Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Helene from Hamilton Shares a Link about "Professor Mommies."

I found this article online this morning and wanted to share it with your readers. I've sat through informal seminars with older female professors about some of these issues, and while I've always appreciated the effort, I always felt that the underlying message was always: "You can pretend that you can have it all, but really, you can't." When I had kids, I got left behind by junior colleagues. When I stayed home to care for a sick parent, my commitment to the college was questioned. Has anyone read the book?
-- Helene from Hamilton


Bowdoin Academics Show How To Have It All With 'Professor Mommy'

Story posted July 18, 2011

Women in academia often find themselves squeezed in their choices between family and career. Some perilously postpone having children in their grueling climb to secure tenure, others opt out of child-rearing altogether, still others settle for second-tier jobs to ease family-teaching pressures.
Two tenured Bowdoin College professors, economist Rachel Connelly and gender and women's studies scholar Kristen Ghodsee, have thrown out a rope to women scholars in hopes of helping them get a foothold in the slippery slopes of academia without having to forgo motherhood.
"Young women who aspire to be scholars and mothers need to know what they are getting into ... Making it in academe is hard," they observe. "The time commitment is high, the job market is tight, and success depends a great deal on the sometimes capricious external assessments of one's work.
"All this means that a young female scholar who wants a family needs to think long and hard about her choice, understand as much as she can about the decision-making process, and use her time strategically. But in the end, we are strong boosters of the choice to be Professor Mommy -- doing both is well worth it!"
Among the tips the authors suggest:
* Research faculty policies to determine which kind of institution will best match your career-family goals.
* Seek out senior female colleagues who also are mothers as mentors.
* Consider carefully the timing of having children from the vantage of both age and career goals.
* Remember that research is your only portable form of wealth.
* Never underestimate the power of schmoozing.


  1. It reminds me of Shaquille O'Neal's classic book, "Player Daddy: Finding Work-Family Balance in the NBA." Of the twelve million people who read it, four people actually made it into the NBA and one of those four maintained a work-family balance for a few years. Colorful cover, though.

  2. "Research faculty policies to determine which kind of institution will best match your career-family goals." Are they fecking kidding? For the age group who is having first kids or already have them from a younger age, this is completely impossible in today's market where it can take 5 years-infinity to find ANYthing, much less being picky about it.

  3. The day academic men who have children are accused of wanting to "have it all" is the day I'll quit telling academic women younger than me that women's liberation has been a crock when it comes to childcare and family issues.

  4. You said it F&T.

    If I may throw one more scenario out there...there are the women who forgo kids until tenure, those who muscle through the baby years while trying to get tenure, those who don't bother having kids, and then the few who did this: I'm at the start of a professorship after many years of dicking around practically unpaid by universities. My daughter was born at the end of my undergrad and she's been along for that godforsaken ride. At this stage, it's all I can do to keep her barely contained by a curfew, not get pregnant, pass her fucking classes, OH yeah! And pass peer review, a lot.

    At no time in a professional woman's life is it a good time to have a child or children. Especially since plenty of us wind up raising them alone anyway. Yeah I'm tired and bitter.

  5. What everybody else said. I'm glad I'm not the only one whose first reaction was to think that this is aimed at a vanishingly small slice of the professorial population.

    What stood out for (childless) me was the following: "Remember that research is your only portable form of wealth." I know that; I try to keep it in mind when making decisions about how I spend my time. But I've found it extremely hard to follow it while holding down a 4/4 non-TT job in which I do not get any time or credit for research (and which has a salary low enough that I have to take summer teaching, and sometimes other work, to stay afloat financially). It would have been even harder had I had kids. In fact, one of several reasons I decided not to try the single parent route (including the fact that I'm pretty sure I wouldn't make a very good single parent) was that I didn't feel my job was secure enough, or paid well enough, for it to be responsible for me to make another human being dependent on me. The fact that caring for a child would make it even harder to do what little I can to make myself employable should my present job end was just . . .what's the opposite of the icing on the cake? the fly on the pile of shit?

  6. My sister now has a tenure track position at a research one institution, but before, she had a baby right in the middle of the tenure process at a lesser known place and then switched jobs. I am finishing my dissertation and am pregnant and called her up for advice upon seeing how my (female, married, with two kids) adviser freaked out about me being pregnant. She told me that the biggest problem for her were her women colleagues. Not the men, not the university, but the women. She would get all sorts of jealous comments like "you obviously don't care much about your career" and "we sacrificed for the department." One month after having my niece she interviewed and secured another tenure track position at a better place. In the end, I wonder if the reason it is so hard for women with children to make it in this career is because of the attitudes of other women.

  7. No, apostropheisha, it is not. I hate that shit of blaming some women's psychology for all women's material problems. Here is why it is hard: because in this profession, you are never done. Because students don't understand that you have a life. Because male and childless female colleagues set the bar. Because this country has virtually no socialized child care. Because this country has virtually no socialized medical care. Because extended families no longer live near one another. Because we live in the maw of unregulated capitalism.

