For the fourth time in my career I am starting life at a new institution. Like most academics I’ve had several jobs since completing my PhD and each post has involved a change in surroundings, colleagues and a slight shift in research focus. Moving is generally accepted to be part and parcel of academic life, and in my experience can be both a bane and a blessing.
In practical terms short-tem postdoc contracts are a nightmare. By the time you’ve been given your own desk and granted access through the university’s firewall, you’re arranging a date for your leaving interview and being wished all the best for your future. This, together with the fact that you don’t get anywhere near the expected amount of project work done because you spent most of the time putting together proposals and job applications for the next post, can make the positions appear to be more hassle then their worth.
However, no matter how stressful this hopping between postdocs is, it is worth it. Academics thrive on collaborations, and the best way of establishing a support network is to go and work with different people. Geochemistry is a relatively small community (though it’s growing quickly!), so by working with different people your name can become known to people you’ve never met, potentially improving your chances for getting the next post. Undoubtedly the greatest boost to my career came when I moved to a country whose language I didn’t speak to work on a topic that was completely new to me… not the easiest of transitions at the time but something that I have benefitted from ever since.
There is also the advantage of getting a change in scene and learning new working practices. The way clean labs and machines are set up vary between institutions, and getting experience of how others do what you do can be both useful and interesting (and, I confess, occasionally frustrating if you discover the answer to an issue that’s been bugging you for months!). Of course this type of knowledge transfer goes both ways, and it’s always encouraging to find that your skills are suddenly in demand and that you can help people who are struggling through the same sorts of issues that you’ve encountered before.
So far I have found that the benefits of starting somewhere new far outweigh whatever difficulties are encountered during the moving process, and it’s easy to see why many academics actually choose to move on (temporarily at least) when on sabbatical. Nonetheless, as I write this surrounded by boxes and bags of unsorted papers that were dumped out of my last filing cabinet, I can’t help but hope that my next move isn’t for quite some time yet…