Some questions to ponder
Last night, I discussing job-hunting with my long-time long-distance significant other (s.o.) – and he mentioned that some of his job applications are to jobs outside North America (a bit of a surprise to me). It occurred to me – as it has more than once since I took my current job – that we’d never really had the “talk”.
You know, the one where you sit down with each other and honestly discuss your career options – particularly, the compromises you might not be willing to make if the other person gets a job offer s/he wants to accept. (I’m going to assume, for the sake of simplicity, that the people involved are in postdoc positions, ready to hit the permanent job market – let’s face it, many of us end up in postdocs before getting something more permanent.)
So – with that thought in mind – here are the questions I wished we had discussed before hitting the job market….
- What is your dream job? Be as specific or as vague as you like – including job type, salary, and/or region if those factors are important to you.
- What other jobs would you be happy with? If they’re not your first choice, would you be happy in a soft-money position or a teaching post with a high course load, for example?
- More importantly, what jobs would you not be happy in? Would you be unhappy in a soft-money position or a teaching post with a high course load? Would you hate living in a particular area (or outside one)?
- What jobs might you be willing to take short-term, but not long-term? Financially speaking, are you in a position to adjunct teach for a few years? Are you willing to work in industry or the government while remaining on the job market? Do you want to continue as a postdoc – possibly outside your favorite speciality?
- What options outside of academia/research do you have? Is science journalism an option for you? Government service? Working in a science museum/planetarium? Do you have skills such as telescope experience or computer programming that might give you additional job options?
- Are you willing to live apart for a while, or have a long commute so you can live together? Like it or not, this is a probable scenario – worth considering what options you could live with.
- Children? Is a family part of your current/future plans? Do any of your answers above change once you have a child to consider?
- What are the least important factors to you when considering what job to apply for (or accept)? The factors that you would be most willing to compromise on, that is.
This is the point where you each could sit down and compare your lists – and discuss them. Particularly the “I wouldn’t be happy” list – if you really feel that a job outside of JPL would make you unhappy, does your s.o. have compatible options? If you insist that a tenure-track job at an R1 university is the only job you’ll accept, where does that put you if your s.o. gets a good job offer first (spousal hires aren’t always possible, and they’re often non-tenured positions)? If a more permanent research or academic job offer doesn’t come your way, what are your backup plans when your current position ends?
From your answers, you be able to come to an understanding of where you each stand in terms of career aspirations, as well as a good idea of where each of you are willing to compromise – and where you are not.
Will your answers change over time? Probably. Will your feelings change once an actual job offer is on the table? Also very likely. But the time to find out what each of you is thinking is before there is pressure to accept or decline a job offer – especially if one or both of you are finding it difficult to compromise.
The important thing is to be happy, not to wonder if you made the wrong choice in haste once the job offer was made.
For those out there who’ve made the compromises – or had compromises made for your career by your spouse or partner – what other advice can you share about making these decisions?