Academic life



Casey Brienza’s recent post discussing sacrifice on the academic job market really resonated with me. I chose family over my career, and ended up in the middle of relatively nowhere, alone, at home with a young child, and adrift both personally and professionally. That was almost four years ago.

However, a funny thing has happened over the last four years: this is starting to feel like home. We have developed a small, but significant community here, with friends and colleagues from the university, but also from the neighborhood. It was a significant milestone for those around us when we bought a house; it signified that we were putting down roots, and were thus less likely to leave. My daughter started school this year, which put us in the world of play dates and birthday parties, as well as ballet recitals and other activities that get us out and about more and more.

This past weekend, for example, my husband and I both got sick. One friend brought over comfort food. Another friend invited the kids over to “help” garden for an hour or two. The kids felt secure enough to play outside in our yard for a little while. When I finally was able to think straight, I realized just how much we’ve become a part of the community and the community has become a part of us. And I was grateful.

But my gratitude wasn’t just limited to the food and childcare that were provided. When we first moved here, I was worried that we would never be a part of the fabric of life here, being outsiders. When we would meet someone for the first time, they would often trace their lineage within the area, if not then showing how they married into the community. We could claim no connection to where we lived beyond employment at the university, and I didn’t even have that. Would I, and our family, ever find a place where we would fit in?

I’ve expressed my appreciation for and love of my Twitter community, but I worried about my kids being left out because of who their parents are (or, perhaps more appropriately, are not). I also worried about car pools, or what to do when my husband was away at a conference and I needed to be in two places at once. How would I know when to sign the kids up for t-ball or soccer when the city doesn’t have a functioning website? (Why bother, when everyone just knows when these things happen every year?)

I’m much less adept at developing a physical social network than a virtual one. It’s much more difficult than it was in graduate school, when many of us were at the same life stages. It was also harder here because at first, I wasn’t working, and then I was working a lot. I’m one of the youngest people in my department, and none of the other people in my husband’s department are married or have kids. This was another challenge: the limitations of having young kids. Socially, it makes it much more difficult (and expensive) to “go out.”

These problems are not unique to professors, but it is unique to those who aim to be professors insofar as most people wouldn’t choose to move to a small place like this unless it was because family lived there already (it’s not like this place is a hot-bed of economic opportunity). The image of the lone academic living in her sparsely furnished apartment, reminded me of my own moment of panic, stuck sitting alone in my living room while my son napped.

It’s taken some time, but thankfully, it seems that I haven’t sacrificed being a part of a community.

Author Bio: Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an edupreneur. You can visit her blog at College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting).