Not 'news' to anyone here, I know, but scary article about motherhood and academia

(242 Posts)
MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 15:53:30

www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/06/female_academics_pay_a_heavy_baby_penalty.html?fb_ref=sm_fb_share_chunky

I thought this was interesting, though hardly surprising. I find it quite a big concern given how much research we're constantly being shown, that 'proves' women are all [insert stereotype here]. This article looking at why so many women don't progress in academia - and in particular why mothers don't - perhaps gives a good reason why we might take some research with a pinch of salt: it's largely done by men and childless women.

rubyanddiamond Mon 24-Jun-13 12:52:05

Don't know if anyone saw this, someone just pointed me at it:

www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/2013/jun/18/postdoc-dilemma-leave-stay-academia?commentpage=1

Is quite long, but interesting to hear other viewpoints smile There are plenty of men grappling with the same issues.

DrDolittle Sun 23-Jun-13 17:01:05

Ruby - agreed about the support.

In addition to the things that you mention, which I agree with, just time out to get the research back on track is needed the most. Also, some seed funding - a few £k per year for a few years in travel, to allow the mother (or father on paternity leave) to attend crucial conferences, or research meetings with collaborators (or bring them to her if childcare is an issue). Then maybe some consumable money for those that need to run a lab. And one or two of the departmental PhD studentships.

In the sciences at least, if you don't have research income, you can't go to conferences to network or get ideas, employ postdocs to do research, or run a lab. This means you can't publish as often or as well, so you don't get the grant that allows you to do research..... It's a vicious circle and some rather small-scale resources could really help.

DrDolittle Sun 23-Jun-13 16:53:48

Agreed - maternity and paternity. I took the maximum allowed, all 2 weeks of it, plus another few weeks holiday. But it just wasn't enough.

Yes, she is about 10 years behind me. At the time of the first DD, she hated her job, earned half as much as I did. We both wanted there to be someone at home for the first few years, and it made sense at the time for it to be her (I would have taken time out if it had made financial sense). Then just recently she was given the opportunity to go back to academia, and I just have to support that and do much more childcare. The two-body problem may present itself in the future, but in a few years when she is due to look for the first permanent position, we'll move wherever she can get a job. I am employable wherever I need to be, whereas that first job is really hard to get. Is this situation ideal? Probably not, but it works for us. Is it something that could work for everyone? Probably not.

FairPhyllis Sun 23-Jun-13 16:44:07

I started writing a long post about what I thought needed to change for academia to work for most women ... and then I realized I just don't actually care enough anymore to go into it all.

And that is the problem academia is up against. Plenty of able women will realise that it isn't worth contorting themselves into sociopaths in order to do what is an increasingly poorly rewarded job. And they will vote with their feet and go into other sectors or create other things for themselves to do, and universities will eventually be the poorer for it.

I don't mean by this that any of you are sociopaths! just that that seems to be the model we are supposed to aspire to.

rubyanddiamond Sun 23-Jun-13 13:01:34

But I don't think it should be this way. Maybe the way academics are promoted should be addressed? Maybe we need better career paths for the non-research active? Maybe there needs to be less stigma attached to T&L contracts? Maybe there needs to be several light years of teaching/admin, so those returning from maternity leave can get back their research?

IMO, it's really important to help those returning from maternity leave (or any break) to keep up with their research. I think there could be some interesting ways to do this, including more collaborative projects and better planning, so time out doesn't have as much of an impact, but this goes against the ethos of a lot of departments! Specific training and personal development aimed at returning parents might also help, along with other measures like specific travel funds to help them attend conferences they might not otherwise go to because, for example, they didn't have a paper accepted there. Also, yes, lighter teaching/admin duties if this is an issue.

There's a lot of talk about the way academics are promoted, especially with the Athena Swan awards getting departments to admit that women can often have a lot of admin/teaching/committee work that isn't recognised officially.

