One of the contributing factors to leaving my last job and starting my MSc, and subsequently my PhD, was I was fed up of spending hours a day in my car. My last job required lots of UK based travel and my partner, ‘A’ was usually at the other end of the country – something had to give. Since starting back in education we still have to live apart however the commute is regular, relatively brief and, crucially for me, via train so I can read/work/knit etc.
However on reading THE magazine article on how to get on in HE (M, Reisz ‘Flying Solo’ in Times Higher Education 2044, 5/4/2012) I’m not sure I’ve made the right choice! In summary the competition for academic jobs often sees partners and families split up in order to secure the best position, this being particularly acute where both spouses work within academia. In addition many senior positions have such high demand on the candidates that they are really only open to “those with no primary care responsibilities”, with the likely affect of further skewing the gender balance at the top.
This is by no means an academic problem. Many couples deal with long distances through jobs which require one or both of them to travel as part of the position or to the workplace. However for myself this article was particularly disheartening, as many of the couples said that one partner was often forced to take a lesser position in order to allow the other to get a good job whilst still staying together, “maximising the minimum” was the phrase used.
Not only am I, as a PhD student, at the beginning of my career in academia, but ‘A’ already holds a managerial position and is 7 years my senior and hence will almost always be ‘the bread winner’ leaving me as ‘the minimum to be maximised’ – not an appealing thought!
It was not all doom and gloom though. Many couples did report benefits of living separately some of the time. I have to admit that I also like having my own space; I can be utterly selfish with it, leave it messy guilt free and know that if I tidied it earlier it will still be tidy when I get back. I can eat what and when I want, listen to my music and watch whatever I want on the TV. I can also work late, without the nagging feeling that I’m neglecting or disturbing anyone. However this narcissistic lifestyle does not make up for that lack of seeing A, and do I want to continue like this indefinitely into the future? I’m not sure.