The life of a postdoc is fraught with anxieties. It’s like having a full-time job where you work double-time and get paid less than half of what you should be making. You are working on other’s projects, fulfilling other’s dreams. It’s only a temporary situation for someone who has not yet found the real job. Just that finding the real job could take a long time, and there are no guarantees.
For me, a postdoc even involved an extra layer of moving to a new continent. I am not complaining, since it gave me a great opportunity to travel all over Europe. However, finding a faculty position always remained priority. I often spent my evenings and weekends applying for jobs rather than chugging beer or drinking coffee in the nice cafes of Germany or attending potlucks with the fellow Indians. And as I looked for a position, I got advice from all kinds of people. Close friends, random people, strangers, everyone felt that they had an opinion they needed to share and they knew exactly what I should do next. I was applying for jobs everywhere- in Germany, USA, India, South America, Singapore. However, I ideally wanted to live and work in the USA.
People mostly gave me two kinds of advice. And both these kinds had nothing to do with actually finding the job that I wanted. They seemed more like shortcuts, ugly patchwork to hide something unsightly.
One. Get married. Find a guy who lives in the USA. This will mark an end of your singlehood, take care of the visa situation, allow unrestricted reentry into the USA, get you a green card and what not. This advice came in all different variations. Set up a matrimonial profile. Don’t shy away from marrying for convenience. So what if the man is old or bald? Security comes first. Maybe get into an arrangement of sorts with a gay man. Marry for convenience and get a divorce later on. Or simply marry, because having a family would take the mind off finding a job for a while. I am too old and it is too late anyway.
Two. Learn some software skills. Change fields. Get into computer programming, a totally different field where apparently there is more money and there are more jobs. Learn a new computer programming language. Talk to consultants to see if they would do an H1-B for money. If the bachelor degree holders from random unheard of colleges can do it, you can do it too. You chose a wrong field. You should have done your homework about the job situation. This PhD was a waste. Yada yada yada.
To the women of the world who married for convenience or the software people, I am sure you consciously made your choices and excel at whatever you do. Although both these kinds of advice came absolutely for free, they did not do anything to help my situation. Neither of them was related to my actual job search. These were merely the perceptions of people who thought that they have figured it all out in life. I imagined living a sorry life, married out of convenience, desperately trying to fit in a new (software) field I had no desire to be in. How is it that I made such wrong choices in life? Based on what people were saying, it looked like married women and people in the software industry were having a ball. So now, almost in my mid-thirties, I would have to forego my old skills and acquire new skills. Skills of the conjugal or software kind. Looks like my life were a complete failure.
So I continued to ignore these advices and kept working on my goals. People had no clue that this was not just a job for me. It was my career. It was my life. I am a lifelong academic, I am the happiest doing research. I did not want to marry out of convenience, neither to a man, nor to a software job. It was not about doing odd jobs to kill time. It was about finding a vocation I am passionate about.
Almost a year and half into living in Germany, I was offered a position in my field in the US. In the exact position and department I wanted. With full dignity.
In 2006, I had moved to the US as a graduate student.
In 2016, I will be moving to the US as a tenure-track faculty at a research university. I am going to start as a kick-ass(istant) professor.
I did not need to marry for a green card. I did not need to learn new coding languages. However, this experience taught me a few things.
Your friends may be your friends, but they do not know what is best for you.
It’s not just about finding a job. It is about building a career.
Self-respect and hard work never go out of fashion.
And most importantly…never give up. Your instincts are always right. You might not find results right away. But persistence will eventually get you where you want to be.