Thursday, June 4, 2009

Blog XIV (14): The Life You Live

Many people who are interested in pursuing academic careers have refined tastes. They like museums rather than television, enjoy artistic films or plays more than the commercial blockbuster, appreciate fine cuisine but not chain restaurants, and like to spend time at coffee houses rather than a sports bar. In short, they want to live an urban rather than a rural life. When I was in grad school, I used to joke with my friends about having no intention of going to a small town in the undeveloped region of some small state. The fact of the matter, though, is that most colleges and universities in the United States are located in small cities and towns. Most of these places are Podunk; some are not, but most are.

Now, the size and type of a place you live raises a number of issues about the quality of life that you and your family are going to live. How far will you be from your family and friends? How easy is it for you to visit family members that live in other parts of the country? What type of social opportunities will you have? How good are the schools that your children will be attending? Will they have the same type of opportunities you had? And so on and so on.

Now, there are two different responses to facing limited social opportunities and a poor quality of life. The first is: you need to make sacrifices for your career and that a bad job is better than no job at all. It is also easier to get a better position when you are already employed. In short, the rich get richer.

The other response is: life is short. You never get to make up time. A job is important, but what good is it if it makes you unhappy? Being miserable is no way to go through life.

I am not entirely sure which is the correct response. I spent six and a half years in a small town in East Texas. It took longer to leave than I expected or—and this next point is important—wanted. I believe I could have used those years in better fashion as far as my social life was concerned. With that point made, I got a lot done that laid the foundation for a career that is going well now and moving forward. I am just not sure it was worth the price I paid. Issues such as these will be important ones for you in grad school and in the immediate years afterwards, and you are the only one that can decide which route is best for you. I wish I could offer something more solid as a recommendation, but what I am trying to do is alert you to this issue.

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