I’m Dying a Slow Academic Death and Travel is the Likely Killer
I have been to 2 countries, 8 cities, 3 giant meetings, and given 17 talks in 4 months. And, no, I’m not looking for a job. I have two more cities in the next week and, at the end of this long run, I’m wondering if it’s “worth it.”
I have always had a much busier Jan – Jun grant writing/ reviewing/ fundraising season that requires that I stay around my home institution. And that works out pretty well given that my discipline has most of their major meetings in the fall, so more fall travel made sense. Well…it USED to make sense.
It wasn’t always this way. Up until recently, I was asked to give a couple talks a year. I’d go to 1 big week-long meeting and on 2 fundraising trips. This year was particularly “honorific” as my team and I were able to secure great awards at key meetings, and really important folks in my field asked me to chair/participate in their seminar series. This all coincided with my kids moving from being toddlers to middle schoolers, so they made more sense when talking on the phone, and I was less angst-ridden when I wasn’t there.
Who are these people that love to travel to give talks? Do they have no life in their hometown? Are they on the lam from the law?
What am I doing wrong?
I LOVE being in new cities. I just loathe getting there. I am not a natural traveler, which I think means I need more than 2 inches of personal space and that isn’t something travel affords you these days. I’m also doing the single mom thing without family in my home city and it’s a lot on a good week. Add in travel and I’m coming home to someone sick, or getting the local cold/virus and making my family sick. I feel like I should put up one of those “This house has been plague free for 1 day. Keep up the good work” signs.
So, I’m just laying it down here. I’m tired, sure I left another phone charger in a hotel room and hoping next year I’ll remember some of this when I start getting invitations in March to give talks in the fall. I’d also welcome ANY thoughts on how to do this better.
Unexpected Drawbacks and Perks I Keep Forgetting:
Travel is a money loser. Honorarium for talks runs $300-500, but I have to board dogs, pay babysitters and am always out misc expenses. I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I always am.
Pick your hosts AND your institutions. Ill-prepared hosts often outnumber great hosts IME and just because they are fabulous scientists or clinicians does not mean they are great at organizing visits. I only get asked about half the time who I want to see at a University. I tend not to push the issue unless I really, really want to talk to a colleague because I know what it’s like to host someone and have a couple department heads want time with a speaker and feel angst-ridden about leaving out junior faculty and trainees. It’s a tough balance but I would encourage folks to be proactive in asking for schedules and requesting meetings.
Travel takes a big chunk of time! If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend 40h of work before you even get there, planning travel, reading, making/practicing a talk, planning for family care.
Networking may be done better in other venues. I just read the blogs here on all-powerful networking and part of that is getting invited to give talks. This is not for everyone, in my experience. I have enough friends. Okay, I have no friends. But I email people when I want something and respond to them quickly and “over-help” when they ask, often doing experiments for them since we can do it faster and better. Maybe someone who travels more for networking can comment on how they do this well during seminar visits. I tend to get a lot of it done at bigger meetings. In my experience, I see a lot more bad behavior and attempts at “getting the scoop” on someone/something during these seminar visits. It doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy in my squirrel parts.
Getting to know what people are really like is always best done by going to a University. I really like 2.7% of scientists. And even the ones I like have turned out to be different people to students, so ID’ing postdoc advisors for grad students is no easy feat and way easier when you see folks on their own turf.
Nice beds, meals and a hotel gym. These are undeniably good. I also get some really good work done in airports. I don’t know why. Even looking back on these months of travel, I had scads of great opportunities, but I was too tired from taking all the trips to ‘close the deal’ on all my networking and that’s super fustrating. Next year I’m going to accept fewer invites, get more projects up and going after visits and hopefully be a less grumpy squirrel.