Polling Career Advice on Geographical Stagnation

May 06 2010 Published by under Careerism, Tribe of Science

I've been having a discussion on this topic in another venue.
It boils down to what I see as traditional scientific career counselling to the effect that there is something wrong or inadvisable about staying in the same geographical location or University when a scientist move across the training stages. From undergrad to grad, grad to postdoc or postdoc to faculty.
For the purposes of this poll I would like you to reflect experiences that are first hand. Things that have been said directly to you, either personally or in a group mentoring/career advice session. Check as many as apply. (If you want anyone to see your "other" responses, post it in the comments too. For some reason the freebie PollDaddy doesn't permit anyone other than me to see those)

Which science career advice have you heard first hand?customer surveys

17 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Other: "You need to change your geographic location, unless you're in an area with blistering arrays of opportunities (i.e. California metro regions or Boston)

  • queenrandom says:

    I have heard it all - in addition to being a PhD candidate, I'm a small business owner (of which my husband is an owner-operator), prettymuch barring me from moving outside the half of the midwestern sate I live in. Many people advise me to keep my options open - preparing for a research career but not ruling out other careers. Most people tell me it will be difficult and I need to work the system with the help of powerful mentors. One very unhelpful person - who I sought advice from because she'd been in a similar situation - essentially advised me to either divorce my husband or quit academe and become a teacher.

  • Dr Becca says:

    I get the "don't stay at your institution" angle, but geographical location? What's seen as the disadvantage there?

  • qaz says:

    As I mentioned over at Dr. Free-Ride's, I agree with Dr. Becca when talking about the faculty level - as long as the candidate has had experience at multiple institutions, with multiple advisors (for cross-fertilization purposes), a preference for geographical location is not a disadvantage. In fact, I've definitely seen it be a major advantage - as in "Person X is originally from location Y and has family in location Y and is thus more likely to actually come to location Y if we make an offer. That's a better risk than person Z who has no ties to location Y."
    On the other hand, geographic limitations can make a big difference when interviewing at the graduate student and postdoctoral levels. The fact is that there aren't a lot of faculty jobs out there. If a graduate student or postdoctoral candidate isn't going to leave location Y, then they have greatly limited their potential jobs (faculty or otherwise). This is a definite factor in graduate student and postdoctoral hiring.

  • JD says:

    I think a diversity of collaborators is what I look for, even if the institution hasn't changed. Even a lack of diversity in experience may not be fatal if the quality of the work is high enough -- but if you have only ever published with one person that is sub-optimal.

  • lylebot says:

    I came up thinking you had to switch, but I've now met enough successful people that just kept on moving up at the same institution that I don't believe that anymore. Could be field-dependent.

  • Pascale says:

    Geographic area isn't important; you could do your whole career in Boston without working in the same institution twice. You can even make moves within the same institution if you change labs. And post-docs can certainly become faculty members without moving, although independence may be questioned by grant reviewers.
    Biggest no-no is trying to stay in the same lab for post-doc that you did PhD in. I can say with virtual certainty that you will not get a training grant in that situation; the point of the post-doc is to gain new experience.

  • leigh says:

    speaking of training grants, the Kirchstein NRSA mechanism for postdocs seems pretty biased against those who choose not to make big moves across training steps. see question 8 here:
    http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Training/IndivPostdoc/PostdocFellowsFAQ.htm
    since when does one need to explain a *personal choice* to not move to a new geographical area as it relates to their *professional aspirations* ?
    to me, this looks to be something that's gone beyond the opinion of potential new advisors/faculty search committees/etc.

  • pinus says:

    The whole purpose of an NRSA is training in a new field. You don't have to give a length explanation of why you didn't move, you can merely say family issues prevented moving. the key is to sell it as a different experience...you switched departments, doing something totally new, interacting with new people, etc. This is what that FAQ is trying to get across.

  • Anonymous says:

    personally I think all the "you MUST change city/institution" is a load of hogwash. Yes it may benefit some people greatly, and not benefit others at all. So this one-size-fits-all type of career advice is stupid and thus highly irritating that so many people go around spouting it without questioning the logic. It's true that this is how you must play the game since this is how "someone" or some people have determined the rules of the game should be. But the logic behind those rules is flawed. I can think of many advantages to NOT changing institution across one or more career stages: continuity can lead to higher productivity because of the lack of disruption. it can enable couples and families to stay together thus making it more likely for the scientist in the family to continue their career to begin with. It can deepen working relationships by not imposing an artificial a deadline on them ("once I finish my PhD/postdoc we'll no longer be collaborating because I'll have to join a different lab and with jobs so scarce it might not even be in the same field"). If it ain't broke, why leave?? I'm disappointed that so many people buy into this one-size-fits-all career advice.

