Written on June 11, 2008
Regular readers may remember about a month of whinging and hand wringing about my lack of employment, demoralization and general shittiness. Funny, that. Just a week or so after taking on one job I’ve now been offered, and am likely to accept, a second. The writing gig is only part time, so I’ve been looking around for little bits to fill in the gap. Well, the little bits turned out to be fairly big bits when I got a phone call today offering me a full-time teaching position at one of Adelaide’s universities. So, in a couple of weeks I’ve gone from a state of panic about my potentially permanent unemployment to having one and a half jobs. I am a hugely relieved underwhelming correspondent today, folks. There was a fairly loud voice in the back of my head seeking to convince me that once I walked out of the lab that I was doomed to a life of McJobs.One of the things that I learned during my somewhat less than successful post-doc was that the traditional academic career path wasn’t for me. It wasn’t just the creeping feeling of dissatisfaction that greeted me every day I walked into the lab. One day, I was looking through our departmental website and realized that there were nearly four times as many post-docs as there were lecturers. I’m no mathematician, but it doesn’t take one to figure out that there are not a lot of jobs out there for your average Ph.D. In fact you’re pretty much waiting for the rare new faculty position or for an emeritus professor to wake up dead one morning. Even when a position opens up you’re competing with scores of other desperate Ph.D.’s, most of whom want it worse than you. From that moment on I pretty much new that I would never hold a faculty position and I started thinking about alternative careers in science.That’s scary business. One of the many problems with getting a Ph.D. is that you get institutionalized. You spend so much time in academic institutions, dealing with academics that you may as well tattoo on the leather elbow patches. You’re not really prepared to work outside of the university environment and in many cases are discouraged from doing so. When I told one of my Ph.D. supervisors about my decision to abandon the tenure track toil, there was a definite air of disapproval. It’s hard to even know where to start. Apparently, a good place to begin is to move continents with a family to feed and house and no job prospects.* Necessity is the mother of invention, or is it Frank Zappa?As I write this post, I can say with some relief that I might have nailed it. I’m in a position right now to explore two of the aspects of science that I’m passionate about – communication and education. I’m going to be able to make some decisions about my career path and hopefully, in the long run, tailor a position for myself. I’m going to get a taste of the “real world” while still being able to relax in the cozy arms of a university. Best of all, I’m going to be able to support my family at the same time. May not see them much for a while, though.Nonetheless, right now, for this moment in time, it’s pretty damn good to be me.*A good suit doesn’t hurt.