Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Over There

For various nanosociologistical reasons, my family and I are temporarily living in a house that is not our usual house. Our usual house, which I adore, is over there, closer to campus. Our temporary house is over here, at a much greater distance from campus. Today I realized that, in my academic life (age 18 to present):

I HAVE NEVER LIVED THIS FAR FROM CAMPUS.

Not from this campus; not from any campus. Not as an undergrad, grad, postdoc, and not during any of my various incarnations as various types of professors at various institutions, here and abroad. I have never lived this far from campus ever before.

Is this good or bad?

I think it is bad. I do not like it.

Living near campus means that campus (specifically: my office) is easily accessible, in some cases by walking or biking, and it's easy to go back to work at night. Living far from campus means a commute, and decreases the chances of my zipping over to the office in the evening, or anytime I want.

Living near campus means that we can easily survive as a one-car family. Living far from campus makes this difficult.

Some near-campus neighborhoods, such as the one I usually inhabit, are interesting places with a diverse population. They are festooned with cafes and other nice places to which you can walk.

Over here, in my temporary, far-from-campus neighborhood, I can walk to a mini-mart and a strip mall.

What if I had to live over here? Would my entire attitude about my life and job change? Instead of being a happy, optimistic person with a sunny view of life and work, would I become an embittered commuter, obsessed with traffic reports and emotionally detached from campus life? Would I make voting decisions based on the price of gas?

How much are we affected by the details of where we live?

I use the word details to signify that I am not comparing being homeless, cold, and hungry with living comfortably in a beachfront mansion. I am discussing the very limited, academic context of where and how we live relative to our jobs on campus.

In fact, some of my colleagues live over here by choice. There are advantages and disadvantages to living over here, and everyone weighs the pros and cons in a different way. My colleagues who live over here by choice seem quite happy with their choice. It would not, however, be my choice. Not at all.

If I had to live over here, I think my overall happiness would be somewhat eroded -- probably not significantly, but there would be more day-to-day irritations that might result in my being a slightly more cranky person. I might have to adjust my work habits, consume more (or less) caffeine, and get a few more cats in order to maintain equilibrium. I would adjust somehow, but I am glad that I don't really have to, and my stay over here is quite temporary.

Academic readers: Assuming you have a choice in where to live: do you choose to live near campus or far from campus?

54 comments:

muddled grad student said...

I live quite a distance away from campus. Why? Mainly finances and niceness of the neighborhood.

As I have lived in this country for long enough I am considered a local and don't qualify for the housing allowance or university housing. Without these options the immediate neighborhood which is quite nice is possibly only affordable to full profs.
The surrounding area is still expensive but is run down, houses are small and slightly shady at times. A lot of post docs/ grad students do live here. Living far away I pay about the same a small dingy unit for a nice house in a nice neighborhood. Although the commute can be annoying at times, I actually want to enjoy coming home and its not just a place to sleep in.

Having lived far for almost 5 years I no longer notice the time it takes. With public transport I can read / do work / catch up on sleep on the way as well so its not entirely wasted.

Pharm Sci Grad said...

Near campus. Near campus. After one year in undergrad with a 30 minute commute, I swore *never again*! So far so good... I don't have to drive to do some stuff (yes, I do have to drive some) and it's much less depressing to go back and forth to work when it's so very close. :)

ml said...

i lived 25 miles from my postdoc. (up to 2 hours in traffic). This was after living 0.8 miles from my grad student office (I didn't move living situations for my postdoc, but stayed in the same greater metropolitan area).

Now live 1.4 miles (door to door) from my faculty office. Everyday, I relish riding my bike with my milk crate basket to work. My neighbor says I have a goofy smile on my face. I can barely imagine the situation that would make me drive to work daily now (although, I do drive to the loading zones on nights/weekends when I am lazy).

mOOm said...

I prefer to live near campus as I hate commuting. The furthest I lived was about 12 miles when I was studying at LSE and living in outer London.

Anonymous said...

