Blog U › 
  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Career Coach: Family Friendly Employers
May 31, 2009 - 6:53pm


It’s still early for me, as I have no baby prospects and I'm nowhere close to finishing my PhD. But I'm a 28-year old female, halfway through my PhD, who feels a little bit isolated in an academic department that seems full of men who 'have it all' and a) very, very few women who have succeeded in landing a tenure-track position, and b) even less who have succeeded in doing so with children.

I am considering a career in the academy, but I also want children. I am just getting into the literature written on this topic and feeling very intimidated by the statistics that seemed very stacked against my hope to also have everything I want! I do know it’s possible, but....

I'm not sure if you’re the right person to contact, but just looking for direction or help or support. Also wondering if you know of any universities that acknowledge this issue and have taken steps to take on suggestions put forward by people (ie. Mason and Goulden)? Are there any universities in particular I should consider (in a few years, when applying for jobs) who do take motherhood into consideration for getting and/or achieving tenure?



Dear Miranda,

Your research on the topic of mother-friendly universities is bound to be at least as good as mine, and the information will presumably have changed by the time you are ready to apply for positions. So I’m going to leave that part of your question for now and concentrate on your more general request for help and support.

As you suggest, the tenure statistics are not as promising for mothers as for fathers or for childless candidates. But, of course, many mothers do achieve tenure. The essays in Mama, PhD show women managing to complete their graduate programs, find jobs, and earn tenure at all different stages of their mothering, but coeditor Caroline Grant says, "It seems, based on my conversations with our contributors and women I've met while doing Mama, PhD events (and with some exceptions of course), easiest to become a parent during graduate school, when career pressures are lighter.

Of course, you may not have total control over the timing of your children. Even if you did have current “baby prospects,” babies seldom arrive on demand. But if you are clear about what you want—and it sounds like you are—there are two things you can do right now to increase your chances of a happy balance between motherhood and career.

The first is to keep tabs on universities that are working to make life manageable for parents. You seem to have already begun that process; I would urge you to keep up with this blog and Inside Higher Ed generally, and to sign up for newsfeeds and/or Google alerts on topics related to motherhood and academia. Talk to other women at conferences and on chat rooms about their personal experiences, and attend as many workshops and seminars on motherhood, the work-life balance, and the glass ceiling as you can. Over time, you will develop an information and support network that will eventually help inform the application process.

The second is to become active, now, in organizations and movements that advocate for parents of young children, both in your current institution and nationally. You have much more time and energy now than you will once you have a baby, and more than your peers and professors with young children. Find out how to help the women who are mothers now to advance in their careers. By doing this, you can help create improvements that will benefit you later, learn the politics and subtleties of advocacy, and create good karma for yourself.

Have a question for the Career Coach? E-mail her.


Please review our commenting policy here.


  • Viewed
  • Commented
  • Past:
  • Day
  • Week
  • Month
  • Year
Back to Top