25 July 2012

The privilege of place: how far will you go?

How far willing you go for your career?

I don’t mean, “What immoral or illegal activities would you engage in?” I mean, how far are you willing to move. Across a province? Cross country? To a different country overseas where you have no ties, no citizenship? To a small city in the middle of [curse word] nowhere?

I don’t know how much academics should be expected to move.

On the one hand, moving is always disruptive and painful. And it gets harder as you go on. You’re more likely to have family, and just more stuff to move.

On the other hand, I don’t think it’s reasonable for someone to expect to be able to do a Ph.D. in their backyard.

Academics is hardly the only career where your options are going to be limited if you don’t want to move. For example, when I’m advising students, and they ask me, “What can I do with a degree in biology?”, my response is, “Is you question, ‘What can I do with a degree in biology?’ or ‘What can I do with a degree in biology here in the region?’ The answers to those questions are not the same.

“If you want to be an actor, your options are going to be very different if you are willing to move to New York or Los Angeles than if you’re not willing to move.”

I’m a small town prairie boy. When I went to my undergraduate institution, it was clear that my instructors were not locals. One of my professors said academics were “the last nomads.” This put it into my head early that moving around was expected in this career. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was entirely possible that I was not going to be able to pick where I was going to live if I wanted to continue on this career path.

For me, the chance to live in different places around the world has been one of the best things about being a scientist. Living in Victoria, Montréal, and Melbourne were great experiences. I am so convinced of the value of this that I tell people, “Everyone should live outside their own country for at least a year.”

Some people, through accidents of circumstance, are privileged to pursue academic careers without having to move very much. Like most forms of privilege, complaining about the prospect of moving sounds can sound awfully petty to those without it.

Related posts

Are scientists lonely?

External links

Work-life balance: you keep using those words...

Photo  by East Georgia College on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license/


Bjørn Østman said...

I think it's both a privilege and a curse. It's great that it's an opportunity to move somewhere that you'd like to try to live, but when it forces you to leave a place you like to somewhere you'd rather not be, then it really sucks. I like where I am right now, and there are a number of places I could go next, but I fear that my chances are going to be limited, and that I might end up in what I consider the middle of [curse word] nowhere.

Neuroskeptic said...

This post reminds me of this bit in Prometheus: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-oJ4XHIH9s&feature=related at time 1:00)