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Should I Apply to Academia?

Should I Apply to Academia?
October 12, 2008
(Also appears in Mama PhD)

Dear all,

This is the first time I come to this site. I have a question, and wasn't sure how to start a new thread. So I hope it is OK that I post here.

I am a 30 year old female PhD student, and I will graduate next year. My husband and I plan to have two children in the next 4-5 years. And I would like to take a leave for a year for each kid, which accumulates to 2 years.(For medical reasons, I don't want to wait till late 30s to have children.)

My question is should I apply for academia? Is my plan compatible with academia? Can I have two kids before getting tenure, and taking one year off for each kid? I am in science, so I can easily go into industry. Family life is more important to me than career.

Thanks so much in advance for any advice you may give me!!

Hell yes you should apply! Academia needs more women (and men) like you--people who know straight up what their priorities are, and aren't so cowed by "the job market" that they're ready to feel grateful for anything that comes their way. With confidence like that you'd probably be an awesome interview and a strong candidate.

Apply for the jobs that look good to you, ask about leave policies at the campus visit (b/c by that time they're pretty into you already), and if you get an attractive offer, jump in. I'd be surprised if industry was much more family-friendly than academia, to be honest. In my opinion, the primary difference between academia and industry for mamas is that if you're an academic your time is generally more flexible--which is obviously very convenient, but also makes it awfully easy for you and your partner to slide into the habit of expecting you to be the one to flex. Which can be frustrating and impede your work, if you let it.

But hell, you might as well try. Academia is a great gig when it works out, and as sure as you are of your own priorities, if it ends up *not* working out, you should be able to move on without the hideous angst that affects too many former academics.

The worst-case scenario is you take an academic job, take advantage of the flexibility, and then, if you've decided it's not for you, bail at tenure time -- by which point your oldest, at least, will be starting school. What's the down side?

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