I have a good friend who is a much better human being than I am. She is generous, with her time and her affection, her intellect and her street smarts about life. Let’s call her Susan.
Susan did a PhD in a prestigious place, and a postdoc even more so. But not in a particular sexy and shiny subfield. It involved Live Animals that were not mice or rats, but answered questions that crossed fields. She managed to get the respect of both places, and was funded by both subdiscplines, but much more NSF than NIH. She is respected and has done good work. She got married to another scientist, had kids, and made a bunch of compromises. She’s in her mid 50s now and what’s important, was a woman at a time and in a place where there weren’t many. She was an adjunct before the word and concept had evolved.
In fact, she’s been an adjunct for 20-ish years. And she’s just tired of it. She’s retiring, which as she tells it, is a bit fiscally risky. But she’s tired. She has had 5 year contracts, which while more than many of the current adjuncts in social sciences or humanities get, but its taken a toll. She’s been funded, which has been life and death for her.
I can’t say that I think much of her husband, but then no one has asked me to think much of him, let alone my opinion. She’s a better scientist. Her kids are more or less launched in life. She can point to a body of work that is good, and important, and made a difference. He’s still a jerk, in my book. He has set down some rules about where they might go. I am pretty sure these are not consistent with what Susan might want. But again, no one is asking me my opinion.
What amazes me is that she doesn’t know what comes next for her. I’m actively thinking about retirement, but one of the things that keeps pulling at me is that there is nothing I love as much as I love doing science. She and I had a long skype the other day, and I wish I had taken notes. We are different, but she still had much insight for me. There was lots of wisdom floating in the air. And I, alas, did not capture it.
Susan is leaping off into space. Yes, it is a leap that has a good safety net. She’s not going to starve. She’s not going to be on the street, sleeping in a sleeping bag under the underpass. But she doesn't know what else comes next. And maybe you could fault her for "running from" as opposed to "running to". Yet, I admire her. To know what you want, and what you don't want, really know, is a high achievement.