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  1. #1
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    Is the dream over?

    When I was a kid, I didn't want to be a fireman, or a policeman, or a soldier- I wanted to be a scientist. I worked hard in high school to get into a good college, worked hard in college to get into a good graduate school, and then worked hard in graduate school to get a good postdoc. I had my share of difficulties through out that period- problems with mental illness (I'm bipolar, I have generalized anxiety disorder, and to complete the trifecta, tourette's syndrome which was loads of fun in high school, let me tell you), but I made it through. In fact, I made it through without any debt, because I always managed to get scholarships. I met my wife while I was in graduate school- I'm crazy about her! We met, fell in love, and got married. Now we have a baby on the day (due April 7th), and we're both very excited about that. But over the last few years a lot of my anxiety and depression have started to get the better of me, and really started to take a significant toll on the limited self confidence I started with. A couple of my PhD projects didn't work out as nicely as I would've liked them to, and as a result I only managed to get five publications from it, instead of 7. And my postdoc project has turned into a bit of a gong show- and not worked out nearly as easily as either myself, or my postdoc advisor had expected.

    Regardless, I had a second postdoc position lined up to start this summer, and I was really excited about it. It's at an amazing University, dream department, even better lab. In fact, the position is nearly perfect in every way. For what I want to do, this place is objectively better (for me) than Cambridge, Oxford, or Harvard. And not only that, they are really excited to have me come there. That University spent time and money trying to convince ME that I was a good fit for them. I'd never experienced that before, it was pretty nice. The major downside was the location- I felt pretty certain my wife would be very unhappy there because of the climate, and that we'd have a hard time finding a place to live that my wife would be comfortable with on my salary (she wants to stay home for a year with the baby, and that's something I agreed to a while ago, because if we had been in Canada, she would've been afforded that luxury by the liberal maternal benefits laws). I love her to bits, and she really has a fantastic heart, but sometimes she can be a bit of a class snob.

    The lab I'm currently in has started to have serious funding problems. A few months ago, my current supervisor (unfairly, and unreasonably) blew a gasket at me- essentially blaming me for a lot of things that were not my responsibility. When that happened, with my already diminished self confidence- I sort of completely deflated. At that point, I realized (whether or not it was true, I felt it was true) that if I couldn't make the current postdoc a success (and it seemed like it was about to explode, not because of the project, but because the supervisor seemed like he was going to create an extremely toxic and hostile work environment), then I'd need to do three postdocs, instead of two- to get a faculty position. That, combined with the fact that the US economy is in a hole and the macroeconomic indicators for the future are still pretty mixed, that the amount of faculty hiring being done has reached a new low- really made me feel like, trying to continue to pursue this dream was folly. It made me feel like I was peter pan, being unwilling to grow up, and make the hard choices and personal sacrifices for the sake of my family.

    I knew of another position that was opening up, doing something I'm perfectly qualified for, but not particularly interested in- but it was going to pay better than the dream postdoc I mentioned earlier, it was going to be close my my wife's family, and it had long term prospects. I think the work is really important- probably much more important in the short term than the aforementioned job. It's just not doing what I want to do. I can do it, I just don't find it particularly interesting or intellectually challenging. EDIT: I should point out, I applied for, and got this job too.

    Anyway, I'm really struggling with this. I don't know what to do- take the job that'll make my family happy, that'll give me the time to spend with my wife and my future children- or take the job that excites me, that I've dreamed about since I was a boy- but pays less, promises less, and demands more.

    I don't know.
    Last edited by bhdavis1978; 01-30-11 at 08:08 PM. Reason: Clarification.

  2. #2
    Mystery Meat gitarzan's Avatar
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    You've still got some thinking to do. And remember your wife counts in. Explain to her what's important to you and LISTEN to what's important to her.

    I do not envy your problem(s) facing you.

    I ended up doing what I had not planned to, what I had studied for, but that change has been interesting and has worked out for me. And the talents I had learned, has actually served me well at times.

    Good luck on coming to a decision.
    Last edited by gitarzan; 01-30-11 at 08:20 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jseis View Post
    Is a ukulele player in a mandolin town and banned from all bars by the chief of police unless he leaves his strings and gravy at the front door.

  3. #3
    Found my way <3 2 Ride's Avatar
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    I agree. Have an honest conversation with your wife about all of this. Explain how much this position means to you. Ask her what she would like from the possibilities.

