Location and Academia

pink townhouse
By Beyond My Ken – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47207023

Happy New Year (a bit belated). I know it’s been a few weeks (I think I took off the whole of December from my blog), but I am back at it.

Throughout November and December, I had a main theme on my mind: location.

There is a pressure to find a home for most newcomers to the area. A mortgage is cheaper than rent. And one of the employers in town helps with a down payment and promises to buy the house should they relocate the employee. The housing market is also “just so” that yuppies like me can afford the American Dream (whereas, I couldn’t in my hometown). With this pressure, you start to wonder about what part of town you would live in. Or if you want to skip out on the overpriced town where your employer is and move to a nearby “bedroom community” or the bigger town 30 minutes away.

And then there’s the decision that really needs to be made: am I ready for property ownership? and will I stay long enough to warrant purchasing property?

At faculty get-togethers (there have been a few because of the holidays), I’m always asked, “How do you like [the town]?” I always say that I like it, “but it’s a little boring.” People laugh and then try to suggest that I head away to the nearby “cities.” Still, I think everyone realizes this location has its drawbacks.

The theme of location also presents itself due to relationships. At the beginning of November, my partner moved away to pursue his own career. A town of 9,000 can suddenly become lonely when you no longer have a constant dinner date and “partner in crime.” I currently love my job, and I love the opportunities a small town provides (it takes 7 minutes to drive anywhere, there’s free parking, rent and mortgages are cheaper than in larger towns, etc). But this is a place for families, not a singleton in a long-distance relationship. I kinda feel like a saltwater fish in freshwater.

But I’m not the only one in this boat. (Lots of water metaphors here.) As I meet more of the faculty, I find other “halves” of relationships. One visiting professor wants to find a career in the southeast to be with his partner, who has a stable job in North Carolina. An academic professional left behind her husband in Texas to forge a career in snowy Iowa. A couple moved here for a post-doc; when a second post-doc came up, the wife moved to Arizona and left her partner here. I learn of a professor who is in a long-distance relationship with her daughter, who lives on the east coast with her father; the parents are still married, but have tenure-track jobs in different geographical locations. After more than a decade, one professor is taking a new job to live closer to their sweetheart who lives halfway across the country. There are a lot of us in this location, with loved ones scattered in other locations.

This separation seems to have two roots. First, is my location. There just aren’t that many employers, and those employers only offer certain types of jobs and at certain prices. For my partner, with aspirations to work for a tech company, he had to leave this town. Second, is academia. Maybe people in higher education just complain about it more, but location does seem a rather integral problem to academicians’ personal relationships. So few of us can get our partners a job when we move for a new position. It’s nearly impossible to get two tenure-track positions at the same university, let alone the same department (though some are known to split lines). For a double-academic couple (or triple or quadruple, however the relationship is structured), finding careers in the same location looks impossible.

I am glad I’m at where I’m at. But contemplating theĀ concept of location and academia presents several trains of thought.


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