7 Years Later Excerpt #5: The Costs of Relocation

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For those waiting for me to continue this series, I thank you for your patience. Now that I have completed my 2000-mile move from Ohio to Arizona and gotten somewhat settled into my new job, I will be continuing this series of snippets from my in-progress guide to graduate school in philosophy. Since the job hunting season is right around the corner, I’m going to focus my next few posts on the job market and related topics. This post focuses on the costs of relocation – something that graduate students and other early career philosophers should take into account with respect to the jobs they pursue and how long they stay on the market. I include this in the guide because this is one of the costs of the job market that I could not properly evaluate when I was going on the market for the first time.

One of the costs of pursuing academic employment is that you will often have to relocate in pursuit of long-term employment. Looking back, I believe this is one of the hardest costs to explain and quantify to graduate students. In this post, I’m going to explain some of the challenges associated with relocation and reflect a little on them.

Relocation costs money. It’s expensive to move across the country (or potentially to a different country) whether you are physically moving your possessions from your current residence or selling/donating your possessions and buying new things. If you’re moving to a new apartment, there will also be security deposits and the first month’s rent to pay. Not only is this expensive, but you are also likely to have a gap in your pay. I officially graduated from the University of Tennessee in May 2017. I started my first post-graduate position in early August that summer, but because of the way pay cycles worked and the lag in getting all my information into the HR system, I did not receive my first paycheck for that position until the second week of September. That translates to over 3 months without any income. Depending on the distance you are moving, whether your new position comes with a moving allowance, and how long you have to sustain yourself with no income, you may well need more than $10,000 on hand to complete your move. During my 3 relocations (Tennessee to Florida, Florida to Ohio, Ohio to Arizona), the lowest amount of money I needed to cover costs without taking on debt was between $5000 and $6000.
Relocation requires a lot of paperwork. In the United States, moving states means changing vehicle registration and insurance agents. You’ve also got to update your address on all your financial and postal accounts and get a new driver’s license. You’ll have to start a new utilities account, get your home cable and/or internet installed, and make sure all the relevant utility accounts at your previous address were properly closed. There will also be a ton of things to complete as part of being a new hire. None of these items is all that daunting by itself, but the sheer quantity of it all can feel overwhelming.
Relocation is physically demanding. One component of moving is the actual process of putting new items inside your home, transporting books to your new office space, assembling the new furniture you purchased, organizing clothes and other household items in your personal space, and so on. This is not all that exhausting in most instances, but doing these sorts of things for several hours a day for a whole week will leave most people rather drained.
Relocation breaks routine. Everything you did in your previous place of residence has to be re-learned. Your drive to work is different, your grocery shopping is different, the campus layout is different, and your daily plans are different. Depending on where you moved, the weather and culture may also be very different. One of the things that allows us to focus our cognitive energy on our research and teaching is the fact that so much of what we do is practically automated – we have done it the same way so often that we do not have to think about it. Moving forces you to re-establish all those habits, and that makes the first several weeks after a move rather mentally taxing.
Relocation disrupts social networks. In some ways, it is easier now to maintain long-distance relationships than it has ever been. Nevertheless, moving somewhere else often puts a strain on relationships that were established with people in your former place of residence. Additionally, in your new location, it is highly unlikely that you will have enough established connections to replace the friends or family that you are leaving behind. (This is not true if you are moving to somewhere you previously lived, but philosophers rarely have much choice in where they get their first job – you’re very unlikely to be in this situation.) The result is that you have to rebuild your social support network, which can take a long time.
Relocation undercuts motivation. Because so many appointments in academic philosophy are short, temporary contracts (namely, 1–3 years), those who relocate often face the prospect of relocating again in short order. This makes it difficult to fully invest in your current community or university. What’s the point of becoming good friends with a bunch of people just to leave them behind in a year or two? What’s the point of doing a bunch of volunteer work for your department when you have no prospects for another contract? Some may be able to push these questions aside and stay motivated, but they are hard to dismiss.
Relocation alters one’s temporal perspective. One effect of repeatedly going on the job market and relocating is that your timeline becomes incredibly short-term. During my first appointment as a postdoc, my mentality at the outset was something like this: “What can I do in the next year to make myself a stronger candidate on the job market?” Since you’ve got to be job market ready by September (October 1st at the latest), you’ve only got about 1 year to improve your credentials if your job starts in August, and it’s a 2-year position. But this kind of outlook narrows your focus to short-term goals – things that can be accomplished in a year or less. That makes it difficult to entertain bigger, grander projects, and it also places considerable pressure on you to produce during the shortened timetable you have. This problem is even more acute if your position is for only a single year: by the time you complete the moving process, you will already be contemplating your next move!
Relocation is demoralizing. Most people start settling down and carving out a stable life for themselves in their early 30s – some even earlier. If you’re an academic philosopher, the odds are that you will not be one of these people. You will watch your friends establish themselves where they live and solidify their jobs while you continue to travel across the country in hopes of permanent employment.
Relocation strains families. I am not married and have no children, but for those who have a spouse and/or children, frequent relocation multiplies some of the costs on this list. In some respects, it does make the move more bearable since you have people with you who are sharing that experience. But it also means that there will be much more to do to complete the moving process. Academic couples may also encounter the all-too-common scenario where they hold jobs at different institutions.

When I made my move from Kansas to Tennessee to start graduate school, I was excited to move and start something new. In some ways, I felt the same way after starting my first postdoc – I was ready to be done with graduate school and wanted to start new projects, teach new classes, and so on. But after a while, this enthusiasm fades. My recent relocation to Arizona marks my 4th state of residence in the last 6th years. That sounds extreme, but many in the profession have much more nomadic career trajectories than mine. If you’re considering a career in philosophy, it’s worth asking yourself how many times you’re willing to move while you’re on the market. How often are you willing to bear the costs of relocation?

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More

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