Monday, February 20, 2012

Pep Talk

A friend of mine from before Epsilon's birth is visiting the department. It was nice to get a chance to catch up with him. Last I saw him, he was finishing up his post doc. He and his wife were moving back to their native country with their then 5 year old.

His wife now has tenure (HUZZAH!!), his kid is well adjusted in his new school, and he is happily in a tenure track position. He gave me a pep talk about our 2-body problem (as does anyone who hasn't seen me in a while). Apparently he didn't believe that his family would be able to settle back in their native country as they have done. In fact, he was betting against it. He now owes his wife a "vacation"/year abroad during their next sabbatical in a country where she has lots of academic connections, and he has none. I'm insanely happy for them, and very jealous, but surprisingly, I also feel for him.

When he came to this country for a post doc, his wife spent a year living with her parents, working at her university, raising their kid. They applied to every possible fellowship they could think of so that she could come to this country on a work visa and continue her research. They didn't get any before he had to come abroad, so they spent a year apart. The second year, they decided that they would take out loans to put their kid into a preschool if need be, but the family would be together, and she would have the time during the day to do her research. Fortunately, she was awarded a fellowship that made life a lot easier.

I didn't know the details of their 2-body problem before Epsilon was born. I don't know that I would have appreciated the nuances of it then. But his message to me now was clear: In this field, unless one is clearly in the top few percentile, a major part of success is tenacity. That goes for a 2-body problem as well. An inability to consider the possibility that someone will give up their career, a lot of patience and courage, and some ability to think outside the box for short term solutions will go a long way towards resolving the problem.

This is viewing the situation through uncharacteristically rose tinted glasses for me, but it was a good pep-talk.


  1. Actually, even if one is in the top percentile, a lot of it is still tenacity. The ones who end up with a research career are the really, really tenacious ones, not necessarily the smartest ones.

  2. Kudos to your friends! Stories like this give strength to those of us who are still searching for the solution!

  3. I'm glad it helps. That was my goal in writing about this.