I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want

Faculty job searching is a perilous endeavor.  There’s a world of brilliant, energetic, young post-docs out there trying to grab the bottom rung of this ladder, and they greatly outnumber the positions available.  If I entered the search for my next position without some notion of what I wanted, I could easily find myself trying to fit into available positions rather than finding a position that suits me best.

To borrow a theme from the Spice Girls, here’s what I really, really want:

  • Make my world smaller:  A professor has a huge array of responsibilities, and I am no exception.  Keeping on top of manuscript and grant reviews, ensuring that students are moving forward through the challenges of graduate tests and publications, and fielding speaking and teaching responsibilities while filing a continuous stream of grants is exhausting.  I hope to constrain this scope by conducting my research in a smaller setting, whether that comes through working in a country with a more limited network of laboratories or changing to a university with a lesser profile.
  • Eradicate the killers of the vulnerable: As a cancer researcher, I have been heavily engaged in high-end collaborative agreements that are combining systems biotechnologies on large numbers of samples.  I enjoy this work, but I am reminded that cancer is generally a disease that kills because other diseases have not taken a person’s life at an earlier stage.  I would like to shift my emphasis to combat diseases that generally afflict people early in life or people who do not have access to first-world healthcare.
  • Build infrastructure where it is most needed: Have you heard the term “Bring coals to Newcastle?”  In most areas of biomedical research, the United States has developed the best infrastructure in the world.  Since World War II, our nation has provided fairly consistent support for biomedical research activities through extramural grant funding at the National Institutes of Health.  For a very long time the United States has benefited from a deliberate policy of “brain draining” the rest of the world, encouraging graduates of foreign universities to come to the United States for graduate school.  This process is now beginning to reverse itself.  If I want to make the biggest impact possible in the second half of my career, I can probably do that where the research system is less fully developed than in the United States.
  • Be essential personnel: Perhaps I am being selfish, but it matters to me that I feel irreplaceable.  I want to work at an institution where others are excited that I am part of the team.

I do not want to leave the impression that none of these are possible where I currently work.  I think, though, that staying in one place for an entire career is an easy way to feel taken for granted.  Our reasons for staying at one place should be that we choose to stay, not that we feel we have no other options.  For me, the process of finding a new position began when a recruiter asked me to take part in a search to fill an important role at another university.  I began asking myself if I would be willing to leave my home institution, and then I realized I might be happier if I did.

To quote the Spice Girls: “Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want.”  I want my career to make this world a healthier and more equitable place.


One thought on “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want

  1. Pingback: Six months in South Africa: looking back | Picking Up The Tabb

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