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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Job Hunting? Considering a Commute?
January 7, 2009 - 9:34pm

Well, it is interviewing time and, for many of us, it means that we have moved beyond the phone interview stage and are now facing an on-campus interview. Perhaps this interview will be in Hawaii? Perhaps in D.C. or some other place far away from your current home? Perhaps your partner has just started a local business and doesn’t feel like moving 5 hours away? Perhaps your son loves his baseball coach and his grades have finally improved?

Advancement in academia often means a move to another school, and families must support this challenging reality, or, at least, adapt to it. As IHE has discussed, the changing academic job market and the realities of our lives frequently intervene in this scenario.

Many of us apply for long distance jobs without expecting to necessarily make a big life change. Academia can be similar to the military, or even to religious service—faculty are expected to deeply commit to their research and their institutions, and family or personal life is assumed to be secondary. An adjunct’s personal life is valued even less than a full-time faculty member’s. Many adjuncts bear the costs of expensive commutes with little institutional support.

‘Commuting professors’ remains a popular story for college newspapers. Take a look at commuting professors from Tufts, Dartmouth and Michigan

In the Northeast, universities are close enough together that many commuters forego driving completely and decide to save the atmosphere and bike to work, even in the snow. But for most commuting professors, one partner needs to make a sacrifice by commuting long distances or sleeping in hotel rooms to keep the kids happy and the home-front stable.

Other teaching models exist, however. For instance, Obama’s recent choice to direct NOAA, marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco, started her career at Oregon State in a shared faculty line with her husband, marine ecologist Bruce Menge. The NY Times quotes Lubchenco as saying that the shared job model “absolutely” worked for her family, even if it was tight financially for a while. She observes that the model for shared faculty lines is becoming more common at universities, “though not common enough.”

I would like to offer a few suggestions to applicants considering a commuting lifestyle.

First, think about it…. The environmental guilt alone will be thick, not to mention other kinds of guilt. Second, be patient. Jobs, like houses, come and go frequently in the marketplace. Perhaps you can work out a ‘deal’ with your partner--forego applying for jobs this year, if your partner will reconsider in 3 years. Third, be open, honest and legal with your institution. If you are only available Tuesdays through Thursdays, then your institution should know about it. (They also need to know about any other teaching obligations!)

Finally, if you accept a position that requires a commute for you or your partner, sit down and have a family conference about it. My ex-husband and I meet around a table with our kids during times of stress and transition, and everyone discusses their challenges. Step-partners can participate, when appropriate. Children, (like faculty), respond much better when they know their concerns have been heard. Perhaps you can promise your kids a visit every summer to a former hometown to see old friends? Perhaps you can commit to seeing your kids every weekend, or every other weekend at least? Be realistic and ask your family for help in strategies for bridging emotional and physical distances.

As faculty and administrators, we need to pressure for ‘family friendly’ faculty lines at our institutions. If upper administration can handle it, then we should be able to post job advertisements that state options such as, “Will consider shared faculty lines for partners in appropriate departments.” Or, pressure your university’s Human Resources to assist with local job placements for partners. This assistance tends to happen informally rather than formally, but it won’t happen at all if there is no pressure for it.

If you have been rejected this year, don’t take it too personally. Many positions have well over 100 applicants that committees of 5-8 have to evaluate. And maybe this means your family gets to stay together? If you need more cash, apply for grants, consider local job options — perhaps the community college in your area? Community colleges are set to receive more money and Gates Foundation funds soon.

If you accept a position that demands a commute, just make sure that your commitment to this new institution and its opportunities is worth the costs. Hopefully, it will be…


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