Tag Archives: two body problem

The Dual Science Job Hunt: What’s So Great About Newport? (Part 3)

August 2017: We had decided to make a lifestyle move and were deep in the process of researching, applying, and interviewing. We were seriously considering a couple of spots in California, but one east coast city kept popping up on our radar. 

Newport:

It was now time for me to fly up to Newport to see the people at NUWC. Having met a keen scientist, Jason, from this lab in D.C. I was interested to see NUWC for myself as he painted a picture very different from the many other Navy labs I had seen. He depicted a place filled with young people, a burgeoning basic science and research group, a wonderful lifestyle and management willing to support their staff in whatever out-of-the-box thinking they were doing. Lauren had done some digging into school zones and cost of homes, the latter of which placed Newport solidly at the top of our three choices.

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Eclipse shadows in the dappled light through tree leaves on that fateful August day in 2017.

I flew in on the day of the 2017 US eclipse, which became an important part of the interview process. I gave my talk in the morning, and was surprised to see Jason’s boss at the presentation. Senior management were interested in new hires? Strange. After meeting a bunch of friendly and foot-forward scientists, I was taken to lunch at the restaurant on base (!), which was located waterfront (!!). The eclipse began just as we drove back from lunch. People gathered outside NUWC to view it with some freely distributed cardboard glasses. While they watched the moon cover the sun, I saw something else amazing. The age distribution was homogeneous. Many young and old, and many in between. These groups also spoke to each other, like members of a “team”. Approximately 30% of the staff were female. What a contrast to the other places I had been, where old men dominated the payroll. I had briefly spoken to NUWC’s chief technology officer at NRL previously and he mentioned a big drive to hire young people had begun a few years ago. They had hired more than a thousand, and some were hired before a specific position had been found. That level of foresight at a Navy lab was incredible from my point of view.

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Lauren’s resume had been circulated around and a phone interview was arranged for her while I was at NUWC. They issued her a verbal offer the next day. She called me after and said something like “I really hope you love Newport because I’m stoked to join this research group.” We had decided. (This was before Lauren actually visited Newport, which she had the chance to do in October to interview at two universities nearby. Apparently she really trusts my judgement). I described Newport to her as Auckland, New Zealand and Williamsburg, Virginia (our two home towns) having a baby that got nearly all of the good features. Of the three cities on the table for us, Newport had the best combination of work-life balance (amazing sailing, water activities), cost of living (Boston locality, but not Boston real estate), job security and positive working environment. We now had to figure out how to move there, the timing, how to pay for it, and what to do with the kiddos. We had also both visited in the summer/fall. We had never lived in the northeast. What was it going to be like in the winter?

This is part of a series chronicling our decision to leave DC and process of making a lifestyle move. Read the other parts here:

Part 1: A Challenging Year

Part 2: California Called & We Want to Go Back

Part 3: What’s so Great About Newport?

Part 4: New State, New Jobs, New Home

Part 5: Welcome to New England

Part 6: The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

Part 7: Finding Our Newport House

The Dual Science Job Hunt: California Called & We Want to Go Back (Part 2)

Spring/Summer 2017: We had decided to make a lifestyle move and were actively hunting for jobs. After what felt like ages of radio silence, we started getting (a lot of) feedback. We had promising opportunities in Monterey & San Diego and were about 90% certain we would be moving back to California. 

Monterey:

