Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tell us what to do!

One of the members of my committee wants to nominate me for a fellowship. It's a good fellowship. A very prestigious fellowship. A fellowship of the sort where the letter and paperwork all stress that you should not nominate anyone at all, because pretty much no one is going to be good enough to win it.

I have no idea why he thinks I even have a chance, although I am very flattered that he does (especially since he says he has only ever nominated one other person for this during his 30-year career).

But here's the problem. If I did win it (which presumably could happen if everyone else in the whole world who is eligible to nominate someone is scared off by the paperwork), then we would have to move to the USA. For three years. In the middle of next year.

Geekman's job here currently runs until the end of 2010. At that point, his entire centre loses their funding, which would leave 20 or more physicists unemployed. So there's a gamble with staying here that long. Either he will then end up competing with 20+ other people for the one or two other jobs that might be going in Australia at that time (many of whom will be his superiors on the academic ladder), or some smart people will secure new funding and he will be able to get a slice of the cake. The latter seems most likely. In the next three years there will be a few retirements in our department, so there's a chance I could worm my way in there too. Alternatively I can keep applying for grants and eventually fund my own damn research. Meanwhile, long-term adjuncting isn't out of the question.

I should probably point out here that Australian universities do not have tenure (although there are still people around who were hired back when tenure did exist, so they still have it). Three year renewable contracts are now as good as it gets. So Geekman is currently in a very good position, with a pretty good chance of longer-term job security.

So. If by some remote miracle, I got this fellowship, I would then be in a fantastic position career-wise, because I think any university in Australia and many elsewhere would jump at employing someone who has one of these fellowships on their CV. Geekman, on the other hand, would be facing three years of unemployment during the fellowship—he tells me there's no way he could get a job at that university, nor would he want to work with the people there anyway—followed by the problem of starting from scratch trying to find a new job afterwards.

Living apart is just not an option. I'd rather not have an academic career at all than do that.

In the long term, it makes more sense for his job to be the first consideration, since I can continue my research without any more department support than a library card, which most universities are happy to give me whether or not I have a job there. Geekman's research, on the other hand, needs super-computer access, expensive software, and a bunch of experimental minions to build him mini black holes or whatever they do down there in the radioactive bowels of the physics department.

Given all of this, my first reaction to my committee member's suggestion was, "Nuh-uh. Doesn't work for us. Thanks anyway." I couldn't see any chance that I would take the fellowship even if I should get it, and I'm not about to apply for something I wouldn't take if offered. But he (and everyone else in the department) looked at me like I was crazy. And that made me wonder if maybe I'm just being stupid.

And the one thing I keep coming back to is, what if, at the end of 2010, there really is no more funding, and Geekman is out of work, and I haven't managed to make my position here any more secure, and I never applied for this fellowship, and we're left unemployed and haunted by what-ifs?

19 Comments:

JustMe said...

hmm, i would say to try for it. because what if geekman's department at fellowship u hires someone new in the meantime that geekman would want to work with? what about if there is a close by uni he could work at? there is nothing around? that really sucks...

i should say though that i try to avoid all what-ifs by trying everything and postponing decision making time until the last moment, ie if i got the fellowship and had to decide.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Is working at fellowship U the only option? Geekman has actual skills, so perhaps he could get a job in the private sector?

When you are done, you'll be a wonderful candidate and if all else fails, Geekman can benefit from being the spousal-hire of the wonderful candidate.

Besides, living in the US for a bit might be fun -- and we could all come to visit you. The downside is that there aren't many locations that come complete with parrots...

StyleyGeek said...

Geekman worked in the private sector for three years and never ever wants to do it again. He feels he has lost too many potential research years already.

But Justme is right - there are probably other universities near(ish) by where he might be able to work. We'll have to look into that.

Jana said...

Apply for the fellowship. It costs nothing but your time, and it doesn't mean you have to take it if you win it.

If you do win it, two things. First, there may well be other universities nearby, as Justme says. I don't know where Fellowship U is, but I've read that there are 40 higher-education institutions in and around Boston, for example, and there must be similar (if not so dense) concentrations around major cities elsewhere. This won't work if it's the U of Peoria, I have to admit.

