Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tough choices are the other side of flexibility

Before the baby is born I have one more trip in me. I'd prefer to not face the choice, but it's one of those things were I feel like I need to go.

Amy will finish week 37 right about the time I have to do a conference in St. Louis. Technically I don't have to go, but as with most things it's never that easy. I had a teaching panel accepted, was put on another panel to talk about research, and I had a research paper accepted.

Those are things that matter to folks like me, who are on tenure track. For those of you who don't know much about my world, my first six years are spent chasing tenure. I have to prove that I'm worth keeping around as a teacher and a researcher, among other things. I'm doing fine on teaching. Research is a tougher nut to crack in some ways. Publishing is part of it, but there also is an external review process where folks outside Lehigh judge your packet as a whole.

That means networking which, by the way, I suck at. It's a long story, but I am not the type to bound up to someone at an academic conference and introduce myself.

"HI I'M JEREMY AND THIS IS MY KLOUT SCORE" and so forth ....

Anyhow, these networking moments are big for me. Now it's true that one weekend of networking doesn't compare to the baby's birth, but we have a lot riding on me getting tenure here. It's sort of the cornerstone of our plan here. So I have a job to do, not just for my wife but on behalf of our baby.

If the baby were due that week, it's an easy choice. But in this case the due date is a few weeks away while I'm gone. The prospect of the kid coming early has been big reason for pause. It could happen. It probably won't but it could.

I've been uneasy about this choice. Fortunately it's going to be a bit easier, as we've confirmed that my mother-in-law will be here to spend some time before the baby is born. It's good to know my wife will have some help right there if she needs it. In the meantime I've mapped out a contingency plan should I need to get home quickly. I know what my flight options are. I have an escape route. Cost will not be a factor.

The good thing is I've told by folks in my department that I don't need to go. They've been good to me; the pressure is mostly internal. I've gotten a few wince-looks from folks who know I am going. They don't get my choice. I'll grant them the ability to judge, but they have to see that things about academic life that are family friendly also force tough choices. I have more flexibility to make my own schedule and spend time with our child, something that's harder for a parent with a rigid schedule. I have more financial flexibility. I can work from home. These are all good things, but with that comes the occasional hard choice.

There's no way I'm going to whine about a few hard choices when I know what a blessing the academic schedule can be for me in terms of family life. People don't see that a few moments of bad come with a lot of good. I don't begrudge them for not seeing it or for judging accordingly. But there's a bigger picture here, and I'll gladly do what I need to do in these few moments in order to get the overall benefit.

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Post #34 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on my professional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

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