Friday, February 17, 2012

The Local Mom Effect

We can look at the data for the % of science professors who are Female Science Professors and wonder to what extent the low numbers (relative to the % of women who acquire PhDs in some science fields) can be ascribed to the difficulties of being a mom and an FSP, and we can look at the data for how many FSPs have kids vs. those who don't (or pick any academic discipline in which women are underrepresented, not just Science). That's been done and those data could surely use more scrutiny and discussion, but that's not what I want to do here today.

Instead, I am intrigued by the possibilities of what might be learned from a rigor-challenged exploration of whether the % of FSPs (with/without children) in one's immediate professional surroundings has an influence on an individual's outlook, choices, opinions. That is, if you are in a department or some other sort of academic subunit in which there are many FSPs with kids, is your opinion (and possibly your life) profoundly different as a result, no matter what the statistics say about the overall low % of FSP-moms in your field? And if you are in a unit in which few/no FSPs have kids, are you less likely to have kids or even to pursue a career as an FSP?

At some universities in the US, there are departments in my field with no FSPs, and there are departments that have some FSPs but none of them have children. What are the effects of these places on the outlook of women students and postdocs re. careers and children? (Note that I am not critizicing anyone's choices to have/not have kids; that's a personal decision that no one else can judge.) And if someone has a pessimistic outlook based on their observations of people in their department (thinking: "These FSPs don't have kids, so it must be impossible/difficult to be an FSP and a mom"), can this be changed through other interactions beyond the department?

Alternatively, if you are in a department in which all or most female professors have kids, and these women seem to be doing just fine with life and careers, does this counteract some of the anxiety or pessimism that might result from seeing the grim statistics for that field as a whole?

I don't know, and that's why it seems like a good topic for a blog post, so that readers can send comments on how they think their experiences and opinions have been shaped by their immediate academic environment.

I remember sitting in a small meeting of women students, postdocs, and faculty once (many years ago), and the topic came up about the difficulty of being an FSP and a mom. One grad student said that she was concerned about this because there were "no role models". The other women faculty and I exchanged puzzled glances -- every single one of us in the room had one or more kids. Everyone in the room knew each other, so there was no way this student didn't know we all had kids. We were also representative of this unit of the university; there was one FSP absent, but she also had kids.

So I said "We all have kids, so I am confused about what you are looking for in a role model". The student said that because most FSPs don't have kids, there aren't enough role models. Yes, well, "not enough" is not quite the same as "no". Is there such thing as a critical mass of role models, and below that number, the exceptions are not significant? Maybe, but at the time, I thought that was an unnecessarily negative and cautious way to look at things.

And that certainly wasn't my approach. At about the time my daughter was born, I didn't know many FSPs in my field, but I did know a few, and some (2) of those at neighboring institutions had kids and were very happy. I didn't actually give it a lot of thought, and certainly never gazed at statistics to make any decisions. In that sense, I was not affected much, if at all, by my immediate academic environment or by the larger academic community (perhaps contradicting the central question of this post).

Even so, that is still a useful result to the general question of whether we are affected (or not) by our immediate (or larger) professional communities when making major life decisions.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I believe there is an effect. A good example of this in biochemistry is Elizabeth Blackburn (2009 Nobel in Physiology/Medicine) -- her position as a leading researcher in an emerging area (DNA telomeres and the proteins that bind them) has had a dramatic effect on the number of women pursuing academic careers in that area.

But an effect like this is not necessary: I was as much influenced by my parents' role as positive role models than by anyone I met later in my training/career. My mother entered a STEM field in the early '60s, something which my father considered obvious and unremarkable. For me, this was the best type of positive reinforcement that people should do what they are best at, regardless of gender. But without such a positive early experience, I can see where advisor and co-worker role models would play larger roles.

SciWo said...

It certainly makes a department more attractive to a potential FSP if there are already successful FSP moms within it. Shows that it can be done in that environment.

Anonymous said...

I'm faculty in a young dept - out of 30 faculty, I reckon 16 have kids under 10, including the head of dept. Including 5 women. It certainly helps to have people to discuss childcare cover / flexibility with. And it seems to help younger scientist too, at least 2 phd students have had babies in the last year.

