Thursday, October 11, 2007

Location, Location, Location

Yesterday was the due date for applications to a prestigious postdoctoral program in my field. I spent two solid weeks working on that application, so it was an inexpressible relief to finally turn it in.

Understandably, I'm a bit burned out on the job search right now. I'd love to forget about postdoc applications and go back to research, or in my current mood, just watch TV for three days straight.

About a month ago, my advisor and I worked out a list of 15 positions I'm going to apply for. Yes, fifteen. It has always seemed like too many to me, but my advisor insists it's a great opportunity to force people to read my work and build citations. Initially I agreed with him, and faithfully promised to turn them all in. But now I'm totally exhausted, and I desperately want to cut down my to-do list of job applications.

There are some jobs on my list that I really just don't want. One, in particular, is in a city--I'll call it Plainville--where I had the misfortune to live for a summer, and I do not care to repeat the experience. The weather in Plainville is completely objectionable; I had asthma almost the entire time I was there; and it's so sprawling that one can't get anywhere except by car. (Of course, given the rotten weather, it's no surprise that the inhabitants prefer to drive.)

I don't think the job in Plainville is critical to my career. There are other options, in places with equally good or even better research groups in my field. If my job prospects are bad enough that I get turned down for all my other 14 potential jobs, it's not very likely that Plainville will want to have me either.

So I asked my advisor about cutting this Plainville job from my application list. I don't want to work there, so why waste my time and my letter writers' time? But my advisor was adamant, again, that I go through with it. He sees job applications as a strategic move to build my career, not as just a way to get a job.

I trust my advisor's judgment on most things, and I'm sure he's right that I need to take every opportunity to publicize my work. But right now, I feel like I've come slap-up against reality: I don't have an infinite amount of time, I need to finish my thesis project, and application due dates for jobs I actually want are fast approaching.

The application I handed in yesterday was the first that required a detailed research proposal (some fellowships want only a one-page summary of your interests). Now that I've written the proposal, I can reuse it, so I'm not likely to need so much time for the rest of my applications. But still. I'll need to at least tweak the proposal to address each department's specific recruiting goals. It's a time-consuming process, there's no way around that.

What to do? Either the nuclear option (flatly refuse to hand in the application) or the weasel option: don't mention the Plainville job until after the application due date, then express dismay that I'm too late to apply. I'm pretty sure my advisor isn't keeping track of due dates. The weasel option isn't the most honest, integrity-filled way to solve my problem, but I'm running out of ideas.

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