kind of job you want later, ignoring other factors as much as you can (I assume, with LPs, being away from Mr. T is not an option).

Tinkering Theorist said...

I pretty much agree. The deadline is for applying, and hopefully decision making will be very much delayed past the deadline. Part of the confusion is that the adviser only said he "wasn't sure" if it would be the best choice, and encouraged me to find out more. This makes me think he was serious that he doesn't know if it's among the best choices (rather than just saying he's not sure about it but meaning that he thinks it is a poor choice and doesn't want to say so). It is clear that it's not one of the places he initially thought of for me, but it is not clear (to me or him, I think) whether it is actually not as good as those places.

Tinkering Theorist said...

And you are correct, I am not going to live apart from TE. Frankly, either of us would rather take a gap in formal employment than live apart, though it is unlikely that will be necessary. At some point (before living apart), if I can't fit into the mold that is (artificially) required, I will choose a different line of work.

capella said...

If he says he's not sure if it's best, that's what he means. Unless he has somehow acquired a lot of additional tact in the last few years, he is not going to be shy about letting you know he doesn't think a particular career path is right. I think you should look into it, but definitely keep your options open and look at other stuff too.

Does the advisor know about the newest (hypothetical) addition?

Tinkering Theorist said...

No, he doesn't know. It would be nice if he did, but I felt actually talking about it with him would be inappropriate, as it would be hard to bring it up without implying (incorrectly) that it's any of his business anyways.