Friday, July 13, 2007

Academic Choice

If you had a choice, and all other factors were equal, would you rather be a professor at:

1. A university that is located in a city/region in which you would love to live, but at which most of your faculty colleagues would be insane and/or unpleasant;

or

2. A university in a not-great place to live, but at which you would have interesting colleagues

?

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

if you go to work happy each day (i.e. have a fun job or nice colleagues) your life as a whole is better. A lousy job will impact on the rest of your life as well, especially science, which is a job you really never "leave" when you go home. So a lousy job will affect your life, no matter how great the city.

Sean Carroll said...

Empirically, I would go for 2. But the benefits of the other choice are pretty clear; the argument for 2 is that it's easier to escape your colleagues than your city. But perhaps not.

Sean Carroll said...

Darn it, I meant I've chosen 1. (And I was thinking of the past, not the present. And the colleagues were mostly not so bad.) Stupid blogspot.

Anonymous said...

2.) But I'd have to go for trips from time to time, because ugly cities to get at me.

Anonymous said...

#2 hands down (but I am in my 40s now--I would never have chosen #2 10 years ago!)

Steven said...

How bad are the colleagues--so bad that it interferes with teaching and research? Do we assume tenure and a full professorship, or are we vulnerable to promotion pressures?

As a gay man, I'd sacrifice a lot to live in New York rather than Oklahoma. Still, if the geographically desirable-but-insane situation would derail my career, I guess I'd go with the good colleagues.

If I had to make a decision between two such departments, the other thing that would occur to me is that departments generally look better from the outside. If someplace looked crazy before I even joined, the department's probably even worse than I imagined. My first job was in a department where they're all now suing each other. I was visiting for a year before I moved to tenure track, and I had no idea how bad things actually were. That experience has made me somewhat cautious!

Hilary said...

Last year I left a position at a university I loved, but in a city I hated (most people love the city, I really didn't). We were there for eight years and we left because my husband got a fantastic position at a much larger university in another city that I love. We are both physical scientists, and I'm not working yet, which is not an issue right now. We have two small children, otherwise I wouldn't have moved and we'd have done the two-city, two-body dance.

I am happier than I've been in the last eight years, living in a city I love. I do miss my job but I don't miss my life in the other city at all. My own personal experience indicates that for me, "real life" holds more importance than the people I work with; I've recently applied for a position in a department that I know is fractious and volatile. It sounds exciting to me.

Guru said...

Hi

Personally, I would say a university with interesting colleagues; however, my family might prefer a nicer place to live. So, it would be a compromise between how insane the colleagues are at the nicer place, and how not-great is the non-great place.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it depends on how exactly the colleagues were crazy. I currently live in a great city, and have colleagues that I like personally, but who run the department in a way that is insane. While it isn't ideal, it doesn't have a huge negative impact on my daily work life (though there are opportunities for positive impacts that are clearly being missed). Meanwhile, because I live in a great place, I can take comfort in wonderful friends, fun non-work activities, my family, and the rest of my life.

I think I personally would feel the lack of interesting life/location more strongly than the lack of good colleagues. However, the specifics of how exactly the colleagues are insane and how much it would impact the way I felt about going to work each morning would make a big difference in my decision.

Anonymous said...

option 1. I could always find ways of dealing with annoying colleagues (or find ways of avoiding them), or expect new colleagues to be better, and collaborations are across the globe are anyways.

But the boring "middle-of-nowhere" place is something I can do nothing about.

scarlettscion said...

Since I'm assuming you and your husband spend the majority of your time at work, the second option seems to make the most sense.
Plus, if you have an exciting work community they are more likely to be the sorts of people who will find the good parts of the not-so-great place to live. It's hard to say though without knowing what is "not-so-great"--if, for example, property costs are so high it will make daily life just as much of a strain as depressing colleagues...well, it's a harder choice. But if it's just somewhere that might seem a little backwoods, usually those places have many upsides.
I left out considering if the second place to live has a good school system for your daughter...?

ordinarygirl said...

