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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABCs and PhDs: What next?
July 15, 2008 - 9:48pm

I've been away from teaching for four years now, since our relocation to the Vancouver area and the subsequent birth of my second child (events which happened within three months of each other--talk about pre-natal nesting anxiety!). But recently a sessional lecturer position for this coming fall opened up at my neighborhood university. The class, vertebrate biology, was right up my alley and I've taught some of the material before as a graduate student and as a lecturer. But somehow I didn't jump all over this opportunity like I would have five or six years ago.

What next? This question stews somewhere in my brain and makes an appearance every time I realize how fast time is flying and how quickly my children are growing. In the back of my mind I envision that I'll start looking for teaching opportunities again when my daughter starts elementary school and I'll have large blocks of time for part-time work. It all seems so clean this way, and in my mind I seamlessly pick up where I left off four years ago.

The job that came up earlier this month brought with it a dose of reality. The timing wasn't what I imagined, and taking the job (assuming my application was accepted -- I hadn't thought much about what I'd look like on paper after several years as a full-time mom) would require a quick search for childcare. My husband suggested that he could juggle his schedule so that we could minimize paying for childcare, but how much time would he be willing to give me? Would he take my daughter to her playdates and activities? I could take her to preschool on the days I didn’t lecture, but those precious preschool hours I’d so looked forward to for my own writing projects would probably be spent on class preparations.

There were a lot of seductive arguments for taking this job. For one thing there was the money. Sessional teaching doesn’t pay much at this university, but I’d contribute to the family income and help pay down some of our debt. I’d have an office, a professional email address again, and I would take some of those great reference materials and notes I have out of storage. The thought of walking to the university in the morning with my neighbors, many of whom are faculty or staff, and being part of the academic work force again was so appealing. I’d even wear professional looking clothes! (Do I have work clothes anymore?) In addition this job might be a foot in the door for future possibilities. After all, I worked my way into my last semi-permanent teaching position by first taking on sessional appointments.

Somehow, though, I don’t have the same kind of energy (or desire) I once had to invest time and effort into teaching a class I might not be able to teach again. The associate department chair was very honest about the job: it was most likely a one-shot deal, and the non-negotiable salary was based on contact hours, not experience. Going back to teaching would mean starting all over. The final word about the job and salary arrived the morning we were to leave for our much anticipated once-in-five-years, big vacation. I reluctantly agreed to take the job, ran to get my CV and cover letter ready, and burst into tears as I told my husband I didn’t want to do it. I realized I was signing on for the money, a very small amount when we factored in childcare expenses and the additional stress for little future gain. In the end I phoned the department chair back, apologized for my indecisiveness, and said I wouldn’t be applying after all. Thankfully she was very understanding and said I hadn’t “burned any bridges.”

I still don’t know “what next?” That’s the hardest part about deciding not to apply for the job — I want to know for certain what my options will be down the road. For now, though, I’m looking forward to the change in my daily schedule as my youngest starts preschool in the fall, allowing me regular time for my own projects. Despite not knowing what lies ahead, and the need to carefully budget our expenses, the time I have with my family is a true gift.


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