Been thinking a lot this- turning it over in my head, and hoping for time, distance and some amount of discussion to give me some perspective. Resorted to blogging it as it always works best to clear my thoughts.
I am 6 months into my post-doc now, and because of the way things have panned out with B the boyfriend having to return to India, I have started planning my return too. This was not how I had originally planned my life/career. The grand plan had been to get some solid post-doc experience (which translates to 3-4 years and a 1st author paper). This would then make me competitive for the next phase in my career: a "Real" job: the first preference being industry, and if that turned out to be horrific, then still leave a door open for me to return to academia, thanks to aforemetioned "solid post-doc experience".
My plan was also, to return to India eventually-- may be after the combined post doc + industry experience, or after the post-doc itself if a good opportunity presented itself. After meeting B and the way things have unfolded for him, it just seemed like I would be doing this return earlier than planned.
My plans are not mine alone any more, ever since I opened up to the idea of getting involved with another person. As if getting there wasn't complicated enough, and sprinkled with requisite goading from people closest to me - who were then worried about me "getting too individualistic/independent/set-in-my-ways", worried about me not ending up with a life-companion, warning me about being "too picky" etc. not to mention my own questions and doubts- having finally gotten there- I can hear my own little voice in my head go "I told you so". :) Not fun.
So fine- I need to get past questioning "how the hell did I get here" part and take stock. Over the year or so I have been seeing B, I arrived at the conclusion that here is a guy I foresee living together with, for better or worse, raising a child with, and living my life, carrying on my professional and personal pursuits with etc.
B is now in India and doesn't have the option of moving back to the US due to a family emergency. The way I see it- my current post-doc is but a means to the end- of me landing a "Real" job- and if I can land a "near-ideal" even if not ideal job right now in India, and work my way up from there, it makes sense to cut-short this post-doc and move back to India sooner rather than later. I have just begun sending out enquiries and feeling my way for the job-market and my opportunities in India.
The biggest motivations for me to do this are both practical and emotional. I'm almost 31- would like to embark on a married life, and have a kid, within the next 4-5 years. That is an important priority to me. I cannot see myself stay here for the next 3 years - hoping and working towards that paper that would make me more competitive, return to India when I'm 34, get married, and have a baby right away. Then there is a part of me that would like to be with B sooner rather than later, help him deal with his situation that is not the happiest right now, and will only get progressively harder as time goes by.
Where does that leave my career? Something that i have spent several painful years building up, enjoying the facilities to do research in the US and pretty much gotten used to making it my life. Life back in India is going to be nowhere close- and will it mean that I have put to waste all the years that I invested so far?
Advice from people closest to you fulfills the role of the devil's advocate. In all big decisions- these are the people that are looking out for you and only you- and are questioning your decisions with the sole idea of ensuring that it is the best for you. Nothing in life is zero-risk, and their job is to remind you of the risks- and make you carefully reconsider taking them.
My parents and my sister- who know me the best- seem disappointed, and wary of my readiness to "throw everything that I have painstakingly built for myself here" and return to India, which would involve a step-down career-wise and be wrought with uncertainties and dissatisfaction. With good reason, I believe, since any impulsive decision I make now comes with the danger of self-brought-upon bitterness later, which could be quite dangerous. Better to think through carefully, practically, and have all safeguards.
If I write down my options going forth from here it would be:
Work hard at my post-doc and pull off a long distance relationship for the next 3 years, if the relationship doesn't "stand the test" then at least I will not have sacrificed my career. (Costs: strained relationship, difficult life and doubtful baby plan)
If the relationship does stand the test, then work the baby into it- become that super-mom/scientist/all-in-one person that a lot of people aim to be and may be actually succeed. Who knows? (Costs: sanity)
Or else have a kid/adopt post-35 a lot of people are doing that too. Deal with those complications then, at least I will have had a successful post-doc to show for (hopefully)-and the self-assurance that I didn't make any sacrifices on my career. (Costs: strained relationship)
Start looking for a job in India right now- make the best of current post-doc- have something to show for it on paper (most realistic : second authorship). Take the closest-to-ideal job offer I get in India in the next year. Return to India, invest the same effort in building my career there, alongside family etc. (Costs: significant career compromise and uncertainty in career. For a person, who, for the longest time has equated sense of self-worth with my professional achievements- this is a significant risk. Won't know until I take the plunge).
Hmm.....for now i'm just going to go have a beer.