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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: The Undercover Boss
April 14, 2011 - 9:38pm

I chose my first job out of graduate school for several reasons. The president of that university was a graduate of my graduate program, had been working in some very unusual areas, and wanted me and my research as part of where he saw the university going at the time (he died a few years later, but I believe that much of his vision did eventually come to be, if only, sadly, without me.) I had come to maturity with the Jesuits, and therefore wanted to teach with them, and the position was in a Jesuit university. And the theist in me sees more than randomness in the fact that, after almost taking a job in another city, I found a job in Cleveland, where some of the best neurosurgeons in the world practice, just as the tumor that tormented my brain became large enough to put my life in danger.

But most of all, I saw the nonprofit sector in Cleveland as being very vibrant and exciting, and realized that my research on the sector would benefit from the proximity of so many people who were actually involved in making the nonprofit sector a reality. Indeed, one of the professors who advised my dissertation fellowship program ran a Center for Nonprofit Organizations at a neighboring university. For the first years I lived in town, I often went to seminars at their center and worked on research projects with them over the summer. However, when I left my first job just steps ahead of what would surely have been a tenure denial, I lost touch with them and that center as I re-imagined myself as a math professor, only sometimes telling people “but I am really an economist.” Still, I was not the only one to notice an extra excitement in my voice when I taught topics from economics in my statistics or calculus classes. That is why, when I received a call from the Master’s program in Nonprofit Management run by that neighboring university, I pursued the option of teaching a class in nonprofit economics for them. And so, with the blessing of my superiors at Ursuline, I taught that class this spring semester. We meet next week for the last time, and I must admit I will miss it.

The class contained a group of amazingly interesting and exciting people, and was a joy to teach. I remember one woman who liked to bring up Bernie Madoff as we hammered out the details of supply and demand, and I hope that her perception of economics is not entirely that of people who are unethical. There was one woman who was a graduate of Ursuline College, and two women about my age who have children quite a bit older than mine. They left me with a gem of wisdom as they visited colleges with their teenage children, saying that the “teenage years are God’s way of preparing you for having them leave the home.” There was one man who is involved with a group who is trying to keep a faith community alive after having their parish arbitrarily closed when the diocese faced financial difficulty. There was a woman who does a lot of volunteer work, and when I suggested she apply for an award given to graduate students who volunteer, she answered quickly “I am not motivated by money.” I am afraid I can’t say the same thing, since I am embarrassed to say that, when some students suggested I do a guest lecture on statistics for the master’s students, I was reluctant to. But that is the nature of teaching as an adjunct professor, with no long-term connections to a college or need to offer service as part of a tenure track position.

Indeed, it was a good experience to see things from the point of view of an adjunct professor. I am usually a department chair, hiring and placing adjunct professors, with little worries of the details of their well-being after the class begins. This semester I felt the disorganization of not having a parking pass (the cost was not worth it for the number of nights I would use it,) the difficulty of deciphering a new computer system, and the inability to hold office hours without an office to call my own. I know that I will address those issues more closely the next time I hire someone to teach a class.

Despite the difficulties, I loved the experience. I even had one class meeting where we read and discussed two papers I authored. I now know that someone besides me, my co-author and the editors have read them!

My class ends next week, but I will always be grateful for the opportunity to once again say, without any explanation, and if only for a few weeks, “I am an economist.”

To my readers of various faiths who will celebrate holy days this next week:

May you have happy and blessed holidays!


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