This was a comment left by another WomanOfScience. I decided to repost to share with all. Enjoy!
Hello, WomanOfScience, this is your friend SeniorTrailingSpouse. I am not sure I like this name! I made up another one, below. For those of you who could not glean from my given name, my husband and I are both academics in science/engineering. We were apart for several years, during which time I had two babies and raised them up to school-age and almost-school-age largely on my own. After lots of looking, drama, negotiation with both institutions, we are now together at his institution.
I have so much to say on the Two Body Problem that I am not sure where to start. I will get around to writing the guest posts I have promised you, WOS. However, today in particular I am struggling with something, and I thought I should pose the comment/question to you and hopefully your blogosphere.
If you are lucky enough to have the Two Body Problem solved, how to then balance both of your ambitions? Suppose we both have the opportunity to submit (different) big grants, both with deadlines around the same time. Our own individual research programs are fine in terms of funding, so working on these grants would be a choice. These are both large-scale proposals that actually won’t give us much money directly, but are great for the institution and would be high-profile wins in terms of reputation if we get them.
But we are tired, and we want to spend some time with the kids this summer, now that we are finally together as a family. One of us could definitely work on a proposal like this while still leaving us collectively with enough “family time,” I think. But if we both choose to work on proposals like this, it will mean a lot of craziness this summer. So which one of us “leans back?”
Strangely, I never thought about this much when I was living apart from my husband, even though I was solely responsible for the kids during this time. My ambition was really only limited by what I could physically handle. Kids were in daycare a lot. If I had a big deadline, I hired extra babysitting help. If a particular project required consistently working after-hours, well — I couldn’t do it, or rather I was not willing to be away from the kids more often than I already was. Similarly, for travel, if I was invited to give a talk domestically, well fine. I made these trips as short as possible and cobbled together some solution — leave the kids with grandparents, bring Grandma along on a business trip with me, find a daycare in the area willing to do drop-in care. But if I was invited for an international trip — no, sorry, I could not manage this. (Saying no to these kind of trips was a choice, but again it was more than I felt I could handle at the time — I do know a single academic mom who did manage to take her daughter on international trips).
Now, living with my husband means I have more choices. He can of course watch them if I have to work late or if I am out of town. But when we both need to work, how do we balance this? I don’t want to just hire babysitters a lot so that we can both work like crazy — then our life wouldn’t be all that different than what we had before, honestly. It defeats the purpose of living together!
On a mostly separate note, I think work-life issues are one area where more senior women in science can benefit from mentoring from younger women. Mentoring does not have to go one-way, only from senior women to junior women. The culture has changed dramatically in the time that I’ve been in academia — negotiating for a position for your spouse was unheard of when I started. I think younger women have a better idea of how to navigate and negotiate issues around this than senior women do.