Anonymous said...

It's much more complex than that. I'm an assistant FP, the only one in my department, but I will never have children, because I can't have them for medical reasons. However, this is not known to my collegaues or students or anyone, since it's my personal issue and absolutely none of their business. But, by your hypothesis, just by being who I am, which I can not change, I'll be that childless FP that female students see and are discouraged by. And I bet I am not the only one in such situation - being childless without a choice. Not that I have a problem with that in my personal life, but just to point out that it's really not that simple as it's normally pointed out - many people just don't have ability to have children for whatever reason and yet in these career things noone ever points that out. It's always just about MomFSPs.

studyzone said...

Although I am unable to have kids myself, I a postdoc in a department that seems to value families. Many of the postdocs and some grad students (both male and female) are parents, and there is a veritable baby boom among the faculty. Many of the PIs in the dept. are supportive of trainees and colleagues with children, both in words and deeds. If I were able to have children, I'd definitely be strongly encouraged by my experience here - a large dept. making it work on multiple levels.

Anonymous said...

I only need one FSP w kids to know it's possible. The bigger problem right now is getting the job in the first place. Having a baby is limiting my options in taking the postdocs I need to get the pubs I need to get the job I want. Given husband's job, I am currently stuck in a part-time teaching job that's likely to prevent me from ever getting a tenure-track job. If I had a job as a prof right now with a baby I would feel fine.

mathgirl said...

I'd like to think that what other people do around me doesn't affect my life decisions, but that's not completely true. It does help me when I see an older female mathematician having the model of life that I wish for myself, and seeing that it works. I know one particular example that helps me a lot, and I wish I had more around.

rosa said...

I am a female scientist in a department with an above average number of women - all of whom have been mothers with children at home. At the same time as being active scientists. They have each dealt with the challenges differently. So when I inherited a son I had both of them to look to as role models as well as several fathers who were active in sharing the parenting load. one role model would have helped with the courage to do the job, but many added to the wisdom available to me in raising a child within the challenging process of becoming a professor. So, is there a critical number, no. One is enough to start with, but every bit of wisdom and encouragement helps to make the process easier.

ROX said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think these things depend a great deal more on your personal situation than your surroundings, although surroundings might also have an influence.

Imagine two young female scientists at the grad student or postdoc level of equally high ability and qualifications.

Now imagine that one of these two is married to a supportive husband, who also has a solid job, but is willing to give equal or higher priority to her career and share child-raising responsibilities. Imagine they perhaps also have family members who can help with childcare. This woman is probably going to go ahead and have kids if she wants to, and not be too worried about the consequences, because she and her husband and family can deal with it.

Then imagine the second young woman, at a similar level of professional development, but this woman is single in her late twenties or early thirties, or is married to a man who sees her career as less important than his, and contributes far less than an equal share to housework and child care (this is still very common in the 21st century). This woman is going to be rationally very concerned about the implications of trying to become an FSP-mom. If she reads the statistics, she know that women who are not married when they take a tenure-track position are far less likely to ever get married, tenure-track women who are married are far more likely to get divorced, only one in three women who take tenure-track jobs end up having kids, and if women do have kids, it usually slow their career progress. She also knows that none of the above is true for men. (http://ucfamilyedge.berkeley.edu/babies%20matterII.pdf)

The individual conditions that women encounter locally tend to reflect, to a lesser or greater extent, this general trend. I don't think it is very helpful to focus on young women's anxiety about these things and pretend that if only young women were just more optimistic and would just go for it, all these things would just go away. That anxiety is totally rational, and most of us won't actually be able to "have it all", and that is NOT OUR FAULT (for being too pessimistic, or whatever). Most of us will end up having to make trade-offs: having fewer kids than we wanted, not pursuing the high career goals we originally set ourselves, etc. Having been told practically since infancy that we can "have it all" if we just believe in ourselves and work hard has turned out to be a set-up for disappointment and a feeling of failure if we do not belong to the lucky few who actually manage this feat.

Anonymous said...

