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Have Ph.D. will travel. (Part 2)

Randall F. Clemens

Because newly minted Ph.D. graduates far outweigh the number of tenure-track positions [read about the sobering statistics here], many will have to travel if they want a job in academia. 

From my own experiences with friends and colleagues, graduate students deal with the possibility in different ways. Some have families and friends and roots. Travel is not an option. Others reluctantly and gradually accept the fact that they may have to relocate. The promise of returning often comforts them. Another group embraces the opportunity. Moving is going back home (or at least closer to home). Or, moving means they have achieved another career goal.

At some point or another, I think I fit into each of the categories. When I first arrived to Los Angeles, I couldn’t wait to leave. After a few years in Silver Lake, I had a dog, a girlfriend, friends, a favorite gym, a favorite record store, and any number of delicious taco stands equidistant from my apartment. Just like the other Randy, I would sing “I love LA” at Dodgers’ games. Then, after four years, I was also ready for the next step and felt honored and excited when I was offered a job at St. John’s and provided the opportunity to move to New York.

In August, my wife, dog, and I moved. Moving from one coast to another includes a lot of implications, some obvious, others not so obvious. 

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the biggest adjustment for my wife and I has been the housing situation. New York is unlike anywhere I’ve lived before. I remember an economics professor discussing non-price rationing. He used New York as an example. Because the demand outweighs the supply, people get apartments through non-price methods like friends. That’s true. What else is true? People get apartments through gigantic broker’s fees. If you want a non-fee apartment, your options shrink drastically. My wife and I found a cute loft in Greenpoint, a hip area in Brooklyn. At the time, after walking around NYC for three straight days in mid-August and looking at teeny tiny apartments with glaring defects (a.k.a. roaches), we thought we found a gem. For the first two months, there wasn’t a week where one of us didn’t have to call (and then wait for) the super for some sort of problem. Long story short, if you are moving to a different city, prepare for a break-in period. 

In terms of research, new jobs and new cities pose all sorts of opportunities. Finding the opportunities, however, requires deliberate action. If you live in a place long enough, you develop connections and local knowledge. Reflect on past experiences and use them to inform your next steps in a new town or city. For instance, who are the experts in your area of research? Are there any major research centers? Who are the major foundations? Who are the major non-profits or community-based organizations?

In terms of your new job, expect that most of your colleagues want you to succeed. Plan lunches with senior faculty members. Ask questions. Universities also have new faculty events. Go to them. Network with new professors in different disciplines. 

Lastly, you don’t have to wait until the fall to begin getting to know your school. If you sign a contract now, have lunch or coffee at AERA with a faculty member. Ask about the local school system. What are the challenges and opportunities? Also, search for future colleagues on Twitter. Start to get a sense of the culture of your school. Moving and changing jobs is a learning process. Start early.