    I tell my students and younger colleagues that there is no good time to have a child, and very little reward (save some saccharine versions of heterosexual privilege and a few tax breaks that do not go anywhere near compensating the labor) for doing so. I refer them to Ann Crittenden's book The Price of Motherhood. I tell them I had a kid when I was almost 40, after tenure, and that that isn't a great idea if they are not prepared to handle the possibility of things going wrong. I tell them I wanted two kids, but could only imagine this job with one, so I stopped at one. And I tell them that if they really want children, they should have them. Otherwise, I say, they are completely owned by the academy, and that is a bad thing.

  8. @apostropheisha: I've seen some of what you describe in your post, but a few disgruntled older female colleagues who think it is ok to pick on younger women in their departments are not the reason why it is hard. Not by a long shot. Older men are just as bad. If the women who sacrificed all for the career are angry, the men are just clueless. They can't seem to figure out that the reason they wrote four books while having three kids is that their wives sat at home, cooked their meals, cleaned their studies, and raised those kids. You'd hope for more self-awareness, but you'd be disappointed.

    F&T said it best: the childless set the productivity bar, and those who decide to have kids have to jump over it while carrying the extra load.

    I'd simply add that my spouse and I decided not to have kids until we both had tenure. And by the time that happened and we felt ready, our 43rd birthdays had come and gone. So we wound up not having them after all. It is a source of some regret, but not the end of the world. Maybe we are, as F&T says, completely owned by the academy, I don't know. But I would certainly say that her advice to have them if you really want them is probably wise. It is easier if you have a spouse who will share the burden and live in a state and work for a school with adequate maternity accommodations--or if you have a spouse who makes enough money for you to outsource your childcare altogether. But even so, as an outside observer I would say be prepared for a roughish ride.

  9. Archie, I am always glad to see you here, and did not mean to malign your life choices. It might be that in the day when smartness plus hard work equaled a decent job and a shot at an intellectual life, not having children when you wanted them was an OK trade-off (and I'm pretty sure I remember that you're well situated, as am I). But for my own students, not having children so they can chase the increasingly elusive brass ring--ending up with potentially neither an academic career nor a family--doesn't seem like a great choice. Raising a kid really is challenging, rewarding, and all that: worth the struggle, though I maintain that the struggle should be less and is less in many countries and professions. So my hope is that they'll do it if they want to.

    The good(?) news is that the struggle seems more equalized. I'm watching both male and female junior colleagues abjure superstardom, sometimes even risking tenure, to be decent parents. A lot of men in my generation (I'm an Xer) were left without dads through divorce, and are trying really hard to do better. Having been raised by single moms, many of them are quite used to the idea of women as people, and do their fair share of labor with both their wives and their female colleagues. I want things to be better for them, too.

  10. @ Helene: Welcome, and no, I haven't read the book. I’m sorry you were treated that way. How do “committed” proffies treat their sick parents?

    @ Everyone, especially F&T: Yes. Well said.

    @ Cranky: piles of chocolate.

    What kind of institution supports family/life balance? Community colleges more than the 4-years, I'd wager. No pressure to publish. But, as Dr. Lemurpants said, it's not like today's applicants have much choice.

    And not all CCs are supportive of Professor Mommy, I learned in my first TT position. The worst pressure at Hellish Misery CC came from female colleagues, but the men were assholes too.

    At the risk of hijacking this thread, I’d like to rant now. This is my spleen. See it vent.

    Year 1: Difficult year; I made teaching mistakes that I’ve seen in other new profs. But with decent evals from students and peers, my committee agreed that there was no need for a meeting at the beginning of Year 2.

    Year 2: I got pregnant over the summer and foolishly told them early so they could line up a sub for spring. Suddenly we had a meeting at HR, where the VP actually said, "The honeymoon is over." All my 2nd-year peer visits would be unannounced. HR “lost” my student evals and wrote me up for it. Female profs asked whether the pregnancy was planned. One told me that she had timed hers so as to give birth during semester breaks – implying that it’s unprofessional to not sync gestation to the academic year.

    My "commitment" was questioned because I hadn't moved close to the college. (We'd stayed where hubby had a permanent position and our 1st-grader had extended family.) Yet I’d attended extra professional development days, including an NSF-funded series the campus was hot about; spoken at a conference; and not missed a single class due to transportation or pregnancy issues until the day I started bleeding.

    A cervical tumor led to surgery and bed for the last 2 months. Doubting colleagues phoned to see if I was really laid up. The day after the birth, I called the dept. chair with the good news. His first question: "Are you planning to have any more?"

    Year 3: They tried to make me quit, giving me grueling class schedules (which required changing two tenured profs’ habitual schedules). I got a list of conditions I had to meet: increase student retention; reach high levels on all questions on student evals; run field trips. I met every goal, so they changed the conditions. To prevent more “lost" student evals, I printed a signature form for each bundle. But when students tried to deliver the bundles, NO ONE WOULD SIGN FOR THEM. Of course, if I handled them, the evals would be suspect, so I ended up walking with students and staring at staffers until they signed for them.

    As if this bullshit at work and having a new baby at home were not enough, I spent lots of time that year keeping a journal, processing my grievance and talking to lawyers. Thank the gods for the faculty union!