I have lived on or across the street from my undergrad/masters university for the past six years. Now at PhD University, there are no living options closer than a 10 minute drive (mine is more like 15) and even when you get to campus it still takes 10 minutes to walk to the academic buildings from the parking lots. I'm actually trying to save money on a parking pass by walking the 10 minutes to the bus stop and being dropped off at the academic buildings, which means being on someone else's schedule. This is all very frustrating given that I could be out of bed and to the lab/class in less than 10 minutes if need be in the past.

Maybe my tune will change after 4-5 years of this forced distance, but I would like a 10 minute commute (of whatever kind) rather than my 20-30 minutes.

I'm also annoyed by this living far-ish from bars and other people thing - there always has to be a designated driver which can put a damper on equal enjoyment of an evening.

Anonymous said...

I spent two years living far away from campus and commuting about an hour each way, for various pragmatic reasons that included a far cheaper real estate market. This took a significant toll on my mental health, much greater than I anticipated. Academic papers and entire books have been published on the effects of commuting stress, but I had to experience it to really appreciate how stressful it is. On top of the loss of about 10 hours of my life each week, there were lots of frustrations involved in the commute (such as delays due to summer construction), and I was forced to get up much earlier in the morning, which my body strongly objected to. I was constantly exhausted (much more so than usual), and when I forgot anything important at home or at the office it could quickly become a major disaster. To make matters worse, I knew almost nobody in the area I was living in, and had no time to make acquaintances there due to the commute time (which, added to my other responsibilities, drastically reduced the amount of free time I had available each week). Because of the mechanics of my particular commute (using public transport), it became very difficult for me to stay near campus in the evenings, so I also lost contact with many of my friends, who gradually stopped inviting me to events they knew I wouldn't be able to come to, anyway.

Needless to say, the next time I moved, I found a place close to campus. My current commute is 15 minutes, by bicycle, and I am much happier for it. All that time I used to spend commuting, I now spend doing pleasant, life-enhancing things like meeting friends, exercising, or reading blogs.

Major life lesson learned from this interlude: commuting is extremely stressful and it is worth a lot to minimize it as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

For the first time I have to work at home rather than on campus, and it's too far to walk there, and indeed I consume more caffeine and am less happy. It's easier to work (no disturbances) but I miss the liveliness, the people, the feeling that there are people like me around me. Pretty sure my quality of life is worse. Also despite internet, miss being so far from the library!

nicoleandmaggie said...

Far from students!

There isn't any housing near my department (which is far away from main campus, but hey, we have parking), so I wouldn't be able to walk anyway. The faculty housing near main campus is overpriced and often in worse condition than the general housing stock.

We're a 15 min drive from pretty much any part of the school which is closer than most of my colleagues.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Because I decided 40 years ago not to get a driver's license (a license to kill in most states), I have always chosen to live within biking distance of campus. My current home (for 25 years) is about 3 miles from my office, which is as far away as I've ever lived from campus.

There are tradeoffs to be made: closer to campus would have meant being further from restaurants, grocery stores, the public library, and other important amenities.

Being even this close to campus raised the price of my house by about 50%, but it lost little value when the housing bubble burst (unlike houses much further from campus).

Many faculty have chosen much larger houses and long car commutes—I've not noticed any of them particularly enjoying that tradeoff. They seem to have selected it because a large house was a trophy, not because they actually needed or wanted the extra space or the isolation.

Sassy said...

I love living near campus! It has so many advantages and makes an academic lifestyle much easier. As long as the school system in the neighborhood is good and there aren't undergrads living in my backyard, it's an ideal work/life solution.

structurefunction said...

I prefer a bit farther, precisely because it is less convenient to go back at night. Nights are family time for me and I don't want to make it easy for me to lose that time with them.

Anonymous said...

I live pretty near campus (about 3 miles). It is far enough that I have to think twice about riding my bike or driving to campus but close enough that I really don't ever have any commuting issues. I really like it.

I have lived very close to campus before (read across the street) and that was too close. I was too tempted to go to the office for something quick and then stayed for a couple of hours.

Female Post-doc said...

NEAR CAMPUS! I'm a post-doc and just moved to cut my commute after almost 2 years of 50 - 120 minute commutes depending on traffic and weather. While I would have lived closer (walking distance) to campus, there were not any apartments that would work for me (i.e. on a postdoc salary) at the time I was looking. Cutting my door-to-door in half and only spending about 15 minutes in the car every morning has made me a MUCH happier person.

