Tag Archives: husband-wife science team

The Dual Science Job Hunt: New State, New Job, New Home (Part 4)

We had decided to make a lifestyle move and after carefully comparing our three most serious options, we decided to move to Newport, Rhode Island. Now we had to prepare to leave our home in Alexandria, VA near Washington DC

Changing Jobs and Cities:

Lauren’s postdoc fellowship was up. We were now eating our emergency savings. Thank goodness Lauren had decided to set that up to the tune of 6 months salary. We burned it all and then some. We decided to keep the kids in preschool at the cost of about $2300 a month, to give them as much stability as we could. In turn, Lauren would prepare the house for sale and thus save some of the costs associated with staging. The market was hot and our realtor was confident. We would probably have an offer within the first week of listing! Our realtor was relatively inexperienced, our friend, and our neighbour. How foolish we were.

Listing our first house for sale was bittersweet, as we prepared to move north to Newport

As a side note, during this time, there was a Request For Information (RFI) issued by an office at DARPA. The request was about biological sound produced by underwater organisms and the utility that sound could provide for the Navy. Lauren and I responded and the program manager met us at NRL. Since Lauren was no longer employed there, she had to come in as a temporary visitor. We invited other people to meet the program manager with us. We gave her an enthusiastic presentation together, explaining our ideas about coral reef and other biological sound and the sensitivity of these animals to their environment. Although they were invited, no one else came to the meeting.

The Sale:

Packing with some help

After several months of packing, selling and preparation, the house went on market. Lauren was so excited, but then confused and scared that no one came to view the house in the first few days. Not much interest in the fall and few views is a normal thing, our realtor said. She reassured us and told us to hold tight for an offer soon. Weeks passed. We lowered the price. Took the home off market, put it back on. No dice. Lowered the price again. Every time someone came to view it was enormous trouble to clean up all the kid’s stuff and vacate the home for a couple of hours. Our realtor kept telling us the same things, but her look gave it away: a deer in headlights. She didn’t know what to do – she was incompetent and we only discovered that fact after she made the mistake of listing our home at the wrong time for too much money. She listed her own house, next to ours, while ours was still on market. It made her home look like a bargain. Hers went under contract in a couple of days. Ours ended up languishing for 5 months in a red-hot D.C. market where very similar homes were going under contract in a matter of days. She moved to the west coast, where she said she was going to become a realtor again. I wonder what will happen. Shortly before we left D.C., we cancelled her contract and contacted the realtor who we had purchased the home with, three years ago, Ali. He was a magician. He re-listed, removed all furniture, and got us under contract. The home sold for $45,000 less than the initial listing price. Had it not been on market for so long, we are certain it would have sold for closer to what we expected. Be wary who you hire as realtors.

The Move:

My program manager had been so kind as to fund me for the next year, and to send the funds ahead of time to Newport. I was to start on December 11th and we needed to set up our new home! The kids were sent to their grandparent’s home for a week. Lauren and I hired a truck and we began to pack. The plan was for her to drive one car, and for me to drive the truck with a trailer on which we would transport our second car. We only had the truck for a few days so the packing was intense. Friends came to help us box and load – very much appreciated. In the end, the truck was totally full. We had to leave our lawnmower, vacuum cleaner and TV behind! I wonder what the new owners thought of our stuff being left there?

Leaving the house for the last time was a sad and difficult moment for us. It was the first home we had ever bought. Many happy memories had been made there. Blake was born there. While the house had not been sold at that stage, we lost a lot of money (we were never reimbursed for our move, either) and moved away from dear friends. I will never forget Lauren getting into the car, tears in her eyes. Now we were being forced to move because of some short-sighted management at our old lab (not you, Greg, you were great). I always had faith that Lauren was declined unjustly, but I could never have imagined how much these people would be proven wrong in the coming months.

We completed the drive from Washington D.C. to Newport RI in one day. Due to delays, we left at around lunchtime. That meant an arrival in the small hours of the morning. The truck was almost certainly overloaded – the rear tires looked deflated, but tire pressure was high. What could we do to fix the issue? The clock was already ticking. We set off carefully. The truck weighed approximately 6 tonnes and carried at least another couple of tons behind in the form of a heavy, over-engineered twin-axle trailer holding a Subaru outback, packed to the gills and sporting a mattress on the roof. Incredibly, the truck was powered by a gasoline engine. Anywhere other than America and it would have been diesel. 10 hours of screaming V8 noise lay ahead. I recall foot-to-the-floor for several minutes at a time, getting up to highway speeds. Passing was an entertaining challenge. Trip highlights: A $115 toll through the New Jersey turnpike (I didn’t have enough cash, they still haven’t billed me). Rush hour traffic in New York City. The pleasure of cutting off an aggressive tesla that drove up the highway siding during said rush hour, and watching him wait for 5 minutes as I slowly crawled past. Parking in extra-large parking spaces at truck stops on the I-95. Driving for the first time over the Newport Bridge at night. Listening to the surf as we pulled up to our tiny beach batch: our home for the next six months.


This is part of a series chronicling our decision to leave DC and make a lifestyle move to Newport, RI. Read the rest here:

Part 1: A Challenging Year

Part 2: California Called & We Want to Go Back

Part 3: What’s so Great About Newport?

