Friday, November 17, 2006

Role Modeling

Today I talked informally with some women grad students (not my own), most from other universities. Some were considering not seeking academic jobs because they wanted to have 'a life'. I asked them why they didn't think they could have a life and an academic career as well, and the answer was that they didn't know anyone who did both. Some of these schools have no women faculty or, at most, one (unmarried/childless) in our general field. So I kicked into Role Model mode, telling them about my family and demonstrating that it is entirely possible to have a family and be a science professor and to enjoy both.

I am happy to do the Role Model thing, but I'm always amazed that it is as important as it is.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amazingly important, yes. One of the small things I try to do in my own department is set up occasions where the female students can meet and talk with any female visiting speakers. Not only do they get to broaden their own networks this way, but they also hear lots of stories about the career paths these prominent women have taken (not always the traditional straight shot through school and postdoc) and about how they manage to have lives outside their work. Good for you for helping to spread the word!

bsci said...

About having a life, I know a female grad student who has a similar concern. She's aiming for academic jobs, but she's leaning against research focused places even if she got an offer. (I'll note that everything below is also true for men.)

I've talked to her about this. Every stat she's seen has faculty at top places working 70-80 hours per week.
She knows people who have suceeded, but it usually involves serious sacrifices such as more use of professional childcare than preferred or a stay at home spouse. While it's possible to do that and have a family and a life, that's not a pleasant lifestyle unless your prime goal for for intellectual fullfillment is an academic job.

Approximately how many hours do you work per week? If you're hitting 70-80 how does your life fit into that picture?

Also, if someone who wants to spend significant time as a parent is not absolutely passionate about their research why should they take a research intensive academic job? This question is significant because, in our cuture, this choice seems to affect women more than men.

plam said...

Funny you mention that today. We just had a faculty panel here about family and academia. One prof was saying that she believed that it was possible to have it all (if you outsource life maintenance).

Anonymous said...

Female Science Professor, you may be an exception. You would be in my academic sphere. I will be leaving the field because it is overcrowded, but the lack of a life has always been on my mind, even as a beginning graduate student. I always vowed I would leave the field if I couldn't continue of my own terms. Little did I know of the consequences of moving around. Passionate hobbies can be killed of by a change of location.

I think it is entirely rational and wise to look at those who have already traveled the path you are thinking of traveling, and decide to go down another path. This is what I am doing, not because of the lack of having a life (which is still a concern), but because of the lack of jobs.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to follow up a bit on the last comment, I am glad there are female role models like you, Female Sci Prof, but just because it worked out for you, does not mean it will for others. I only know of 1 couple out of perhaps 20 where they managed to have 2 children and she is on the tenure track. He is not, although in the same field. Don't know how that will be solved. Most women/couples have no children, one had a terribly difficult birth plus an unsupportive department and is up for tenure in 1 year. Many waited until their late 30s and popped out 1 child. 1 had a miscarriage and then adopted. The picture is bleak. I say that because most do not seem to be "happy" with the way things are, they feel forced into it (also the men).

SciMom said...

I think it's a fantasy to say you can have it all. You certainly can do both academics and life and children, but the juggling act is difficult, especially when the children are little. Many sacrifices, some big some small, have to be made. I think FemaleScienceProfessor you have an unusually supportive husband, and you were able to make decisions like bringing your babies to work. I did not want to do that although I know of several other couples who have. Now I've gone part time to juggle it all and my husband's fast tracking career. There are days when he's traveling that I resent handling 90% of the childhood needs - right now it feels like I spend 50% of my time involves somehow in pee pee or poop. But I try to hold on to the fact that they are growing up so fast and will soon be in public school.

Still the most successful women I have met, for the most part, do not have children or have full time (and I mean full time) professional childcare.

admin1 said...

"There are days when he's traveling that I resent handling 90% of the childhood needs - right now it feels like I spend 50% of my time involves somehow in pee pee or poop."

I am just curious, why do women get pregnant and give birth to babies if they are not going to take care of them????? Maybe things are different in different parts of the country but in New York, women have someone else take care of their babies while their work. In fact my observation is that women do not do much of anything, for instance, they do not take care of their own hygiene or cosmetics, some Chinese immigrant washes their feet every week, another one polishes their nails, and yet another one, waxes their privates. I think this is obscene. If you decide to have a baby you must take care of your baby. What the female doctor calls having a family is not really having a family since her husband does most of the work. In any case, this is an amazing diary and I like reading it.

Denise said...