The big UC survey of grad students a couple of years ago found a pretty dramatic "local moms" effect:

When we asked women in the survey whether they viewed research universities as family friendly, their opinions differed significantly depending on whether or not it was common in their departments for female professors to have children. Where it was common, 46 percent of female respondents agreed that research universities were family friendly. Where it was uncommon, only 12 percent of
women agreed."

http://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Balancing_Act-_A_Bad_Reputation.mamason.pdf

http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2009/JF/Feat/maso.htm

Anonymous said...

Yes, of course we're affected by our surroundings. I knew statistically that it was hard to be a mom in academia. So when I applied to grad school I asked up-front of the department admissions committee whether the department was family-friendly.

The department I'm in now has several FSPs with young children, which made me feel like, yes, it's possible to be a mom while in academia. And it gave me a feeling of safety -- that if I had trouble with the academic system because of being a mom, these women would have my back. (I made sure to cultivate relationships with a couple of them at the beginning of grad school before I had my son.)

But I can completely understand the mind-set of the grad student you wrote about. If just a handful of FSPs has kids, then it must be *very hard* to be an FSP and a mom. This grad student wanted to believe it could be easier than *very hard* and wished that having kids among female academics was the norm (at least up to the level of the rest of society). Then it wouldn't be such a difficult choice.

Unrelated, I have a question for you: when you go to see doctors, dentists, etc. do they regularly comment on how you must be a scientist or engineer? I took my 2 year old to the dentist the other day and as part of the introductory banter, told the hygenist that he had 16 teeth and two more coming in. She said, "you must be an engineer or something." Apparently most people have no idea how many teeth their kids have(!) I've gotten similar comments from my son's doctor, too. Is noticing things about your own son or daughter's body really something only scientists do? Have you had this experience?

Anonymous said...

My spouse and I finished our PhDs in a department that had 3 TT women, of which only one had children (and she had them after tenure). My undergrad department had no TT female faculty and my spouse's had no TT female faculty with children. We read the statistics about women having babies on the tenure track and the tenure outcomes and the number of tenured women who have no children, so my spouse and I decided to try and game the system and have our kids in grad school and as postdocs. So yes, the number of successful mom-scientist role-models in our departments did have an effect on our choices. We are both coming up for tenure this year. We'll see if our calculated family planning has worked...

another anonymous person said...

Every time I visit another university and meet with students, I get asked by female graduate students what it is like to be an FSP mom. I've attended conferences pregnant or nursing; I get many, many, many questions from other young FSPs or young graduate students about the life of an FSP mom. I've had young FSPs come up to me at a subsequent conference and tell me that they felt comfortable starting their own family because of me as a role model.

And I'm not even especially prominent, except for being in a field without that many FSP mom examples.

Yes, having other FSP moms around matters a lot. I know that my own expectations and career plan changed because of what I saw my FSP mentor go through. I know that having other senior FSPs who put pictures of their kids in their AwesomeScience talk was really inspiring to me. I know that talking to other FSP moms who struggled prepared me for the reality of it.

And having FSP mom colleagues in my department gives me people to talk to about what I am going through.

Palysand said...

I don't know about necessarily the environment of FSP's with kids, but definitely the local environment of colleagues with kids makes a huge difference. Maybe its just me, but I feel much more at ease in a group of colleagues that talk freely about commitments related to having children (whether they be male or female) and where I feel completely comfortable mentioning that I have to leave early because my kid is sick and needs to be picked up from school. In environments where no one has kids, or no one ever mentions their kids, I sometimes feel the pressure to pretend I don't have a personal life.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a huge problem and one that has never been addressed in any study that I'm aware of. How many women are "choosing" family/nonacademic jobs out of pure pessimism? I'm guessing it's a lot.

Anonymous said...

I'm a FSP with a kid and I'm the only FSP in my department with kids. All the MSPs have kids but they also all have stay at home wives.

At the time I got pg, I was a postdoc and in a place where several FSPs had kids. Honestly, I never thought about them as role models but I may well have if none had kids, like my current place.

