• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


ABC's and PhD's: Moving


April 8, 2009


I really never thought that I would end up as a grown up life living 3000 miles away from my family. Even as I was choosing to go to college, and then grad school, on the other side of the country, in my mind I was exploring the world; I always assumed that my children’s grandparents, like my own, would live close enough to celebrate holidays, recitals, birthdays, and spontaneous time together. From before we got married, my husband (a Washington state native) and I (California) shared the goal of moving from graduate student life in Boston to settling back down home – somewhere in drivable distance to the Pacific.

We moved to Maryland. My husband had been on the job market for 3-4 years by then (applying only to west coast jobs), and our daughter came along just as his post-doc ran out, I got my degree, and jobs for both of us opened up (although I ended up aborting my post-doc to stay home with my daughter). Neither my husband nor I had any ties to Maryland. Never mind, the move was temporary, the job holding us until we moved west. We regularly reminded each other that we still kept our finger on the pulse of jobs in the west, our current location was another stop on our migration home. My Ph.D. advisor predicted we’d be in Maryland a long time, but I put it down to her just not quite understanding that we really wanted to move back west.

And now, we’ve lived here for 10 years. Still I consider myself a Californian, and I have a hard time believing that my daughters consider themselves Marylanders. We still keep our eyes out for opportunities nearer to “home”, but on top of the slim number of job openings with huge numbers of applicants, we now have the constraint that uprooting our family and leaving our “empire” – the home we’ve built, friends, our family life with kids as we know it, our jobs, and places in a vibrant university – requires a seriously upward move to a great location, great job, great schools. The scales, once so heavily tipped in favor of the west coast, now have the weights of our growing roots on the other side – although the desire to move back to our families remains strong.

My scales have been jiggled, though. One of my best friends and “momming buddies” (she got her adjunct position in the English department here just as I started back in the biology department, while our kids were in preschool together) announced last June that she and her husband were tired of the ills of constantly changing school boundaries, an enormous school system and the constantly encroaching crime and gang activity of urban Maryland, and she just wanted to move back to her small home town in Pennsylvania. Secretly, I thought, “good luck with that!” relieved with my assumption that she would be on our same 10+ year plan of moving. My misconception: I had the academic mentality that moving where you want while retaining your career is virtually impossible. Six months later, her engineer husband had multiple job leads. He accepted a great opportunity, their house is now on the market, their kids enrolled for next fall in the school district she attended as a child. In addition to being crushed by the move of my friend, I am awash in envy of her choice to move, her talk of living down the street from her parents.


I went through a phase of obsessively evaluating priorities and values. An academic job so often comes at huge expense of interrupting family and other aspects of life. On the other hand, a good academic job gives so much. I know (we all do) academics who have done the opposite of us: chosen to live where they want, and compromise aspects of their academic experience. The costs and benefits are hard to compare.


Of course there is no answer, just diversity of experience. Sometimes it does work out in both arenas, and you “have it all”. At this point, after putting a lot of recent energy into worrying about this, I’m dedicated to enjoying my opportunities where I am and at the same time, to making every effort to visit my family as much as I can. I still ache to be a west-coaster again, but, after all this time, maybe I have overvalued that goal anyway? What if we moved to find it didn’t fill the hole I expected it would fill? I do know, in any event, that the last 10 years have zipped by, the next 10 will too. I try not to let what I can’t have right now eat me up. And I must figure out a way that I’ll be happy when the next generation settles. What if they’re academics too? Eek.


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