Sunday, March 22, 2009

Current Life Job Status - CONFUSING

It's hard to think that just a few months ago I was bitterly complaining that I would never be able to find a job. Because it looked like I wouldn't be able to, that I'd have to fight my way through the masses, jump through inordinate numbers of hoops, and whore my way into a position that I'm overtrained for (but undertrained in terms of commodity skills).

Well, things seem to have changed. I now have a number of options (not totally set in stone, but good leads), and I'm utterly confused. Since I had to scrap my way to get some of these chances, in order to avoid cognitive dissonance I convinced myself that those chances were actually awesome opportunities to try something new. So now I have tons of good reasons to do everything on my "leads" list and I am terrified of making a massive career mistake because these jobs are all SO DIFFERENT.

Let me explain. If you have been in the world much longer than me, I'd appreciate any advice, assurance that picking the "wrong" job here will not ruin my life, etc.

Original two leads:

1) One extreme end of a spectrum which I do not have the commodity training for.

Pros: It would involve getting my hands dirty at deep levels of Widget production, and could probably increase my understanding of final products.

Cons: However, I don't actually know anything about Widget production except at intellectual levels, and these Widgets are pretty narrow in scope and applicability. Plus, I doubt I'd be doing any research here - my research career probably ends here. So I'm thinking this has moved to the bottom of my list. I might even want to cancel my onsite interview with them?? I'd have to study for it, and I don't know if I want to, now that I seem to have other options.

Confounding factor: Also, this is ~2 hrs drive from hubby.

2) The other extreme end of a spectrum, which I have sloppy commodity training for. In other words, I was never trained for Skill X, but I had to learn it in order to do my research so I am reasonably competent at it. But not a ninja.

Pros: This company loves PhDs, but kind of like the way consulting companies love PhDs - for the brains, not the specific knowledge. This presents an interesting opportunity to get out of my trained field. Part of me thinks this is a good idea, because this is a boom skill - and having worked here would be a major boon for my resume if I ever wanted to work anywhere in this subfield, I would think.

I think I would be commoditizing myself. Part of me thinks commoditizing my skills, i.e. beefing up a resume that says, "Skills: A, B, C, and D" that would pass company keyword checks, would be a good idea, because in this tough economy I have had a hard time finding research jobs at first, and I don't pass a lot of keyword tests. Plus, at this place I think I'd have a lot of exposure to LOTS of stuff I don't know about - it's a vibrant place to be.

Cons: I think I would be commoditizing myself. I am going to have a freakin PhD, and I don't want to be competing with people over fucking resume keyword tests. Right? I don't know. Part of me thinks knowing about more things closer to the "real world" than academia would make me a better researcher, but part of me is worried about losing my research edge.

Confounding factors: In terms of life, this would be a good option. This could be a place to just have a career and forget about research entirely, go to my job, come home to Mr. Phizz, be near my friends, my sister, and more friends. The quality of life here would probably be pretty good for those reasons. Maybe I do just want to drop out of the research rat race and have a fun and interesting job.

New Leads:

1) Postdocing with a mentor.

Pros: This is an amazing opportunity - it's not certain but possible that NSF funds from the stimulus package could be used for this. This mentor of mine would be an incredible mentor, an incredible advocate for me, and incredible in lots of ways. This mentor believes in me, supports me, wants to help me. This could lead to a fantastic letter if I ever wanted an R1 job later. This is not common.

Cons: I don't know if I want an R1 job anymore. Something in me changed after my last trip to give a talk at an R1. There's a lot of bullshit in academia. In industry too, of course, but lots in academia. I've been reading papers lately and it just all seems like a crock of crap. Interesting ideas that are actually useless. Getting published. For what? For the sake of getting published. Of course, not everyone plays this game, but lots do. And I don't feel like getting into it.

