Way back in May 2009, I described how being around a team of fellow grant wranglers from another department made me realise how much I miss being part of a team of peers. In my current job I’m really a team of one, responsible for all of the department’s grants and other tasks with no-one else around to learn from, bounce ideas off, or just provide mutual moral support. I love the work, but the sense of isolation and the obligation to cover every. single. deadline by myself means that the job is not always ideal.
Well, guess what?! As of June 1st I will be joining the team I started to envy so much back in 2009!
It’s been a strange few months. In early February my boss called the department’s lab manager, admin manager, admin assistant, accountant and me into a meeting, in which he told us that he might have to make “quite drastic” cuts to the admin salaries budget, and that all our jobs were in jeopardy. The start-up / industry collaboration funds from which we’d all been paid thus far were running out, and verbal assurances from above that our department (created from scratch for my boss to lead when he was recruited to our institution) would eventually be given an annual admin salaries budget had never actually been realised.
Well, it was all a bit of a panic. We knew that the boss was doing everything he could to guarantee our positions, but it was all very scary and the atmosphere was tense, to say the least. Given that Mr E Man’s salary is highly variable throughout the year and we have a substantial mortgage, I knew I had to have at least a part time permanent position, possibly with some freelance manuscript editing or similar work thrown in to supplement it. I wondered if volunteering to go part time would save my position from being completely abolished, or if that would make me look less than fully committed and thus result in me being axed first. The person I would usually ask about such things was on the chopping block too, so I didn’t really feel like I could talk to them about it. Everyone was on edge, constantly asking the others in our sad little group if they’d heard anything, and everyone thought they themself would be the first one cut (except for the accountant – we all agreed that she was safest, because no-one else in the department would know how to even start taking over her duties, whereas senior postdocs and techs could conceivably have taken over some of mine and the lab manager’s, respectively).
I immediately started to update my CV and LinkedIn contacts list, emailed various people to ask if they would provide a reference (different references would be needed for different types of job, and all options had to be considered at that point), and – most importantly – contacted the person in charge of the project management / grant wrangling team at this other division of our organisation.
I’ve worked with the leader and several members of this team on various grants and other projects, have quite recently started to attend their weekly team meetings (and also some of their lunches / after work drinks), and already knew that applying to join them would be my most likely next career move – although I’d set myself the rather arbitrary target of being in my current job for at least five years before moving on (I’m going to fall five months short of that goal!) Having a large team makes it possible to specialise or otherwise evolve the role, and also to eventually move up the hierarchy – two benefits that just aren’t possible when you’re a team of one. (It also means not having to cover every single deadline for a whole department by myself, giving me much more flexibility in terms of when I can take time off). I knew that there was also a budget and paid time off for members of the team to take work-related courses, as long as they come back and share what they’ve learned with everyone else – something that just isn’t possible in my current job. Combining these advantages with better long-term financial stability than our organisation’s other departments made joining this team my best career development option by far – and the news about my current job not being safe really just accelerated my plans.
I knew from attending the team’s meetings that an 18 month maternity leave cover position was opening up, and so that was what I applied for. A couple of weeks after getting the scary news from my current boss, I met the other team’s leader informally to discuss the process, and we set up a time a few weeks in the future for a formal interview. I told my boss that I’d applied, and he replied that he was glad I was thinking of these things and would be happy to provide a reference. I was still losing sleep worrying about the situation, but not quite as much as in my zombified state of the last few weeks, and I gradually untensed a little bit.
Soon thereafter, I learned that the funding for my current job was “probably” safe for “about a year”. I knew that my boss had worked very hard to secure that position, and felt horribly guilty about the fact that I was still interviewing for the other job. I tried to just keep my head down and focus on my work, but the situation was exceedingly bizarre and awkward. I was still going to the other team’s meetings and social gatherings, attended a workshop led by my potential new boss, and was also going to meetings related to my current job that were attended by the leader and/or other members of the team I was trying to join. I basically felt like the whole few weeks were one extended job interview where everything I said was subject to scrutiny. This was quite possibly all just in my own head, but that didn’t make it any less stressful or weird.
