Monday, July 21, 2008

Confessions of a trailing spouse

The coming year is going to be a stressful one for our little family. This fall, Husband is going on the job market for a tenure track position. It’s going to mean a lot of single parenting on my side. A lot of late nights and stressful deadlines for Husband. In theory we were supposed to be making plans for baby #2 somewhere along the way, but obviously that's not happening any time soon...

Husband has been working some pretty extreme hours over the last month or so, trying to finish up some experiments so that he can (finally!) publish his work before he starts the application process this fall. This week he’s leaving for an international conference where he’ll be presenting his post-doc work for the first time and (hopefully) networking with people who will likely be seated on selection committees.

When he returns from his conference, the month of August will be spent hammering out a paper and hopefully submitting. This will mean more long nights and working weekends. It’ll be hard on both of us. Husband will be missing out on a lot of quality time with Bean, and I’ll be stuck with a lot of single parent duty while he’s working. We will probably have to figure out a way to split our commute as well so that he can work as late as he needs to (this month we’ve been carpooling in the morning and he’s been bussing home late at night, but his hours are limited by the bus schedule).

If the gods are kind, he’ll get his paper submitted by the end of August (this will likely be a Hurculean task, as Husband’s boss is both a perfectionist and a reluctant writer). Then Husband can focus on getting his application package together. Husband will most likely submit somewhere between 50 and 100 applications to universities across the country.

Once his applications are in, it’s a waiting game to see who is interested enough to invite him for an interview. With any luck, Husband will be invited for a handful of interviews, and perhaps receive an offer or two. Hopefully somewhere in there Husband will be able to negotiate a job for his trailing spouse (that’s me!). And we’ll hopefully be moving to our semi-permanent location next summer.

After talking to a lot of friends and family recently, it occurs to me this is a bizarre process that non-scientists think is pretty weird. One of the major issues that non-scientists don’t understand is why Husband and I expect to have virtually zero control over where in the country we end up.

The tenure track job market is a lot like the lottery. Hundreds of post-docs go on the job market each fall, only a fraction of those post-docs will end up with jobs. Getting a job isn’t just about being the best (though that helps)… it also depends on a lot of factors that are basically out of your control. Does the university need another person working on (insert model organism here)? Are they interested in your particular subfield? Do they already have someone in the department working in that subfield? Do the folks on the selection committee like your boss? Do they like the other people who wrote your letters of recommendation? Does your work involve some big piece of equipment that the university will never be able to afford?

It’s a crap shoot. No matter how much I believe in Husband and what he does, I have no idea what his chances are on the job market this fall. All we can do is wait and see. Where will we end up? Who knows! But chances are we’ll have very little control over it. As a control freak, I find the situation a little distressing.

Maybe I should just start buying lottery tickets.

18 comments:

arduous said...

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that you and Husband end up somewhere good!

hypoglycemiagirl said...

it's a bit of a nightmare isn't it? Hopefully you'll end up somewhere with better weather than your current location :-) and I also hope with an offer for a job for you as well!

ScienceMama said...

We're toying with the idea of my working as his lab manager for the first year of his lab. He'll have someone trustworthy, hardworking, organized and competent to help him get his lab set up, and I'll have an automatic job that I can leave guilt-free when I go on maternity leave for baby #2...

EcoGeoFemme said...

Good luck to him finding something, and to both of you for dealing with the process. It is totally whacked out that this is how it works. I hate it.

At least you know people all over the country via blogging, so odds are good that you'll know someone in the place you end up.

In the meantime, I think lottery tickets sound like a very good idea. BTW, how is your post doc going? Wasn't your lab running out of money? Is it still? Sorry if that's not a nice thing to ask...

ScienceMama said...

It's perfectly fine to ask. Our funding situation is still tenuous. We recently got a small 30K grant that will help tide us over for awhile. My bosses resubmitted their R01 application, and we're waiting to hear...

The bean-mom said...

Hmmmm, ecogeofemme has a good point--you'll probably end up near at least one friend or two!

It *is* so stressful. I'm wishing the both of you luck for the year ahead... Lab manager for your spouse (if you don't have problems working together, or having the
spouse as your official boss) could be ideal for your situation...

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Good luck with that. I'm not sure why your husband is restricting himself to R1s, and how there are 100 to apply to, when according to the Carnegie Classifications there are only 96 "Research Universities/Very High Research Activity" in the country.

http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/classifications/index.asp?key=784

Do you mean he's applying to universities that focus on research as opposed to ones that focus on teaching?

Good luck.

ScienceMama said...

Sorry, yes, schools that focus on research not teaching.

mama of the valley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mama of the valley said...

Our situation was similar in some ways. We knew we would be moving for Hubby's work, but because of the extensiveness of the organization he works for we had no idea where. I in particular had little idea. I know the stress!

As for single parenting -- he will be around for relief from time to time. And I think you will look back on this as a special time when you and your Bean grew even closer.

Plus when it's all over he'll owe you diaper duty for the entire next child! ;)

Anonymous said...

What hapenned to your extensive science blog blogroll?! I loved using it to look at all the other science sites....(thanks for having it there!)

Jenn said...

Just wanted to wish you and husband and bean the best of luck for the job search! I hope you find something that works for the whole family... are you close to home now? Or would a potential job opportunity move you closer or further away from the fam?
Husband and I will be searching for new jobs in the next year and have no idea where we'll end up for the same reason...

Amelie said...

That does sound like a tough year ahead. Have you ever worked with your husband? My partner and I are in the same lab, both as students, which works fine, but I think it could be difficult for me to have him as my boss. Which is not to say that we wouldn't consider it if that was the best option for (relatively) stable jobs for both of us, in the same place... Good luck!

ScienceGirl said...

Sounds like an intense year - good luck to you both!

Candid Engineer said...

My husband and I struggle with this also. Lately, he has been feeling unsettled and keeps asking me where I see us in 5 years. We both know the answer is 'who the hell knows?' Sad to think that it's not up to us at all.

We were just out for a visit with his parents who live in the middle of nowhere. There is a major city about 8 hours away from them, and all week we were pressured to move to that major city. They wanted to know, why can't you just go there? Of course someone will hire you! Want do you mean, it's not up to you? Aaaaahhhh.

Will be thinking of you. It will all work out in the end, as it seems to always do.

alicepawley said...

Oh gosh, I'm so sorry sciencemama. This is a hard gig, even without a kidlet. I have my fingers crossed for you too, particularly in hopes that it won't take 100 apps, and that they will want your husband so much that the "dual career hiring" (our preferred term for the trailing spouse thing) will go smoothly. Have you decided when he should bring you up? After the job offer, or during the interview?

And if you end up near West Lafayette, let me know if I can help with babysitting.

Sara said...

i have the same feeling, with slightly different circumstances, husband is a theorist in a bit of niche field which means only 1 or 2 jobs to apply to each year. and our search is on two continents. luckily at least my job is super portable as my company has offices in most major cities.
we sometimes muse about what it would be like to just pick somewhere and move there, but i dont know how we would ever decide where. so sometimes i feel like its a good thing that its decided for us.
good luck!

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