This is the first posting from Susan Bassow, Dana Campbell, and Liz Stockwell. We are three biology PhDs who deviated from an academic track to care for our children full-time. We’ll take turns posting or sometimes write together. Liz starts us off…
On the recent International Women's Day, the CBC radio broadcaster asked, "Have women achieved equality?" This had me thinking about our situations. Anyone looking at the career paths we've chosen might say: "Look! The system has failed. These three women should have academic jobs and be productive contributors to the scientific community. Obviously something is wrong here." Yes, perhaps this is true, and although great strides have been made in gender representation in the academy, there are still disproportionate numbers of women like us who leave. In our cases having married fellow graduate students who were further along in their careers, economic concerns meant that we followed them when they got the first jobs. We were at points in our burgeoning careers where we were unable to negotiate for quality positions of our own. Eventually we carved out satisfying teaching or research opportunities at nearby institutions or in our spouses' departments, joining the ranks of women in untenured lecturer and research associate positions.
But let's look at our situations from a different angle. When our children entered the picture, our priorities changed. How would continuing to teach or do research even part-time affect our family lives? We faced worries about childcare, a more hectic home life, and less time with our children. We no longer wanted better academic positions; we simply wanted to be with our kids. Even if the best, affordable childcare were available to us, we still wouldn't give up this time with our pre-school and school-aged children. This is not to say that we are opposed to daycare or feel that all mothers should give up their careers. We simply made the choices that felt best for us, and we recognize that we’re fortunate to have had the option to be home full-time. Our goal is to increase awareness that there are many others like us, and we have managed to lead very fulfilling lives, putting our biology backgrounds to use in writing projects, in science education at our children's schools, and in community involvement. We may someday get back into teaching or research (or something entirely different). But right now we're not willing to trade the time we have with our children for our careers.
Perhaps the circumstances that led to our leaving were rooted in gender inequalities in academia. However, making the decision to be full-time mothers was our own choice, and an empowering choice at that. Leaving our career tracks has opened our eyes to new possibilities. And for now, it’s off to toddler gymnastics with my 3-year-old.
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