Is an Academic Career Compatible with Being a Mom?
Archived Q&A and Reviews
- When is the best time to have a baby?
- Why I'm not applying for faculty positions
- Pondering an academic career? A ray of hope
- Contemplating what to do after I finish my thesis
- More advice about Academic Parents
I am currently the Graduate Dean at Berkeley and a researcher on the effects of family formation on the careers of academics. I am also a mother of two grown children and navigated these issues while they were growing up. Despite intensive research in this area it is still difficult to answer the question often asked of me by my graduate students, when is the best time to have a baby?
What do you think?
Before women begin graduate programs should they be given more clear information about the challenges of managing family and career in academia? Should more be done to help graduate students make decisions about the timing of these issues? What can current professors do to better encourage promising young women to stay in the pipeline to satisfying tenured jobs? And finally, when do you think is the best time to have a baby?
Mary Ann Mason
I'm in the middle of this now. I'm a postdoc with a 22 month old son. I definitely DO NOT think that only women should be given information about challenges of managing a family and a career in academia. This sends a message that (a)it is the woman's responsibility to manage the family and (b) it's too hard so you have to decide RIGHT NOW (before even starting grad school or in many cases meeting the future dad) which it is going to be. In my case, my husband stays home with our son and his career has been much more affected than mine. However, I must admit that I had rather naively assumed that because my husband was staying at home my career would sail on practically uninterupted...NOT the case. 3 months of maternity leave plus 6 months of sleep depravation plus a year (okay in my case 6 months) of having to pump breast milk every 3 hours plus having to be home at a reasonable hour so my husband doesn't go insane equals delaying my search for an assistant professor position by a year. I think what would help women with babies the most is a break for both genders when it comes to assessing productivity at the end of a four (or five or six) year postdoc if they've started a family. I haven't started looking for academic positions, and it may turn out that I don't continue in academia. I do feel that if this is the case it will have nothing to do with the birth of my son. edah
I think the best answer to that question is that there is never a *convenient* time to have a baby. Like any of the people in our lives we come to care about, your child will be a challenge from time to time and will demand your time and attention on days when your focus might have been elsewhere. He or she will also get sick at the absolute most inconvenient time and will stay awake on the nights you most need to burn the midnight oil.
But, that being said, being in academia and having a child can be especially rewarding for all parties concerned. I (mostly) have the summer to be with my family and the hours I spend away from home working are far less than when I had a 9-5 job. My child has a great example of what it means to be committed to the process of learning and has contact with a group of brilliant and creative adults.
It is tough. I spend a lot of late nights reading and writing and a lot of bleary eyed mornings afterwards playing with the kiddos in the park. I have found a few things to be crucial:
- get or keep your sense of humor, you won't survive without it
- learn to be in the moment, if you spend the time you are writing worrying about your child's cough, nobody wins. And, by contrast, if you spend the day your child first starts to walk wondering if you'll get tenure, you've cheated yourself and him/her.
- plan ahead as much as you can, but cultivate a sense of flexibility. Keep a bunch of frozen dinners on hand and be prepared for the day your toddler will only be satisfied with one for breakfast.
- for every person who rolls their eyes after you miss a deadline because you were busy holding a child who was feverish and inconsolable, there will be two who have been there and give you a pat on the shoulder and the understanding look that gets you through today.
grad student & mom
First and most importantly, this is NOT a women's issue. As long as we single out women in discussing this topic, we let men off the hook. Especially in the sciences, many of them continue to think it normal or even better to have a stay at home spouse, something that almost no academic woman has, and this preconception often discourages them from taking their female colleagues and students seriously. Moreover, how many of the children growing up in de facto single parent academic households, whose parents teach at other campuses in other cities and even other countries, live with their fathers? UC lags far, far behind the many state university systems that compete with us and the Ivies by offering good jobs to almost all spouses who want them. Providing excellent affordable daycare is also a more encouraging sign than warning female students entering doctoral programs of the hazards ahead, something that will just confirm to their professors of either gender that they don't belong there. Not to mention healthcare. Just today I overheard a grad student describing how his wife was delaying a second prenatal exam because they could not afford it!
That being said, the two best times, in my experience/observation, to have a baby as a female academic are early or late, that is as a graduate student or as a tenured faculty member. If one does so as a graduate student in the humanities, one needs to be able to focus to finish a dissertation, but the extra year or two will not cost you much professionally. What will cost you enormously is, prejudice against women and against mothers in particular aside, the flexibility to apply for jobs around the country, unless you have an usually accomodating spouse, and to move up the ladder to a second university quickly once you have relocated from the institution where you attended graduate school. If you wait until after tenure, it may well be too late, but by this point you have a pretty big buffer. Your career will probably go on autopilot for several years, and if you teach at Berkeley you can still expect all kinds of extra trouble in moving up the ladder, but you are in a far, far stronger position. Of the mothers (out of twice that number of women) in my department, all fit one of these two models. The percentage of fathers is not any higher, by the way, and while I do not know all the details, I suspect it is largely true of them as well.
an disenchanted professor
I don't think there is a best time to have a baby, regardless of your career. I just turned 31, my daughter will be 10 next month, I've been a single mom for over 3 years and I am currently a postdoc at UCB. Having my daughter when I was 21 has not hurt my career; rather, it made me focus on my work and end goals. Compared to my peers, I have published, participated in teaching and conferences at about the same level - and I have interviewed for 4 tenure-track positions, so I know my CV has faired well through a child. To be completely honest, given my personality, I'm not sure when I would have planned to have a child - I would be facing the same question of the best time. For me, the best time was during undergraduate school. As I have moved through the various stages of academia (undergrad, grad, postdoc), I have come to realize that the stress tends to increase as you move through - and have encouraged other couples to go ahead and have kids during grad school rather than wait. Yes, the degree may take longer - but many faculty are more than happy to work with students on a different schedule - and in the end it probably won't impact your career to have spent an extra year or so in grad school.
I think staying in the academy requires dedication and a realization that change comes from within - the structure appears rigid from outside but once you are in the system, there is more flexibility. As more and more families with different structures become part of the system, the entire system should become more flexible and family-friendly over time. Yes, I think there should be more opportunities for discussion of post-grad school life - for both men and women - and also concrete solutions/ideas for tenure-track/family issues from those who have already been there. Kristen
Hi Mary Ann, First, let me say that I am intensely grateful for your research in this area. You are one of the very few people who seems to have a clear understanding of the importance and complexity of this issue. Second, in regard to when the best time to have children is, my opinion is that it is NOT at the same time that one plans to start a tenure-track position. Either before, when one is a graduate student or postdoc and has a bit more free time (although the grad students might not believe me here, it's true), or after one has tenure and the pressure has eased somewhat, would be better. And to keep women in the professorial pipeline? My opinion is the single most effective move would be to make part-time positions a real option for women (and men, for that matter). My goal all through graduate school was to have a tenure-track position; however, I have a child now, and do not see any possibility of working the number of hours such a position (full-time) would require. 35-40 hours a week is all I have in me; 60 or more is physically impossible. Although the current practice is to grant faculty members who have a child a semester, or perhaps a year, of reduced time, this would not have worked for me. My child is 4 years old, and there is no time during his life when I would have been able to work more than 40 hours per week. Although my evidence is anecdotal, I have spoken with a fair number of female graduate students who are considering both having children and starting a career, and with only one or two exceptions, all of them feel as I do about the amount of work they think is reasonable for them. The doubt they express about their ability to do the amount of work required to get tenure is nearly universal. Karen
Only just saw this post and the first set of responses. I agree that there is never a convenient time to have a child. In regards to getting a tenure track position, probably the very worst time is when you are just out of grad school, and in a temporary teaching or administration job. You are working full-time with little time to 'write', the universal tenure clock is already a year or two into its life span, and you show up pregnant at the interview for a tenure track position. There are at least a few of us who got derailed this way. Is there any reason to hope for (or to desire) re-entry programs? Martha
I read with interest the original responses to Dean Mason's post. I am a mother of a nine-year-old son who waited until I was pretty sure of tenure to get pregnant. At the time I was thirty-eight. Since then I have become aware of many women (a few of them close friends) who also waited until about that age and were unable to get pregnant despite invasive hormonal and other (often terribly expensive) procedures. This took a toll on their relationships and, more importantly, their own happiness. Subsequently I have read articles that suggest that even starting in her late twenties a woman's fertility can decrease substantially. I realized that I was incredibly lucky in being able to get pregnant easily.
