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Redefining Academic Careers

Last week I promised to write about the “male” career model. I want to begin by reasserting my prior advice to young ambitious women, to “do whatchalike” and try not to worry. But it is apparently true, aas The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, that “women in academe, no matter how many hours they worked, reported fewer children than women in all other professional fields.” According to 2000 census data, 52 percent of male professors have wives who work part time or not at all, while only 9 percent of female professors have partners who work less than full time. Marriage rates reveal the same paradox. Of those professors who achieve tenure, 70 percent of men are married with children, compared with only 44 percent of women. But women win in the singles category: Twenty-six percent of tenured women are single without children, as compared with only 11 percent of tenured men. On an individual level, one has to be willing to recognize one’s own human limitations, and to be optimistic enough to move forward, knowing that smart ambitious women really do have a lot of options and that if A doesn’t work out, B and C will come along, even if it’s impossible to imagine in advance what B or C might be. As a group, however, the statistics are against us. Especially those of us in the humanities, and especially the humanities folks in fields (English, the modern languages, philosophy, classics. . . ) that don’t have an acknowledged parallel non-academic job track for PhD holders. And, as Libby Gruner points out, the NYT’s advice (to women) to think of careers as a “lattice” rather than a “ladder” doesn’t really apply to tenure-track academia. I do tend to agree with Dana Campbell that academia is changing. Sloooooowly.

One Reader's Reaction

(Also appears in Mama PhD ) A scientist/reader writes.... I urge you to show a bit more flexibility in your...

Riding the Waves

I am a senior at the undergraduate level, and would very much like to be a professor someday. The difficulties involved in trying to balance motherhood with graduate studies or accomplishing tenure as a professor seem excessive. I was wondering about the feasibility of the idea of taking a few years off to raise children after completing a PhD but before applying for a professorship. Did you review any information in your research concerning that situation? Do you think it would be advantageous for me to be able to devote myself completely to school until I get the PhD, then devote myself completely to children until they are old enough to be in school, and then be able to enter a professorship without having to take maternity leave or be physically exhausted from childbirth? I am not sure if taking a few years off would be damaging to my chances of being accepted as a professor. I would hope that they would consider me in a positive light, as I would no longer have to take maternity leave, but I am afraid they would view my years of childrearing as inactive and wasteful at a time when I could have been publishing papers and conducting research. Even so, family would be an extremely important part of my life. I do very much want to have children, and am trying to figure out the best way to balance being a good mother, a good student, having time with my children when they are very young (I would like to avoid child care if possible), being able to devote time and energy to my career to have a good chance at tenure, but still having children young enough so that I won't risk infertility. I would be very interested in the stories of people who chose to take time off after achieving a PhD to raise children but before becoming professors -- whether this is a positive or negative choice upon their careers. Thank you very much, This is certainly going to fall under "pointless advice" because inevitably the best laid plans of mice and ambitious young women gang aft agley. I speak from experience: many were my plans, as an ambitious young woman, about how I was going to combine marriage and a PhD and children and so on. Some of the planning was helpful and some of it turned out well, but a lot of things--including me!--didn't quite turn out According to Plan.

Do I Dare to Try to Reach

just ran across your blog today and it immediately caught my attention. I think you may be able to offer some valuable advice. I am 29 with two children (2 ½ and 14 months), a full-time job (though only 9 months), and an MS degree. However, the thought of a PhD keeps creeping back into my radar and there is a program in the local area. I have been out in the workforce for 5 years, but I am at a small, private university. There's probably more to the story, but I guess I'm wondering if it's possible to manage a PhD workload with two children. Obviously, I'd be giving up my position, but I feel like I've reached as far as I can with only a Master's. And what do I love? Teaching. Currently, my job is more administrative, an endless list of committees, and working with students on an individual basis. I'm just looking for advice from someone who's been there, done that, and is now at the other end. Thoughts? Kristi A. from Michigan I'm going to assume that you're married and that, with two kids and a theoretically employed husband, you're not too mobile? In which case my first question is going to be, have you applied for teaching jobs at community colleges? Because at least on paper, you're qualified to teach at a cc, and you could do that immediately, without five more years of education.

Should I Apply to Academia?