2

People have made the difference at every job I've had for the better and for the worse. I'd be miserable in situation #1 even if it was the best city in the world.

EcoGeoFemme said...

Could you live with turning down your research a notch? Living in a cool place is only worthwhile if you give yourself time to enjoy it. Otherwise, it's a world of missed opportunities.

I live in a fabulous location but with a terrible commute. I only recently shortened my workday enough to avoid a big chunk of traffic and to allow some significant time at home to partake of the fabulous location. I'm not getting as much work done, but I'm so much happier. Actually, I think I'm coming out way ahead on happiness and only a little behind on work, because I"m more productive now that I know I have to leave the lab at a certain time.

Do you think you'd feel the same way? If you're mostly going to be at work and work is what gives you the most joy, then it would probably be better to have good colleagues.

Is the place that you would love to live near other people, i.e. family or friends, who would substantially enrich your life?

lost academic said...

I think we all really want (2). You can make your life outside of work what you want it. But if your job isn't satisfying, and you automatically spend a lot of time there, you're screwed. I say that with a grain of salt--I live in a large city now that I really can't stand, and when things don't go well at work, it's very upsetting because it feels like everything has gone to hell.

Jessica said...

Crap! Hmm...I think I'd take door #2. A bad work environment is much worse than living in a place that isn't so great. You can find good things about where you live but if the people you work with are asses, there's no hope!

Gen Chem said...

Absolutely #2. My grad school is in a place where I never thought I'd enjoy living, but liking my work and liking my family has made me realize that I can enjoy most places if I'm in the right mindset. In my first set of grad school applications I actually didn't include this place BECAUSE it was the last place on earth I'd want to live, and that was clearly a mistake--I'm very happy here due to great colleagues, and find that I like the area much more than I anticipated.

DamnGoodTechnician said...

I suppose it depends on what "not a great place to live" means. Is it a red state, when you'd prefer blue? Does your commute suck? Or perhaps boring as all hell? I'd still vote #2. It seems that if what you have inside of your own home makes you happy, and you work with smart, interesting people, it doesn't really matter what the city outside loks like.

Anonymous said...

Unless my partner or family really wanted to move now I would stay where I am and keep looking. Door number three is out there somewhere!

Good luck in finding it.

Anonymous said...

If I had tenure already: A
Without tenure: probably B

Anonymous said...

I'll take door number three.

Seriously:

(I did the bad colleagues - great town thing long ago, and I would hand augur through sewage sludge for the rest of my life before doing that again.)

Elli said...

wow, reading these answers is really alarming. before i even clicked through I was solidly decided on #1.

I am a young grad student so take this with a grain of salt, but I've seen way too many scientists that have work, work, and only work in their lives, and I'm early enough in my career to try and avoid that if I can help it. I worked in a boring-ass little town for a while, and the scientists there worked all day every day every weekend because it was the only thing to do and the only place they had friends or anyone with whom they shared common interests. They didn't have relationships, they didn't have hobbies, they didn't travel, they didn't have ANYthing except their work. What happens to these people when they're denied tenure or finish up their postdocs? It was unsettling.

I'd much rather be living in a place that makes me happy (a spouse or SO would likely prefer such a place as well). If the coworkers are just annoying or bothersome, it's unpleasant but doesn't literally prevent me from doing my job. If it DOES, I would leave before submitting myself to a miserable lifestyle just to do the work that should, after all, be only a PART of a happy life, not an entire life.

It's also worth pointing out: I have trouble imagining living in a place with a lifestyle I adore and having colleagues I truly can't stand. Ideally, these people will have been similarly attracted to this location, and will have similar outside interests and life priorities (of course, this doesn't mean they can't also be raging jerks, but...) At the moment I'm living in a very lackluster city, and unsurprisingly I have very lackluster colleagues - some are dull, some are nice, and some are insane, but I still get my work done. When I spent a summer in an awesome hippie town in the West, I had awesome hippie colleagues. It was my most productive summer ever, and also a fantastic lifestyle. The two are often interconnected.

