A glimpse of my alternate future

Life is like a series of pathways. At various intersections you choose your path. Sometimes the choice is easy and obvious, sometimes not so much. Spacemom wrote an interesting post a while back about a pivotal choice in her life. Today I got the opportunity to glimpse a view of what my life might have been like had I chosen differently when I made my own pivotal choice.

I did my graduate work with a startup pharmaceutical company and was certain that my future lay in the Industry as a researcher. Then I did my post-doc in an academic lab and fell in love with academia. I had a great supervisor, was in a great lab, and was doing very well. My future looked very very bright.

But then I had children, and I didn’t want to leave them to someone else to raise while I persued what would certainly be an extremely time-consuming and demanding career. When DD was 15 months old, I went back to my post-doc lab for one year to see how I liked being a working mum. While there were definitely alot of benefits (frankly, I found it easier than staying home) and I enjoyed my work, when I got PG with my son I knew that my heart just wasn’t in it (the job). I don’t know exactly when it was that I realized I was likely never going to go back into research, but at some point after my son was born, I had chosen that path.

I am proud of how I’ve managed to make work for myself and still be with my kids full-time. I enjoy teaching, though it’s the connections I make and maintain there that are the biggest plus to the job. I love my business, and the fact that I am the boss and make all the decisions. I figure it is the best of both worlds, and I consider myself lucky.

Well, today I went to the university to hear a lecture by a guy who was doing graduate work in my department at the same time as I was. In fact, we shared an office. He had a lovely girlfriend, and married her shortly before getting his PhD (a couple months before I got mine). Last I heard he was doing a post-doc in Sweden. He is now Clinical Director of a major pharmaceutical company in the US and talked about clinical drug development and what he does. I admit that I found his job to be really interesting, and it sounded very enjoyable. I confess that laboratory work was rather monotonous for me, and honestly you can train a monkey to do these techniques, even the more complex surgical ones. It’s the data interpretation, project direction and leadership, etc. that is really where the real science comes in. I always assumed that I would move out of the lab as soon as possible and into a more directorial postion, such as this fellow has obtained.

As I listened to him talk, I felt that what I was seeing was myself if I had chosen the career path. Like one of those Star Trek episodes where they go through some disturbance in the space-time fabric and end up on a different TimeLine, I felt like this represented an alternate pathway for me. He talked about attending conferences, and I confess this is what I loved and miss the most about life in research. Conferences were fun, not so much for the talks but because you got to see other people that you’d only read about before, and see them again and again in different places around the world, and after a while they greet you by name…It felt like being a part of something bigger than it seemed when working in your little lab. I enjoyed them, and the travel opportunities they brought.

As I drove home I thought about what life would be like if I were in research. First, I would not really get to choose where I live. My colleague that spoke today has been in Sweden (pretty cool when you are young, newly married and without kids), then Delaware and now New Jersey. I would be far from home and family, something I came to really appreciate when I had my kids. And some of the best research takes place in cities that are not much fun to live in (like say, oh…Cleveland for example!).

And of course, I would not get to see my children very much. I would squeeze in time in the early mornings and late in the evenings and then try to make up for it on weekends. I would travel alot, mostly without them. There would be deadlines and projects that would come ahead of my children in priority (or risk losing my job). And of course it also occurred to me, as it does fairly often, that if my children were in school I would have this huge block of time each week that I could fill with my own persuits, be they career or otherwise. I know many parents, even SAHM’s, look forward to this “reward” when the kids are all finally in school and they can get back to their own lives. But I know that homelearning is the absolute best path for us, and I just can’t do otherwise even at the perceived expense of my “freedom” (* see note below)

But this time with them has already gone by so fast, and is so vitally important to shaping who they are. Without passing judgement on what is better or worse, for me personally I cannot entrust that job, that responsibility, to someone who is merely paid to be there. I want to be that person, I want to be there for all the little experiences, the minor upsets and disappointments, those seemingly innocuous events that can help us grow, or cause us to compensate in unhealthy ways. I don’t want the majority of my children’s waking hours to be spent with someone other than me or DH. These are my personal values, and no reflection on anybody else’s choices. It’s what I need, not what everybody needs. But it’s important enough to me that I am happy with my choice to give up the glamourous life of the scientist, and instead wallow in the unsung glories of potty-training and mopping up tears.

*note: there is a plan, however. If my business continues to grow, and if I could get to the point where I could get a regular 10-20 hours of work per week, then I could comfortably support our family, DH could quit working and join me as stay-home-parent, and we could both find time to do “me things” while still being with the kids.

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