One of the most pleasurable parts of my new administrative position is ordering new books on teaching and faculty development for our center’s library. I’ve given up my earlier naïve attempt to read each one before shelving it. However, Rachel Connelly and Kristen Ghodsee’s Professor Mommy was a book I couldn’t put down: a smart, readable description of the hurdles facing women who have children while in graduate school or on the tenure track. And while the book does not minimize the difficulties of being both mommy and professor, it is directed at women who want to “opt in.”
The authors position their book as a follow-up (or corrective) to Mama, PhD, which they fault with “pathologizing” academia and focusing heavily on women who opt out. Fair enough. Yet this book represents a particular perspective as well. Both authors are tenured professor at Bowdoin College: Connelly is a full professor of Economics with four children and Ghodsee, a single mother while on the tenure track, is an associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies. Drawing on their own experiences and informal interviews with colleagues and friends, the book describes the lives of more privileged academics, for example, describing the choices between accepting positions at elite liberal arts colleges or Research I universities. Many readers may wish to have those dilemmas. And very little is said about the lives of those teaching at community colleges or part-time instructors – the people who make up the bulk of employed PhDs.
That being said, this is an excellent book; the chapter “On Deciding to Become an Academic” is a must-read for students considering graduate school, as is their chapter on debunking the popular myths of mothering in academia (“myth #1: an academic job will allow you to spend more time with your kids”). They are frank about the trade-offs of being a successful academic – you won’t have a clean house, and you might not see your child’s first step – but these are the same struggles of a high achieving mom in any profession. Perhaps that is the point: academia is not a haven from sexism, workaholism, or politics. But if you want to do it anyway (and want to have more than one child!), this book offers clear advice to achieving success.