So I guess I'm the outlier here. But again, I'm young and not applying for jobs for a few more years, so maybe I'm just the voice of what everyone used to think??

Quantum Moxie said...

Wow, that's a tough one - and one I wrestled with for a long time myself. Obviously I think it depends on the person, but for myself, if I had to make that choice I suspect I would choose number 1. My mood depends greatly on my geographic location for some odd reason. In fact, even now, I commute 162 miles (round-trip) per day simply because I love where I live and couldn't fathom moving. On the other hand, I lucked out and got a job with great colleagues and a stimulating environment. Before this job, though, I did commute almost 180 miles a day (round-trip) to a job where I did not get along with my colleagues (well, there was some friction anyway). When I looked to move to another position, however, I limited myself to a "local" (i.e. within a 90 mile radius) area and was prepared to leave the field in order to stay. Luckily I didn't have to.

Chic Scientist said...

Definitely Number 1, especially with tenure. Science is what I do to make a living; it's not who I am. While untenured, number 2 is tempting, though. Science does have to be "who you are" while you're trying to get tenure.

TW Andrews said...

How much time do you spend enjoying the city vs. how much contact do you have with your colleagues?

Anonymous said...

This is one reason why I left academia. I don't want to make ridiculous choices like that. In the real world, at least the one I went into, these types of choices do not present themselves. You can find good colleagues in a city you like to live in. I'm much happier now.

Anonymous said...

2. definitely...i just left a position at a university where i dealt with overzealous professors that compromised scientific integrity and their emotionally-charged, cronie-esque post-docs.

trust me, if you have your sanity, you can live in a trash can and cope. but when others around you are behaving as if you were part of a three-ring circus, even the most alluring living conditions become dreary.

Anonymous said...

Depends on why it is a "not-great place to live." Far from family, boring geography, bad weather are all things that one can adapt to or work around. Intolerant, anti-intellectual, or homophobic neighbors are not. Poor schools or dangerous neighborhoods that make life unpleasant for one's family are also deal killers. It is possible to work around unpleasant colleagues, and even possible to change departmental climate for the better with some political savvy and hard work. It is not so easy to change the social environment in which a campus is embedded.

Anonymous said...

I've done both (good city/bad job and bad city/good job) and I was never so happy as when I finally left the bad city. I found the environment in the bad city had a corrosive effect on everything until even the good job didn't seem so good anymore.

Plus you can always work to bring in new and more interesting people to the good city (a change from within strategy). Or just hope for lots of the uninteresting people to leave or retire!

Storm at sea said...

I'm currently about to leave Situation #1 for Situation #2. Situation #1 didn't have *horrible* colleagues, just people like myself who had long commutes and only came in on days they were teaching, so that some of them I only saw once or twice a quarter. Situation #2 is in a not-so-exciting location, but I'm psyched about the concept of actually having colleagues that I can interact with and maybe even collaborate on research with.

And maybe it is sad, but the only time I took advantage of the features of the great place I'm leaving was when friends or family came to visit; in other words, by taking a vacation, which you can do anywhere! So I would take people over place.

Former HEP dude said...

I changed careers, and got off the tenure-track, rather than take a tenure-track position in a boring city. I love my work, and I miss that career (esp. when I'm at a conference as I am now where the two overlap and I remember why I wanted to do that in the first place). But I'm very happy where I am now, ten years later, doing interesting and satisfying work, and living someplace that I love.

I have obsessions outside my work though (though I obsess over work also, as my girlfriend constantly reminds me). I'd be very unhappy if I couldn't exercise my non-work obsessions. I know that if I hate my job, that's only 40 of the 168 hours in a week. The other 128 hours count for a lot. Of course if you love your job, the hours go up but then that's ok.

Anonymous said...