Plus, honestly blogosphere, I get a bad feeling sometimes reading all y'alls blogs. I now think of academia as stress, more stress, grant writing, dealing with assholes, dealing with stupid students and their stupid emails, and basically a piss-poor quality of life. The only person who seems to have a positive:negative post ratio significantly > 1 is Arlenna, and it just sounds like she had the luck to get into a fantastic department.

So if I don't want an R1 job, this doesn't seem to make much sense, right? The minimal the mentor would be on sabbatical for most of it, this is just a reach-out to try to help me, Mentor doesn't actually need a post-doc.

Confounding factors: This would be 3 train rides or 3 hrs drive from hubby.

2) Big Industrial Lab. I got a ping from a guy I know asking if I am going to apply.

Pros: This would be pretty prestigious and awesome, good research lab, good resources, good resume builder. Probably lots of interesting work, lots of exposure to other subfields. Good company too - benefits, pay, perks, etc.

Cons: The main business of Company attached to Industrial Lab does not have anything to do with my subfield. I'd probably basically be leaving behind my subfield here - could be Modified Impostor Syndrome but now that I'm almost finished, I realize I don't actually know anything about my subfield because there is so much to know. And so going somewhere as Subfield Expert when I don't feel like an expert feels premature.

Also, could be tough to work for this guy. We're friends, but I don't know - my advisor is laid back. I get the sense he isn't. Big personality, really fun. But as a boss? Not certain. This is pure speculation from hints of hearsay.

Confounding factors: This would be on other side of the country.

3) An internship/possible full-time at Industrial Lab right up my alley. Part of why I bitterly complained before is because everything right up my alley was not hiring. That's still the case, but the powers that be think that an internship could lead more easily to a full-time offer, so that's what this is about.

Pros: This is right up my alley. They want to see how my thesis applies in the real world. They might want to put it into Final Products. Damn - I mean, that's huge. Isn't it? It feels huge. Most theses get put into some archive, never to be thought of again. So this is exciting. And they really want me there. They do - this is what I thought a job search would be like - they told me straight up "you don't need to interview, nothing, we have no problems with you whatsoever, we are doing what we can to get you here." THAT is what I was expecting coming out of my degree.

This is a small-ish company, and I get the sense that here, I'd really get to be Subfield Expert because that's the business of this place. I'd get to know whatever I wanted to know, REALLY, about how shit works. That's appealing to me.

Cons: For the internship I'd have to go way away for the summer, and leave Mr. Phizz for several months :(. And of course - with no full-time offer right now....????

This company is a serious underdog. I am not certain of its long-term potential, and certain things like pay, benefits, maternity leaves, perks, etc. are not going to be as great.

This is right up my alley, but I am concerned of now becoming pigeonholed. I thought of all those other jobs as opportunities to branch out and know about other things, at the expense of leaving Subfield "unfinished." This is the opposite. Not only would I be deep into Subfield, but I'd be deep into SubSubfield - and I don't know if that's the best thing??

Confounding factors: The full-time, if it panned out, would be 2 hrs from hubby.

I am planning to take internship - industrializing my thesis just sounds too awesome to pass up. But I worry that it will jeopardize my finishing my degree sometime in the next decade, and I worry that if I decide I don't want this full-time it will be hard to extricate myself. I am trying to tell myself that as long as I am honest and a straight-shooter, no one will blame me for doing what is best for me when I decide it, and I should not worry about offending anyone, ever, when it comes to job selection.

My choices seem to come down to these axes:

Increasing commodity skills vs. increasing depth of knowledge about my subfield.

Big Perk/Big Company vs. Smaller.

Research vs. Non-research.

Life quality vs. doing what I was trained for.

I so don't know what I should be doing. I know it's up to me to decide what I want, and then it will all be obvious. But it's not clear right now. Sigh.


PhysioProf said...

But I worry that it will jeopardize my finishing my degree sometime in the next decade

Wut?? Are you saying that you are not going to earn your PhD before starting one of these other positions??

PhizzleDizzle said...

I would finish before everything EXCEPT the internship, because that would start very soon....with the expectation that if I were to go full-time that would be a fall start, like everything else. I might even be able to add a chapter to the thesis based on summer work. This concerns more than a little, but somehow doesn't concern my advisor.