I traveled to Monterey again for a second interview at NPS. On Thursday night I sent Lauren’s CV to some people at NRL Monterey. Friday around noon (9am California time) Lauren’s phone starts ringing off the hook, culminating with an off the cuff interview with a branch head from NRL MRY who happened to be in DC on the same day. They were super excited about having a young scientist aboard, her work was relevant and fit well, and they explained they have had a hard time getting people to move to Monterey. It’s expensive and pretty isolated. The prospect of a young family with two science incomes was very exciting because the family would have enough income to afford an actual house! We would also probably love it there and want to stay, or in other words, they wouldn’t go to the effort of interviewing and hiring Lauren for nothing. We got pretty excited but tried to keep our other options open. In the end, it didn’t work for Monterey. I was offered a job at NPS, but it was only 25% covered rather than the 75% I was looking for. I would need to raise 75% of my salary myself and there would be no start-up assistance. The other job I interviewed for was much better (and almost impossible to come by – 75% hard money, light teaching load, and a federal position – people called it a unicorn job). But my lack of teaching experience really shone through during the interviews. Lauren has an interview scheduled for what seems to be a great job at NRL MRY, but ultimately I couldn’t say yes to coming up with so much of my own funding in such an expensive town. I turned NPS down and we closed our door to Monterey… for the time being. Long after this episode, at a scientific meeting, the folk from NPS approached me and informed me that the 75%-covered job was still open and asked if I was still interested. If only the stars had aligned!

San Diego:

It goes without saying that we have many happy memories in San Diego, so of course we jumped at an opportunity to return.

Joey got an ear infection and couldn’t go to school. We called Lauren’s mother at the last minute and she came up on the evening train to stay with him because the next day, we gave talks at NRL to visiting upper management from SPAWAR (the San Diego lab). We were effectively starting our interviews for San Diego at our current place of work, in front of the management who were choosing to let us go, who were simultaneously schmoozing our potential future bosses. It was a little weird. The San Diego people were great – enthusiastic about our interests and eager to help us both find a home at SPAWAR. We spend quite a bit of time, including a memorable airport dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl, liaising with the SPAWAR folks in DC on Thursday and Friday. The irony that we were using her parents’ proximity to help us interview for jobs further afield did not escape Lauren. We wondered how San Diego would work.

Lauren and I both flew to San Diego separately for formal interviews at SPAWAR. It was July 2017. We were excited to catch up with old friends and PhD advisers, and to learn more about what the jobs would be like. When Lauren flew to San Diego, she was simultaneously eager to learn more about Newport (which she hadn’t visited yet, but I had been verbally offered a job there) and was stalling turning down the NRL MRY job as it had seemed extremely appealing. We realized that at this point we were much better at job applications, interviews, and job talks than we were when we started this roller coaster in January. SPAWAR had a different feel to NRL. We weren’t completely convinced that we could blaze our own scientific path in the fashion we wanted, although we were quite sure that the jobs were very good options. The interviews at SPAWAR go well, and living in San Diego with its ocean activities, glorious sunsets, many friends and colleagues, and abundance of burritos was tempting. Very tempting.

“Simon’s boss seems to have given up all hope of us staying and is telling people prematurely that we are moving to California. The increasing amount of red tape, frustration, and failed promises reinforces our decision to leave NRL DC. I talk to our realtor about selling our house.”

 This is part of a multi-part series on our dual job hunt and move – stay tuned and check out

Part 1: A Challenging Year

Part 2: California Called & We Want to Go Back

Part 3: What’s so Great About Newport?

Part 4: New State, New Jobs, New Home

Part 5: Welcome to New England

Part 6: The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

Part 7: Finding Our Newport House

The Dual Science Job Hunt: A Challenging Year (Part 1)

Things have changed a lot for us in the last 18 months. There have been some big ups and downs – emotionally, financially, and career wise. We’re lucky to have come out of it mostly on the up side, partly due to planning, partly due to luck, and in no small part due to the support of wonderful people who have helped us fight to keep our careers and find a place where the kids could grow up happily and safely.

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We had built a happy life in DC, including local knowledge of all the best spots for kiddos and a strong network of dear friends. We weren’t excited to leave either of those things behind.

This story begins in Washington D.C., when we both worked at NRL. Lauren had won a research grant to go to Hawaii as part of the NASA HYSPIRI preparatory campaign and I finagled some of my fellowship funding to come along. Two things happened there. One, we discovered (along with Giacomo Giorli and Andy Haas) that algae make sound (accepted in PLoS ONE, watch this space!). Two, I discovered that Lauren’s boss wasn’t the best and did not think anything of her, as he told her to abandon the work she had been doing for the last two years and try to start afresh with six months remaining in her postdoc. For the record, she submitted the work to a peer reviewed journal and received a “publish with minor edits” response, first time around. There is another blog about that issue, but the consequence for us was that we were realized we would be leaving NRL / D.C. sooner rather than later.

