Higher Education Career Advice

Career Advice

It requires a lot of forethought, as well as the use of skills that can be practiced and honed, advises Melissa Dennihy.

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November 30, 2008
(Also appears in Mama PhD) A scientist/reader writes.... I urge you to show a bit more flexibility in your advice on the career/family bit. If the goal is a faculty position in the sciences, there is usually an interim postdoctoral stage. Postdoc can be a great time for maternity and infant bonding- whether you are headed for a research-intensive university or a liberal arts college.
November 23, 2008
I am a senior at the undergraduate level, and would very much like to be a professor someday. The difficulties involved in trying to balance motherhood with graduate studies or accomplishing tenure as a professor seem excessive. I was wondering about the feasibility of the idea of taking a few years off to raise children after completing a PhD but before applying for a professorship. Did you review any information in your research concerning that situation? Do you think it would be advantageous for me to be able to devote myself completely to school until I get the PhD, then devote myself completely to children until they are old enough to be in school, and then be able to enter a professorship without having to take maternity leave or be physically exhausted from childbirth? I am not sure if taking a few years off would be damaging to my chances of being accepted as a professor. I would hope that they would consider me in a positive light, as I would no longer have to take maternity leave, but I am afraid they would view my years of childrearing as inactive and wasteful at a time when I could have been publishing papers and conducting research. Even so, family would be an extremely important part of my life. I do very much want to have children, and am trying to figure out the best way to balance being a good mother, a good student, having time with my children when they are very young (I would like to avoid child care if possible), being able to devote time and energy to my career to have a good chance at tenure, but still having children young enough so that I won't risk infertility. I would be very interested in the stories of people who chose to take time off after achieving a PhD to raise children but before becoming professors -- whether this is a positive or negative choice upon their careers. Thank you very much, This is certainly going to fall under "pointless advice" because inevitably the best laid plans of mice and ambitious young women gang aft agley. I speak from experience: many were my plans, as an ambitious young woman, about how I was going to combine marriage and a PhD and children and so on. Some of the planning was helpful and some of it turned out well, but a lot of things--including me!--didn't quite turn out According to Plan.
October 26, 2008
just ran across your blog today and it immediately caught my attention. I think you may be able to offer some valuable advice. I am 29 with two children (2 ½ and 14 months), a full-time job (though only 9 months), and an MS degree. However, the thought of a PhD keeps creeping back into my radar and there is a program in the local area. I have been out in the workforce for 5 years, but I am at a small, private university. There's probably more to the story, but I guess I'm wondering if it's possible to manage a PhD workload with two children. Obviously, I'd be giving up my position, but I feel like I've reached as far as I can with only a Master's. And what do I love? Teaching. Currently, my job is more administrative, an endless list of committees, and working with students on an individual basis. I'm just looking for advice from someone who's been there, done that, and is now at the other end. Thoughts? Kristi A. from Michigan I'm going to assume that you're married and that, with two kids and a theoretically employed husband, you're not too mobile? In which case my first question is going to be, have you applied for teaching jobs at community colleges? Because at least on paper, you're qualified to teach at a cc, and you could do that immediately, without five more years of education.
October 12, 2008
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.
October 6, 2008
"Dr. K." asks: As an incipient Mama Ph.D., I’d like to know how parenthood affects your pedagogy. If anyone has had a before- and after-baby teaching career, aside from issues like daycare and fatigue, I’d be grateful if you could tell me how it changes a person as a teacher. Awesome question. The most immediate effect, I think, is that I am *much* more aware of, and sensitive to, the needs and challenges of students with children of their own. Those "no cell phones in class" statements on the syllabus? I bring mine in, and leave it on, in case my son's school needs to call, and I know that some of my students are in the same boat. And for all I know, other students have reasons for leaving their phones on too. So instead of "no phones," I tell them, turn your ringers down and if you have to answer the phone, please step out of the room while you do so. Missing class because of sickness or babysitting problems? It happens. Here's the work you missed; please check with a friend to look at their notes. It also, I think, makes me better at thinking about my students' educational backgrounds, the gaps they may or may not have, and the fact that they have different learning styles. My son? Bright, believes everything's negotiable, and in the wrong school environment might very well be labelled a "behavior problem." Other kids in his class, where I've done some volunteering? I can see them getting discouraged at the age of six, getting the message that they're "not good at school," checking out to protect their egos.

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