I'm not sure about non-research active career paths and teaching/lecturing contracts. I think the nature of research means that once you're on this path it's really difficult to get off it and back into research. So you have to be careful that you're actually supporting the people who choose them, rather than nudging them towards a dead-end.

JacqueslePeacock Sun 23-Jun-13 12:00:38

Sorry - that was to Drdolittle.

JacqueslePeacock Sun 23-Jun-13 11:56:40

But your wife is now 10 years behind you in career terms, right?

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sun 23-Jun-13 11:53:55

big - best of luck with number 2. smile

DrDo - ah, no worries, I'm not the clearest writer in the world. I agree with your last paragraph - though I think it has to be 'maternity and paternity leave'. I think there needs to be a system where more male academics feel able to take the time too.

LeBFG Sun 23-Jun-13 11:39:55

I do know one prominent female prof with four kids - she just farmed out childcare xenia-style in the early years. I think where both parents want fulfilling careers this is really the best option. My two female friends I know who are junior lecturers had their kids after securing their jobs. They now share kiddy care but the work load still sucks. PhDs and post-docs never prepare well for lecturer work. Of course, many male lecturers have partners that stay at home full/part-time but unfortunately I know of none who have done the reverse.

DrDolittle Sun 23-Jun-13 07:33:26

P.s all the typos are a function of one-handed iPad use whilst I cuddle my DS in bed - sorry!

DrDolittle Sun 23-Jun-13 07:31:27

MRD - having reread your post, I think it was me that didn't quite understand it. Seems we agree with each other.

The having kids early way seems to have worked out ok for my DW and I. But we took a big risk. I was only just a postdoc (a few weeks!) when she got pregnant, she had just finished her masters. We hadn't a clue if my 1 year contract would be extended, she didn't have enough experience in the job market to easily go back after taking maternity leave (she didn't even qualify for paid leave). Support from family was non-existence, as they lived so far away. I can't say that this career and family path was planned, but it seems to have worked out ok. Fast forward 10 years, and she is embarking on an academic career without the worry of when to have kids, and my career is now established, so there are no issues with me doing half (or more) of the pick-ups etc. I have an incredibly flexible job, with complete control of my diary - I can work from home whenever it suites me (within reason) , so I can support her when she needs to work hard.

But I don't think it should be this way. Maybe the way academics are promoted should be addressed? Maybe we need better career paths for the non-research active? Maybe there needs to be less stigma attached to T&L contracts? Maybe there needs to be several light years of teaching/admin, so those returning from maternity leave can get back their research?

bigkidsdidit Sat 22-Jun-13 23:33:15

Thankfully that's not true in my experience MRD, but I don't know a single woman who took more than 6 months off, had more than 2 children, or who didn't keep up with emails / the odd paper when off.

I am in denial though as very soon will have 2!

AutumnMadness Sat 22-Jun-13 23:25:09

Basically, the best way to go is to get married to somebody wealthy at 17, get pregnant in the last year of school and then use the gap year for the maternity leave. Do I get points for my brilliant plan?

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 23:22:25

Ie., it's easier if your husband is older.

AutumnMadness Sat 22-Jun-13 23:21:16

Interestingly, most female profs I know either do not have children or had them very early in life. I am talking early 20s or even teens. I am not sure what to make of it. I simply could not afford to have children without first landing a job. Support from family was not possible and no rich husband was in sight.

But overall there is probably something to be said for having children early in our kind of world. So by the time you are 30, you are over the maternity leaves and chronic sleep deprivation and can spend the 30-40 decade building your work. But it does require family support/husband who would support you and the children when you are doing the PhD later on. Or you do it part-time while working and go insane.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 23:16:20

I don't know what'd have happened if we'd had kids during my PhD. I am just very wary of it because you can't be sure about the fallout. If I'd had kids, had maternity leave, then deferred with PND (which is happening with someone I know), by the end of it, my thesis would have been getting pretty out of date. I imagine for scientists it must be pretty much impossible - surely the lab work would just move on without you?

rubyanddiamond Sat 22-Jun-13 23:12:09

The 'right time' to have kids is certainly an issue. I didn't meet my DH till the final year of my PhD, and I didn't want to wait 10 years until I'd established myself before having them. Hence, the only option remaining was to have kids in the postdoc years and hope for the best!