Secondly, - no, damn. Can't write that. Will call.

peter said...

you will of course be needing another 8 of us to accompany you on the fellowship (well 7 cos of Geekman)... its traditional

Clair said...

I think you're always going to be haunted by what ifs, regardless of whether you choose to do it or not.

I think I'd agree with the majority here, apply for it, if you don't get it you haven't lost anything, and at least you know. If you do get it, well, at least you've bought yourself some extra time to think about it.

canuck_grad said...

Maybe if you get it and move to the US something will work out temporarily for Geekman, and then after your fellowship is over he can get a job at the Perimeter Institute and you can move to Canada! You can replace your parrots with ducks and geese lol.

Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

Ooh! Where in the US? Is it near me? That would be AWESOME. My university has super computers and one of those physics things... you know, where they race atoms around or something. We could hang out and drink beer and talk about birds. That would be COOL.

(And yes, of course, I AM only considering your situation in respect to how it would affect my own life. So?)

kermitthefrog said...

I agree with everyone else, plus if you do end up winning the fellowship and turning it down, you can still put it on your CV: "Prestigious Fellowship X (declined)."

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I have no real advice beyond what everyone's said (apply for the fellowship - at least, if the application isn't crazy obnoxious time-consuming - and decide if/when you get it!). I just wanted to commiserate with the "what if?"s, because we're doing that now, and they SUCK!

Rebecca said...

If this thing is as prestigious as your adviser feels it is, you can always put:
Prestigious Fellowship (Nominee)
on your CV even if you DON'T get it. Which (assuming the people in your field are familiar with it) will carry weight of its own.

I agree - do the application. You can always decline if they offer it, but even having the nomination on your CV will help going forward.

StyleyGeek said...

Tom - thanks for your comment. Those are good points. I had to delete it, though, since it mentioned this city by name. Sorry!

Everyone else - thanks for all the advice. I think you are probably all right and I should apply.

StyleyGeek said...

Heh, although, Tom? It just struck me that I had never really considered that where we WANT to live might play a role in our lives, given what the academic market is like :) It's funny to consider it as a factor for a change.

And in terms of where we want to live, I think NZ would come first (but we have always dismissed that as impossible, given the market there), then Australia (which is a good reason to worm our way into jobs here and never leave).

Psycgirl said...

I don't usually give such direct advice - GO FOR IT! In the worst case scenario where you won this fellowship you could at least put on your CV "Declined XXX Fellowship" which still looks good. Besides, you can cross the bridge of whether or not take it when you get there, right? The "what ifs" do suck, but you'll survive them.

Oooo I hope its near me! :)

Tom said...

Whoops. Sorry - terrible net etiquette.

Tom said...

PS: No tenure in Australia *at all*? Blimey. That's rough. Even here in the UK there are confirmation path jobs to be had (which usually means confirmation of permanent tenure 3 years after the initial appointment: and you have to do something fairly horrendous not to be confirmed). Although I guess they don't come up very often. But they do exist.

JaneB said...

Most of us UK academics don't have tenure or any shot at it - confirmation path type posts are confined to a few institutions, as far as I know.

In most unis we have a probation period of 2-3 years after which we become 'continuing' - no more renewals or assessments, but with a 4 month notice clause on either side. If the university decides it doesn't need a department or your particular role, it _can_ fire you - or offer you the choice of redundancy or a redeployment to another campus/department/sector (which might be effectively a non-research unit or one which cannot support your research, or involve adding a couple of hours commute to your day or no chance to ever teach your research subject or something else undesirable...).

And yes, universities here shut down departments (geology, maths, physics, modern languages, regional specialities like south-east Asian studies, chemistry, women's studies, geography, archaeology... I can name examples of all of those that have been closed in the last ten years or so and there are always some staff losses). When the RAE '08 results come out, there's likely to be another round. Such fun.

James and Rachael said...

You are crazy, and you are being stupid. I love you, but I will slap you if you don't at least allow yourself to be nominated. IF you get it, then you can decide. And at the very least it will put your name AND your work on the desks of the assessors. Which can't be a bad thing.

liz said...

Go for it. Seriously.