  • expat postdoc says:

    in the EU changing countries is ALMOST mandatory for success. For the big money fellowships, like DFG's (Germany) Emmy Noether Program (think K99-R00 but much larger in terms of money) doing at least two years of postdoc and one year abroad is MANDATORY. And I can see why, the cultural cross-fertilization (both personally and professionally) produces a much stronger candidate.
    Also, let's face the cold hard facts, if one is looking for a TT position at an R1/RU-VH, the competition is fierce and standing out is essential. All of the finalists/short-listers, will have high-quality pubs and research funding.
    Who would be more interesting to meet? Someone who has stayed in one geographic area OR someone who has moved abroad (US/EU/Asia) and has been successful with funding from different governmental agencies in different countries?
    Seems like a no-brainer to me, but I haven't served on a faculty search committee (yet).

  • Joe says:

    What matters most is the quality of work you do and whom you work with. However, it is good to do your grad studies and post-doc at different institutions. The differences in attitudes, missions, faculty numbers and styles can be vastly different between institutions and the different experiences are truly eye-opening.
    I agree with those who commented that a move in geographic location is irrelevant (unless you are moving out of some poorly-regarded state/area). Also, if you work for a good mentor in a particular geographic area, the other good scientists in that geographic area are likely to know him/her personally, which may help you get your next position.

  • Paul Nelson says:

    I am from Northern Ireland, did my BSc in Edinburgh (Scotland), my PhD in Glasgow (both Biochemistry), my first Post doc in UC Riverside, second back in Glasgow, 3rd at the Roslin institute (Edinburgh), and am now employed in San Diego, California. Moving is good, for me at least, though i hope to stay where i am now. Does moving help? I think so, yes, as it gives you a whole new perspective on things, and working with totally different people - in a different system - gives a different attitude to research. Not just the "same old same old", but instead the "this is how it's done on the other side of the Atlantic" attitiude. I am pretty sure it has helped my career, though of course i can't say for sure where I'd be now (20 years into it) if I'd always stayed where i started, I suspect I'd be a clinical technician in a hospital in Belfast, or maybe still post doccing in Belfast if I had never left.

  • rkn says:

    I moved after obtaining my PhD but stayed on as a post-doc with the same lab. I work in the area of computational biology so I don't require a wet bench. There are very few academic and virtually no .com opportunities here (Alaska), but I find I can be quite productive working at a distance, and expect that distributed working models will become increasingly popular, particularly in bioinformatics, etc.

  • Amy says:

    I know that training in very different parts of the country helped both my career and also my personal perspective on the world. I'm always a bit disappointed in students who are not willing to branch out of their comfort zone. That said, I do realize that there are very valid reasons for wanting to stay in a certain geographic location.
    Based on my limited data set, I think that geographic location can have a bearing on where you get job offers. I applied for faculty positions at the same time as another graduate from the same PhD lab. We did our postdocs on opposite coasts, but had very similar backgrounds, interests and vitae. We interviewed at many of the same places (on both coasts). But in the end, most of our job offers were on our respective coasts, with little opportunity for cross-over. I was a bit surprised at this, since both of us were willing to move across the country. But we both ended up in good places, so it worked fine.

  • The_Roads says:

    The whole "move or die" ethic infuriates me. In my experience it tends to be banded about by childless academic martyrs who have a very weak grip on real life in 2010. I remember being told in a career seminar by a faculty chair that she would never consider a someone who had done their postdoc at an institution for tenure track in the same place. I was appalled and let her know. Fair enough if you haven't published or brought in grants but just because you haven't stretched out living like an single undergrad in rented accommodation till your 40s is no reason to consider someone less "committed to science". We all know academic salaries are low, the idea that somehow it is a sign of "intelligence" or "commitment to science" that i should convince my wife that earns twice my salary to sell our home and drag our kids across the country so i can get another equally low paid job is ridiculous.
    And while we're at it, the notion that you should have to apologize to an interviewer for having a family and not moving is unbelievable. If people want to know why there aren't more women in science and while so many clever young scientists leave academia this type of senseless martyrdom is exactly it.
    Fail me for being a lame scientist by all means but don't fail me for having a family and a mortgage.

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