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How far will you go to stay in science? Let C&EN know!

As I’ve mentioned previously, I went through a job search last year, and had been preparing for the possibility of a career change after 20+ years as a medicinal chemist. I was able to stay surprisingly positive through it all, and managed to land a new position in May of last year as….a medicinal chemist.

So much for the career change, right? Well, not so fast. Because much has changed.

First, there’s the setting. I’ve gone from an industrial setting in Big Pharma to what is essentially an academic setting at a nonprofit research institute. It’s very invigorating here, and I need to wear different hats through a typical day. Translation: Busy. But that’s a good thing.

Yeah. This is fun. Courtesy flickr user fakoman

Second, and perhaps foremost, is the time spent commuting. At my last position, my round-trip daily commute was about an hour on average. While unemployed, when I began my tenure here as an electron pusher, my commute was zero. Okay, maybe a few seconds walking from one room in my house to another. Now however, I typically spend around three hours a day on the road.

The upshot is my days are long, and when I get home, I have at best two good hours before it’s time for sleep—and my brain disengages long before that, I’m afraid. And yes, if you’re wondering, there is a discernible difference, thankyouverymuch.

And, to make matters worse, there were several articles this past May discussing the results of a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine entitled “Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk,” which examined health effects of long-distance commuting. I’m afraid the data doesn’t look very good.

The data showed statistically significant correlations between commuting distance and increases in blood pressure, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI).

The researchers summarized by stating,

“Daily commuting represents a source of chronic stress that has been correlated positively with physiologic consequences including high blood pressure, self-reported tension, fatigue, and other negative mental or physical health effects in some studies.”

Uh-oh.

In other words, Long Distance Commute = Bad For Your Health.

I’m striving to be an outlier from this data, but I realize all too well that I’m putting myself at risk, both chronically and acutely, with all the miles I now drive.

However, this is a minor complaint—I know I’m very fortunate to be employed. The job market appears little better, if any, than it did a year ago. I’m still monitoring the situation, as a few of my former colleagues are looking for a job, either due to the same site closure that affected me, or a subsequent one after they were able to land elsewhere.

Tip: When away from home for an extended period, keep a family portrait on your desk. Not this family—yours. Courtesy flickr user Gary M

There’s another long-distance commuting situation that—to me, at least—seems to be more common now than it had previously been. I’m referring to those that have retained their current position, or have found a new one, but have had to move far away from their families. The sad result is they are now only able to be with their families on weekends, or even less frequently. This particular variation on the two-body problem causes a completely different form of heartsickness than from extra sedentary hours per day. This is a situation that I have great difficulty picturing myself doing and have deliberately tried to avoid. That said, you never know what you’re capable of enduring if you have no other options.

This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by C&EN, which, in the coming months, will publish an article about chemists who have had to relocate while their families remain behind.

If this is a situation in which you find yourself and would be willing to share your experience regarding the pros and cons of your predicament as a contribution to this story, please contact Susan J. Ainsworth, Senior Editor, ACS News & Special Features Group. Her email address is…

S_Ainsworth AT acs DOT org.

Your experience may provide reassurance to others facing this dilemma. Thanks in advance for your help!