Monday, September 15, 2008

On finding a balance between scholarship and family

I apologize for waxing personal on this post, I know this isn't typical of Clavi Non Defixi. But I've been working out many issues lately that I imagine are fairly typical of the academic life, so I thought it would be worth sharing.

I decided that I won't be attending the AAR meeting in Chicago this November. It's a shame in lots of ways, not least because the meeting is being held where I live and it simply makes sense to go when there's no need to buy a plane ticket. But there are too many obstacles and I've decided that the venture isn't worth it. We are working through a lot of financial issues lately now that we have a baby and I'm starting at the University of Chicago, so the cost of registration and train rides into the city each day are a discouraging factor. The biggest issue, though, is that our daughter is being baptized on the Sunday of the conference, so I would be missing a big chunk of AAR (or of celebration with friends and family, if I decided to rush to the city right after the church service).

This shouldn't be a huge deal. It's just one conference, I'm a young scholar who isn't even done with school, and there will be plenty of opportunities to network elsewhere. I'm still planning on making it to the University of Chicago reception and maybe some of the Schleiermacher conference, which is free. But for some reason I feel this huge weight, like I should be there as a matter of scholarly responsibility.

It's tough to find a balance between commitments to academic and family life. There's no question that family (or one's neighbors more generally) are much more important than an academic career, even if this career is a true vocation in edification of the Church. But when the task of actually parsing out time, money, and energy to these or other commitments arises, it is surprisingly difficult to discern what constitutes good stewardship of God's gifts.

I don't know if I made the best decision, but I couldn't in good conscience register for AAR, knowing everything else that is going on in my life right now. Tomorrow I may decide that it would have been better to go, but a decision against conscience is often unwise, and the mere fact that I would have registered with some hanging guilt is reason enough not to have registered. There's always next year, in any case. What bothers me the most is this wretched pull that I feel to throw myself into all of these professional commitments, and how these commitments tend to put a strain on the family with which God has entrusted me. I wish the decision were easier, but I suppose that part of the blessing of such challenges is the growth in maturity that they offer.

1 comment:

  1. I think you made the right call. Now that you're in U. Chicago (and it looks like the pipeline between master's degree and phd is pretty easy there, once you make the master's program), you really don't have to worry about your career anymore. That's not to say don't take it seriously - it's just saying that focusing on your education right now is the ticket to a strong career, not self-initiated conference presentations. Those self-initiated efforts - journal articles, conferences, etc. - where important to demonstrate to grad schools that you're an impressive candidate. Now that you're in, its time to spend the next six or seven years building your career cooperatively with them - not on your own. Not that it's wrong to apply to a convenient conference in the meantime - but if its inconvenient don't worry - it's your advisor's and your professors' job to build your academic credentials for the next half decade, not yours...

    Then once you're out and Sophie is attending elementary school, you'll be on your own again as far as advancing your career goes! So wait to worry about it until then!!!