yes, I know about the newt babies now too

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Dinner the other night:

"You're my friend! How could you not tell me that Tom Paris once regressed into being a newt?"
"I'm sorry! I didn't realise! I thought you knew! ...Seriously, how did you not know that?"

Take away my geek cred now.

I'm not interested in changes quite that drastic in my own life, but doing a postdoc in a different field is making me wonder about how much my career path could - or should - diverge from the subject of my PhD. Obviously, I don't want to work on that particular specialised area forever, but my postdoc is several steps further removed than would typically be expected, to the point where people in my new department who've asked me what my background is have typically responded with "...Oh. So, how did you end up working on this?"

(That makes them sound mean, which is not right. They're not mean. They're just genuinely surprised - it really is quite a jump.)

This post doesn't last forever, and I'm keenly interested in getting some kind of scripted career trajectory together in which my PhD work and my postdoc work both play a part. There isn't a huge amount of overlap there. So, I could stick in the PhD field in spirit if not in office and use the postdoc work to vaguely back it up; I could jump ship to the postdoc field and brush off the PhD work; or I could carve out a niche for myself that includes both, at least to some degree.

The first option is the one I'm least interested in right now, because my postdoc isn't directly applicable to the sort of posts and funding I'd be applying for after it's over. And, plus, I really like this field, which makes option B seem a little brighter. Still, I don't think that even with a postdoc I have enough of a background to make a career in the new field, and trying to do so anyway would disregard the work I have done - a PhD, a pretty nifty publication, a lot of conference papers and contacts that I'm not inclined to cast off.

That leaves option C, heading in a direction which combines material from both of them. This is both possible, and appealing, in a way which is difficult to explain without getting too identifiable, but try it this way: my PhD was on, let's say, owl-spotting in the English countryside. My postdoc is in the field of putting radio collars on saltwater crocodiles in the Australian outback. And the people who've been dealing with saltwater crocodiles for a while have started to look into possible ideas they could borrow from other disciplines, like looking at how paleontologists are using a particular kind of modelling to track the maximu speed of an infurated Tyrannousaurus. Well, birds are descended from dinosaurs anyway, right? So could some of those ideas be applied to owl-spotting? Eh, possibly - and this is, without me even having to bullshit about it, legitimately A Growing Field.

It's kind of specific. But it's more about a methodology and a field of general interest than it is about a specific topic. And, well, I still know a lot about owls.

So that's something I'm thinking of, with a view to being employable in the future, hopefully - maybe - possibly - one day - in that all-hallowed Permanent Post. Partly because I want that kind of life and financial security; partly because I want my career to follow some kind of path I have some vague control over; and partly because I have moved thirteen times in the last eleven years and I have had it with moving house.


  1. Autumn Song Says:
  2. Wow that's quite an analogy! I'd be very impressed if you could combine the two. Well done if you have come up with a way to do so!

    Don't want to rain on the parade, but would combining those fields necessarily mean you don't have to move again...?

  3. It wouldn't, alas, but it would mean expanding the possible fields I can sell myself as fitting into, which might help with the options at least. Assuming the job market picks up enough to have options at any stage ever, of course...

  4. Laz Says:
  5. Perhaps I should have an early night tonight because my first thought was "Hey, what a coincidence! We were talking about the Tom Paris/newt thing just the other night!"

    Seriously - how could you NOT know about the newts???