Part 5: Welcome to New England

Part 6: The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

Part 7: Finding Our Newport House

The Dual Science Job Hunt: A Challenging Year (Part 1)

Things have changed a lot for us in the last 18 months. There have been some big ups and downs – emotionally, financially, and career wise. We’re lucky to have come out of it mostly on the up side, partly due to planning, partly due to luck, and in no small part due to the support of wonderful people who have helped us fight to keep our careers and find a place where the kids could grow up happily and safely.

We had built a happy life in DC, including local knowledge of all the best spots for kiddos and a strong network of dear friends. We weren’t excited to leave either of those things behind.

This story begins in Washington D.C., when we both worked at NRL. Lauren had won a research grant to go to Hawaii as part of the NASA HYSPIRI preparatory campaign and I finagled some of my fellowship funding to come along. Two things happened there. One, we discovered (along with Giacomo Giorli and Andy Haas) that algae make sound (accepted in PLoS ONE, watch this space!). Two, I discovered that Lauren’s boss wasn’t the best and did not think anything of her, as he told her to abandon the work she had been doing for the last two years and try to start afresh with six months remaining in her postdoc. For the record, she submitted the work to a peer reviewed journal and received a “publish with minor edits” response, first time around. There is another blog about that issue, but the consequence for us was that we were realized we would be leaving NRL / D.C. sooner rather than later.

I would need to walk away from a multi-million dollar research grant. One could consider that to be a difficult decision. While I liked my division and people in my lab, the decision was black-or-white for me. We had completed our PhD’s together, worked well together, and it was important for us that we remained as equals. It was in our best interests to fight anything that compromised that arrangement.

And fight we did. The search for an ideal solution to our two-body problem 2.0 began soon after we returned from Hawaii. All but the lowest hanging fruit from the data we collected were left on the tree. We submitted one paper but most of the data are still there, waiting. All our attention was now focused on solving the most difficult problem in science, again: how to find meaningful and interesting work for two Ph.D’s in the same geographic area and set up a nice life with a family.

We had an amazing time in Hawaii, and realized just how important family time and quality of life were for us as we thought about our long term plans

We discussed our most important filters and mapped out possibilities – we wanted to good jobs for both of us, good schools for the kids, a safe community to raise them in, and water access for recreation in the evenings and on weekends. There were a number of locations where these might all have been possible for us, and we both travelled extensively around the country to look for solutions. We considered other positions in the D.C. area. We interviewed at universities, private corporations and federal labs. Sadly, the timing was poor for academic positions: it was already March 2017 and universities typically open their applications for new faculty in the early winter, for faculty to begin teaching class the next September. People did not get back to us after initial enthusiasm. Some labs kept asking for copies of our C.V’s again and again. An excerpt from a diary Lauren kept is a great snapshot of the situation:

“April – We literally hear nothing from anyone. When we check in with folks in San Diego, they say they should know more soon. The hiring freeze is a problem for the San Diego jobs. I apply for a teleworking job in education technology.“

By June, we are oscillating through the roller coaster of applying for jobs – this is my dream job! I hope I get it! Think of all the cool things I could do at NPS! Wait, Monterey is really expensive. It is in the middle of nowhere. It’s far from everyone we know. NPS isn’t a traditional university. But wait – middle of nowhere is kind of nice, that’s what we were looking for. Check out the schools – they are amazing! We could give our family a great life here! I hope they hire us! Oh, they want to have me for an interview. I don’t have time for an interview…. So on, and so forth.

Giving our water babies a chance to grow up by the water instead of being weekend warriors was a huge driver for our search, and their joy and enthusiasm kept us going.

In the end, there were three serious candidate locations: San Diego, where a Navy lab (SPAWAR) were looking to hire, as was the University of San Diego. Monterey CA, where the Naval Postgraduate School were looking for new faculty and NRL Monterey were very excited about Lauren. Lastly, there was Newport, Rhode Island. I had met a scientist from NUWC (Jason) at a program review that year, who was interested in my bioinspired robotics work offered to circulate both our resumes at his lab.

Lauren was invited to Rhode Island to interview at the University of Rhode Island and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. We love a lot of things about Rhode Island including the proximity of the two universities and NUWC. Both universities immediately offered Lauren a path to a soft money position (where she would have to raise all of her own money), and invited her up to give a seminar and talk about a more secure position. The possibilities were tantalizing and the little beach towns were quaint. Houses with a water view within walking distance to a beach cost about half of an average home in San Diego or Monterey. However, the big caveats here were that these ‘soft money’ positions were terrible. Not only do you have to raise your own salary, you need to pay overhead to work at the university! Paying to work? Perhaps an unsustainable model, academia. I hope everyone I know in soft money science survives and moves on quickly to tenure-track. Nevertheless, out of desperation, we interviewed for a number of soft-money university positions. They did not cut the mustard for us. Now that we have the kids, job security was an important priority.

This is Part 1 of a seven article series chronicling our job hunt and move – read the rest here:

Part 2: California Called & We Want to Go Back

Part 3: What’s so Great About Newport?