I do hope I'm a role model to the students who know me.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the local environment plays a huge role. My wife comes from an academic family so the notion that there might be some enormous tension between having a family and being a FSP was totally foreign to her. She was the first (and so far only) FSP to have a child in our department, hopefully serving somewhat as a local role model. Although she was once criticized at a meeting of female grad students for setting a bad example by declining to take maternity leave (both kids came before tenure and she didn't want to be the first to test those waters). Of course all the post-tenure men in the department with stay-at-home moms happily take advantage of their paternity leaves grrr...

Anonymous said...

I actually feel my decision to have children was strongly influenced by my advisor and mentor. I was always sort of ambivalent towards the idea of kids until my grad work began- and though I suppose it was partially due to my biological clock suddenly turning on at that time and meeting a great partner who also wanted kids (and was willing to stay home with them, no less), I feel my advisor really paved the way for the pro-baby thoughts by having her own family, and balancing it so well with great science.

(As I write this, my husband is at home with our one-year old and I'm SUPPOSED to be working on the final draft of my dissertation. So much for balance. D'oh!)

Anonymous said...

The department I got my PhD in had two FSPs, both unmarried. One told me that I should never get married because "people will think you just want to have babies" and it would ruin my career. At the time, I wasn't convinced I wanted children, but this comment still shocked me. And yes, motivated me to look beyond research as a career, because it was clear that having outside interests meant you were not serious enough about your science. Nevermind that all the male professors were married and had children.

FSGradStudent said...

This topic has certainly affected my outlook on the feasibility of being a FSP with kids (I am currently a senior level grad student about to start a postdoc, and would like to be a FSP with kids one day).

I am currently in a department that has very few FSPs and no FSPs with kids. At my current institution, I can think of about 3 or 4 FSPs who I am aware of and who I know who do have kids, but they are not women I know well enough to feel like I can really see them as role models for how to balance science and motherhood. Also, most of these women did not have kids until pretty late in their lives/careers (i.e., well past tenure). This may partly be because I am at a particularly intense and research-focused institution.

I find all of these "local" statistics extremely discouraging. I obviously do not fault these FSPs I know for not having kids. For most of them, I think it was a personal choice that they are very happy with. But it is a choice that I expect to be very different from mine, and it would be nice to have more evidence that making a different choice doesn't make having a successful career impossible. I feel like I rely on bloggers like you and Dr. Isis, for example, so that I believe that having a successful career and kids is possible, but I would really be happier and less stressed out if I could see more examples of this in real life.

In some ways it makes me more determined to succeed, so perhaps I can prove to the generation that will come after me that it is possible. But it also makes it harder for me to figure out how to do so.

Anyway, I think you bring up a very interesting question and it would be great to see real data on this, and on whether "virtual" connections such as blogs, etc. might also make a difference.

Anonymous said...

"does this counteract some of the anxiety or pessimism that might result from seeing the grim statistics for that field as a whole"

I have more than one kid. The students in our department seem to think that I am either wonder woman or work all the time. I'm not wonder woman and I don't work all the time. I don't know how to combat this perception.

Everyone is amazed when you are a productive woman scientist with kids, but I see them everywhere. In addition, there are professional women with kids in law, medicine, business.....

Anonymous said...

Here's my rigor-challenged take: I was the first FSP in my department who had kids pre-tenure (I think there was one who had a kid post-tenure, before my time). It didn't prevent me from taking the job (it was the only offer I had), and it certainly didn't affect my decision to have kids (I'm baffled that it would). But it sure scared the crap out of me when I was going up for tenure. My colleagues were pretty hostile about what they saw as my misguided priorities.

My dept has since developed a reputation as being family friendly. !! I don't know if my experience made it easier for the FSPs who came after me, but if it did, so much the better. It may just reflect the fact that we hired a couple of junior FSPs.

PhD Journey: fire, kids, erosion said...

I'm always looking for role model mums in geoscience with kids (especially 3 or more kids that they talk about). They are rare. The lack of role models doesn't stop me studying - it does allow me to pause and take a breath when the home/work/study juggling balls are all falling on the ground. Its ok to say its not easy and just go at half pace (alas this is not always the case in the world of academia).

