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choices (long)

Julia Frugoli jfrugoli at bio.tamu.edu
Thu Apr 27 09:40:40 EST 2000

This whole thread has gone off on a tangent, but in some ways it's become
more and more relevant to a bottom line issue for everyone-the choices you
make (and those that are made for you).  I've been thinking about this a lot
lately, as I enter the third year of my postdoc and start looking at the job
market.  I have three grown kids (the youngest is 17) so the days of daycare
are behind me and right now I just worry about college bills on a postdoc's
salary.  But like many of the childless respondents, I still have a partner
with an academic career, aging parents, community responsibilities, and
various other pulls on my attention.  Just when all the balls are juggling
nicely, my PI gets recruited by another university across the country, and
everything has to be rearranged.  

My husband and I have made a lot of decisions over the years trying to keep
the balance between our relationship, our responsibilities, and our careers,
and for the second time in 6 years, it will require living on opposite sides
of the country.  It is a choice we could make because we've done it before
and we know what's involved, but we also know that for us there are times
when career comes first and times when family comes first, and we balance
those.  For us, it wouldn't be possible to always put our family first
(sacrilegious as that may sound to some) or to always put our career first. 
The point I'm aiming at is that several people we know have commented on how
horrible our choice is, but its our choice and what works for us.  I could
go on and on about how people shouldn't have to make such choices, but it
won't change the fact that we have to make it.  I can work toward a future
where my daughter doesn't have to make it, but I also come from a past where
my mom didn't even have the chance to consider the choice, so I see

My parents always referred to "dealing with what's on your plate".  The
implication was that each of us has a set of circumstances, some we've
chosen and some we got by chance/luck/fate.  But they are ours and we need
to deal with them.  So instead of playing "can you top this" for who has the
"worst" set of circumstances, I think we make progress when we examine what
led to those circumstances and how to deal with them.

It's been noted here before that the structure of a scientific career leads
to many of the "child problems" people have posted, and that it also leads
to the "no life" problems irregardless of children.  I can't demand that
universities looking to hire me for their department suddenly change the way
science is done so that I can have a life.  So I deal with it in my own way.
 I make a choice to do the best I can at science-to a point.  I choose the
point at which I say, "this much and no more" and from there I fill what's
left with my other obligations & my personal time.  It may mean I will never
be elected to the National Academy-but it's my choice and I live with it. I
also change the point at which I say "this much and no more" frequently, in
either direction.  It's not static.

I have control of some things and not others.  IMHO, the angst and anger
comes when we feel we have NO choices-that we have to be a certain way in
order to survive.  While that may be true of science, remember that we all
define "survive" and even there we have a choice. If I constantly am unhappy
with my choices, I can change the choices easier than I can change the
world.  That being said, constantly being unhappy with one's choices can be
a great impetus to changing the world :). 

I hope this long post doesn't come off as a flip "Just deal with it",
because it's not meant that way.  I just want to redirect the thread toward
solving problems instead of discussing whose are worse.

Julia Frugoli
Department of Plant Pathology & Microbiology
Texas A&M University
Norman E.Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement 
2123 TAMUS
College Station, TX 77843
phone 979-862-3495
FAX 979-862-4790

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