(That’s the song for this post)
I’m at a weird place in my life…I just started a new postdoc position where I finished grad school two years ago, with my PhD adviser. In the intervening two years, I was a postdoc in a different lab, in New York, and I never imagined that I’d be back here after.
That my old PhD adviser wanted me back is a good sign that I’m a hard worker, and it’s flattering. In addition, it’s a good move because my contract ended at my other postdoc position and I didn’t have another job lined up yet. This time will allow my old PhD adviser/new postdoc adviser and I to finish up some of the projects we couldn’t complete before I left for New York, and start some new things.
BUT I’m fighting hard against the sensation of stagnation. This is a place where I was once happy, I know, and yet. And yet! I’m finding it difficult to put myself back in this place where I once belonged. Though I have moved many times in my life, I’ve never returned to anywhere I’ve lived for more than a visit and this is weird. Everything is at once familiar and unfamiliar. I feel as though I could move around this place with my eyes closed, but every once in a while I slam into a wall* that wasn’t there before.
I was talking with a friend who has also traveled some and he said sometimes moving back to where you once were feels more unfamiliar than going somewhere new and I agreed. Instead of your brain getting confused between this place and that (here and there), it gets confused between the past and present (then and now). Then he called me a poet and I stuck my tongue out at him and that was that.
Many of my old friends are gone, of course, and I just don’t fit in as a postdoc the way I did as a student. The fitness pass is four times more expensive as a postdoc, for example. Postdocs are this weird unclassifiable object…we’re neither faculty, nor staff, nor student. Our ID cards say “faculty/staff” but on forms we check the “other” box. We’re not on any listserves** or in any organization. We’re ephemeral, affordable labor, and we come and go seamlessly with the funding seasons.
I don’t say this to complain about postdocing…the format of the job appeals to me: short term research focused positions that change rapidly and challenge you constantly. But it is true that you never really belong anywhere, even when you return to where you once belonged…(if I ever did belong??)
And to finish, more Beatles!
*Figuratively and literally
**There actually was a postdoc listserve at Cornell, but it only sent out one email a week, always from the same person and always with the same exact content. It offered career advice by appointment and a weekly pizza lunch, which I imagined no one ever went to. That same pizza was probably used every week in fact.