Friday, December 22, 2006

Women, science, academia, & family

This started as a response to Inside the Philosophy Factory's post on Feminist Epistemology/ Philosophy of Science, but got REALLY long, so I thought I better just post it here!

I don't write on feminism or use words like 'epistemology', but I can comment on being in academia with a family. My husband is also an academic and our (only) child was born during my PhD. For us, the timing worked out well, because I had finished classes, defended my dissertation proposal, and was just starting a 3-year fellowship that paid tuition, fees, a stipend, books, travel, etc. My husband was already in a tenure-track job at that point. Now that I am almost going up for tenure, things are even more challenging.

We've taken our daughter to so MANY conference with us and since there is no child care, we miss most of the sessions. She's old enough now to take into a session and she'll be quiet, but I'd hate to do that to her too much! Now that she's older, she also has to miss school to go with us to conferences. We live far from family, so there is nobody we would feel comfortable leaving her with. I actually disagree somewhat with ItPF's point about conference timing. I would LOVE if my conferences always fell during my daughter's breaks, so that we could take her and she wouldn't miss any school. I realize others have different situations that make that more complicated, though.

Productivity & parenting
But- back to the whole point about women in science. My discipline is one of the few that straddles the social and hard sciences and I am on the hard science side. Despite this split (since there seems to be a better balance in the social sciences), my department is made almost entirely of white men. It constantly irritates me to see how productive (in terms of cranking out pubs) some of my colleagues can be when a) they don't have kids, b) they have a non-academic wife, or c) they are single and childless. This actually reminds me a bit of Dr. Lisa's comments on women deciding to have kids or not. I have a daughter, but I can tell you that we didn't make a conscious decision to be parents! Now that we are, we try to devote as much time and energy to raising a happy, healthy child as possible. At the same time, I always look at my colleagues who don't have kids and can't help but feel that they have many more potential work hours than I do. I can't stay at school past 4:00 because I have to be here when the school bus arrives (my husband and I take turns on this one). I don't work between 4:00 and 8:00 (after school with my daughter) unless there is some critical deadline and I am pressed. I don't really accomplish much on weekends, because we try to spend time together as a family. I think it is undeniable that having children makes it harder to be productive at work. Even so, there are STILL many hours that our daughter keeps herself busy while we sit and stare at our computers- and I feel bad about that. But what's better- if we don't get tenure? Let me be clear- I'm not in a R1 department, and wouldn't want to be. It's more important to me to have time with my family and not work 24/7. There are still frustrations, though.

Being a woman in a male-dominated department
My department isn't large, but the white, tenured men really rule the place. If I have an idea to do something as minor as change our faculty meeting day and time, the whole place erupts with "I don't want to come in that day" or "we've always met on such-and-such day" and the whole issue just drops to the floor. But- if a male (untenured) colleague suggests something it must be a great idea! How creative he is! arrghhh

My thoughts
Basically, it is tough being a married woman on the tenure-track with a family. We've been muddling through and should be on track to get tenure (I hope- but all of our administration has changed since I was hired, so I am VERY concerned about what happens beyond my department). Have I been given any breaks for being a parent? Of course not- and I wouldn't ask for any. However, I do think that it should at least be acknowledged (by someone, somewhere) that it makes things harder. And it really shouldn't. If we've progressed so far, then woman should have an equal shot at success, new parents should not be penalized for missing classes*, and women and non-white men should have a voice in their own departments and universities. Of course, none of these things are actually happening. I agree that things have to change- what about spousal hiring policies? How many academic bloggers do I read that are in long-distance marriages? This is also unacceptable. If the ivory tower wants to diversify than current structures have to be reshaped and adjusted to make the tower more accessible.

*This happened to my husband when our daughter was born (I was 2000 miles away giving birth- how dare he want to be with us!)



Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

This is great, thanks!

Ms.PhD said...

I agree, thanks for sharing. And good luck.

Gotta admit I'm horribly jealous that you're tenure-track after graduating in 2002. That seems really fast to me.

Addy N. said...

Hi Ms.PhD- Thanks for stopping by! I looked at your profile and it looks like you are in a field with a mandatory post-doc period. In my field, there are not as many post-doc opportunities and it is not expected that new PhDs will spend time in post-docs, either. Some people end up in visiting positions right out of PhD, if they don't find a tenure-track job that appeals to them. I was lucky to be hired into a tenure-track job straight out of my PhD. The one big advantage YOU will have by doing that post-doc is much more research experience when you do get an academic job! Good luck!

Dr. O. said...

I love love LOVE this post. It is sad, and funny, and true. And god forbid you get divorced (*she knocks wood for you from way over here just in case*). It can and does get even worse.

I was just bitching about this sort of thing, my department has decided that an all-day Saturday 'retreat' is a good idea. Seriously. I'm a single mom, that's gonna be fifty bucks for me. On top of not having the productivity etc.