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that any individual woman who (physically) can't have children should adopt, but in theory these women could adopt, so a childless FSP is a childless FSP by choice, no matter what the reason. I agree, though, that others don't know whether a childless FSP is someone who just doesn't want to have children or who wants them but doesn't think she can or should (and it's no one's business what the reason is).

Anonymous said...

anon @5:38pm said "but in theory these women could adopt, so a childless FSP is a childless FSP by choice, no matter what the reason." - I absolutely do not agree. For medical reasons, I can't have kids. I tried to pursue adoption through two different agencies who both turned me down because I am single and have a hearing-impairment (not deaf), thus rendering me "unsuitable" as a prospective parent. I'm single, hearing-impaired and childless by circumstance - I certainly never "chose" any of this.

Anonymous said...

I think the single, hearing-impaired commenter might have mentioned that information in the first comment, as it is relevant. This person has my sincere sympathies and hopes for a happy life, but I doubt that most young women 'see themselves' in her, and therefore she is not a role model in the same way that others may be. It is true though that young women looking at older, child-free women professors as role models don't know if those women chose not to have kids and are happy with that decision, or whether it was a painful one, for whatever reason.

Anonymous said...

I've been lucky to have many good female role models in my time, but I don't make decisions by copying what they do. Role models are people to look up to and maybe emulate, but ultimately everyone (male or female) needs to find their own path. I admire my role models, but I am not my role models.

Seems like everyone has something to say on the topic of work-life balance for women these days, and it can be hard for young girls to filter it all out sometimes (early 20s female speaking here). So here's my very concise, very simple take: It's not one-size-fits-all. It's up to every woman to find her own work-life balance, and it might just be different from what everyone (FSP or otherwise) around her is doing. I'm going to keep looking up to the role models I have, but know that only I can decide what's best for me in the end.

Anonymous said...

In this same vein, how many FSPs do you see around you that have multiple children? I don't see how it is possible.

Anonymous said...

They exist and some of them even blog about it (GMP). Most FSPs I know have 1 child, but quite a few have 2. More than 2 is rare of course (it is in the population as a whole as well), but I do know a few with 3 and one with 4. I don't understand it either but it's clearly possible.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of the Anons above who can not have children and, same as the hearing impaired Anon, I am single and hence considered ineligible for adoption. So don't assume it's so easy to get children in other ways and just go and adopt. Because the reality is not like that.

Also, from the comments here there seem to be quite a few women around who can not have children - so could we for once not just dismiss them and say "go adopt", but consider their own problems with working in academia? For example, I bet many tried infertility treatments and were severely sick during the process, which may have lasted several years and put a horrible strain on their personal life as well as their efficiency at work and productvity. Go google professors and infertility blogs and you'll see, there are many such.

And I bet that that topic wasn't ever brought up on any of these career events for female students/postdocs, nor is that apparently quite common situation ever brought to light in life balance discussions. It's always just about parenting...

GMP said...

Anon at 10:10, I am a tenured FSP in the physical sciences and have 3 kids. It's certainly possible but, like all things worth having, it's not easy. When I got my TT position, there were two women before me, one had two post tenure, one childless at the time but went on to have one post tenure.

I had one as a grad student, one midway through the tenure track, and one post tenure. My family life is a great source of joy and balance for me, and I want to tell everyone who wants children that they should go for it, that a faculty job and even prominence in your field do not preclude having a family. You should try to have it all: it is possible and it is so worth it.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 5:38pm. I wish I could explain to you how offensive and hurtful your comment sounds to somebody that struggles with infertility. Adoption is not as simple as you imagine. To those who know the pain of infertility children are a gift, not a choice. I also resent the implication in yours and some other posts that childless women on tenure track are somehow not a positive role model. Way to pile on the guilt...

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone said "go adopt" to anyone, at least not in these comments, and I don't think anyone said that childless female professors are not role models in general. In fact, I think some of the commenters took extra care to show that they were not saying any of these things. I think this discussion is not about individuals but about (sub)populations of female professors in general, with or without children.

