In my last post, Postdoc-ing again: Part I I wrote about how I had started looking for a second postdoc position and had failed to get the job after being interviewed. So, to continue, I decided to keep looking. In fact, my PhD advisor suggested I try all the big names as well. I thought, why not, as I really had nothing to lose.
My strategy was two-fold. I decided to include my current university’s name in the subject line. The place I work at right now has some prestige associated with it and I decided to use it in my favor. This I thought would give some authenticity to the email and compel the reader to at least click on it. The second part of the strategy was to write a very good cover letter, something I’ve done before as well. I tried to incorporate at least a sentence about how my skills would be useful for the respective projects in the lab. Of course, this strategy is not something novel, but for the first time in my life I started getting responses from some accomplished faculty placed at good universities. Most of these responses were negative stating that they didn’t have funding, or that they were not hiring, but the replies more often than not suggested that they had liked my CV and wished me the best. This definitely meant that my cover letter and CV were being read which encouraged me to keep searching.
Eventually, I was asked for a Skype interview with a Professor from an Ivy League University. This interview went really well towards the end of which he asked me to come visit his lab. I was excited. I arranged for a visit in January. In the mean time, I received another call for an interview at a National Lab. I visited both these places, spending the days giving a formal 1 hour presentation which lasted much longer than that and discussing ideas with my potential employers and lab mates. At both these places, I was asked some difficult questions, for which I had to think on my feet. It was challenging, but in a good way. And, I could see that I was evoking positive responses. I thought I would be a good fit in both the labs. The hard part was done. All I had to do now was see if they would actually take me.
I had been in my current postdoc position for about a year and a half and I knew it was time I started looking again, for a second postdoc position. In preparation for this, I applied for a relevant conference months in advance. I then set about to prepare for my poster presentation. During the conference, I talked to as many people as I could, with the whole intention of networking. I did meet at least one junior faculty member who was working in the same field as me. There were some good discussions during lunch and dinner, but I was not able to meet anyone who was interesting enough and who had a postdoc position available. I knew then that I should have done more research on the participants of the conference and made a list of potential employers.
Towards the end of the conference, I did meet one professor from England who was in exactly the same field as me, was interested in the same kinds of problems, was very accomplished, had a decent number of papers in reputed journals and the best part, he advertised for a postdoc position! It met every single criteria on my list. He even had experimental collaborators. After his talk, I worked up enough courage to go and ask him a question. He was interested in talking about it. I subsequently sat with him for lunch and we discussed some more science with another Professor as well. Finally, after lunch, I asked him about the coveted postdoc position that he had mentioned at the end of his talk. He looked at my CV right there and showed interest. I had struck gold!
After I went back, I wrote to him regarding application for the Marie Curie Fellowship. He agreed to be my host and we worked on a proposal. It was going very well at this stage. In the mean time, I also got my postdoctoral contract extended by 7 months. This gave me enough buffer time and I started applying for positions to various other labs as well.
In the beginning, I was only applying to places that had been advertised during the conference. I got one interview call from a not-so-great place. The interview, as far as I could tell, went really great. I gave a presentation, was asked a lot of questions, and I believe I had satisfactory explanations for all of them. But, about 3 weeks later, they told me I was not the best fit.
I was a little perplexed as to how that had happened. But, on the suggestion of my PhD advisor, I decided to move on.
Ambition is a strange thing. It makes you aim for things that are sometimes beyond your reach and sometimes through a crazy maze of a path. It is when you are ready to do anything to take you there that you hustle. You do everything in your capacity to get there, even if that is at the cost of your happiness.
My personal happiness lies in living with my boyfriend. But, we are both ambitious and currently our ambitions are taking us to different countries, me staying put in the US and him to Spain. We could have probably tried getting postdoc positions in the same country, in the same city even, but we ended up doing what was best for our careers and not our personal lives. Sometimes I do think we might have been happier had we been even a little satisfied with what we have. But, that is not us. As soon as we achieve something, we raise our bars even higher aiming for more again. We know we’d regret it if we didn’t do that. It’s crazy. But hey, what can you do other than make peace with the fact.
We have set a deadline though. We are going to slog for two more years before starting to look for a permanent job in the same city. But, we have raised our bars from what we set out for in the beginning. We have decided to look for permanent faculty positions at research institutes, which is going to be tough, but also exciting. Imagine if we were to achieve that! We’d do something that no one in our families has done before us and that in itself is motivation enough. Let’s see where our ambitions take us eventually. And, if we finally manage to live together after the “slog years” that is the postdoc.
So, what’s your story? How ambitious are you?