Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Oops, I did it again

(Note: in the process of finishing this entry up, I read post doc ergo propter doc's entry on dual careers and it's challenges. And apparently, there is a discussion about dual careers on the science careers forum)

I have found that the New Year has not brought much more in the way of "peace" about my particular part time academic position. I have spent an enormous amount of energy trying to put a finger on what makes this so hard, with the mindset that I might identify an aspect that I can change for the better. It's not like I haven't been in this situation before........

Job Recruitment 1: Husband takes first academic position at new University. I'm 2.5 years into my Assistant Professorship at current University where husband is postdoc, just landing first R29 NIH grant. Husband signs contract prior to any negotiations for me regarding a job. My negotiating power - zero. (We both agree, rookie mistake on his part but done not out of disregard for me but in the excitement of first independent academic position and pressure from University to sign; marriage survives) The department creates a faculty position for me. No real start up package -$20K to replace some of big equipment being left behind. R29 pays for technician and $800/month for supplies. Time in situation: 3 years
Pros: Had my own lab space, connected by a door with husband's. Had my own technician. Put out some nice papers. Had an extremely supportive Department Chairman. Chairman supported and I received promotion to Associate Professor.

Cons: No office; gave space up to be converted into a TC room for both labs so had a desk in the lab. Didn't have the respect of the department's other faculty. Wasn't in a department related to my primary research focus. Had to fight to get my own mailbox (no really, this required the Chairman's intervention!) No money to grow the lab and become more productive.
Job Recruitment 2: Husband looking at new position where I have friends. They are aware of the difficulties I have encountered in current position. New Institute does two recruitments - 2 trips, 2 seminars, 2 offers.
Pros: Had my own lab space. Had my own office. Had a full recruitment package including decent salary. Got to work with two colleagues that I've known for 10 years! Was very productive with a group of 4. Supportive Chairman who realized it was important to keep me happy if he wanted to keep husband around. Flexible schedule works well with arrival of first child.

Cons: Not in a department with others focused on my primary area of research so not much chance for local collaborations.....uh, that's about all the cons I could think of.
Job Recruitment 3: Husband recruited to big time Institute over the course of a year. No discussion to bring me down or find an independent faculty position. Decision is made to ask for part time position in part because newly adopted daughter will require a fair amount of medical visits but also because not asking for a full time, FTE-position will facilitate my husband's job and required scheduled move time.
Pros: Flexible schedule made it easy to accommodate the year of constant illnesses that my two kids experienced going from an in-home Nanny to a Montessori preschool! Established a good relationship with the family pediatrician, ENT, and opthalmologist at big-time Children's Hospital. ummm, can't think of any other pros!

Cons: Didn't ask for lab space so lab has been absorbed by husband's; maintaining a bench. Despite having both names outside the door, no one considers it part "my lab space". I am invisible to the other faculty members of my department. I didn't interview and I didn't give a seminar; sometimes appearances can mean a lot. I still haven't been added to the birthday lists for which a monthly lunch is held. Don't have a supportive Chairman; has no idea what I do, and doesn't care. No mentorship, no support - no start up package; maintaining one project on an R01 subcontract; other main lab project dead in the water. Trying to develop another project with minimal funds. Hate feeling invisible; not appreciated for what I could add to the department.
Lessons learned:

1. Don't start out by giving up too much. You can play second fiddle but make sure you still get to play. I should have never put myself in the position of joining a department where they didn't feel it was worthwhile for me to come down and give a seminar to the rest of the faculty. I am not seen as an important member of my department's faculty.

2. Pick a supportive Chairman, especially if you are moving to support your husband's career. Never take a position where the Chairman doesn't feel it necessary to have face time with you to talk about your work and how it will fit/help the department. You need a Chairman who can "think outside the box" and find a way to use your expertise to build and expand his department strengths. I remember reading "The Door in the Dream: Conversations with eminent women in science" by Elga Wasserman. It's a collection of personal stories about how they succeeded in their careers. One of the messages I took away was the importance of having a Chairman who is open-minded, interested, and supportive.

In all fairness, we did make a mutual decision early on in our relationship that his career would take priority and the reasons for that, both professional and personal, were solid and good. But within that framework, the decisions need to be made carefully and wisely. Which is why, given my previous experiences, I'm surprised I made some of the same mistakes in Recruitment Scenario 3 that were made in Scenario 1. But I did and now the next step is to try to find ways, in this sparse time of funding, to work my way back to a position of respect from a position of weakness, if that's even possible. I don't know if it is......


Nicole said...

Not to stir up marital strife, but, I mean, wtf, doesn't your husband care about your career at all? Why even go to Big Time? He doesn't have to keep applying to these places. It seems like you committed career suicide, and I'm sure you have your reasons for it. But why would give your ambitions such little weight?

