The first few weeks of graduate school, several facts became apparent. I am sure that I should have realized these long before moving to a new city and beginning a Ph.D. program, but I have to admit that I did not. They have, however, strongly influenced the path my life has taken, and deserve some discussion.
The first thing that I learned is the one could not, and should not, hope to find a position in a school that was ranked anywhere near where our graduate program was ranked. Of course, to someone who was not closely plugged into the internal ranking system of my discipline, this had little to no meaning. After all, my ideal job at that point in my life was at a small, preferably Jesuit, college where I could become a master teacher and still maintain my research. This type of job was, of course, not what most ranking systems would place at the top of their list. The irony is that it took a rather non-linear path in life to help me find a job that is very close to my own ideal and which I would not have considered when I first entered the labor market.
The second thing I learned was that the academic labor market was a national market. This meant that one could expect to have to move to find a job. Indeed, being flexible and open to moving was almost a requirement for finding a good job. As I had partially chosen a graduate program because it was in the same region of the country as my parents and sister, this meant that I could expect to have to move far from my family of origin when it came time to graduate. But that was long off, and this detail of the academic labor market did not disturb me at that time.
However, as I now raise a family hundreds of miles from my parents, and see women around me relying on grandma to watch their children and see that their parents have the chance to watch their grandchildren grow up, I realize the true cost of this labor market. Of course, I am lucky in that I live in the same place as my own family; that is not always the case in the academic labor market .
I recall a young woman I once met who was entering a religious order. She had a good point when she said that you can make decisions in life in two ways. One way was to choose the people you want to be with, and then find work wherever you land. The other is to choose your work, and then find the people to live your life with wherever your work takes you. I would like to think that I would want to choose people first, and then find work, but I know this is not really possible with an academic job. I originally arrived (alone) to Cleveland to find my first job. I then found my husband and daughter here, and have built my life around them. I now have no intention of leaving any time soon.
When I moved to Cleveland, I left the East Coast, where I had grown up and spent my life up to that point. This week, I return to New England to spend a week with my parents, my sister and her family, and my 98 year old grandmother. I look forward to seeing the people I left behind, and the new people who have since joined the fold, especially my two year old niece who is excited to see my own daughter. I suspect that our arrival from land-locked Ohio may lead to what economists call a “demand shock” in the market for sea food, as I intend to spend much of that time savoring food that one just does not find in the Midwest. And so, as I enjoy my lobsters, I send greetings to everyone from the East Coast. I will see you back in Ohio soon enough. For now, I am spending time with the people who made me who I am.