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

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

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.

Trills Mon 17-Jun-13 16:09:05

Please can you explain your last sentence?

Why would research be more valid if it was carried out by women who have children, rather than by men (with or without children) and women who do not have children?

I wasn't aware that your gender or whether you have procreated affected your ability to do research.

badguider Mon 17-Jun-13 16:12:08

What research are we contantly shown about women are all.... [whatever]?
I have only seen genuine research that shows that to some extent on a population scale some traits are more associated with women than men but that in most cases the variation within each sex is greater than the difference (if any) between the sexes.

I know a lot of female researchers and don't believe that their research interests or ability changed after they have children (for those who did).

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:14:19

I didn't say it would be more valid, trills.

I said we might do well to be sceptical. Scepticism doesn't imply you dismiss the research out of hand, but that you think about its bias.

I think gender and procreation are most likely to affect the kind of research you do. I should probably have said this in my OP. But, I mean, I read about the sort of research people do, and very naturally, it is often informed by their own lives.

I'm not having a go at men or childless women, btw - I am a childless woman and a researcher - I just feel impoverished in not having enough colleagues who are women with children, TBH. I feel the spectrum of different perspectives I'd get from women with children would be valuable.

Trills Mon 17-Jun-13 16:14:22

Article about motherhood and academia - interesting.

Assertion that research is invalid because it's not carried out by mothers - ridiculous.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:16:56

bad - oh, I'm being sarcastic, but I mean the sort of stuff Simon Baron-Cohen does, which acknowledges he's talking about spectrums but rather undercuts the good intentions with the labels he uses.

I do think the media has a lot to do with it, but still, I think it would be good if more mothers were researching.

I also know a lot of female researchers. No, their interests didn't change (why would they?). But the point is that women with children are less likely to continue in academia. So looking at the ones who are still there is hardly the point, is it - because we don't know what the ones who ended up giving up on academia would have done.

Trills Mon 17-Jun-13 16:17:03

Maybe you are trying to say one thing and coming across as saying another.

I heard:
Men and childless women will come to the wrong conclusions when they ask questions that concern women with children
(I strongly disagree with this)

You may be saying:
There are questions that might not be asked in the first place, because men and childless women are less likely to think to investigate certain areas
(I can understand that)

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:17:59

trills, I have just clarified that I never said that.

If you had read my post, you would have seen I never said that.

I am not a mother. My research is valid.

I simply think it'd be nice to have more women with children in academia.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:19:22


Erm, I think you will find if you read my post properly, I'm not 'trying' to say anything. You read it wrongly.

All I suggested was that we should be sceptical of the bias in research, given the social status of the researchers.

This is hardly a revolutionary statement. It does not mean 'research by non-mothers is invalid'.

PromQueenWithin Mon 17-Jun-13 16:31:17

Assertion that research is invalid because it's not carried out by mothers - ridiculous

That isn't what Malenky is saying. Is is valid to question a researcher's positionally.

It is also valid to question what the 'body of knowledge' might be missing because there is a bias against mothers in leading research positions.

Also, it is valid to wonder about the under-representation of anyone who isn't an educated, white male in research. Examining and judging research overall by the degree to which it represents the interests of the powerful is absolutely a valid thing to do.

Research isn't neutral, or at least it isn't unless you are a dyed in the wool positivist with a naive-realist viewpoint.

PromQueenWithin Mon 17-Jun-13 16:38:09


MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:40:21

I am very sorry I didn't phrase my OP better.

I really did me only what I said - we need to question what unconscious biases researches will have.

I would be sceptical of a study of (say) aboriginal AUS populations that was carried out entirely by white immigrants to Australia. As I think we all would? And of course, the earliest surveys will have been by white immigrants. And we learn to correct assumptions. But it is not possible to correct every single unconscious assumption, because try as we may, we won't recognize all of them. I know I don't.

My aunt told me about an interesting example a year or so ago. In my area of the country, people did a survey of working-class children to see how well-nourished they were. The survey asked what they had for dinner (the main meal). The children said, not much. The surveyors tried to question their assumptions and though, hmm, maybe over here, lunch is the main meal. So they asked that, and again the children said, we don't have much for lunch.

It didn't occur to them that round here, the main meal of the day is tea.

So they wrote up their report saying that these children were severely malnourished and it was going to result in all sorts of health issues down the line.

It's easy for us to see the flaws, but I think we can see why the researchers didn't, too. Ideally, you want researchers from as broad a spectrum of backgrounds as possible. So, I do feel it's valid to suggest we question research when we know a certain group isn't represented.

Hopefully, this may also motivated women who're mothers to see their perspective is something researchers are crying out for.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 16:40:58

I really did only me = I really did only mean

PromQueenWithin Mon 17-Jun-13 17:09:53

Malenky, you are much more patient than I at explaining!

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 17:12:25

I phrased my OP badly.

badguider Mon 17-Jun-13 19:40:07

I think this is interesting because I would entirely agree with you that research is affected by culture, class, gender etc of the main protagonists (not just researchers but funders and others).
But.... I'm not sure about making the same statements about the distinction between mothers and non-mothers. Mainly because ime female researchers choose their professional path, including research area and interests, on the whole, long before they consider if motherhood is for them. And also long before the true implications of motherhood on their career are clear.
That's why I mentioned earlier that those mothers I know who have stayed in active research have stuck entirely with the research they were doing before mat leave.
My experience is almost all in the sciences though where I think larger teams and projects make it harder for individual personal perspectives to have as much influence as maybe in the social sciences or humanities??

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 21:49:51

But bad, by definition, you can't know whether the mothers who didn't go on in academia would have fit the same pattern the mothers who did go on in academia did.

JacqueslePeacock Tue 18-Jun-13 00:45:08

As an academic and a new mother, this is depressing.

badguider Tue 18-Jun-13 09:23:38

No you can't know that. I agree.

But I'm not comfortable with equating "mother" with the kind of identity people are born with: race, class, culture etc.

"Mother" is a choice I made relatively late in life and not part of the web of invisible but important social and cultural influences I was born with or grew up with/in.

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 09:29:43

It's a very interesting and depressing article, especially as I am an academic on my second mat leave right now. I do think that it is far worse in the states than here, though. And also far worse in humanities than sciences.

I am a scientist and struggling to see how my having babies could affect the nature of my work. That was decided years ago!

I am on the Athena Swan committee in my uni and there are great strides being made to retain and promote female scientists, because there is a financial incentive. I hear that the most unequal departments at my place (old RG) are no longer physics and engineering but history and English.

WoTmania Tue 18-Jun-13 09:32:30

out of curiosity - what happens whenyou ahve your children and then try to go back to academia?
I'm asking because a couple of my female friends plan to do this. I suspect they won't ever reach the level they would like or would have if they were men and just carried on from uni.

EightToSixer Tue 18-Jun-13 09:59:32

Ignoring the discussion of the representativeness of the research and focusing only on the issue of academia and motherhood.
It is a continual frustration to me than in my discipline (criminology) at a Russell Group university. There are
90% women at an undergraduate level
75% women at masters level
50% women at PhD level
80% women at lecturer level
0% women at Senior Lecturer, reader, professor level.

I was involved with the Athena Swan focus group yet despite these complaints being raised, we still managed to get a Silver Award overall. This, to me, isn't good enough, as there is a men's club at the higher level, with holidays away, bar nights etc that exclude all female members of staff where business decisions are made.

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 10:00:04

In our place, WoT, they never will.

I believe there is some research showing that six months' leave does not adversely affect your career, but of you take a year or more you never reach the level you would have otherwise. I'm on mat leave so can't find it easily, but it makes sense to me. A year would leave me struggling to return, I think. I'm taking six months again.

badguider Tue 18-Jun-13 10:25:14

I think the main issue is that if you have a break for any reason your publications record will never look as good as somebody who hasn't so you'll loose out in the fight for positions (and positions are almost all temporary) this also affects your finding applications.

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 11:26:19

Another one here involved in Athena SWAN!

I bought this book but haven't read it yet apart from the sample chapter: Why so slow.

I've had two maternity leaves (9 months each) and am now working part-time. I publish enough but don't do conferences. I don't get promoted but it's not clear whether that's because of any bias or whether that's because I don't want to be. Can't quite see what's in it for me - now I'm doing exactly what I want. Why should I get more stuff dumped on me? So it's not clear if I'm letting the side down ...

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 11:28:37

Also it's not all about having babies. Shows bias against women - not quite the same thing but makes you think.

PromQueenWithin Tue 18-Jun-13 11:54:43

I think its a shame that Athena SWAN is only for STEM. As a social scientist who can see the same trends of reducing proportions of female leaders as one moves up the ladder (though our PVC is female and very inspiring) it seems unfair. Waaaaa! Though I do remember hearing that a general academic gender equality initiative will be launched soon. Yaaaaay!

I had my kids relatively young and came to academia when they were little (career change) so I feel as though I am just starting to be able to ramp up a little, now that they're both at school and that little bit older (nearly 7 and nearly 10).

It's the publications thing that entrenches inequality, I think. My experiences before being an academic mean that I've got plenty to offer in terms of securing funding (which I have a good track record in), management and <whispers> Impacty type public engagement stuff. But, as far as promotion goes, that stuff has very little value compared to a long list of publications in good journals.

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 12:01:36

PromQueen Things are beginning to change. They are inventing different tracks to promotion. And the publication game - some groups are beginning to talk about measuring against "opportunity" rather than absolutely. But I guess culture change will take a long time. Still, better than not talking at all...

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 12:13:23

Yes it is moving slowly. Personally the biggest change Inwould like to see is male academics (and men in general) taking far more leave, but that is perhaps outside the scope of Athena Swan

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 12:20:27

bigkids I saw one organisation's good practice document saying to ensure that male academics' managers are in line with these practices. Also one that says to monitor male academics attendance on equality training courses. Other departments who did all these things a few years ago concluded that life is much better for all now. So there is hope. My personal crusade is to replace "maternity" anything with "parental" or "carer", though I have not succeeded in making men do the giving birth or breastfeeding bits. Only joking, before anyone jumps on me... grin

scallopsrgreat Tue 18-Jun-13 12:25:36

"I think its a shame that Athena SWAN is only for STEM" I agree.

The system is set up by men and for men without childcare responsibilities. That is what needs to change. And it is good to hear that there are some changes albeit slowly.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 12:25:47

bad - no, true, I wouldn't want to equate 'mother' with that kind of identity either, obviously.

WoT - I think it would depend when you did it. I know people who say you want to get to junior lecturer level, have babies, and come back, but I don't see much evidence it works. I've seen people who are incredibly hard-working manage to have babies before the PhD, do the PhD with little ones, and go on from there - so the gap is before the PhD. But I think it is really tricky.

I think bigkids is right, the biggest issue is male academics not taking much leave, which ends up with a culture of presenteeism.

They only recently tried to make any sort of proper allowance for maternity leave in the big assessment that rates all universities' research outputs.

AutumnMadness Tue 18-Jun-13 12:53:53

I think that compared to a lot of industry, academia is relatively child- and parent-friendly, especially because of flexible working hours. At the same time, it is becoming more and more part of the global rat race that is the global patriarchy. It's all about competition, money, rationalisation, and who can keep their arse in front of the computer doing calculations for longer and mark coursework faster. All this is so twisted that communism is starting to appeal to me. angry

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 12:59:09

I suppose bits of it are. I don't know how flexible lab work is?

AutumnMadness Tue 18-Jun-13 13:07:19

Agreed. Parts of it are not flexible at all. I am also always asked by friends and family "So what are you doing on your summer off?" Bwa-ga-ga-ga-ga.

rubyanddiamond Tue 18-Jun-13 13:21:05

I think the article focuses more on the US where PhDs are longer and maternity leave is non-existent, which means that the conclusions might not necessarily be the same for the UK.