At the interview (for which I’d taken a day off work), I learned that I wasn’t actually being considered for the mat leave cover position, but rather for a new position that had just opened up when a grant got funded. It’s as manager of a huge 5.5 year grant in an field I know something about, having worked on several related projects and grants with my current boss, who collaborates with the PI of the grant I’ll be managing (as does my postdoc supervisor. Post about the Vancouver life science industry’s Two Degrees of Separation coming up soon). 5.5 years is as close as you’re going to get to a permanent job in science, short of getting tenure…
Well, the interview obviously went well, because I soon heard from one of my references that the team leader had contacted him. The next necessary step was to have a very, very awkward conversation with my current boss about the whole process, during which I explained about the 5.5 years and the team and the specialisation and the courses and the chances for promotion, and that I thought he was doing super-awesome-cool research (he really, really is) and hoped that I’d still get to work on some of his projects in the future (he collaborates with various PIs from my new department on almost all of his various projects). He said we could maybe discuss how my situation could be improved in my current post, but we both knew that the advantages of the new role that I’d just described to him were not in his power to offer me if I stayed.
Then, on Thursday, while I was sitting in my new team’s weekly meeting eating the cake one of them had provided to celebrate a difficult task being completed with everyone’s help and wondering when I’d hear back about the job, a letter of offer hit my email inbox! I talked again to my current boss before signing it (although it was never in doubt), and he was so cool about it – he said congratulations and that he knows that people need to think about their own careers and that he thinks it’s a good move for me. We both thanked each other for the last four and a half years, and off I went to officially accept the offer.
Despite all this, however, it was still a bit weird and awkward when I went out with my new team for a celebratory drink last night, and my current boss was sitting two tables over…
I’m so happy and excited. I get to be part of a team again – a team that includes two good friends from my 2005-2007 industry job – and I get to take on a new challenge. I’ve learned a lot – a HELL of a lot – in my current job, and enjoyed it most of the time, but this is a great move for me and a good time to move on: a couple of big projects I’ve been managing are winding down; two papers that have been taking up large parts of many people’s time and efforts for the last two years have just been published; and the only two colleagues I would truly call friends were, sadly, casualties of the budgetary crisis. (I’m in the process of becoming friends with a couple of others, which will hopefully continue – I’m only going a few blocks away* and will still interact with various members of the group).
The new job will be somewhat similar to my current one, but with much more emphasis on project management and much less on writing grants**. Oh, and I get to go to Montreal in July, where I will attend the kick-off meeting for my new big project, and also hopefully take some new photos to replace the ones from my last trip there, which all have my ex-boyfriend in them!
I’m also just enormously relieved to have this stressful period of my life behind me. I’m fine with change – I like change – but I’ve never been very good at dealing with uncertainty; I’m a planner. It hasn’t been fun, but it’s over now and I’m more than ready to move on – after I slash and burn my way through the rather intimidating “to do before I go” list I started writing yesterday!
Before I finally close this rather epic post (as you might be able to tell, it’s been killing me not to be able to blog about any of this!), I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to all my online friends who’ve provided support, advice, and just listened to me freaking out over the last couple of months. It’s been hard to talk to people at work about this, and Mr E Man and my non-work friends in real life have been lovely but don’t really understand how science careers, funding, and other aspects of the industry works. Having a community of people who understand the industry but don’t know the people involved has been enormously helpful – Eva in particular gave me some wonderful advice about how to approach an interview where you know all the interviewers – but you’re all wonderful! THANK YOU!
*actually, to the same building where I worked from 2005-2007… and right now I work in the same building where I did my postdoc… this’ll be my fourth job in Vancouver and I’ve only ever worked in two buildings about three blocks apart.
**less time spent writing about science at work should mean more time spent writing about science in my free time – the benefits of having a career skill that’s also a hobby! I started this blog during my industry job, when my science writing itch just wasn’t being scratched at work at ALL, and it became much less sciency when I began my current job and started doing a lot of de novo science writing at work. The blog might get a bit more sciency again, but I’m going to try to channel that itch into some other long-term writing-for-fun projects instead… once the initial brain overload caused by starting a new job subsides, of course!