The Two-Body Problem


-post by Synapse-

Update on that job interview: I killed it. But, in the end, I had to withdraw my name.

I loved the school. I loved the people. I loved the program.

I also love my husband. And I love our family.

We have a two-body problem. Both bodies need to be maintained in career motion for optimal happiness.

We have a saying around here whenever the next academic job cycle comes up, bringing with it the potential of a big move to a new city, a new coast, a new country – “Everything is a conversation”. So when this seemingly perfect job came up and with it, a move to the other coast, I fretted about what this might mean for us. My husband shrugged and said – “Everything is a conversation. Obviously you should apply”

And I did.

And I was invited to interview.

And everything got a bit more real. And still everything was a conversation.

The part I left out from my last post was the uncanny timing of things involving my husband and his career. The conversation we had been having when I was first invited out to interview reflected an open door. A very open door. We could move. Hell, maybe it would be a great move for us. Yeah, it would be a fantastic opportunity! Holy crap, let’s do this!!

Three weeks before my interview, a new job opportunity for my husband surfaced. A fantastic opportunity with a challenge he had been craving his entire career.

The door closed just a little bit.

He explored the opportunity. We talked about it. Everything was still a conversation. Nothing was in writing.

We flew out for my interview: my husband, the babe and I.

We both toyed with the ideas of our new career moves.

I walked out late afternoon on the second day, revved up about how amazing the interview went. My husband picked me up. The babe was asleep in her car seat. We were driving to a friend’s house an hour away and for the first 45 minutes, my husband prompted me to go on and on about the interview.

“It was AWESOME! What a great place to be. What a perfect fit for me. This could be such a cool opportunity.”

I stopped.

I looked over at him.

He was smiling. He was clearly happy for me but also clearly happy about something else.

“How was your day?”

Things were moving fast for him. Everything was working out. Two days later, he had an offer in his hands. I would have to wait another month or more to even find out if I was still in the running.

The door was closing.

It was time for the conversation.

Here is the breakdown in terms of dream job percentage. This faculty position was about 85% of what I might picture as my “dream job”. Points taken off for my slight concern about working at an R1 and stressing out over grant money to keep my lab afloat for the rest of my career. Some points off for location because that would mean uprooting and starting all over again.

My husband loved his current job and when we broke it down to specifics, things worked out to a relative tie. We considered the likelihood of the other half getting a job, any job, in same location. Me, staying here? Possible. Him going there? Hmmm… might take a bit of creativity.

This was the conversation. Favor could swing my way.

Until his new job offer.

This new job trumped my 85%.

The conclusion was hard, but obvious. Door closed.

It is a fantastic decision for our family. We will be secure financially because we will not have to bank on my professor single income if my husband was not able to find something. We don’t have to worry about what to do with our house. We don’t have to worry about leaving our friends and neighbors and an area we love.

But I am not sure what this means for me and my future. I can’t help but feel that this decision will force me to contribute to the numbers of women leaving academia. That I will become part of the statistic that we wave around and get angry about. But I have to remind myself (and have my friends remind me!) that if the sexes were flipped, if I were an academic male and my partner was a non-academic female, the decision would still go down this way. If anything, I feel guiltier giving in to it all because I am a woman, a female scientist who has made it this far. I don’t want to let anyone down.

But not wanting to let other people down is not a reason to hold onto this dream. Not with a second body to account for. Not with a family to consider.

New academic jobs will come up next fall.

And I’ll apply or I’ll move on.

And everything will be a conversation.

This entry was posted in Biology, Diversity, Increasing Diversity in Science, Job talks, Leaving Academia, Mom in Science, Parenthood, Post-doc, Synapse, Women in Science and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Two-Body Problem

  1. Ann Loraine says:

    What a great post! Good luck to you and your husband.

  2. Thanks for articulating this dilemma so well. And well played. Let us know what comes up for you in the fall. You shouldn’t have to be writing grants for your whole life!

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