“Are you applying for tenure-track positions?”
“Hm. Not really, actually.”
I have had exactly this conversation about 100 times by now. The problem is that I cannot give a good explanation why I am not applying, so I usually mumble something and tell myself I need to come up with a good reply.
Why am I not applying?
I know my track record is good enough that I would have a chance to find something somewhere. I do not want to do a third postdoc and I am consequently not applying for any postdoc positions. I have invested a lot in this career and it seems like madness to throw it away so shortly before something permenent could get into sight. While it is clear that science is a very difficult career path, I am not (yet) totally disillusioned about a career in science like some other people in my situation (that I understand well).
Yet I have a huge psychological block. A few deadlines have already passed without me handing anything in, and the next are coming closer.
The main reason for my block seems to be that I do not see myself settling down for good in a foreign country. If I think about applying to Leeds University or to Toronto University my gut reaction is pure dread. What if they actually offer me the job? How could I turn down a tenure-track position?
I do not find in myself the energy to move to another country again, and even less can I accept the idea of actually having to settle down far away from my home country. I have always been prone to homesickness and it is not getting better.
For most people in science, this is crazy talk. A permanent position anywhere, especially if their partner finds one too, seems to be the best thing that could happen. I am ashamed that it is not like that for me, and I feel like this makes me a narrow-minded person who is unable to step out of her comfort zone.
And don’t I love my job? Haven’t I given so much for it already that it will be worth to make this last sacrifice to spend my life abroad? Wouldn’t I be absolutely unhappy in a job outside science? I ask these questions again and again to myself.
But all I can come up with is the same gut feeling: I want to go home. I want to have people around my that I understand clearly, both culturally and language-wise. Given the paucity of jobs in my field in my home country, this means that I will have to leave science.
I do not have much gut reaction to that prospect, which is mysterious. I am fairly passionate about my work and quite successful. I feel like by now I am really contributing something to science, having ideas and insights that not everyone has, and I love mentoring younger colleagues. I would also like to give lectures about my topic, and I think I have a good long-term research plan.
Yet the idea of leaving does not shake me very much. My head tells me that it should — after two postdocs, I should be invested in my career — but somewhere inside of me a small voice gets very happy and excited: “So I could leave?” Oh, what a relief I sometimes feel at the idea! How happy I get when I imagine doing something totally different, learning something totally new, seeing professional life outside of science!
And I love the idea of going back home. Ever since I arrived in the Netherlands I am dreaming of the day when the moving van in front of our house will load all our stuff and drive back to my home country.
This is so hard to explain to others that I am, for now, actually again considering writing a few applications for tenure-track, to keep up appearances and appease my boss. Of course, I also understand it makes sense logically, as people have explained to me numerous times. I can always turn down an offer, but if I don’t apply, I effectively already leave science now and could stop working on my projects (which would feel wrong). Also, my feelings about leaving science might be delusional, might just indicate that I need a break, might just come from the loneliness I feel as a woman in my field, might be a form of “fear of success” that might be typical for women.
Nevertheless, my heart tells me not to bother applying, and I am not sure if I can get over this inner resistance. Maybe it just means that there is another job somewhere out there that is meant for me.