Sunday, October 29, 2006

Take this job and...

So any of you who have been in much contact with me know that this autumn saw another big transition in my life. I just thought there haven’t been enough significant changes in my life lately, you know, so I needed to spice things up a little. Anyway, as summer ended and autumn began, I left my research job at Yale and started adjunct teaching gigs at two non-Ivy-League universities in town.

It has been a really positive change for me. I spent just over a year as a postdoc in the physics department at Yale, and I found that the somewhat narrow life of pure research just wasn’t a good match for me. It came as a bit of a surprise to me that this job wasn’t all I had hoped and dreamed. I loved grad school so much and according to the groupthink of academia, becoming a postdoc was the expected next step in my path to fame and fortune as an astrophysicist. I missed aspects of my life in grad school, though; I missed being involved in teaching, I missed interacting with human beings regularly, and I missed having more variety in my everyday professional life. Moving on to teaching has provided all that for me. It is so fun to be in the classroom again after a year away, and I like the variety of going to two different campuses each week. I’m about halfway into this first semester of my new routine (sorry, Internet, for the tardy update...) and most days I find myself feeling enthusiastic and energized about my professional life, a welcome change from those feelings of floundering and purposelessness.

Despite the vast improvement in my attitude and general happiness level, I do feel conflicted about my flight from the research world. I am still working to shed a modicum of guilt. Am I letting people (at Yale, back at the University of Texas) down? Am I taking the easy way out? Am I contributing to the pitiful representation of women in science by opting out of that path? Am I somehow betraying my boss at Yale, my wonderful PhD advisor, or the field of astrophysics as a whole by leaving the big-time research world for an education-oriented career? This may sound insane to people outside academia; the system really does produce people (like me!) with an intense sense of career identity and what the perfect career arc should look like.

I know that measuring my life by a standard of success manufactured by cloistered, practically monastic professors is a bankrupt exercise. And I’ve known all along that I wasn’t totally committed to wrangling a place for myself in the Ivory Tower. However, actually acting on those thoughts and beliefs does make me wistful for the might-have-been.

Not that I wouldn’t kick and scream if you tried to drag me back to the reality of life as a postdoc.