succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The pros and cons of my potential dream job

This is mostly just thinking out loud, so there's not a lot of organizational structure to these lists.

The (potential) job (which I have not been offered) is with a non-profit doing human rights work. I've been a huge fan for years and always describe them as a near-perfect example of how statistics should be used. Human rights problems obviously involve huge, complicated, emotional collections of data, and statistics can boil that down in to an (arguably) objective collection of evidence for one conclusion over another. This organization has been doing that for over a decade, tackling questions like does the pattern of refugees fleeing Kosovo fit the pattern of MiloŇ°evic's military action or NATO's bombing campaigns? Is the rate of violence in Colombia changing, and if so, does that change fit with the demobilization of paramilitaries? Etc.

  • Simply being wanted for the position - there's something dangerously intoxicating about being told you're the ideal candidate
  • It would be doing something - there are real world, tangible ramifications of this kind of data analysis
  • It matters - I think this company is doing some of the most important work, and asking some of the most important questions, out there
  • Geeky community - my sense of the company is that it's staffed by people like me - nerdy, curious, passionate, and driven. That's a nice group of people with whom to surround yourself
  • Interesting problems - I don't think there's any risk that I would get bored with this kind of work - every problem is different, and no problem looks like something out of a textbook
  • Location - northern CA
  • Travel - both a pro and a con
  • [UPDATE] Knowledge and experience - while there's probably going to be a pretty steep learning curve involved (which I guess technically is a con) I would gain some serious knowledge about software development, database management, and tons of new (to me) programming languages (as Steve clarifies in his comment, one of the big questions here is how would this job set me up into the future, and I think the answer is nothing but positives - even if I shifted focus a bit later in my career, the hands-on experience, the complicated data structure and problem solving involved in this gig would be invaluable and I'd gain some pretty serious 'street cred')

  • Burn out - I can already tell that the intensity of this work is not sustainable. Nor is the eat-drink-sleep-breath attitude of my potential boss. But I think it fits where I am right now
  • Travel - I'm excited about the possibility of traveling a lot and seeing a lot of the world. I'm not sure I'm cut out for developing country/unstable government settings - I'm a trooper when it comes to uncomfortable conditions, but I'm concerned that I'll discover I'm actually quite wimpy when it comes to personal security issues...but I also think I have a really skewed perspective about personal security issues in developing potential boss says they're very good at risk assessment, and I should probably trust his opinion of such things more than my own
  • Lone statistician - years ago I said I didn't want to work somewhere where I was the only stats person, and this still makes me nervous...but it sounds like I would still have plenty of brilliant people off whom to bounce ideas, so I don't think it would feel particularly isolating to be the only person with my specific degree (certainly something to discuss during the in-person interview)
  • Timing - they essentially want me to start right now, and are willing to hire me on as a consultant until I graduate...I'm just nervous about enforcing my own boundaries enough to put them off until I wrap up my dissertation/continuing to take on more and more and more and making my life hellishly hectic for the next 7 months
  • Prestige - while I think the work they're doing is incredibly important, and within the human rights world they're very well know, this isn't exactly the sort of career decision that my alma mater can use to recruit new students. Not that that should be a deciding factor, but it's in my head...
  • Fellowship - I put a lot of work into a fellowship application, and I won't even know if I made the first round of cuts for that until December, so I would likely have to decide about this job (if it's offered to me) without info about that one (though I will call the fellowship committee and see if I can get a sense of things)

Fellowship vs. non-profit
The fellowship is also pretty tailor-made for me - it's interdisciplenary and disparity/social justice focused. But it's much bigger picture, research focused as well. The idea is you spend the next two years doing post-doc-type research, with the aim of launching into government or non-government and developing policy and getting into leadership positions where you shape the basic infrastructure that affects public health. It would be much more 'comfortable' - I'd likely end up in Boston (if I got it), though there are other location possibilities, and though the non-profit and I haven't talked money, I know the fellowship salary and I'm guessing the non-profit couldn't match that. On the other hand, the fellowship is open to anyone, at any point in their career, so I could do on the ground human rights work until I burn out and then turn to more structured, big picture research...

One of my mentors in the field (the one who recommended me for the human rights gig) told me not to stress too much about my first job, because I'd likely only have it for a few years and then move on to something else, which certainly does seem to be the norm in my field. And this human rights job doesn't seem sustainable in the long term...but is it bad form to enter into a position with an end point in mind? I guess that's more fodder for uncomfortable conversations during the in-person interview...

Speaking of which, I'm supposed to be putting together two job talks, not directly related to my dissertation, so I guess I should stop procrastinating...


OpenID scipio202 said...

Well, I guess one thing to think about is how this NP job would fit into a larger career arc. Both because nobody stays at any job forever, and particularly because you said you think it's likely you'll burn out - how would working at this place for 3 to 5 years set you up for something else afterwards? What kind of jobs would your work at this place be good qualifications for, and are those the kinds of jobs you want? How much "credit" will this kind of work earn you? Is any of it going to be published in journals, or is it all reports and white papers from the NGO - and does that matter? Are there things you'll be able to say were "your" projects, or will everything be assisting other people's work - and does that matter? How does all of this compare to what kind of doors the fellowhips would open up for you?

More funadmentally, there are two big questions: will I be happy doing this for the next 3-5 years? and how does this help set me up to be happily doing what I want for the next 10-30 years?

It sucks that it seems you may have to make a call on this before you can know anything about the fellowships. I hope you make a good decision that you're comfortable with, and I'm sure you will. Best of luck!


10:59 AM  
Blogger reyn said...

I took my last job knowing that i was only using it to pay bills and buy food until I found a job I actually wanted. Of course, at that point in my life I had been waiting about two years for someone--anyone--to make me an actual offer, not trying to decide between two competing offers. Still, I don't think it's in bad form to take a job knowing that you'll be leaving it.

11:11 AM  

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