Dear all, This is the first time I come to this site. I have a question, and wasn't sure how to start a new thread. So I hope it is OK that I post here. I am a 30 year old female PhD student, and I will graduate next year. My husband and I plan to have two children in the next 4-5 years. And I would like to take a leave for a year for each kid, which accumulates to 2 years.(For medical reasons, I don't want to wait till late 30s to have children.) My question is should I apply for academia? Is my plan compatible with academia? Can I have two kids before getting tenure, and taking one year off for each kid? I am in science, so I can easily go into industry. Family life is more important to me than career. Thanks so much in advance for any advice you may give me!! Hell yes you should apply! Academia needs more women (and men) like you--people who know straight up what their priorities are, and aren't so cowed by "the job market" that they're ready to feel grateful for anything that comes their way. With confidence like that you'd probably be an awesome interview and a strong candidate.

Parenting and Pedagogy

"Dr. K." asks: As an incipient Mama Ph.D., I’d like to know how parenthood affects your pedagogy. If anyone has had a before- and after-baby teaching career, aside from issues like daycare and fatigue, I’d be grateful if you could tell me how it changes a person as a teacher. Awesome question. The most immediate effect, I think, is that I am *much* more aware of, and sensitive to, the needs and challenges of students with children of their own. Those "no cell phones in class" statements on the syllabus? I bring mine in, and leave it on, in case my son's school needs to call, and I know that some of my students are in the same boat. And for all I know, other students have reasons for leaving their phones on too. So instead of "no phones," I tell them, turn your ringers down and if you have to answer the phone, please step out of the room while you do so. Missing class because of sickness or babysitting problems? It happens. Here's the work you missed; please check with a friend to look at their notes. It also, I think, makes me better at thinking about my students' educational backgrounds, the gaps they may or may not have, and the fact that they have different learning styles. My son? Bright, believes everything's negotiable, and in the wrong school environment might very well be labelled a "behavior problem." Other kids in his class, where I've done some volunteering? I can see them getting discouraged at the age of six, getting the message that they're "not good at school," checking out to protect their egos.

Should I Adjunct?

I taught for several years at a state school of fairly low rank and then taught at a very diverse urban public university, which I loved. Now I teach at a fancy liberal arts college on occasion, which has been great, but it doesn't quite thrill me. I feel like I'm not really teaching them much of anything or it doesn't really matter because they're gonna make it no matter what. At Urban Public U., students cried when I left. I'm about to quit my job in all likelihood. It makes me cry on a weekly basis. The reasons for the tears are pretty complicated, mixed up with my own sadness and disappointment that this gig did not work out and with the cruelty and insane politics I find myself on the receiving end of. The stories I could tell. So I don't know what I'm going to do next. I'm toying with doing some consulting and actually have done some of this work already and could get more pretty easily. I have ideas I want to write about and I still like teaching so I'm applying for faculty jobs, but, like you, I'm limited geographically. And, quite honestly, I want some life balance. I'm working about 60 hours/week right now with job plus research. The laundry is not getting done; homework slides; you know the drill. Oh, and there's the TMJ and headache issues. So do you think adjuncting, if you're doing it as a true part-time job instead of with the hope of gaining a tenure-track job, is viable? Would you ever see yourself back on the tenure-track? I'm interested in CC jobs, but the t-t ones I've seen are 5-5 and I just don't think I could swing that. Anyway, I'd love to see you write about adjuncting in a positive way. In what ways could it not be exploitive? I'm thinking of Marc Bousquet. Would he think it's bad always? It seems the perfect solution for a parent who wants to teach and be a part of academe but doesn't want a full-time gig. I can't even find a part-time gig in the Ed Tech field. Is is bad to want to work part-time? Why do I feel guilty about that? You feel guilty for much the same reason mothers often feel guilty over whatever choices they make on the work/life continuum, for the same reason we feel guilty if we buy ziplock bags instead of biodegradable cellulose baggies, for the same reason educated whites often feel guilty about racism: because we live in a world that's convinced us that all social problems somehow boil down to our Personal Choices. And you feel guilty for the same reason academics everywhere feel guilty and anxious over academia: because so many of us have internalized the idea of our own powerlessness and dependence on the almighty Job Market.

Job-Hunting While Pregnant

I'm wondering if you or your readers can shed any light on the issue of women being pregnant while on the job market. Every academic woman planning to become a mother has to weigh the timing of a pregnancy very carefully, and the general assumption is that you never want to be pregnant while you're on the job market. When you think about it from the perspective of the woman, however, we're often weighing many issues that can conflict with each-other: for example, whether a pregnancy is more feasible during graduate school--even with dissertation writing and teaching--than it is when you've gotten a tenure-track job, the question of when we can count on having health insurance, and the possibilities for any maternity leave. Most of the time, I think women try to time pregnancies so they can deliver a baby at the beginning of the summer and extend their time at home, but the timing of the (lengthy) academic job market process kills this possibility since anyone getting pregnant in the late summer would be very visibly pregnant during job interviews.