My pregnancy was also healthy and easy, but nothing prepared me for the first six months of my son's life. I adored him and was ready to do anything for him, but my thirty-nine-year-old body had real difficulty with the sleep deprivation and healing. I have since spoken to many women about this and it seems that those who waited until later to have children experienced much more difficulty -- women in their twenties or early thirties seemed much more able to cope. The combination of being older and feeling unable to cope is an interesting bind -- in my professional life I had come to feel enormously capable and strong, and now here was something that women throughout the ages had handled not just once, but multiple times, and I wasn't handling it well at all. My self-confidence as a mother was low, which made it harder to balance career and motherhood. Shouldn't I be trying harder as a mother to make up for my feelings of inadequacy?
Long story short, I think that first of all we should not necessarily present the idea of motherhood after tenure as a given option. After thirty-five it might not happen for some women, and that should be made very clear in conversations with grad students of both genders. Women and their partners should consider whether adoption would be a good option, whether they are prepared to go through and pay for IVF or other procedures. Or whether it would be satisfactory not to have any children after all.
Women and their partners should also be made aware of the kinds of psychological strain I mentioned above. When you get pregnant, everyone says casually ''Your life will change,'' but most people do not say ''You will become delusional with exhaustion,'' ''You will wonder what happened to your strong, capable self,'' ''Nursing doesn't come naturally to everyone,'' ''You won't want your partner to touch you for six months,'' or some of the other specific things that can happen. I'm not talking about what necessarily happens, only what can happen. I think that all working women and perhaps especially the older prospective mothers could be helped by conversation/therapy groups that combine prospective parents and experienced parents.
Having said all of this, things are working out well with my nine-year-old, and my department is incredibly supportive. I am grateful to be a mom, but I hope that we can discuss our ''choices'' with one another more realistically.
I have very much enjoyed reading the variety of thoughtful responses that have been posted regarding my 'Babies Matter' questions. It reminds me how important it is to have a venue for discussions that highlight the complexity of these issues for women and men who want to combine childrearing and academia. Now that additional family accommodations have recently become available to faculty with caregiving responsibilities, it will be important to publicize them, and to ensure that faculty feel comfortable using them.
I was surprised that few graduate students weighed in on the dialogue, particularly in light of the fact that they are the next generation of women and men who will continue into faculty positions or opt for other choices. Age timelines for the receipt of the PhD continue to extend, so that the median age at PhD is now 33, and the median age at tenure is now 39 years of age. As many of you pointed out, it is becoming less and less an option for women faculty to postpone childbearing until after tenure. We must then do more to make childbearing feel like, and be a viable choice at the graduate level, as we are working to do at the assistant professor level.
I hope that we can continue to engage in discussion on these valuable topics.
Mary Ann Mason
Since Dean Mason pointed out that few graduate students have responded to her initial query, and since I am part of a queer family of two grad student parents, I thought I'd chime in. My partner and I decided that the post-orals period of grad school was as good a time as any to have a first child, as I was unwilling even to consider waiting until tenure to conceive. I gave birth just under a year after advancing to candidacy and have found that, overall, the challenges of parenting a young child have been more or less compatible with the challenges of researching and writing a dissertation. What made it all possible was the heavily-subsidized and generally high-quality UC childcare. Since my partner is also a graduate student, we never could have afforded private daycare. I would heartily endorse the opinion that all faculty, staff, and students need more spaces than are currently available and, equally importantly, that the ECEP be administered in a way that makes the admissions process more transparent and accessible. For example, I have friends who submitted applications years ago and assume, since they have not been contacted, that there are no spaces available. Time and time again, I have seen that unless a parent calls repeatedly and persistently, his/her application simply falls through the cracks. At any rate, in my experience, affordable and excellent child care are at the heart of the issue of ''balancing'' academic work and family.
As for the same-sex family set of issues, I have found my department (History) to be a tolerant, laissez-faire place generally, and I have the full support of my advisor(s). I have also worked within Gender and Women's Studies, which is an exceptionally supportive environment for queer students, students parents, and queer parents. My daughter has always been the only child of same-sex parents in her daycare/preschool classes on campus, but teachers have been inclusive, responsive, and respectful. As a resident of UC Village, however, I have often felt that we must be the ''only ones'' and have sometimes felt isolated as a queer family. I wish that I had taken more initiative to organize same-sex families on campus and in the Village and would urge others in my position to solicit institutional support for fostering a community of queer parents.
I am graduating in May and moving to Indiana to begin work as an assistant professor. As we consider the difficulties of having another child sometime in the next several years, I realize that grad school truly was a great time for us to begin our family and that Berkeley has been a wonderful community in which to do so. I feel fortunate to have received a job at a Catholic college as an out, queer mom, and genuinely hope that my experience becomes more the ''norm'' and less the ''exception'' in the near future.
I can relate to all the female students that wondered when it is a good time to have kids when you plan a career in academia. I asked that question my self in my second or third years of my Ph.D. program and I was told I should wait until my postdoc because you really want to have good publications from your Ph.D.. I am happy to report that I didnt wait and I had my first baby during my fourth year. During my pregnancy and after I came back to work, I focused more than ever during work hours and focused on my baby while at home. I landed a good postdoc any way a few years later and decided I could not wait any longer to give my son a little sister, so I did. Comparing the two experiences I have to say that having a baby during grad school was somewhat different than as a postdoc. Nobody tells you what the rules are because there are none! I came back to work only six weeks after a C- section for my first baby just because I felt the pressure of coming back to the lab no body was saying anything out loud though -. As a postdoc, I had FMLA and sick and vacation days, so I stayed home a lot longer. Since graduate students are not considered staff -even though they receive a stipend from UC either from TAships or RAships-, they have no protection in such cases. Someone in my department even suggested that I did not need a stipend that quarter because I was going to have a baby luckily my advisors jumped in and did the right thing. I have to say that my mentors were in both cases extremely supportive. I can not say, however, if my formula was right since I havent started looking for permanent positions, but I am doing ok as far as publications go and I am extremely happy with my two kids. Happy Postdoc mother of two
Hi, I am a 6th year graduate student at Cal and I just had a baby girl 9 months ago. We are both 28 years old and my husband is a postdoc here at Cal. Graduate school is really a great time to have a baby as long as you have a supportive advisor and are ok with the fact that you are going to take longer to get your Ph.D. than the typical 5-years. I believe that no one is really going to look at your CV and ask you why you took 7 years in grad school versus 5. As long as you were productive during that time (a few papers would be great), you will be treated the same as those who took only 5. Additionally, since most people have more than one kid, you should start the process early so that you are young and still early in your career when you have very young children. I am no longer planning on going into academia (but that is another story!), but if I were I would plan to have my next child during my post doc. In truth, there is never an ''ideal'' time to have a baby, but there may be slightly better or worse times. No matter when you do it, you'll be thrilled with the experience. It's hard work and a lot of fun!!! grad mom
Thanks again to Mary Ann Mason and to all the UC people that answered her posting. In response to Mary Ann's remark on graduate students, I wanted to give my two cents, on top of thanking her for all the research and hard work she has put into family matters these past years.