My contribution to the discussion is that I once gave a talk in a department with few women faculty and none with children. The women grads and postdocs were pessimistic, saying that they wanted families, so they were not going to pursue academic careers. I asked them why they didn't look more broadly, beyond their department, which I thought represented an unusual case. None of them had an answer. I think it is easy, particularly for grad students, to get caught up in their immediate environment, such is the focus required for PhD research. It's good to get out more! Look around, talk to people, read blogs, but ultimately do what you want of course, just be informed if that is relevant to your decisions.

This makes me wonder whether this is a troubling inconsistency telling women not to make decisions based on a small dataset if that dataset consists of childless FPs but that it is good to gain confidence from the same sized dataset if it consists of FPs who have successfully combined career and children. I actually think it is OK to emphasize the positive in this case but I can see that it is inconsistent.

Anonymous said...

"I think the single, hearing-impaired commenter might have mentioned that information in the first comment, as it is relevant. This person has my sincere sympathies and hopes for a happy life, but I doubt that most young women 'see themselves' in her, and therefore she is not a role model in the same way that others may be. "

Can you please explain this? I'm a girl in my early 20s, and of all the role models I've had, they were role models because they were confident, treated others with respect, and kicked ass in their careers. Some of them had achieved all that despite hardships, and that made me admire them more. So I'm a little confused about your comment that someone cannot be a role model because they have a hearing impairment and no children.

Anonymous said...

I think what that comment was trying to say is that if people are looking around at the set of female professors in their vicinity, they will look to see what the norm is. Likely they will see a variety -- some women single, some partnered, some with kids, some without, some with disabilities, some without. Sure, any of them can be role models in some way, but I think what is meant here is what is the norm? If most "local" women professors are single, then that would be the norm and might be cause for pessimism in young women who hope to find a partner. If most "local" women are partnered but don't have kids, then that is what might be used to project the future. Etc. That's just how I interpreted the comment.

Anonymous said...

This makes sense. There is an FP in my unit who is single, childless, and who suffers from a severe mood disorder. We admire her (she is an FP in a field without many of these, and is a role model in that sense, in addition to having additional challenges), but we don't "see ourselves" in her in terms of making generalizations about how difficult it might be to balance career and family. She has additional challenges that many of us fortunately do not have.

Anonymous said...

Sorry this question is a little off track. A lot of these comments express a happiness that there are others in the department/university/whatever that they can discuss their parenting questions and challenges with, and that it makes the process easier for them. From the opposite point of view, I do not have kids, do not want to have kids (though I do like kids in general, I just don't want my own), am incapable of having kids with my current partner, and generally have no interest in discussing what brand of baby bottle has bad chemicals in it or similar (and yes, that was an hour-long conversation I couldn't walk away from). Also, it is much more useful for me - when meeting scientists - to learn what they think about *science*, as they probably know lots of interesting things about their field that I would like to learn, or maybe they would be a future collaborator, etc. So my question is, can you offer any advice about how to get people (men and women) to stop talking about their children and talk about science without a) being a total jerk in general and b) (and of relevance to this post) making them feel like academics with children is a horrible taboo that should not be discussed?

Anonymous said...

Anon at 1:03, I am anon from 1:45 pm. It does not matter what the previous commenter was trying to say and adoption is really a side issue here. What the comment really said is that having or not having children is a choice. Yes, a lucky portion of the population has that choice, but not all of us do.

I used to be one of the young grad students obsessing about work-family balance issues. Spent some sleepless nights thinking about it. Now I laugh at the younger myself. I think that academia tends to attract people that are prone to overanalyze everything and spend time worrying about the problems that might or might not occur in the future. My message to younger women is this: Do you want to be a professor? That is great! Work hard, publish lots of papers, present your work at meetings, make professional connections. If you want to have children, have children. Do not postpone having family out of fear. Do not give up on your career out of fear. Do not obsess about the problems you do not have yet. Deal with the work-life balance when the need arises - this is not a problem you can solve ahead of time. There are other issues (sick spouse, dying parents, cancer, disability, ...) that might happen and impact your career. Your life is not a controlled experiment, you simply cannot anticipate and control everything.

Finally, do not assume that all childless women in academia have chosen to be childless so they can devote themselves to their careers and that they believe you should do the same.

