Life Decision: Teaching, Research, and Family

29 Oct

Motivation

Everybody has to face decisions about one’s life. As a foreigner, one of my biggest decisions to make was to get a job in the United States or in Japan. I believe that some of the readers of this blog belong to my category. Even if you are not a foreigner, you have been, are, or are going to face a similar type of decisions involving research, teaching, and family. I hope that this blog entry would help those decision-making processes. If not, you will at least know what your foreign colleagues have been through.

US or Japan?

I am Japanese and so are my wife and kids. All my families (except for my wife and kids) and friends are in Japan. So my initial plan was to go back to Japan after completing Ph.D. The culture, foods, and friends & families were there and waited for me to come back. On the other hand, the job opportunity for ecologists in Japan is very limited and I only applied for two positions both at National Universities with Ph.D. programs. Fortunately, one of them invited me for their campus interview. By that time, however, Bucknell offered me a job. During my decision making period, my mother visited us from Japan to help us deal with our new baby; she was born three days before my interview with Bucknell (what a perfect timing). So I was under the pressure from my mother and wife who wanted me to get a job in Japan. I communicated with the department chair of the Japanese university through emails and tried to find out about the position as much as possible. Here’s the list of pros and cons that I processed in my brain and talked to my mother and wife.

Bucknell

Japanese University

Job security at that time Offered Invited to the campus interview
Travel cost for the campus interview Covered by Bucknell. This is the norm in the US, but not in Japan. I was asked to cover full cost of the interview travel on my own including hotels and meals, which I calculated to be ~$3,000.
Starting salary $65-70K ~$80K
Start up ~$65K + field enclosure ~$3,000 (the dept. chair told me)
Sabbatical Yes Technically no
Summer freedom Yes. We can go back to Japan every summer (although it is financially challenging). Limited
Teaching ~5 courses per year ~ 4 courses per year
Research Primary undergraduate, sufficient space and support Undergraduate, master, and Ph.D., unknown research support, academics are still structured based on the age and rank of professors (i.e., conservative)
House Affordable Affordable but much more expensive and smaller
Child’s education Lewisburg is in a reputable school district. We speak only Japanese at home. So if we teach them writing and reading Japanese well, bilingual education is possible. Financial support for their college education is available through Bucknell (e.g., no tuition if they go to Bucknell).We have a little bit of concern about their identity crisis as a 2nd generation Japanese in the US. Japan has an excellent education system. My wife and I would get to share the same experiences with our kids. It would be hard for them to master English unless we send them to an American school (very expensive). No financial benefit for child’s college education.
Family time 15 min bike ride to campus. I come home around 5PM every day to play with my kids, coach my son’s soccer team or run with my friend. I spend Saturday with my family while I usually work on Sunday (grading mostly). Kids are almost always included in our friendship interactions. Commute takes longer by a car or train. Based on my observation as a grad student in Japan, Japanese professors tend to stay much longer. A few friends working at Japanese Universities told me how busy they can be. Drinking with colleagues is very common in Japan which doesn’t involve other family members.
Culture Amish culture here is unique and we enjoy being close to them. Otherwise, this area lacks cultural diversity. No Japanese school. Two Japanese students and two Japanese faculty members (including me) on the entire campus. Although we love the rich Japanese culture and foods, Japan lacks cultural diversity as well. The university is located close to one of the three prestigious shrines, which would be neat.
Nature We are very close to mountains. 20 drive to one of state parks. We enjoy outdoor opportunities here, camping, hiking, canoeing, fishing, etc. It depends on where the university is located. But they are almost always in sizable cities. This university is in a relatively smaller city. So living close to the nature might be possible, but not to the same degree as in Lewisburg
Family & Friends We developed nice friendships with a few families in Lewisburg. We do things together often. Japanese population in this area is very small. But we enjoy interacting with them too. They are the biggest reason why we wanted to go back!

My decision

After going through the list above, we decided to decline the campus interview invitation from the Japanese university and took the offer from Bucknell. Even if it was a job offer, I thought that Bucknell and Lewisburg offer so much more. Bucknell biology students are good and motivated. Indeed, I enjoy teaching American students more because they are so much more responsive than Japanese college students (based on my own experience as a student). The start-up that Bucknell offered was sufficient for what I want to do. I have my own lab space and a vivarium (a small room for keeping amphibians). The facility people are now constructing a field enclosure and greenhouse on campus for our mesocosm experiment, which is very exciting. Negotiating teaching/research balance can be challenging but doable. Finally, both my wife and I thought that Lewisburg, the town Bucknell is located in, is perfect for our life. It is a very small, safe, and kids-friendly town. It is surrounded by nature, which is very important for us (although gas drilling bothers us). Living in this town and working for Bucknell, I have enough time to spend with my family. In sum, I feel that I am at the balanced intersection of research, teaching and family, the things I value the most. I am very happy with my decision. Most importantly to the readers of this blog, Bucknell biology (and probably other liberal arts biology) offers enough research support for me to develop my research project.

-MT

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One Response to “Life Decision: Teaching, Research, and Family”

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  1. Friday Recommended Reads #9 | Small Pond Science - November 1, 2013

    […] over job interviews and offers usually presents big-time dilemmas. Mizuki Takahashi discusses his own experience with frank detail. The seasonality and non-synchronicity of interviews leads to some interesting thoughts about […]

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