Reflections on my job transition
Photo description: A rainbow on the Western Washington University campus in Fall 2022. A plaza and red metal sculpture are seen in the foreground. The Viking Union is on the left and Wilson Library on the right. In the background are Old Main and the trees of the Sehome Arboretum.
In August 2022, I left my R1 tenure-track job at Ohio State University to head to a job at Western Washington University, a regional public university many of my then colleagues had never heard of. I was just about to go up for tenure at the old job and had a non-zero chance of getting it, so this wasn't precipitated by a fear or knowledge I wouldn't get tenure. The school I now work at is my undergraduate alma mater, which I guess was satisfying enough to some folks who were confused about my decision. Other folks, just said: why? I guess they couldn't fathom why I would go to a school with lower pay that was lower ranked with colleagues who were less well known where I was required to teach more, even if the geography was clearly superior from many folks' perspectives (Bellingham, WA vs. Columbus, OH). So here are a few reflections after wrapping up my first year in the new job (in no particular order).
Reflection 1: I have great work-life balance
It's been a weird year as I try to move from the R1 pace to a slower pace that feels more humanly possible and sustainable to me. But overall I find I am much less stressed. During the academic year I was going to spin class twice a week, sea kayaking on the bay in nice weather, and only worked nights and weekends when I got behind on grading. I am even relearning to cook after my husband basically taking over those duties entirely during my first six years on the tenure-track.
Reflection 2: I feel at home here
While I did not grow up in the PNW, I basically have felt at home here since arriving for college. It's been amazing to return to a place where I have so many connections from other parts of my life, where many people share my values, and where there are so many options to do things I want to do, like hike and get out on the water in boats. It's really kind of shocking to me how much academia encourages de-prioritizing these aspects of our life experience.
Reflection 3: I have great colleagues
It's true that my colleagues have fewer citations on average and are less likely to have a Google Scholar profile or a personal website than my prior colleagues. But they are kind and smart. They do research, just not at an R1 pace. They spend a lot of time advising and teaching and supporting students. They also spend a lot of time working to make our college and university better through service. And they have many more interests than their jobs! They take real vacations and teach spin classes and have gardens and rarely send e-mails on evenings and weekends.
Reflection 4: I love being at a place that values teaching
I absolutely love teaching at my new job. Many of my colleagues care deeply about pedagogy, and high quality teaching is valued and celebrated. The classes are small and I am limited to teaching two per quarter by our excellent collective bargaining agreement. I am able to get to know my students and really focus on their wants and needs.
Reflection 5: I love being out of a college of agriculture
I think anyone who works in a college of agriculture (or its current iteration) will agree with me that the politics are a lot. I knew I was frustrated with these, but I didn't realize just how much until I left and a weight was lifted. It turns out I had been angry all the time with the mismatch of expectations between stakeholders and my department, as well as the narrow set of stakeholders whose needs and desires were prioritized. While this anger was fueling some good work on my part, it was also eating away at me. I hope to re-approach some of these same topics from a healthier perspective in the future now that I have some space from the Land Grant system.
Reflection 6: I would not be able to do what I am doing now without having my prior job
I struggled in my prior job. I moved to Ohio in Fall 2016 after living in some of the most liberal coastal states (MA, WA, and CA) for all 29 years of my life up to that point. I awoke to so many issues that I had been blissfully unaware of due to the politics of the moment and being in a Midwest city with de facto racial segregation, and I grew immensely as a human. I built a research program, national research reputation, and excellent collaborator network that I have taken with me to my new institution. I made really good money for an academic, cost of living was low, and my husband and I bought and sold two houses (in succession) that, together with our prior privilege (read: inheritance from wealthy relatives who surely did some stuff I would not be cool with), gave us the capital to buy a house in the coastal PNW. I struggle with what to make of this reflection, since I wouldn't wish the unhappiness I felt for a long time on anyone; I just think it's important to recognize if my current job was my first job, things would be different.
In summary... My new job is not perfect, my new institution is not perfect, and my life is not perfect, and there are people and places in Ohio that I miss, but I absolutely feel like I made the right choice by changing jobs. I'm not sure if these reflections will be of interest to anyone, but it's certainly helpful for me to write them. And of course, these reflections are just my experience and unique to me because of who I am as well as the institutions I am discussing.