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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: "My Own Work"
August 15, 2011 - 8:35pm

Every fall it’s this way. Mid-August comes and I hit the panic button, realizing how much work I have left to do before the semester begins — next week. Isn’t that awfully early, I find myself thinking? I imagine this is even true for those who start after Labor Day (though I envy them now). Whether it’s early or late, there’s always a crunch right at the beginning.

Last year at this time I was questioning the whole idea of “summer vacation,” at least as we practice it in academe (and here I include K12); this year, I must say, I’m grateful for it, as we’ve really made the most of our summer. In addition to two weeks in California, we had a brief visit with my parents and some of my siblings in Connecticut; Nick has also had a week of “summer job” experience and a couple of weeks of pre-season training with the cross-country team at his new school; and my husband even managed to get away for a weekend kayaking trip. Even though I spent most of May in workshops of one kind or another, and much of June preparing for and then participating in a conference, it’s felt like a summer well spent. Indeed, those workshops and that conference were a big part of why the summer was, indeed, well-spent. With the exception of those few weeks of vacation, I’ve managed to keep up some kind of working rhythm this summer, both as I worked on my workshops and later, on my conference paper; rather than detracting from my summer, they gave it form and purpose.

I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to get back to “my own work” — my scholarship — and trying to carve out time for it as I plan my semester. Yet even as I type that, I realize that teaching and service are also, truly, “my own work.” I think too often we as academics fall into the trap of seeing scholarship as our true calling, with teaching a distant second and service, um, fifth … or so. But in the small liberal arts university where I teach — and, really, in the vast majority of academic institutions around this country — teaching and service are central components of the academic mission. We can’t escape them — nor should we try.

Which is not to say we shouldn’t be sensible about them. We have all sat through meetings that were longer than they should have been — or that could have been conducted via on-line poll. We have all seen bureaucracies multiply as classes got bigger and hours for research diminished. I don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish about all this, especially as I see my colleagues still struggling with furloughs, reduced budgets, and difficult working conditions. Rather, I want to be realistic: few of us will ever have jobs that are pure research, or even where research is our primary “job.” Even more realistically: I know I need all three elements of my academic life. As I look back on my work this summer, I see how my service work will enhance my teaching: after all, my service involves faculty development, and every conversation I have with a faculty member about teaching can inform my own. And my teaching has certainly informed my research: just this week I received the published copy of an article that began its life as a seminar topic several years ago.

If I can see those synergies in my various “work,” maybe I can start to see them in the differing rhythms of the school year as well — without the crunch time of fall, would summer be as sweet?


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