August 15, 2009

Celebrating Ten Years as an Academic

Today, I am celebrating ten years of life as an academic. I began graduate school in Sociology in August 1999. I was 25 years old, and had had a heck of a life. I grew up in Washington, DC, and began to travel the world in my early twenties. When I began grad school, I had spent nearly a year living in each of several European countries – England, France, and Portugal – and had traveled for lengthy period of time to Africa and South America. Notwithstanding my fabulous life before beginning graduate school, I have to say it has been a pretty good ten years.

By the end of this year, I will have spent more than three years living abroad since I began grad school. I also spent eight months in DC, mostly caring for my newborn twins, a year in Chicago, and have continued to travel to Latin America on a regular basis.

The job of an academic consists primarily of three parts – research, teaching, and service. I have spent about half of my time as an academic exclusively focused on research, and have had to juggle the three of those responsibilities for the rest of the time.

I spent a year in Peru doing dissertation research, in addition to two three month visits before going down there for the year-long stay. I spent the first two summers after I began my job in Kansas in 2005 in Peru. I spent my third year on the tenure track in Chicago, doing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This year, I will be abroad doing research the entire year.

My 25 years before becoming an academic were fun, full of travel, and exciting. These past ten years have been that way as well, in addition to being fulfilling. That said, sometimes I think that my experience as an academic has been unique, and that it may not be this way forever.

During the six years it took me to complete graduate school, I spent nearly every summer in South America, with funding from the university or some other source. When my twins were born, I took eight months off, and was able to ease back into the program the next semester. Once I finished grad school, I spent the summer in DC before moving to Kansas. Since taking my job at the University of Kansas, I have had funding each summer to go somewhere other than Kansas. In addition, I had a postdoctoral year in Chicago. And, now, I am on a Fulbright-Hays fellowship, which, again, takes me away from Kansas and some of my responsibilities there.

It has been great, but I probably will not get to spend the rest of my career alternating between the US and research abroad. Well, maybe I will. But, the odds are that I will spend the majority of my time engaging in research, teaching, and service, and not just research.

In any case, I hope the next ten years are as fun and as fulfilling as the last ten have been.

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