Having said that, I'm an academic about to take my 2nd lot of maternity leave, and I can see myself leaving academia in the not-too-distant future. I think I'm perfectly capable of being an academic, I have lots of ideas and the skills needed for the job. But what I don't have is a great quantity of sparkling publications (although I think the quality is good) due to both motherhood and other career choices I made when younger.

On the plus side, the flexible hours that you get in some parts of academia are brilliant with a small child, if you find yourself in one of those areas.

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 14:46:40

I'm wet lab science and it's he most flexible job I can think of! When I go back I'm working 7-3.30ish so I can pick DS up from school. DH does mornings already and works 9.30-6. Occasionally I stay late for meetings but we have a Cm too and it is never last minute. Also the benefit of sciences is I think we teach less - I certainly don't have any teaching responsibilities at all.

As part of Athena Swan we have banned meetings starting before 10 or ending after 4 so that people picking up children aren't disadvantaged.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 14:49:19

Oh, that's good to hear! smile

I just didn't know and could imagine it might be more difficult to organize times.

PromQueenWithin Tue 18-Jun-13 14:54:43

Huh. I'm sometimes having to make myself unpopular with my colleagues by sending my apologies for meetings that start at 3:30 and run until 5.

I do say that I will try and make it, but that special childcare arrangements will need to be made. They just ignore this, mostly, and I miss the meeting.

It makes me feel less valued and sometimes I worry that I will get into trouble, but the flexibility and independence are the flip side.

PromQueenWithin Tue 18-Jun-13 14:55:27

I work reduced hours, until 3, so they are planning meetings for a time when I am not contracted to work. Just to clarify!

kalidasa Tue 18-Jun-13 15:40:30

Yes it is depressing. I am a lecturer in a humanities subject at an RG university - fortunately just past probation so a fairly stable permanent job - and my baby is six months old. I returned from maternity leave quite early (when he was four months), partly for career reasons, but mostly because I had had a terrible pregnancy so had basically been off for a year at that point and it was driving me mad. I am the first woman to have a baby in my department for many years and I do feel quite isolated. (Though I reckon a couple of female colleagues are quite likely to follow suit fairly soon.) So far I don't feel that having a baby has made much difference to my productivity/work rate but it's very early days obviously. And also I made a big work-life balance effort a few years ago so wasn't in the habit of working a lot in the evenings/weekends as many academics are (including DH). When I am at work I find I am mostly v. efficient.

I definitely feel though that there is no realistic option to go part-time if I want to preserve the possibility of progressing to senior lecturer, professor etc. This is quite different from the experience of, e.g., my best friend who is a high-flying doctor (hospital) and has done several part-time stints, as has her husband; or of my sister who is also an academic but a psychologist in Australia and seems to feel pretty relaxed about the prospect of returning on reduced hours after her first baby. (Though perhaps she is just being naive!) I don't know any serious academics in my field or related fields who work less than full time. The handful of women who do are considered research inactive and are basically consigned to teaching/admin stuff.

AutumnMadness Tue 18-Jun-13 15:56:02

kalidasa, I agree that having a child made me very focused at work and I don't tend to work in the evenings and weekends (I've got too many hobbies for that anyway). But as you, I never saw part-time work as a realistic option, especially if I want to be research-active and get promoted. I have great admiration for one of the posters above who said she is working part-time and publishing. I feel that if I was trying to be research active in a part-time job, the job would just expand to being full-time anyway, and I would simply get less money.

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 17:20:27

I'm the same as both of you - very focused at work, only do 40 hours a week which is unusual, but no chance of less than full time, really. I don't mind too much, I love work and my hours are great.

Am depressed again now though, just had two papers rejected in one day, ffs sad not sure what my chances of winning a big fellowship are now sad

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 19:21:54

AutumnMadness That's me that's me!!! (Phew! Recognition at last! grin) I am 60% and research active but I haven't been "successful" - no grant, no promotion. But then I'm doing research that I like, publishing things I like, teaching a course that I like, and have time to play the piano and deal with my bloody lovely children (sorry - they are a bit trying today). I don't want the situation to change so have been reluctant to make any effort for promotion.

Xenia Tue 18-Jun-13 19:32:19

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PromQueenWithin Tue 18-Jun-13 19:35:18

Is your husband cleverer? No
Is he sexist? No
Were you brought up to believe a woman's place is in the home? No
Are you lazy? No. In fact, part time is probably harder as no childcare is used.

So, why? Um. I want to. It works for me. I don't lack ambition. Come back to me in 5 years and I will be a 4 days a week Prof! grin

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 19:42:36

I earn enough even when part-time. wink

And I do everything I like. I enjoy my life, my children (even when they are being horrific), I don't do all the housework because I employ a cleaner - yes, I earn enough even as a part-timer. I have a good pension. I play my piano and I read. What's not to like? Plenty of people progress up the ladder because that's what people do. Do you ever question the meaning of life and success Xenia? hmm

GrimmaTheNome Tue 18-Jun-13 20:01:16

I'd not heard of Athena Swan (I'm not in academia) - sounds good! Some of you might also be interested in the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowships - though obviously there aren't enough of these to solve the problem.

Going back to the OP, I'm not sure its totally the case that research is 'largely done by men and childless women' - a lot of actual research is done by the 'second tier' mentioned in the link. The postdocs and part-timers - who tend not to have the teaching load (and maybe less time spent filling in grant applications, from what I remember of my time within a lab). But for sure, not the status and job security. Some manage to carve out extremely successful careers - and full lives - by less conventional means - but probably by being exceptional compared to most chaps. Ideally, I think, there should be routes for people to take either approach - mothers who are head of department, fathers who are part-timers if they prefer that balance, whatever regardless of gender.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 20:04:37

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UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 20:19:25

We are all losers. grin I quite like this way of life TBH. The conventional route bores me.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 20:23:43

Happy losers, then. smile

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 20:24:21

We happy few. smile

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 20:28:08

We band of buggered.

No, wait, I've wandered onto a different topic.

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 20:45:05

Yes not a very tactful post grin


I know a LOT of dual academic couples and in every single case it is the woman who has gone part time or soft pedalled her career post DC. Perhaps we should examine why we do this even when we start out at an equal level when we get pg?

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 20:49:43

Yes, I do accept that is a genuine worry. I don't think this particular brand of woman-blaming is the greatest solution.

I don't know how general it is, but something I worry about is PND or other conditions you couldn't predict after the birth. I wonder how many people end up going part time as a response to circumstnaces, rather than planning it from the off?

Xenia Tue 18-Jun-13 21:01:15

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MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 21:03:56

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UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 21:16:46

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AutumnMadness Tue 18-Jun-13 23:04:41

bigkidsdidit, sorry about the papers. I feel your pain. I hope you got yourself a big G&T and are sitting somewhere outside now enjoying the summer evening.

UptoapointLordCopper, I really admire you for publishing while working part-time. And your situation sounds great to me. I think quality of life is just as important as promotions. No, it's more important. Some will say that this is women not being ambitious enough, but I will say that this is women being sensible and not chasing heart attacks.

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 19-Jun-13 08:02:14

I would say that some equate ambition with material gain, and some equate ambition with social status, and some equate ambition with climbing the ladder. I equate ambition in how much I can get people to pay me to do what I like. grin

badguider Wed 19-Jun-13 08:09:43

I bet there are some male academics out there who wish they could change their hours and step back a bit to spend runs with their families but due to the same sexism that holds women back that would be seen as even less acceptable for a man than it is for a woman.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 19-Jun-13 10:11:36

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PromQueenWithin Wed 19-Jun-13 10:17:40

Xenia you exemplify the patriarchy! You seem to assume that you don't, but you are its poster-women.

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 10:36:39

I agree that the situation is far worse in the US than it is here. Not that conditions in the UK are perfect, but in the US it's awful. I had a tenure-track job in a big state university in the US and as a state employee, I was entitled to two weeks' paid maternity leave. Two weeks. The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed under Clinton's administration, was a big deal because it enabled women to take a whole 12 weeks off after giving birth if they wanted it (unpaid leave of course). There are ways to negotiate more time off if you're an academic - you can use accrued "sick leave" or use valuable research/sabbatical leave for motherhood. But the attitude is very much that after having given birth, you need to be back at work as normal as soon as possible. Oh, and childcare options are much more limited as well; it's very hard to find nurseries and childminders (my university had a nursery, but they would only take children once they were potty-trained. So no babies or young toddlers).

I could tell a whole string of anecdotes about young women academics being told off by senior colleagues and heads of department for procreating (and older women academics can be dreadfully sexist to younger ones in this regard).

I know one high-flying academic couple who relocated from a small, prestigious US liberal arts college to the UK, because they had had one child in the US and found the logistics of work/parenthood so difficult that they felt that if they stayed in the US, having a second child would be impossible. So now they are academics in the UK with two children.

The UK system of 6 months' paid mat leave (if you're been working for your employer long enough) and 12 months if you want it is something that I and other American women find amazing. Yes, taking those breaks can still have a negative effect on your career, but at least your right to take them is enshrined in law.

I have a huge gap on my CV now due to having moved to the UK for family-related reasons and not had a full-time academic post - instead I had a badly paid part-time post and two DC in part-time childcare. In the US, I think my career would effectively be over. In the UK, however, I just managed to get a very nice full-time post (it's not permanent, but still, I'm over the moon about it). The hiring panel "bought" my argument that I took time off from research for motherhood and am now ready to plunge into intensive research again. I know I'm very lucky, as posts in my field are few and far between, and the future is still uncertain, but so far I have found UK colleagues to be very supportive of combining work with family, in a way that my most of US colleagues never were.

There is still lots of work to be done though. My DH is an academic too, quite a senior one, and he makes a big point of taking time off when the DC are ill, etc. Senior colleagues, men especially, need to create a culture within academia where scholars are seen to be making parenting a priority. Then junior colleagues will feel comfortable taking time off for their ill DC too.

bigkids said, "I know a LOT of dual academic couples and in every single case it is the woman who has gone part time or soft pedalled her career post DC."

That's so true. Damn. But increasingly I also know male academics whose academic spouses spend a few days a week working in another city (because it's so hard to find academic jobs in the same place) and those dads do all the childcare for those days each week. Or the same scenario with gender roles reversed. Not that a commuting academic has an easy time of it, but doing the whole morning/evening/bedtime routine with small children while one parent is away is not easy either.

badguider said, "I bet there are some male academics out there who wish they could change their hours and step back a bit to spend runs with their families but due to the same sexism that holds women back that would be seen as even less acceptable for a man than it is for a woman."


Sorry to have written such an essay. blush

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 10:40:39

And Xenia, you are so predictable, aren't you? You think that feminism is a one-size-fits-all set of choices. Amazingly, mothers (and fathers) do not all want the same thing. Some of us would rather get less publishing done and have less prestige if it means more time hanging out with our DC in the garden. Some of us would rather earn less money if it means that we actually care about/love/enjoy our work, to the extent that when we retire we will carry on doing the same research for the joy of it.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Wed 19-Jun-13 10:45:38

bad - I know for a fact that's true about male academics wanting to step back too.

I think unfortunately, in individual situations it can be easier for men. I think in lots of contexts there's still a certain amount of 'aww, how sweet' when men say they need to get up and pick up the baby, whereas for women it's more 'oh, leaving the meeting early hmm!'. But then I think if you're a man who does the sort of amount of childcare women often do, it's probably not better.

Potol Wed 19-Jun-13 10:52:32

Academic. Two years into a Lecturer's post. Spent a lot of time in the US. Husband also an academic. Offspring is 1.5 years old and I took 7 months mat leave. Yes, my research has slowed down because a lot of what I do requires thinking and theoretical insight (in the humanities) rather than just archival research and I have v little thinking time. DS is a reasonable sleeper but once he is in bed I do all the admin stuff/answering emails because I don't have the headspace to think about the theoretical stuff.

