'Tis a joyous day, dear readers, as we're blessed with the good fortune of another guest post by the most excellent NatC, who you may recall put forth some most excellent wisdom on negotiating not long ago. Dr C is just coming back to earth after a hugely successful run on the TT interview trail, and after fielding some exceptionally competitive offers from some exceptionally Classy Institutions (not to mention negotiating LIKE A BOSS), she's finally signed on the proverbial dotted line (which in actuality was probably more like a solid line). It was without question a very very very stressful decision, and I've asked NatC to expound on the decision making process here in the illustrious pages of FTTT, for the benefit of all of you. Many thanks, NatC!
There’s a lot of really great advice out there about TT Job Search – from writing research plans to negotiating an offer. All of which has been extremely helpful – for my sanity if nothing else – through this process. But there’s one question that no-one’s discussed yet: how does anyone make any major choice between two perfectly viable options?
Decisions are always deeply personal. Sometimes there are factors which make a decision more straightforward– a significant other refuses to move to a state due to work (or perhaps due to the state’s increasingly draconian stance on women?); or one department has the only other person in the world that understands and can support your fancy new technique; or one…um… difficult senior faculty member.
Often there is one offer that is clearly better. But sometimes, based on the tangible things: salary, teaching requirements, lab space, start up package, there is no obvious choice. Add to that wildly different institutions/departments, and the deciding factors become the peripheral* things - like “fit”, personalities, size of the institution, administrative support in the department, and location of the institution.
How is it possible to evaluate and compare these kinds of intangible differences? Especially since in many fields of research, there is a range of different kinds of departments in which I could work - medical school departments, college-based departments, and strikingly different kinds of departments within those categories. There are large institutions and smaller schools. Different locations: East coast versus West coast versus Midwest. City versus college town. There are different research focuses of the departments – I could be one of a cluster of sub-field specialists, or I could be the person in that department. It’s like choosing between beverages: a negroni, a manhattan, or a glass of wine for example. They are all perfectly valid options, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these, but they are all so different it’s almost impossible to compare them directly. Without the ability to see the future, it is impossible to know which is the best.
There is one more catch to this decision. These comparisons make one huge assumption - that all the offers come within the same time frame. With a window for interviews of more than 4 months, there is a pretty high likelihood of needing to make a decision about one job before interviews at another have happened. Making a decision without knowing all of the options – or even the likely range of options – is even harder.
My strategy for making major decisions has always been: (1) obsess, fuss over, and generally over-think details for a few weeks, (2) Make complex spreadsheets to get my thoughts clear, usually with a glass of wine, a negroni, or a manhattan at hand; (3) Re-visit institution; and (4) wake up one day feeling certain of what to do. (5) Never second-guessing the decision – especially at some point further down the line when things are (inevitably) less than perfect.
[Note: This strategy FAILS rather spectacularly when some options are still only possibilities when decisions have to be made. It can end up getting stuck in a loop between (1) and (2)].
Clearly, I’m not an expert at best-practices in decision making, so people – help me out! How do you make decisions like this? Or, for that matter any major decision about where to apply, what kind of institution, what kind of department?
How does one decide whether to take a risk and turn down an early offer when there are interviews (but no actual offers) lined up at more attractive places?
What are the things outside the startup package to consider when taking a tenure track job?
Is it helpful to focus on the imperfections of each place, and decide which you are more comfortable, rather than the things you like?
*Not to say these things aren’t important. Having worked in a department with poor admin support, I can assure you it matters. A lot.