I am a graduate student in the humanities in my fifth year, currently writing my dissertation. I am 34 and have two children. My overall opinion is that, whenever it is possible, it is ''easier'' to have kids while being a graduate student than afterwards, once on the tenure-track.
I had my first daughter towards the end of my second semester in grad school. I resumed working, although not full time, the following fall, and had another baby two years later, right after my qualifying exams. The hardest thing was the first post-baby semester. I officially took a semester off from school to stop the normative time clock, although I kept ''unofficially'' working with my advisor. As an international student, being off for one semester also meant not having a student visa for six months: no health care, no job- permit, no possibility to teach on campus, no money whatsoever. Very hard, isolating and depressing. So hard that the second time around I did not take the semester off and taught, so as to have a salary and health care (even though my three-month-old did not seem to understand that to be both a good mother and a decent teacher I needed to sleep more than four hours a night).
My take by now is that, although very hard to handle, having babies while in graduate school is a better option than waiting until when we get a job and start the tenure-track race. I do not know the job market first-hand yet, but the young professors around me are, in my opinion, much busier than I am, academically speaking. I have to mainly write my dissertation; when I do not have a fellowship to do that, I have to teach a class. Whereas they have to deal with administrative tasks, graduate students, committees, publishing, etc. All in all I think that the life of a graduate student allows a certain flexibility, and that this flexibility tends to disappear once one becomes a professor. After all, we are still students, and can afford to be considered as such.
There are so many other factors that enter in the picture, and so many different situations; for example, many people prefer to wait until they have a certain financial stability to have a family, and graduate students clearly do not have many financial resources. I am lucky enough to have both kids enrolled in the UC (sliding fee) child-care system. As I see it, this is the ONLY way I can afford to be in graduate school while raising two kids (I have a friend who thanked her sons' teachers in her dissertation acknowledgements - think about it, they are the most important people for a working parent's mental stability). The support offered by the university to students parents, as well as faculty and staff parents, is in this sense fundamental, and needs to be made available to as many people as possible. It can turn an impossible dilemma into a viable choice.
I am not saying my ''recipe'' is good for everyone. I am simply so glad I will not to have to deal with both a tenure clock and a newborn baby (or two) at the same time.
I am a graduate student, age 30, in my ninth and final year of a Ph.D. program at Berkeley (eight or nine is typical in my department). I had a child a year and a half ago, and I am extremely glad I didn't wait. I was able to take two months completely off without anyone even noticing and then return to work half-time+ for a few more months before jumping in full-time. And even then people were impressed with how quickly I got back to work. I was very fortunate in that I could rely on my husband's income for that period -- I didn't have a GSR or GSI position or fellowship for that first year -- and that he has been very supportive of my career overall, including by reducing his own work schedule to four days a week while I work (dissertate etc.) full time+.
I don't think there is a better time than grad school to have a child as an academic, unless you expect to get tenure before 35. However, that doesn't mean it isn't exhausting and miserable much of the time. I am tireder than I have ever been in my life, and I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I consider giving the whole thing up literally daily. I also was not able to find a tenure-track position in my first foray on the job market, so I don't even know what I'm doing next year at this point.
The hardest thing about all of this is that if you slow down, you're done. I am working my butt off to get articles out, go to conferences, etc. in the hopes of getting a tenure-track job next year because if I don't, what options do I have? A Ph.D. in my field isn't useless outside academia, but I would have to seriously rethink my career. I try to stay positive about the whole thing -- I know this is the problem of a very privileged person -- but I am very close to jumping off the whole track.
A related issue for me is that I would like to have a second child, but have no idea how to time it. From a career perspective, I feel like being pregnant/having a new baby would be problematic 1) during a postdoc, 2) while interviewing for jobs, and 3) in the first year of a t-t position. That could be a number of years yet, and because of family history my fertility may end sooner than average. Ultimately, I'm going to choose having a second child above having an academic career. If luck goes my way, I can still do both, but it's far from a sure thing.
I guess my fantasy world would be one in which it were possible to work half-time for a period and then get back on board the train. I have no desire to be a stay at home mom. What I'd really like is to be able to work thirty hours a week for the next few years without giving up the possibility of an academic career. I don't know, though, what kinds of policy changes would make that possible. Academia is competitive, and the jobs are going to continue to go to the people who work the hardest/most. In a way I think that's fair, but on the other hand, there's no question that it pushes a very large percentage of women off the track, or out of motherhood, and I don't know that that serves society well in the long run.
One final thought -- I think that any solution has to make this about changing culture for everyone vs. making exceptions for women. The latter will just make women second-class citizens.
I wish I had answers and not just complaints. But I do appreciate that Berkeley is trying to show leadership on this issue.
Tired grad student mom
One very practical way for UC to be supportive childrearing during the postdoc years would be for UC to pay for health insurance. At UCSF, postdocs are required to carry health insurance, but the university does not require the department or the PI to pay for any of that coverage. Many postdocs end up having to pay their own way for health insurance both for themselves and their dependent children - a substantial cost. UCSF postdoc
Regarding the question of motherhood and academia, I feel compelled to respond to the following line from a recent article:
We were shocked to find that we have all of these great policies, but nobody knew about them, said Ms. Switkes. They were buried way down deep in some policy documents.The great policies to which Ms. Switkes refers, are things like taking maternity leave, and stopping the tenure clock for a single year (or maybe a couple of years). Or perhaps a semester or twos break from teaching.
Unfortunately, these policies do not address my ultimate problem with academia. I have a Ph.D., enjoy research, and have always dreamt of being a professor. However, I've never actually applied for a position. Why not? The answer is simple. I have never actually met a female professor who didn't have either a husband with a flexible schedule, or a nanny (even when their children were in school), or both. I have also never met one who didn't say that she had to work 60 hours or more a week, at least some weeks, or grade papers at 3:00 in the morning, or something to that effect.
My husband has an extremely rigid schedule. He has to work 60 hours or more a week, if he wants to keep his job which he does. I don't have a nanny. And I am at my limit with the 35-40 hours per week I now work. No way can I work 60 hour weeks, even sometimes.
As I see it, taking maternity leave, or stopping the tenure clock for a year or two, doesn't fix the problem that when the maternity leave is over, and the clock is running again, I will be expected to work those 60 hour weeks. So, there's no professorship for me. The only thing that would work would be a part-time position.