Like I said above, I'm not sure that's worked out for the best with regards to my academic career, but I'm still sure it was the best option personally. I didn't really anticipate how much 'momentum' I'd lose regarding research and publications, but maybe this is my problem for not really thinking ahead enough?

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 22:58:11

Yes, I understand the problem.

And my point was that being a prof in your late 30s would be exceptional.

Sorry, possibly it wasn't clear in my post! confused

But yes, erm, that's my worry ... the not being able to have kids.

It's generally pretty easy for male academics to have kids. Statistically, they do fine (I am sure it is a lot of work, I just mean, as a group). But my DH can't have kids for me when I submit my thesis, that's the thing.

DrDolittle Sat 22-Jun-13 22:23:18

The problem with 10 years of postdocs is that it doesn't demonstrate independence or creativity. You spend 10 years doing someone else's bidding - that's what short-listing committees think. You would probably be excellent at carrying out research, but committees would question whether you had any new ideas yourself or be able to lead a research programme. 10 years is a dead end career, whatever the reality if your situation.

Not sure leaving kids until early 40's (earliest that even the best can really make prof - 39 is quite exceptional) is the right way forward for everyone. You'd have to be pretty confident of your own abilities. I think the majority of the women academics would not be able to have kids. My wife and I decided to have kids early (she got pregnant a couple of weeks after submitting my PhD thesis) and is now embarking on an academic career. That's another solution, maybe? But also not suitable for everyone.

The sector as a whole has to change - and it would be a brave VC to do that unilaterally. This means government funding has to change - there is so much pressure to be the "best" now (just look at the increasing concentration of research council resources on fewer and fewer institutes). And we have to stop the marketisation of HE to stand a chance of making things more equal. It has to come from the top, the government, but I don't think they will do it. They are too obsessed with extracting economic growth from education to realise that this obsession is actually having the opposite effect.

Should clarify (my typing skills have eluded me) my university is that unequal and I'd like not to work in one so unequal. It is an embarrassment. And what's worse is that their gender equality reports make a big fuss about how the sector average is worse (as if that makes it OK).

UptoapointLordCopper Sat 22-Jun-13 22:16:28

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik smile

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 21:59:15

arbitrary - thanks for explaining. That makes perfect sense (and, grr, that's annoying).

DrDo - what you say scares me. My supervisor recently spoke scathingly about 'people who do postdocs for ten years' ... but then, when do you have the children? I know a lovely woman who told me very earnestly that the way to do it is to become a professor in your late 30s and have them then. But most people don't become professors in their late 30s and most women can't have children then (I know some can. But.)

But yes, it's surely never going to be a matter of small individual changes? Or am I being ignorant? I would think the basic structure needs to change.

The final point about university management doing one thing while deluding themselves about another possibly explains why so many men can preside over embarrassingly unequal universities (and departments) while congratulating themselves on how wonderfully right on and feminist they are.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 21:52:17

upto - please don't leave. I think probably the hectoring has stopped.

The other problem is that those jobs that Xenia does regard as acceptable rely upon large numbers of other people to choose to go into education (at all levels) in order to produce the workers they need.

I would rather be a junior lecturer for the rest of my life than work in the city. I'd like my workload to be more sensible so that I could actually do the research bit (which I love and which does bring real value to the world), and I'd like to work in a university where the overall gender ratio of all staff (at all grades from cleaners to professors) is 50-50, but where the numbers of women plummet off a cliff between lecturer and senior lecturer and less than 10% of the professors are women.

I'd also like for university management not to go about awarding themselves £42k pay rises while freezing everyone else's pay, casualising labour where possible and then writing books extolling the virtues of left-wing politics.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now