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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC's and PhD's: Nobel perspective
December 16, 2009 - 9:43am

Two weeks ago I reported on a proposal about to come up for vote in the University of Maryland senate to relax family leave policy. So here’s the update: it passed in the senate. Before it becomes university policy it will need to be approved by President Dan Mote, which looks promising; he has been cited as supportive of this measure. This proposal will allow faculty to reduce their loads (and the salary, commensurately) down to 50% while they are raising children under five. Tenured faculty might even be able to work part time indefinitely, where tenure-track individuals would have this option for a two-year period.

Interestingly, just as this exciting change begins at UMd, Carol Greider, Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak shared the 2009 Nobel prize for medicine – the first time ever two women have shared a Nobel prize - and both are mothers! This award brings about a high-profile focus on the views of two prominent female academics on the need to reformulate the structure of scientific careers, which, says Blackburn, has “worked well for men,” but can be very daunting for women, especially as they are thinking about a family at this time. I enjoyed reading this interview of Blackburn from about a year ago, in which she very reasonably argues that institutions can (and should) take a more flexible approach to facilitating part-time research and career breaks in order to help women advance their careers while raising children.

Says Blackburn: "I'm not talking about doing second-rate quality science, far from it. You can do really good research when you are doing it part-time."

Go!! Go! I would love to see a discussion of part-time options (not just for women) open up – the pros and the cons. Thank you “Mama PhD fan” for your comment on my last blog, telling of your part-time tenure track job. I’m intrigued to hear more stories along these lines, more about what this means for everyone involved, and how to make this option work. And I agree with your comment, Susanna, it’s amazing how long the academic structure has lasted without changing at all. What does it take to bring about the change we need?


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