    Year 4: The head of HR fucked up by missing the deadline to fire me without cause, and the college lawyers told her and my committee to lay off looking for cause. (I learned this from the chair, who was at least honest.)

    So I got tenure and then bolted for Mostly Sane CC, where the evidence of humanity includes a dean who adjourns meetings early to attend his daughter’s piano recitals. Like Frog and Toad, I hope things get better for the Professor Daddies too.

  11. Wow, Eskarina. I see why you didn't sue, but if that's not an actionable discrimination case I don't know what is.

  12. I prefer the term "child-free," which implies a choice, to "childless," which sounds like an unfortunate lack. If you want kids just go ahead and have them, there's never a convenient time, it's always going to be a hassle, and it's probably not going to work out with the guy anyway unless you are in that slim minority who don't end up divorced (or split). That said, it sucks that mothers face so much prejudice in academe.

  13. Are you kidding me Programming Patty? Have you checked the divorce rates for college educated mothers? They are very, very low. I am sorry to hear horrifying tales like Eskarina's. I'm also sorry to hear about women (who don't want to) waiting until after tenure to have children (and impressed, there's no way I could have dealt with the sleep deprivation at 40). It isn't a "hassle" to have a child. It's not all sunshine and roses, but you have to be a complete ass if you think I don't get anything positive out of my child (I had while ABD). While the dissertation provides little immediate feedback, a baby's smile does. It sounds sappy, but I can't help it. I was treated as an incompetent idiot all through grad school as a part of the "hazing" process. When I had a kid I realized I could KEEP A HUMAN BEING ALIVE and so the quality of my prose (though I continued to strive) wasn't the be-all-end-all of the world. The balance helped me finish and graduate earlier than any of my adviser's other students, none of whom had children or did as much archival work as me. My child made me more productive, more organized with my time, and a better teacher. Now I'm starting a tenure track job after a couple of years as a full time lecturer and I wouldn't change any choices I made. Maybe I'm lucky, I won't discount it. But I won't have "childfree" people calling my child a "hassle" or my marriage a "slim minority." I WON'T HAVE IT. Let's go toe to toe on our CV's, Patty. I work DAMN hard to make space for my copious research, teaching commendations, my productivity, and my child and spouse. All of which brings me joy. But only two of which give me kisses every night at bedtime.

  14. Writing that may be outing myself, but it was worth it for the validation from Frog and Toad and noriver. Patty, I agree that there's no convenient time.

    @F&T: I was so glad to be free of that place that suing didn't cross my mind. But I did meet in Year 2 with the college EEOP rep, who was very supportive (even more so behind the scenes, I think). Her office was in the HR area. The window was open. The HR VP was standing near it when I left the building. Did I mention how glad I was to leave Hellish Misery CC?

    @noriver: Yep. Well said. Birthing my babies was and is way more satisfying than writing my dissertation (which had multiple-award-winning research). And their sweet silliness and curiosity kept me sane. Well, relatively sane. Good luck in your new TT position!

  15. @All: Well said.
    @Frog: Thank you. You said a lot of what I was thinking
    @Eskarina: Wow. I thought I'd had it bad. The short version: The Associate Dean at my school had been a single mom (4 kids, husband left her). When I chaired a committee (one of 3 I was chairing at the time) and adjourned a meeting because I had to pick up Thing 1 from daycare, I was basically told that because I had a spouse, I wasn't really struggling to balance work and life. I was speechless. The other person on the committee had 1 child, and after the meeting wrote me an email telling me that more than once he'd been told that because he only had one child (and a spouse!), he wasn't a parent. My response to both of these was WTF is wrong with people? Why can't there be support for all, regardless of child-status? Instead of helping me, the AD threw various obstacles in my path (and voted against me two years in a row during my tenure bid. How do I know? I work on a small campus, and it's pretty easy to know without asking who my frenemies are).

    In my department, some of the women waited until tenure to have a child. One of the "stars" had her child while in the last year and a half of the TT (and a stay-at-home spouse). My TT was fraught for several reasons, but I managed to make it. Thing 1 was born before, and Thing 2 was born during (and shockingly, my productivity dropped off, though my teaching remained "stellar"). My spouse works 50 hours a week, and I work as many (though spread out over 7 days instead of 5). Getting tenure was difficult. If the vote had gone against me, I'd be leaving academia, because I've had more family-friendly jobs in the private sector, which frankly I find thoroughly depressing.

    Proffie Mommies and Daddies can have it all. How, I have no idea. This book seems like BS to "sell" the idea that women CAN do it all, when as Frog pointed out, the US makes it so that a woman has to be superhuman (or wealthy enough to afford childcare and a housekeeper) in order to do it without all of her hair falling out from stress.

    As Frog pointed out,feminism made a lot of dewy-eyed promises that our society cannot deliver. Born in the 70s, I've lived long enough to see it. This country is not socially progressive (and in fact it's getting worse). I've spent a lot of time over the course of my TT experience thinking about what I might have been able to accomplish had I remained "child-free". The answer is: a lot. But as "noriver" put it, my job doesn't kiss me good night and hug me so hard my ribs creak.


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