Logically, half of a 60 to 80 hour week would be 30 or 40 hours, which would be just fine. I'd be getting paid a lot less, but at least I'd have a life outside my lab.
I am reading your postings with great interest. I was a grad student at UCB in the 80's and received less than zero support for family issues (both childcare and parent care). It was dismal. I have maintained my anthropology career in teaching, and at Vista ( community college) I interviewed intially with a toddler in a stroller and myself at 5 months pregnant -- meaning I'd need to take a maternity leave in my first semester, and they said YES! Support out there is spotty at best, but there are some enlightened individuals and departments. Attitudes, even among senior women faculty, are quite variable. In fact, some of the greatest obstacles are tenured female faculty who somehow had it easy in the 1960's and now take it out on the current generation of academics. It is certainly not fair or predictable. Good luck to everyone, and believe in yourselves! Frieda
I had two children while in grad school (humanities) and filed at UCB last year. I would like to add my voice to those praising the Early Childhood Education centers and teachers. The excellent and subsidized (!) care given to my boys was probably the single greatest contributing factor to the completion of my PhD in a timely fashion, and to my sanity throughout. If families are important to the UC system, expanding the childcare system and solving its administrative problems is of primary importance.
Also, I would like to point out the absence of fathers from this conversation, both in the way the question was raised and in the lack of responses from fathers. I know that grad student fathers are out there - did having children not affect any of your work? Doesn't this issue matter to men? More importantly, are we going to allow the thorny questions regarding families and academia to be only a woman's question (or burden)? Ayelet
I am grateful for Mary Ann Mason's important scholarly work and have found the responses about ''when is the best time to have a baby'' thoughtful and interesting. But there is a way in which they make me feel invisible. Part of the difficulty (mostly for women) in combining academia with a full rich life (including family) is the difficulty in finding a partner. In my department, 40% of the female faculty are single/unpartnered as compared to 6% of the men. These statistics are not unusual. They suggest something systemic. Family- friendly policies are exceedingly important and I support them fully. But maybe there is something more deeply wrong with an academic culture that results in disparities like these. Although I love my work and feel that I'm making important contributions (and by all external markers am a ''success story''), if I could have looked this far into the future when starting graduate school, I think I would have made other choices.
tenured and lonely
For any of you pondering pursuing an academic career and wanting to balance that with a family life: I'd like to add my story as a potential ray of hope so that some of you may not be discouraged by what you are reading everywhere about the entrenched difficulties in combining academia and children.
On one hand, the open dialogue and introspection by university officials and individuals about these problems and biases that is finally occurring is essential to correcting them. I am encouraged that these difficulties are being discussed in a variety of settings, both here at this website and at the national level with high-level university officials (e.g., Oct 27 2005 UC Families Newsletter).
On the other hand, the relentless stories about how un-family-friendly so many institutions are make me also worry that they will frighten away qualified people from even applying for academic positions; but that will ultimately have the effect that it will take even longer for universities to become truly family friendly.
So here's my story. I was hired at UC Berkeley into an assistant professor position (50% chemistry, 50% earth science) at 35 years old. My biological clock meant it would be risky to wait until after tenure to start a family. In my 3rd year, I had my first baby. Very fortunately, the chairs and vice chairs of the departments knew about UC's family policies and strongly encouraged me to take advantage of them (although even they did not stress that my husband could take advantage of some of them, too, which would have helped me out even more!). I postponed my tenure decision a year and I had teaching relief for a semester.
These policies were essential in helping me adjust to new parenthood and to continue my research. For some inexplicable reason, I wanted another child and became pregnant in my fifth year. Although I could have officially postponed my tenure decision another year, I turned in my tenure package 3 days before my second child was born as I felt that if I didn't get tenure then, based on my work to date, then I wasn't going to get it period. I did get tenure and I feel, in my individual case, that the faculty and administration did not judge my case any differently than someone who had not taken a year off their tenure clock.
I know there may be many cases in which discrimination has occurred, but I want to get the word out there that it is possible to be judged fairly and that I have managed to enjoy both being a parent and being a professor and have felt accepted by my colleagues. I feel that I have not had to fight in my particular career to see that I be treated fairly -- fortunately for me, that fighting was done by women who came before me in my departments (and who continue to do so in the higher level of the administration) so that I have been more free to teach, do research, and enjoy my family.
So, if you are truly interested in and inspired by an academic job, I hope you will give it a go and see where your individual trajectory takes you. The good news about all this dialogue about how many things can go wrong in academe is that you will go forth armed with the power of information -- information on your rights and on past and potential problems with the university system, as highlighted in this newsletter, and this information will provide you with better protection should you need it and knowing who to see early if you perceive potential problems.
I am a grad student mother of an infant and contemplating what to do after I finish my thesis. I had always anticipated that I would go on the academic job market but now as a mother I am wondering whether the high-pressure tenure track jobs found in academia would really satisfy my desire to be an active and involved parent of my child as well as any future children I hope to have.
I am curious to know how others have approached the work-home balance, specifically in academia, or I am interested if you have opted for another route because you didn't think it would work ( or for another reason.), did you miss that research- intellectual environment? I am not aware of any part-time or job-sharing in academia but if anyone has experience with this, I would be interested in that too.
Also if anyone is willing to speak to me privately about their choice I would be interested. I am not giving my contact information, as I believe my department would be upset if they knew I had any misgivings. I feel like this choice coming up is tearing me apart.
Although my husband is supportive of what I choose, he has doubts that an academic position will give me enough time at home to make me happy and does not really want to move and job search for himself if I am not fully committed to that career choice.
Any thoughts from people who have made choices, are contemplating these choices, or have seen others wrestle with them would be appreciated.
Feeling trapped to make a decision
I worked full-time in academia for the first couple years of my daughter's life (though I've since left academia for other reasons), and I agree that it *can* be really hard to balance motherhood and a high-powered academic career (as it is to balance motherhood and ANY high-powered career), but it can be done... Can you set your sights on something other than a top- tier research university that will expect you to publish a book every couple of years just to keep your job? I taught at an excellent small liberal arts college, in a part of the country where we could afford to have a good nanny for about 30 hours a week, and I felt good about how much time I managed to spend with my daughter. I was usually able to negotiate my teaching schedule so that I was at home at least two weekdays a week (which I can't do in my current job.) And of course there are the summers off and other breaks during the year. I was very dedicated to teaching, and didn't publish a great deal, but I didn't have to to stay where I was. The students there were extremely bright, my colleagues were stimulating, and I enjoyed my work. There were other young moms beside me teaching where I was, and they seemed to manage pretty well, too. I'd advise you to give it a try....if it doesn't work for you, you can always leave after a couple of years. Elise
After my first baby, I took my orals and wrote my dissertation proposal, and decided that I would move away from research universities and look for a job at a teaching universities. After my second baby, I decided to look into research foundations instead of academia. More 9-5:00 hours, but less stress, I think. It is not that I think it cannot be done, but rather, that *I* do not have it in me. That is, I have friends who are professors at big-name universities, and they seems to babance motherhood just fine. I know that I am not them. I, for one, will not be seeking a job within the academy afer I graduate. Later, perhaps, but not now.
Trying to do it all!
