The second phone interview with the second college had the same effect as the first; here was a cool college, one I could see myself at, so what am I going to do about the offer from the first college? The dilemma came down to this:
College A - Amazing college, seemed perfect in many ways, offer in hand, but for a three-year visiting position in my less-preferred sub-field.
College B - Sounded really good from description of two faculty over the phone, looking for a tenure-track faculty member in my preferred sub-field, but I didn't even know whether I would be invited for an on-campus interview.
Several other graduate students in my lab said they would take the certainty of a job over the stress of waiting to see if there would be a better offer. Normally, that would be my approach as well; if I hadn't be invited to phone interview with College B at the same time I got the job offer from College A, I would have accepted the offer within a few days. As it was, I had to do some hard thinking about the potential downsides of the position.
These potential downsides were two: visiting position, less-preferred sub-field.
The visiting position itself didn't seem to be a downside to me. Three years would give me ample time to get experience, and would give me several years off before I had to think about job applications again. No guarantees were offered, but several of the existing faculty in the department had started on visiting positions, which had eventually been turned into tenure-track. Oh, there would be pressure to be productive, since I would potentially be on the market again in three years, but there would be pressure of being productive enough for tenure anyway, and at least the pressure would keep me from slacking on my research in my first year.
The less-preferred sub-field was certainly a downside. It is actually the sub-field most of my research has been in, but it is much more difficult to gather data, and I hadn't really wanted to get saddled with those headaches when I began my faculty career. I wasn't too worried about selling myself in the other sub-field, which is what all my teaching experience has been in, and I was so looking forward to the less demanding line of research.
So as the days toward my decision deadline approached, I found I was really asking myself a very simple question: Did I think I could make a success of the more difficult line of research, on my own, away from my advisor? Was it worth turning down an excellent teaching college just because my research was going to be harder than I had hoped?