Anonymous said...

I live close to campus. I can walk to my office. It makes it easy to drop by my lab at anytime. To live near campus, I had to settle for an older and much smaller home. I love my home and being close to campus. It works for my lifestyle.
My colleagues that have live far (20+ minute commute) from campus have much more spacious and modern homes.

Allison said...

Definitely near campus. I work with living organisms. Whether I want to or not, I am going to have to go into work at times that the rest of the world would consider strange. If I live close to campus, that takes 15 min. If I live far, who knows....

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? I live 4 blocks from my office and would not have it any other way. LD

Pippin, the Gentle Pup said...

The only time I've lived within walking distance to a campus I was associated with was as an undergraduate and that doesn't really count. Partly, I don't like living in neighborhoods full of academics (diverse as they are; there are also many similarities among academics and those are things about academics I often find challenging).

I used to live 4 miles from campus; last fall, I moved 25 miles from campus. To be perfectly honest, I find it less stressful living further away than just on the edge of walkability/bikeability. We had one car; that's something we can't do anymore--BUT, having an extra car has made some other things a lot more manageable (like working out letting the dogs out).

I also live now in a completely gorgeous place, full of nature and natural things; stars I can see, etc. This makes my life so much better in so many ways that the commute is completely worth it. Plus, by moving, we were able to realize a long-standing dream we had of having a hobby farm. And the hobby farm has done much to keep life feeling more sane than it used to.

Dr Becca said...

I just started a new faculty position, and I have never lived closer to campus than I do now. It's about a 10 minute walk through a small park and by a beautiful museum, instead of an hour on the subway, which I had for my post-doc. It's amazing how much happier I am to go to work in the morning!

That said, as a general rule, I choose where to live mostly because of the neighborhood itself. In bigger cities, college and medical campuses are often not in the best areas, and there are more cafes/markets/etc in, say, the artier parts of town.

Anonymous said...

As close as I can afford, but it's expensive to live close enough to walk (even in my inexpensive city). Professors who bought houses in the good old days get to live close, but new professors (or newer) are priced out of that neighborhood (unless they have funds from somewhere else).

Anne said...

Near campus. As in a 15 minute walk from campus kind of near. I love not having to pay for parking (or gas), and I like that even when I'm stressed and super busy, I still get a teeny bit of exercise in by walking back and forth every day.

Anonymous said...

Going to the office is anathema for me. I realized the second year in my TT job that I couldn't possibly get any work done there do to the constant distractions and interruptions. Fortunately I'm a theorist so I don't have a lab I need to be close to. Before I had tenure I still felt some pressure to put in "face time" but now I come in at most three days a week, and make extremely efficient use of my time (usually have meetings and teaching scheduled for every free minute from 9am-4pm). Then I enjoy quiet deep contemplation in my home office the other days!

Ewan said...

Far (20 min) but driven (almost entirely, certainly dominant factor) by school district. The school districts close to campus are terrible, I won't send my children to private schools, and there we are.

This is the predominant choice among faculty colleagues also: there are three 'best' school districts in sensible range, and I would guess that >90% of faculty live in one of the three.

We'd *much* prefer to live closer, but it's not happening for at least 16 years (or until a job change, also a live option).

Doc said...

I agree with previous comments about living close to campus has gotten expensive and unfortunately academic salaries have not increased to match said price hike.

I live about a mile from campus, and it's the closest I've lived since I was an ugrad on campus. Also, my viewpoint has changed. I got my education/post-doc at expansive land-grant institutions where you could literally walk a mile between buildings. I work at a small-footprint university now, and other people think I'm crazy to walk a mile to come in to work!

Anonymous said...

I live within a short (1 mile) bicycling distance from campus where both my partner and I work. We are a one car household and living on the other side of town would make that very difficult. Also, our close-to-campus neighborhood is nicer (for us) than the ones on the other side of town.

hawright said...

How much are we affected by the details of where we live?


I lived 42 miles away from the campus where both my partner and I studied and worked. It was nothing short of commuting hell and a personal nightmare. I was completely frustrated by the amount of time I spent driving and the detachment I felt from the academic environment.

