Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Where we stand

My life is on the brink of upheaval. Over the past several weeks, after an uninterrupted string of rejection, I was accepted at a PhD program and passed to the final round with an NGO for a job here in Bogota. While I have not yet received an answer from the NGO, having both opportunities before me represents a potentially serious difficulty. First the background.

After getting rejected from three PhD programs in Political Science I contacted a former mentor in search of some basic advice. At this point, every single job application I had submitted had either been ignored or responded with rejection and I was becoming fairly despondent about my short term future. This mentor immediately suggested that I look to join a PhD program in Public (Political) Communication. Surprisingly, that sounded really good to me. So I got in touch with the relevant people (most of whom I know fairly well) and began the process.

Prior to being accepted and offered a fellowship, I was contacted by a British NGO that is looking to begin operations in Colombia. They have nothing on the ground and this job is to be their Colombia Director, legal representative, etc. I had applied for this job some time back and having not heard back, had assumed that I would never hear. So I was fairly surprised but agreed to a phone interview. The interview went very well but I finished it concluding that I really don't have the experience necessary for the job and that they would realize that and move on to other candidates. I was fairly surprised when they moved me into the second round. The second round consisted of a test and an interview with the higher ups. Still not having heard from the university, I agreed to continue in the process, however, prior to the exam, I was informed by the university that I had been accepted with a tuition waiver and a generous fellowship. This was good news.

At this point, I concluded that while I preferred the university option (I have been delaying the PhD and do want to return to the US), that I would follow through with the 2nd round. On the one hand, I had made a commitment to the organization, while on the other, I know my wife isn't entirely ready to leave Colombia and this would give us some extra time were I to be offered the job.

The test was fairly challenging but I felt like I did a pretty good job on it. It also seemed even more clear that I am lacking in the necessary experience for the position. Most of my answers were more instinctual than experiential and while I do believe I have good instincts, I have to wonder if a large, important NGO would empower someone with meager experience. It's a huge responsibility and a huge investment on their part and I assumed that they would want to go with someone who they could more reliably trust.

The second interview was on Monday. It also went well. Almost too well because it left me with the feeling that they are going to offer me the job. Obviously they have other candidates to interview (or have already interviewed) and there's no telling how I stand in the order of things. But I finished that interview with the definite impression that their choice is going to come down to the following factor: Selecting someone who knows Colombia but doesn't have all the experience necessary for the job or selecting someone who is well qualified for the job but doesn't know Colombia.

Now I find myself in the situation of needing to make a decision about what is best for me and my wife. It may be the case that they offer the job to someone else, but as the decision is rather important, I can't sit on my arse and not think about how I would choose if given the option. Over the last week or so I have spent an enormous amount of time thinking about this all. The following are the various angles:

A week ago, I was fully convinced that I was going to accept the PhD option and if I am honest with myself, that is the option I want the most. I feel like going back to grad school will grant me the opportunity to conduct the research and writing I want to conduct and with the level of support offered in this university (in terms of academic support mainly), I know that I will be successful. Further, I have spent three mostly excellent years in Colombia but I want to leave. There are a variety of reasons for this but I think the strongest is that I've been living outside of my country for almost 5 years and I miss it.

The advantages of accepting the job (if offered) are that it would be huge for my resume. This organization is the leader in its field, it's well known, and director level leadership on my resume would be a huge jump that would nicely set me up for things in the future (albeit those might be things I don't particularly want). It also pays very well and given my wife's salary, most of that money would go straight into our savings. Financially speaking, accepting the job is the only viable option.

The disadvantages of accepting the job are that I don't know if I can perform to the expectations of the organization, it would mean staying in Colombia one more year (and whatever risk that carries for my wife's residence visa to the US - that's a whole crapshoot that I barely understand and don't really know how to manage), and it would delay my target professional development one more year.

There are residual factors as well. We do want to start a family at some point in the nearish future and I can't see how that's possible here in Colombia. My wife works too many hours and has too much stress to take a step back and have a baby. On the flip side, entering a PhD program means less income for me and my wife would need time to find a job in the US and integrate herself into a new country and culture before she would be comfortable starting a family. No easy answers there.

So, this is where I stand. This may all become irrelevant within the next 24-48 hours (when they make their decision) and I may look back on these 2 weeks of uncertainty and laugh. Or, on the other hand, I might quite literally have to make the most difficult choice I've ever had to make related to my professional and family life.

My wife, in the ultimate cop out of love, has stated that she wants me to make the decision because she knows that I have sacrificed over the last several years so that we could be in Colombia. She doesn't want me to sacrifice any more at her wish. While loving, this is not particularly helpful.

At the moment, I have to question if I could turn down the money. The PhD can be delayed 6 months or a year without trouble (it appears). And in the current economy, earning a nice salary and saving the majority of it looks like the most logical step. But from an emotional point of view I'm pining away at the opportunity to become reaquianted with my country and to get back into academia. Of course, I can't ignore the irony of all of this. Temptation is the way of the world and I'm now being tempted with the idea of money and responsibility over a rather less financially rewarding option. Or, to put it in more plain terms, my choice comes down to: money or happiness.

Addendum: I have come up with an appropriate analogy to describe how I feel about this job possibility. I am a fairly good cook. And I really like cooking. But if someone wanted me to be the head chef in their new restaurant, I would feel completely overwhelmed by the possibility because it's so far outside of my experience range. Taking the job would mean a steep learning curve on various things that most candidates wouldn't have to learn. Could I do it? Definitely. But there is something to be said about going through the proper steps.



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