Guest Contributor: Meghan K Riley
Two years ago, I moved away from the only place I had ever lived, Michigan, to pursue a PhD program in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Before that, my plan had been to stay in or near Flint. I had gone to school there for the last ten years, and I wanted to stay and teach. The economy and having a young family had indefinitely postponed that dream.
It was time to try something different.
A survey by Challenger, Gray, and Christmas noted that in 2013, 35% more people were moving for a new position than in 2012.
Millennials, in particular, are on the move. J. Maureen Henderson cites a Mayflower survey showing that 59% of people aged 18-35 live somewhere other than where they grew up. Of those, the largest percentage (51) moved for a job.
Clearly, I’m not alone. Though there are many reasons why millennials have not moved for a job, accounted for in first-person style in an entertaining but sobering The Atlantic article by Derek Thompson, many millennials have had to move to find or keep employment.
Moving isn’t easy, though. As Henderson notes, while some people might be willing to move to leave an area with low employment rates, “willingness to be mobile doesn’t pay for a moving van.” Besides the high cost of a move, ideally, you have secured a position first. Then there’s all the risk. When I moved, I left family, friends, and a house – albeit, a house I couldn’t afford.
And what happens if a career relocation doesn’t work out?
Despite the risks, I committed to making a move. Over the course of three years, I completed my Master of Arts, and applied to graduate schools. At one point, I worked four part-time jobs. I applied for, and received, a scholarship from the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan, as well as other scholarships. My persistence, and the generosity of donors, allowed me to finish my degree. Finally, early in 2014, I received notice of various acceptances to PhD programs. Two of them were fully funded. I had to make a choice.
In September 2014, my family and I moved to Waterloo. Initially, I felt disappointed – both in circumstances and in myself – that I hadn’t managed to sustain a successful career near home. Soon, though, I became excited. I was eager to work with my advisor. I had also found a great townhouse within walking distance of a school, park, and library.
My first visit back to Flint, for a science fiction and neuroethics conference hosted by the Center for Cognition and Neuroethics in March 2015, had me asking one question.
Can you ever really go home again? I arrived in Flint late at night, and I was only in town for a day and a half, so it was a little surreal. Still, I recall feeling like it wasn’t home. Places that were familiar to me since I was very young didn’t feel familiar. Everything that has changed over the past couple of years is a little bit of a shock to me – the oldies station playing music from when I was a teenager, the renovations to the University of Michigan-Flint. These changes are old news to everyone else, and I know that if I had stayed, I probably wouldn’t have really noticed.
This past month, I have visited with my family. For me, it was somewhat comforting being back. In addition to seeing my family and friends, I ran into one of my teachers from high school. He asked about my plans for my PhD, and I told him about my work at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence and Centre for Career Action.
Then I chatted with my former colleagues from two different departments at the University of Michigan-Flint (including the first department I worked for, way back in 2004), which reminded me of how much I enjoyed my both the work, and the people with whom I worked. Nevertheless, Michigan is no longer quite home. Recently my five and a half year old son told me, “I want to go back to our new home.” He was not even yet four when we moved. To him, Waterloo is home.
While people and groups of people have of course moved throughout recent history to pursue opportunities, a study shows that frequent moves during a person’s childhood may be connected to poorer life quality in adulthood.
I have a dilemma, then. More so than people in other fields, job seekers in academia face the reality that they must move where jobs are available. Arguably, a new PhD will have trouble finding a position regardless. Phil Ray Jack points out that at least 70 percent of college courses are taught by part-time employees (and that was in 2008!). According to Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, the U.S. saw 100,000 new doctoral degrees from 2005-2009, but only 16,000 new professorial positions.
Those that secure tenure track positions will most likely have to move. More and more, I’m considering positions elsewhere in academia, known as alt-ac positions. For that reason, I’ve deliberately sought out positions in facilitation, event planning, and advising during my PhD. What I’ve discovered is a renewed vigor for teaching and advising – I love working with students; that is the reason I pursued a teaching degree in the first place. Knowing that a tenure track position is unlikely has opened my mind to new possibilities, and because of that, I’ve been able to take advantage of some amazing professional development opportunities at the University of Waterloo.
When I graduate, I would be delighted to stay and work in Waterloo, if there are suitable employment opportunities. I would be equally as delighted to return to Flint. Still, I have to be prepared for the possibility that there will not be jobs available when I look. To some extent, I’ll still be at the mercy of hiring trends, timing, and other factors beyond my control.
I’m optimistic, though. I know that starting my PhD in Waterloo when I did was the best move, both in my career and in my life, for me and for my family. Next time I pursue a career opportunity, I’ll be ready.
What about you? Have you had to move for a job or for school? Have you had to move a family? What were the factors in your decision, and what were the results?
 Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, Inc. “Q2 2013 Relocation Report: More Job Seekers Relocating for Work.” Survey. Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, Inc. 2013. Web. 30 Jul 2016. <https://www.challengergray.com/press/press-releases/q2-2013-relocation-report-more-job-seekers-relocating-work>.
 Henderon, Maureen J. “Why Do Millennials Move? The Answers May Surprise You.” Forbes. 5 Apr 2016. Web. 31 Jul 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2016/04/05/why-do-millennials-move-the-answers-may-surprise-you/#20933ec12665>.
 Thompson, Derek. “The Go-Nowhere Generation Speaks: ‘I’d Love to Move, but I Can’t.’” The Atlantic. 15 Mar 2012. Web. 01 Aug 2016. <http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/03/the-go-nowhere-generation-speaks-id-love-to-move-but-i-cant/254579/>.
 Oishi, Shigehiro and Ulrich Shimmack. “Residential Mobility, Well-being, and Mortality.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology98.6 (2010): 980-994.
 Jack, Phil Ray. “Waiting 20 Years for the Tenure Track.” Inside Higher Ed. 17 Jun 2008. Web. 02 Aug 2016. <https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/06/17/waiting-20-years-tenure-track>.
 Hacker, Andrew and Claudia Dreifus. Higher Education?: How Colleges are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It. New York: Times Books, 2010.
About The Author
Meghan K Riley is an ambitious, student-centred higher education professional, tutor and editor. She helps people with educational and career success, offering personalized tutoring, resume/cover letter review and university application coaching. Additionally, Meghan does research through the English Language and Literature PhD program at the University of Waterloo.
Meghan can be reached via Linkedin or via her website www.megankriley.com.