I now live in a country where I don't have a choice but to walk everywhere or use public transit. I also live within 15 minutes of my research lab. I am VERY happy!

I love being close to a community, walking through neighborhoods and knowing that if I forgot my backup data drive in the lab, I can just run back and grab it...

Anonymous said...

I lived close (10-15 minute walk) to campus for 8 years as a grad student and junior faculty. Last spring I moved, and now I have a 20-25 minute commute. I never thought I'd say this, but I prefer commuting.

Part of the equation is that my institutions were/are in very small towns, and I prefer city life. I now live in a nice neighborhood close to downtown in a small city, with lots of restaurants, bars, and cultural attractions within walking distance. There are plenty of people around that are *not* associated with the university, which is a plus for me as well---in small towns it seems like everyone has some connection to the university, and it starts to feel like I can't escape work.

I still don't like driving, but it hasn't been too difficult to set up my schedule to avoid rush hours, and I can generally work from home 2-3 days a week. Overall, I'm glad I made the change.

Anonymous said...

In my first academic job, I worked on an urban campus that was lovely in and of itself, but was in a very bad part of town. By necessity, I lived ~20 miles from campus, which resulted in in a 45-60 min commute each way every day. I loved my campus and colleagues, but when my first child was born, the situation became untenable. That 2 hours spent commuting was 2 hours less time with my baby. And I could imagine several reasonable scenarios that would put our campus in lockdown and leave me unable to get home. In the event of a natural disaster, if roads were passable by foot but not by car or public transit, I would not have been able to get home because there were several neighborhoods so bad I would not dare to walk through them between campus and home. My husband also commuted a significant distance to work, and there was the possibility of neither of us being able to get home for the child. Although I loved my job and loved my neighborhood, I couldn't live with the "details" of the situation.

I found another position in a smaller city where there really aren't any neighborhoods that are so bad I would be in imminent danger walking alone. When we moved, we made a point of staying within 2 miles of both my office and my husband's office. Now we can walk, bike, take the bus or drive to work easily. Our lab had a safety meeting last week and we discussed the need for keeping a small supply of food and water on hand in case of an emergency, but really, we could all just walk to my house if we needed to. The peace of mind this brings is significant.

Barefoot Doctoral said...

My partner and I have debates as to how close to campus to live. He would like to live close enough that he can pop into campus at a moments' notice, and I want to live somewhere that will help me resist that urge. Also, I find that close to campus communities are not particularly diverse, though they have better selections of coffee shops, theaters, etc. Even moving a few miles from campus lets me live with people from a different economic class and often race than my colleagues. I exchange coffee shops for families with kids.

Anonymous said...

Are the cats with you in Temporary House? If not, might this contribute to your well-being (or lack thereof)? If they *are* with you, then the most important piece of data is: which place do the cats prefer??

Roeslein said...

I live 25 minutes walking from work, 5 min by public transport. We don't own a car (going car-free has proven to be the best decision I've ever made, and I suspect the ridiculous amounts of money many people spend on commuting and car costs would be enough to afford an apartment closer to their job, but I disgress.) It's perfect: it's close enough to walk, but outside of the student ghetto (hallelujah!), and closer to the city center so we can walk there, too. And it's got every imaginable form of public transportation.

Anonymous said...

I live in a diverse near-campus area that has lots of families with kids, lots of students, lots of old people, lots of other diversity, AND COFFEE SHOPS!!! It is perfect (for me), except that when a student-oriented apartment building went up at the end of my street, suddenly there was vomit on the sidewalk most weekends. But everything else is great.

Principle Investigator said...

The only times I have not lived within walking or <5 min drive of campus was in my grad school years, when we were simply priced out of the local housing market. Although I now live in the middle of nowhere, I am compensated by a faculty salary high enough to live in a lovely house in a safe neighborhood with a 15 min walk to campus or downtown if the weather is decent.

For me it's a no-brainer: I loathe commuting, and laboratory work is vastly facilitated by the ability to drop in for just a few minutes in the evening to set things up for the following day. Sometimes I'll go a whole week without using the car (although that recently backfired on me when I accidentally left the map light on and drained the battery ;)).

Rosie Redfield said...