On the other hand, DH is super hands on and an equal parent and is the one to take off when DS is ill etc. We also try and tag team if a big deadline for a research grant or something is coming up by whisking DS away somewhere for the weekend to let the other one work.

I have a US PhD and the reason DH and I relocated was partly for family reasons but mainly because motherhood and academia in the US is virtually incompatible. First of all, both of us finding jobs within commuting distance of each other would be hard. Then universities barely offer mat leave. My friend went back at 3 weeks with her baby in a sling and would lecture like that. The tenure clock keeps ticking and there is no allowance for the sheer exhaustion and difficulty of the first year of motherhood. I read the article and sympathised with parts of it, but it was US centric.

Finally, in my department there are a LOT of male academics with children who do a substantial chunk of the pick up/drop offs. Most of their wives have less flexible jobs and so the department culture is one that is sensitive to working parents. It is interesting though that the change in attitude is because the four senior male professors have childcare duties. I wonder if people would be so accommodating if they were women. Somehow men being equal parents is to be 'celebrated' while we are 'just' mothers. Anyway, the upshot of this is that all meetings finish by 4/4:30 and people don't mind if there is a childcare related emergency.

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 10:52:39

I'm sure you're right, Malenky. For example, my DH has been known to take our toddler into work with him when he has a meeting and we're in a particularly tight spot. Apparently other staff members not in the meeting are "delighted" at the opportunity to look after said toddler for a little while. I find this outrageous... as a mum I would never dream of dragging one of our DC along to work and expecting other staff to entertain him! But there's something about a man with a baby that apparently makes other women keen to jump in and help. Supposedly. hmm

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 10:54:34

Interesting post, Potol. What you say resonates entirely with my experiences of working as an academic in the US and UK.

Potol Wed 19-Jun-13 10:55:42

X post. Yep. Male academics doing childcare is much less damaging to their reputation. My husband took my son to the lab for a whole day when I needed some work to be done over a weekend. I have never ever taken him into work. Wouldn't dream of it. And would worry it looked unprofessional. My husband said people complimented him on his multitasking abilities. Hmmm.

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 11:01:10

Yes, that's it exactly. Unprofessional mum = multitasking dad!

I kind of agree with Xenia's larger point though. Okay, maybe it's not on to criticise women at the individual level, but it is true that it tends to be women going part-time, sacrificing more of their career, etc and so on. You see this all the time on MN: 'my husband made more money and had more career potential so I gave up my job to look after the kids'. Fast forward 5 years and now that woman is screwed looking for work and totally dependent on the goodwill of her husband.

I think this is a particular danger in academia because of some aspects of the job. At the beginning you'll increase your chances of a job if you're willing to move anywhere -- how many men are willing to give up their jobs or even their careers to tag along? You have to do a lot of writing and conferences outside of normal working hours -- how many men are willing to step up with childcare, etc.?

Obviously some men are but this is not a traditional role for them. Normally it is the woman making these sacrifices.

Basically I think the problem is not just structural, but normative. Yes there are all kinds of policies that could be changed, but as long as there is this societal norm or trend that women's careers will defer to their husband's, we will still have a problem in academia. It's not that well paid, it entails a lot of sacrifice, and on a purely 'logical' level it will often come second best to a lot of other careers.

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 11:49:27

I totally agree, dreaming. Again and again I have seen academic couples who started out on an equal footing, and then the woman's career has slowed or stopped while the man's has carried on. It's an issue that has caused a lot of tension in my own relationship, despite the fact that I have a DH who is (in theory, at least!) totally supportive of my career. When we had DC1 and a long-distance commute was no longer feasible, I was the one who gave up my job. It was utterly terrifying. We negotiated arrangements where he was doing part-time childcare and I was doing part-time research even when I was not employed ANYWHERE and was not earning any money, because otherwise the career I had worked so hard for would have gone completely by the wayside, and both of us had to be committed to not letting that happen.

It was also hard though because I was struggling with my own split desires - before I became a mother I never would have guessed how much I would want to spend time with my DC, and how hard it would be to leave them with someone else. Don't get me wrong, I never wanted to be a SAHM (valid choice though it may be), but DH found it far easier to drop off a crying baby in nursery, knowing that the baby would be fine, and get on with his work, while I tended (and still tend) to find it very difficult. It's not just society imposing norms on me, it's a personal psychological struggle. It has got easier with DC2 though. grin I don't know whether it's a personality thing or a gender thing or both.

I still find Xenia's line of argument pernicious, though, because in the US especially there is a mentality that academia should make no allowances for parenthood. So the women academics who succeeded early on succeeded largely by behaving exactly like male academics: putting their work first and their family second. (Which maybe explains why they can be so horrible to younger women trying to juggle academia and motherhood.) That doesn't have to be the only way of doing things. To me, feminist academia means changing the model so that both mothers and fathers can devote more time to family life. Department lectures can happen during school hours instead of in the evening, both parents can do pick ups and drop offs, slowing down the rate of research when there's a baby in the family does not put someone's career into jeopardy. That's the model I would like to see.

I agree with a lot of that marfisa, and I'd like to see that model too.

And I do see the danger in Xenia's argument, but I guess as a half-assed constructivist wink I see her argument as an important transitional one -- to change norms, you need normative outliers. If you want to change the game, you need people on the inside who play it well, both to inspire others and to have the power to make changes. I actually like the way Xenia pops up to remind us all that there is a different way of doing things -- I mean, obviously you are free to disregard her advice for your own personal life, but it's good to have that reminder, I think. It's exactly what my own mother, a radical 70s feminist, would say.

I'm a bit of an outlier myself. My field is very male-dominated. When I go to meetings and confabs, do research team work, I'm always the only woman in the room. I'm hoping to do a postdoc in my department next year, again I will be the only woman on the team.

It is only now that I'm finishing my phd that I'm finding out that everyone assumed I wouldn't finish, because I had a baby midway through. Apparently I'm the first woman in the department to have a baby and still finish in years and years. I find that so depressing, and yet I'm kind of happy that I've bucked the trend and perhaps people won't leap to those assumptions so much, knowing at least one person who's done it.

But I never could have done it if I weren't married to an enlightened kind of guy, who is happy to split childcare and everything 50/50, who is willing to move around, who really has sacrificed so much -- and not because my work brings in so much money, but because it makes me happy. Like so many things, it really is the political AND the personal affecting individual outcomes.

bigkidsdidit Wed 19-Jun-13 12:48:15

I agree entirely, dreaming. I like Xenia's posts- she reminds us of the extreme which is worth hearing about, seeing as the other extreme (SAHM hood) is so widely talked about already.

It's not for me, I like leaving work early and having play time and tea and bath with DS, but I don't think anyone should take it as a personal attack.

Rosie55 Wed 19-Jun-13 12:58:21

This is really interesting discussion, and the situation certainly sounds much worse in the US than the UK. Has anyone else found that in couples where one partner is an academic and one isn't, the academic's job is seen as the 'main' one when he's a man, and the 'secondary' one when she's a woman. I've encountered that a lot recently: mothers who are academics are going part-time (now that that's becoming more of an option), limiting the number of conferences they do, etc., but non-academic mothers married to academics seeing their own career - whatever that is - as secondary to their partner's because he 'has' to go away a lot for research, move the family for a better job, and so on.

Yes Rosie, I certainly do see that.

It's part of what I was getting at, that there is such a social norm for the woman's career to defer to the man's, unless it's some insanely high-wage, high-status job.

PromQueenWithin Wed 19-Jun-13 13:10:41

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

niminypiminy Wed 19-Jun-13 13:21:35

Speaking as a (woman) academic whose career has slowed since motherhood, I have found that the slowing down has happened gradually since I had my children, and has accelerated since they went to school.

Initially, I would say that even though I chose to come back from work after my first maternity leave on a fractional (0.7) basis, it didn't affect my research career. I was able to draw on projects started before I became pregnant, and on contacts and networks that I made when I was able to go to many more conferences and so forth. And my childcare was tailored around my needs as a working mother.

Once I had another child, and having two (and one with increasingly apparent SNs) was much more time-consuming than having one, my ability to draw on work I'd previously done as the basis for new research was diminishing. I was doing fewer conferences, and said no to more things because I couldn't take them on. The direction of my research changed (and I suspect this is an arts thing) because of the change in my life and thinking my children had meant.

Then they went to school, and suddenly the childcare wasn't tailored around my needs. One child's SNs meant that we couldn't use after-school care: school was enough of a burden for him. My ability to find stretches of time to start new research projects was severely affected by childcare time. As they have got older they don't need me less -- indeed, in some ways, they need me more. And I can no longer count on them being in bed and using the evening to work in.

So: the networking/conferencing side of research life has been eroded, and the stretches of time necessary to do new reading and major writing have been whittled away, and I can no longer build on what I was doing 10 years ago -- and my research has now settled in a much less fashionable area.

I wanted to tell that whole story because it's not just what happens to your career in the immediate aftermath of having a child that counts, it's what happens to it in the years after. As it is, I am ok with knowing that I'll never be promoted, and I am happy that my childless colleagues do get the rewards that their dedication gets them. It's just that having children is a long game, and the times when it can make the most demands of you are often those middle years when you might be expected to be making your career.

Well, they won't need academics either!

I would also like to see caring and growing actvities more valued, I would like them not to be seen as female activities though.

That's very sobering niminy -- thank you for sharing that, it's giving me something to think about.

Xenia Wed 19-Jun-13 13:26:17

I object to the sexism 0 that dull housework and cleaning up after a man is somehow a hallowed thing and female and something women adore and they are making a feminst choice to be the servant of the family whilst shooting their caerer to pieces

What we need to change is the norm that women earn pin money and aren't much good at work and men are better and earn a lot. If all these husbands of the part timer women on the thread were the ones in the kitchen instead the women would have decent careers.

I would not like to see caring activities more valued. They can be as dull as ditch water and it is sexist people who want to chain women to kitchens who suggest they are difficult or interest roles. They aren't which is why anyone can clean and those kinds of jobs are the lowest of the low in most societies.

Sol my questions above were valid - do the women go part time because their husband are better than they are. Did they marry a man who was cleverer than they are? Did they know they wanted to stay home a lot and do school collections and housework so picked a higher status better man who was the one more likely to succeed in university posts?

thecatfromjapan Wed 19-Jun-13 13:30:30

That makes me feel a bit better.

I found things soooo hard when I had children. And yet all the anecdotal evidence was that it was just me.

thecatfromjapan Wed 19-Jun-13 13:32:48

I also have a theory that the mania about REF and funding in academia is going to structurally bias that workplace against women with children.

Notice I said "structurally". It won't be direct discrimination, just lots of small factors adding up to making it an environment that it is pretty darn hostile to women with children.

PromQueenWithin Wed 19-Jun-13 13:33:20

That depends upon one's field of study dreaming!

thecatfromjapan Wed 19-Jun-13 13:43:27

niminy - that is a very wise post.

I also completely agree with the point Malenky made earlier, and would like to expand upon it:

If you are setting up a workplace-as-a-process in such a way as to effectively eliminate a large slice of the population (eg. women-with-children) it is going to impact on the structural point-of-view of that workplace/orgnisation: its shape; its evolution; its ethos; and the products it produces.

Not only will this implicit exclusion colour the naturr of the research being done, what is recognised as research, who does the recognising, and so on, but as the process of exclusion continues, so the possibility of critique and change of the process of exclusion, of the organisation itself, becomes more and more limited.

I was stunned how much of a leper and a whiner I was made to feel because I was primary carer for my children and would-be academic. I couldn't get any recognition of the things I needed - and I did need them, eg. childcare - without being made to feel like someone pleading special circumstances. And, yes, like rosie, my dh's career was the "real" one - what I was trying to do was just a hobby. Unlike men I knew, who had children, but had female partners doing the bulk of the childcare - because of the greater "reality" afforded to male doings.

