It took a while, but I finally no longer feel like an imposter. My postdoc is going well. I’m confident, I know what I’m doing and I’m loving it. But the project is coming to an end and I have to think about the next steps. I’ve been in my current institute for nearly nine years, a mind-bogglingly long time in Early Career Researcher world, so a new job likely means a new institution. Quite possibly in another country, given the tight job market. Career-wise, I really like the idea of moving around the world for a few more years, work in different labs and do cool research with cool people.
Life-wise, I want to settle down, buy a house, and figure out if I want kids.
I’ll be 33 this year. After the age of 35 a woman’s chances to get pregnant decrease rapidly. These next few years, that career-wise are best spent hopping across continents, are also my last chance to have a family.
That is, if I want kids at all. Which right now I really don’t know. I’ve always liked kids but never thought of myself as a mum. The time constraints are making this topic an increasing source of stress but I’m no closer to an answer. So what do I do with my job? Rule out major career options in favour of life question that I’ve not figured out yet? Or just go ahead with the postdoc route, likely involving some long-distance relationships with my partner and hope that life will sort itself out eventually? If I went with option 2 and changed my mind, I could always quit the post early to move back to my partner and try and start a family. But it won’t look great on my cv to walk away from a fellowship half-way through. In the hyper-competitive academic world, the tiniest drawbacks can cost you grants and job interviews.
Alternatively, my partner and I could both move. He’s super kind and supportive and would be up for it if I asked. But it would mean dragging him away from his job and life here for a temporary stay abroad. Plus, moving country is hard. It’s enriching, exhilarating and fantastic, but also terrifying, draining and lonely. If that’s how I felt moving for a job I loved, moving country for no reason other than that your partner is going will be even harder. What it would be like while at the same time trying to start a family, I don’t even want to know.
Early-career researchers hoping to balance work and life have to jump through nearly impossible hoops. I’m fully sympathetic to anyone, with women being statistically more likely, ending up leaving academia for this reason. There just aren’t any good solutions. All we can do is figure out which one is the least bad for us.