MissPrism said...

Good luck, SciMom. I'll be cheering for you!

SciMom said...

In response to Nicole, I almost responded to your comments on post doc ergo propter doc's blog when you were discussing this issue. We did give my career ambitions weight in the decision process. But I personally also weighed in on my ambitions as a mother. We had just brought home a daughter from Russia who needed significant medical attention and that weighed into the part time position decision as well. I wanted to be around as much as possible as a mother for both kids, without losing out on my scientific career. Very tricky, especially now with the federal funding so low. Things that happened in the latest move that were unanticipated, included my children being continuously sick for what seemed like a whole year, having gone from an in-home nanny to a Montessori pre-school. Didn't expect that - and it really took a toll on my productivity in that first year - part time or not. What I didn't realize also (and didn't think to ask - maybe a duh on my part) was as a part time faculty where I am, I wouldn't be eligible for the large amount of internal funds available for faculty research funding!! Surprise.

For one, I think no relationship is every 50:50 no matter what your plans may be. I have a husband of the 2000's, very very talented and a climber, and yet tries to use his free time for family events. We are different in one significant way. He's known he wanted to be a scientist since he was seven. He wakes up having just realized how to solve some experimental issue in the lab. I wake up knowing what the day hold for the kids and trying to remember what the heck was on the lab agenda for that day! But I LOVE being in the lab - it's what gets me going every day. You decide who is more driven?

You couldn't create marital strife here because despite my complaining/venting/blogging, we are a team and at present are both working towards retifying some of these issues that caught us off guard. What I'm hoping to accomplish in blogging about these things is to let others contemplating such career choices know what my experiences are because you can't always see what's ahead, even if you take all the information you have and make the best decision at that time.

Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the dialogue. And stay tuned to see what SciHusband has to say on the matter when he finally posts his thoughts.

Nicole said...

I will be interested to see what he has to say. I know many women make the decision to either work part-time or quit working outside the home completely when they have children, and almost no men choose this. I think the men are missing out somewhat, but the women are too. The one who keeps working gets rewarded materially, and that can have a big effect on the balance of power in the relationship.

I've decided for myself that I absolutely cannot be with someone who wants or even subconsciously expects me to put in more time in the home or with children than he does. Or with someone who would not move so I could take a promotion somewhere. It's amazing how many men would expect their wives to do that for them, but balk at the idea of doing it themselves.

I would be lying if I said the choice of so many women to put their careers behind their husband's didn't make me a bit angry. It makes me angry because I think it continues the trend of daddy works, mommy stays at home. So it will just continue, and your daughter will have a tough time finidng a partner committed to family and career equality, if that's what she wants.

But I don't want to be judgemental, I am not judging your decisions. No one can know what another person has gone through, and why they make the decisions they do.

And I want to say one last thing. Even if your husband wanted to be a scientist since he was 7, that does not give his career ambitions greater weight in my book. This argument always seemed a bit wrong to me, and I don't think if I can articulate why. But I've recently accepted that I think this is the wrong way to look at it. Each person's quest for meaningful work throughout their lives should be given equal weight, I don't care who figures it out first. A 7-year old might not be the best choice when it comes to choosing a career.

working said...

I'm dealing with similar issues and I appreciate you sharing your story.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am sure, Nicole, that would be absolutely infuriated with me, then.

I have a Ph.D. from an Ivy League University from a top notch department. After watching my new-to-the-faculty advisor absolutely flail as she started a family and secured NIH funding, I left academia.

Fast forward to an egalitarian marriage, one child, a 30 hr week biotech position and constant negotiating to manage work, our child suffering from lack of parental time, I became pregnant with our second child and quit all together.

I have become what the feminists of the 70s feared, an educated woman that simply went back home.

I do not think the prospect of raising children and managing challenging careers was what I dreamed my life would be about. Frankly, my husband was highly supportive of my continued working (although we ALL benefit from me not working). So why did I quit, and not my husband? Money, he makes more-- there you have it, men still earn more than women.

I totally disagree that staying-at-home teaches children some sort of future gender inequality (it seems there are plenty of working folks of stay-at-home mothers that refute that position). Furthermore, I wonder if the father was stay-at-home if we would feel so concerned about future gender role expectations? There are plenty of family situations that model all types of caregiving for children also (which can include daycares, nannies, grandparents, fathers, etc...)

In the end, the largest travesty is how difficult it is to balance family, satisfying , fulfilling work for both parents, and childcare. Most workplaces seem very far from making this work, academia is clearly light years away.

Life is complicated, relationships are complicated, raising small children is a time consuming labor of love. In the end, it is really all about how you want to LIVE-- it is really hard to live well when the whole family is stressed out and disconnected. There is so, so, so much more to enjoy of life's beauty and pleasure than from the vantage of a tenure track position.