Over the last several years, Iâ€™ve gotten to know a good number of Mormon men whose life goal is to land an academic job in order to provide for their family. A critical period in making that goal a reality involves moving from ABD status (all but dissertation) to a completed doctorate and a first job. Like Iâ€™ve mentioned before, it can involve a high degree of stress, even in good circumstances. The careers section of the Chronicle of Higher Education–which should be weekly required reading for every grad student–often discusses the difficulties of the two-body problem, when husband and wife are both seeking academic jobs. But what about the challenges of the four-, five-, or seven-body problem? What can being on the academic job market mean for your family?
Your parents. It probably means telling your parents and your wife’s parents that you are never, ever moving back to Utah. There aren’t enough academic jobs in the Wasatch corridor. I’ve known a few people who have managed it, but, like landing a job at BYU, it’s not a good idea to make plans around it. If living far from family is a serious problem for you or your wife, keep that plan B a little closer to the top drawer.
Your kids. For a lot of people, grad school is a good time to have kids, in both the biological and the practical sense. The pay might not be great, but the schedule is flexible, and it often entails 5-7 years of residential stability, more than the parents have ever experienced in their married lives (and maybe more than they will have again for some time to come). About the time you finish your dissertation and start looking for an academic job, though, the oldest kid hits kindergarten and things start to get complicated. While you’re on the job market, it’s a good idea to count to, like, ten million before yelling at your kids, even if they need it. There will probably be many moments when you aren’t a good judge if they need it or not.
Your money. The wisest advice ever given to grad students is: stay out of debt. With the help of friends, relatives, garage sales, WIC, and Medicaid, small children do not have to be expensive to acquire or to provide for. Your Visa card might get you through tight moments, but it only replaces one type of stress with another. (WIC and Medicaid, on the other hand, contribute directly to your bottom line by covering expenses that you would otherwise end up covering out of your own pocket. If you qualify, sign up. Ignore the people who will tell you that accepting government aid is immoral. You have a family to support. Everything else is secondary.) Stay out of debt!
Your spouse. Your wife has as much or more at stake in your job search as you do. She needs to know how things are going, and she needs to be part of making decisions. Finishing a dissertation is a difficult job with long hours. If your wife is dealing with the kids at home, she’s doing a difficult job that never ends. Be grateful for what she’s doing, and pull your weight around the house. If everything goes according to plan and you do land a job, those long hours might continue for some time. The first year in a new job seems to be difficult for everyone I know in any field, as they teach all-new courses at a new institution.
Your dissertation. Not actually a family member, but your family can be a big asset in finishing it. The LDS grad students I knew seemed to move through their programs at a good pace and stick with them to the end. I suspect a combination of a little extra life experience at the beginning of the program, and the need to support a family, helps inspire a lot of Mormon grad students to stay on task.
You haul? A tenure-track job is a long-term goal. Until you get there, you may need to take your funding a year at a time, and in different places. There’s a chance youâ€™ll be moving a lot. For interstate moves, the absolute best way to go is U-Pack. (You load your furniture into an ABF commercial freight trailer, and an experienced semi driver picks up the trailer and drops it off in front of your new home several days later for you to unload.) You will not get a discount by mentioning my name, but you will thank me when you’re not lost in the desert with a broken-down moving truck while your wife has to drive the car and handle all the kids by herself.
Your turn. How has launching a career in a competitive employment sector affected your family? What have you done to deal with uncertainty, frustration, or frequent moves?