For most people the academic career path is a nomadic one, often involving moving oneself and any associated family (if they exist) to various points around the globe. Some get lucky and can pick their locations to a certain extent, some get stuck in places they would never consider living long term if the job had not brought them there.

On top of that, the constant turn-over of people in your life and an often changing situation as you work through graduate school and a postdoc typically results in moving apartments several times, even within a given location. A year on the south side of town, two on the west end, one downtown.... You get in the habit of not accumulating to much crap.

I was no exception. The longest time I spent in one apartment over a 15 year span was three years and I only managed that feat once during that time, which was dominated by one year stays. After a while it just gets ingrained in you that the next move is right around the corner.

This is just one more reason why landing a PI job leads to an entirely new set of experiences. For the first time in memory we have a lasting stake in our community. It never mattered what was going on with the school system wherever we were previously because we were never going to be faced with those issues. Local politics? They could only do so much that would affect our lives and we weren't even able to vote in the first place. For better or for worse, it was like having diplomatic immunity.

These days I do care about the community because I am likely to be here a while. I own property here (and by that I mean the bank owns property here that I inhabit) and want to make sure that the school system is strong. To that end I have gotten involved in providing science teachers the tools to do their job more effectively. There are a number of advantages to me for doing this, but it is a much larger time suck than I expected and several of the deadlines fall at particularly bad times for me. After a few recent meetings I have walked away wondering if the advantages outweigh the time and effort I am putting in to this and I have realized that they wouldn't have been until recently. I am now part of a community and not just living in a place. My kids will grow up here* and this is one way I can contribute to raising standards in local schools. I do wonder sometimes if it is foolish to use precious summer hours to teach 6-12 teachers when I need to worry about getting tenure*, but I can't help thinking that there is more required of me than just paying taxes.

I'm invested.

* Yes, I am aware that getting tenure is an important component in determining whether my kids will indeed grow up here.

5 responses so far

  • CoR says:

    Yeah, and doesn't it suck that one of the aspects of this job mean we wouldn't naturally become invested in a place until reaching our mid-30's? One could argue that is a trend regardless of occupation, but as one who never in their life lived in a place more than 3 yrs on average, having a place to call home and improve upon is certainly um...calming?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Investment in community pays off PlS. You are doing the right thing. We have a community hole left behind by those BMW driving, coke snorting, tax cutting, deficit spending, self-indulging Boomers and your generation, mine and that behind yours need to regain this country's community spirit.

  • studyzone says:

    You are absolutely NOT wasting your time with providing tools to science teachers. I taught HS for several years before returning to grad school, and throughout my career, I was very active in the Science Education Partnership program at my grad institution (first as a high school student of a founding teacher, then as a HS teacher, then as a grad student mentor of several teachers). The students definitely benefit from any exposure to hands-on, "real-world" science - and will remember it for years to come, even if they don't make a career of it. My former grad program has recently seen an uptick in applications from students from underrepresented backgrounds who went through an SEP program as HS students, and I've been told that PIs involved in the program receive positive recognition from promotion/tenure committees.

  • I'm with Studyzone. I think with all our years of extra education, we can be a resource in any community we end up in. I followed this ideal through in graduate school and volunteered at a local GED center. I really got to know the people in the neighborhood. It was nice to go for an evening walk and have a kid run over from the pickup football game to say hi. But that was in a different part of the country, and I still carry the heartbreak of leaving with me.

    Now with the advent of a child into my life, I've chosen not to get involved in my new home, and not doing anything bugs me. Oh for the dream of stability that tenure brings.

  • PUI Prof says:

    I and all my doctoral cohort were in our urban community for 4-6 years which was enough to get a little involved. Many of us were involved in a church or synagogue and its attendant service work. I tutored kids once a week after school. That was nice and helped keep me grounded. I bought a house during grad school, since the real estate market was so favorable, and was involved in an athletic club.

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