Blogging about the work/life experience in academia is not new. It’s actually a rather played-out topic. “There needs to be balance” is the most common line of reasoning. I couldn’t agree more. Science is my life; however, I need someone (or “someones” when including plantonic/family relationships) to share that with. So many science bloggers out there are married, may have kids, but definitely have some sort of a family structure. And while I appreciate the “balance struggles”, I can’t help but think, “…but you have it all. The family, the job, the life.” Of course, pursuing tenure while raising a family has to be awful (James would know much better than myself), I’m not contesting that. I’m simply here to provide another perspective on the work/life balance; the one of the unmarried man (or woman, but since I’m a guy I’ll stick with that).
Sometime during my late sophomore/early junior years of undergraduate, I realized that I wanted to be a professor, which meant that I was going to grad school. Up until that point I wanted to be a science teacher. While that was (and largely is, I love teaching) still true, I knew that I wanted to be part of the group who conducted the research that was being taught. So, I applied to grad schools all over the country with no regard to location. My decision was to be solely based upon the opportunity, as is expected. That’s how I ended up in Memphis.
First, let’s get a few things straight. I loved Memphis and I truly miss it. The city is incredibly under appreciated and the friends that I made while there will be friends for life. Having said that, I never thought that I’d live in Memphis. I wasn’t opposed, it just wasn’t on my radar. Regardless, I went. I left behind friends, family, and my significant other at the time. All in the name of science. And I had/have zero regrets about my decision. Sure, it was a rough transition, but professionally it was the right call, and personally things worked themselves out.
Fast forward about 3.5 years to when I was thinking about next, post-graduate school, steps. The same thing happened. I had roots in Memphis. Friends who I think of as family, a profession that I didn’t want to leave, and a city that I called my own. No matter. I applied to postdocs and fellowships all over the country. Things fell out and I ended up in DC.*
So here I am. I have this amazing opportunity that I have worked why whole life to obtain. I have great friends, I’m closer to family, and I have set myself up for a great career with multiple alternatives. But here’s the thing. Am I married? No. Do I have a family of my own? No. I can’t even commit to a dog because I don’t know where I’ll be in the next year. But I want those things (in some capacity). This is the side of the work/life balance that goes largely unnoticed.**
Academia is its own monster. In order to have a working personal (non-platonic) relationship in academia, one party must almost always be willing to move to suit the needs of the other. Academics must travel to where the jobs are, that’s just how it is. Unfortunately, those who choose to be with academics must also be aware of that (sometimes) harsh reality. Alternatively, I guess the expectation would be to just remain single and not form any lasting relationships until one is “settled”, which could be years after the time when one would prefer to have a lasting relationship with someone. Honestly, neither of these options sound appealing, yet, this is often (not always) the case.
So what about me? I love my current position, yet I miss having an active hand in science. My goal is to merge those interests in whatever manner that may be ( e.g., gov’t, academia, NGO, etc.***). What does that look like personally? I want to be able to pick a location and I want to be able to have a decent amount of control (no one has complete control) over my geographic eventualities. But, depending in my career trajectory, I might not, and I think it’s wrong to ask someone to sign up for that uncertainty. But, that’s exactly what I’m doing, and I hate it. ****
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to raise a family, in any circumstance. But it’s also no cakewalk trying to foster a relationship while in the “grad-school to permanent-position” wasteland. Take my word for it.
*There’s more to this. A couple years ago I started to wonder about my research and what “good” it was actually doing. I wanted to know the policy behind the science and how it could be used for management/conservation practices. Through a series of fortunate events (and the actions and guidance of one amazing person), I learned about the Knauss Fellowship. I worked my butt off to get here and I couldn’t be happier. As an added bonus, it placed me in DC (I’ve been in love with this city for about 10 years now).
**I know that people have written about the work/life balance and that it is a constant topic of conversation. I am not trying to minimize the struggles of others or try to make my own more important. I am simply providing another point of view.
***Some people will ask, “Aren’t you worried about future employers seeing this post?” Well, no. I think it’s healthy to question the future. When I apply to jobs, no matter the discipline, I will do so knowing that that is exactly what I want to do.
**** Again with the future employer question. And again, no. First, many things can change by the time I start applying for jobs. And second, if I apply for something, I want it. I know what’s involved, both for myself and anyone else that may be affected by my decision(s). Everyone obviously has preferences and few can be picky in the current employment climate, but if I want something, I’ll apply. If not, I won’t. It’s as simple as that. We’re all adults here.