2015 was the year of being in love, the year of establishing lots of new relationships. I mean, it was late in 2014 that I realized my friends were romantically interested in me and jack, and I think by Christmas 2014 I was unquestionably and intensely in love, but it was the months of 2015 when the new relationship energy coalesced into actually functioning as a quad. 2015 when all four of us told our parents and where applicable sibs about the relationship, when we started to have tentative discussions about some kind of future together, though we still don't know exactly what shape that will look like.
2015 was also my worst year at work. Not really horrible compared to a lot of what people experience in a bad workplace, but it's been difficult and at times I was really scared for the future. I had a 'not meeting expectations' appraisal in early summer, which is not a terrible disaster in the scheme of things, but it was the culmination of several months when I found myself really anxious and just somehow falling more and more behind and not keeping deadlines and that all spiralled a bit. Some of this was related to the fact that my senior PhD student has had a pretty troubled final year of her studies, and it's still not certain whether she'll come out of all this with a PhD. To recap, I have essentially two half-time jobs, one in the medical school and one in the research institute; the medical school have been very helpful and supportive and done all the right managerial things and given me lots of support to make sure that one bad quarter remains only a blip and chances to sort things out. The research institute not so much; they've switched unpredictably between ignoring me and leaving me to struggle, being actively hostile, and occasionally coming through with some random and not very systematic help.
I spent the summer clawing myself up out of the mess I'd got myself into. And of course starting from behind made that hard, and I was scared, and I suffered somewhat of a setback when my junior PhD student failed her "Progression", the process where the institute decides at the end of first year whether a student is suitable to go on and do a full PhD. She and I both worked really hard through the last few months of the year, and the medical school supported me by reducing my teaching and admin load so I could be there for my students. And this week she passed the resit panel, so as soon as that is formally ratified I can breathe much more easily again. So in many ways I can be proud of myself for extracting myself from a bad situation, but somewhere along the way I lost track of my love for research.
In the summer I found a job at a Cambridge college that I reckoned I was qualified for. I applied, was shortlisted, got really good feedback from the interview, and just narrowly missed out on the job. That prompted a lot of soul-searching; was I really willing to give up my extremely shiny tenured academic job where I'm clearly making a positive difference to the world, both doing cancer research and helping to make new doctors? And the more I thought about it the more I thought that is what I want, I want a job that I can do which is not constantly stressful, and I want to live permanently in Cambridge near my loves.
The problem is that I find it really hard to trust that decision. Just because I've had one bad year at work, so what, that's hardly a reason to give up all my dreams. And being in love seems like a bad reason to make such a dramatic change. I really hope this relationship will endure and grow and make me solidly happy, but it's still new enough that pinning everything on it feels like a gamble. It's hard to know how much the two strands are connected; did I fall behind and get into trouble at work because I was putting all my energy into new relationship? Did I tell myself I was in love in order to give myself a rationalization for potentially quitting an almost unbelievably good job?
I really, really don't know. I think I will be happier in Cambridge in the long term even if my lovely quad doesn't work out as well as I'm hoping. I think I've been dissatisfied with my job for a while; reading back over my work tag I feel like it's been several years that I've been talking about the job like a relationship that isn't positive any more but which I'm scared to leave because I made a lifelong commitment to it. There's a whole load of financial anxiety; if it were just me I'm pretty sure I'd rather earn less and have a job I enjoy more, but I'm worried about being dependent on my husband, I'm worried about the ways that my family have supported me financially to get to this place and it feels like it's not only my money that I'm considering handling unwisely.
I also have gender anxiety, because this is exactly what women stereotypically do, they get to a certain stage in competitive careers and then throw it all in and end up in support roles because they prioritize family life over ambition. I'm very conscious of Linley Hall's very good account of why women leave science; it's very clear from her research that women don't leave because of overt sexism, but because of all kinds of perfectly reasonable reasons (like wanting to devote time and energy to a family) which in practice disproportionately affect women.
The other thing is that over Christmas I got to spend time with one of my closest and oldest friends, MK, whom I see all too rarely cos he lives in Australia and doesn't do social media. I knew coming out to him was going to be hard, because he lives in very straight circles and as I suspected hasn't really come across poly before. He wasn't negative, he didn't try to tell me my choices were disgusting or immoral or whatever, but he was understanding the relationship as some kind of crazy soap-opera type thing and using lots of metaphors from his profession, crystallography, to explain why a relationship with four people couldn't ever possibly be stable. And in particular he really really pushed back against my proposal to leave my academic research job and look for a job in Cambridge. I mean, he was in some ways exactly what I needed because he voiced precisely my own doubts about making this choice. He said, if you're having a mid-life crisis go buy yourself a Harley or something, don't give up your entire career that you've been working for these twenty years we've been friends. His wife, too, who has really given her all to maintain her own scientific career after having a child very young and needing to make compromises to support M's career, not to mention far worse political issues with science funding than I've faced.
So anyway, yes, that's 2015. I really don't know where I'll be by the end of this year, but I expect to look back on 2015 as a kind of watershed. Any comments or advice very much welcome!
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