Anonymous said...

I have had to listen to long boring conversations about people's pets (especially their dogs, although I love dogs), hobbies, travel, professional sports, and yes, kids. Everyone has. I think people get most offended by baby and kid-talk though.

Anonymous said...

It is a choice (by biology or adoption) for most people. Does anyone know the statistics? What % of people who want to be parents by some means cannot do so (for example if they are ineligible to adopt)? Even some of my single women (never married) friends have adopted 1-2 children. I think only in very sad and dire circumstances is this not possible. With all due respect and sympathy to those who can't have children biologically or by adoption and who want to be parents, I agree with those who have tried to keep this discussion about the "norms".

Anonymous said...

As an aspiring female scientist, I definitely say this effect exists. And now for some anecdata (backed up by friends' experiences so n>1): I did my ugrad at a PUI. Department half female, all of the faculty (both genders) were married with kid(s). Doing my PhD at an R1. When I started, department less than 25% female, of those females some are married, almost none with kids (all of the ones without have told me that they are childless by choice). It's taken me most of my PhD (and some serious time on the blogs) to realize that life choices don't need to correlate so strongly with institution type.

Anonymous said...

FSPs are thin on the ground in my immediate academic environment; however what I do find inspiring is watching the MSPs I know combining work with family life - not being at a meeting because the kids are sick and his wife's job is less flexible, taking time out in the middle of the day to go to a school event, meeting with my boss with his toddler son playing in the background etc. As a scientist married to a scientist this is really important to me.

I also found this collection of stories, put together for the Royal Society to be useful and inspiring. http://www.york.ac.uk/res/chong/pdfs/MothersInScience_bk_finalWeb.pdf Parenting is still a way off for me, but these examples have given me the confidence that it can be done and let me stop worrying about it for the moment and concentrate on doing the science that I love, without thinking that I'm digging myself into a hole.

Kate said...

As a female grad student, I have a mixed experience when it comes to FSPs with children. My home department is quite male-dominated with around 20% students (with a much lower percentage in postdocs) and about 5% professors (including joint appointments) being female. All the female professors are relatively young and never talk about their children. In contrast, many male professors mention their children in lectures and meetings. As a result (I think), most of the female, academically-oriented grad students I know have very pessimistic outlooks on their chances to balance a family and children.

My research department is quite different, with about 30% of the students/postdocs/RAs/RSs (SPRRs) being female. There are 3 female professors (around 15% of the faculty) who are outstanding scientists and also mothers to young children. They seem to be much more open to talking about their home lives, and sometimes bring their children to Happy Hours. Many male members of the department also have young children, and births are highly publicised in the department. As a result, although only one female person below the rank of professor has children, there is a more cautiously optimistic outlook amongst the female SPRRs.

Anonymous said...

I am a FSP in the Geosciences with 5 kids, all pre-tenure (the last one came one month before the tenure decision). I delayed tenure one year and am on sabbatical now after achieving tenure. At the institution where I earned my Ph.D., there were 3 FSP and none of them had children. I didn't have any role models but I just learned to juggle as I went. I am at a big university but not one that ranks especially high in my chosen field. I have my family and my job, both of which I love. I think if you set your mind to it, you can do as much as you ever dreamed.

Carolina Chanis said...

Hi there! I just discovered your blog and I found this post interesting because I was in the Botany department as an undergrad where there were a lot of women Faculty and grad students and then I switched to Wood Science where there is a grand total of 2 female professors! I would have never ended up in this field if I hadn't done a Co-op with an awesome supervisor. So, I think the most important thing is to have mentors. I have had great male and female mentors that have encouraged and inspired me. Once you got that driving force and self-confidence there is nothing that can stop you.
As SciWo said, the department culture also has an effect. If they do not support men and women with families, why would anyone want to work there?

K said...

I studied for my PhD in a department with over 35 professors. It wasn't until I'd been there for several years that they had five women. None of them were mothers until my final year. At this time, only one of the five that were there in my time have children. However, they've hired more women since then that have children.

Did I finish in the dark ages? You judge: it was 1998.