Thoughts about the Job Search
Readers who know that I am seeking a job often email me to ask; "Would you leave NYC if you were offered a job elsewhere?"
The answer, of course, is yes. The fact is that I am no stranger to long-distance relocations. Almost exactly three years ago, I made my biggest relocation so far when I moved from Seattle to NYC to pursue my postdoctoral research. This adventure took me 3,000 miles away from the West Coast of the United States to a part of the country where I'd never been before. Unfortunately, it also required me to sell my entire breeding flock of lories (many of whom I had raised myself from chicks) because I could not find a place to keep them all, despite seven months of persistent long-distance searching. Interestingly, even though I'd never mentioned it, all of my dissertation committee members were well aware of my love for my birds and, knowing that I was leaving for NYC ten days after my defense, they were quite concerned about what I was going to do with them and how I might cope with this loss.
To be honest, when they asked, I pretended that it didn't affect me emotionally because I was eager to prove to everyone (including myself) that I was willing to do whatever was necessary to pursue my career. It's not like my birds are real people, I reminded myself in those days, thinking that was what everyone else wanted to tell me if they could only do so without offending me. Besides, properly keeping my flock represented a lot of work and it would be nice to be free of the responsibility and commitment. Or so I thought.
But because I am a scientist, I underestimated my capacity to love birds: in fact, birds are my number one occupational hazard. Somehow, they manage to transform themselves into family and friends, so the loss of my flock of birds was the most enduringly painful sacrifice I ever made for my career, a sacrifice that I was not sure I could make and one that I wish to never make again. Even today, I miss them all terribly and every day, I wonder if I made a mistake by giving them all up.
Fortunately, I did manage to keep a few pet parrots, most of whom are a rare lory species that I raised myself. Living with these (comparatively few) birds generally helps me cope with this bigger loss, although .. although .. .
Despite the fact that I wish to keep my few birds with me, I do apply for faculty positions overseas. In fact, driven by my deep sense of disillusionment and disenfranchisement that developed during my past year of un(der)employment, I am more inclined to relocate overseas than I am to move to many places in the United States -- provided of course, that I can bring my birds with me.
That said, I once was willing to live anywhere simply for the pleasure of studying my birds. However, I am tired of relocating and because my next move might be my last, I find that I am no longer willing to relocate to "just anywhere". I know from experience that I would be emotionally and socially lost if I could not live with birds. I would be miserable without access to a nearby natural area where I could go bird (and bug) watching. I would be depressed if I was unable to participate as an essential and respected member in my new community. I would end up isolated if I could not find a local watering hole where I could hang out with my neighbors and talk about politics, science, nature, college football and life in general. And of course, I'd need to live near a college or university campus because I want to be close to the academic life since that is the only life I ever excelled at, the only life that I feel comfortable living. Because I don't own a car and don't wish to, I want to live in a community with good public transit, and where I can commute on my bicycle without fearing for life and limb. The community to where I relocate would also have to respect my agnosticism, my socially liberal politics combined with fiscal conservativism, my obvious environmentalism. The combination of all of these qualities seem impossible expectations to meet, don't you think dear readers? Am I too picky? Is there a place for me out there somewhere, or should I plan to only consider living in expensive (but socially familiar) metropoli such as New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, Tokyo or London for the remainder of my life?
These musings make me wonder about the bigger picture: how much sacrifice should one make for his or her career? Which sacrifices are simply "too much"? How does one know when a sacrifice is too much to make? Have any of you, dear readers, figured out a formula or method that helps you make these difficult choices? How did you figure this formula out? Could you share your secrets with me?
© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist