How do you pack your life in one bag? Gina Maffey continues to look at the challenges and opportunities faced by an academic couple moving abroad.
Contributor Gina Maffey
I sat staring at the two cases on the floor. This was like a complicated game of Tetris. Weeks of lists had culminated in scattered piles around the cases – there was a pile of ‘definites’, a pile of ‘maybes’ and a pile of ‘just-in-cases’. I willed the strewn items to slot into place. Packing becomes more difficult when you try to put a sense of normality into your case.
Clutching a cup of tea, my gaze shifted from the chaos on the floor to a flurry of movement outside the window. A long-tailed tit family was fighting off intruders to their bird feeder, scattering seeds over the snowdrops below. The first snowdrops of the year – a promise of spring, a promise of warmer, longer days, a promise of change.
Is change necessarily a good thing though?
It was a question that had been bouncing round my head for the past few weeks. The culmination of a series of ‘what ifs’ that sat in the pit of my stomach, or woke me like an alarm call at three in the morning. At times I couldn’t tell if I was being rational or ridiculous.
It had always been this way. Right through university. That nagging voice at the back of the mind, second-guessing whether you’ve done the right thing for your career – planting a small seed of doubt that was sometimes difficult to ignore.
It’s something you’re never really prepared for in academia. You realise early on that actually there’s not the well-trodden path into research that appears so clear from the outside. It’s a series of decisions to pursue funding, positions, contracts… Every one an opportunity to doubt, debate and decide.
The decision to move to Brazil was the conclusion of a similar process of deliberation. And, like any good academic paper we had strengthened our conclusion, justified it, laid out the reasoning for how we could really arrive at no other result.
Except, I found that my reasoning actually fluctuated when tested. During our preparations to leave I was frequently posed the question of “so, what are you going to do when you’re there?”
My answers adjusted to the tone the question was posed in. Occasionally I was defensive: “I am not following my husband, I am going with him.” Most of the time I was light-hearted: “Oh, you know, sit in the pool all day sharing caipirinhas with our pet capybara.” And sometimes, sometimes I just gave up: “I don’t know, but I’m sure I’ll find something.”
When you live and work together the lines between formal and informal relationships are not just blurred, they are almost non-existent. It makes it extremely difficult in research to decide who pursues what, and to discuss the impact the decision will have on the other. My husband and I have tried to be innovative; in the past we have together interviewed for the same academic position – arguing the strengths of having both of us on board job-sharing. But such propositions often resulted in us returning to a similar question:
Maybe one of us should leave academia?
Well, we’re not prepared for that just yet. We’ll keep trying to forge some kind of path through the funding, tenure, post-doc minefield for the moment. This, ultimately, was part of our reasoning for going to Brazil: if we’re going to remain on these career trajectories then let’s see what influence another country has on our work-life balance. Let’s see whether a different culture and climate can afford opportunities that might not be available on home turf. Let’s see what change brings.
And, with this resolution in mind, I returned to the cases and pushed the final Tetris piece into place.
Dr Gina Maffey is an environmental researcher interested in how individuals communicate ideas and values on the natural world. Currently this interest is focused on the use of digital applications and their impact on human-nature relationships. She’s writing about her adventures from Scotland to Brazil, the first part of which, Making the decision (twice), came out earlier this month. She can be found on twitter @ginazoo.