DrDrA just posted on a currently 37-comment-long thread of a post by PhysioProf at DrugMonkey based on a quote from a post by Dr Brazen Hussy (opening sentence almost as long and convoluted as the title, eh?).
The short summary: postdocs and other academic job candidates are disqualifying themselves from even applying for certain positions because:
1. they don’t feel they meet the job description in the ad
2. the job is at a “lesser” institution or department
3. the job is in a place (they think) they’d never want to live
4. they’d feel bad about turning down a position at a place they know they’d never want to be.
First things first: in this climate, academic job candidates are lucky to be offered faculty positions anywhere. Community colleges big and small, Research I universities, desolate field stations of major universities, #24 of a 24-institution state university system, Bob Jones University. . .anywhere.
Geography: The beauty of this business is that it can take you to places you never thought you’d be and expand your mind and life experiences. I’ve lived in several places I never thought I’d consider, but that’s where the job offers were. I’ve found cool stuff about every place I’ve lived and have cultivated relationships with interesting and engaging people that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
A lot of it has to do with your outlook. It’s easy to find culture in New York City or London or Sydney, truly beautiful campuses in Istanbul or Vancouver or Oxford, and pretty much anything you’d ever want in San Diego or Toronto or Tokyo. While it may take a little time to find the treasures of other places with universities, they can be found regardless of your needs at age 25 or 45. Embrace where you are, learn about the history, get involved in the community outside your laboratory, celebrate the extremes of climate, and you’ll have an enriching experience during those few hours when you’re not in the lab or writing grant applications.
The discomfort of turning down offers when you know going in that you didn’t want to go there: Even people smart enough to read this blog are going to have trouble getting *any* offer (see above). AB wrote at Blue Lab Coats:
Let’s say you cast a wide net, get your only offer from one of these places where you thought you would not want to live and instead of changing your mind, the visit just confirms that you don’t like the department and/or town. In other words, as you suspected from the start, you don’t want this job and you decide to remain a postdoc and try again later. I can imagine writing a letter to say you just didn’t feel that you would fit in the department or town and so you’re deciding not to take the job, but I don’t relish the idea of doing that.
An academic job search is like a dance, a marriage or, if I may, like two dogs butt-sniffing – both parties have to agree. Candidates turn down offers all the time. In my experience, I’ve tried to keep good relationships with them, follow their careers, and wish them well when seeing them at conferences, but I certainly don’t take offense. (I can also tell you that I’ve been pissed at some of my past colleagues on search committees when I couldn’t win them over on my top candidate, only to watch them blow the doors off all of us ten years later – but that’s another story).
If a candidate wants to remain in a postdoc rather than be an assistant professor anywhere, that is their decision. Any department where I’ve been would certainly not want to make the investment in an assistant professor who wasn’t happy when we could bring in someone else who was passionate and driven about being offered the opportunity.
Not meeting the job description: Ads are largely designed by committees. The views of some committee members often get diluted in the final version. Sometimes it takes an outstanding candidate like YOU who has strengths peripheral to what the ad states but that a search committee member is just waiting for to argue her case that, see, we can get strong candidates in this area.
The job is at a “lesser” institution: Yes, you should have high standards and not agree to go anywhere where the system or environment will impede your success. The problem is that one often does not know this for sure until you visit and meet your potential future colleagues. I’ve had both experiences: one of being very disappointed by the environment and people at “greater” institutions and another of being very pleasantly surprised by the environment and people at “lesser” institutions. There are gems and dogs everywhere, often within the same institution. Investigate all options and listen to advice (even mine) with the same objectivity with which you pursue your research.
Of course, there will be cases where your gut is correct. A town or an institution or a department is not for you (or you and your family, or you and your scientist significant other). But absolutely nothing is lost by going off for an interview if you are so offered. You will hone your interviewing skills, build new networks, and maybe even identify new collaborators.
But you won’t know any of this if you disqualify yourself from consideration by not sending in an application.
So, let me then return to PhysioProf’s riff of casting the net widely when one considers applying for positions. Apply everywhere and to every position that even has a single word that matches a word in your CV.
As the children’s TV cartoon character, Oswald, says, “Sometimes, you just never know.”