Transitioning from Postdoc to PI
“Adriana, I’m calling to offer you the assistant professor position at our university. We loved your research and we think you would be a great fit in our department.”
I wanted to yell and say: “YES I ACCEPT!”
But I tried to be cool. I knew that negotiations had to happen before I accepted, so instead I said: “That’s great news, I’m very excited”.
The phone call ended. I sat in my car for a few minutes. Walked upstairs to my home studio — my parents and brother were visiting— and told them: “I got the job”.
I didn’t feel different. I felt the same, but lighter; a huge burden had just been lifted from my back.
The past two years had been a challenge. I moved from southern California to New Hampshire for my postdoc and agreed on a long-distance relationship with my husband, motivated by my desire to pursue a career in academia. For how long? Who knows, hopefully, one or two years. It really didn’t matter. I was set on my goal. But it was easier when I thought about it during my last year of my Ph.D. than when I was actually living through it.
I had never experienced a real winter before. But the snowstorms, the below zero temperatures, and the snow shoveling weren’t even the worst. The worst was the 3 pm winter darkness, the academic job instability, and being away from my loved ones. On the bright side, I was in a great lab. Great advisor, nice lab mates, good university, and intellectually exciting research.
Still, the challenges of the academic job market got to me even though I thought I was prepared; my advisors had always been transparent with me: “it’s really challenging to get an assistant professor position nowadays”. They were right. I got an on-campus job interview a few months after I started my postdoc. I was the perfect fit, but I wasn’t offered the job. I moved on and felt that I would probably get more interviews the following year. I was wrong. I started my second year as a postdoc dealing with some health issues and family problems that took a toll on me. It was difficult to stay productive in my job while dealing with these issues. I got zero job interviews and felt very discouraged. But having the support of my advisor, my husband, my family, and a few friends during that time, was invaluable.
I had never experienced a real winter before. But the snowstorms, the below zero temperatures, and the snow shoveling weren’t even the worst. The worst was the 3 pm winter darkness, the academic job instability, and being away from my loved ones.
Slowly, I gained my health back and started the third year of my postdoc motivated. I never anticipated being a postdoc for more than two years, which was the average postdoc time for my field, but I was eventually ok with doing so for a year or two more. I got a prestigious fellowship a few months before the beginning of my third year, and I was able to stay in the same lab for at least two more years. But this time, as soon as I started submitting applications, I got phone interviews, requests for letters of recommendations, on-campus interview invitations, and a few months into it, I got the call I had been waiting for followed by a job offer. I was so happy.
I am now wrapping up things in my current position and preparing to transition to life as a new Principle Investigator. But to be honest, this entire time has felt like I’ve been in constant movement. In this time, I’ve learned so much, but there’s one thing that really sticks out: you must have privileges in many different ways to actually land a job offer in academia.
Some of the things in my life that allowed me to stay focused on my goal to become an academic are privileges. I have a supportive husband that has sacrificed a lot for me and who has put my academic goals and objectives above his. I have supportive advisors and mentors who have always had my back. I have a “pedigree” within my field, as both my Ph.D. advisor and postdoc advisor are highly renowned researchers in my field. I’m not a parent or caretaker of anyone so I have time and a very flexible schedule. I don’t have a financial burden; I have debt, but it’s very small compared to people paying off student loans or having to provide for their family.
...you must have privileges in many different ways to actually land a job offer in academia.
I feel conflicted by this because, in the past few years, I’ve seen great people leave academia because it was so rigid; that inflexibility pushed them out. I can’t help but think that I wish academia was more inclusive, and most importantly, what can I do to make academia more inclusive? I don’t have an answer for this yet but as I transition to my new position, I hope I never forget how the support of my advisors, husband, friends, and family, made all the difference in my life and allowed me to be in the position that I am, one of privilege.
As I leave behind the Northeast to embrace once again the dry heat of the West, this time in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, I’ll probably be happy to leave behind the chilly Decembers, but I’ll still miss the wonderful landscapes of New Hampshire, my university, and the people that made my time there unforgettable. Here’s to more opportunity, more stability, and more sunshine!