How does the work and family juggle for an alternative academic (alt-ac) compare with that of a traditional academic?
There are a couple of areas where my own alt-ac career has worked out pretty well (so far):
The Opportunity To Work In the Same City, (and at the Same Institution), As My More Traditional Academic Partner:
I’m forever grateful that I’ve been able to navigate my academic career while also managing to live and work in the same city as my wife. I’ve been a trailing spouse 3 times. My wife is more of a traditional academic than I am, as she has a faculty appointment (in the med school) as part of her clinical and teaching responsibilities. There are only a few jobs that come available each year in her subspeciality, so we’ve pretty much had to go where a job opened up for her.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate that she has gone to great places, and at each of these places that I’ve been able to find a role in my area of alt-ac expertise. Being someone who does digital learning and online education, I think that I’ve had more flexibility to get an academic gig than if I had gone a more traditional faculty route in sociology. Those couples who are able to make dual traditional academic careers work are truly amazing. I'm sure that this path requires compromises and trade-offs that my wife and I have not had to make.
The Ability To Be the Primary Parent For Pre-School and School-Age Kids:
Next year our younger daughter will head off to college. It’s hard to believe that we are at this next stage in our lives. For the past 20 years my wife and I have split parenting and household duties. I’d say that we’ve been good about being pretty equal in all of our roles, and in many ways she has been responsible for the more critical parenting tasks. What I have been able to do for our kids throughout my alt-ac career is be the primary parent on-call for non-regular kid events. I’ve been the parent who mostly stayed home when the kids were sick. The parent who was the chauffeur for after school and weekend practices and games. And the parent able to leave work to take the kids to doctors, dentists, and orthodontists appointments.
Not all alt-acs have this sort of flexibility, but I've had more than my more traditional academic partner. Her career has simply been more demanding in terms of time, commitment, and energy. Not every traditional academic career will be as intense as that of an academic doc - but from what I’ve seen with my tenure-track colleagues - those jobs are pretty all-consuming.
Yes, many traditional academics combine their professional roles with that of primary parent, or as co-primary parent with a partner. People in every profession find ways to make the dual-career parenting juggle somehow work. In my experience, however, having one partner without the constant demands of research productivity and teaching has been helpful for our family sanity. Especially when the kids got sick, when the preschool closed, when the school was not open (teacher in-service days), and when the after school soccer and tennis practice pickups were taking place at opposite ends of town.
What has your family life / alt-ac experience been like?