The costs of relocating for science

Photo by Justin Anderson on

There is one thing no one will tell you and prepare you for while you are a student with passion for working in the STEM field or the wish to become a scientist. I am not talking about the unspoken expectations for constant work and achievements (‘publish or perish’) but about the other costs that come along with the life as a scientist. The requirements for constant mobility (“for the big grants, you need to have been abroad!”), for leaving behind family and friends and for starting a life from scratch every few years. This life will stop eventually if you are among the lucky (?) small percentage, who ends up with a long-term faculty job and succeeded to become a professor somewhere down the line.

I did my MSc degree at a different university compard to my PhD and compared to my first Postdoc. And guess what, my next employment will be with another institute again (box packing in progress…). I am obsessed with science and thank God, I could not imagine staying in a place longer than a few years because there are so many great places to live and work. I would feel caged being in one location for too long.

My life is so much different from the one of my peers. They start to settle, to build houses and families. I started to minimalize my household effects and was even wondering if it’s really worth to unpack the boxes every time after a move. They go to weddings and baby partys, I sit at home and work on my manuscripts or grant proposal. For sure, this is societally not very well accepted, especially for a woman, but this is a different story I could actually write a whole book about.

Of course, I meet friends in a new place but I would never let the connection deepen in a way that I would get emotionally stuck and couldn’t move on to new exciting science challenges. Not sure what this will do to my mental health in the future. Right now I feel good having few close and lots of long distance (skype/phone/email) relationships with my loved ones. It might be attributable to my introverted nature but I can easily exist without anyone close for a long time (I actually enjoy the loneliness of the current quarantine so much!), and I wouldn’t mind to get stuck in remote places such as Antarctica or the moon for a while. As long as I can do science, I am fine.

Since I apparently have the right personality type for short-term contracts and minimized lifestyle with strong affinity for adventures and travelling, most people actually do not. Some of my friends, also scientists, are unemployed for several years because they can’t find jobs in their regions and don’t want to establish long-distance relationships. They search for a secure job that doesn’t bother them in their spare time and want to start a family, best in the place where they got their doctorate. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is that no one told them that this rarely works out in academia. Of course, everyone finds it out at some stage, and I am sure this is one of the many difficult reasons why many people leave academia sooner or later. I just wonder if it would be useful to talk about the challenges and ‘costs’ that the life of a scientist brings along, for instance during lectures at university. Just so that everyone can prepare for this and plan careers in a certain direction much earlier preventing lots of disillusions and frustrations. My two cents worth…

Photo by mentatdgt on

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