Academia is an odd place to exist sometimes. I am currently surrounded by a generation of people who have spent a lifetime working towards one goal, and a generation after that who cannot afford to do anything but be everything to everyone in search of a wisp of a promise of being employed a little longer, and one more generation still who has not yet caught on to the reality of the scheme. Is this a picture painted by cynicism? Or simply a realistic picture of what academia has become? The number of people have grown considerably, but the size of the money pot has remained (at best) the same.
I leave in a week and a half.
When I first entered graduate school, the thought of having a family was the last thing on my mind. I defined myself by my academic pursuits, so the long hours didn’t bother me, and I felt there were many opportunities to try out different roles in academia and industry. The idea of getting a job abroad for a few years was exciting, as was the chance to explore new ideas somewhere else for a while. I didn’t think much about what I wanted beyond that, for the most part.
Fast forward eight years, two countries, five postdocs (between the two of us), one fellowship, one marriage, and one child, and I find myself in a very different mindset. I want to stay where I am and allow my child to grow up somewhere specific. I never had a hometown, and even if this place we live is on the far side of where I am from, it feels like home to me. I am finishing a fellowship here, and when I started looking around for new positions, I found very few desirable options that would allow me to pursue academic research and lead a life that is good for my family. This is where my academic journey ends, for the most part. There will be ties and unfinished projects and continued involvement in wrapping things up, but I plan to focus my attention elsewhere.
All this has me reflecting on what I would tell my graduate school self if I had the opportunity to share what I have learned about the particular pains and joys of combining academia with family life. I’ll share five of these thoughts with you here.