    Sometimes our dreams take a little longer than originally planned. Sometimes our spouse surprises us by compromising in ways we didn't imagine they would.
    When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. - Jimi Hendrix

    Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. - John Lennon


  4. #4
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    Boy have I been there. You need to give your wife's views heavy heavy weight. And keep an eye for that exit strategy (an actual job rather than another postdoc to keep stringing the dream along). And keep an eye out for alternate routes toward your end goal (unless your end goal all along really was a tenure-track position in the field of your dissertation). I have found a better resting place than my academic career was leading me, and has led my classmates, that is closer to what I meant when I was writing those grad school applications.

  5. #5
    Senior Member RunningPirate's Avatar
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    Hi BH -

    For what it's worth, 1) I admire the fact that you were able to name a goal and remain focused on it for so long, and 2) I'm sorry to hear about the jam that you're in, because of it.

    Now, a proviso: I'm a single guy. For the most part I do what I want when I want (there are some limitations, but you get the gist), so my POV might be bit skewed.

    First off, I've always sort of fell into the jobs I've had, with mixed results. Sometimes, it was great, but then again there were times when my life was sheer hell. The money I was making at the time did absolutely nothing to alleviate that fact. I have since learned that liking what you do is worth $$Thousands of dollars/year in salary.

    All that said, I'm going to +1 what everyone said about including your wife in the decision, as she's in on this, as well. You did make an agreement with her, so she has a right to have some say. Further, I'm sure you would not want to subject her to a situation that she would find unenjoyable...and that's more than reasonable.

    Now - all THAT said, she needs to reciprocate, as well. It's not fair that you have to sacrifice something you've worked towards your entire life while she gives up nothing. Short version: What you want matters, too. Unfortunately, a lot of folks tend to forget that...

    As for the money, my father used to tell me "Do what you love and the money will follow". So even if you start out making less, there's a good chance that your salary would increase in the coming years. You say you'd be making less at the dream job. Would the amount create that much hardship? I mean, would you be relegated to dangerous living conditions because of it? Or would it just mean no money for luxury items for a while?

    ...mind you, this attitude might be why I'm 39 and single But I think you get what I'm driving at...don't ever forget that what you want matters, too.

    Good luck.
    There's nothing for you to see here...just move along, now...

  6. #6
    Senior Member nuhtowel's Avatar
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    Is the less interesting job you mentioned a post-doc position?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by HardyWeinberg View Post
    Boy have I been there. You need to give your wife's views heavy heavy weight. And keep an eye for that exit strategy (an actual job rather than another postdoc to keep stringing the dream along). And keep an eye out for alternate routes toward your end goal (unless your end goal all along really was a tenure-track position in the field of your dissertation). I have found a better resting place than my academic career was leading me, and has led my classmates, that is closer to what I meant when I was writing those grad school applications.
    For a very long time, my end goal has been a tenure-track position, and that's still 'the dream', but unless something drastic changes in the next few days, we will be taking the position closer to her family. I have given her views heavy weight, and she has always been very encouraging about going to the place that lets me further my dreams- but I also know that she would be physically uncomfortable in the extreme heat, and that she'd be very isolated from her friends and family, even more so than she is now. If going that route would result in us being able to achieve a tenure-track position in a location that we'd like to live in, then we both agree, the sacrifices would be worth it- but at this point, it just seems so unlikely. On the other hand, I can take the position near her family, and we can have a very good life there. And who knows what other possibilities that path will lead to, but it would almost certainly exclude what I really want to do. It's also a postdoc position, but it's one that has a lot more exit strategy options than the more interesting postdoc position. And I know that in the long term, I would regret losing my wife more than I would miss losing my dream career, and ultimately it is that truth that is largely influencing my decision (well that, and I think that the tenure-track options in evolutionary biology are going to be pretty much dead for the next few years).

    nuhtowel: Yeah, they're both postdoc positions. One pays about $5k more than the other, but it's proximity to family make it a major plus.

    RunningPirate- You've made a lot of good points, I'll reply to them tomorrow- for now it's time to go to bed.

  8. #8
    Senior Member rustybrown's Avatar
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    ummm...HTFU?!? First world problems, bro.

