The Complex Nomad Life

by singlemompostdoc

One of the many challenges with being a postdoc is the lack of job security. We are basically contract workers, working here for 2 years or there for two years, depending on how much funding a PI has and when we finally land that coveted TT position. My first postdoc ended for two reasons: (1) my PI lost funding and (2) I was offered a one-year teaching position at the same University where my fiancée is employed. After that year, I moved to a different country to start postdoc #2. For those of you who have done this, you know the constant moving is tough. For those of you who do it with kids, you know it can be even harder.  

One of my biggest obstacles  is trying to establish a support network every time I move. For both postdocs, I moved to places where I knew virtually no one. It may not seem that like big of a deal but imagine that you have only been in your new city for about a month. You are working one day when you get a sudden, splitting headache. Your vision goes crazy. You’ve had migraines your whole life but this one is different. The pattern is off and you are a bit scared. You call a doctor and they tell you to go to the emergency room. It is 3pm and your child gets out of daycare in two hours. What do you do?  Who do you call? You don’t know anyone. Luckily, for me I knew one person who lived not far outside the city.  I called her and she came and picked up the little man. She sat with him until I came home from the emergency room in a cab at around 12am. My fiancée flew up the next day to stay with us during my 4-day hospital stay. I don’t know what I would have done had she not been there. As time went by, I became relatively good friends with the other female postdocs in the lab. I can say that by the time I left I would have felt very comfortable asking them for help if I needed it. But that is the problem with being a single mom, nomad postdoc. By the time you get comfortable with those around you, it is time to move on.

So, here I am again. I’m in a new place, trying to establish relationships but it seems harder this time around. In my old lab the other postdocs were my age and we had a lot in common. They knew that I couldn’t really “hang out” after work, so once a month, on Friday at 3:00, they would come grab me and say, “We are going to have a beer before you leave to pick up the little man.”  It was nice. I felt like they cared. In my new position most of my co-workers are grad students and much younger. We have less in common and everyone tends to do his or her own thing. I’ve tried talking to some of the other postdocs but many keep to themselves. Also, many of the postdoc socials happen later in the day, which is impossible when you are a single parent. So, to be honest, I’m stumbling a bit when it comes to fitting in and making friends with whom I could feel comfortable asking for help. I’m sure it will happen eventually. If it doesn’t at least I know my time here is only temporary. Until then, I’ll keep trying and hope there are no emergency room trips in my future.