That last issue, of course, is a problem of the wider culture, but it impacts hugely on any woman with children.


niminypiminy Wed 19-Jun-13 13:43:56

I think you are right, thecatfromjapan about the structural bias about the ref and funding. I've sat on a number of appointments committees in the last ten years and have seen an immense ratcheting up of expectations about what young scholars have to achieve to start a career. In the last job we were appointing to having four REF-able items was a floor expectation, and we were seeing applications from people onto their second book-length project. The need to keep producing continuously in order to have a good enough track record to secure grant money is another factor that keeps people on the treadmill.

I know women who have children and really stellar academic careers. The ones that sustain that over many years, however, tend to have a supportive partner in the background. This is very, very marked with the most successful women in my field. Another factor is both partners being able to live and work locally -- so many academic couples are now commuting (one or both partners) and that makes childcare harder to manage.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Wed 19-Jun-13 13:44:27

xenia, my problem is, I don't think you're being remotely realistic.

If your average academic woman wanted to stay home with the babies and the housework, who on earth would she marry an academic man? It makes no sense whatsoever. The academic couples I know have almost invariably (the one exception is a pair of PhD students who, frankly, are nuts) struggled a lot to think about how to get PhD places together let alone jobs together. You would have to be absolutely stark staring mad to plan to do a PhD intending to find a cleverer, more successful academic man to marry.

This is why I'm finding it hard to take you seriously - you don't know the career path (as why should you, of course?), but you're happy to assume it works in a particular way. You never vary your 'advice', you just trot it out. And in this situation, it isn't remotely plausible.

If you are bothered enough about academia to do a PhD, especially if you're my age (ie., started post-recession), I'd be confident to put money on it you didn't do it hoping your career would fizzle out aged 32 because you had a baby.

I understand and respect that many people have babies and find their priorities change (but you don't take account of that).

I also understand from colleagues that they would have bloody loved to carry on with their careers - as you do when you've spent 8 years plus training to get it! - but found it was structurally discriminatory as thecat says.

I find it incredibly depressing that I was hoping this thread would get into some proper discussions of why this might be, what we can do to change it, what sort of advice people who've succeeded in getting a good balance feel. And instead you've taken it over with your vague generalizations that are thinly disguised insults. Again.

thecatfromjapan Wed 19-Jun-13 13:45:16

Sorry. I'm sure I'm babbling. It's just I am still quite bitter.

But relieved that it really wasn't just me, being a whinger. It is amazing to see other women writing about similar experiences. It is the sort of thing that is a prophylactic against despair and madness. grin

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Wed 19-Jun-13 13:46:36

You don't sound bitter.

I'm really grateful to you and others for sharing what's happened with you.

Helspopje Wed 19-Jun-13 13:47:36

not surprised that having a family curtails one's academic career. No prospect for PT, noone else stops researching just 'cause you go on mat leave and points for papers in top journals make prizes irrespective of time off for mat leave.
Am currently doing intermediate fellowship applications with a newborn and a toddler and am finding engaging brain almost impossible.
Doing an interview for a fellowship at 5d post natal (annual competition so no chance to defer) was, quite frankly, laughable.

PromQueenWithin Wed 19-Jun-13 13:59:49

Xenia, you said "I would not like to see caring activities more valued. They can be as dull as ditch water and it is sexist people who want to chain women to kitchens who suggest they are difficult or interest roles. They aren't which is why anyone can clean and those kinds of jobs are the lowest of the low in most societies."

Currently, it's women who primarily take on these roles, granted. But if not women, then whom? Men? People of both genders? But then those people would probably become a lower class, a servant class if you will. Why should they? Why should they enable this inequality by cleaning up after their (you'd say) betters any more than women should?

I am not arguing that 'women's work' should be valued as some sort of rosy 1950s ideal, I am pointing out that what is valued as 'work' is socially constructed, not objectively real. So, who says we have to perpetuate a class system of shitwork versus real work? Money is not the be all and end all of everything, the ultimate arbiter of what is or isn't worthwhile to do. I can actually feel the adrenaline pumping through my system as I write this, I feel so strongly!

Prom I guess it depends on what kind of apocalypse we get too wink

I'm a bit of an expert on small-unit warfare, that might come in handy.

PromQueenWithin Wed 19-Jun-13 14:06:01

In professional terms, I would be entirely useless whatever apocalypse it was!

However, I can grow and make things so, while this is of course utterly without value currently, I'm hoping I could be useful that way grin

You can interpret Xenia's approach into academia though. It would be: don't take a year off on maternity, get some childcare, get a cleaner, make sure your partner does an equal share, and get back in the trenches and rise up the ladder.

It's not bad advice, especially if you are thinking long term, because you are likely to eventually get to a point where you have more freedom and flexibility and the wages to provide lots of opportunities for your children (not to be materialistic, but some things do realistically cost money).

That doesn't mean that everyone will want to follow this advice, and I would never judge someone who didn't. But I think it's good for the advice to be thrown out there, as an antidote to the idea that having kids means inevitably having to sacrifice your career a lot.

Prom -- it actually is an interesting question, whether women would be more valued in society after an apocalypse. Certainly a lot of the most male dominated fields will no longer be useful, and as you say being able to grow things and source everything for the household will be pretty damn useful.

Though I guess 'Feminists: Just Wait for the Apocalypse!' isn't much of a slogan.

rubyanddiamond Wed 19-Jun-13 14:16:01

I have been reflecting a bit on the 'mistakes' I made that I think will see me leave academia, none too big by themselves, but they all add up

- I didn't choose a 'strategic' PhD topic, it was theoretically interesting but didn't lead to the sort of publications and results that really got me noticed
- I spent some time in industry, which was good for me but also slowed down my publications
- I didn't move post-PhD when I had the chance, so have really been in the same location for too long with no intention of moving now
- I married a man who has a good career of his own and wasn't willing to slow down either, although I should mention that he is completely supportive of my career and does his fair share of childcare runs etc. (someone mentioned that a lot of successful female academics have husbands who have taken a back-seat)
- I'll have 2 babies close together, my choice and I wanted this, but 2 pregnancies, births, maternity leaves will really impact my research
- ill-timed pregnancy/conference combination has made it hard to get to the important conferences
- I live in a place with no family nearby, so am reliant on paid childcare
- I found pregnancy incredibly tiring and hard work, which sadly did have an impact on work

So, in summary, I think if you really want a career in academia and kids you have to be strategic about it from the start. Pick a good subject, get some decent publications behind you, and get some experience in different locations before thinking about kids.

I realise the above sounds a bit depressing, but actually my career's in pretty good shape if I want to work anywhere but academia smile

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 14:19:58

Very interesting to hear about the experiences of other women/mothers in academia.

Xenia, with all due respect I'm not sure you're in a position to contribute much to this debate, because academia is such a specific profession, and unless you're in it or have a partner in it it's hard to understand the particular challenges. I can tell you why I gave up my (much-coveted) academic job and let my DH keep his though. We had academic posts in different countries, and while that worked for us for a number of years, it was clearly not compatible with having a family. I had a job in an underfunded department; it was a good job but not my dream job. DH on the other hand had a permanent "dream job" in a prestigious and well-funded institution. He loved his job more than I loved mine, so I gave mine up and looked for a new post close to him. I would like to think that had the situation been reversed, he would have done the same for me. Otherwise I would not want to be married to him! I hate the fact that I have joined vast numbers of academic women who have been forced for whatever reason to compromise their careers, but if I had to do it all over again, I don't think I would have chosen any differently. He has made compromises too; he would probably prefer to move back to his country of origin and work as an academic there (and he could probably find a good job there in a heartbeat, as his field is a very popular one at the moment), but I am in a very niche field (that I love) and I would be virtually unemployable in that country. So living in the UK is a compromise that both of us have made.

And yeah, I'm sure the REF is bad for women. Ugh.

TBH I have this fantastic post now, and I'm scared shitless that I won't be able to publish enough to make something of it. I'm going to do my best though. I have more paid childcare than I've ever had before, and I am trying to adopt a newly "selfish" attitude in the workplace that involves saying no to whatever I can say no to and protecting my research time at all costs.

Which doesn't explain why I am currently wasting time hanging out on MN. grin

There are some fantastic women academics at my institution though, very inspiring. You are amazing, dreaming, to have forged a path at your institution the way you have, depressing as your story about other women dropping out of PhDs is.

I am also trying to be more strategic about the research areas I choose: to move away from 'niche' topics to more mainstream ones. I want to write stuff that people in my field will actually read. For a change (ha!).

rubyanddiamond Wed 19-Jun-13 14:22:43

X-posted with dreamingbohemian

You can interpret Xenia's approach into academia though. It would be: don't take a year off on maternity, get some childcare, get a cleaner, make sure your partner does an equal share, and get back in the trenches and rise up the ladder.

I have tried to follow most (but not all) of this, but I think the things working against women in with kids in academia are much more subtle, and not always easy to see ahead of time, which is what I was trying to convey smile

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 14:26:21

Wow, X-post with ruby about strategic choices. I can tick off most of the items on your list as things I've done as well!

I agree with dreaming that keeping your foot in as much as possible post-motherhood is important. I am so grateful now that I worked part-time in academia when DC1 was small, even though the salary barely covered the cost of the part-time childcare. It was an investment in the future and now I have a decent job again. Had I taken a break from academia entirely due to motherhood, I wouldn't even have been in the mental headspace to believe in myself and keep applying for jobs.

There are no guarantees though, and it's all such bloody hard work.

smile at small-unit warfare. Are you in peace and conflict studies or something like that, dreaming?

thecatfromjapan Wed 19-Jun-13 14:32:58

I like rubyanddiamond's "strategic" outline from a pragmatic point of view BUT ...

isn't it kind of wrong that we are now reduced to dreaming of ways to contort ourselves, our dreams, our love, our imagination, our conceptuality to fit ever smaller holes and corners within a system that - damn it! - should be more human-shaped, more woman-shaped, more life-shaped - because that latter is what it excludes, frankly.


isn't this putting the onus on the individual woman to become - frankly - a bit of an instrumental sociopath in key areas of her life, rather on "the system" to change? i remember a book published a while back that suggested that, if women are to succeed, we must have only one child, and marry a husband a socio-economic class below us, who works in a very undemanding, low-prestige field. The question that that prompted was: who, really lives/loves like that?


do we want this for our daughters? 'Tis one thing demanding it of ourselves, quite another to wish it forwards for those we love and dream for ...

Mind you, as is soooo obvious, that is all very good advice, rubyand diamond, form a pragmatic point of view. And, since there really isn't going to be any glorious revolution any time soon, probably the only thing to be done.

rubyanddiamond Wed 19-Jun-13 14:39:46

I entirely agree thecatfromjapan, I don't really want to follow my own advice! I think you gain a lot from following an unconventional path. And I'm not convinced that if you sent me back 10 years with what I know now, I'd really do anything different. But from where I am now it seems that's what's needed to combine motherhood with academia.

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 14:40:34

Great post, thecatfromjapan.

In terms of who we should marry, I would definitely have a better chance of succeeding at academia if I had married someone who worked in an undemanding field, or someone who wanted to be a SAHD. But I was attracted to my DH in the first place because he was so passionate about ideas and so driven. Presumably he was attracted to me for similar reasons (though I'm sure there are moments when he would love to be married to a SAHM instead!).

I think that as feminists, we have to combine pragmatism with a long-term vision for changing the workplace.

niminypiminy Wed 19-Jun-13 14:42:02

if women are to succeed, we must have only one child, and marry a husband a socio-economic class below us, who works in a very undemanding, low-prestige field this is not too great a cariacature of successful women I know.

