One of the main reasons I don’t think I’ll be applying for a Postdoc position once I have completed my PhD is simply this:
Astronomy is heartbreaking.
It’s an exceedingly small global community, and so it tends to be the case that you develop pretty intense, close relationships with the people around you. However, the extreme transitory and insecure nature of working within astronomy means that you are constantly having to say goodbye to people, as they pack up their life and literally move to the other side of the planet. I get very attached to people very quickly, and it devastates me every time I have to give them a hug, and part company with “see you around sometime, maybe…”. With the average Postdoc position lasting 3 years, and the average permanent staff member having done three Postdocs, this is a lot of moving around and a lot of friends left behind (and don’t get me started on the effect it can have on maintaining a romantic relationship, or trying to build a family!).
I’m only just into my 3rd year of the PhD, and already I’ve had to do this several times – UK to La Palma, La Palma to UK, UK to Chile, and in 6 months time I’ll be saying “adios” to Chile, too, potentially never having the chance (or money!) to return. I am already not looking forward to this. In the past week, two of our long-term ESO students have finished up and moved back to Belgium and France respectively, leaving some sad-looking empty desks in our office and equally empty spots in our friendship group. Will I ever see them again? Who knows! I’d like to think I will, but only time will tell.
But, of course, this doesn’t mean to say that you can’t maintain these relationships once you have moved on. This is where things like Facebook and Skype become invaluable, as they allow you to keep in regular touch with people wherever they are on the planet, and keep you up-to-date with what’s going on in their lives. I am still in touch, and still manage to keep up good friendships, with the people I was closest to on La Palma – I’ve been to Denmark 3 times to see the Danish contingent, stayed with 2 others at the conference in Barcelona last year (Finnish and Spanish), and have a Northern Irish living in Chile, too, with a second to join us here in March. Other friends I have made through conferences and observing runs I have met up with again at other such events (and as mentioned in a previous post, we get a lot of astronomer traffic in Santiago, which is fantastic!). And I can only hope the same about the friends I have made here in Chile.
On the bright side, I know that whichever country I travel to next, there will most likely be someone I know to give me both a sofa to sleep on, and the chance to be able to say “it’s great to see you again”.
Hasta la proxima,