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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC's and PhD's: The less clear path
December 15, 2010 - 8:07am

Last night I went out for coffee and dessert with eight good mom-friends to celebrate one of them who just graduated from a two-year nursing school program. Cheers!

Sitting with her at the restaurant I mentally compared our careers. We’re almost the same age (I’m slightly older). I went straight through from college through graduate school, then had kids and stepped off the traditional academic road to stay home with them. She finished college, worked for several years as a secretary in an elementary school, and had her first child at the same time as I did. That’s when we met and converged on five years parenting full time – kid swapping, taking our kids on “field trips”, helping each other clean our houses (especially just before out of town family came to visit), grocery shopping, eating lunch together almost every day. Then, as our older children went on to kindergarten, and our younger kids started preschool, she started taking a steadily increasing load of prerequisites for nursing school. At the same time, I gradually started accumulating up part-time work – an administrative job in the biology department, writing projects with several different research groups, my own book project.

Our kids are older now, we both have sixth graders and we’re about to embark on new phase of parenting: middle school, teenagers, and different kinds of independence for everyone. In February my friend starts the first job of her new career – full time in a hospital oncology unit. I’m proud of her and impressed that she blossomed so at the same time as her children. She worked very hard. Though I could never (NEVER!) do the job that she’s cut out for herself – that emotional wrenching of working with very sick people would do me in – I do have some envy of her very clear career path, which she could articulate to everyone at the table: pay off her scholarship with a 2-year (well-salaried) commitment working at the hospital, then find a job in a private practice with a regular 9-5 hour weekday schedule after that.

I’ll keep plugging along on my eclectic writing and contract work career and enjoy the perks it brings, especially when I can balance it well with my kids’ schedules. I may never be able to succinctly make anyone understand what I do, or see any clear progress in my job status. Or maybe I will, someday, have a more traditional career. What I do have right now is challenging work over which I have control when and how much time to put in, and like any job, comes with its set of stresses and deadline pressures. The work is satisfying and enjoyable, even if the path I’m taking is not clearly leading in any particular direction. But I notice that I do avoid reading the career achievements of my peers in my college alumnae magazine. What is it that makes me uncomfortable with my unrecognizable achievements?



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