Earlier this summer I spoke with a colleague who mentioned in passing that a technician who was helping him when he visited another institution seemed a bit resentful about helping him, or at least was not as cheerful as she could have been about helping him.
I said: Think about how she feels. She has a PhD, did a postdoc, wrote some high profile papers, but then took a technician job at the institution where her husband is a big professor. She's good enough to have been a professor in her own right, but instead she spends her days helping others do their research, with no hope of advancing in her career.
My colleague looked puzzled. He said: She has nothing to complain about. She has a job and she and her husband live in the same place.
Then I realized: My colleague and his wife live several hours apart owing to complicated job/family issues. His wife is not an academic, but it still has not been possible for them to live in the same place for the past few years. He was thinking of the situation from the point of view of 'how lucky this couple is to be together in the same location'.
But then I thought: He should understand the technician's unhappiness (if I am correct about the reason for her job dissatisfaction). The reason my colleague and his wife live apart is because each of them would be unhappy if they gave up their present job and look a less desirable job in their spouse's current city of residence.
Perhaps living apart is so difficult that his instinctive reaction involves his wish to live in the same place as his wife, rather than first considering the reality of what that would involve if his wife quit her job, moved to his city, and took a job she didn't like. I am sure he is well aware of that, but his longing to have his family together dominates his feelings and point of view.
My husband and I lived apart for years while we were trying to find jobs we both wanted in the same or proximal location(s). We are lucky that it worked out for us and we never had to face the long-term implications of one of us making a sacrifice in career aspirations. However, perhaps it is because I confronted, at least hypothetically, the wrenching possibility of having to take a job I didn't want while my husband pursued his dream job that I projected a particular explanation for the spouse/technician's job dissatisfaction. [Note: I know from personal experience and other reports that she is in fact dissatisfied with her job, so I am not jumping to conclusions about that, at least].
I hope things work out for my colleague, but I also hope he will have some sympathy for this smart and talented scientist who chose family over career. She may well have made the best decision for herself and her family, but it can't be an easy thing to do.
6 months ago