Sunday, August 7, 2011


The other day I was poking around online for a project at work, looking at the curriculum for a certain degree at other small liberal arts schools like mine, when I happened upon a very interesting job posting at a highly-regarded college in Massachusetts that was a perfect fit for my interests and skills (except for the highly-regarded part). I stared at the posting for several minutes, afraid it would disappear if I looked away.

The timing could not have been better. Every summer we spend a significant chunk of our vacation to New England discussing our favorite pipe dream: "How can we live closer to *here* and spend more time *here* in the summer? Maybe if we can both get jobs at a liberal arts college in New England, we could make it work! Yes! That would be perfect."

And then, we come home from our trip, step out into the smoldering 100 degree air in our town, and grumble for the next four weeks about how bad we want to move to New England where it doesn't suck so much.

But at which liberal arts college could we, both with engineering degrees, work? It's a total fluke that I have my job now!

That's where this perfect job posting comes in. I stared at it for a long, LONG time. And then I was so distracted I had to go to lunch early (if I was going to be obsessing I might as well obsess over tacos so that I could maximize my time in the, hopefully more focused, afternoon).

I waited until Ryan had been home for ten seconds before unloading my whole plan on him. He hadn't even put his laptop bag down. Or closed the garage door.

And then after the kids went to bed we had to have a big grownup discussion about it. The pros (of applying for a job that I would most likely not be considered for) were as follows:

*The possibility of living in a quaint New England town and working at an excellent college full time in a tenure track position.
*An exciting new professional challenge (a big, BIG challenge)
*On-site childcare
*Being closer to the place where we like to vacation (but not having to ever ride the subway with the electron brothers EVER AGAIN).
*Summer weather that doesn't make me homicidal.

The con list was longer:

*We love our church, we love our preschool, we love our friends, we love living near our families, we love our house, we love our pediatrician.
*I have a wonderful job, great co-workers, lots of support, tons of flexibility, and the ability to do as much or as little research as I want. I can use this time to learn the skills that will be important if I ever want a tenure track job one day (lesson one: don't try to turn an NSF grant around in one week)
*Tenure track is, like, WAY HARDER that what I do now. All kidding aside, now is not the time for me to be taking on a stressful, high-pressure job. I already have three of those.
*Cilantro costs $0.29 a bunch here and is not widely available in the northeast.
*Any house we could afford would likely be on the order of a thousand square feet. I tried to imagine what that would be like with the boys in the winter and I think the best analogy is that it would be like living inside a bag of microwave popcorn.
*Winter isn't really my thing

So we decided not to apply, which was a little disappointing, but I really think I'm exactly where I need to be right now. It's not the right time for us to both work full-time. I enjoy the slow pace of our week, I love the flexibility we have (for fun things and for dealing with things like doctor's appointments, dead car batteries, sick kids, dogs running out of the garage when you're trying to get everyone in the car), I love the kids' preschool and spontaneous get-togethers where we let the kids destroy the house as we chat over coffee. And I am truly enjoying spending so much time with them and the time they spend playing with one another (even though they do make me crazy sometimes, as has been evidenced here).

But I also love my work days--the separate identity, the quiet, the concentration, the challenge, the professional conversations, my co-workers, the students, the science, and the leafy campus. And the quiet, did I mention that? My Chair described my job as an incubator, and it really is. This summer I've gotten to write and submit an NSF proposal, prepare a paper for publication, and submit an abstract for a conference in the fall. I have gotten experience teaching and developing curriculum over the last three semesters. I'm slowly finding my way back onto a career path and largely at my own pace. It is a great opportunity.

Someday the time will be right and the opportunity will present itself and we will know it's the right move to make.

In the mean time I will continue to enjoy watching Curious George and making things in the bread machine. And breaking up fights on the playground while talking to Matlab salesmen.


Kim said...

Sounds like a good decision. You really do have a great set-up -- I really admire how you make it work! Also, I love how cilantro made it onto your pros/cons list!! ;)

Sarah said...

I do think TT at a teaching university is a TOTALLY different gig than an R-1 TT job.

But, I think you made a great decision. Also, the winters would be terrible.

Anonymous said...

actually, cilantro IS widely available here in the Northeast (though maybe not in the small town where you vacation). It doesn't cost $0.29/bundle though (more like $0.99). Your points about real estate cannot be ignored -- it is expensive here. The winters here ARE brutal, but the fall and spring are glorious. Regardless, it sounds like you have a great set-up already in TX.

Alyssa said...

Sounds like you made the right decision for your life right now. The good thing is you know those jobs will pop up from time to time, so if you're ever ready to change, you will have the opportunity.

Brooke said...

I think you are smart to stay where you are right now. Academic careers are long, and you have lots of time to take that TT position. Sometimes dream jobs are just that--jobs. And you're already living the dream, right?

Jen said...

Becca you should TOTALLY move to Clinton, CT 06413. You could live with us, and work at UCONN! What a dazzling idea! :)

sarah said...

One word to put your mind at ease: WINTER. ;-)

susanna said...

Nice to see that you really "get" the great parts about your life in Texas. There are lots of things NOT to recommend TT at a great liberal arts college in New England! But daydreaming was nice wasn't it?

B said...

I can get you an "in" at Smith College in Northampton. It has a great science department and is one of the only women's colleges with an engineering program. Just saying. I wouldn't live in Texas if I didn't have to (and I do, I'm in Houston).