I, and a number of my friends, easily could have written your posting word for word. In fact, I meet with a couple of my friends with doctorates each month to discuss the work/family balance issue. Throughout grad school and my post doc I had planned to become a professor, but I also always knew that I was not going to be a full-time academic and to be the kind of mother I wanted to be (I now have a 14-month-old). Frankly, I just kept thinking ''everything will work out'' and even did a job talk while pregnant. But I eventually fully admitted to myself that although some women and in some fields you can ''have it all'', for me the process of getting tenured and having small children would be simply incompatible. I really like to be with my daughter and I really didn't want anyone else to be primarily responsible for her. I also had to face the fact that I really didn't want to move because my husband and I love the Bay Area. We had lived back East when I was in grad school and were miserable.
My solution has been to work part-time (50%) as a research scientist. This kind of position is perfect for me now because I spend all of my professional time on research (which I prefer to teaching), and can continue to pursue my interests and publish. It is hard to get a position like this (although easier in the hard than in the soft sciences - I don't know what your field is), but it was doable because I have been a post doc at Cal for 3 years and my mentor here was happy to keep me on in this position. I was also far enough from my grad school mentors that I didn't feel as though as I let them down by not going the professor route. I think that perhaps in 5 or 10 years I may consider going onto the job market. I may be too ''old'' for highly competitive universities at that point and sometimes I have pangs of sadness for having given up that goal, but I have no regrets at all. I would not opt for the high-powered career over time with my children, and I felt as though that was the decision I was facing.
Boy, does this one resonate with me; I have been struggling with the same issues since I got pregnant (my son's 18 months old now). I'm currently a research coordinator for a professor here on campus (a position I've had for several years). This is ideal in many ways, mostly because of the flexibility, and the fact that I'm still able to be involved academically (I personally could not survive without this). However, it's also a temporary position, so I do have to move on eventually.
A couple of things I've discovered: There are many women (myself among them) who are very reluctant to take a tenure track position at a major research university, for precisely the reasons you mention. There's even been research presented recently (I believe by the Center for the Study of Higher Education) linking the point in your career when a child is born with whether or not you ever get tenure (you're less likely to if your child is born in the first five years of your career). However, I also know women who took positions at ''second-rank'' universities (e.g. teaching universities, state universities) who are happy with both career and motherhood. I also know a couple of women here on campus who managed to combine both a stellar career and involved parenthood. The latter does seem to be unusual, though.
I would be very happy to have someone to talk with about this; you are more than welcome to email or call me. Karen
I am the happy mom of two young happy children born after starting my academic career. I think that the decision to mix an academic career with motherhood depends on timing, whether you wish to have more children, the tenure demands of your school, how ambitious you are, the idiosyncratic policies of the school you work at, and how involved your partner is in parenting and housework. I find having an academic position an enormously privileged situation, with at least a moderate salary, time off over the summer and enormous flexibility (for dealing with children's sick time and holidays, for example). However, I have tempered my ambitions, working at a lower-level school that valued my teaching skills over publications and grants acquisition in the tenure process. I rarely travel to professional meetings and avoid taking leadership positions in organizations. This is somewhat isolating and not what I originally envisioned when I was in graduate school! My partner has shared 50% in absolutely every responsibility (except breastfeeding and being pregnant, I suppose!). For me, staying professionally active was absolutely necessary, and I don't feel I'd make a happy, patient or able stay at home mom. The balance of having both keeps me stimulated and satisfied. When children are older you have more time for academic pursuits, but the first few years require more mental and physical energy and can make academic work too difficult. My best friend had her first child in her third year at a prestigious university and despite being given a year's delay on the tenure decision, she simply could not amass sufficient published work to become tenured. She tells me that there was an article over the past year in the New York Times Magazine about how unhappy women and mothers in particular are in academia. I feel like it's a perfect mix for me, but I haven't aspired to what she has! I wish you the best with your little one and hope you are happy with your decision.
mom of two wonderful small fries
It sounds to me as if you are at present very successfully combining motherhood and the writing of your thesis. I imagine that you would be just as capable in the academic 'high-pressure tenure track' environment. Just my intuitive and immediate response! Good luck!
I am the mother of a young son and an associate professor with tenure at Cal, and I certainly understand your hesitations about going forward with the competitive and demanding path of tenure- track academia. Part of my answer would depend on a number of factors that remain unexplored in your letter. Would your family be financially able to live on your husband's salary or his salary plus a part-time salary for you? If that is the case and you are not fully committed to a tenure-track life, then perhaps you might consider teaching part-time in local community colleges or other venues. I have a friend who has helped to support her family in this way and enjoys the flexible schedule of teaching at two local schools (there are lots of local schools, which is a Bay Area plus).
If, on the other hand, you will have to work full-time (or nearly) to help with the family, you might consider continuing on the academic track. Why? It is hard to find jobs as flexible in terms of scheduling. Your vacations (especially summer) often mesh with your child's, and you have access to a vast array of resources (libraries, films, special events, athletic facilities, etc.) to which the public has limited access. You live a life of the mind, keeping that part of your spirit alive while nourishing yourself and your family. Considering the summer off, the pay is not bad, on the whole. It is true that getting tenure is difficult, but not all academic institutions are Cal. Some don't require the publication of a book, but ask you to emphasize teaching instead. Those that do ask for book publication have grown more sympathetic to the needs of families and offer more ''stop the clock'' and leave options. In some ways, grad student life is more stressful than tenure-track faculty life.
In the final analysis, it boils down to how much your academic life means to you. Do you love your field, do you look forward to chances to read and write and research? If so, you can balance it with a family life. I know single parents who have done it well, and you sound as if you have a sympathetic husband (he might well have to move out of the Bay Area, though...) But if you're really not fully engaged by your field or the academic enterprise, maybe it would be a good idea to go for part-time teaching or another field entirely. Just keep in mind that other fields are often not as flexible...
Good luck! a mom who sympathizes
Dear Potential Academic Mom:
It is good to be worried about making a job and lifestyle decision and to research it thoroughly. Deciding to commit to an academic job should take a lot of soul-searching and honest self-analysis -- but you should have both facts about academia and motherhood in terms of university policies as well as the experiences of others to go by and not just rumors or stereotypes, so it is great that you are asking for this advice. I am a tenure-track faculty mom at Cal who is married to another faculty member. First let me say that I feel it is a great shame that to most people academic life and parenthood have a reputation of being mutually exclusive. Let me assure you that for many, many mothers and modern fathers, this is no longer the reality !
Sure, academics are incredibly busy, yet our schedules can be quite flexible. I personally feel I would be just as busy (well, almost) if I were in industry or a government lab -- that's in part because of my ''busy'' personality (which makes me apt to overcommit myself). And yet those other positions might not be nearly as flexible in both short-term and long-term schedules. By short-term schedule, I mean when you arrive and leave your office each day. By long-term schedule, I mean that I am being evaluated on annual to 3-year time scales; industry might be quarterly and not so integrated out in time. In addition, many universities, particularly UC, finally have reasonable parental leave and/or teaching reduction for new parents (for both moms AND dads) as well as the choice to delay the tenure decision for one year (and when you're not getting any sleep that first year, this makes a lot of sense). My toddler is also in fantastic on-campus daycare for faculty children (There are not enough spaces for the demand now but creating more is a high priority of the Chancellor -- although the State budget makes the outlook gloomy in the near future).
