Thursday, March 09, 2006

Blog Against Sexism Day (late)

So yesterday was "blog against sexism day" and as I am catching up on my bloglines only today I missed the boat (again). For more timely posts from women science-types, go here, here, and here.

This is actually a timely topic for me as I contemplate my interview experiences. (The interview went well (i think), and I should find out in a few weeks.)

Fact 1) The department lacks women role models and has very high tenure expectations.

Fact 2) As many of you know, BusinessMan and I have been trying for some time to have a child.

Big School is a major research university, with all the demands that come with that status. They do not tenure everyone that starts there, although they don't hire multiple people for the same tenured line. Recent women hires have not succeeded at getting tenure. Whether or not these women attempted to have a family pre-tenure is not clear. Science Department acknowledges that it has a "diversity problem."

I think I am energetic enough, creative enough, and driven enough to get tenure there. It would require a hell of lot of hard work but I am capable of working long hours and can be efficient when I need to be. Teaching, mentoring grad students, funding and publishing research would pull me in lots of directions simultaneously but I would be professionally fulfilled and challenged, job attributes that led me to the PhD in the first place.

If I don't get tenure, or decide to leave before then, I would have the latitude to go to another R1 school, go to a lower tier school, government research, industry, or whatever the hell I wanted. In contrast, it's awfully hard to get that R1 job after being at a teaching school for a few years.

Ok, so it should be a simple decision. I give Big School a try and if it isn't a good fit, I go someplace else. I like living in different places anyway.

But. What about my family plans? If I get the job (a big if of course), I see 4 options (or some combination thereof).

Do I take everyone's pat advice: "Oh, you're so young [27], you can have kids after tenure [7 years]"? Then I'm 34, BusinessMan is 37. We're planning on having 2-3 kids. What happens if conception doesn't happen right away then?

Do I give it a few years first to get myself settled and somewhat accustomed to the job and then start trying again to have a kid? This seems to make the most sense to me. I'm guessing that I'll know within 2-3 years whether I am cut out for this institution (and whether I want to be there anyway). Plus, I may have a better sense of how having a kid will be "taken" by my male colleagues and dean. Hell, maybe I'll even have a female colleague by then.

Do we keep trying now and if a kid arrives, I forge ahead after minimal leave, by hiring a nanny or letting BusinessMan be a stay-at-home dad? This, of course, is the typical male model and the one taken by the men of the department (as well as the only female grad student with kids). While BusinessMan has offered to stay-at-home if we were in this situation, I'm pretty sure that its not what he dreamed of being when he grew up (or when he married me). Plus, I'm pretty sure that I don't want to be a "childless mother" - too wrapped up in her own career to play with her kids. Please note, I'm definitely not suggesting that all working mothers are bad (as I've said before), just that I think it could be easy to be an absentee mother given the demands of an R1 career.

Do I take a stand for women scientists everywhere (or at least at Big School)? When we have a kid, I take a leave, using the tenure-clock stoppage and when I come back to work try to be reasonable in balancing the demands of my job and my family. Tenure consequences be damned; there are always other jobs. It's important to do what you believe is right, and I think it's right that I be allowed to be good, productive scientist and a mother.

Right now this is all just food for thought, things to ponder while I wait to hear whether I get the job. I am inclined towards the combo of wait-and-see and take-a-stand approaches, although if I like the job that approach might morph into a post-tenure-hire-a-nanny position.

Why is this blog post titled "blog against sexism...?" Because men, even the most enlightened ones, don't have to confront these issues head on the way we women do. That was really brought home to me during my interview. We have a long way to go.

10 comments:

Prof. Me said...

ScienceWoman, this is a really excellent post, and you're confronting issues here that all of us who have or wish to have children have to confront. It is a perfect "Blog Against Sexism" post, and I appreciate it.

Not much more to add to it, actually, other than an enthusiastic nod of the head and an "amen" to your last few sentences.

phd me said...

What she said. :)

I've watched one of the women professors in my department struggle against the institutionalized sexism of academia over the past few years. She had her first child 2 years ago, and nicely timed it to occur over her third-year review sabbatical and summer break. Everyone was supportive. She's pregnant now, due in May, and goes up for tenure this fall. Word on the street is that she's dealt with lots of unkindly comments from her fellow PhDs, many of them women (!) about her choice to have a second child so soon.

At what point are women allowed to have their own lives? Will we ever be able to make choices about family and career without feeling guilty about the option we didn't take? I'm single; I'm childless; but I'd like to think that won't always be the case and I hope I have more freedom to make my choices when I they finally arrive. Thanks for thinking about these tough issues before me, ScienceWoman.

Anne Zelenka said...

I had my first child at 28 and then two more in my thirties. I don't regret that one bit even though I question my sanity sometimes. I do regret that the world doesn't make it easier to combine intellectual contribution and achievement with childrearing.