I love my lively inner-city neighborhood and my half-hour bike commute to campus.

Anonymous said...

We are about 5 miles and ~15 min in a drive. We specifically kept a short commute in mind when faculty job hunting. My husband had to commute at odd hours in grad school to avoid LA traffic jams and we didn't want to do that again. If I could house hunt all over again here, I'd move a bit closer in but if you get too close to campus, you have problems with drunken students and football games can leave you completely unable to drive. All in all, I'm happy where we are.

Anonymous said...

NEAR. I can go weeks without driving faster than 35 mph, and "traffic" means there are more than 3 people at the one stop light I must pass, or lots of students at a crosswalk. It is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

You are lucky you can live close to campus. My university is one of the largest in the US, and you need to go pretty far to avoid the constant chaos of undergraduate life. We have warm weather all year round, so undergrads party non-stop.
I would love to be close enough to come to my office to do something at night, but to keep my sanity I need to be at least 5 miles away. Around campus is in fact much cheaper, but it is like a gigantic undergrad dorm that never sleeps...

Anonymous said...

Most of the housing near my campus is very "student ghetto" or too expensive. By living further out, my spouse and I were able to rent a nice little house in a fun neighborhood. So, I live 4.5 miles from campus, it's all downhill on the way there and takes about 30 min by bike.

Because it took me 45min-1hr and 2-3 trains to travel the 7 miles to my last lab in a big-ass city, this feels very close and convenient. So, it's all relative.

Anonymous said...

I prefer close, but not too close. 2-4 miles is nice. Near a reasonable bike route to the U and near a bus stop to the U for use during hostile weather.

Ann said...

I love a walking/biking commute, and have always chosen to live walking/baking distance. Driving commutes are hell. I now live a perfect live 2.5 miles from campus, far enough away to give me a decent walk.

Anonymous said...

Small college town. Pretty much everything is close to campus. In the sense that you'd really have to try to have more than a 15 minute commute. I live both a walkable distance from campus and on the edge of the city (near the mini-malls). The only other options in our price range would include high proximity to students. We enjoy the quiet.

Since 18 yrs old the furthest I've lived is maybe 2 miles from campus.

Cherish said...

It really depends on what 'near campus' is like. In a big city, no way. Too much crime, traffic, noise, students milling about. When living in a big city (last time around), I lived in one place that was surrounded by parks and the other place was very close to my son's school so he could walk home. I preferred the first place because it was so un-city like, but the commute was no fun and my son had to take the buses to get home. And I never wanted to be on campus at night by myself, anyway.

Where I am now, I'm in a fully residential neighborhood less than ten minutes from campus, and it's perfect. It's a drive if I want to find a decent coffee shop, but going into work isn't a problem.

GMP said...

Away from campus. I have a short commute (~15 min) and would not like to live closer to campus. The houses close to campus (and the downtown) are small, old, with virtually no yard or no garage, and cost a fortune. I am 15 min out and could afford a much bigger house, in a neighborhood that's not nearly as cramped.
Besides, I absolutely love driving, so I don't consider any commute under 30 min to be a problem at all. Yeah, there's the price of gas, but I feel that's offset by my considerably lower mortgage and the joy I get from driving.

Anonymous said...

Big city.
As a student and postdoc I lived 200 yrds from campus.
As a Faculty member, I live by choice a 20-25 minute drive (a few miles) from campus (and I guess really 5 minutes from the nearest coffee-shop) but 30 secs from a dairy farm (that delivers fresh milk from its own cows - nice :-) ) and wide open spaces, hills, wildlife, - the wild open spaces are a win!!


Close to campus = yes, bars'n'coffee shops , but for the same purchase price:
close = an (admittedly very nice) apartment but with no garden/anonymous neighbors

20 mins = a nice house in a good area/a garden/kids in the street with bikes/neighbors I actually know who pick up my mail when I'm traveling and loan me power tools when I need them :-)

I -love love love- my research but For an extra 15-20 minutes each way on commute it is -definitely- worth it.

There are quite a lot of Faculty in my neighborhood who have made the same trade-off.

Anonymous said...

With very few exceptions, such as two body problems, research repeatedly has shown that commuting over 25 minutes each way cannot be justified in economic terms, living conditions or stress.

