Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Work, Life, Vagina: Pick Two

The Boyfriend and I have been dating for some time now. We joke about getting married in that "oh gosh what a scary ridiculous thought" way, but really, it's starting to occur to both of us that such a future could actually be likely. We're not married, or even engaged, but we're Seriously Committed.

Recently, an opportunity has come up for TB to relocate to College State in the future, and he has asked me to go with him. It would be a temporary relocation (one year), and would happen after I had gotten started on Teh Tehsis. I have friends, family, and ample opportunity for collaboration in the state, and I like it there. I have plenty of time to plan such a move. Logistically, this is doable, and my adviser is on board - she's been looking up connections she might have and groups I could work with, suggesting fellowships or grants I can apply for to fund me during my PhD thesis, etc.

Despite this, I have heard a deafening litany of concerns from my parents and my older advisers about how dangerous this could be for my career. Forget that I have over a year to make sure that this move goes as smoothly as possible for my professional life. Forget that a five-year long-distance relationship WOULD be dangerous for me and TB. They are Worried.

My older advisers/colleagues (many male, some female) ask me why TB (who they have never met) can't move himself out HERE, why he can't put HIS entire career on hold and mark time until I'm done, why I can't just plan to finish my thesis faster and then move to where he is (yeah, I loved that one). The emphasis is largely on him - "why is he making you do this? Why do you have to move to where he is? DANGER DANGER ACCOMMODATE A MAN AND YOUR HARD WORK WILL SPONTANEOUSLY VAPORIZE!" My mother in particular is terrified that this might be a death knell for my career. Keep in mind that I have an older sister with a husband AND kids AND a career, who is an excellent role model. She's still convinced that any decision I make that might factor in TB is a bad decision, made for foolish emotional reasons that will just come back to haunt me. She also wonders why he can't "get some job in his field where you are" and follow me.

I do understand that these worriers come from a different time, when women following their husbands was the status quo and they were widely expected to put their careers on the back burner. I know that times haven't changed as much as they should have. But it's curious: everyone who is worried about me has told me that I am "very talented", "brilliant", "valuable", "passionate", other recommendation letter superlatives, etc. - yet apparently they think all my talent and brilliance and value and passion can be wiped out in a flash by the mere suggestion of a committed relationship. The implication here - saying that I shouldn't consider such a move, that TB should move to where I am, that he should put his career on hold - is that he'll be fine and happy and none the worse for wear even if he throws roadblocks in front of his future, but I'll be doomed if I so much as consider a future that isn't maniacally devoted to work, work, and only work. Plus, I highly doubt anybody would corner TB and say "Why can't your girlfriend just hold off on her degree for a while and get some job? Why can't she just transfer to a school closer to you?" They might think it, but it's way too un-PC to actually say "your girlfriend should follow you". How can someone get off on saying "your boyfriend should follow you"? The person who can more easily follow should do the following, or ideally a compromise should be reached. End of story.

I seriously suspect this is partly because he's in industry, and academia often sees industry as this magical land where the work is easy, the money grows on trees, and the employment opportunities are perfect and omnipresent. I've also found that academics perceive their industry counterparts as lacking ambition and drive - I suspect that because TB is in industry and I am in academia, I am seen as being more committed to and ambitious about my job. He "just works". Never mind that he is busting his ass, devoted to what he does, and working longer hours than I am. It's just a cushy easy little job, after all. Meanwhile, I am *~*researching*~*, I am *~*getting a Ph.D.*~*, I am *~*passionate*~*. I am enduring grad school for this, and everyone knows grad school is the hell of all hells! [eye roll] The result is a belief that he should prostrate himself at the great altar of Academia without regard for his career future. After all, if he really cared about his profession, he'd be a grad student in it! [snort]

I also think that this is good old-fashioned sexism dressed up as "concern". I'm foolishly trying to "having it all", I can't possibly have a job and a partner/family/life AND a vagina. I've decided to be a woman in science and now I better not want to be anything else. Clearly, they see female intellect as tenuous and easily derailed by frivolous distractions, rather than a tool I can wield to help build myself the life I want. I also see some really ridiculous condescending crap going on here: "You realize that if you have a family, it makes it harder to work." My gosh, if you hadn't told me, I never would have known! I never pay attention to these things! I'm just a little 22-year-old woman with a Bachelors of Science! Thank goodness someone keeps me posted! You tell me I'm smart, but clearly my intellect is narrowly confined to that thing I have a degree in, and doesn't translate to any kind of knowledge about other things, such as My Life.

I know this isn't a new experience for Women In Science, but it's a new experience for me, and it's alarming. The people whose opinions I value, who are in a position to help me and support me, who tell me I'm a smart and capable woman, don't trust me with my own future. How does one respond to that??


Veo Claramente said...

Hmm. Tough one. I completely see where you're coming from. However, if I may present another possibility, not meant to be uncomplimentary in ANY way, just consider me Devil's advocate. Could it be that they are worried about you because of your age? You mention that you are 22, I am no codger, but that is a little young and maybe they are just questioning whether your decisions at this age may be more impulsive rather than otherwise. You sound really mature when you write, but mentor/parent figures tend to pitch one as younger. Don't know. It could be as you say that it is sexism, but it could also be age-ism, or personality-ism, in which if you have made supposedly "rash" decisions before, you may be forever labeled as a maker of rash decisions.
Anyway, I'll stop pontificating. Good luck, it sounds like you have thought it through well and I ma sure you will make a good decision.

jokerine said...

I decided to follow my boyfriend to a semester in a foreign country because I didn't want to spend nine month without him (and him having all the fun while I was back in good old boring town). Turns out it was one of the best decisions I have made about myself. I grew stronger personally, physically and emotionally. So what ever your reasons are for doing this, do it if you want to. Anyway, who says we live only for our CV?

Lab Cat said...

And if you don't go with him, in a few years they will be demanding where/when you are going to find a boyfriend.

You should do what you want - take what everyone else says (including me) and filter it. If you think it is feasible and you don't mind what happens to your "career" go for it and have fun.

D.P. said...

I think that if you can make it work out to continue to follow your dream and move with your boyfriend, you should do it. However, I do understand your friends/family concern because as a woman in science who is about 10 years your senior, it has saddened me to see how many fellow women in science have allowed their careers to become secondary to the men in their lives. Including the ones I thought "never would." Priorities change, as you get older...