Still, I think you will work it all out. I have used a variety of childcare situations at different times--it doesn't have to be one solution forevermore. We liked having an au pair from Thailand for two years. Daycare centers are nice too, for the camaraderie among the parents and the socializing among the kids. Most universities have excellent child care centers. Family daycare can be a nice homelike situation that's cheaper and less management-intensive than having a nanny. And if your husband is willing to stay home for a while, that sounds great. It's not forever.

Glad to hear the interview went well. I'll be watching to see what happens!

seadragon said...

I'm with you, sister. I just accepted a TT job and I am trying to calculate how long I have before we can start trying. I have 7 years on you, though, so time's a wastin' in the ovaries right now.

It bugs the crap out of me that men don't have to worry about these things.

The last option you give will probably be the way we both go. In the end, part of being a feminist is sticking your tongue out when told you "can't" do something.

Anonymous said...

Hey. Love your blog and really enjoyed this post. I'm a post-doc and decided in grad school that I wasn't going to go the tenure track root for all the reason you listed about family. My PI was a women and I saw how much she missed of her kids lives (soccer games, plays, etc.) and she tried to be involved as possible. I want to be involved in my family's life events. I have a kid and I don't feel guilty for leaving at 5:30pm everyday since I know I don't want to be a PI. Make you decision and have no guilt and no regrets. BE LIKE A MAN!

PhD Mom said...

I'm really happy to hear the interview went well, but your post makes me deeply sad. Having confronted this issue myself, in so many ways, shapes, and forms, I want to say a few things.

1) There is no 'good' time to have children. If you are ready, and you don't do it now, you are setting yourself up for a serious amount of regret. What happens if you can't conceive when you are 35? Could you live knowing that your chances would have been better at 30? It took several months to conceive my first, and those were heartbreaking times. I say do it now!

2) Do you really want to work at a university that does not support a balanced approach to work and family? What kind of message does such a university send to undergraduates, to grad students and postdocs, to the community? The best thing that a women faculty member can do is to be a good role model. If she puts off childbearing solely for the reason of obtaining tenure, what message is she sending out?

3) You can never know if you want to be a stay at home parent until you actually have the child. My husband also considered being a stay at home dad. We toyed with this decision for some time, but eventually took the advice of a mentor to wait and see. I am really glad that we did. After that first week with the kid (while I was recovering), my husband declared that he was more likely to hurt the kid then help, packed up his suitcase and went back to work. Being a stay at home parent is hard, hard work. It is a 24 hour a day job with no break and requires tremendous patience. Not only are you responsible for feeding, clothing, and changing, but in some sense for the education and development of the child. I take my hat off to parents who pursue this route.

4) It is up to us, this generation, to push for change. With the baby boomers retiring in record numbers, our generation will have the power to change many things about our working conditions. We need to demand work-life balance for women and men. Personally, I would like to see both parents at the soccer games.

5) It is hard, but you can do it. I am about to start a TT position at an R1 and I have no plans to work more than 45-50 hours a week. I have been doing this throughout grad school and through my postdoc and it can be done. It just requires immense planning and concentration.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

It's funny - men never seem to struggle with this work/family dilemma. Funny how we have the phrase "working mother" - but have you ever heard "working father"? Society treats men and women differently, and that's tough. Every woman deserves the right to choose whether or not she wants to be a mother. And for those of us who want the Mommy title, there's this expectation that we will be Supermom - high-flying executive whose thighs don't touch and who makes her own baby food in her spotless state-of-the-art kitchen. Riiiight. The reality, as I see it, is that we all have goals and values and that sometimes we may have to sacrifice lesser goals for the greater good. You're lucky that Hubby is so supportive and willing to take on the role of stay-at-home dad. That role is wrongfully stigmatized as often as the "childless mother." The good news is that I do know some smart, energetic women who have found their happy balance, even if it wasn't exactly what they expected. And I have faith that you will, too. No answers here, just support. :) Li

mirabel said...

Science Woman-I recently found your blog (I don't remembr how-maybe Bitch, PhD?) and I wanted to let you know that I thought this was a great post. Especially what you said at the end, that men just don't have to confront these issues in the same way. That hit home for me.

Anyway, good luck with finishing up your dissertation/teh whole interview process. I'll be defending around the same time as you, I think.

define_me said...

Such a good post!

It's true that there is a disparity between how men and women are treated. I am just finishing up my undergrad at the moment and already I am seeing it oh so clearly. In our department, somehow some grad students look down on others who actually have "lives"...ie lives outside the realms of the research lab. Recently, two of them managed to get into a bit of an argument...the issue: one of them felt that the other was spending too much time with the bf and less time at the lab because she rarely comes in on the weekends. Unbelievable!

abd anonymous said...

I think it's also problematic that female graduate students feel like they shouldn't make their desires for a family known to their departments. I certainly feel as though I can't openly tell my professors that I'd like to have 3-4 kids in the future (still am not sure how to make that work out) because the department might not be ase willing to fund me if I'm going to "waste" their investment. I have a feeling they'd smile indulgently at a male student who said he wanted a large family because, well, surely his wife would to the bulk of the work.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post!