Those choices sound awful and I would quit academia if those are the only options.
However, having had a choice between a pretty good work environment in a great city versus a great work environment in a dull city I chose the former, and have no regrets. And a few insane colleagues are okay as long as I can mostly avoid them. That is pretty easy to do since they are not chair (and never will be), I dont share any grants with them, and I have tenure. What I have done is calmly tell those colleagues who are impossible jerks that I have decided that life is too short to either listen to them or read their ranting emails, and I just dont do either.
They respond by ignoring me too.
I also refuse to serve on any committees they are on.
This works because most of my colleagues are reasonable. Except for faculty meetings I can just forget that the jerks exist.

When the jerks
spout off in faculty meetings the rest of us just listen quietly and then move on. The chair is pretty good about giving everyone a chance to speak but not allowing anyone to monopolize, so this works too.

Anonymous said...

"It's also worth pointing out: I have trouble imagining living in a place with a lifestyle I adore and having colleagues I truly can't stand. Ideally, these people will have been similarly attracted to this location, and will have similar outside interests and life priorities (of course, this doesn't mean they can't also be raging jerks, but...) At the moment I'm living in a very lackluster city, and unsurprisingly I have very lackluster colleagues - some are dull, some are nice, and some are insane, but I still get my work done."

This is true, but I'm not sure it holds up in smaller fields. It can take years to change the bad climate of a small department, because they can so rarely hire new people, and it's hard to attract good people. I know of at least one city that I would love to live in -- it's hip, beautiful, and does not have an insane cost-of-living -- but the department there has a toxic reputation.

I'm not sure of my answer to the question. I have a bit of self-selection by not applying for jobs in places where I would absolutely not want to live. Soon, I'll have a job in a place that's beautiful, if not quite my style, and in a department that's not the friendliest (and, worryingly, not particularly woman-friendly), so I'll see if I find the geography or the department more frustrating.

CCPhysicist said...

I would choose #2. Insanity can be catching, and work is too much a part of the life of any scientist.

I know several people who have told me they gladly took a job just to have the job, provided the pay covered air fare to civilization.

Flicka Mawa said...

wow, lots of comments so I didn't read them all.

Me, I'd go for neither. Depending on how not-great the place is to live, I'd decide about whether to pursue a professorship or find a different job. Atmosphere and location have such an effect on my mood - if I'm often if I'm not in enough of a city I won't be happy enough to be productive.

Ms. Buckyball said...

If you have a good relationship with your colleagues, it would be much better because it gives you a healthy environment. Less tension with co-workers is much better

Anonymous said...

Since you asked - *my* answer is definitely choice 1. This has several personal reasons behind it: first, while science is a large, huge part of me - it is not all of me. One thing I know about myself is that making major compromises in the name of just one of my obsessions, never turns out well. Ever. I need balance, and I need to feed all of my life's little demons. I couldn't live somewhere unbearable, just to feed my science-demon (or any of my other demons).

Second, I consider it a personal challenge to *find* things to like in others - to make lemonade, if you will. It certainly makes me happier in the end, and positivity begets positivity. It makes me a better person (I can only hope). I almost always regret when I pre-judge situations and close the doors to what I might otherwise find in them - other humans always find a way to surprise me, and quite often in a good way.

Irie said...

#2. You can always travel. Working with difficult people would add too much stress.

theremingtonblog.com/ said...

#1, you can always make out of work friends.

Ms.PhD said...

What a good question! I think about this a lot.

I hated one place I lived, because of environmental reasons like the commute and my roommates. I thought everything would be better when I moved.

Some things were better, but work was worse because of the insane colleagues. A LOT worse.

Living somewhere nice makes it easier to cope with work being awful, but ultimately when work is going really well, I don't notice where I am. I'm kind of a cactus that way- I don't require much to live.

One of the things I require, though, is a good friend to eat lunch with a few times a week when experiments don't behave or whatever. If I have that, I can, and do, put up with a helluva lot.

And you can, as someone else pointed out, always travel. In some ways a weekend away is better than a weekend at home, no matter where you live.