    Be with your family. Plenty of time to chase tenure later. Baby on the way, no need to cause strife in your budding relationship.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by HardyWeinberg View Post
    Boy have I been there. You need to give your wife's views heavy heavy weight. And keep an eye for that exit strategy (an actual job rather than another postdoc to keep stringing the dream along). And keep an eye out for alternate routes toward your end goal (unless your end goal all along really was a tenure-track position in the field of your dissertation). I have found a better resting place than my academic career was leading me, and has led my classmates, that is closer to what I meant when I was writing those grad school applications.
    Quote Originally Posted by rustybrown View Post
    ummm...HTFU?!? First world problems, bro.

    Be with your family. Plenty of time to chase tenure later. Baby on the way, no need to cause strife in your budding relationship.
    There won't be time to chase tenure later, because I'm making such a drastic change from the field I'm interested in achieving tenure in, into a field I'm not interested in obtaining tenure in.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by RunningPirate View Post
    The money I was making at the time did absolutely nothing to alleviate that fact. I have since learned that liking what you do is worth $$Thousands of dollars/year in salary.
    I appreciate that having a job that you like versus a job that you hate is worth something, but I'm not going to hate this job, it's still interesting- it's just not what I feel passionate about. In one case, I'll be doing cutting edge science, working in a very new sub-discipline, on the other hand, I'll basically be doing applied science.

    At the same time, the job I feel less passionate about is also better defined. The expectations are extremely clear and easily met. It is basically a M-F 9-5 position, while the position that I'm excited about could easily consume 144 hours per week if I was willing to let it. It'd be much harder to find a good work/life balance there, and we've got a baby coming that I'd like to spend time with, and get to know. If the more exciting position was even a specified 60 hours / week, that would be something I could probably live with, but cutting edge science always demands more, more, more- and if you don't give it what it demands, you get left by the wayside. I think therein lies a lot of my dilemma, actually.

    All that said, I'm going to +1 what everyone said about including your wife in the decision, as she's in on this, as well. You did make an agreement with her, so she has a right to have some say. Further, I'm sure you would not want to subject her to a situation that she would find unenjoyable...and that's more than reasonable.

    Now - all THAT said, she needs to reciprocate, as well. It's not fair that you have to sacrifice something you've worked towards your entire life while she gives up nothing. Short version: What you want matters, too. Unfortunately, a lot of folks tend to forget that...
    She has given me a lot of input, but most of it has been of the form 'I will support you in whatever you do', and I truly appreciate that. That said, however sincere she is when she makes those sorts of overtures, they are impossible to back it up. If I don't know where her limits exist (I'm not sure she understands where they exist either), then it becomes very difficult for me to factor them into consideration. She already gave up a lot once when we moved from British Columbia to our current location for my current position- she gave up a really good job (she was making more money then, than our current combined income- granted, BC is an expensive place to live), her friends, and her family so that I could have an opportunity to do what I wanted to do. In some ways, I think it has been harder for her than she expected, but I also think she has gained a lot from it. But now with a baby coming, always living away from our families (her family is in BC, mine is in Toronto) means that most of our vacation time will always be consumed with traveling to see either her family, or my family- and that isn't the kind of life she wants to live. Plus, I feel pretty sure that she is going to be physically uncomfortable living in the deep south in the heat and humidity.

    And to be honest, in many ways, I'm excited about the intellectually less interesting position too- mostly because it where it would allow us to live and proximity to family, rather than what it would allow me to do professionally.

    Let me be clear here, I'm not trying to be argumentative with you, if it seems that way at all. I'm just trying to work out the what, where, why, and how of what I'm feeling, and your questions are very helpful in that regard.

    As for the money, my father used to tell me "Do what you love and the money will follow". So even if you start out making less, there's a good chance that your salary would increase in the coming years. You say you'd be making less at the dream job. Would the amount create that much hardship? I mean, would you be relegated to dangerous living conditions because of it? Or would it just mean no money for luxury items for a while?
    On average less interesting job actually has more, and better paying job prospects overall than the more interesting job does (although the more interesting job probably has some job prospects with much higher incomes, there are just way fewer of them, and it has a lot of other job prospects that pay a lot less).

    The issue of income isn't so much about creature comforts and luxuries, but more about living where we'll safe enough that we can go out for a walk in the evenings without fear of muggings, where my wife will feel safe being left home alone with the baby when I go off to conferences, and yet is not a very long commute to and from work everyday. The commuting issue is important, because in many cases I would have to return back to the lab in the middle of the night to do a half hour or so worth of work for the experiment to continue. So, yeah- it's a bit sticky.