I love my job and my toddler. For me personally, I feel I am a *better* parent because I have commitments outside my family. These commitments benefit my family by providing intellectual, social, and financial resources that will be useful to my child throughout his childhood and college years and probably beyond. I very much admire stay-at-home moms and dads -- that truly is the *hardest* job there is and it also has great benefits for kids -- but that would not be the best choice for me and my husband and, therefore, for my child. My child is delightful, happy, very secure, and very bonded with me. Although I often wondered (to myself) whether I would prefer to have a part time outside job or no outside job when I had a family, I have to say that since having a baby there has not been one single moment when I regretted having the job that I do now -- not one moment. That satisfaction says to me that I manage to achieve a balance of my family and my work. That might not be true for other moms and dads, but it has turned out to be true for me and, since you are looking for anecdotal information, I think that is an important point to hear. The idea you often hear that you can't do either job well is not how I feel about my situation at all. I am proud of the work I do as a parent and I am proud of the work I do as an academic.
Of all the women faculty in my department (let's just say there are more than 5), all but one have families and most have more than one child. We are all very happy with our jobs and with our families. I've asked whether or not my collegues would have wanted a different job or lifestyle and all of them say no. We also frequently talk about all the soccer and softball games (including coaching !), camping trips, dancing and surfing lessons we do with our families and the just-plain-fun we have with our kids, in addition to our scholarly conversations. [As a bit of an aside, the results of a recent nation-wide academic survey done of faculty showed that the percentage of women with children was higher at research universities than at 4 year colleges, which in turn was higher than at community colleges (this outcome was the reverse of what the creators of the survey had hypothesized !). I find this negation of the popular idea that research university faculty have even more trouble than other academics in having families very interesting !]
So, a number of us academic mothers are happy with our choice of an academic career and a family. I believe the most important ingredient for this kind of happiness is what kind of mate you have. Second is a realistic evaulation of what a few of your personality traits and expectations of family life might be. First, you need an empathetic, modern partner who takes care of the kids as much as you do and who is as committed to making your career work as you are. Second, you need to not worry about having a clean house -- either let it be dirty or pay someone to clean it (or both); you will also most likely not be the next Martha Stewart. I have a fantastic husband who did everything but breastfeed the baby and who understands what an academic job is like. My own mother worked outside the home full time after I was 2, so I grew up seeing that a busy job and a family were not mutually exclusive -- I adore my mom and always have and am very close to her. I was also encouraged to read a book or work on homework rather than to do housework (although I loved to vacuum) -- so perhaps that's why I'm quite happy to pay a housecleaner (note that we respect our housecleaners very much and my child ''helps'' by sweeping and dusting along with them). In making your decision whether or not to pursue an academic career, I would contemplate these issues and what your expectations are for yourself and your family life (and what your partner's are also!). If you or your mate have unreasonable expectations, for example, for how clean you want your house, or how many dinner parties you're going to have where you cook everything from scratch, well, you might not be as happy because ''balancing'' your expectations of work and family life may be much more difficult for you than for me. Note that I still do lots of homey things, though. I did make my child's Halloween costume by hand, for example -- after running to the fabric store five minutes before it closed, and sewing it by hand at 11:30 at night in a rather rushed hour; I did this because I thought it would be fun and I had something special in mind; despite the rush (which I thrive on anyway, it seems), it was very satisfying. But that last minute rush probably would have happened no matter what work I did or whether I was a stay-at-home parent or not -- everyone is really, really busy, even (especially ?!) stay-at-home parents.
If you do go on the academic job market and wind up negotiating for a position, you should definitely compare family policies between the universities -- perhaps best done by searching on the university website and/or by speaking with a woman with a family or a recent father on the faculty well after they have decided you are the one they want. These policies still vary greatly from place to place.
I am where you are, but with a bit more experience behind me. I gave up a tenure track job in my tenure year (when tenure was assured) so that I could be with my baby daughter and keep my husband from moving for my career choice. I did the job, and I know from experience how much it takes from one's personal life. I knew I couldn't do both, so I opted for sequencing.....not trying to have it all at one time but rather to spread it out a bit. Over the course of my life, I plan to have all that I want, just not right now. I have spent the last year and 1/2 as a full-time mom, and I have felt that doing this is the most revolutionary act I have done. As friends and family stood horrified around me, I ignored their comments and did what I wanted. ''Why are you just sitting on that degree;'' ''Aren't you a feminist?'' ''What a waste'' I've heard it all. But universities are not nursing mother or child friendly places, and I have refused to force myself to perform childlessness so that I can stay there. Unfortunately, our money has run out and I will need to go back to wage earning work next fall, when my daughter is two years old. I am back on the market, and my former university wants me back, so my choice to stay out of it for a while did not hurt me there. I have been honest concerning my gap in employment in my letters of application to other institutions, but it is too early yet to know how my general marketability has been affected.
Significantly, I am not the person I was. I am taking what I have learned back with me, and I will try to make the university where I go more child friendly. I have been experimenting with teaching classes to mothers while they hold babies or their children play around them, and while my own daughter is there, too. The secret has been a great child care provider who likes working in groups and can distract a child while a mother finishes a thought. But, overall, the courses have been successful and I now know I can teach with my daughter and other children present. So.....my goal is to work to offer this course through my future institution. And for the courses that aren't for mothers, I will have a child care provider who will play with my daughter in my office or out around campus while I teach and hold office hours. Otherwise, I will work at home while my child plays with her father (who will also be working from home). Children CAN be intergrated into academic life, but it will take revisioning how we divide ''professional'' spaces from ''private'' spaces and allowing that ''children'' and ''professional'' can go together.
So, what do I have to say to you? Well, enjoy what time you spend with your child. Be committed to that. But when you want to go back to academia, TAKE YOUR CHILD WITH YOU. If we all do it, the universities will be forced to change. Amy
Academic life is very demanding. You will find articles on this topic if you search archives of chronicle of higher education. At Berkeley, Mary Ann Mason, Dean of Graduate Studies, has some findings about men women children and the academy. One solution is to extend graduate school a bit and finish up only when your child is a bit older. Another is to adjunct or lecture for that time period and go on the national job market later. I am fortunate in that I published prior to having children. You will not find good maternity leave policies at most schools. Berkeley is rather an exception. You will be expected to time pregnancies to academic schedules. Mine ended up that way and I was frequently commended for my planning and good sense. Ha! It just happened that way. I know women who resumed full teaching schedules practically on the way out of the delivery room. They set rather a 'high bar' for those of us who might wish to mother more intensively but still preserve our careers. It is not necessarily a family friendly profession on the one hand. on the other, you have immense flexibility in planning your schedule and can replan several times a year. you can have summers off. is being a mom worth not being an academic superstar? if you can accept that compromise, (one it is hard to imagine letting go of, coming out of berkeley) it can work. Good luck. academic mom
I'd be happy to talk with you about my current part-time approach to this. Lisa
I would be happy to talk with you about the choices I made and what it has meant for me and my family. I am a faculty member (married to another academic) with a young son. Feel free to email me and we could set up a time to talk. ws
You've probably had a huge response on this one. It's the single most agonizing, frustrating, and confusing component in my emotional life, and as I sit here with my struggling one- year-old daughter in my lap trying to split work time and mommy time while my husband does household chores, I feel compelled to respond myself. I've tried both tactics: working outside academia and pursuing the profession. Having finished my Ph.D. in 1999 and gone bust on the job market twice, I decided to give it up, and for most of our daughter's first year, I worked part-time from home as an editor. It was, simply put, unsatisfying. I had been an editor in an office setting before, and liked it, but working from home with a young baby around was hard. Although we had a babysitter in for ten hours a week, and my husband was supposed to be watching her the other ten hours (usually weekends), I felt that my attention was constantly divided between my two roles -- working person and mother. It was hard to get a good focus on either role, and I was often short-tempered and harried as a result. I felt that I never had any time for myself. In September, I quit and started working as an adjunct lecturer at a (sort of) local college. I have a long commute, the pay is piss-poor, and I won't be eligible for benefits until next semester, but it's a huge improvement. I'm doing what I enjoy doing -- that is, teaching - - and I'm not so isolated: I've even found the energy to write post-doctoral apps and work on an article for publication, something I never had when I was working outside academe. I feel better about myself, too, because I'm not constantly questioning why I spent the last ten years of my life studying an incredibly arcane subject and living like a pauper.
