Recently I wrote about my family’s newfound challenge to find a place to live in that has both career opportunities for my partner and me – and the medical resources and community support for my special needs kid. Thanks again to all who shared their stories of how they’ve confronted this issue in their own family. Fortunately, since this last post, my partner (who is currently on the job market while I am a year or two away) landed an academic position with a lot of growth potential in a city with great resources for our kid. To say I am pleased would be an understatement. I’ve been crying a lot – mostly out of gratitude to the universe at large (and probably in part still due to all the new mom hormones).
So with my partner and my kid’s needs apparently taken care of, I’m now the third body. With up to two years of graduate school left, I am trying to line up my ducks for: 1) successfully completing and defending my dissertation while living far away from my lab group 2) (hopefully) successfully lining up employment post-defense in this new locale. Let’s break these down.
In some fields, it’s fairly common for dissertators to finish writing up off-site. In the lab and bench sciences though, this is much less common. Maybe it’s because of the importance of lab meetings and the close advisor/advisee relationship. Maybe it’s because students are often paid by research assistanceships led by their advisors or teach classes on campus for their funding. On my campus, there is definitely a culture of expecting biology students to be around for all semesters of their graduate study, regardless of their funding situations.
In the age of skype though, continuing to participating in lab group discussions and grant team meetings should theoretically be possible and straightforward. I would be much more concerned about the logistics if I still had experiments to finish up but based on committee feedback over the winter, they think I can write up what I have in hand, as I can remotely work on analysis and writing. But I’ve never met a student from my campus who finished up remotely! Neither has my committee! If you have, regardless of what field you’re in, I’d love to crowdsource some advice for graduate students trying to finish up remotely. Please leave a comment below!
I have a sneaking suspicion that this is becoming more common – off the top of my head, I can think of 3 female graduate students in my department that are spending 1-2 semesters of their last year away from campus due to balancing their studies with a desire not to live away from their families (i.e. their partners, who are not academics, took jobs in other places and the timelines didn’t match). It’s surprising that I can’t think of any men in similar positions on my campus. But with the rise of dual career families and graduate students often returning to studies after working or a career change, graduate students are often balancing school with the rest of their lives.
In the spirit of treating graduate students like the adults that they are, I’d also be curious to hear from faculty who have successfully advised students finishing up from afar. Of course, stories of students NOT succeeding would also be helpful, so that we can all learn better ways to be and to support each other. I know of one friend who intended to finish up remotely but since their funding didn’t travel with them, they took a job outside of their academic interests to keep afloat – ultimately leading them to another career path and never (yet!) completing the PhD.
Getting a Job?
There are so many resources out there on tackling the job market for graduate students, whether or not they’re aiming for academic or nonacademic positions. But since the place we’re moving to has great resources for my kid, we want to stay there indefinitely. So my priority is finding a job in this new place. This means a change of job search planning when I’m finishing up. I’ll be looking for positions inside and outside of the academy, basically anything relevant within driving distance. So I’ve been looking for resources on how to tackle this dual approach to the job market (especially since the timelines for academic and nonacademic jobs are wildly different). On one hand, it’s freeing to know that the search is limited to a narrow geographic area. On the other, since this is an area of the country I’m not familiar with, it’s slightly terrifying. But I am hopeful that with 1 -2 years left, I can try to make some professional connections (especially since the age of spousal hires seems to be mostly a thing of the past in this age of supposed austerity in higher ed).
Again, if you’ve been in this boat – would love to hear your thoughts. Despite not knowing what this new place or new future will look like, all in all I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders — and my partner is also far less stressed. The kid is oblivious to this, of course. But we’re so excited that we will be able to provide (along with many others) the resources they need going forward!