Monday, January 14, 2019

Change is hard...

As the new year starts the looming possibility of moving to a different university is stirring a lot of feelings and not all of them good. In general, the idea of changing everything (city, home, friends, colleagues) once again is weighing on me. I wake up in the middle of the night full of questions: Do I really want to do it? Do I want to risk everything I have built to start over? What if it doesn't work out? What if I'm making a mistake? Why don't I just adapt and stay put?

A transition out of a postdoc is usually a given unless you're in the very lucky situation to be hired as a staff scientist in a wealthy lab. A transition from a faculty position to another is an opportunity and a risk. I know so much more now than I knew during my first round of job interviews. I know how things work and I know what could go wrong. I also know how fickle the academic environment can be, with leadership and rules changing seemingly with no rhyme or reason in the pursuit of "excellence" and tuition/grant dollars. Why change? It's a question I had to answer over and over again at every meeting in my interviews "You're doing so well. Why do you want to leave?"

The answer cannot be the real one, though I assume the reason is implicit. Thet I feel like a round peg squeezed into a square hole, that I just don't "fit", and that my current uni is not the place for me to thrive. My colleagues are great and they are wonderful people. I'm in a great city where I have built a good group of friends. But 1) I feel my expertise doesn't jive with the people around me and that my trainees and I are terribly isolated from my field so that we can't grow anymore, and 2) I want to move closer to "home" where most of my established personal support network is.

As I weigh the pros and cons everything is possible, the best outcomes and the worst outcomes mix up. I wish we weren't trained in considering all possible outcomes and pitfalls since life is not judged by an NIH reviewer. In the end, I have to go with my gut and trust the feeling that what I'm doing is right for me. I've learned a lot from this first faculty experience and I have grown enormously as a person, as a scientist, and as a leader. I need to trust my judgment and know that I will be able to handle everything life will throw at me...

I have not posted much in 2018, but that doesn't mean that I haven't written down my thoughts as I was going through the job search process, hoping this will be helpful for others in the same situation. There is really no rulebook for mid-career transitions, but I started putting together some advice and several posts on what I went through.

A primer for mid-career faculty transitions
On keeping quiet as you interview for a new job
Networking for mid-career faculty transitions


  1. This is a great post. I am in a similar position and am moving to another university this summer after 6+ years of running my own lab and the thought of the move and restarting a lab from scratch is really scary. I have some of the same feelings that you have described so well and am just hoping for the best.
    Good luck with your decisions and hope to read more about it.
    I also wanted to tell you that your blog has been a great read. Although I don't have a lab in the US, a lot of it is relatable to setting up and running a lab, thank you for that.

    -Long time lurker and first time commenter.

    1. Several posts will come after. I've been writing as I was going along, so the fear is actually going away, but I'm trying be faithful to the process in the posts...just really excited now!!

  2. Good luck with everything! I'm starting as an assistant professor this summer and the thought of moving once again is daunting.

    Without giving away too much detail, is it possible to share a bit what inspires this move?(maybe in your future post). Things such as "fit" are sometimes hard to tell during the interview. Are you looking for more people with complimentary skills to collaborate with?

    1. Will definitely address that in future posts. Collaborations and new skills and resources are definitely something I've been looking for. Also you'll see how things can change so that a good fit initially does not fit any more...colleagues move, research takes new directions.

  3. This must be a weird mix of hope/confusion/excitement/dread that you've got going on. The thought of starting over from scratch again... At the same time: It is SO important to be in the right environment. I can relate to that - and not in a good way, alas.
    Maybe setting up again will be like a postdoc after a PhD: You will still fall into new traps, but you also know which old ones to avoid.

    I hope that once again you will be able to share bits of your journey and decision making, because I like how your mind works and how you ponder academia. Good luck and Good for you! Because this is also a super exciting adventure!

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