The best lesson professors can teach you:

By Amy Lieberman

The path to success in the academic world, some Macalester professors say, can often be a long and lonely one. Aside from completing dissertations and finding solid job opportunities, professors are also faced with the ultimate challenge: how to establish oneself professionally while maintaining a fulfilling personal life.
When J.D. Bowen moved to St. Paul in August, he had a job, but no home to call his own.
“My entire life was in a Ford Contour,” Bowen, a visiting instructor in the Political Science department, said. “I just showed up and stayed in a hotel for five days.”

Bowen soon found a mostly-furnished house near Como Park, and with the help of $1,000 worth of Ikea furniture began to once again revamp his life in a new city.

For Bowen, who has lived in Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Bolivia and Ecuador over the past 10 years, the move was merely another rest stop on the highway.
He said the trick to moving once a year is simple: “You don’t accumulate things. You just pick up and move every time.”

Bowen’s story is not unique, as many Macalester professors, whether visiting, just starting out, or following a new career path, have also had to strike the difficult balance of personal and academic life. And, while there is not a uniform solution for what English assistant professor Casey Jarrin described as an “incessant juggling act,” there are different ways to make it work.
Bowen, who is currently finishing his dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, now teaches Latin American politics on his one-year position, filling in for Political Science professor Paul Dosh. All visiting professor contracts are signed on a year-by-year basis, but in some cases, contracts can be renewed for several years at a time.

As Bowen displayed manila folders containing his applications to various schools for both visiting and tenure-track positions, it was clear that his present position’s timeframe isn’t far from his mind. But despite his stay’s limits, Bowen said he has tried to socially establish himself in the Twin Cities.

“I’d go crazy if I didn’t have a social life,” he said. “I always make sure to take the time to meet a few people, and to then become the social parasite. I’m a fairly outgoing person.”

Jarrin, a tenure-track professor in her first year, said that having an outgoing personality is a helpful prerequisite for entering the sometimes lonely world of academia.

“It’s not an easy lifestyle,” she said. “Your time is never completely your own. There is always work to be done for teaching or writing. A lot happens with just you and a pen and paper-or a laptop. It can be very solitary.”

Jarrin said she is “shocked” at how quickly the Twin Cities have become her home, but that there “is a lot of settling in to be done.”

“To be frank, it can be really, really difficult,” she continued. “It depends on my day. You caught me on a good one.”

Jarrin, who received her PhD in English literature from Duke University in 2006, also came to the Twin Cities without any solid social base or extensive knowledge of the cities. While she is from New York City originally, she noted that her family is dispersed across the country, a demographic that made Jarrin more open to resettling wherever the right job took her.

“Part of my work and personality is a deep wanderlust,” Jarrin said. “Most every summer I have lived somewhere else. I have enjoyed the flexibility in being an academic. I’m allowed to immerse myself in cultures and the world. It’s part of my work.”

But as friend and Anthropology assistant professor Olga Gonzalez-Casteneda said, laughing in Jarrin’s Macalester-owned home on Vernon Street, Jarrin’s status as a single woman has made the job hunt a little less complicated.

Jarrin agreed, noting that before she came to Macalester she ended a relationship. She explained that she had worked too hard, and too long, to give up any great professional opportunities, regardless of their location.

Bowen said his nomadic work life has also caused various relationships to end over the years.
“It doesn’t work out,” he said simply.

But for the professors who are tied to a partner or a family, the limits to their jobs’ conditions and circumstances are vast.

Gonzalez-Casteneda, a first-year professor, moved from New York City to St. Paul in August under exceptionally unusual circumstances: just four days before her departure, she got married.
“We dated a long time ago, then we were close friends,” she explained in the Anthropology department office on a Saturday afternoon, with her dog, Trixie, perched next to her. “Out of the blue, we decided to get married. It was an impulsive, but also a romantic decision. It was sad, but he came here to visit a week after.”

Gonzalez-Casteneda said that her husband, also Peruvian, lives and works in New York City, his home of over 20 years. She said they see each other now once a month and that after three months, they’ve made it work.

“It is hard to be separate from each other, but there is the excitement of seeing each other again,” she said. “The main thing is you want to be together. It doesn’t have to be in a traditional way.”
Gonzalez-Casteneda grew up mainly in Peru, and worked as a psychotherapist and as an adjunct professor in the late 1980s. She moved to New York City in 1992, and later received her PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University. After teaching at York and Fordham Universities while also working as a full-time psychotherapist, she began to apply for full-time positions as a professor across the country.

Though Gonzalez-Castenada’s parents, sister, friends and husband live in New York, she said, she did not limit herself geographically when looking for jobs.

“I did want to stay in New York, if that had been an option,” she said. “But I wasn’t going to stay and just apply for jobs in New York.”

Gonzalez-Casteneda said that when she first moved to St. Paul, she found the lack of pedestrians and the quiet neighborhoods somewhat jarring.

“I remember walking Trixie, and saying, ‘I think I am the only woman and you are the only dog in the neighborhood,'” she said.

But thanks to Gonzalez-Casteneda’s “sociable” personality, as she described it, and the Twin Cities’ vibrant arts scene, she hasn’t had problems settling in.

