Saturday, March 01, 2008

When there's more than one side to the story

I resigned from my postdoc position yesterday. This should not come as a surprise to anyone as I signed the contract for my new job nearly five months ago, and I have been open about accepting the offer and leaving the postdoc prematurely all the time. I still have a year and a half left on the postdoc contract, but the money will be used to hire someone else, who does something I don't, while I will continue to work with the group, so technically it's a win-win situation for everyone.

Personally it is obviously a step forward both in terms of independence and better pay, and it is also the switch back to the university environment, I have been contemplating for a while. But, because there is always a but, I am truly sorry to be leaving the people and the research environment I am a part of here.

Let me begin by saying that I am in a field where collaboration is vital. Not only in terms of idea exchange and professional networks, but also in practical terms of organizing expeditions and being safe in the field. It is very difficult to get by in this discipline without effective working collaborations. The intensive social experience of being in the field together for weeks on end often fosters a special bond between people. Whether connections continue or not, the shared experiences under extraordinary conditions tie people together and can make even colleagues you have never met, but who works in the same or a similar area, feel like your kin. Sometimes the collaborations turn into professional/personal friendships and sometimes the professional matches of collaborators interests are more thought-provoking and inspiring than others. I have colleagues and collaborators who have become close personal friends, others who have become valued and respected professional aquaintances and connections. Some who spark my ideas and others who are inspired by mine. Some who are cherished field companions and others who are my support network, inspiration and intellectual challenge. It is, however, rare to find all these traits in the same people, but that's what I have with the research group, I'm working with now. We are field companions, professional collaborators, know each other well and appreciate each other's company whether at a party or discussing the solution to a scientific problem. These people have become a huge part of my work life and are a major source of inspiration and reason why I like my job. They are also sometimes obnoxious and make me frustrated, but isn't it so with even the best people.

When I leave this much of this will change. It's not like we will never see each other again, but it will be different. I will miss the way we interact on a day to day basis, and I will miss this feeling of connectedness to someone in the same department. I will miss the more personal side of our professional friendship. To have immidiate allies and someone to discuss tricky topics with and the combination of personal trust and appreciation with professional inspiration and development of ideas. As with all personal relationships, longdistance is just not the same.

We were talking about this yesterday, and about how to keep up the good work and still have fun together, while not working in the same place anymore. We were talking about what our future collaboration would look like, and how we could develop the line of research, we are doing now. As I mentioned in this post, I don't really know what the future holds for me research-wise yet, but I do know, that I will need to think outside the box, and start something different from what we are doing now. I started talking about, how I hoped, that eventually it would not only be me participating in our current research, while starting something new, but also them being involved in my new line of research. While we talked, ideas of how this could be done started to form. Completely new ideas of something that has never been done before. Ideas about applying our current research to something different, I will get access to in my new location. I heard my voice increase in volume with excitement, as I began to see the contours of the bridge between the two lines of research, and of how to continue the collaboration in a meaningful and rewarding way. Not only was this an answer to some of the research questions I can start looking for in the new place, it was also a great way of confirming how the collaboration can grow and transform and continue despite the distance. I still think it is sad to leave, but I left the meeting thinking that this will take our collaboration to a new level and that, once again, good discussions with great people, can generate ideas and solutions to problems that seemed insurmountable to me on my own.

I am late for this months Scientiae on renewal, so instead of letting this post be a part of the carnival, let it be a birthday celebration post for the very first birthday of the carnival for women in STEM fields. Thanks to Skookumchick who took initiative to the carnival a year ago and who put up this months theme, which made me think about the positive aspects of yesterday's meeting rather than writing a whiny post about how resigning didn't make me glow with joy at all, but rather made me feel like crap.


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