I also know women academics who are working full time, partners working full time in a demanding job, with two children, and trying to hold it all together -- and getting tireder and tireder, and having more and more opportunistic infections...

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 14:49:06

I also know women academics who are working full time, partners working full time in a demanding job, with two children, and trying to hold it all together -- and getting tireder and tireder, and having more and more opportunistic infections...

Do you have a hidden camera in my house, niminy? smile

The only reason I am feeling as cheerful about my life as I am right now is because it's the end of the university term, and I have a couple of precious weeks before the school holidays start. DH and I actually managed to have lunch together this week (gasp).

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 19-Jun-13 14:54:49

It seems that there is a line of thought that says if you want to be successful you must do what most men do (or perhaps what capitalism tells you you must do? But let's not bring capitalism into it - it's complicated enough ...) Bollocks to that. I say we change the fucking system. wink Be outliers if we must, but things are changing slowly, and I'm not going back. Much as I hate her legacy, "the lady's not for turning". grin

Is that ambition or not? The wrong type of ambition?

And I think things that affect women are more than childcare. I don't know what, but I'm intending to read my book on why women progress so slowly in academia at some point so I might have some understanding ...

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 14:54:54

DH and I have been to Relate this year, and one of the main things the counsellor made us realise is just how bloody difficult and demanding our lives are at the moment. She spent a lot of time complimenting us on how well we are coping. grin Obviously we are not coping THAT well or we would not have ended up at Relate, but still, it is helpful to remind myself that the stress is not just inside my head: that having two demanding jobs and two small children is inherently very challenging. We are so very time-poor.

I feel less and less guilty about things like paying for a cleaner, or having all the shopping delivered by Internet. Whatever works.

And I also know that in loads of ways I am hugely privileged, in terms of economic status and in terms of having a job that I love and want to do, and having a family that I love and want to spend time with.

Most of the time though I feel one step away from pure chaos.

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 19-Jun-13 14:59:27

An engineer (who is very high up the food chain) I met once told me that you should crank up your career when your children are babies and establish yourself, and then when they start school and need more of your feedback you can slow down. She's a woman, but not sure if it makes any difference. What do people think of this advice? I didn't take it, but then I needed to establish also a home language. But in principle this could work?

marfisa Wed 19-Jun-13 15:08:55

I don't know, if that worked for her, then it's useful advice for other women to think about.

I personally felt much more physically needed by my DC when they were babies - breastfed them around the clock and so on. They never EVER went to bed at a decent hour and I got very, very little work done. Now that DS1 is 8, for example, I feel that he is far more independent and far less demanding. DS2 is a toddler and still very demanding. So I am hoping that things will continue to get easier as they both get older (!).

Obviously this isn't the case for everyone, though, as niminy pointed out. Having a DC with SN is a challenge that I haven't had to confront. And my sense is that children continue to need you as you get older, just in different ways - you spend less time physically cuddling them and wiping their food off the floor, but more time chauffeuring them around to different activities, hosting play dates, etc.

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 19-Jun-13 15:12:44

I felt that there is much more that needed talking about now they are older. More things that are less clear cut, IFKWIM. To quote one of the Ice Age movies (the one with the dinosaur) - when they are small the morals are easier "You do NOT eat other people's children". grin But when they are older the rights and wrongs seem to be so much blurrier, if that's a word .. And now I must go and get the little darlings!

edam Wed 19-Jun-13 15:35:53

It's interesting to hear academics talking about why there are so few senior women in universities and institutes. I'm merely a hack but have worked with academics and realised how difficult it is for women to progress - and how even those that do are sometimes patronised by their colleagues.

One small example - friend of mine who was a researcher in a particular area of science at a world-class university. She also has a baby daughter. She couldn't face having to move countries ever four years or so - she's from another European country, her dh is British (and has a career that involves travel).

She's left the university and taken a job as a press officer at a research institute in the town where she lives. The press officer job does have to be a scientist, it's not a role that any old hack could walk into, but what a loss to research! Far better work-life balance - even working fulltime, there's an onsite nursery so she can go and see her dd at lunchtime and pick her up the minute she leaves work.

But why is academia squeezing out people like my friend, who is now not conducting crucial biological research, but dealing with PR in an entirely different area of science?

rubyanddiamond Wed 19-Jun-13 15:51:33

uptoapoint I think it might be good advice for some women, but I also think it's difficult to say what we should do once babies are on the scene as they all behave so differently. I found my DD hard work, and my experience of early motherhood was not easy, so I think the added pressure that I should also have been cranking up my career might have caused me to crack! But, not everyone has the same experience as I did, and for others it may well be a good time to put in more to their careers.

That's a good question edam! Most of the time I think it's somehow my fault for not being able to get on in academia, like if I'd done something differently or made different choices it'd be easier. But then other times I just want to stamp my feet and demand that the system do more to keep me because I'm brilliant(!) and it'd obviously be a big loss to have me move elsewhere ;)

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 19-Jun-13 16:10:03

ruby - yes, no one-size-fits-all, inconvenient!

edam - it is a shame.

Which brings us to an appropriate John Stuart Mill quote: "In all things of any difficulty and importance, those who can do them well are fewer than the need, even with the most unrestricted latitude of choice: and any limitation of the field of selection deprives society of some chances of being served by the competent, without ever saving it from the incompetent." From The Subjection of Women.

TunipTheVegedude Wed 19-Jun-13 16:28:16

I was an academic. DH still is.

My 3 pregnancies were difficult (hyperemesis) and I lost a lot of time and, worst of all, there was a lot of time when I wasn't off work but wasn't working at anything like full capacity due to all the sickness and it is difficult to get medical certification for that.

DH and I agreed that once my maternity leaves were over his career would take a back seat and he could catch up.
That time arrived, they were closing departments like his all over the place, his research had inevitably been affected by the children and sickness too, so we found ourselves in a position where not only was my career very uncertain, but if we risked him doing any less work than he had been doing, his could go down the tubes as well.

So I've been at home for nearly 4 years now and his is nearly back up to speed again <sigh>

It makes me laugh, when I was at school a Very Successful Woman Scientist came to speech day. She told us about how lucky she had been to successfully manage career and family (she was really lovely and actually quite subversive because the message our school wanted to give us was that we would all do everything.) She explained that she was only able to do this because her dh had already got established in his field so he really could take a back seat and do the childcare once the babies came along.
I only later found out who her dh was. He was Ernst Chain and when she said his career was established by the time they had kids, she meant he had got the Nobel Prize for the discovery of penicillin grin

edam Wed 19-Jun-13 16:34:19

Oh, I do like that JSM quote, Lord Copper.

Xenia Wed 19-Jun-13 16:49:42

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MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Wed 19-Jun-13 16:49:50


Good on Ernst Chain, then.

The strong message I get, however, is 'marry a man at least ten years older'.

edam that's exactly the sort of thing I worry about (though I think I would feel much more narked if, like your friend, I were doing something with demonstrable immediate usefulness!).

The thing is, there is a bottom line, isn't there? DH could be as lovely as possible, do everything, but he knows for absolutely certain he won't be recovering from a C section (just to take one example, obviously). So he can just plan things so much more.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Wed 19-Jun-13 16:52:08

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Xenia Wed 19-Jun-13 16:56:32

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MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Wed 19-Jun-13 16:58:01

No, xenia, it's not. HTH.

(Oh, ok, I know it's an issue but good lord. You're listening to people telling you why they felt pushed out and you still think we're all lazy sods who just wanted a rich husband? Really?)

rubyanddiamond Wed 19-Jun-13 17:00:03

So the moral is never play second fiddle to a man and your career will be fine. Lean in and it will all be yours.

Xenia I normally like hearing your point of view on threads. But I've tried following this advice and it's still not working for me! There are specific circumstances that I couldn't foresee or plan for, and things beyond my control, that are all conspiring against me. TBH, I'm beginning to feel a bit bitter that I've worked hard and never let my husband's career take precedence, yet I'm still finding obstacles in my way sad

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 19-Jun-13 17:02:39

I don't know how many people apply for jobs in general. I think in academia you get anything from 30 to 100 applicants for a permanent job. Is that high?

edam Wed 19-Jun-13 17:03:50

wow, turnip, that's quite some 'established career'!

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Wed 19-Jun-13 17:05:32

I was told the JRFs this year had far more than that. I don't know how true it is. And of course they would get high numbers because they're open to so many people. I would bloody love to be applying for something with 30 applicants but most jobs I've seen, I've known about 20 of us applying for them at the same time, so common sense tells me the total number must be high.

<moan, moan, I know ...>

TunipTheVegedude Wed 19-Jun-13 17:06:05

No Xenia, you are missing the direction of causation.

Women often choose to be the one that leans out because sexism/biology/mixture of biology and sexism (very often it's that mixture) has already led to a situation where the penalties and rewards for leaning in/out are different for men and women.
What disturbs me most about academia (and a few other careers, come to think of it), actually, isn't the women like me who gave it up, it's the ones I know who are still in there and who are leaning in but still aren't getting anything like the promotions less good men around them are getting.
Women aren't too stupid to see what they're giving up. They make pragmatic decisions by and large.

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 19-Jun-13 17:12:53

it's the ones I know who are still in there and who are leaning in but still aren't getting anything like the promotions less good men around them are getting.

This is why we should talk about more than childcare! There was another thread about retaining mid-career women. But eventually we all talk about childcare. The discussions at work also end up in childcare. But there is more to it than childcare, even though childcare is a big issue.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Wed 19-Jun-13 17:14:44


And TBH I know plenty of women who don't have children, who're getting it from the other side - they have elderly parents and it's also assumed that women do the work there.

bigkidsdidit Thu 20-Jun-13 08:25:34

Yes indeed

Women soft-pedalling their careers is a major reason why there aren't more female professors. But there are also lots and lots and lots of structural reasons. Eg unclear, shady appointment and promotion processes that means men can be groomed for promotion and the old boys club can kick in. Massive inequalities in the number of conferences female academics are invited to speak at vs their male peers. It has even been shown that female applicants for grants need more papers to beat a man.

bigkidsdidit Thu 20-Jun-13 08:27:07

Oh posted too soon

I meant to add that mrd my mum, who is a big boss, says that now she has flexible working / part time requests continually from both the young women, who have children, and he older women, who are caring for parents. The men appear to be getting away without doing either angry

Hi all, just returning to read yesterday's posts -- really interesting stuff!

I thought ruby's strategic discussion was very interesting. IME I think young academics, particularly phd students, would benefit from more strategic guidance early on -- especially women, given the impact of having children.

I'm not sure being strategic means you always have to make decisions you don't like, but it means at least being able to 'sell' things well for the purpose of getting a job later. marfisa gave a good example earlier... for myself, I had DC during my phd, not after, so that I could sort of 'hide' that time off within my studies.

But I agree there is a limit to strategy. You can do everything right and still get nowhere, and other people manage to fall ass backwards into great posts.

Which leads to a *question I have for you all*: in your fields, how much is advancement determined by networking and 'who you know'?

Because it's an extremely important factor in my field, and I think this is another area where women can be disadvantaged. If you have a family you may not have time to do all the extra meetings and socialising, and even then it can be very much an old boys club.

Just wondering how we can grapple with this, because I don't really see it changing anytime soon.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Thu 20-Jun-13 09:09:20

I think it's important in my field. I am lucky my first supervisor was very, very keen to promote networks of women, because she was very conscious of her own past issues with the old boys' network. And she was sufficiently far on in her career to do that with some impact.

Unfortunately it also works the other way - what's not that uncommon IME is to find you're edged out of the men's club, not always consciously but just because somehow, oddly enough, the most promising bright young thing who reminds all the professors of themselves at that age ... always happens to be male ...

