A Dream Job?
February 24, 2010 8 Comments
When incoming graduate students are looking for labs to work in, I always tell them one thing that I’ve found to be true:
There are three aspects to your lab life: your boss, your project and your coworkers. No one, and I mean NO ONE will have all three of them be awesome the entire time they are in graduate school. However, you need at least TWO to be good to survive. For instance, if your boss is great and your coworkers are fantastic, then it doesn’t matter so much that your project sucks or isn’t working. If your boss is a douche, but you love your project and your coworkers, you’ll be able to weather the storms.
However, miss two of those components and no matter how good the third is, you WILL fail. For instance, if your boss sucks and your lab mates are awful, it doesn’t matter how much you love your project, eventually you will fail.
The goal of course would be to have all 3, but this is a very rare scenario.
When I think about my future career as a faculty member there are quite a few options to consider:
1) Stimulating coworkers – other faculty members that I can have great conversations with
2) Excellent students – I want students who will be able to do quality research for me
3) Reasonable location – I honestly can’t see myself being happy not living in a decent location
4) Research opportunities – I want a University that supports me in my desire to do quality research
5) Teaching excellence – I want a University that puts a large focus on teaching, more than a basic large research University would
I know that places exist where all 5 of these components can be put together. However, I am beginning to realize that just like the perfect lab doesn’t necessarily exist and you just have to find one where you can put together as much as possible, so the perfect job may not exist.
So what that leaves me with is the knowledge that I may not need the perfect job, but rather a job that can contain as many of these components as possible.
Yesterday a job posting was listed for my undergrad. The job posting essentially is asking for exactly ME as a candidate.
So I thought about this in terms of my 5 qualifications above.
1) Stimulating coworkers – As I worked at my undergrad as an adjunct for a semester before moving to the Midwest, I know that my colleagues are stimulating and encouraging. As well, the University encourages growth beyond just teaching and research. There are weekly lunches for all the faculty to get together and talk about their struggles and joys. There are weekly book clubs between the faculty that meet to discuss various topics, including science and the interplay with religion. As well, the department members are diverse. I do worry about a lack of another faculty member in my field to bounce research ideas off of, but as you’ll see when I get to the research portion, I think I have a way around this.
2) Excellent students – The students at this University are bright. I mean heck, I WAS one. 😉 I taught a class of 60 Organic students here in 2007 and they were exceptionally bright and motivated. They want to do well and are excited about research. I think I’d be able to find 1-2 a year that could really do some excellent work for me.
3) Reasonable location – Well this one is a no-brainer. My undergrad is in San Diego, which isn’t just a reasonable location, this is my IDEAL location. Close to my friends, the ocean, beautiful weather and my family. I can’t ask for more in this respect.
4) Research opportunities – I worry the most about this aspect of this particular job. Being that research only takes place in the summer or when I can find time during the school year, I worry that my research will suffer. However, I will also be close to the school that I did my Ph.D., so I have research ties here. I know faculty members who will let me use their instrumentation, who will be collaborators if I need it, and would also let me have students come over during the summer to do REU projects if a more long term collaboration is needed. As well, I would be able to benefit from attending the research seminars at this University, so I can keep up with the field. IN ADDITION, the conference that I attend every year is within driving distance, so I would still be able to attend that without putting a strain on my research budget – continuing to keep me abreast of the new developments in the field. Of all the small schools that I could get a research program going at, I think this would be the BEST situation because of my proximity to former colleagues who would support my continued research efforts.
5) Teaching excellence – This school would demand teaching excellence from me, and also over the years give me the opportunity to teach a variety of difference classes as needed for sabbatical replacements. I would have the opportunity to teach general chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry, instrumental analysis and even design some of my own courses every few years for the advanced level students. As well, there is talk of expanding the program into a master’s level school in the next few years, and I could definitely see me taking a key role into running this program.
The last thing is my greater impact on the world. I’ve talked a lot about how I want to make a difference. And sometimes that feels so hard – especially in programs that demand what seems to be my soul. This school would understand that calling I feel and even support me in it. They would understand if one summer I didn’t want to do research but instead wanted to go to a poverty-stricken country to build clean water systems or do rescue work. Or to send a group of students to teach them chemistry for a semester as part of an educational program there. Not only would they understand, it would be encouraged. The fact that I could do my research, teaching and feel like I was making a difference in the world, that seems to me to BE the dream job.
Sure it isn’t perfect, I know there are downsides, some of which I won’t discuss in this blog, but like I’ve always told incoming graduate students – there is no PERFECT job. There is just a job of best-fits. And I think this position best fits my life at the current moment.
So I’m planning on talking to my boss this week about my intentions for applying and what impact that will have on my research here. The position starts mid-August. Which is quick. However, I do know from talking to the dean in 2007 that one year holds can frequently be given for the right candidate for the right reasons.