Though much decried, the adjunct lecturer route has its benefits: the schedule is relatively forgiving (right now I'm just working two half-days a week, but I can work up to about 3/4 time); it gets you out of the house (good for the sanity); it allows you to pursue your intellectual interests within an academic community; and it beefs up your CV. Some people will tell you that prolonged adjunct teaching will tarnish your chances at a really prestigious job. I'm not so sure that's true in today's market, with so many very bright and accomplished scholars patching together part-time work. Anyway, I hope not.
What works for me may not work for you, but I thought I'd just weigh in. Another advantage of the adjunct thing is that usually it doesn't require that you move, so you can kind of test-drive the working-mothering balance and tinker around with it until you find what's comfortable. The biggest obstacle to making it work is the money, because if you only teach one course, you more or less break even with babysitting costs.
Good luck figuring this out. I'm still in the process myself!
Reading the description of your deliberations whether to pursue an academic faculty position really hit home for me. I spent the past year agonizing over exactly these issues. I finally decided not to become a professor at this point in my life, having a toddler and hoping to have a second child soon. I am now looking for a job that would leave open the possibility of applying for faculty positions in 5-10 years, but I may settle for job leading me down a different career path. I feel like working 40-45 hrs a week is a good balance for me, and I believe that to get tenure I would have to work many more hours than this. In the end, your decision must come from really listening to your internal dialogue closely. The breakthrough for me came when I realized my internal dialogue consisted largely in trying to convince myself ''it won't be that bad'' (the stress, the time away from my family, the loss of leisure time, the strain on my marriage, the struggle to take maternity leave with a second baby, etc.). My impression is that academic life demands such intense devotion that one shouldn't choose it unless one is really excited about it, or as a friend put it, unless one cannot envision being happy doing anything else (I know other friends who disagree with me on this). I am angry and sad that the nature of the enterprise forces a bad choice on parents, especially mothers. But there are really two issues here: (1) your choosing what is best for your happiness and (2) the institutional and social pressures that set the terms of your choice. I admire my friends who have decided to go the academic route. I wish I were strong enough to sacrifice myself in an effort to make the future better for women in academia, but I am not willing to be a martyr. I would be happy to talk with you about this on the phone or over coffee. kb
I believe that motherhood and academia can be compatible, but it depends a lot on your personal wishes (do you want to spend a lot of time with your child?) and your discipline. In my field, Molecular Biology, it is typical to spend 60 hours a week at work (in the lab, not from home) if you are a tenure track Assistant Professor, as well as to travel out of town often to meetings. I decided not to pursue an position as a professor, and instead have an academic position at UC working as a Research Geneticist, working 60% time. Getting a part-time position is often a matter of being in the right place at the right time and creating your own job, but it can happen. My decision has definitely worked well for my family, since I can spend a lot of time with my kids, plus I have the intellectual stimulation I need.
My sister is a tenured Sociology professor, and her husband a tenure-track Poli. Sci.professor. They have much more flexibility in their fields about working from home and combining their work and childcare than I would have had as a biologist, and they are doing fine (so far!) with parenthood and full-time academic positions.
I hope this helps you in your decision. I suggest you read the book Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World, by Peggy Orenstein, for some very interesting reading about how women balance careers and family life. Sima
The postings on this topic have been very good and covered a lot of angles. I just wanted to add a couple more thoughts.
First brief thought: Get a 3 year postdoc. I have a postdoc now and it has been quite low-pressure but intellectually engaging. You could keep up in your field, publish, develop yourself further which will make you (a) more marketable; and (b) less stressed about amassing publications for tenure. At the same time, your child will be older and more independent (in school, etc.)
Second thought: Most people have been making the distinction between ''high-powered research universities'' and ''state colleges'' or ''liberal arts institutions'' to point to the spectrum of family-friendly places. Interestingly, I have found the landscape to be much more complex.
First of all, as somebody mentioned, different fields seem to have different subcultures. I would venture to say that the fields that are still predominantly male would be more likely to pressure women to ''perform childlessness'' (as one poster put it). My field is currently pretty gender-mixed, so I have not felt the same pressure that the previous generation of women scholars have felt. (I actually talked about this to a childless female professor. She agreed that part of her decision to remain childless was to be seen as a legitimate participant in the field.) More significantly, different universities -- even top research universities -- have different cultures, as do the departments within them.
Here was my strategy: While in grad school, I watched the more senior students go out on the job market. (Most people who graduated from my program at Cal ended up at top-tier research universities.) I would run into them at conferences and guage their happiness and the life choices they were making. It became evident over time which departments seemed to be more or less hospitable to junior faculty with children. When I came up on the market, I saw a posting at one of the family friendly research universities (two happy Cal grads with kids were my data points), and I poured myself into that application and got an interview. While on the interview, I tried to find disconfirming evidence of my family-friendly hypothesis, but found a Dean who offered to babysit people's kids, junior faculty who didn't work on weekends and flexed their schedules with their spouses to minimize childcare time, explicit structures to support people through the tenure process, and kids playing in offices.
The happy ending: I got the job and, while I realize that it will be a challenge to raise my two young children while working for tenure, I think it's do-able in this particular context, with the support of a modern, very involved spouse. Anon
I've found the discussion to be interesting but somewhat disturbing.
Has anyone noticed that not a single father has spoken up? I've seen mention of sharing parenthood duties, but nothing about the demands of academic life (especially first-rank research universities) and Fatherhood. All the advice has been for women to choose between research and parenthood.
How can we, in the most liberal place in the US, in 2002, be taking this for granted? What kind of model are we giving to young women contemplating careers? Are all academic stars either childless or with stay-at-home wives? And finally, how much are research universities impoverished by the absence of committed parents?
