Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Into the West (by Heading East)

One of the downsides of physics research can be the unpredictable nature of the funding. While there are plenty of instances where physics research can almost immediately be made into a commercial product (thus justifying its value in the minds of some, I'm sure), there are many others where the research is 'pure' or with such a long term before its intended payoff that really the only moneyed interest is a government.

Our return to Australia was on the basis of a fixed contract, as part of a defined project. And while it has been extended on a couple of occasions, the short of it is, there isn't sufficient on-going funding. This isn't news to me -- nor should it be to anyone in Australia with an inkling of the system here -- but we had initially hoped that it would parlay into something more permanent. After all, you never quite know how things will pan out or where you'll end up!

During the past year, I've come to the understanding, with my position and skill set, that it would either be not physics or not Australia. Since we had bought a house and were generally living a good life, I spent considerable time pondering 'not physics'. Teaching secondary school, a role in IT, patent attorney, physics outreach, and technology transfer were some of the opportunities I considered and pursued. And while I have no problem with working your way up from the bottom the couple I thought I would quite enjoy doing meant extra schooling and a significant cut in initial pay. So, though money has never been a main motivator for me, I did still have children to support and they don't get any cheaper as they get older.

As per my usual technique when I'm looking for employment, I told anyone and everyone. I've found offers often seem to come in the most serendipitous way when you are really chasing them down and this time was no exception. A 10 minute conversation with a collaborator of a colleague, who used my office during a short-term stay, meant he passed my resumé and relevant publications onto his colleagues in a different area of where he worked. They had a job advertised that had slipped through my searches. A call in January asked me if I was interested in pursuing a position with them. At this time, through other channels and means, I already had two other offers and so, eventually, it came down to three places that wanted to employ me for the skills I already had. To be sure, a nice position to be in, though not one of them was in reasonable commuting distance of our house.

The decision to move back to the US -- and San Diego is not a bad place to end up -- was the most difficult one of all our moves. There was a lot of discussion, negotiation, and a few conditions put in place. And even though I believe it was the best long term choice and we've done it three times before, it won't make the move really any easier. I do think, however, that it will likely be our last for some time.