As a graduate student, I've seen several female colleagues graduate and go into industry because they saw 1) that our common (old and male) advisor explicitly discouraged women from having children and leading professional careers, and 2) saw no one else in our department (which has fairly high level of female faculty at 6 of 22(TT), 3 up for tenure this year) visibly making it in a career with a family, and 3) saw that industry had more hospitable hours and family leave policies for women who wanted to have children. They may have been interested in an academic research career at one point, but decided against it because of these factors.

It's certainly not easy to balance a family and a career, even without the special callenges of academia. But it also isn't an option to stay home (usually for either parent!) between the need for a second income to make ends meet and the inellectual stir-craziness of having a very active mind and interfacing primarily with a being which can only express itself by wriggling, cooing, and crying. I've heard of a few people who have borne children, remained active in childrearing, and attained tenure, but they sacrifice even more in terms of sleep, marital life, and the time allotted for work toward that strongly-desired promotion to tenure.

There are a lot of assumptions in Admin1's comment about what women do (and don't) all day and night that leave me wondering just what he is an administrator of, given EEOC rules requiring all job candidates and employees be given fair consideration.

Anonymous said...

Hm...Admin1, Scimom is doing 90% of the work while her husband travels.
I am just curious if you think this means she has a "real family," while her husband does not, because he doesn't do most of the work.
Back on topic, a role model would have been great in grad school. I eventually landed in academia, but after my postdoc I applied only for industrial and national lab positions, because I did not see many women professors (with families) in the physical sciences. Looking back, it is surprising to me that a role model would matter so much at the end of my education, because I was already accustomed to being the only one, or one of a few female students in a large class. Why not try to go just one more step into academia? Who knows--I was even encouraged to go in that direction, but I didn't consider it.
After an interesting detour, I am here where I belong. A few men from my research group went directly to academia, but the other women made similar trips through industry or national lab before any of us became profs. I wonder if they went through the same doubts, and whether this has changed recently.
I still don't know if a "real family" is in the future, but I hang onto every positive example available in real life and online. It makes a big difference.

Anonymous said...

For those who think there is something "unnatural" about a woman raising her child in such a way that she doesn't spend every moment of every day with it, I highly recommend the book Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, a sociobiologist. It turns out that alloparenting, or care of young by relatives or other members of a group, is very common among animals, especially those closely related to humans. Not only that, alloparenting plays an important role in the survival of the offspring and the long-term health and stability of the group. The idea that being a good mother means being the exclusive caregiver has actually arisen only very recently in human society. Fascinating stuff.

admin1 said...

"It turns out that alloparenting, or care of young by relatives or other members of a group, is very common among animals, especially those closely related to humans."

Thanks. Very interesting. I didn't know this.

How do women rationalize giving up the care of their own babies in favor of their career? Career must be more important than the baby. Then why not just accept this fact? In some societies grand parents and aunts take care of the baby in the absence of the mother. In our society, since grand mothers had also being working mothers, they want to live their own lives and have no interest in raising their daughter's baby.

In corporate space I think this is mostly resolved. You can have the baby and most corporations give both parents enough time off and then the nannies, private teachers and other substitute parents take over and natural parents get to spend only quality time with their offsprings. The career v. baby seems to be a problem specific to the academia.

If as a woman, you want to have a baby just for the experience of it, why don't you be honest about it and say so? My personal opinion is that, modern working mother loses interest in her baby as soon as the baby is not a part of herself.

What do you think about Marie Curie? She was successful as a scientist and had a daughter who was as successful as well.

Thanks again. Very interesting topic.

Female Science Professor said...

I am completely happy with my family arrangement -- my daughter and I are very close and spend a lot of time together. She also spends a lot of time with her dad, either just the two of them or the three of us together. Being in a 2-Professor couple has given us a lot of flexibility in our family life. We have one kid -- one healthy, happy kid -- and the three of us have organized our family life in a way that suits us just fine. The only thing I have "sacrificed" is housework.

Anonymous said...

"Some were considering not seeking academic jobs because they wanted to have 'a life'. I asked them why they didn't think they could have a life and an academic career as well, and the answer was that they didn't know anyone who did both."

If they're in a field like mine, then they'd be right. I don't think it is possible. I'm a "full"-time female academic, and I don't even have time for a social life, let alone a family. Just as well I'm not planning on having a family. There are some academic women I know who work in my field, and those who do research either don't have a family or their family is grown up. Those who have young children I haven't seen any research from.

To me, in the UK, the main problem is workloads for all academics. But of course the situation where a male academic has a non-academic spouse who can offer time doing domestic support is a lot more common than when a female academic has a non-academic spouse who can offer time doing domestic support.