    I think I've made up my mind- and that is to take the less interesting, but better for my family, position. We've put money down for a lease on a home that we like, we've started packing our boxes, and we've told our friends and families about it. Either way we will have regrets- either losing an opportunity to go and live in Texas, and work on some really exciting science, and have new adventures in a new city, or losing the opportunity to have our children grow up near their grand parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bhdavis1978 View Post
    I think I've made up my mind- and that is to take the less interesting, but better for my family, position. We've put money down for a lease on a home that we like, we've started packing our boxes, and we've told our friends and families about it. Either way we will have regrets- either losing an opportunity to go and live in Texas, and work on some really exciting science, and have new adventures in a new city, or losing the opportunity to have our children grow up near their grand parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
    I am not sure it's possible to really do ragged edge revolutionary science w/o having a support system in place for your spouse, more of one than she could build herself from scratch after being plunked down in a new place. Not and stay married I mean. Every last one of my wife's and my committee members and postdoc advisers who had a stable family life either made compromises on their research or was so very very old that times were just different when they were getting up to speed. The few superstars were domestic wrecks (or knew enough to avoid domesticity entirely).

  12. #12
    Senior Member mustachiod's Avatar
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    i left a dream job after my 1st daughter was born. also in education, BTW. just another sacrifice in the name of being a good husband/father. no regrets over here.

    you need to do whatever is best for your family, definitely get your wife to agree on whatever decision is made

    dream is definitely not over, you have a long life ahead of you. with lots of adventures/opportunities to pursue
    Quote Originally Posted by powers2b View Post
    BF does not have the answer to what you will be happy with.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by HardyWeinberg View Post
    I am not sure it's possible to really do ragged edge revolutionary science w/o having a support system in place for your spouse, more of one than she could build herself from scratch after being plunked down in a new place. Not and stay married I mean. Every last one of my wife's and my committee members and postdoc advisers who had a stable family life either made compromises on their research or was so very very old that times were just different when they were getting up to speed. The few superstars were domestic wrecks (or knew enough to avoid domesticity entirely).
    Yeah, that's what I am worried about, and ultimately I'd rather be married and have a job I like, than divorced and have a job that I might like more. It has also been my observation that there are a very narrow range of circumstances that allows for a married person to continue working in, as you put it 'ragged edge revolutionary science', and stay happily married. I know of a few superstars who managed to maintain their marriages, but in those cases, their spouses were also in academics. Given your username, I suspect we work in the same field (I have a PhD in population genetics from uBC). Ar you still in academia? If not, how did you get out?

    Quote Originally Posted by mustachiod View Post
    i left a dream job after my 1st daughter was born. also in education, BTW. just another sacrifice in the name of being a good husband/father. no regrets over here.

    you need to do whatever is best for your family, definitely get your wife to agree on whatever decision is made

    dream is definitely not over, you have a long life ahead of you. with lots of adventures/opportunities to pursue
    Thanks a lot mustachoid- I appreciate advice from people who have 'been there, done that'.

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    I always wanted to do applied work so I just pushed myself into it away from the flute-musicky academic stuff

  15. #15
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    HW, would you mind if I sent you a PM? I'm interested in what you're doing and how you were able to market your skill set to non-academic employers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bhdavis1978 View Post
    HW, would you mind if I sent you a PM? I'm interested in what you're doing and how you were able to market your skill set to non-academic employers.
    Sure go ahead

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    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    I really feel for you man. My postdoc advisor is very unpredictable as well (and I did some stupid things early on here to make myself hard to market should I leave on less than his best graces if he wants to make my life difficult). Sometimes lit's about just surviving to try making your life happy. We also had some hardships when my wife and I had to live apart for a year when her first postdoc ended and my (apparently never ending 8 year) phd program got extended longer than it should have. I've always wanted to do pure basic research, but have had to follow the money into more applied stuff. I'm struggling with what's going to come next as my wife is read to start looking for faculty jobs and I have minimal publications and don't know if I'm cut out to run a lab. I mean I love thinking big picture and designing experiments, but I just don't know. I don't know if population genetics is that different from my field of molecular biology, but 5 papers from a phd sounds pretty great to me.

