Unsolicited Advice: Geography and the Job Search.

Physioprof has posted over at Drugmonkey today about the foolishness of limiting where you apply for a faculty position – in response to a post from Dr. Brazen Hussy at her site. I’m here to tell you he’s right on the money on this one.  Both PP and I have posted on this previously at various times (I’m too lazy to dig up the links right now)- – and I started writing a rather lengthy comment over at DM about limiting where you apply based on geography (in response to a couple of the comments), and thought I’d just make a blog post out of it instead.

Just as a disclaimer from the outset:  IT IS COMPLETELY SILLY TO LIMIT WHERE YOU APPLY BASED ON GEOGRAPHY UNLESS YOUR HEART’S DESIRE IS TO GO OUT ON THE JOB MARKET AGAIN FOR ANOTHER YEAR. Your goal is to get a job, and in this day and age it is HARD to get an academic job … as Whimple nicely pointed out over there- in 2008 you take any academic job you can get. You increase your chances for this by getting multiple offers, you increase your chance of multiple offers by having multiple interviews… and you have the best possible chance of multiple interviews if you apply as widely as possible.

Now, let me say a thing or two about geography- because I know what I’m talking about here. I grew up in the extremely scenic great northwest, have traveled all over the world (I have a parent and a spouse that are not US born or raised), and I lived in the beautiful northeast US for about 15 years.  I have lived most of my life in fantastic, culturally aware, cosmopolitan urban areas in the United States and abroad. I am not a small town girl that has not seen anything of the world.  Now, I live and work in a place where I once said, out loud in fact, I couldn’t be dragged even after death.

I WAS WRONG ABOUT THIS PLACE. Let me say that again- I was wrong about this place, and I wouldn’t have realized this if I had closed myself off from this opportunity.

I’m happy here, I have a job that I love with all the right factors to make the best possible career moves, I can raise a family safely and sanely, I never have to deal with traffic, I have great colleagues and a supportive department, I have the facilities I need to work (which only exist in a handful of places in the US, none of which are in the places that I lived and worked previously). To me these factors determine my day-to-day happiness and job satisfaction vastly more than the ability to look at some mountain every morning.. or to have the privilege of sitting in traffic for two hours a day….. and I’ve done that too. I recognize that the trade-offs won’t be the same for every person.

Certain places/departments/locations/facilities are not what you expect- and you won’t know this unless you visit.  You won’t be invited to visit, if you don’t apply. Find the best job for you- regardless of geography. Also- because you have a poor opinion of a place when you are 25 and single, does not mean that you won’t find that place the perfect place to settle down and raise a family later (if that is something you are interested in doing).  You can not predict these things in advance. You limit your opportunities in ways you don’t even realize if you start applying based on geography.

And one last thing that has more to do with casting a wide net, and less to do with geography – interviewing for an academic job is a networking opportunity.  Regardless of whether you decide to take a job in a place- you will have met all of their faculty, you develop a better picture of your field, and people in fields that peripherally interact with your field if you go out and meet people.  These people won’t all be located in geographic areas that you find attractive.  Don’t use that silly geography logic to miss out on that chance.

9 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice: Geography and the Job Search.

  1. Maybe I can rephrase the question that I posted over at DrugMonkey. Let’s say you cast a wide net, get your only offer from one of these places where you thought you would not want to live and instead of changing your mind, the visit just confirms that you don’t like the department and/or town. In other words, as you suspected from the start, you don’t want this job and you decide to remain a postdoc and try again later. I can imagine writing a letter to say you just didn’t feel that you would fit in the department or town and so you’re deciding not to take the job, but I don’t relish the idea of doing that.

  2. I read your comment over there and hoped that you’d post about this topic. I cannot agree with you more strongly. The beauty of this business is that it can take you to places you never thought you’d be and expand your mind and life experiences. I’ve lived in several places I never thought I’d consider, but that’s where the job offers were. I’ve found cool stuff about every place I’ve lived and have cultivated relationships with interesting and engaging people that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

    A lot of it has to do with your outlook. It’s easy to find culture in New York City or Chicago or San Francisco, natural wonders in Utah or Colorado, and pretty much anything you’d ever want in San Diego or Toronto or Seattle. While it may take a little time to find the treasures of other places with research universities, they can be found regardless of your needs at 25 or 45. Embrace where you are, learn about the history, get involved in the community outside your laboratory, celebrate the extremes of climate, and you’ll have an enriching experience during those few hours when you’re not in the lab or writing grant applications.