Ultimately you can never really run away from your problems by moving to a new place. I learned this lesson partly from watching a friend of mine, who is a generally unhappy creature. I watched her move literally back and forth from coast to coast 3 or 4 times before she finally figured out it didn't matter where she was. She needed to work on her own issues, because they would follow her wherever she went. Like the Dave Matthews song goes, it's not where you are, it's who you're with that really matters.

Wherever you go, there you are.

Anonymous said...

#1. I actually made a similar decision recently. Yes, my colleagues are pretty unpleasant. But I manage to survive by (a)interacting with the couple of colleagues that aren't satan's spawn :) and (b)maintaining very strong collaborative ties outside the university.

~2 - live in a boring town with nice colleagues? Wouldn't that mean your life revolved around work??? Really, people - I know science is important and all, but - get a life!!

Ancarett said...

I'm in number 2. It's a not-great place to live (particularly when the snow piles up 8 feet high on either side of the driveway) but I have wonderful colleagues and a great environment in which to work.

If I chose the first option, the office would be something to avoid (and much too easily, given the seductive appeal of the city/region!) and my academic work would suffer as a result.

D Lurker said...

Have made similar decisions (but as an MD, not PhD). For me, if the schools were not good and the neighborhood was not safe, I'm not interested (in fact, we left adult paradise b/c it wasn't safe for our then 5 year old and I miss it, but it was a good decision).

Then, if the colleagues are terrible, I'm not interested. I really wanted to take a job at a beautiful hospital which would have let me do anything I wanted to do, but the rest of the call group was either fantastically depressed or incompetent. One of my old advisors pointed out, that if you cannot trust your call group to take care of your patients while you are not working, it will drive you crazy. This may not be an issue for you; you probably don't rely on your colleagues the way doctors in a call group do.

You don't sound enthusiastic about either option. Keep looking. It's out there.

gs said...

I'm with anonymous@7/13/2007 11:26:00 AM; see also 'chic scientist'.

If seeking tenure, I'd go where I sensed a collegial rapport. If tenured, established and connected, I'd go to quality of life: even if science is the most important thing, it shouldn't be the only important thing.

Since hindsight tells me that I should have left academia after my second postdoc, I've answered hypothetically.

Anitya said...

I'd go for a number 2.

Anonymous said...

No contest. I'd rather have nice colleagues than live in an exciting city. You can always travel to more interesting cities. And with the internet you can shop almost as though you were in a big, thriving city. Plus if you have good colleagues, you can have a social life that makes up for some of the limitations of a small, dull town. Bad colleagues on the other hand, can really spoil your life.

Am I a woman scientist? said...

I've lived in a city I hated with a decent workplace, and in the end I just couldn't stay there. I ended up trying to avoid all contact with the locals because I became hypersensitive to their phobias of all things not white-conservative-christian. It didn't leave much for me to do on the weekends, other than drive long distances to visit friends in other places.

Anonymous said...

Given that the average academic's life is spent more with colleagues than shunting about town, I think choice 2 would be better for general contentment.

Veo Claramente said...

Tough choice. No. 1 by a nose

AngryMan said...

Antarctica, hands down. Wait, that wasn't one of the choices? Um, can you repeat the question?

ALH said...

As a recent grad, finding an academic job is so unbelievably difficult, the choice becomes completely irrelevant...Do you mean someday it might not be? Ah a glimmer of hope for the future. I suppose I would pick the location I love, because to me that means where my family and friends are and those are the people in my life that really matter.

Belizean said...

1. Nearly all of my papers are single-author. So I don't depend on intimate interaction with my departmental colleagues. Were to I to choose to collaborate with acquaintances in other towns, the Internet makes that easy.

Deborah Crittenden said...

I would definitely go for option 2 (and in fact have already chosen this option), because it is then easier to upgrade to a situation where you can have both :-)
Of course, it helps that this no-so-great city (Canberra) is still eminently liveable, and within reasonable driving distance of Sydney, the South Coast (with its beautiful beaches) and the Snowy Mountains (for skiing in winter).