At an impromptu job interview over Thai food at a cutie little place in the town north of South I was using my chopsticks to soak up some soy sauce with a bite of rice when the department chair asked me "How would you involve undergrads in research in a meaningful way that might lead to their names being included on publications?"
I swallowed thoughtfully then replied.
"Every research project has aspects that are challenging, yet within reach of a 'beginner' like an undergrad. Those jobs are often repetative and time consuming, but important parts of the project. For example, as an undergrad assistant, one of my jobs was to create histograms for four parameters for each of our datasets. My advisor didn't want to spend two days making sixty-four histograms, but needed the charts. Handing that important, yet basic task off to an undergrad is a good way to introduce less experienced students to a research project."
The department chair smiled and said "Very interesting. Deans like to have undergrads involved in research, and it's a good thing to do, especially at a liberal arts university like this one. I mean, everything takes twice as long, but it's still good."
I smiled as I thought of Charlie helping me unload the dishwasher. How the "extra help" turned a five minute job into a twenty minute job. Boy did I know what he was talking about.
I've met with two department chairs these last two weeks and I have been upfront with my time limitations. Both asked what sort of work I was interested in. Each time I said "I would like to teach or do research part time because of my family obligations." I was concerned about how that might sound to a department chair, a potential boss. Would it sound like was spread too thin? Uncommitted? Unmotivated? No advisor would have ever told me to be so forward with that type of information. After all, it is illegal to deny employment based on personal details like having a family. But in the end I figured I am not willing to take on a full-time job right now and it is because of my family and there is no sense in pretending that I would just to make a good impression.
It is because I am committed to doing an excellent job that I am seeking part-time work. It would allow me to be fully present during my work hours, focused only on work. It would reduce the juggling, missed meetings, and unpredictable hours because of sick kids, preschool dropoffs, and childcare mixups. It would mean that Charlie could stay in his preschool and we could hire a part-time sitter for Wes. In general, this would result in fewer sick kid days since no one would be in daycare. And when someone does get sick, it would be much easier to cover four hours of care than nine, meaning that I would be less likely to miss work. And, fewer sick kid days means fewer sick ME days too!
It was a gamble, I realize, especially in two male-dominated departments, but it paid off. As it turns out, both department chairs I spoke with were in the position of too many students and not enough money to hire full-time instructors. "It's a good time to be looking for adjunct work" said one as he walked me across the beautiful (so incredibly beautiful. I wanted to lie down in the grass and read a Jane Austen novel) leafy campus to the coffee shop to buy me a cup of coffee ("Order anything you want," he said. I ordered regular coffee with skim milk. He ordered the same. I admitted to my coffee habit, he confessed to his. The stars, they were aligned at this meeting).
I still don't have a job, but I have a strong maybe from one institution for teaching one course in the spring and maybe, if things went well in the spring, another course in the fall. One course! It would be a dream come true.
Disclaimer: I know how incredibly lucky I am to have this choice, to work part time. It will allow me to continue to grow professionally while maintaining the calm pace at home made possible by having one flexible adult. We are lucky that Ryan's job can support all of us. I KNOW. Charlie was in daycare for his first two and a half years and I am a big believer in the benefits of daycare. But he is in a new preschool that he LOVES. Like LOOOOOOVEEES. And I don't want to move him again. And I don't want to go back to paying four times as much either.