Sunday, July 01, 2007

I will not be a foregone conclusion.

Sometimes I get depressed when I read the blogs of other women scientists - particularly when the topic of children vs. an academic career is the topic du jour. The short version is that many of us seem to think we have two choices: (1) Have a career and no children, or children we never see; or (2) Give up our plans for t-t/research academia in order to raise a family. That we can't be both academic researchers and fantastic parents seems to be a foregone conclusion.

Well, I refuse to be a foregone conclusion.

In January, I was blessed with a wonderful daughter - a child that I had been aching for (and actively working toward) for years. I want to be an attached parent, one who knows what my child's interests are and what she had for lunch. I want to be there for bedtimes, games of pat-a-cake (and later, catch), and school plays.

In April, I got a job offer for a tenure-track position at a research university. I've been preparing for such a job for as long as I can remember. I want to get tenure, be a good mentor to students, teach interesting classes, conduct funded, intriguing research, and be a good colleague.

I'm having an incredibly good year, and it pains me when people suggest that I'll fail at one endeavor or the other. That I'll miss years of mealtimes and never have a weekend off, or if I do take time to be with my family, that I'll be unfunded, under-prepared, and untenurable.

That shouldn't be true. And I won't let such talk defeat me from the start.

I will work very hard and very efficiently at my job. I'll pour my heart into grant proposals and syllabi. But I'll also draw the line at some only-moderately-unreasonable number of hours per week (say, 50-60). It is equally important to me that I have the time to sing my daughter to sleep, make her mashed bananas for breakfast, and change the occasional poopy diaper.

If those things deny me tenure, then so be it. I will acknowledge that I could have done more, but defiantly reply that I shouldn't have had to.

I will not be a foregone conclusion. I will be a productive assistant professor. I will be an awesome mother. Just you watch.


Anonymous said...

Have you read Richards-Kortum's article on the work-family balance:

She is my absolute hero.

Anonymous said...

You go girl!

Amelie said...

yay! best of luck to you! I will watch :)

Addy N. said...

That's the spirit!

RageyOne said...

The most important thing you have going for you is yourself! Believe that you can do it and it will be done.

Anonymous said...

If my husband and I could find positions anywhere near the same town, I would feel the same way as you. The fact that we can't is what leads me to believe that we will (at some point in the next 12 months) face the choice you describe. After all the years of hard work the prospect is intensely depressing - I have just come back from a conference where all I found myself thinking was "This is great, people like my work and this field is really moving - but in a year's time I won't be a part of this community any more, so what's the point of my being here?".

Ianqui said...

Good for you! Let you be an inspiration for many female scientists.

Bee said...

Thanks for this writing! And I wish you all the best - I am sure you can do it.

I sympathize with the anonymous comment above - to my husband and me it would be a big improvement if we would at least live in the same country. But there are roughly no positions in Germany for the field I am workin in, and he is working in Scientific Publishing, work that is to a certain degree bound to the German languange. Stupid situation - and not really supportive for family planning.



Lisa said...

I know you're going to do great job!

Anonymous said...

I've just realised how negative and frankly pitiful my last post was (4 up). Far off husband has shouted at me over the phone, I have poured a stiff gin and tonic, and pulled myself together. ScienceWoman, you absolutely can do it - I'm thoroughly jealous for the fantastic opportunity that you have - and just remember to keep that confidence when your students start to drive you crazy!!

PS: Bee, thanks!

Flicka Mawa said...

It's great to see you so optimistic and confident. Good luck, and I'll be watching. I may follow a similar path, if I am so lucky, but I question whether I am as driven regarding the career part as you are. Sounds like you want it pretty bad, and I'm a little more like "It might be nice."

MissScientistSF said...

Thank you so much. I am so tired of hearing that the options are one or the other.. never both. As a young female scientist just starting my career who also has a desire to have a family.. thank you standing up for yourself and proving that it can be done. I needed to hear this.

susie said...

Hoorah! Sciencewoman you rock! Best of luck for the trip, thank you for blogging.

Of course it is possible. And, one day, even if change is glacially slow, change will come.

Think of the US as like East Germany before reunification. Some of the culture and attitudes to parenting and womens rights are antedeluvian.

One day, parental leave and family friendly hours will come to be seen as the utterly normal incident of a truly civilised society. Drip by drip as the glacier melts.

I am reminded, reading your post, of Dr Seuss's "Oh the Places You'll Go!" If you don't own it yet, you're going to want it for Minnow.

"You're off to great places, you're off and away"

"And will you succeed?
Yes you will 98 and three quarter percent guaranteed!

(Sciencewoman) you'll move mountains!"

Peter Lund said...

Suzie "Skinny-sizer",

East Germany was a lot of things, but it was not a bad place when it came to children's day care.

"One day, parental leave and family friendly hours will come to be seen as the utterly normal incident of a truly civilised society."

By that measure, East Germany was actually rather civilized...

Peter Lund, Denmark (just North of Germany)

Anonymous said...

What you did is very encouraging!Bravo! I'm just a PhD student starting this year and although I'm just 22 I'm already thinking about the issue of family and future career. I want to become a PI but also want children before 27. It's hard work! But I know some have managed it well. I'll be watching your suceess!

skinny size me please :-) said...

Oops, sorry Peter.

The East Germany analogy was rather clumsy, and unfair to East Germany.

I wasn't intending to intention to suggest that childcare and women's rights were poor in East Germany (although, reading what I wrote, your interpretation and comments are entirely reasonable.) I don't know about childcare, but I am not surprised by what you say. I have read that access to abortion was significantly better under the GDR than the reunited Germany.

What I was trying to draw the analogy between countries who have a decent system of parental leave and support (including, to the best of my knowledge, Denmark :-)) and the USA, as the differences between West and East Germanies prior to the cold war.

One bright, shiny and modern, the other not quite out of the 50s. My impresssion of East Germany (on the basis of a couple of visits, and the state of the old stations on the Ubahn in Berlin) is that there was an element of 40s and 50s designs "preserved in aspic".

Not that full-on capitalism is necessarily a good thing, and I have read that many in East Germany would have preferred a more gradual integration, with consideration that perhaps rather than the Western laws and systems dominating, more a blend of East and West would have been good.

Loved Denmark btw - only been there twice though. The fact that all the train ticket conductors seemed to be at least tri-lingual stood out.


Veo Claramente said...

yes you will. my mother was, i know it can be done. best wishes.

Kate said...

I'm eagerly watching it all unfold. You are anything but a foregone conclusion.

c- said...

Funny that I stumbled upon your blog. I have recently been offered a faculty position in a big research university. I, too, have worked my whole life towards this and do not want to give up. I also don't want to fail. BUT I also want kids and the biological clock is ticking.
In addition, I just found out that 2 of my former colleagues (during Masters and grad studies) have kids. They're my age. They have also either been newly appointed as prof or something similar. BUT they are males! They don't have to worry as much as a woman in academia when it comes to having kids. I feel bad, but I am jealous of them.

But I like your attitude. Let's try and if we don't get tenure because of our family, then too bad. At least we would have tried.

Tommy Times said...

I respectfully disagree, c-said, that males can worry less about having kids than women. I suppose males who want to be absentee fathers can be the workaholics that you supposedly have to be to get tenure. But not all males want that, and cutting them slack is not on anyone's agenda.

Has anyone looked at the statistics on how many females vs. males are going to college?

skookumchick said...

Damn straight.

dr. dave said...

Good luck with that. Personally, I'm failing at BOTH my career AND as a parent, but I'm lazy and completely without ambition. :)

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