My first verbal job offer came as early as a year before I graduated, during a conference presentation. Someone I met there liked my work, asked if I would like to talk over breakfast, gave me tips on how to strengthen my skills in my CV, and thumbs upped my adviser. I had not even proposed my dissertation then.
This was one of the premier cancer research institutes of the country, the person was very well known, this was a big city with an impressive diversity, sizeable Indian population, and one of my favorite authors lives in that city. I was thrilled, and mentally started making plans of graduating on time and moving there. Five months later, a formal interview was done, and they said that they will get back to me.
When I did not hear back from them for a while, I got nervous. I started applying for more jobs, thankfully. And there I saw a job advertised for a postdoctoral position in the Chemistry department. I was applying to as many jobs as I could, and although Chemistry is not my specialization, I wanted to give this a try. I was a chemistry minor in undergrad, had studied enough chemistry and biochemistry during both my master degrees, and for the rest, I was wiling to learn. I was not terribly excited about the place, and this was more of a backup job option for me.
When I asked my adviser for a recommendation for this job, he actively discouraged me from applying, because of the same doubts I had. I did not specialize in chemistry. According to him, it would look bad on my part, as if I had not done my job research, and it would make him look bad, because he was recommending me for the job. We argued, and by the time I left his office, I had decided that for once, I will go against his advice. Sure he is my adviser and is supposed to know more than I do, but I was fighting battles he had no inkling about- the need to find employment, a visa sponsor, and making sure that I did not go out of visa status.
Months later, on an unrelated note, the adviser told me that if I felt unhappy with my job, I should let him know. He was applying for a grant renewal, the same grant my dissertation was based off, and if he got the renewal money and I was still interested, I could rejoin the team as a postdoc. I considered this as a verbal job offer, and my best option, since I already knew everything about the project. But he said that this was a backup option for me, since I should spread my wings independent of him.
I got the second job offer during the phone interview itself, stunning me. I was too tempted to ask, “But I have not specialized in chemistry”. That was a backup job and I did not even think that I would get.
After months of prodding, the first group told me that they are declining me an offer. The funding agency had recently gone through serious sequestrations, and they did not have enough funds to hire me. Job offer one was gone.
Yesterday, the adviser announced that he has decided not to go for that grant renewal this year. He wants to wait for a year and get more publications first. Job offer three, from my very own doctoral research team, was gone as well.
As for job number two, I took the job and moved here. Then one day not so many hours ago, I asked the new boss why I was hired despite my lack of background.
“To avoid researcher bias”, she said. She wanted someone with the required skills, but outside the field, because everyone else was from within the field, and she wanted an outsider’s perspective. She wanted to reduce research bias. I got the job precisely for the same reason that I thought I would be denied the job.
What can I say, this situation reminds of three movies, Amores Perros, 21 grams, and Babel, all from the same director. Each movie has three separate stories revolving around something common. All three movies are fantastic.
Three independent research groups in three different locations and specializations, together decided my professional fate. What I thought I would get, I did not. And the job I got was precisely for the same reason I thought that I would not get that job. And I am beginning to like that job.