It has been a while since I wrote a blog post. The reason is simple – I have been away for almost four weeks. First, I went to Aberdeen for a week to extract DNA from my glacier samples (yes, I actually have a project on glaciers, or rather, the soil in front of glaciers, which represents a chronosequence of ecosystem development because of the retreating ice), then I went on holiday to Portugal for almost two weeks (kitesurfing! 25 degrees! sunshine!), and then I went to a three-day workshop. Yes, this sounds great, but coming back from it all is not so great, as I have been struggling to keep up with things, or rather, to get rid of the backlog. Holidays cause stress – before you go to finish things, and after you come back to catch up with things.
Of course, I could have made time to write a blog post. I could have also made time to catch up with friends, to ring my family, to send private emails, to reply to all those non-urgent work emails, and to clean the house. I could have made time to buy a plant for my new office, to take my car for an MOT, or to have my passport renewed. I could have also finally analysed data from last year’s experiment, and talked to a sales rep about the centrifuge that I want for my lab. But none of this was urgent enough.
Kitesurfing is very relaxing indeed, but afterwards you pay the price!
A career in academia means choosing to be flexible. I have already written about the drawbacks and benefits of short-term research contracts and moving around a lot in terms of having a social life and maintaining friendships, but when it comes to maintaining your relationship, things can become a lot more complicated. Especially when both partners have a career, and are driven and ambitious about it.
Of course, it is fairly common for couples to move abroad for one partner’s career, if that partner has a high-earning job in business or industry. In general, it will be the husband that has the career, and the wife that follows, whether or not with children. If you think this is not the case anymore, you’d be surprised how many people responded with ‘normally, it’s the other way around’ when my partner and I announced that we were moving to England for my job (for the record: I am a woman).
However, maybe things are different in academia, and maybe the choice between the man’s or the woman’s career is more balanced. You might expect this to be true, because I like to believe that academics are rational, thoughtful, and generally quite liberal when it comes to equality issues. On the other side, there are fewer women in professorial positions than men, and this is largely because when women have children, they choose to work fewer hours whereas men generally don’t (note that I am not in any way judging this decision, but the facts are the facts – if you want to read more about this, have a look at the most recent special issue in Nature). At a younger age, men are more likely to be more advanced in their career because in couples, generally the man tends to be older than the woman. Because it makes sense to give priority to the most advanced, or well-earning, career, it is therefore likely that partners that both have a job in academia move for the man’s career. Continue reading