Career black holes

Let’s not kid ourselves. Finding a job in science these days is rough. Finding the job you want, once you get past your postdoc years, is even rougher. And landing your ideal job? Unless that postdoc was picture-perfect, you’re screwed.
Case in point; me. I had a rough postdoc. For now I won’t get into the gritty details, outside of a number of family-related issues and illnesses, and an anxiety disorder-related meltdown on my end, balanced with a phenomenal clusterfuck of mismanagement and bad mentorship on the part of my governmental employer. Where does this leave me? Beyond the simple feelings of loss and failure for not attaining that Brass Ring of rings, the tenure track research position?


In the Dead Zone. Purgatory. Or maybe Limbo. Straddling the event horizon. In time out. The penalty box. The Phantom Zone. Flatline. In short, I’m fucked.
When faced with this situation, one has to reassess exactly what they want out of life. I really want that tenure track spot, but options for doing so require that I do another postdoc, and to be honest I just can’t see myself putting up with that crap again at this point in my life. Unfortunately, once you’re out, you generally don’t get back in without a successful postdoc.
So now I have to consider my options. I really would like to teach, in fact that always figured into my career plans. Someday, I wanted to return to a small, liberal arts college and impart the wisdom I had gained throughout my years in the research world to the future generation of scientists. Perhaps that time is now. Ok, great! Now there’s just that one small problem…. I’m geographically constrained in a region with a low population density. So there isn’t exactly a plethora of colleges in driving distance. Sure there are a couple…. one of them has what looks to be an excellent teaching postdoc position, but the school is an hour away and the position is only open for a year. There’s no guarantee that I’d be hired on next year for the tenure track spot. Looks like I may be job hunting again in a year if I get that.
Another option I stumbled across was for an undergraduate lab coordinator position. I could pick up valuable teaching experience by doing what I do best in the meantime. However, that will be a pretty competitive position since it’s at the one large state school in the area.
Bottom line: there’s no “safe” option, no sure thing, and it may be time to start looking outside the box. Or risk drowning in a sea of career ambivalence.

5 Responses

  1. Welcome to the club.
    Me, I’ve changed my thinking – science isn’t a career; this is something insanely fun I indulge in for as long as I can land another temporary position in this area. It’s like graduate school in a way, where your classmates start their careers and make money out in the real world, but you get to feed your inner child with the wonders of research. And now, post-docs and temporary asisstant positions is my way of continuing that.
    With no tenure or permanent position in the future I’ll have to quit one day, of course, and do something else for a living, but for now I’ve decided to just enjoy the ride.

  2. I’m working backwards through your posts.
    Similar problem here. I couldn’t compete for grants because I didn’t have the publications. I didn’t have the publications because I didn’t/couldn’t put in the insane amount of time and effort in the lab I’d have needed to do the experiments and write those papers. And I couldn’t do that because I had a chronically ill wife, and that carried a certain emotional and physical cost to me.
    Best of luck to you.

  3. Janne, I definitely don’t agree with your assessment. I worked my ass off for my Ph.D. and I certainly didn’t do it so I could “land another temporary position”. I did it with the express intent that I would eventually get out into the real world, make a decent wage AND get to do something I love to do.
    EM, I feel for you. I’m fortunate to have had a decent (and short!) postdoc, which led to decent enough contacts to get me a job that appears secure and pays well. When I come up for retention in 2 more years, and I’m setting myself up to succeed, I’ll have that job security for years to come … as long as they don’t deep six my position and/or place of work (that’s the fun working for the government). I’m not sure what your skill set is, but I would definitely look at seeing if you can’t find anything at the local, large university that might not be the ideal fit, but would expand your skill set and in the meantime allow you to make new contacts which you can eventually translate into a tenure track position. Best of luck.

  4. Thanks for information. Good works Best of luck to you.

  5. Thanks for information. Good works Best of luck to you.

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