Mrs. CH said...

I gotta say - I don't know either! I thought I'd get a glimpse of which one you're leaning toward from how you talk about them - but there wasn't anything obvious (although, you do seem much more excited about the internship and the 2nd original choice).

I will say this though: put a LOT of stock in what your quality of life will be. Even if you have the best job in the world, if you're in a city that sucks with people that suck and are away from your hubby, you will HATE it.

I'd say go to as many interviews as you can so you can get a better idea of what it'll be like to work in each of them. Good luck!

ScienceGirl said...

Those are some drastically different choices... I can see why you would be leaning towards the internship, where the short-term potential seems huge if full-time pans out; you say you are not sure about the long-term potential - would it be a good place to "be from" at that point if you need to re-evaluate?

Isis the Scientist said...

I thought I had tried to leave a comment, but I might also be drunk and unable to hit "publish" correctly.

You should not base your decision on the bitching you hear around the blogosphere. Some of us really love love academia, despite the bitching you hear. Some of us also really loved being in industry, despite the bitching. You should give thought to the type of environment you might enjoy and, if you're not sure, talk to the people already in said environment.

I would, however, caution you against taking an industry job without a finished thesis. I come from a field where a lot of people enter into industry afterwards and, if they leave before defending, seem to have a hard time finishing. The workplace can be demanding and sometimes people end up tempted to put their degree on the backburner...

PhysioProf said...

Finish your thesis before you take any other position!!!! And be wary of this "internship" where you claim they "really, really want you", but aren't legally committing to a paid full-time position with benefits. Of course they really, really want you under circumstances where they don't have to pay you or promise anything to you.

PhizzleDizzle said...

Everyone, thanks for the input. It can take me a long time to make decisions as my brain and subconscious really work everything out.

MCH - I am planning to try to apply/interview everywhere so I can get a real feel. I think that's my best bet right now.

ScienceGirl - I think it would be a fine place to be "from", if the economy gets better I could probably get snapped up anywhere if I decide to re-evaluate.

Dr. Isis - I fully believe that I might come around to the academic desires in a few years or so, despite what I read in the blogosphere :). Fortunately, my field (and yours too, sounds like) allows for people to return, as long as they continue to publish while in industry. I think that I would like to keep that door open, just right now it doesn't seem like something I want or am ready for.

Isis and CPP - I hear you on the thesis thing. This internship is with a company and working with people that I have good personal relationships with, and while I will certainly think for myself, I don't think they have malicious intent in this regard. If it does become full-time, and I want to take it, I will tell them I need a time off between an official start date to finish off the thing. Meanwhile, I am making progress on my own.

Candid Engineer said...

#1. Agreed with Isis and CPP.
#2. I bet my ratio of optimistic:pessimistic posts >1. Blogs, in general though, are places to whine, so don't take them too seriously. I, for one, am very happy in my postdoc position.
#3. I'm still not sure what I want to do with my life, and I believe the best strategy (until decided) is to keep most options open and to put yourself in a position where you will be most desirable no matter what. Which job option will make you most broadly appealing in the future?

PhizzleDizzle said...

Candid, true, you do have a lot of positive posts. I think you're a rockstar. But I suppose I meant I get kind of leery of academia from the posts from professors, who have committees and teaching and such to deal with on top of grant-writing and research.

The difficulty I am having is they will ALL make me more appealing in some way for some sector or domain. The postdoc would be amazing for an R1. Maybe not so much for other types of careers. All would enhance my skills in a certain direction. It's very hard to say which is "best" because they all depend on what I really want. However, I'd say Orig 2 and New 2 and New 3 are all pretty good and broad options. I'll look at those carefully.

PhysioProf said...

This internship is with a company and working with people that I have good personal relationships with, and while I will certainly think for myself, I don't think they have malicious intent in this regard.

