Career and life balance

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Career and life balance

Postby Sarah J. B. » Fri May 01, 2015 10:18 pm

Hello! I am currently still interviewing for post doctoral positions, however I have a few questions about balancing a dual career relationship.

My fiance currently lives in the city he has always dreamed of and will have a stable, well paying career in accounting (He will be head of a successful financial planning firm within a few years; family business). I have been trying to get a position nearby, however I have not had any luck. I have an opportunity to be a post doc at one of the best research institutions in the world working on a project that interests me pending funding for the position. Taking this position would make our relationship long distance, which he absolutely refuses to do.

His ideal situation is for me to move to the area with him and basically just keep trying to get a position at the university or at the hospital there for as long as it takes. This puts me at risk for unemployment for an unknown amount of time.

My questions are as follows:
1. How long is too long between getting a PhD and the first post doc? Is there anything I can do in the mean time that can help make me appear productive?

2. Although I know the potential opportunity is probably once in a life time, is a career move worth putting my relationship at risk (or more likely ending it)? (It is a 2-3 year post doc)

3. What are some other job opportunities for a new PhD without post doc experience? I am open to non-science positions, however I don't even know where to start.
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Re: Career and life balance

Postby PG » Sun May 03, 2015 11:38 am

1) Someone with more academic experience should answer this question but my guess is that it starts to hurt rather fast. Any chance that you can for example extend your PhD studies for a short period of time while you look at various options? Having said this dont extend it very long since also a PhD that takes a very long time raises questions although family reasons shoudl often be a good enough reply.

2) This is a question that only you can answer. Personally I would put family high on my list of priorities and I wouldnt break up with my wife over a postdoc or any other job. However, in a good relationship this should go both ways. Since your fiance is working for the family company is there any chance that he can maybe a two year break working for another firm in another location before moving back to your current location? It might be a good experience for him to have worked somewhere else for a while which can then be argued that it brings value to the family firm as well. The best recomendation I can give is to try to find an agreement that takes both parties interests into consideration.

3) There are plenty of opportunities for a PhD without a postdoc. What is it that you want to do? As discussed in a recent thread a postdoc isnt a requirement for taking an industry position in research. I also know people who have gone into different types of marketing/sales positions directly from their PhD studies, others are pursuing careers in intellectual property, some have changed to doing something completely different for example working with analytical studies of some sort. There are varioud threads on this forum and information in the tooling up section etc that deals with alternative career paths and I am sure that the forum can provide better advice on this part if you can specify a bit more about what it is that you want to do.
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Re: Career and life balance

Postby NKC » Sun May 03, 2015 10:17 pm

1) I would limit the amount of time off between finishing your PhD and starting a post-doc. 3-6 months seems like a fairly reasonable amount of time to find a post-doc. One shouldn't be that hard to find if you have a Tier 1 Research Institution near you.

2) This is a personal question that you and your spouse need to answer. I was presented a similar scenario (high profile lab opportunity in NYC) versus staying in NC with my wife. I chose to stay in NC and have never regretted my choice.

3) Industry was my alternative answer to a post-doc. I was in unemployed limbo land for about a month until my networking finally paid off.
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Re: Career and life balance

Postby Craig B. » Mon May 04, 2015 9:26 am

Take a long, hard look at the city your fiance lives in. From the sound of your post, you may be staying there for a lot longer than what the duration of a postdoc should be.

If there's one or more major research institutions in this city, you shouldn't have a problem finding a postdoc. It may not be in your field of interest. Being in the city during your job search may help, but make every effort to find the position before you move.

Also consider what would happen if you take your offered postdoc opportunity elsewhere. Assuming that you finish in 2-3 years, what are the odds that you could find a position that's a step up the ladder for you?

Limiting yourself to a single city, particularly if it isn't a major scientific hub, has the potential to be severely limiting to your career. On the other hand, you have a measure of security in that area that a lot of people don't have in the sense that your fiance is presumably going to have a stable career with his family business.

If I were in your shoes, I'd do everything I could to research non-postdoc or non-academic careers available in this city. Even if you were to do a postdoc, it should be a temporary job and you'll likely have to do the same search in a few years. Best to know the options now.
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Re: Career and life balance

Postby Dick Woodward » Mon May 04, 2015 2:24 pm

There may also be positions in sales open in the area that you want to move to. Field sales reps are generally based at their home, and the big biotech tool companies often have reps in every major metro area. On the other hand, if your heart lies in research, I do not know what to tell you. Separation for long periods of time is an excellent way to screw up a relationship.

As for career vs. relationship, I can only relate the story of some married folks that I once knew (no kids, thankfully). He was a highly specialized MD, she a very bright PhD. They both got their dream jobs - a few hundred miles apart. This went on for a while, and to quote Billy Joel "they parted the closest of friends".

I wish you (both) the best of luck.

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Re: Career and life balance

Postby Rich Lemert » Mon May 04, 2015 3:01 pm

As a veteran of a long-distance relationship, let me add some comments to this discussion.

My wife and I have had either two or three long separations in our relationship, depending on how you want to count them.

The first one came when I got my BS and moved to New Orleans - while my then girlfriend stayed in Colorado to finish her degree eighteen months later. She joined me in New Orleans for about five months, then got a job five hours away in Texas. This second separation (or 1b) continued for roughly two years, until I got tired of it, quit my job, and entered grad school near where she was working.

Our reunion after this pair of separations was rough. We were each getting back together with the person we'd left, and that person no longer existed. We had some rough times until we finally started adjusting to the person our partner had become.

The last separation came when I went for my post-doc and she stayed behind in her job. Our reunion this time wasn't as painful because there were fewer changes to adjust to.

Bottom line, separations can be survived. It helps if they have a defined end-game, but you can live through them even with a lot of uncertainty. They are not pleasant, though, and they will put a tremendous amount of pressure on you. My advice - do not enter into a prolonged separation lightly - make sure you know what you're getting into.
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Re: Career and life balance

Postby Dave Walker » Tue May 05, 2015 10:26 pm

I had a long post written out, but I can only say that Rich has covered the bases extraordinarily. Thanks for sharing, Rich--I imagine that was a difficult time.

From my own experience, you can survive a separation. It's not healthy. You will regret it constantly. It will add tension to your relationship, which is never a good thing.

To your questions:

1) How long is too long? People expect downtime after a PhD, at least in my experience. Most of my colleagues stayed in their lab and continued to "work" while finding other opportunities. Less than a year for sure, but you could squeeze that much and say you were "finishing things up" (i.e. writing manuscripts) even if you left the lab entirely.

2)Is a career move worth it? Okay, my personal opinion only: NO. If it was a tenure-track professorship, maybe. An entry-level biotech Scientist I job, maybe. But a post-doc is just too risky in itself. You may produce great work in those years, but your relationship may end. And you might have to do another postdoc after that anyway. We all underestimate how high the risks are.

2b) Can I add something? I asked my PhD advisor for a list of people doing good research in my wife's city where she wanted me to move. It instantly saved me days of research. From the 5 labs he suggested most would have been good enough; you can't optimize everything when life gets in the way. They actually generated 8 postdoc opportunities, as they spoke to their colleagues to see about interest. It took less than a month.

3) Other opportunities: expect 6 months-1 year of solid networking to find a different job outside of research if you have no idea where to start. I don't know your situation but it sounds like you are pretty close to the end. This route may be perilous for you if time is not on your side.

If you have time, however, start here:
"The single factor that differentiates Nobel laureates from other scientists is training with another Nobel laureate." -- Sol Snyder
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