Very complicated situation:
1. I was recently a postdoc in a two-year training program in a psychiatry dept at a med school affiliated with an elite R1 institution. Applied for an NIMH K career development award to obtain more training + salary (~$80k/yr) + research funds ($50K/yr) for 4 years. Got a score the 1st time, but not the funding. Waited for the next cycle and reapplied. Waited some more for re-review.
2. While waiting for 2nd round of review, I needed to move for family reasons to an area about 7-8 hours away from postdoc program site. Two-year postdoc was ending also, so no real funding at R1.
3. To pay the bills, I found a VAP teaching at a very small bachelors-level college.
- 3/4 teaching load, so getting lots of teaching exp, which was a weakness in a prior round of applications.
- Basically, no research opportunities to speak of - except what you can scrounge up by giving psych students extra credit. Don't even have lab space, and I am bio/cog. Hardly any research required for tenure.
- Low pay for VAP (less than my postdoc, about half of what I'd make if I took the K).
- Not very select student body (top 50% of high school class), but some students are smart, dedicated, and most are really grateful to be there. Some are on heavy financial aid and/or are first-generation college students. Some students are not very engaged in class, but as a whole they are less likely to whine about grades as the students I used to teach at my grad institution (a top R1 school).
- I've made teaching fun here, even though it is a lot of prep right now. It is getting easier as I go. I still bang my head against the wall (metaphorically) when I read some of the truly awful responses from students on essay questions. (Example: in Freud's anal stage adolescents put stuff in their butts to see how it feels). WTF!
4. In my first semester teaching at bachelors college (FA 15), I received the NIMH K award, based out of my postdoc program 7-8 hrs away from new home. To avoid bailing on bachelors college and being a jerk leaving them with no one to teach classes, I deferred the start date of my grant until after the end of my 1 year VAP.
5. Now having second thoughts about trying to run my K grant and receive my training from 7-8 hours away. Would likely need to spend at least 1 week per month at the postdoc site. Logistics of where I would live are kind of a mess (might have to use grant money for hotels, eating into bottom line). Biggest issue: I have three young kids, and my partner works long hours (as a psychologist working in a hospital). We have some extended family support nearby (part of the reason for the move), but a full week away per month would be tough on everyone I leave back there.
6. Applied for a job at an R2 school nearer to me (and basically the only R-like school close enough to count). Dithered too much and applied late, and they gave the position to someone else. Naively assumed that I could exist outside process and I would be "free" because if I transferred the K to them I could pay my salary for 4-5 years. I doubt they read my application, so they might not even know that. Because of the rules of the K, I could only dedicate a max of 25% of my time to the R2, so I was worried about that. I could still contact them and see if I could come on as an extra "bonus hire", but not sure if that would be presumptuous.
7. There's also a med university near the R2 (not affiliated with R2) that I could try to transfer to - it's where my partner works. However, I fear that if I go this route, I could end up on "soft money" forever. Also, because my work is mostly clinically-oriented, but I have a research PhD, I worry I am training for a job that doesn't exist. My research project relies heavily on the infrastructure that my mentor built and the med university is under-resourced relative to the place it is based out of. If they let me transfer (not a given), I would have to build lab from scratch myself and find clinical help. I really do enjoy both teaching and research, and I think I would love an R- or SLAC-like job where I could do both if I could handle the pressure. I could also see myself crashing and burning at an R school (sometimes I feel that I lack the almost-myopic focus that research sometimes seems to require). So this route could be great or terrible or somewhere between, but it seems hardest to tell. I put out a feeler to someone in the med university and hope to meet with them next week. They could take over as my new primary mentor, but I have no idea if they care to.
8. I have come to like teaching here at the small bachelors college (despite the above issues), so I asked if there were a possibility for me to get a TT faculty position. Financially, I probably cannot handle another low-paying VAP, but a TT position would be a pretty big pay bump (almost $8k). The psych dept here really likes me and I like them. As a bio/cog person, I help round out the small program. They have been clamoring to administration for a new faculty hire for a while because they are way understaffed. They were happy for me when I told them about the grant, but they are also happy now that I am considering accepting a TT faculty position if offered one. They will talk to the dean who talks to the board and will let me know soon.
I worry that I will regret any decision that I make:
A) turn down grant and get stuck (comfortable?) at bachelors college,
B) transfer to med school or try to wheedle into R2 somehow (least certain), or
C) try to manage grant from far away and deal with all of the family and logistical issues.
Part of me thinks about bailing out of academia altogether and becoming something less highly specialized (though that would require more training). I guess that is my total fallback plan.
I feel both like I cannot make a wrong decision and also that I cannot make a right decision. Either way, it is clearly irrevocable, and it needs to be made soon. It seems like I have to choose teaching or research, but not both. If I turn down grant, my research career goes down in flames, and I would probably really upset my postdoc mentor (primary mentor on K) since we did all of that work and I blew it up. If I stick with grant, I might lose out on coming back to bachelors college later (if they create and then fill a spot), and I feel like I am training for a non-existent job in this area (not good long-term bc we're not moving again). And there is financial pressure to take the grant, but my partner would prefer I stay here and says we'll figure out the finances. Transferring seems like it might be really thorny, though my postdoc mentor seemed ok/resigned to it and still wants to work with me if I did transfer.
Forum, am I nuts for even considering turning down an opportunity like an NIMH K grant? What would you do if you were in my situation? What sorts of strategies would you use to make this huge life decision?
Thanks to all for your insights! I'm curious as to what you all will make of this.