Thursday, July 2, 2015

This Week's Big Thirsty From Trepidatious Tina.

Q: I'm going on the job market this year for the first time, with my shiny PhD degree from a mid-sized school in a mid-sized city in a pleasant and non-descript state. 

My friends who are ahead of me, have made jumps to larger and MUCH smaller locales, and everyone seems dissatisfied. I grew up in a small town until I was 12, but have lived in a 1/4 million person population since. It feels "right" to me.

But with wide eyed optimism I'm trying to imagine the job search and its options.

Could any of your readers say a little bit about the shock to their system that moving to a much larger or much smaller locale had on them personally, and, if anything, how that affects the type of students one sees?


  1. See number 91 of "100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School," which is:

    Downward mobility is the norm.

    I was an undergraduate at a quasi-Ivy, got my Ph.D. at an Ivy, and had three postdocs in five years in research-intensive places. I then taught at a major NASA facility, at the same time I was an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor at a nearby private engineering university. Like many new proffies, I was alarmed at what my students didn't know, and I never grew out of it in the two years I taught there. Still, I liked the students: they did remind me of younger versions of me, even if few of them had taken calculus in high school, the way I did.

    A problem with working there was that I simply couldn’t live on what they were paying, and the best they could do for me was to offer and one-year extension to prolong the agony. So, I got myself a tenure-track job. I got it at a place where the 75th percentile SAT scores were lower than the 25th percentile SAT scores of the place where I was an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, for which in turn, the 75th percentile SAT scores were lower than the 25th percentile SAT scores of where I’d been an undergraduate. Hey, it isn’t all bad: I also have two observatories all to myself.

    As I was giving my “job talk” for the tenure-track job, since they’d arranged for me to have an audience of actual students, I noticed one woman who openly slept through the entire 20-minute talk. I wondered whether I’d cut it here, with students this apathetic. It hasn’t been easy, but I have had a few victories: one, right now, is at a summer research program at Harvard.

    Whenever the quality of my students starts to grate on me, I remember stories of how Russian aristocrats managed to escape to the U.S. after losing everything during the revolution. Some were waiting tables and in other humble positions, and grateful for it, since staying in Russia would have meant certain death.

    As far as urban versus rural living goes, I’ve lived in such a wide variety of environments, it makes little difference to me. Don’t people traipse around the world doing multiple postdocs in your field?

    1. See also number 16 of "100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School," which is:

      Where you live will be chosen for you.

      I'm a fine one to talk, of course. I wound up in Fresno.

  2. Growing up as a big city girl, it never, ever occurred to me that I would end up in a town with no Nordstrom, no Costco, and no escalators. I love it here, though. I've met some wonderful colleagues at the university (and even married one of them). The thing that took me a while to get used to was moving from urban anonymity to everyone knowing my business. It's a strong incentive to behave one's self.