Preparing to go home

I came to Stanford in late October 2019 for a two-year appointment as a postdoc. But with four months to go, I’m already preparing to go home.

This past year has been really different for a lot of people. Many have had the opportunity to work from home or from a different state or even country, provided that their work was suitable for it. Personally, I’ve had the opportunity to work both in the lab and from home at different periods of the pandemic. Working with computational chemistry or computational biology, all I really need is an internet connection and an access point to a good computer cluster where I can submit my calculations. But this past year I’ve also been fortunate enough to get the opportunity to learn a lot of experimental methods, which of course required me to be physically present in the lab.

So if I need to be in the lab, why am I preparing to go home so early? Family matters, of course. We are planning to register our kids for school back home and then the idea has always been that if necessary, I will come back for the remainder of the time. By that time I’ll have another 2 months before my term expires. So the question is – do I really have to come back for such a short time period?

Considering how many people have been working remotely this past year I thought it would be simple enough to work those final two months remotely. I will make sure not to have any lab work left to do and focus that time on writing up or running calculations remotely. No big deal, right? At the beginning of the shelter-in-place order we all signed a paper on remote working, wouldn’t that still be valid? But apparently, the answer to all of the above is: NO.

After a discussion with our department admin I learned that there is a whole process that we need to go through for remote working from another country and it involves getting approval from the Dean’s Office. Unfortunately, it seems that my timing was off as I applied for distance work as Stanford is planning for everyone to return to campus. Starting in September, all staff are expected to be back again, so for me personally I’m unsure how to move forward. Either way, I will be going back home, but whether I come back for a month or two once everything is settled is undecided at this time.

Coming back has a lot of other complexities involved. For one thing, the travel ban is still in place, meaning that to enter the US again I will need to apply for and be granted a National Interest Exemption (NIE). According to the US Embassy website in Sweden, such an exemption can take up to 20 business days to process. Once it has been approved I will need to book the flight and find temporary accommodations. After arrival I will also need to re-activate my phone, insurance, and other things that I’ve already forgotten about now. It shouldn’t be too hard to get back to business once I’m back in the US, but the question I keep asking myself is: is it really necessary to come back? What can I do here that I won’t be able to do from home at such a late stage of my appointment?

Right now I try not to worry too much about the future. The departure date is set. Before that, we will have to sell or give away all the things in our apartment that we can’t or won’t bring with us. THAT’s enough to deal with for now…

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