Welcome to 2016!
****WARNING-The majority of this post can be interpreted negatively (and maybe rightly so), but it ends on a positive note with some exciting news.
My current fellowship as a SESE Postdoctoral Researcher ends on 07/31/2016. I have been on the academic job market for more than 5 years with no luck. Since I finished my PhD in December 2011 I have lived in 4 different cities and moved 6 times. I have no funding (or job) secured beyond 07/31/2016. I know that I am not the only early career scientist who is in a similar situation, and that there are many more soft-money researchers who struggle with this uncertainty all the time.
This realization is immensely scary and sometimes exciting, by exciting I mean the moments when I find myself daydreaming about what I would do if I left science. Let’s address the scary part first, although I am sure it is self-explanatory for anyone who is in academics: As of 8/1/2016, I will become one of the 7.9 million unemployed Americans (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm). This is not the first time unemployment was on the horizon. As I came to the end of my National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at Miami University of Ohio unemployment was on the horizon, before I was offered a Visiting Lecturer position at California State University, Fullerton. This required me to, in a matter of days, pack my life into a small car with two dogs, rent out my home, and move across the country for a 4-month position. This was essentially a band-aid for my imminent unemployment. 6 weeks before the end of the semester I was fortunate enough to be awarded a School of Earth and Space Exploration Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. The situation is much different now. There are no jobs on the horizon. The academic season is “over”, and it is apparent that I will receive a job as a faculty member. What’s left? The only opportunity that still exists out in the ether is a AAAS Fellowship to work with the government as a policy advisor of some sorts, which actually appeals to me more than I would have thought when I started graduate school. Long-lists are announced mid-next month. Other than that I have begun to apply for an assortment of jobs: editor jobs, science writer, science advisor, travel guide leader, tour guide leader, outreach positions, government position, and even jobs as an animal shelter manager. This has been an ongoing for several months without a job offer.
Why excited? The primary reason for the excitement is that I can daydream about where I live and what else I might want to do. Staying in academics, under most circumstances, means you must live wherever you get a job. As I consider a job outside of academics, I realize I have the “power” to choose where I live. It is the one aspect of considering something different that excites me. I have also begun to consider what else could I do that would make me happy – animal rescue, traveling, SCUBA diving, backpacking with my dogs…oh, wait, I am daydreaming again.
The combination of all of this things makes staying focused much more difficult than I have ever imagined. Instead over working everyday, I find myself looking for jobs, applying for jobs. Sadly the rejection is much similar to that which occurs in academics, but I at least I know I am applying jobs in which I am a “non-traditional” candidate; therefore the rejection stings a bit less than it does when you are rejected by the scientific community.
Now I realize that using the work “rejected” may a bit dramatic, but TO ME every time I get passed over for a job or another proposal is declined the “rejection” feels very acute, frustrating, and makes me want to “run for zee hills”.
It is worth mentioning that I have been extremely lucky and feel incredibly fortunate to have amazing mentors who have been nothing but supportive over the last 4-5 years. They have encouraged me to stay in academics, that a permanent position, is just around the corner (I hear this every year), and to just keep publishing. I am so grateful to have an amazing support system, and I thank all my mentors for being wonderful over the years, listening to the ramblings of a mad woman (me), and continuing to encourage me and guide me.
I don’t know why I have not been able to find a job. I have my own personal assumptions, most of which are most self-destructive theories, but maybe the right job has just not come along.
Who would have thought that after studying under one of the most prominent earthquake physicists since the acceptance of plate tectonics, an innovative and “important” dissertation, an internship with a major oil company, and 2 prestigious postdoctoral fellowship would land me without a job in academics.
With that said I have decided to dedicate the final months of my postdoc, besides doing some science, to a project that I started at the beginning of my first postdoc: Early Career Investigators (ECIs) working group. We have spent the last 4 years developing resources, holding functions at annual meetings, conducting webinars, among other things to assist early career scientists. (https://eos.org/project-updates/helping-early-career-researchers-succeed). The most “exciting” or “new” addition to our resources will be an ECIs podcast. I find myself asking “Why do I choose projects that scare the s#!t out of me and make me uncomfortable (I have no real desire to create a podcast, because I can not stand the thought of my voice being out there)?” But with that said, after our most recent ECIs Networking event at the American Geophysical Union meeting, I realized how important it is to have a much more open dialogue about our (ECIs or scientists in general) struggles so others do not feel alone, to hear stories from senior scientists about the struggles they endured, and to highlight the successes of ECIs (e.g., published papers, new faculty, new grants funded).
As I reflect on my career (and this post), maybe this is what I was always supposed to be doing. I decided to get a Ph.D. and be an academic because I wanted to help others, particularly students or those who feel lost as the maneuver college, graduate school, and/or whatever else it is they must go through to end up in a “happy” place. While I have also loved earthquakes, my love of science came later and I have always considered an added bonus – being paid to study a topic that has fascinated me since I was little. Stay tuned for where you can find the podcast and more information about other ECIs resources.