Tuesday, December 05, 2006

academics with children

Bitch, Ph.D. recently responded to a reader’s question about the feasibility of getting a Ph.D. while raising three children—LOTS of discussion there. Academom and Geeky Mom have also responded on their own blogs.

To add my two cents, of course it’s hard to get a graduate degree and raise children. It’s hard to have any career and raise children. Some people will succeed as if they don’t even have children while others will not finish their degrees. That happens among people who don’t have children, too. I do think that in some places women can be taken less seriously if they have children, but I have not experienced that in my department.

The problem is not just with academia but with the general expectation in most careers that employees will be ideal workers who can devote almost unlimited time to their jobs without interference from family responsibilities (read Joan Williams’s Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to do About It). If you’re a mother who performs as an ideal worker, then you must be neglecting your children. If your family responsibilities interfere with your work because you have to take off when kids are sick or you can’t work after five because you have to be home, then you are not committed to your career and you don’t deserve rewards like promotions or fellowships. Some of these considerations come into play in grad school, with course work and deadlines, others come up in the job search (who has time to publish when you’re doing all you can to meet your degree requirements?), but I think it is even more intensified on the tenure track (but I can’t personally attest to this yet).

I think that I have done well raising one child while in grad school—we’ll soon see how I do with two. It is doable. But I expect that my responsibilities as a mother will effect my career in the long-term. I am on a race to finish my dissertation before my funding runs out, hopefully publishing something along the way. But I’m certain that I will take a year longer than I would have without kids. And when I look for a job, I am not hoping to end up at a major research university, especially if that means moving multiple times to get there. I don’t want to the intense pressure of two books for tenure because I don’t want to put in the hours for it. I want to be with my family and I want to be happy when I’m with them, not worried about my job. That is my choice, you say? Well, maybe, but what kind of choice is that? My career OR my kids? I have adapted my notion of success in this career to something that allows me to teach and do my work and have plenty of time for my family. I don’t believe I can find this ideal at an elite university, so I do not aspire to work at an elite university. I know that you can probably name me some people who have done it all, but I don’t see that in my life. So I intend to accept the glass-mommy-ceiling, but that doesn’t mean I’m always happy about it.

For more on the effect of motherhood on academic careers, see Mary Ann Mason’s Do Babies Matter? project.

12 comments:

supadiscomama said...

I have similar career goals--but those were in place before I became a mother. I much prefer teaching to researching/writing, and I know that elite universities put a premium on the latter. I guess I'm not terribly ambitious. I just want to like what I do and where I am. I want to be able to enjoy my family. And I want to be able to enjoy my life!

Leann said...

Sarah, you appear to be admirably balancing your family and your job. I do not have children yet, but I hope to within the next few years. However, it's disheartening when you realize you only get 6 weeks maternity leave and will be expected to pick back up where you left off seamlessly. I've seen employers scoff at single mother interviewees because they didn't want to hire someone with so much responsibility away from work (which is discrimination if you ask me). It's hard, but like you said, it's doable. I just hope that when I'm in that situation, I can handle it with grace so as to not put my job over my family, but not appearing to be too unambitious to my employers.

AcadeMama said...

I officially join the blogging-academic-mother-graduate students by noting that Leann's point about discrimination is right on (see Layne's post on the research behind it http://layne.vox.com/library/post/the-motherhood-penalty.html). Even though nobody in my current dept. has made me feel discriminated against, I've always felt the pressure to work twice as hard as non-parent graduate students in order to "prove" that my status as a mother wouldn't deter from my capability as a graduate student and future scholar. I've never asked for an extension on a paper or any kind of assignment deadline, though I've seen plenty of other non-parent graduate students do so because they simply procrastinated or couldn't manage their time.

My career goal goes hand-in-hand with my goals for my family; I can't consider one without the other. I don't want to work at an elite Research I school because they generally aren't conducive to anyone's sanity (from what I hear). Rather, I want to get paid for doing what I love: reading, writing, thinking critically, and teaching others to do so. Because there are so many benefits to working in the academy, I can't complain about how hard it is to get the job done sometimes. I really believe that the things most worth doing in life are those that are the most difficult (working on a marriage, having children, staying close to family, etc.)...

Kiki BE said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this...I want to have children sometime in the near future so it's always good to hear others perspectives. Lots to think about!

p-duck said...

There's lots to think about here. While I'm also coming from a department that doesn't seem to discriminate against parents, I still find myself worrying about how I'll one day broach the topic of pregnancy (I'm not pregnant) with my committee and the department at large. I have no logical reason to worry, but I still do. As Academama points out, she finds herself working harder to prove she can do it, even if no one is looking for that proof. I think the fear of being judged for the dual role of mother and student/teacher is somehow ingrained. The countless examples of the struggle of women to be taken seriously at their careers while raising children and our society's callous attitude toward parenthood in general attest to this. We live in a society that extols the virtues of the family while silmultaneously making it near impossible to raise a family and have a career.

I want it all. I want to end up at a major research institution as I love research. AND I want a family - soon. Can I have it all? I don't know.

Lilian said...

I REALLY want to write about this as well... I hope to do so tomorrow. It's probably too late to post a comment at Bitch PhD's blog, but I may...

Wendy said...

I've been reading all morning on moms in academia and yours is the best summation of the issues I've come across so far. Yes, we can have babies and still succeed in academia. Yes, it sometimes mean redefining what we think of as "success". But, the problem still remains that our culture makes us feel we have to choose between work and family...as if one is always destined to suffer. This tenuous balancing act we are forced into extends well beyond academia to all working moms.

Crystal said...

I just found your blog searching around for blogs on this topic. I too am a doctoral candidate and a new mommy. I think people that make doubting comments are just jealous that they are not so spectacular at multi-tasking as we are! Okay, that's vain I know. But it makes me feel better!

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to find this blog. I am wrestling with the same questions, having a 10 month old at home and trying to keep it together and continue my PhD program. It's nice for some smart moms to admit that it is difficult. I also appreciate the fact that you mention that you don't want to get a job in an elite university, and that whole thing about "being a good worker" and therefore neglecting your kids, and the converse. I will never neglect my daughter, and so I have to accept that I may not succeed as easily with the PhD as I would if I could just hang out on campus all day and all night if I didn't have her. It's just a fact of life. Thanks Mommy PhD.

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Anjana Rajam said...

hey..iam a single mother with a 7 year old boy.iam planning to do phd in U.S. can anyone please tell me whether i can manage doing Phd with my kid.most importantly, will i have time to help him with his studies everyday?Kindly help..iam in a huge dilemma