A male colleague at another university has told me numerous times that he uses me as Exhibit A when discussing life/career issues with students and postdocs (particularly women). For him, I am living proof that It Can Be Done: have a research/teaching career and a family and a happy life.
He recently told me that a postdoc (whom we both know) said she didn’t think I was a good example because my life is ‘unbalanced’. My colleague was disturbed by this because he felt that she was being irrational about rejecting me as a Role Model. I don’t have a problem with it – everyone has their own definition of balance, and what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for others.
What does bother me is that the postdoc who thinks I am ‘unbalanced’ made this characterization with inadequate data. For example, she assumed that I never take vacations with my family because I couldn’t possibly ever take time off and get as much done as I seem to do. News flash: I excel at taking vacations. I go somewhere interesting with my family several times each year. Some trips are with my daughter alone, and some involve my husband, daughter, and me. Some trips are related to professional travel (e.g., tacking on a family vacation to a conference trip) but some are entirely vacation. And sometimes we just lurk at home and have fun doing random things together.
Another example: this postdoc assumed that I must not spend much time with my daughter, who is in elementary school. Owing to the flexibility of an academic job, I spend as much (and possibly more) time with my daughter as parents with full-time non-academic jobs. My daughter is a happy, healthy, interesting person, and we have lots of fun together. If the postdoc doesn’t want to work full-time when her kids are young, that is her decision to make, but it doesn’t mean my life is ‘unbalanced’. It’s just not how she wants her life to be.
My colleague went to great effort to convince the postdoc that I am not just an insane working machine, but he says that she is unconvinced. It’s possible that she doesn’t want to be convinced, and that’s fine. It would be better if she would just say that she doesn’t want a career at a research university for her own reasons rather than using me as a negative example, but I know it can be hard to admit that in an environment that considers desiring a faculty position at a research university to be the ultimate goal, with anything else indicating failure or a lack of ambition.
So, I hope I get to keep my credentials as a Role Model, even if being living proof that It Can Be Done is not enough to convince everyone that this is the best possible life – because it isn’t the best possible life for everyone.
13 years ago