This is extremely naive reasoning, and it has nothing to do with the individual "intent" of any of the people you might be dealing with. For-profit corporate entities are not academia, and if you think academia is not a motherfucking care bears tea party, then you are in for a very, very rude awakening in industry.

Regardless of the personalities and intentions of the people who work in corporations, the fact is that a corporation exists to make money. Where the rubber hits the road, this consideration trumps *all* others, and current happy-talk intentions mean *nothing* in the face of any future corporate financial realities.

This leads to very different managerial decision-making processes and outcomes than in academia, and you ignore these differences at your peril.

Ewan said...

[Background: new R1 prof, loving it. Very few whines other than the Purchasing dept :-) even with the current pressures of two small boys, a new house, just-moved, and so on.]

I'd take either original choice #2 or the postdoc. The others honestly seem like non-starters, in several cases because as others note - the life quality variable should get a huge weighting. If it were *me* I'd take the postdoc, but that's just because it's what I did and it worked. My wife essentially did the opposite, and indeed both opposites: first took the 'ideal' job a long way from home, then found that it was destroying her/our life and we found a way to have slightly less ideal jobs very close together. So both tracks allowed for good life quality, and I'd rank that - in hindsight - probably first. [For me, *being* an academic is a big part of that life quality. YMMV.]

Jazinator said...

I for one would want to look at my living situation - mostly with your husband. Do you enjoy (or can tolerate) spending long periods apart, or is he willing to move? I spent 2 years apart from my fiancee (now wife) while I did my masters and she was in med school. Then I took a break from school so that we could live together because we both agreed that we never wanted to be apart like that again. It was a lot harder than either of us imagined it would be. Luckily I get to go back and finish my PhD starting this fall but I for one love academia prolly because that is just my mindset. Just my 2 cents worth.

Nicky said...

I'll throw in a few thoughts. Take 'em or leave 'em:

1. I know nobody (that's right, not a single one) in CS who went on to do what they wanted after a postdoc. In other fields, yes. But in CS, most people seem to take it as a sign that you couldn't get anything else when you finished. Even if you decide that you DO want to go the R1 route, an industry job is going to serve you better. The only possible exception is if the postdoc is with one of the very very very top people in your subfield.

2. I agree with PhysioProf on the internship. Assume that the people there really do mean well and really do want you. Then they'd be offering you a full-time position if they could. The fact that they're NOT means that it's out of their hands, and it will likely STILL be out of their hands when the internship ends. This happened to me, as an employer, when I worked in an industrial lab, when we weren't allowed to make offers to people we really wanted. I also know somebody who took this route last year -- a one year temp position at an industrial lab (hell, I'll even say where -- IBM Research). They really really wanted her -- and she's currently looking for a job because the permanent one didn't come through. Only now she's having a hard time explaining why she didn't stay there after one year.

It sounds to me like you're seriously considering a whole lot of sub-optimal choices because you're a little panicky. Try to take a deep breath and keep looking.

The only other thing I'll mention is that, in a pinch, location is very very important. If you're going to take a job that you're not sure you'll want to stay at, just to fill some time while you look around, consider what other options are nearby. If any of these things are in Silicon Valley, for instance, you know that if you become unhappy, there are 8 million other employers who will happily consider a CS PhD. If you take a job in the middle of Nebraska, you don't have that flexibility. No offense to Nebraska.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Wow, tough choices. You already have a lot of advice, and I'm not sure what I can really add, except good luck, and do what feels right.

PhizzleDizzle said...

CPP: I have been thinking long and hard about what you said. Thank you.

Ewan: I'm glad you love your job. It's good to know there is something for everyone out there :).

Jaz: I have lived apart from Mr. Phizz before (but before we were married). Now that we are married, I think I could only handle it if I knew it were temporary.

Nicky: You provide some VERY salient and relevant advice, that is field-specific too! Thank you very much.

I am still doing a lot of mulling, and all your thoughts are so valuable. It's great for me to have these ideas swirling in my head, eventually my subconscious will know what to do. Thank you all!