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Field Report 12: The Spy Goes on the Road Again


Last month, I left you hanging. While the nonprofit I consulted for was disintegrating around me (or possibly not), something menacing was looming on the horizon, threatening to upset the fragile balance of my new life. What was it, you ask?

It was an unexpected move to a new city.

If you are wondering why I chose to move again so soon, you're not alone; I wondered the same thing. After all, my frustration with temporary postdocs was one of the major factors in my decision to leave academics. After grad school, I moved almost once a year in search of postdocs. First it was to Paris for a 3-month stay, then to Illinois for 3 years, Paris again for 1 more year, and finally 1 year in the middle-sized western town I am about to leave.

And for each move, my wife and I had to say goodbye to all our friends, co-workers, family members, and veterinarians; and then we had to leave behind all our favorite restaurants, bars, bookstores, theaters, radio stations, grocery stores, dry cleaners, malls, museums, and zoos. Next, we had to find a new house or apartment (that allowed pets), pack up all our belongings (and our pets), shlep them to our new place, unpack everything, and feed the pets. In addition to working our way deeper into post-grad-school debt paying for the move, each change of address made us feel a little more isolated and lonely. It's great to have friends on several continents, but it makes it tough to get together for dinner.

So when I finally did get out of research, I assumed that I would be able to settle in for awhile. Get home from work at 5 p.m. Mow the lawn. Become a bored suburbanite. You know, live the American dream. Unfortunately, I hadn't accounted for one very important part of my life: my wife. Who just happens to be an academic, although not in the sciences.

She recently finished her dissertation and had applied for two 1-year sabbatical replacement jobs. Two jobs!? No problem, I thought, there is no way she will get a position if she only applies for two jobs. I must have applied for over a hundred jobs to get the two I found. We are staying put.


She was the first choice at one of them: a top department at a very prestigious school headed by a well-connected professor who was very impressed with my wife's work. She couldn't have asked for a better place to launch her own academic career. How could she possibly turn it down? She couldn't and she didn't.

And in all honesty, I couldn't "turn it down" either. I mean, if I had desperately wanted to stay put, I am sure I could have thrown a hissy-fit and forced her to say no. I could have dragged up all the arguments against taking temporary positions and the terrible toll it takes on our personal life. But I didn't.

First of all, she had followed me through my postdoc odyssey, so I owed her. And even I had to admit that this position was a sweet one. Secondly, I wasn't all that happy in the town we were living in. It was a little small for my tastes and the demographics resembled a midwestern retirement community more than a cosmopolitan international hub. Moving would at least take us to a major western city.

So we drew a collective breath and hit the road. Again.

We couldn't have made a better decision. Our newly adopted city turned out to be more fun than we could ever have guessed. The restaurants are great, there is a thriving art and music scene, our apartment complex houses people from almost every country in the world, and we are already making new friends. My wife loves her job (except for the occasional whining student) and there is a chance that it may get extended.

The move has also brought unexpected benefits to my professional life. By taking me away from the nonprofit where I had been earning most of my income, it forced me to reflect on where I was career-wise. Although I like curriculum development, I would rather write. So I took the plunge and hung out my shingle as a full-time freelance science writer. And for the time being, I'm surviving and enjoying it.

So you see, moving isn't always a bad thing. And if you are an academic, you had better get used to it, because (to the tune of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"):

Ac-a-dem-ics move around

P-h P-h Deee.

Anywhere a job is found

P-h P-h Deee.

Take a postdoc here

for one year there

Here a post, there a post,

everywhere a postdoc.

Ac-a-dem-ics move around

P-h P-h Deee.

The Spy is a scientist living and job-searching somewhere in the Western half of the United States.