This has *got* to change. AR
I, too, went through the same decision that you are facing, and it was very tough. Because I wasn't sure what to do, I went on the academic job market -- partly to see what was out there and partly to see how I would feel if I really and truly put myself in the position of an academic-to-be. I did get some job offers, but I ended up turning them down. Ultimately I decided to combine the skills I had into a non-academic job -- in my case, museums. I had remembered talking to someone a few years ago who said that museum work allowed him to ''live a life of the mind'' without the constraints of academia. For me, this has turned out to be true. I am now working in the Education department of a university art museum and find that it is the perfect blend of serious intellectual work and non-academic schedules and responsibilities. I must admit that I do occasionally wonder whether I made the right decision, but those times are getting fewer and further between, and I really do love what I am doing. I would be happy to talk with you more. Good luck with your decision. Lauren
I am currently applying for academic positions myself after a 3 yr. postdoc. My 6 month old daughter is so much fun that it is tough to leave her every day. Nevertheless, I enjoy my job (microbiology research) very much and am committed to finding an tenure-track academic position. I have seen several of my friends go through this process recently with young children and there is no question that it is difficult because of the neverending demands on your time. There are a few things that seem to be important ( and I hope by this time next year, I'll be able to say they worked for me): (1) have confidence that you'll be able to do what you need to do, (2) focus your thoughts, i.e, when you're at work, be mentally at work and when you're at home be mentally at home and enjoy your family. Don't spend all your time at home and at work stressing out about both work and family. (3) It's VERY important to have a supportive spouse; supportive as in willing to shoulder some of the work, not just supportive as in, ''Go ahead and do whatever makes you happy''. I do think that because it is difficult and stressful, you have to decide that you really love your work, otherwise it's not worth all the trouble. Clearly, other postings have indicated that there are career options that can be very satisfying and allow more family time. If you want to email me to chat more, feel free. Mary
I just saw the post asking advice about academic jobs and motherhood. My own experience as a full-time professor in the humanities is that having a job in academia is perfectly compatible with having children as long as you recognize that being a professor is a full-time job and that you will need a corresponding amount of childcare (40 hours a week + travel time). This is not always easy on a beginning academic salary, but over the years salaries go up and childcare costs go down, and it's possible to find satisfactory alternatives that aren't too expensive. The academic parents I know who have struggled are the ones who figure that since they only have, say, 10- 12 ''contact hours'' a week they can get by with part-time childcare. I think it is always something of a struggle reconciling full-time work with parenthood, especially if you are serious about your career, but I don't think academia is any harder than any other area -- much more flexible than a lot of other professions, e.g. law and business and medicine. I know a lot of parents (men and women) who work in academia and in general I don't think they feel any more stressed out than anyone else who works full-time -- in fact I think they are a pretty happy lot, all told, since they're getting to do something they really care about as well as having the satisfactions that come from parenthood. It may be harder in the experimental sciences, though, since you need to work long hours in the lab so it's harder to get stuff done at home after the the child(ren) is/are in bed. anonymous
the shorter version of my initial novel-length, angst-filled reply:
I was in a very similar position a year and a half ago, and ended up turning down a tenure-track job offer. Spousal ambivalence was definitely a factor in my decision, especially since, after years of him working long hours to compensate for my lack of income, I got a job in a city with a very high cost of living, which effectively ruled out the possibility of us switching places -- something we had both been looking forward to. I wasn't comfortable with the idea of placing both kids (then 3 years old and 2 months old) straight into full-time care and having them come home to two stressed-out parents. Ultimately, though, the main reason was that I knew I didn't want to stay in this city long-term. If it had merely been a matter of dealing with a few crazy years in order to have a job I loved, I would have accepted the offer and just sucked it up. But the thought of more years of draining job searches AND uprooting my family multiple times was just too discouraging. The advice to write your way out of a job can't have been thought up by involved parents with busy spouses. (The offer I got was for a 3/3 teaching load and very limited research support, which would have decreased my research productivity under any circumstances.)
Even though I'm certain that job would not have been worth the toll on myself and my family, I do wish I'd had a clearer idea of what the next step would be. I underestimated the difficulty of rethinking my professional identity between loads of laundry, with my brain fogged by sleep deprivation. At the time I thought I would be able to find a challenging line of work without too much trouble. But once I looked more closely at other lines of work, some of them looked distinctly less appealing. I felt that in order to work my way up to anything engaging, I would face many of the same time pressures and energy drain that I would have faced in an academic job. It would have been an enormous help to do informational interviews with former academics before going on the job market. In some sense, this is what you're doing with this question, but by asking around you can probably get in touch with other graduates from your program who are now working in other fields. See how they like their work. Of the graduates who have remained in academia, how many have ended up back on the market within a few years? How would your spouse feel about multiple moves? You don't say what your field is, or how readily your skills would transfer into other professions. Be aware, though, that there are a lot of people looking for work in the Bay Area right now, and if you're changing careers and not available to work long hours, this will almost certainly put you at a disadvantage compared to other applicants.
For me, the balance has now tipped too far in favor of my family life, and I miss intellectual stimulation. (''I coulda been a contendah, instead of a mom, which is what I am...'') I'm contemplating doing more adjunct teaching, despite the low pay (as of 2001, $5,500 per class at Cal) and lack of job security in a budget crunch. Nonprofit work also looks rewarding, but local nonprofits aren't doing much hiring these days, since their funding sources have been affected by the economic downturn.
Two pieces of recommended reading: Ann Crittenden's _The Price of Motherhood_ (especially the chapter on second children), and the report in e-Grad a few months ago that stated that women who had children within 5 years of completing their theses were 20- 25% less likely to receive tenure.
As you can see from the variety of resonses, there's no one answer to this very thorny question. Best of luck with your decision. Jennifer
I am a single father with an academic career at a high powered university. I couldn't imagine doing anything else but research and teaching, so that's what I do. Basically, you can do whatever you put your mind to. I like the ideas of having a post-doc to keep yourself fresh and active, and plunging into the faculty when you get some good publications and the family routine perhaps become more managable. It can be difficult to get a good advisor for that post-doc, though.
I get inspiration from one of the leaders in my field, who had many of the seminal insights and discoveries in 1970s and 80s and 90s. She is a mother who had her family, then went back to research and really defined a field. She is in her 70s now and still is relevant and active, and a friend as well. So really she is an inspiration not only for the family story, but for age as well. There are so many people who give up when they hit their 40s, but that is when she got started. Joe
As someone insightfully noted, you have to listen to your inner debate, and figure out if you will be ''living with the stress'' of academia or if that is what you can't imagine living without. I am in the process of ''getting out'' by not finishing the diss (though I only have a few chapters left to go) because I am unwilling to go where the jobs are (Iowa!), and because of the stress I would assume in trying to be the perfect mommy and perfect academic. However, I would love to eventually get the non-academic but similarly intellectually stimulating job (Curator at a museum would be perfect). In the meantime, I have taken a job at local independant school (k-12) where I am using my brain in many of the ways I did before, but not necessarily the academic-speak (discourse is not a word use daily anymore). There are plenty of opportunities for professional development, (and money to support you), summers are a chance to work on projects, or start new ones, the hours are more forgiving, and I feel like I have enough time and energy for my 14 month old. The pay is very respectable, (and there is hope of tuition remission if my child gets in). It is a way to teach, to research, to stimulate my brain and to learn, at a cost that seems less harrowing than the Academy. This is not to say that teaching isn't extremely challenging, and exhausting, it most definitely is. But at an independent school, the kids seem pretty well behaved ,and generally curious, and I can manage this kind of exhaustion right now. It is a viable option if you decide that you want out, along with the the other options that other Parents Network folks have shared. I too am dissapointed that Fathers in the Academy haven't piped up, but I am delighted to know that I am in good company in having faced this decision.