Saturday, July 12, 2008

When the job market attacks.

I just turned down an academic job.

I decided a while ago that I would rather be jobless than do the long-distance marriage thing. We did long distance for 4 years and it was horrible. I never want to do it again.

So the obvious solution was to just not apply for any jobs that meant moving away, right? It's not like I'd have to turn down jobs if I wasn't applying for them. Academic jobs aren't exactly going begging.

And then one did.

I got pulled aside at morning tea yesterday by two academics who I admire greatly (and who I didn't even know knew my name), from a university about 1000km (500 miles) from my city: "Have we got a deal for you!"

They had just had a faculty member suddenly leave. Two weeks before semester starts. The deal they were offering me was: 6 month contract, full time, level B (i.e. one promotion/salary level higher than the usual straight-out-of-grad-school position). They will have to advertise for the permanent replacement, but I think the suggestion was there that if I did a good job in the next six months, I could apply for the advertised position and would have a reasonable chance of success.

When I brought up the husband thing, they offered to provide guest lecturer replacements for two weeks during the semester, so I could have an extra two weeks back home as well as the two week mid-semester break. And they said half the course online, so I could be present only part of the week and commute.

So, commuting. The first problem is there are no direct flights between my city and this new one. So it would be a minimum two-step process. I estimate the quickest door-to-door trip would take around five hours. The second problem is that return flights are around $500. I couldn't do that every week, and keep two households, without it eating up most of my salary. If I came back once a fortnight, that and the extra rent/bills would take up at least $10,000 of my $35,000/6 months salary. Taxes would take another $8,000 or so, so I'd essentially be working for $17,000/6 months. So, not great, but not bad compared to my other prospects. (I estimate I'll probably earn around $3000 in the next 6 months.)

But there are other problems too:

  • I'd lose visibility in my current location. As it is, everyone sees me every day. They all know I am hugely under-employed, and so tend to think of me when there is work going. If I were out of sight for six months, I think I would drop off their radars. It would be much harder to get my office and library privileges back afterwards too - whereas holding onto them by sheer inertia is much easier.
  • I'd have to drop the ball on a bunch of things I have already arranged for the next few weeks/months. Some are important (my father has booked tickets to come visit, I agreed to organise a big workshop), others not so much (some research assistant work, a couple of guest lectures, responsibilities in a few clubs and societies). But each thing is going to piss someone off, which is okay if you are leaving the city for good; not so great if you want to come back and pick up where you left off.
  • I had no time to publish anything last semester. My teaching experience is unusually good for my early-career status. What I'm missing is the publications. If I teach yet another new prep this year, I won't get any papers written. The next round of grant apps is in early February, and I won't have a chance without more publications.
  • The classes they want me to teach start in two weeks. Two freaking weeks, people! And for one of these, my mother and my parents-in-law are visiting, plus I'm graduating. So I would essentially have one week to prep an entire new class, find accommodation in a new city, and move. I don't know if it could be done even if I wanted to.
So I'm not going to take the job. But DAMN, I feel guilty. I feel like if I never get an academic position and end up giving up on this career path entirely, it will all be my own fault because I turned down a perfectly good job. And NO ONE, but NO ONE in the academic world (except Geekman) seems to understand my decision. They all say, "But it's such a great opportunity!" and "It's only for a few months".

And I say, "Boo to you. I can turn down a job that would suck. And it doesn't mean I can't keep complaining about the academic job market."

(But I still feel guilty.)


hypoglycemiagirl said...

That sounds like a wise decision. As you say you need to get more publications and that's not an easy task when doing a lot of commuting. You know what's best for you!

And yes, the long distance really (really really!) suck.

Anastasia said...

people who turn down jobs rule.

StyleyGeek said...

Yeah, we should start a club. (I thought of you when I made the decision).

Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

Oh, I would have turned that down too. Not worth it.

Weekend_Viking said...

I'm probably about to end up commuting from NZ to Australia to work, on either a fortnightly or weekly basis. You know, if that job was the sort I'm doing, they'd be offering you at least fifty thousand for the six months, and paying all your accommodation and commute costs.

If they were so keen to have you, they should have offered to pay the commute, at least. I think you avoided a bullet on that one - it would have been a Pyrrhic victory.

post-doc said...

No more guilt! Even if the job was absolute perfection, it's very smart to do what's right on a personal level. Plus, I tend to agree that the job doesn't sound all that exquisite and I read through your list of reasons to stay and thought they all made perfect sense. So I'm completely supportive and think you did very well.

Seeking Solace said...

You did the right thing. Sometimes the greatest job in the world really is not the best for you.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I probably would have turned it down as well -- especially with the math you just did -- it doesn't seem to make sense.

The thing is, it would be different if it were a tenure-track job, or something more long-term than 6 months. The thing is, you'll also be competitive for the advertised job -- and if you get that one, you'll have more time to find housing and work for your honey :).

Kelly said...

I agree with the masses. 'Tis better that you passed on this one - but I hope you let them know that you could be interested in the permanent job in six months. :)

StyleyGeek said...

The thing is, I WOULDN'T want the job in six months. That's one of the reasons why taking it now doesn't make sense. I'm not going to commute like that on a permanent basis. I'd almost consider it for 6 months if everything else would work out, but not permanently. And this university has no dept that does what Geekman does and is around 500 miles from the nearest place that does.

Psych Post Doc said...

Sounds to me like you totally dodged a bullet.

It may have been a good job in general but it was not a good job for you. You made the right decision, no guilt!!

Terminal Degree said...

Congrats on the offer, AND on turning it down. As a wise professor told me once, "Just because they offer you a job doesn't mean you're obligated to take it."

At some point our LIVES have to come first, as much as academic culture would try to convince us otherwise.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Ugh, how frustrating. Your decision makes perfect sense, but, still - frustrating! (But good call.)

Mel said...

what everyone else said. It's really important to make choices for QUALITY of life -- not letting fear force you into unattractive options. Good for you!

Tom said...

Agree with other comments - this is the right decision even if it feels a bit weird. But it's also a sign that you're a desirable property in the academic job market. Even the UK is a pretty small job market at a discipline level - Australia is much smaller. Word will have been passing around departments, and these are just the first people to do anything about it.

So you should probably expect some more offers over the coming year, and invitations to apply for permanent posts, and you should think about how you're going to handle them. Do you negotiate? What minimum criteria will you set for taking a job? In what circumstances would you jump at it? Where are the places in Australia (or NZ - since in some fields it is pretty much one market - I don't know if this applies to linguistics or physics) that Geekman could realistically expect to find employment? Which cities have the most dense parrot population?

ScienceGirl said...

Good call! You have your priorities, and its great that you stand by them!