“It hasn’t been hard to make friends, but in the beginning, the separation in general is difficult,” she said. “Leaving something you love, people you love, places you love, is always difficult.”

When Eric Davis ’96, a Religious Studies full-time visiting instructor, moved to Cambodia for three years, he brought a bit of home with him-or two bits, to be exact, as his wife was six and a half months pregnant with their first child at the time of their departure.

“We couldn’t have stayed away from each other,” he said. “I would have missed her too much. I thought of going by myself for a short period of time or together for a long period of time. She alone made it possible.

“I attempted to be as flexible as I could, but it was the sites of horrible conversations and incredible hard work to do this. It was probably the hardest thing.”

Davis, who is working on a PhD from the University of Chicago, completed his fieldwork in Cambodia from 2000 to 2003, when he taught and advised students at the Buddhist Institute. His wife, a 1996 alumna, was a “high-powered museum curator” at the time, Davis said, but she decided, for reasons independent of her husband’s travel plans, to move away from the museum scene.

“It became increasingly clear that we were going to have a very hard time,” Davis said. “It was the classic trade-off. The guy’s career comes first and the woman adjusts her attitude to that.”

Davis said his wife became involved with her own projects in Cambodia, and learned to speak Cambodian. Their son’s first language was also Cambodian, and during the course
of their three years there, a second child, a girl, was born.

Davis has moved 14 times in the past 12 years and said that the long “road” to stability-or a mortgage on a house-was one he had always foreseen for himself.

“I would love to avoid the road, but I don’t think it is resistible right now,” he explained. “I was always one those people. Anybody who ever argued with a book or an idea of a person’s understands the profession’s appeal. And anybody who is compelled to do it all the damn time knows it will be worth the payoff.”

Davis and his family currently rent an apartment in St. Paul, which, he said, feels like home to a certain extent. His position as a visiting instructor in the Religious Studies department lasts for one year. He remains unsure of where his next job will take him, but said he “imagines moving again” in the future.

Davis said that he and his wife have discussed the possibility of a role reversal, but that would probably come after he completes his dissertation in the spring.

Davis spoke candidly on the general trend he sees in academics’ relationships, noting that not only are many academics single, but that academic women in relationships are more likely to feel the grunt of the situation.

“I guess being an academic is much more punishable for women than it is for men in the relationship department,” he said. “The women seem to suffer more.”

Liz Jansen, a Biology department visiting assistant professor, offers an example of one woman who temporarily stepped down professionally to focus on her family.

Jansen received her PhD in neuroscience from the University of Minnesota, and in her last year of graduate school, gave birth to her son. The start of her new family, Jansen said, canceled out all real possibilities of moving in search of a full-time, tenure-track position.

“Life smacks you in the head. It isn’t all up to you,” Jansen said. “I stopped making plans. I had a new baby and I was absolutely fascinated by that.”

Following the birth of her son, Jansen and her husband adopted a child from Colombia and after one year, had another biological child.

Jansen said that her status as a visiting assistant professor is a “double-edged sword,” but also “served me extremely well.”

“I had three small children in four years. I made a choice not to be working full-time,” she said.
That plan to remain part-time for her children’s early years, she said, was one she and husband, a lawyer, crafted together.

“We made the decision that he would put his career first. We weren’t going to try to say we were equal,” she said. “I certainly wasn’t making equal pay. When the kids were smaller he wasn’t sharing 50 percent of the childcare either. I’d have most of that responsibility, and I wasn’t unhappy about it. I had wanted children and wasn’t looking to offhand the work.”

Jansen married her husband while she was in graduate school, but after he had already finished law school. She said she always had to ponder, from day one, a “spousal move,” as he was “some steps ahead in establishing his career.”

Still, when her children were younger and Jansen worked as a part-time visiting instructor, she also lectured at outside institutions, led outreach activities and performed her own research.

“I always had the 9 to midnight shift. Midnight’s the time when students hear back from me, when exams are written. It stops when it depends on what needs to get done,” she said.

Now that Jansen’s children are all in elementary school, she is considering a non-visiting position at Macalester, as she has almost exceeded her limit as a visiting professor by working full time for six years. This amount of chance her future holds, she said, is both “scary and somewhat liberating.”

“Ten years ago I said I didn’t know where I will be in five years and now I still say that,” she said.

Stacey A. Stroffregen, currently serving as a visiting assistant professor for a two-year position in the Chemistry Department, still has a certain amount of uncertainty in her future, but said that she too will most likely not leave the Upper-Midwest. Aside from Soffregen’s love of her native Minnesota, she also has the “two body problem,” or her ties to her husband, which adds another complicating element to her job hunt.

Stroffregen said that her husband’s profession as a veterinary pathologist has been the main deciding factor in their job hunt, as there are teaching possibilities everywhere, but not opportunities for veterinary pathologists. The Upper-Midwest offers several promising positions for her husband, so Stroffregen also narrowed down her search.

“I agree it is hard, limiting yourself in that sense,” Stroffregen said, but added that, “living apart. isn’t something we were willing to do.