Yours Transferredly: The Fallback Option


The end of my unpaid "sabbatical" may be in sight.

As I mentioned in my previous article, I have recently been considering working in another country, at least for a 1-year sojourn, until an opportunity arises to move back home. A couple of weeks ago, I became impulsively proactive about this idea and contacted a European group leader (let's call him Dr. Z), a long-standing colleague of my most recent boss.

With my old boss's explicit consent, I sent Dr Z. an e-mail and attached a short resumé. Dr. Z's reply was both prompt and positive. He said he would certainly be keen for me join his group. He has plenty of grant proposals pending, he said. So although it's not definite, I am optimistic; this guy is well known for his ability to pull in regular and substantial funding from the European Union, amongst other sources. A major new iron has been thrust into the fire.

Why didn't I contact Dr. Z before now? It's just hard to make a move when your full hand of cards has not yet been dealt, and the dealer/funding agency is still holding some of my cards My number-one choice is still to stay put in my old department. You see, my old boss and I are still waiting to hear back a grant proposal we wrote and submitted together. If it is funded, I will take up a position in the department. A 3-year contract on my doorstep is more agreeable than uprooting my family to foreign shores for what might only be only a one-year stint. Others might be bolder, more eager to broaden their geographical experience, but especially since small children are involved I like to keep things simple and predictable.

So now I've put myself in a delicate situation by asking Dr. Z to play second fiddle. A job at Dr. Z's lab is my fallback option. This is a tricky situation to be in when you are trying to court someone's attention, and all too common in the postdoc job market. My reputation in the eyes of the very people who could determine my future may be at stake, but we postdocs would be very foolish indeed if we only pursued one opportunity at a time.

I chose to handle this delicate situation by being upfront and honest with Dr Z. Nobody likes a sneaky person. I simply explained to him my current situation and made it clear that I would know very soon whether this possibility would be a starter or a non-starter. Like most PIs, Dr. Z knows the score and he has probably played his own hands of cards along the way to his faculty position. Looking at it one way, having my name on this grant proposal gives me the appearance of being someone in demand, even if I don't feel very wanted right now.

On the other hand, if I were too readily available Dr. Z may be suspicious that my services are not in demand. It goes without saying that, as soon as I hear the final "Yes" or "No" on this grant proposal, probably within the next month, I will immediately e-mail Dr. Z. He needs to know whether or not I am a genuine candidate as soon as possible. The outcome of this grant proposal cannot come quickly enough for me. I'm holding my breath.

This spontaneous foray into the world of international job-hunting set me to thinking. Why don't I spread my net even further afield? I visited a foreign group--Dr. X's group--for a week last year and they seemed very keen to have me back. Perhaps I should send an e-mail similar to the one I sent Dr. Z to a certain Dr. X. Then there are two or three other groups which could be of interest to me. I have met a couple of their postdocs at international workshops and reckon I could bring something of value to their groups, in addition to me learning a thing or two from them.

Although, I am a bit wary of over-complicating things and ending up letting too many people down, I must temper this concern against my strong desire to get back into the lab at all costs. In a competitive job market one has to take risks; other candidates are always waiting in the wings. Once I hear the outcome of this next grant proposal, I guess I will either be back in work or released from my inhibitions, enabling me to go flat out looking for employment in the international postdoc hiring arena.

One spin-off of this international networking is that it is all good ammunition to keep those nice state unemployment benefits people at bay, lest they think I am slackening the pace in my search for research work. I keep thinking that there must soon come a point when they will say enough is enough. But, apparently, it is not yet. For now, I am trying to make sensible bets on an un-dealt hand of cards. I'll keep you posted . . .