  3. I can imagine writing a letter to say you just didn’t feel that you would fit in the department or town and so you’re deciding not to take the job, but I don’t relish the idea of doing that.

    AB, a job search is like a dance or a marriage – both parties have to agree. Candidates turn down offers all the time. I try to keep good relationships with them, follow their careers, and wish them well when seeing them at conferences, but I certainly don’t take offense. (I can also tell you that I’ve been pissed at some of my past colleagues on search committees when I couldn’t win them over on my top candidate, only to watch them blow the doors off all of us ten years later – but that’s another story).

    If a candidate wants to remain in a postdoc rather than be an assistant professor anywhere, that is their decision. Any department where I’ve been would certainly not want to make the investment in an assistant professor who wasn’t happy when we could bring in someone else who was passionate and driven about being offered the opportunity.

  4. Amen, sistah! I could almost have written this post. I will go one step further and say there is every reason to consider ACCEPTING an offer even if after your multiple visits you STILL cannot really conceive of staying in the place for all of your academic career, if the resources and facilities are right. How many people really do remain in one life-long department their whole academic career? I would bet that most do not. But even if you take a job that is not in the city of your dreams (or is more like the city of your nightmares), how much of that city do you really see anyway in those first few years of getting your research program moving? Answer: not a lot. If they are giving you a pile of money to buy all the stuff and staff you need for doing your research, and not demanding too much in the way of teaching, you would be nuts to say no. You need every material advantage you can get to get your program off the gound, and you can always move a few years later on once you have got some portable money. Or so I keep telling myself. But in some ways, I am actually starting to like the place– it grows on me.

  5. I can also tell you that I’ve been pissed at some of my past colleagues on search committees when I couldn’t win them over on my top candidate, only to watch them blow the doors off all of us ten years later – but that’s another story.

    And from the other end of things, it is extremely satisfying to see the looks on search committee members’ faces from institutions that didn’t make me offers when they find out how successful I have been, and know how unsuccessful the dipshits they actually hired have been.

  6. Abel, thanks for the thoughtful response. That makes me feel a lot better about it, seriously.

  7. Hey Abel-

    Where ya been? I missed you- I hope you are well! Thanks for your very, very thoughtful comment- we are completely on the same page. There are wonderful people, great communities and nice places to live all over this country… and they are not just big urban areas that fall immediately off all our lips….

    The things that can happen to you when you are open to, and embrace opportunities that come along regardless of geography, are quite amazing. Not in a million years did I think I would be living where I currently do- but I am rather pleased with how this is working out.

    AB- I am in complete agreement with Abel about turning down a position that you don’t feel is right, and staying in your postdoc another year. He has expressed my opinion in his comment better than I could…

    Crystal- ‘You need every material advantage you can get to get your program off the ground’

    This is more true than you know. Not only does this mean money, equipment and facilities, it also means time and supportive department. I could spend two hours a day in a car commuting… but now I get to spend those hours working or with my kids. And the support and confidence of your colleagues early in your career is so critical… and this is just something that one should weigh very carefully in deciding where to take a faculty job.

    And you are right- nothing is forever. Moving from faculty position to faculty position is not easy- I don’t want to leave anyone with that impression. But with that said- almost no decision that you make with respect to your career is a permanent one- this is simply because you can not predict what will happen in the future, and what opportunities will present themselves. You are best served if you put yourself in the position to take a great opportunity when it comes up!

  8. Thanks, this was a useful post.

    PP and Abel- wouldn’t it be nice if we all got the chance at the Count of Monte Cristo style revenge. That only works if you eventually do manage to get a job somewhere.

  9. I don’t quite agree with you. But I believe that you should apply independently of the location since you won’t have to agree with everything suggested. Just to have an opportunity to choose.

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