proFile of Juliet Kaarbo, University of Edinburgh

Julie Kaarbo and family

From an early age, Juliet “Julie” Kaarbo yearned for adventure. Born in Kansas and raised in Oklahoma, she “wanted to experience something different – and doing something international was about as different as you could get,” she said. But she also admits that it could be her distinctive and unique last name, a gift from her Norwegian grandparents who immigrated to the United States, that sparked her global interests. Whatever the cause, the effect has been a life full of adventure, challenges, choices and lessons.

A scholar of international relations and comparative foreign policy, Julie has taken her career to heart – not only studying relations among nations, but living them as well. She has traveled to and worked in nearly two-dozen countries, and has lived abroad in Germany, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom (twice). She now resides in Scotland with her spouse and their two children. This, of course, has not been easy. Traveling with a family can be challenging, but she and Ryan (her talented and adaptable academic life partner) have been committed to raising their children with a global perspective. “I am just a real believer that that exposure helps them in the future, to overcome difficulties when they have experienced a lot of different ways of thinking about things,” she said. Fortunately, the kids were willing to travel the world – and have now developed their own international interests. To that Julie declared “success!”

Raising children while working in academia, however, has also come with its challenges. “There’s a big hole in my CV from when the kids were young, and I’m proud of that,” Julie said. “And I was able to work through it, but it wasn’t always easy during that time.” On the other hand, she admitted that “being a parent and an academic is easy in some ways. You have more flexibility in your day, you can schedule around the kids. But when you are surrounded by a lot of people who don’t have kids, that work all the time, it can put you at a disadvantage.” Julie noted that women often work harder to overcome these challenges, but ultimately, “academia is a pretty good gig…there are still problems for women, but things are getting better.”

Undoubtedly, other life challenges emerge as well. In 2006 Julie was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer and was given a 50/50 chance of recovery. Rather than resign herself to a life of constant care and concern, Julie said she took “control of her body.” Having joined a gym after the birth of her second child just a few years before her diagnosis, she continued to exercise throughout her illness and benefitted tremendously from the sense of discipline and commitment to her health.

But Julie’s health challenges weren’t over after experiencing breast cancer. In 2009, Julie’s adventurous spirit led the family to move to Turkey for several months while she served as a research fellow at Bilkent University. While in Turkey, Julie jumped at the opportunity to experience an ATV journey in the picturesque region of Cappadocia. What was supposed to be a beautiful ride soon turned horrific when an accident on the four-wheeler led to a broken leg, broken clavicle, and seven broken ribs – a treacherous ambulance ride – ankle surgery – a collapsed lung – three different hospital stays – and two months without being able to walk. Despite these challenges and another close call with her physical health, Julie remained focused on her overall well-being. And even completed a textbook manuscript from her hospital bed (thank goodness for wifi)!

Although she has reached the top of the proverbial “professorial ladder,” and clearly enjoys her work, Julie says she doesn’t live a completely stress-free life. “I still grit my teeth at night. There is always a to-do list to make and always things to cross off. But I try to take down times in the evening. I don’t work after 5:00 on most days. I may stress about the work I’m not doing,” she laughed, “but at least I’m not working!” Finding time to read fiction for pleasure and practice yoga and meditation are outlets for her as she seeks to manage her full and eventful life.

So how might other women in higher ed achieve what Julie has – a successful career and a life full of adventure? Julie suggests we seek out mentors, find our personal and professional role models, and build our networks. She said “figure out what you want to do, explore new things if that’s what you want to do, or stay in the same place if that’s what you want to do. But stop listening to all the other pressures. If you want to have kids have kids, but know it’s never going to be about balance. Someone once said there is no such thing as balancing life and work, it’s just about serial neglect,” she said rather facetiously. “We neglect our kids when we are working at work, and when we focus on our kids or want to go on holiday then our work goes into the bin for a while. You have to know there are always going to be tradeoffs, but if that’s what you want you can figure it out.”

Julie’s experiences have been nothing short of extraordinary. She admitted that life-threatening diseases and injuries certainly put things in perspective. But she said that no matter what your personal challenges might be, they provide the “chance to look at your life and figure out what you want – that’s the important part.” True to her adventurous spirit, Julie is living her life to the fullest and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.