Working without a net

Katie @ Minor Revisions has decided to take the good job close to her family, rather than the dreamy job many states away. She sounds a little sad about the decision, but I am rejoicing for her.

The lack of a support network in Mystery State is one of the things that has and will continue to make my life harder over the next few years, and it is a big reason for pondering whether to go on the market again eventually. Here in Mystery City, we are 1100 miles from my parents and 1400 miles from Fish’s parents. Our closest family of any sort is an aunt and uncle 200 miles away, and we have very little connection with them. Our neighbors are pleasant enough, but we’ve found it very difficult to make good friends in this area. We’re simply too busy, and also too culturally out of place, to fall easily into friendships. All this means that no matter what confronts us, we’re on our own.

Take next week for example: Husband is out of town, so I need to constrain my schedule completely to daycare hours. I also need to go in the field with a student, and the field site is 3 hours away. That means I’ve got to hustle my little girl out of bed in the morning, drop her off, drive drive drive, work very fast, drive drive drive home, and pick her up before closing time. That leaves me with a maximum of four hours on-site. Our alternatives are: (1) toddler goes in field with me (6 hours in the car! 95 degree weather!); or (2) I don’t go in the field. Given those alternatives, four hours on site suddenly seems like a pretty good option. But what if I had a trusted friend or a grandma who could pick Minnow up from daycare taking the time pressure off me. Wouldn’t that be nice?

(It works the other way to, of course. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could help ScienceGrandma get the cabin cleaned up for sale?)

And that’s just a pretty petty example. I can’t even bear to think about what would happen to Minnow if I were suddenly hurt and hospitalized. Yesterday, as I was leaving campus, a car came screaming over a hilltop and missed me (in the crosswalk) by 2 feet. Who would I have called if that car hadn’t missed? I guess my neighbors would have stepped up to pick her up and care for her, but it wouldn’t be the same sort of automatic response as I’d have with family.

So what I am trying to say is that having a network of people (family, close friends) that you can call on and depend on is really important. And it’s not something I ever really appreciated until I found myself here, without one. So I for one, salute Katie for choosing to be close to her family. They’re there for her when life gets tough (or she needs to pack stuff) and she’s there for them when they need her too. It’s touching really. And I’m a little jealous.


  1. #1 Katie
    June 19, 2008

    Your comment helped yesterday and this is a lovely post too. I think it’s different for everybody, but – for me – the people who’ve known me longest kept reminding me how great my post-doc was. How fantastic my collaborators, friendly the location and wonderful the resources. But the fact that it wasn’t home tugged at my attention and made me sad sometimes. So while California – the job and people and location – was rather dreamy, I think I’d fall into the same pattern of not being content and wondering what the hell was wrong with me because I should love my life.

    So it’s homeward I’m headed and I am happy. I’ll rejoice with you soon and very much hope you had cheesecake in my honor. I do, however, think you made the right call in moving to Mystery location. Getting a tenure-track job was important and I’m pretty confident it can lead you to something equally satisfying professionally in a place you love (with people who love you) later on. So no reason to be jealous – you’ve never struck me as someone to settle for less than what you wanted for very long. 🙂

    Thanks for the post, SW. It was good for me to read.

  2. #2 Carrie
    June 19, 2008

    SW, do you or Fish have any colleagues in the same situation (with young children)? By asking, you may find that they are in the same boat and could use some help too. We are also on our own here in the tropics, but we have built up a good network of ‘parents of kids’ friends’ to help out in the ‘can you pick up A from school today’ department.

  3. #3 Mommyprof
    June 19, 2008

    This is a big problem for us, too. We are religious types and have friends at church who help us out from time to time, and we also cooperate with others at the Uni who have small ones sometimes. But we really feel like in a crisis, it would take a lot of imposing on others. Everyone we know who is in academia with kids feels like they are in the same boat.

  4. #4 Jennie
    June 20, 2008

    This is a nice post to read since next month my husband and I are moving back to the state we grew up in and met each other in and our family is in. We don’t have jobs really lined up yet but decided that location was more important. I get depressed at time when I can’t find any jobs to apply for but I’m sure in time something will come up. So I’m trying to stay open in what type of job and what type of research I want to do.

  5. #5 makita
    June 20, 2008

    Don’t get me started on this topic Sciencewoman. I may never stop again. Lack of family or a solid network of close friends is one of the things I miss most. And having a child with special needs puts extra pressure on finding just the right babysitter. In February this year, for the first time ever since our second child was born (he is now 6 years old) that we paid a friend/colleague of mine to hang out with the kids while we went out. And we’ve only done it once more since. It’s impossible to put a price tag on being close to family. Or good friends for that matter.

  6. #6 KJ
    June 20, 2008

    My husband and I had to list people that could pick up our daughter from daycare in the case of an emergency. It was frightening to look at those blank slots and think we had few people we could rely on, that our daughter knew well enough, and that had the resources to help. Oh, to live closer to grandparents and extended family! It is such a personal decision to move closer to, or farther from, family for a job. I applaud people on both sides for making that decision based on what is right for them. The jury is still out deciding whether my own decision was the right one for me…

  7. #7 ScientistMother
    June 21, 2008

    This is such a difficult decision to make. Career vs family support is sometimes harder to make then the career vs immediate family. I am currently completely my PhD in the same city that I did my undergrad and my MSc. I would LOVE to have my own lab, but that would require that I leave my city for post-doc. But we have not only a two-body problem, we have a partner tied to family business problem, child that needs grandparents, uncles problem. Since the mister has been supporting my arse through grad school, I may not get my own lab…

  8. #8 Yamila
    June 23, 2008

    I totally agree. I hear you loud and clear.
    I have a son who turned one 2 weeks ago and I started him on family day care. Thankfully it is close to the university (2 blocks away) and I can start attending uni and do research again. But it is not that simple, babies need their mothers, they get sick, they get clingy, mothers get sick, this week for example my son could not go to day care and I could not go to university. Not only that family day care here in Australia costs from $80 to $100 aus dollars a day. That is a lot of money and that’s how much I am paying. I am not even getting paid to do research at the university! The grandparents live far away overseas and up north so luckily my partner is working from home (has to get up at 5am and work through to 1pm) so then I can go to uni in the arvo while he watches the little one. But I should not complain the truth is we in the first world are way luckier than most of the rest of the world!
    There is my two cents worth…

  9. #9 old timer
    June 25, 2008

    When I was ready to start a family, I chose to leave my position at a very good private liberal arts college (metropolitan) and take a new job (starting the tenure time clock over again) in a mediocre public university in a small town in my home state. That way I could occasionally drive 3 – 6 hours to visit my extended family. Although my older parents didn’t often come to my town, my children and I had many visits with them. Overall, it was a wonderful choice for quality of life but a bitterly unpleasant choice of university. 12 years later I was a single parent with young children and no real daycare or emergency back-up.However, I stuck it out for 30+ years and have no regrets about this beautiful setting and rural home. I gained many environmentally-sensitive friends and a couple very close “best friends” who helped me through some rough times.

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