The One-Body Problem: When You’re Both Alt and Ac – Part I (Cardozo)

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

No doubt you’ve heard of the two-body problem, which folks struggle to reframe as a two-body opportunity.  This comes up frequently in Alt/Post-Ac conversations, since relocating for (or having relocation prevented by) a partner’s job is why many PhDs end up exploring alternative careers.

In so doing, however, you are likely to experience the inverse twist:  if the dual-career couple has the problem of two bodies but only one job, those of you at the Ac or Alt crossroads face the problem of how to handle two job markets with only one body!  Whereas the speaker standing at the fork in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” laments that he “could not travel both / And be one traveler,” chances are many of you will end up exploring both Ac and Alt job markets simultaneously at some point.

Those of you who have already had Ac/Post-Ac experience prior to or during graduate school may be genuinely torn about which path to take, so a comparative search can be clarifying.  Others – the academic market being what it is – may decide to explore both markets to maximize your options. This multiplicity raises many logistical, psychological and technical questions (not least: can I clone myself?).

At these crossroads, my Alt/Post-Ac clients seem to fall into three general groups:

  1.       Those for whom an academic job remains a clear preference and viable choice (the road most taken).  It’s what you really want, and you’re in that finishing or post-doc window where it still seems reasonable to try. There’s evidence that you will do well on the market (encouraging statistics in your field, unwavering support from recommenders, an impressive CV, etc.).  So you might seek a preliminary consultation to learn about Alt/Post-Ac options, but you’ll focus on the academic search.
  2.       Those who suspect they won’t land an academic job or are no longer willing to adjunct (poised at the fork).  You may hit the academic search for another year or two but are now committed to also conducting an assertive Alt/Post search.  Your situation breeds the most logistical and psychological challenges because it requires an overlapping commitment to BOTH paths.
  3.       Those (from grad students to tenured faculty) who are actively pursuing Alt/Post-Ac options (the road less traveled) – not as Plan B, but out of the conviction that their right life lies elsewhere.  This group can go whole hog on the Alt/Post-Ac search, a full-fledged commitment which is often both efficient and freeing.  As with all searches, networking will be key to the career transition process.

So, what happens when you find yourself on both Ac and Alt paths at once?  How do you develop multiple job market personalities without going Sibyl [fair warning; the Sibyl backstory is fascinating and will lead you to procrastinate on your applications!].   Seriously, shuttling between different contexts and conventions CAN be disorienting.  You will need a flexible attitude.

The healthiest way to approach the One Body Problem is through a sense of performance and play (otherwise you may end up dissociating like the aforementioned Sibyl, which is no fun). Think of yourself as an actor auditioning for two different parts.  Pursuing both Ac and Alt options simultaneously means you must enact different personas, genres and rhetorical rules.  So loosen up the reins on that coherent identity, put on your Trickster hat, and get ready for some code-switching, folks!

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


The One-Body Problem: When You’re Both Alt and Ac – Part I (Cardozo) — 4 Comments

  1. Pingback: The One Body Problem When You’re Both Alt and Ac (Part 2 of 3)-Cardozo | The Professor Is In

  2. A great post, Karen! Can you say a little more about ways of managing these different roles psychologically and mentally? How to switch between roles quickly and without lag time? How to switch on the right persona at the right time, without letting the ‘other’ persona seep in or otherwise get in the way?

    • S.R. – this is such a great (and tough!) series of questions, they are worthy of their own blog. Which, in fact, I have just written! So thank you and stay tuned…

  3. Pingback: The two body problem (a bunch of articles I read today) | Matters Mathematical

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