Part 4: New State, New Jobs, New Home

Part 5: Welcome to New England

Part 6: The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

Part 7: Finding Our Newport House


Family Fieldwork v1.0: North Carolina Edition

One of our long-term dreams as a science family is to take on “family fieldwork.” The idea is that Simon & I would conduct joint or collaboratory fieldwork in the same location, and bring along our kids and caregivers for them. We are so excited to have the opportunity to do just that during the month of February when we will return to Hawaii. In the meantime, Simon had a short work trip to Nags Head, North Carolina last weekend and we were able to put together a mini-version of family fieldwork to try it out.

We visited Nags Head to facilitate collection of large, fresh, whole pelagic fishes including tuna and wahoo. These fish subsequently traveled with Simon & a colleague to San Diego for high resolution scanning in an MRI machine. The resultant data are a key first step to Simon’s newest project at NRL developing a fish-inspired autonomous underwater vehicle.

November is the tail end of the season for the fish of interest, so a three-day window was allotted where Simon could assess the daily catch from his vendor fisherman and pick the specimens he wanted, then carefully package them for shipping to San Diego. Time was critical as he wanted to ensure the fish were whole fresh specimens (fresh is better when it comes to MRI) and never frozen.

The beach in front access across from our rental house – a highlight for Joey & Blake

The fish collection window fell over a holiday weekend, so I made plans to join Simon and bring the boys & their grandparents along for the ride. We rented a house in Nags Head across the street from the beach and brought along a stroller and sand toys. Overall, everything worked. The kids and I made it home safely, Simon is in San Diego proceeding with data collection from the fish scans, and the grandparents are still excited about our trip to Hawaii.

That said, we learned quite a few things to operate more smoothly next time!

Our children are still very young (3 years, 10 months) so having a safe space for both of them to play indoors is critical. When we travel to Hawaii I’ll bring/buy extra outlet covers, baby gates, pop-up toy storage, and doorknob covers.

This past weekend was REALLY hectic because of the aforementioned time crunch on getting the fish into the MRI as quickly as possible. We were only in Nags Head for three days. In addition, we had extra people coming and going from the house. This was definitely stressful for the boys. I was reminded (again) that we need to keep everything as simple as possible for them, and preserve their routine. I think things will be easier in Hawaii since we are there for a whole month, and they’ll have more time to get settled and used to the family fieldwork norm.

On the same note, buffer days are really critical for kids. I had a free day with them after arriving in Nags Head, and spent another day with them at the grandparents’ house in Williamsburg before returning to our home in Alexandria. That extra time really helped them re-group and stay happy.

The final challenge with family fieldwork is delineating my time between work and kids. At home, I never work when I’m with them – I reserve all work things for when I’m at my office, or when they are asleep. This is a harder line to draw with a shared house in a new place. We are still piecing plans together, but now will prioritize a clear schedule of work time as well as a separated office space in the house that the boys will not usually be allowed to access. I’m glad a have a few more months to brainstorm before we go so that V2.0 Hawaii Edition gets off to a smooth start!

Time with Grammy is always special. We love that family fieldwork gives both our kids and our parents extra special memories together.

Why I Like Working With My Partner

We had a wonderful catch-up with some dear friends in San Diego last weekend, who mentioned that we had it “all figured out” when we talked about how we work together. I had to laugh a bit, since I think we have it far from figured out! Most notably, we do not live by the ocean right now. We drive three hours each way for a weekend beach break – shew!

That said, working together has been a good life choice for us. We’ve been working at the same location for 7 years now – since 2008 when we both started at Scripps, followed by our dual move to NRL. Here’s why we like it:

  1. We drive to work together. This saves us the hefty expense of a second vehicle, and the lesser expense of daily fuel miles.
  2. We can have lunch together any day we want to.
  3. Simon is my #1 advisor for science, strategy, and my best brainstorming partner. If I want his input, all I have to do is walk downstairs.
  4. Being established as a couple at an academic type institution gives a bit more staying power – if one of us is deemed very desirable, the other benefits.
  5. When one of us bikes, the other has the car and can rescue them in an emergency (we aren’t on the other side of town).
  6. If Joey has an emergency and needs us, we can discuss it in person and make an action plan quickly.

Here’s what we do to make it work:

  1. Plan ahead (especially since we share a car) – we work the same or complementary hours depending on the day, and we have to constantly remember to respect the other’s work needs and our nanny schedule.
  2. Respect one another’s workspace. We are in different departments and each have our own office, so we aren’t literally together all of the time. It’s important to liaise with our co-workers and be productive while we are here.
  3. Don’t abuse the privilege – I don’t spend time in Simon’s office having prolonged discussions on non-work related topics (where we want to go on vacation, what we want to do this weekend, etc)

Plenty of folks think we are a little crazy for both living and working together! We’ve seen a variety of strategies where both members of a couple are employed. The most common is that each works in a different place. For those that are in the same location, there is a range from complete dis-interaction with each other (they prefer to keep work and home separate) to couples like us that regularly consult one another throughout the day on statistical tests, the best journal for a certain paper, or coding assistance. We think of ourselves as a team, and so far this works for us.