Like everyone else in the blogosphere, I feel the need to weigh in on Anne-Marie Slaughter's article on women in the workforce and women in leadership. I'm exactly her subject matter: a female in her early thirties trying to figure out work, family, ambition, and what to do with her PhD.
She mentions that academia made it possible for her to do it all for a long time because of its flexible schedule. I agree, if you can live near your work. When I've lived near my academic job I've enjoyed a lot of freedom and flexibility: I can work really hard and still get a haircut, get groceries, go to the dentist, etc. I've also lived far from my academic job in order to deal with a two-body problem + a mortgage. When I'm commuting a substantial distance, living at home rather than coming home only on weekends, and teaching classes in the morning and attending required committee or department meetings in the late afternoon, I too have felt the stress. Hate it. I hate leaving home by 7 am and coming home at 8 pm. If I have to do it again I will quit -- I learned a lot about work-life balance!
And travel is rough. This summer I am spending five weeks on the road. Sure, it's a choice, and one I've looked at closely. (I believe in making conscious choices to the extent that's possible.) I have considered canceling some of those weeks on the road -- but the conferences seem essential to the progress of my career, if I want to have a career, and the family time seems essential if I want to maintain family connections. On the other hand, time at home with my nuclear family seems pretty important too! I want to see friends and go to cool city events and do a triathlon and weed the garden... when is that going to happen?
I am very fortunate: I get to do work that I find interesting and meaningful while being financially supported for travel to interesting locations. Many people I know find the life, from the outside, almost glamorous (crazy to say about a mathematician's life). On the inside, I don't know. What price am I paying in trying to climb this ladder that in the end seems to have little sawed-off rungs every few steps? It's not like I've got a steady job to rely on...