I would need to walk away from a multi-million dollar research grant. One could consider that to be a difficult decision. While I liked my division and people in my lab, the decision was black-or-white for me. We had completed our PhD’s together, worked well together, and it was important for us that we remained as equals. It was in our best interests to fight anything that compromised that arrangement.

And fight we did. The search for an ideal solution to our two-body problem 2.0 began soon after we returned from Hawaii. All but the lowest hanging fruit from the data we collected were left on the tree. We submitted one paper but most of the data are still there, waiting. All our attention was now focused on solving the most difficult problem in science, again: how to find meaningful and interesting work for two Ph.D’s in the same geographic area and set up a nice life with a family.

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We had an amazing time in Hawaii, and realized just how important family time and quality of life were for us as we thought about our long term plans

We discussed our most important filters and mapped out possibilities – we wanted to good jobs for both of us, good schools for the kids, a safe community to raise them in, and water access for recreation in the evenings and on weekends. There were a number of locations where these might all have been possible for us, and we both travelled extensively around the country to look for solutions. We considered other positions in the D.C. area. We interviewed at universities, private corporations and federal labs. Sadly, the timing was poor for academic positions: it was already March 2017 and universities typically open their applications for new faculty in the early winter, for faculty to begin teaching class the next September. People did not get back to us after initial enthusiasm. Some labs kept asking for copies of our C.V’s again and again. An excerpt from a diary Lauren kept is a great snapshot of the situation:

“April – We literally hear nothing from anyone. When we check in with folks in San Diego, they say they should know more soon. The hiring freeze is a problem for the San Diego jobs. I apply for a teleworking job in education technology.“

By June, we are oscillating through the roller coaster of applying for jobs – this is my dream job! I hope I get it! Think of all the cool things I could do at NPS! Wait, Monterey is really expensive. It is in the middle of nowhere. It’s far from everyone we know. NPS isn’t a traditional university. But wait – middle of nowhere is kind of nice, that’s what we were looking for. Check out the schools – they are amazing! We could give our family a great life here! I hope they hire us! Oh, they want to have me for an interview. I don’t have time for an interview…. So on, and so forth.

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Giving our water babies a chance to grow up by the water instead of being weekend warriors was a huge driver for our search, and their joy and enthusiasm kept us going.

In the end, there were three serious candidate locations: San Diego, where a Navy lab (SPAWAR) were looking to hire, as was the University of San Diego. Monterey CA, where the Naval Postgraduate School were looking for new faculty and NRL Monterey were very excited about Lauren. Lastly, there was Newport, Rhode Island. I had met a scientist from NUWC (Jason) at a program review that year, who was interested in my bioinspired robotics work offered to circulate both our resumes at his lab.

Lauren was invited to Rhode Island to interview at the University of Rhode Island and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. We love a lot of things about Rhode Island including the proximity of the two universities and NUWC. Both universities immediately offered Lauren a path to a soft money position (where she would have to raise all of her own money), and invited her up to give a seminar and talk about a more secure position. The possibilities were tantalizing and the little beach towns were quaint. Houses with a water view within walking distance to a beach cost about half of an average home in San Diego or Monterey. However, the big caveats here were that these ‘soft money’ positions were terrible. Not only do you have to raise your own salary, you need to pay overhead to work at the university! Paying to work? Perhaps an unsustainable model, academia. I hope everyone I know in soft money science survives and moves on quickly to tenure-track. Nevertheless, out of desperation, we interviewed for a number of soft-money university positions. They did not cut the mustard for us. Now that we have the kids, job security was an important priority.

This is Part 1 of a seven article series chronicling our job hunt and move – read the rest here:

Part 2: California Called & We Want to Go Back

Part 3: What’s so Great About Newport?

Part 4: New State, New Jobs, New Home

Part 5: Welcome to New England

Part 6: The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

Part 7: Finding Our Newport House