<rolls eyes>

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Thu 20-Jun-13 09:09:50

*NB, my snarky comment there is about a pretty specific and odd group of people in my field. They're important but they are dinosaurs so it should change.

Xenia Thu 20-Jun-13 09:14:22

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bigkidsdidit Thu 20-Jun-13 09:18:00

Hugely important in my field. I am doing quite well and it is entirely owing to my PhD supervisor, who pushed her students into presenting at conferences, introduced us to big wigs and gave excellent career advice. She is still my mentor.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Thu 20-Jun-13 09:21:46

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MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Thu 20-Jun-13 09:22:11

big your supervisor sounds lovely.

rubyanddiamond Thu 20-Jun-13 09:34:00

dreamingbohemian who I know is hugely important, which is why I wrote earlier that one of the little things holding me back at the moment is not having been able to attend recent conferences. Luckily, the work I put in pre-kids means I do have some good contacts who haven't forgotten about me, and my colleagues will always put in a good word in my absence smile

But see, I fully agree with Xenia that there is a problem of structural sexism within marriage. Absolutely agree. All you have to do is read the threads on here. Look at how many women sacrifice their careers, how many women do all the night wakings, how many women rely on their husbands for allowances, etc and so on.

I don't think it's as simple as solving this problem and then workplace inequalities go away. But I do think that you cannot solve workplace inequalities without also tackling sexism at the personal level.

I think the aim should be to confront sexism at every level -- personal and professional.

We may differ in how we go about that, but I don't really think our aims are that different.

UptoapointLordCopper Thu 20-Jun-13 09:40:50

There was a paper I linked to earlier somewhere which shows that if you have two identical CVs, one with a man's name and one with a woman's name on, the one with the man's name on will get a better evaluation than the one with a woman's name on. And that's evaluation from both men and women. (This was also talked about in Cordelia Fine's book.) In the New Scientist there was an article about how professional men and women showing emotions are perceived differently, by both men and women. (No prize for guessing how they are evaluated.) What is going on there? It seems to say that just saying "you just need to do this and that and not be a big girl's blouse" is not quite enough, despite some people with one-tracked minds thinking it's quite so straightforward because they've done it themselves.

UptoapointLordCopper Thu 20-Jun-13 09:43:42

My aim is not to become a professor by the time I'm 50, unless they bloody change what it means to be a professor. I will not sacrifice my research time for paper work or to attend meetings after meetings. If progressing up the ladder means I get less time to do what I like I'll stay where I get to do that. In fact I'm such a minority that I can single-handedly bugger their statistics. wink

UptoapointLordCopper Thu 20-Jun-13 09:45:34

What I mean is that many of us have equality at home, and are happy with our career choices, and are bloody good at our jobs, and are happy with our children. Yet we are somehow letting the side down, not being "successful". Why is that? I for one am not playing this game.

UptoapointLordCopper Thu 20-Jun-13 09:46:22

Too many posts. blush Must work now or my publication rate will suffer. grin

WoTmania Thu 20-Jun-13 09:48:50

Bigkids - thanks for anwering my Q (someone else did too, so thank you as well)
The friends I mentioned can be quite scathing and/or dimissive of women who worry about it or info on the subject. They seem to think they'll be okay because they'll do it all later. I wondered how feasible this is.

PromQueenWithin Thu 20-Jun-13 09:52:09

It seems to say that just saying "you just need to do this and that and not be a big girl's blouse" is not quite enough...

In fact, as I recall from Delusions of Gender, this advice may actually create additional barriers for women, as behaviour that is regarded as ambitious and good leadership qualities for men can serve to hold women back because they're seen as aggressive and poor people managers.

yes Prom, and that goes back as well to what I was saying about how it can be less about what you do and more about who you know and your personal relationships. Interesting to see others agree, thank you for answering.

I really think changing the interpersonal stuff will be a long haul, but I do think it will change eventually. I mean, I had professors asking me if I was still going to finish my phd, just because I got married! No one my age would be that stupid.

rubyanddiamond Thu 20-Jun-13 09:58:13

I also mostly agree with Xenia in general about sexism within marriage and women stepping back when they have kids being two causes of inequality in the workplace. In fact, some of her posts on the subject have made me think more about what gender roles was taking for granted and to try and push back harder against these.

But, I don't think they're by any means the only things holding women back, and academia has its own set of structural inequalities that plenty of us on this thread have encountered. By and large, the women I know (or have read interviews with) who are doing well in academia seem to have far more equal marriages than those in other careers. So on this particular thread, I think suggesting that sexism at home as the key issue is missing the point.

TunipTheVegedude Thu 20-Jun-13 10:04:38

'I had professors asking me if I was still going to finish my phd, just because I got married! No one my age would be that stupid.'

Contrast this, when I was finishing my PhD. A one year lectureship came up in my department which went to a recently-completing PhD student (male) who happened to be just about to get married.
After the interviews I overheard one of the older academics in the dept commenting that it was nice that it had gone to that applicant because he would need the money now he was getting married. (I have no evidence that it influenced the decision.)
The irony was, the woman he was marrying had a good job in a City bank and was already earning many times more than an academic ever would!

Networking is really important in my field, and I never get to do any. DH does and it makes a huge difference. For example, he's always getting invited to do stuff by people in his network. So then his university are delighted that he's been invited to talk at X, to write something, to chair a session at C, etc. I get to stay at home while he does this, which means that he further builds his networks and mine dwindle further.

It also helps with peer review. DH's papers always seem to go out to review to his own (very much 'old boys') network and they never reject each others' work. They always ask for revisions, but it comes back 'accept with...'. He then gets the other 'old boys' work to review and it further reinforces the whole system. My work goes out to strangers and has a much tougher time in review (because the people reviewing it don't think 'oh, well X will get my next paper, so I don't want to be an arse'), despite there being no difference in quality.

Recently I've noticed that there are quite a few men in the discipline who've been promoted ridiculously fast. Professor by 34 type situations. It is only men though, all the women who finished their PhDs at the same time seem to have left academia, are still in fixed-term limbo or the lucky ones are junior lecturers. Again, it doesn't seem to be based on the relative quality of their work (although the men are generally more prolific, but in the 12 papers saying more or less the same thing kind of way).

To be honest, maternity leave, an extremely difficult breastfed baby who wouldn't take milk in any other form, even at nursery when I went back to work (or tried to), some health issues and an utterly ridiculous workload have pretty much done for my career. Whereas DH's career is going from strength to strength (and the bugger moans about a workload that is less than half what i have and full of phantom tasks that are assigned loads of hours to give him extra research time). He doesn't work harder than me, and his research isn't 'better'; he just gets some time to do it and his ever growing networks help everything along.

DH's attitude is also a problem though (but he thinks he's brilliant). He had a lot help from me during his PhD and trying to get a job afterwards, without which he'd have got nowhere (I had to teach him how to write because his thesis and papers were genuinely incomprehensible, and had to heavily edit all his early papers). In contrast, he's had a quick glance through one draft of a paper I've written and nothing more. He's always 'busy'. And his work always comes first. The big problem is that as our career trajectories diverge it becomes increasingly difficult to fight against his career becoming the main focus and mine the sideshow.

badguider Thu 20-Jun-13 10:16:52

While I agree that it's very important for there to be equal roles in a household, and reject sexism assumptions at home regarding who does what, I do NOT agree that wanting to see your children at some point in their waking hours is 'domestic drudgery'.
Rather than arguing that women should be out of the house as long and work as many evening and weekends as their male counterparts do, I would rather argue that BOTH sexes should work less. Otherwise it becomes a race to the bottom and although this is academia and not corporate drudgery it is still selling your soul to 'the man'.
Academia (maybe not all departments, but the ones I know) are a bugger for expecting 60+ hours of work a week at least, it's not 'weak' or 'female' to want to eat at home sometimes or have a weekend off whether you have children or not!

[p.s. I am not 'an academic', I am a freelancer who teaches one MSc course a year at an RG uni so I am close to the issue but not inside it].

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Thu 20-Jun-13 10:17:15

It seems to say that just saying "you just need to do this and that and not be a big girl's blouse" is not quite enough...



On the subject of PhD/wedding, my supervisor came to my wedding at the end of my first year, and her advice on the subject ranged from telling me not to let it distract me from my first international conference the month before, to telling me that when she got divorced, the first thing she did was race to her publishers to get her ex-DH's name off the cover of her book - so I needed to think about that if changing my name! She also told me her dad had had to give her a stiff shot in order to get her down the aisle the first time, mind. grin

She then spent the entire wedding networking amongst my mates who were PhDs and telling everyone she was proud of me, bless her. This was a marked contrast to my dear dad, who said in his speech I was very lucky to be working in a library and he could see it was a great privilege for me. hmm grin

It sounds funny looking back but at the time it made a huge difference to me to know that someone was supportive of my academic work and my normal life. I know people whose supervisors took the attitude that they should never hear about anything personal, so they were giving students advice they thought was impartial 'academic' advice, but it was completely unsuited to what the students were doing (and probably not that impartial anyway, probably based on what that academic did when s/he was a grad).

Arbitrary -- you don't have to answer this, but: what would happen if you told your DH: right, you've had a good chunk of time to advance your career, now it's my turn. I need more time to do the kind of networking necessary and keep up with my workload, and I think that's only fair.

What would he say?

Tbh I would be seriously hacked off in your position. It's absolutely not fair.

AutumnMadness Thu 20-Jun-13 12:48:41

Networking is hugely important in academia. I would bet this is the case in any field. Networking and mentoring. It gives you an extra push, it introduces you to the key people, it teaches you to speak and write in the "right" way, it helps you find your place inside the field, it gradually guilds your confidence. My supervisor did not give a shit about my thesis, but he did include me into all sorts of events in his field and introduced me to bigwigs. If only I followed in his path and did his type of research, I'd probably be rolling in publications by now. But we don't search for easy solutions, do we?

xenia so women are now responsible for gender roles in the homes, eh? I do buy the theory that women generally should look carefully at who they are hitching up with before it happens, but life is a long and complicated matter. Things and attitudes change. And generally, upon discovering that one's husband is a sexist pig, getting divorced, halving your income and becoming a single parent is not more conducive to one's publication record that staying with the said sexist pig. Let's be real. And I have an issue with the sexist assumption that it is the woman who is solely responsible for the equitable division of labour in a family. I find the notion that a woman can single-handedly change millenia of social conditioning that his her family, her male partner, and herself by refusing to wash his socks unrealistic.

AutumnMadness Thu 20-Jun-13 12:51:56

dreamingbohemian, can I answer, please? He'd say "of course, darling, you are right, you have a go now". But then Arbitrary would still come home to piles of dishes. That's because for many (most?) men, whatever views they espouse publicly, housework and childcare is wifework deep inside.

TunipTheVegedude Thu 20-Jun-13 13:07:41

ArbitraryUsername, that sounds dreadful.

Yes, networking is hugely important. I wouldn't mind so much only there is a myth of objectivity in a lot of areas, like grant applications and publishing, when really people are not objective in the least and despite it being officially anonymous you know damn well who wrote the paper.

The thing I dislike about academia, now I'm out of it, is that they believe they are so damn saintly. It is full of sexist blokes who, because they are broadly left-leaning, genuinely believe they are far less sexist than anyone in any career ever and hence if you dare draw attention to it you will be squashed like a mosquito.

(I must admit, I'm ecstatic to have escaped. It was such a headfuck.)

Xenia Thu 20-Jun-13 13:11:09

So what is so special about women ilke I am who manage to achieve non sexist marriages? Why don't women say - on your bike mate on the very first date he expects you to cook for him or iron his shirt? Were they brought up in an atmosphere of subservience that they will then ensure in their marriage they do as men say? Do they feel so privileged that a man has deigned to commit to them that they accept that second lower status in the union?

of course I don't blame women but in life we need to take responsibility not just moan or say we are entitled to work 2 hours a day and still be a leader in our field. Just about anyone who had worked for 30 years as I have without maternity leaves and pretty hard can do well. I am nothing special. however plenty of men and women cannot be bothered to work very hard or seize the first chance to be supported by a spouse and not do so much work. Or they just aren't very bothered about being successful and it is a huge pity it is women who get saddled with this lower status.

