Quality of life in academia

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I have a good friend who is married with a child who is now middle school age.  For years, his wife was trying to get hired full time as a  teacher in the local county system.  She started out as a substitute, moved up to part time, and last year, was hired full-time.  A dream come true for her.  Her husband, my friend, supported this–not just because he is a good man but he loved that his wife was so happy and doing what she was passionate about.

We were chatting the other day and as we wrapped up ‘business’ the conversation turned to family and life outside of work.  He made some comments to me that really got me thinking for a few reasons.  His main point was this,”I love that my wife is so happy and while it’s easier to pay some bills, I can’t say that our quality of life has improved.”  I asked why-not just to be nosey, but because it’s usually been just me going through life.  While I was married many years ago, I was very young and naive, two reasons that I’m not married anymore so I value and respect any wisdom I can get from someone who has worked very hard at his marriage in a true partnership. I also asked because in the event that I get married, it is always good to glean information from those you trust.

Back to asking why? His answer was simple: “we eat out more, we’re both exhausted, our son gets on our nerves even quicker and it’s not just his age, it is nice to pay bills faster but I don’t know if it’s been worth it for our family. It just feels like we’re existing and shuffling our son around without taking really good time to do things and enjoy life.  Neither of us have any energy on weekends to do those things. I would NEVER ask my wife to stop, she loves it and I don’t mind bearing more responsibility, but I think we’re going to have to re-assess everyone’s work schedules once the academic year is over.”  Truth and honesty. I really appreciated it and found a new respect for my friend at that moment.  He was honest and vulnerable because he needed to say it out loud and knew I would never judge him or his life. He and his wife work really hard at their marriage and do the best they can for their child. It was eye opening to hear him say that more money didn’t mean more happiness, in fact it was leading to less happiness. I’ve read the research and seen the statistics, but to hear it was different. No, he doesn’t want his wife home baking cookies, he celebrates her success and dreams, supporting her, but his exhaustion was undeniable.

As a new faculty, I wonder about the quality of my own life.  There are some luxuries that come with being a faculty.  Better parking, no set office/work hours that you have to be there as long as the work gets done, benefits, decent salary, and flexibility are just a few.  However, with those things come other expectations.  Publishing and grant writing are the two that come to mind first–that is backwards to me as I type it because teaching and the students should be first, but they have been replaced by the almighty dollar.

I haven’t even mentioned home life.  What home life?  Work to live or live to work?  I have spent a great deal of time and energy in learning how to ‘turn off’ once I get home. From the very literal sense of turning off my email push notifications on all electronic devices to ignoring work from after 7 p.m.  Yes, I am guilty of not sending emails at midnight, due in part to the fact that I’m in bed, but also because there has to be balance for me. I can compartmentalize but like any good junkie, sometimes I fall off the wagon.

Living with someone helps immensely.  There are things that we like to do, brain rotting TV we like to watch together, places we go as a pair, and sometimes that person serves as a gentle reminder that is might be time to stop working.  It’s never harsh or mean in tone, but a look or a simple request goes a long way. It’s only at this point in my life that I’ve learned to recognize the reminder and it’s something I’m still working on.

As a new faculty, how would you rank your quality of life on a likert type scale of 1-5 with one being awful and five being amazing?  Why would you give it that rating? What would you tell other new faculty and what advice would you offer them to help improve their quality of life?

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3 thoughts on “Quality of life in academia

  1. neurovantage says:

    4 – all things considered. Being non-tenure track helps to keep the pressure off and “turn off” as you say. I can’t imagine being on this clock. Not yet at least. My first year as junior faculty is almost coming to close. Hope you keep writing. Me thinks, you and I share similar experiences in academia.

  2. neurovantage says:

    Reblogged this on Neuro Vantage and commented:
    A nice anecdote on something I think is relevant to me and others in the field

  3. thanks for your comment and for reposting! i worry about a TT job someday, but so far, this one has been a nice transition for the potential onslaught that could come.

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