Monday, June 22, 2015

The tenure track

After all that education, you'd think the tenure track job at an R1 institution would fill a person with a sense of relief. As an undergraduate, graduate student and postdoc you train for years and years. More than a decade - sometimes more than two decades. You'd think the logical feeling would be "finally, I get to be in charge".

I wish that was my feeling. I think had someone come to me in the middle of my PhD and said "you can ditch this and run your own lab now", maybe I would have felt differently. I certainly felt more competent at the end of my PhD than I now do at the close of my postdoc.

Part of my hesitation is certainly due to the growing detachment between my benchwork and my analysis. My analysis requires a team of people with stronger math and computational skills than myself. I don't mean "strong math skills", like someone who took an extra statistics class. I mean someone who got a PhD in math. Someone who is writing bioinformatic programs. My feeling of inadequacy has certainly grown since 6 weeks ago, when I was ordered by my boss to tear down the analysis of my most important paper for the 7th time and do something completely new - and was assigned a collaborator who, by and large, creates analytical structures and codes by himself without must explanation.

So the jump to tenure track is extremely nerve racking.

It's also a bit of a financial hit. That might sounds kind of crazy, but my husband's income will take a hit in this move. Our income, overall, will be lower than it was during my graduate school days. As we near the end of our 30s, and develop our little family, the question for me really becomes how much longer am I willing to ride this horse?

From the perspective of asking questions, starting research and pulling papers together  I'm willing to ride until I can't ride any further. From the perspective of sitting in one spot for hours on end while I work out the tiniest of coding problems that had halted all progress for 3 or 4 weeks - AND at the end of that process not being sure how much more willing I am to continue coding....research.....getting out of bed....

This experience of repetitive failure has had me thinking about Fabulife and how I want to move forward with this blog. It seems to me that most of my time in this space has been spent trying to convey that graduate school doesn't have to and, more importantly, shouldn't financially devastate a student. I came out of my graduate degree with a really nice chunk of money in the bank, my credit cards clear, some investments and a student loan paid off. I'm leaving my postdoc with a lot less money in my pocket, and I'm heading into a tenure track position that will not pay me what I deserve for my training or efforts. On top of that my days, because I work in experimental biology and deal with great deal of computational work, are filled with failure. Like every other scientist, I fail every day. I fail and fail and fail until something works. It's tough on the soul. The repeated mousing is tough on my wrists.

Enjoying oneself within the means provided by the tight budget my academic life has provided means more than just figuring out how to buy a low cost engagement ring. It really means being able to cope with the academic life as a whole. So, this is where Fabulife is headed - a more honest description of the totality of life on a budget, life on the campus. You've been given a heads up. It ain't all going to be cheery accounts of budget friendly whathaveyous. S#$% it getting real in this space.

So, to recap - tenure track still means counting change, starting your own lab is frightening when your postdoc work isn't published yet, the blog is shifting in focus.

See you soon!

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