The question dreaming asked Arb is the nub of it - what would have happened if you women with sexist men say - hang on mate - I've done my bit now it's yours. Plenty of us do that - my husband moved for my job, not vice versa. before we married he said if nannies did not work out he would deal with the children (in fact they did work out so we both worked full time). Is the different because some women marry up, better, cleverer men who will do better who are older than they are because they want that higher status men and so they always play second fiddle to the man and wehre they do not or they marry equally and neither is sexist it works fine? In other words is it their greed for the money and status of the better man which means women are kept down?

You may be right autumn

And it's a good point too, that often the inequality can sneak up on you. I think actually for a lot of couples, it doesn't really come out until children arrive.

TunipTheVegedude Thu 20-Jun-13 13:17:27

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AutumnMadness Thu 20-Jun-13 13:17:34

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rubyanddiamond Thu 20-Jun-13 14:00:35

Xenia I think what's special about you is a specific set of circumstances that have worked in your favour as well as a lot of hard work and dedication on your part. I think a lot of people put in the work, but don't also have the circumstances that work for them, and end up not being as successful as they could.

There's a lot of talk at the moment about why women can't get ahead in science. I used to think that because I'd managed to get ahead in science, that there was no reason for other women not to. Now, I'm older and wiser, and think that there were many reasons beyond my control that, together with a lot of hard work, helped me get to where I am.

PromQueenWithin Thu 20-Jun-13 14:11:41

Xenia if you care to think for a moment, the model you are suggesting all women (and men, I assume) adopt would make our society collapse! And no, before you assume that I mean to patronise women by patting them on the head for doing all the invisible shitwork to keep everything going. NO! That's not what I am saying at all.

Do you even realise how very elitist you are? All you propose is the replacement of one oppressor / oppressed relationship with a different one.

I have to say, even though sometimes I agree with you Xenia, your posts are almost perfect representations of the fundamental attribution error (wiki)

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Thu 20-Jun-13 15:02:42

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I really don't think it's about sitting back and congratulating yourself about having produced a 'non-sexist marriage' while blaming everyone else who doesn't have one.

If I were to say to DH that I want my career to come first, he'd say that we can both do it. No problem. But we can't. Working ourselves silly and tag team parenting is not a great life. Problem is he genuinely believes that he is being supportive (and he isn't terrible); it's just he gets very obsessed in his own work and forgets everything else.

There are all sorts of other circumstances that coalesce to make it much harder in my career than his. I have to commute a long at for work, which means that I use up my time away from the home on the drudge work of academia. I do actually like spending time with my children, and would like to see them.

My workload is utterly ludicrous so I have neither the time nor energy to do anything other than what the university immediately demand of me (and even then I can't do it all because I literally cannot be in two places at once, even though the university sometimes expects me to be). My university is incredibly stingy with travel and conference finding (and DH's is generous), so I would have to draw upon family money to pay for conferences (this particularly annoys me since they use something they give me neither time nor money to do as a way of monitoring my 'performance').

I have health issues too, that aren't going to go away. The university are actually supposed to adjust my workload, but since no one seems to care than I'm more than 1000 hours over what it should be a year anyway I don't see them reducing it further. This is a real issue and it makes it very difficult not to just let DH's career come first, because I can't actually rely on my health (although it would be much better with a sane workload).

PromQueenWithin Thu 20-Jun-13 20:03:27

1000 hours over what it should be a year shock

Quite a bit more than 1000 hours too.

UptoapointLordCopper Fri 21-Jun-13 07:39:31

1000 hours! shock

Your department needs a workload model. grin Athena SWAN is big on that ...

TunipTheVegedude Fri 21-Jun-13 08:40:48

Workload models are something else they do to claim objectivity and then fiddle though, aren't they? I've heard of plenty of cases where the amount of work ascribed to each task depends more on the influence of the person who does it than how long it actually takes.

UptoapointLordCopper Fri 21-Jun-13 08:42:39

We publish everything so everyone sees what everyone does. In principle anyway. I'm sure there are invisible tasks...

Ours are all secret. hmm

My ludicrous workload comes from the standardised categories in the model, pretty much. It was already so laughably enormous on teaching and admin tasks alone that the categories where you get to assign timings to tasks yourself are pretty much empty. However, I have plenty of those tasks too. They automatically put in research time but you can get more. However, it's utterly moot when the basic teaching and admin tasks you've got (even when leaving some courses out) add up to more than your entire workload should.

UptoapointLordCopper Fri 21-Jun-13 11:21:00

Secret workload model. hmm Not everyone agrees that ours is fair but at least it's open to debate, which perhaps is the best that can be done. It sounds really tough arbitrary. Is your department going for any of this Athena SWAN or other good practice initiatives?

Not as far as I know. But we're not STEM. Tbh, I'm going to have a meeting with my line manager in which I strip out everything possible to bring me in at what it's supposed to be. The management can worry about covering everything else.

bigkidsdidit Fri 21-Jun-13 12:06:01

Ours are all public too - it was found that male professors were doing hardly any teaching and it was all being picked up by the women, so now everyhing is much more transparent. It is such a shame there is no Athena swan for the humanities

I suspect that the male professors (and they are overwhelmingly male) that aren't pulling their weight teaching-wise. Another problem is that several of them use their grant money to buy out heir teaching. But you don't get another lecturer to replace them. No. You get a postgrad who will run a sort of workshop so long as you provide all the materials for them (seriously, I have to make all the student prep materials, put them on the VLE, provide them with power points and activities for the class and brief them on it, etc). So you end up with extra teaching and it's in someone else's workload model. I am not accepting any buy out on my modules in future. If I'm not getting an actual lecturer, then I'm claiming the hours myself and I'll bloody teach the classes myself. The problem is though, the professors all need the hours they're buying out on their workload and they're more powerful than me.

NicknameTaken Fri 21-Jun-13 13:18:06

The thing I dislike about academia, now I'm out of it, is that they believe they are so damn saintly. It is full of sexist blokes who, because they are broadly left-leaning, genuinely believe they are far less sexist than anyone in any career ever and hence if you dare draw attention to it you will be squashed like a mosquito.

Yyyyy to this. This, for me, turned out to be the real headfuck.

I'm not a fully-fledged academic - doing a pt PhD, working in university admin, doing some teaching. Was in a tiny academic centre, not enough staff to accompany students on field trip, so I volunteered to go though it wasn't not part of my job description (I did have the necessary subject & regional knowledge). Was later told I wasn't needed, fine. A male colleague who did have it as part of his description pulled out at the last minute for no good reason - didn't want to do it.

Which of us was reprimanded by the centre director? Why, me, of course. He said he decided not to send me due to my lack of enthusiasm. Although I'd volunteered. He put the enthusiasm down to having a child. Understandable, of course, but counted against me in perpetuity. And not a word breathed against the male colleague who didn't go, who just happened to have worked with the director for years in a previous year (major, major issues with nepotism in recruitment).

Just one minor anecdote, nothing to compare with the serious structural issues you're all identifying. But it still makes me rage against the injustice of it. It was symptomatic of my treatment by an individual who considers himself a leading expert in ethics and equality. I would genuinely prefer if he was an unrepentent old sexist rather than someone who urged students on the merits of critical self-reflection while managing to be completely and utterly blind to all forms of male privilege.

NicknameTaken Fri 21-Jun-13 13:19:12

Stupid typos.

The worst thing is, the same kind of behaviour is also found in some female university professors.

PromQueenWithin Fri 21-Jun-13 14:30:19

It is full of sexist blokes who, because they are broadly left-leaning, genuinely believe they are far less sexist than anyone in any career ever and hence if you dare draw attention to it you will be squashed

<lowers limo window>


<grins rakishly and rolls up window>

<is in silly mood>

NicknameTaken Fri 21-Jun-13 14:38:35

<titters inanely and gazes longingly at Prom's departing wake>

Xenia Fri 21-Jun-13 16:13:13

I still think if women insist their partner play a full equal role (I was married for 19 years) it is the secret. Huge numbers of very successful women mention this as the key. if you take on the wife work more fool you. Perhaps girls need assertiveness and feminism training and men a kick up the bottom at home. If the man does not do the domestic task which is his - my children's father did 100% of the washing at one stage for example, not help me, did all of it as plenty of other fathers do, you just don't do it for that person. Don't enable the sexism at home.

It may for a very short period when the chidlren are under 5 very hard work for both to work full time but it's dead easy once children get a bit bigger and you had 30 years of high paid working life to come so worth the few hard years.

rubyanddiamond Fri 21-Jun-13 19:21:15

Xenia I don't disagree with you that huge numbers of successful women cite an equal marriage as key to success. I tend to think of it something like this. Suppose there are 100 ambitious women who, in an ideal world, are destined for success. Split them into 3 categories:

- 10 don't get married, and maybe 5 of these succeed in their ambition
- 30 get married and manage to maintain an equal partnership without stepping back, 15 of whom make it to the top
- the remaining 60 get married and find themselves in an unequal marriage, step back when they have kids etc, very few will succeed, maybe 2-3

Those women who have an unequal marriage will almost certainly struggle to get on. Convincing those 60 women not to stand for sexism will obviously have a huge impact on the success of women in general, and so I think your message is definitely important.

Of the women who do succeed, a large number will cite an equal partnership as a key factor in their success simply by virtue of the numbers.

But what about the remaining 20 women, who have an equal marriage (or none)? Do you have any insight into reasons why they might not succeed in their ambitions?

It seems to me that you can only make it to the top if you have an equal partnership, but having an equal partnership is no guarantee that you will. Though I'd bet that if you took a comparable group of 100 ambitious men, many more than 50% of them would succeed. So there are other structural biases, some of which are specific to academia, that come into play.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 21-Jun-13 21:23:17

>It may for a very short period when the chidlren are under 5 very hard work for both to work full time but it's dead easy once children get a bit bigger

I think someone already mentioned that they found what I did - both working ft was fine when the children were under 5 but actually became harder/impossible at schoolage - the school day is short and there's the school run to deal with. Academics - at the ages when they have small kids - generally aren't on the sort of wage which allows for wraparound child care of schoolage kids, and they generally will have left their hometown and not have a supply of helpful grandparents/relatives to fill the gap. 'Dead easy' may have been your experience, xenia, in whatever field it is you work in but I doubt it applies to many academics (and many others)

Childcare will be harder for us once DS2 goes to school. We don't have any family within 100 miles of us and finding decent after school care with spaces is tough. The worst bit is going to be the part-time easing in to reception nonsense in September. He's been in FT nursery for years; the school day is going to seem short to him as it is.

It's easy to sit there and say 'I did it, so you should be able to too', but other people have different circumstances to deal with.

Xenia Sat 22-Jun-13 10:36:25

So we are saying because academia is so utterly badly paid you cannot even afford a live in au pair at £60 a week or 3 hours after school care at £10 a hour in the week and because these women are in very unequal marriages where the man insists if anyone collects children from school it must be the woman that is why these women find it hard and because they married men who earned very little too?

There are university holidays. I would have thought that academics do have a bit more holiday than most of us who work in the City etc. Are we saying it is low pay plus a sexist and low paid husband is the reason that female academics find full time work once children are at full time school is hard?

UptoapointLordCopper Sat 22-Jun-13 10:42:22

university holidays shock shock

UptoapointLordCopper Sat 22-Jun-13 10:43:42

Someone else explain please. We are going out to play.

bigkidsdidit Sat 22-Jun-13 10:47:43


Xenia - I am employed by the medical research council to do research. Not by the university. We do not get holidays off!

