November 28, 2006

Itâs time for some past tense and a departure from Port Townsend, as I air some thoughts on my future.

Exactly a week ago I had a meeting with my thesis committee and was told that I should leave Berkeley within a calendar year. Between now and that ominous date I must submit two manuscripts, help author a third, and write a thesis. I must also decide on a lab for a postdoc, which is where this entry comes in.

In the comments of a Port Townsend entry, Michele suggested that I look to Portland for employment. Unfortunately, my scientific interests and long term plans rather limit my options. Only a few labs do the kind of work Iâm interested in. One is at UCSF, another at Duke, and the last at University of Washington.

The lab at Duke is doing amazing things, but is headed by someone described to me as âweird and intense.â This depiction came from the weirdest, most intense professor I have ever met. Not a good sign. To make matters worse, Iâd like to stay on the West Coast. So much so that, even though precautionary strong ropes tie me to the mast, my deaf ears can not even hear North Carolinaâs siren song. Then again, Iâve never even visited the South, so who am I to say that Iâll dislike it?

The lab at UCSF seems a fun place and is filled with experts who could teach me just what I want to learn. However, the boss has just started her own group. Generally, this means that Iâll be the only âwetâ biologist in the entire lab and that Iâll have to reinvent the wheel every time I want to do something on the bench. Specifically, the professor does not yet have tenure, and if she fails to receive it Iâll be suddenly cast adrift after only a few years. On the other hand, it would be nice to stay in the Bay Area, as well as to finally explore San Francisco more thoroughly. But part of me feels that staying here would be treading water. This geographical question is where Iâm most conflicted. I have a great group of friends here in the Bay Area, and would hate to leave you all behind. But a perversely masochistic piece of me thinks that it would somehow build character for me to be jostled by an area Iâve never lived and where I know no one. Realistically, this may not be a good plan. But every time I think about staying in the Bay Area for another 3-5 years, I feel a little guilty.

The UW group is kicking ass and taking names. Despite his young age, the boss is internationally known as a genius, and the lab âwinsâ what are essentially interlab method competitions by a large margin every year. However, fame has its price, and the group has ballooned to forty members, all of whom are complete bad asses. New postdocs are essentially required to bring their own money with them, in the form of fellowships. Thatâs a lot of people and a lot of pressure. The boss has a good track record of helping alumni find research positions, both in academia and biotech. But I worry that I could slip beneath the anonymizing waves of such a large group. And my recent experiences with northwest weather have made me realize just how much I like California. Could I re-acclimate to nine months of rain? Several people I know from high school and college are in Seattle: would that be a nice safety net, or would I feel guiltily stifled, as I worry I would in San Francisco?

Iâll be interviewing at all of these labs in approximately half a year. At that time, Iâll be able to make more concrete decisions, since labs that look great on paper could be disasters in person. But at the moment I canât seem to get my mind off these choices. Iâd love to hear comments and suggestions from you guys.

Posted on November 28, 2006 01:47 PM

I much prefer living where I know a lot of people. I used to think it was important and character-building to start over in some town in virtual isolation, but I also used to think acrostic poetry was deep.

If you live where you know people, you can choose to be social or choose to be isolated. If you live where you know no one, the choice is mostly taken out of your hands. I say stay where you know you're happy. There might come a time when your friends move somewhere that interests you, at which point by all means follow them. But it's mighty hard to start a social group from scratch in a new town, or anyway it always was for me.

Posted by: didofoot on November 29, 2006 02:57 PM

Hey! Hey! Moving reminds me!

I want to see the ad that the Tool put up for your soon-to-be-vacated room. Email me a link!

Posted by: Dianna on November 29, 2006 03:58 PM

i think it's hard to make a decision until you actually go interview them, but based on a purely professional standpoint i would say UW or Duke are the best choices, unless the UCSF prof gets tenure within the next year.

weather-wise, i would say that seattle is not nearly as horrific as port townsend, right? so maybe it won't be so bad as the PNW is making you believe right now while you're in PT.

let's take a road trip to duke this summer! i want to see the south! we can go thru new mexico and arizona...and all those other states between here and there at the bottom of the country! i want to go to those states! (if nothing else, at least i am enthusiastic). seriously...what's down there? georgia? lousisiana? texas? and then north carolina after those 3 or is there another state?

Posted by: michele on November 29, 2006 07:43 PM

There's Mississipi. And Alabama? Or am I too far south? Arkansas? Oklahoma?

Okay, so I cheated and looked at a map for those last two. But I came up with MS and AL on my own.

Posted by: Dianna on November 30, 2006 10:47 AM

oklahoma is all the way down there? man, if this isn't a warning against california public education, i don't know what is. just say no to UCSF, jacob. higher learning probably isn't any better than elementary.

ah...i forgot that you're currently attending UCB. and it's not as if i'm not getting a masters degree from a CA state school. but, i recognize and fully admit my current education to be bad.

Posted by: michele on November 30, 2006 12:16 PM

Whatever you do, don't get a master's degree in geography at UCSF.

Posted by: sean on November 30, 2006 12:42 PM

I've decided general education shouldn't teach anything (e.g. where states are located on a map) which can be reliably found on the internet.

I recognize that the teacher's union will be up in arms over the dismantling of porn classes for grades K-12 but they're just going to have to put up with it.

Posted by: didofoot on November 30, 2006 01:09 PM

The craigslist post has expired, but you can see it (in weird format form) here

As for Port Townsend, it's usually drier and warmer than Seattle (being sheltered by the Cascades).
Why should I say no to UCSF?

Posted by: Jacob on November 30, 2006 06:10 PM

you should say no to UCSF because the professor doesn't have tenure. UNLESS when you go to interview there it is the most awesome situation ever.

Posted by: michele on November 30, 2006 07:38 PM