    I will agree with whoever above said that a lot of the cutting edge dudes seem to be real a-holes or have crappy home lives (due to their less emphasis on spending time there rather than the lab or apparently thinking their success has put them above normal rules) and would much rather be like my PhD advisor who had a much less outstanding career (after brilliant PhD/Postdocs) and have a happy family life that he goes home at 5-6 every day to see. Though now that I think about it, at my PhD institution where the pressures were less than my current institution, I knew 3 national academy members who seemed to be quite happy and nice (one was on my committee, one worked across the hall from me and I had a good relationship with, and my wife's first postdoc advisor there was about the nicest man you'll meet).

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by gitarzan View Post
    You've still got some thinking to do. And remember your wife counts in. Explain to her what's important to you and LISTEN to what's important to her.

    I do not envy your problem(s) facing you.

    I ended up doing what I had not planned to, what I had studied for, but that change has been interesting and has worked out for me. And the talents I had learned, has actually served me well at times.

    Good luck on coming to a decision.
    +1 to everything in this.
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    I turned in my resignation today.

  20. #20
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    Well glad you made your decision. You have some time off before starting the new gig (assuming the new one is set in stone)?

  21. #21
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    The new start date is 'early March', and my last day of employment is February 28th. In between February 28th, we've got to move approximately 1800 miles driving a U-Haul through the cascade and coastal mountains in the winter, cross a border, and take a ferry. The new job wants me to start ASAP, but I think I will try to take at least 5 days off (i.e. a weekend plus 3 days) to regain some of my sanity.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by bhdavis1978 View Post
    The lab I'm currently in has started to have serious funding problems. A few months ago, my current supervisor (unfairly, and unreasonably) blew a gasket at me- essentially blaming me for a lot of things that were not my responsibility. When that happened, with my already diminished self confidence- I sort of completely deflated.
    Welcome to corporate science.
    After giving it a go for 18 years and 5 different companies, and getting shafted at each one (no funding, hiring freezes, and office politics I refused to "play the game" in), I gave up on it and went for a job that doesn't turn me into an alcoholic *******.
    I work regular hours, no weekends, no carry-over work, and even though I took a 30% paycut to do it I'm happier with my life and people find me to be far less of an a-hole.
    "I feel like my world was classier before I found cyclocross."
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  23. #23
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CliftonGK1 View Post
    Welcome to corporate science.
    After giving it a go for 18 years and 5 different companies, and getting shafted at each one (no funding, hiring freezes, and office politics I refused to "play the game" in), I gave up on it and went for a job that doesn't turn me into an alcoholic *******.
    I work regular hours, no weekends, no carry-over work, and even though I took a 30% paycut to do it I'm happier with my life and people find me to be far less of an a-hole.
    Man that sounds nice. Our first baby is due next week and I'd like to spend some time with him/her rather than the 70+ hours I'm currently spending in the lab every week and then doing more work at home. Academic postdocs are really taking it out of me and making me question whether my love of teaching is really worth continuing down this line.

  24. #24
    Look! My Spine! RubenX's Avatar
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    Been there @ the cutting edge of my field and found out:

    * Very little recognition.
    * Constant threat of outsourcing.
    * ON-Call 24/7, no weekends, vacation, no life.
    * Extra money earned had to be spent on therapist and pills.

    I've concluded I'm better off with an unimportant position that pays enough to cover the bills and allows me to spend more time with my kids and my soon-to-be. I do get more recognition from fixing the squeaky door than what I ever got from <insert great professional accomplishment here>.

    My best luck to the OP. Hope you find out a balance that works out for you and your love ones.
    "Hoy es un dia normal, pero yo voy a hacerlo intenso" ~ Juanes

  25. #25
    That darn Yankee TexasGuy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RubenX View Post
    Been there @ the cutting edge of my field and found out:

    * Very little recognition.
    * Constant threat of outsourcing.
    * ON-Call 24/7, no weekends, vacation, no life.
    * Extra money earned had to be spent on therapist and pills.

    I've concluded I'm better off with an unimportant position that pays enough to cover the bills and allows me to spend more time with my kids and my soon-to-be. I do get more recognition from fixing the squeaky door than what I ever got from <insert great professional accomplishment here>.

    My best luck to the OP. Hope you find out a balance that works out for you and your love ones.
    +1
    Life is about hanging onto what you think is important and finding out what really is important.
    "Stop Ruining my joke!", "No, a joke implies humor attached at no additional cost"
    So many sayings, so little sig space.

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