Yet most people do it, because that's what everyone else does, so how could it be wrong?

Anonymous said...

I live off campus due to a two-body issue. Public transit here is great and I read or work in the subway. In the Summer I bike.

What I do notice though is that _not_ living close to campus gives me a perspective on how "normal" people live that many academics just do not have. Its a very useful thing for a person in an applied technology field.

Anonymous said...

I live 20 miles from campus, because it's the best solution to my 2-body problem. Our jobs are 50 miles apart. However, I find that being in academia + having kids is hard enough without adding a 45 minute drive each way to work. We've lived this way for a few years, and it's HARD. So, when I was choosing between faculty jobs a few months ago, one significant factor was the fact that at one place, there is a place we'd love to live 5 minutes from campus, and at the other place, we would have ended up living further away (for financial reasons). I wouldn't use that as my main criterion in deciding between jobs, but when choosing between two otherwise good options, it was definitely something we kept in mind!

Anonymous said...

I wish I could find the article but I remember reading about a study into factors in personal happiness, which found that the top two by far are 1) commute time and 2) percentage of time one has dinner alone (I don't remember the order). Apparently this is much more important (once basic needs are met) than money, friends, family, etc.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could live closer to campus but in the last two places I've been that would increase my rent by 25-40% - not something I'm able to do with the salaries I've had. Here I am about 15minutes by car - not bad but not walkable. Sure we could cut back in other ways but truthfully live close to the bone as it is - I've decided being able to eat a diet that includes produce isn't a luxury. The problem in both places is that salaries have not kept pace with housing price (and associated rental price) increases. Talking with other faculty in my dept I hear similar issues - some people have managed to buy housing close to campus but it's amazing how much familial money makes a difference in that. If you don't have a high earning spouse or money from mom and dad (for faculty!) you're likely to rent around where I am and it's cheaper to do that further from campus. Renting is already flushing money down a hole - I don't want to send more of it down there than necessary. It makes me worry that pursuing a faculty career is something you either do making huge financial sacrifices or if you come from money. Probably not true everywhere but on the coasts it looks that way - at least from where I am now.

Anonymous said...

I always lived walking distance campus. But in order to get a real live faculty tenure track job, I took a job in the suburbs. So I live in the city, 25 miles away, and reverse commute by car to the suburban campus. Not ideal. But I love where I live, and I love my job, even if I wouldn't want to live where it is.

Anonymous said...

For most couples, once they joint optimize for his commute, her commute, decent K-12 schools, housing and neighborhood quality, availability, and affordability, I don't think they necessarily explicitly choose near or far from campus.

I think it's more a matter of choice for folks without a spouse/kids (mostly grad students and some postdocs) or 2-body couples.

So I don't think question makes much sense in the general case...

Anonymous said...

I live near campus and bike to school every day. Pretty privileged lifestyle in my view.

Old Biddy said...

I prefer to be near my work. I lived on campus as an undergrad and grad student, 2 miles away on a bus line as a post doc, and about 3 miles away in my industrial job.
For a variety of reasons (namely price but there were other factors involved too) I'm now about 6 miles from campus. There's never much traffic, so it takes 10 minutes. I can't park near my department, so the walk adds another 15 each way. At the moment my headache is not the commute, or the walk per se, but the inconvenience of not having my car easily accessible.

Anonymous said...

Close but not too close. I am a 15 min drive or 20-25 min bike ride away or 30-35 min bus ride. All are fine, but commuting is fun because I most often ride a motorcycle. Any closer and I would miss my ride to work.

Anonymous said...

Not too close, not too far, but just right. You present easy access to the office in the evening only as a positive. For me inserting a little (physical and emotional) distance between myself and the office is extremely good for my overall well-being and the sustainability of my career and my family. To me, the most compelling reason you give for living close is the ability to easily live as a 1 car family. The ideal for me is a 30 minute bike ride with the option for an equivalent time commute on public transit. The transition time, when not spent frustrated in traffic, can be a great time to squeeze exercise and thoughtful reflection into a busy schedule. I had this as a grad student. Now I live a 10 minute walk from campus and, while convenient in some ways, I would like to be farther away.