No more from me as I am beginning to suspect I may on fact be in labour shock at bloody last

Trills Sat 22-Jun-13 10:48:49

Academics do not take 3 months off in the summer.

If you are an academic you don't just teach at a university - you do your own research too. You will either be on fixed-term contracts or seeking your own funding, and you won't get another contract or more funding unless you produce the right output.

The hours may be flexible but most people I know who work in academic research work more hours in total and take fewer holidays and are more likely to work at weekends than everyone else.

To have an au pair, one would have to have a spare room.

DH and I can afford wrap around care, but there are several issues involved in finding decent after school care round here that is not entirely full. One of the after school clubs is dangerously bad (real safeguarding issues) and the others are very hard to get places in. There isn't much choice in the way of childminders either. This is what will make it tricky for us.

The student holidays at university do not in any way reflect the staff holiday entitlement. We've got the same kind of AL as you Xenia. Except that most academics never take their AL because they're too busy writing grant applications or papers that they don't get time to do when they're officially a work, or marking 100s of exam scripts over chistmas/new year. Or they drag their family on fieldwork 'holidays'. Or you have to go to bloody conferences, which cost a fortune (and the university doesn't pay). Not doing all of the above kills off your promotion prospects very rapidly, and usually sees you ever more loaded with teaching and admin responsibilities (to free up research time for those who have done all hose things).

Xenia Sat 22-Jun-13 11:01:45

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TunipTheVegedude Sat 22-Jun-13 11:08:57

Is Xenia reminding anyone else of Marie Antoinette?

rubyanddiamond Sat 22-Jun-13 11:15:56

So we are saying because academia is so utterly badly paid you cannot even afford a live in au pair at £60 a week or 3 hours after school care at £10 a hour in the week

According to a quick google, research council PhD stipends in the UK are £13,726 pa (tax free), which is a good guess as to what the average PhD student lives on. The average postdoc salary in in the range £23,475 - £35,254. So, with a PhD and 2x2 year postdocs, you will get to around 30 years of age on a salary that's not great, probably have no savings because you'll have had some period of self-funding and had to cover early years childcare and other expenses such as travel that you didn't get university funding for. Plus the best universities tend to be in expensive cities so your salary doesn't go as far as it might if you had freedom over where you live.

So yes, a live-in au pair or £150 a week on wrap around care can be hard to cover.

and because these women are in very unequal marriages where the man insists if anyone collects children from school it must be the woman

Not necessarily, most academic couples I know share duties. e.g. my DH and I split pick-up and drop-off, although our DD is only 2 so is at nursery all day long and we don't have to deal with early school finishes. This week, in fact, the nursery rang to say that DD was ill. I had a meeting scheduled so DH took the afternoon off. Even so, having to deal with half of the childcare stuff can be a hinderance (but I think academia offers a lot of flexibility to deal with this - one thing in its favour!)

that is why these women find it hard and because they married men who earned very little too?

I think this is a big problem for female academics, who often marry male academics. Male academics are often married to women who are prepared to stay home and do the domestic stuff.

badguider Sat 22-Jun-13 11:16:04

I repeat, wanting to see your own children sometimes is NOT the definition of a sexist marriage!

Xenia: it's very easy to sit smugly and blame everyone for not being ale to afford a nanny (and we certainly cannot) or for needing to sleep! In fact, I'd say your attitude actually makes it harder for everyone.

TunipTheVegedude Sat 22-Jun-13 11:22:33

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AutumnMadness Sat 22-Jun-13 11:26:05

University holidays? Live-in au pair? What's next? Let them eat cake? (at least cake is realistic) I rest my case.

rubyanddiamond Sat 22-Jun-13 11:33:11

Isn't it just that only 20% of people male or female have the XX factor and want to lean in and work hard and the other 80% just are not prepared to put in what it takes

I think this may well be true. But I also think that while most of those 20% of men will make it, nowhere near the 20% of women with the XX factor will succeed. And I think there are more subtle reasons than just an unequal marriage.

rubyanddiamond Sat 22-Jun-13 11:36:02

Oops, posted too early! I'd go as far as to say that an equal marriage is more important for academic success than in a city job, as salaries and other factors mean that you can't afford to just outsource the domestic/childcare chores.

Xenia Sat 22-Jun-13 11:38:26

So why do these very very bright women pick jobs which are paid about the same as acall centre person on the minimum wage? It defies belief.
Also very sexist to say those of us who work full time do not see our chidlren. Many full time working fathers and mothers rush home at 6 or 7 every night and devote hours to chidlren. That is still seeing your children.

I did not say nanny. I said 3 hours after school 3 - 6 and £10 an hour.

let us say the two full time working academics are on £30k each, i.e. 60k. That's £23k net each. Let us assume the after school person is paid £30 for 3 hours x 5 days = £150 and ignore the school holidays for now. So that is = £7800 a year divided by two as men and women in equal marriages pay half childcare that is £3900 a year each - not a massive high price to pay to keep a career going full time surely? And once the children are 13 or 14 they will not need that care. Or use the live in au pair option if children will share rooms (as mine do) to free up a room for an au pair.

Anyway I enable and help women solve problems. If people don't want my advice that's fine. I like action, not moaning.

JacqueslePeacock Sat 22-Jun-13 11:46:34

Xenia, although I disagree with you on many things, I normally have a lot of time for your posts. But now I just think you are clueless about academia. First, as many people have pointed out, we don't have any better holiday entitlement than anyone else - certainly nothing like university students' holidays or schoolteachers' holidays. In fact, I don't know any academics who take anywhere near their full leave entitlement anyway. Like you, I take around 2 weeks a year (and my head of department has been known to raise an eyebrow at even that).

Second, no! We can't afford an au pair! We can't even afford a house which would have enough space for an au pair. Academic salaries are VERY LOW by comparison with other similar jobs with a similar length training period (8-10 years). I think most academics do it for love.

Both DH and I are FT academics with a small child. It is bloody hard. I work a 40hr week officially, plus an extra 3 hours every evening and around another 5 hours at weekends - so that's about a 66hr week. I also have a 4hr daily commute. DH does the same (though without the commute). I really resent being called lazy. We have an equal partnership and as a result we are both struggling, but I think I am struggling more. I can see deeply entrenched sexism in my department in many ways - through the secret workload model, higher pay for male colleagues, more random admin dumped on the women... Having an equal marriage dies not make up for all this structural inequality at work.

JacqueslePeacock Sat 22-Jun-13 11:49:25

Because the job is (or at least aspects of it are, or should be) fantastic. I think most academics do it out of real love for their subject area, and sod the low wages. Unfortunately, the system seems to suck that love out of it for quite a significant number - and probably mostly women.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 11:56:14

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MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 11:57:02

And if you dislike moaning so much, why have you insisted on bringing down this thread with it?

TunipTheVegedude Sat 22-Jun-13 12:01:14

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MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 12:06:08

I know.

I didn't see your post, and I don't know how much I care about motivations or whatever - I just feel upset that apparently I cannot start a thread, which has got lots of brilliant women sharing helpful advice and making each other feel better, without it being derailed by the same out deliberately woman-blaming shit.

JacqueslePeacock Sat 22-Jun-13 12:09:18

MRD, this is a great thread. Thank you.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 12:13:02

Thank you. smile

I wasn't fishing - I just feel I get a lot of support from MN and I love being able to chat to people, and it is a pity to see it ruined by someone coming and derailing the discussiong with what boils down to 'ha ha, you're all lazy, moaning poor people lol'.

Xenia Sat 22-Jun-13 12:44:31

Apparently I do help a lot of people and am their role model. If academia pays enough great. If it doesn't do something else.

I provide solutions - like childcare options rather than patting on back isn't life hard cosy mummy love ins. Part of the solution i equal marriage and never putting your career on a back burner and letting husbands' careers prevail.

I can always be ignored. If no one replied to my posts then they could carry on their own conversation.

JulieMumsnet (MNHQ) Sat 22-Jun-13 12:48:43


We'd just like to remind you of our talk guidelines.

Many thanks,


MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 12:53:10

It is very hard to ignore constant personal attacks, xenia. I don't see why we should, either.

If you are someone's role model, that's lovely and I'm sure it's a very nic feeling. But right now, here, what you are doing is systematically attacking people.

You're not providing solutions, because you don't know anything about academia or work/life balances. That is fine: not everyone has to be well informed about everything. But it is really rude to keep on derailing threads just in order to pat yourself on the back when you've successfully made other people feel bad.

TunipTheVegedude Sat 22-Jun-13 13:24:12

I'm sure you have a lot of useful advice for women on managing careers in the law, Xenia, and possibly other city-type careers where the challenges and rewards are similar.
Academia, not so much.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sat 22-Jun-13 13:46:31

Anyway, getting back to the subject ... I was interested in what arbitrary said about teaching and who does it.

I always feel awkward about teaching as a PhD student, because I know it's seen as farming it out to someone who isn't qualified. I like teaching, but I do get that it's not going to be the same as having the lecturer doing it. So it's interesting to hear that there still seem to be gendered divisions later on. How do people just 'get out' of teaching?

Well I don't have a problem with postgrads teaching. It's important that they can get teaching experience (and earn some more money). What I object to is being given a postgrad tutor in place of a lecturer. It just gives me additional work.

Fine, if I've got a team of postgrads who'll be taking all the tutorials for a large UG class; I'll make them a teaching pack and have a briefing meeting because I really don't want to take 10 tutorial groups every week. But not 'oh Prof X has bought himself out. Here, have a postgrad we're paying at tutor rate instead of an actual lecturer for his classes'. That is the management team trying to cheap out.

And, of course, Prof X won't be producing the materials and briefing the tutor because that would defeat the point of buying himself out. So it falls to all the (female) junior staff to take on the work with no acknowledgement in our workloads.

And that eats into the time we could be using applying for grant money with which to buy ourselves out from teaching. (Although that would just displace rather than solve the problem).

UptoapointLordCopper Sat 22-Jun-13 19:58:00

I'm going to do one last post and leave this thread. I can't be done with hectoring (poor old Hector! What did he ever do apart from having his body dragged about Troy or something like that?) You'd think discussions are a two-way thing.

I love my job - I like doing research, I like teaching postgraduates, and sometimes I even like teaching undergraduates. I like not having a set agenda for my research. I like doing things no one else has done before. The thrill of the chase, if you like. Makes you feel alive, that kind of thing. I like not having orders to follow most of the time. (Maybe I'm lucky with my department.) I like the flexibility (up to a point, of course. Can't quite not turn up to give lectures ...) and being able to do things in my own time. (Maybe I am very very lucky.)

I like my colleagues - I like being surrounded by my intellectual equals. And people who listen and understand even when they don't agree (perhaps I'm lucky with my colleagues). People who can follow your argument rather than take the repeat-enough-times-and-it-becomes-true approach or the talk-louder-than-you-so-I-win approach or the fingers-in-ears approach.

So bye for now. It's interesting to hear about other experiences in other universities. Best of luck to everyone!

kim147 Sat 22-Jun-13 20:14:30

I've only ever worked in research for a year - doing medical research. Looking back, it was not a "family friendly" career then - lots of breakfast clubs, meetings / seminars after work and experiments that you knew would finish late. If you were not there, it was looked on badly.

I can't remember any women with children working there. In our team, it was headed by a woman who I don't think wanted children. We had several PhD students and a post doctoral female scientist.

I hope things have changed since then - I do know there is a push to help women get back into science after a career gap.

DrDolittle Sat 22-Jun-13 20:34:11

I have just read the original article, and to be honest, I have seen what it is describing first hand. At 35, I am lucky enough to be a Reader in a hard-science at a Russell Group university and I am a man. Most of my peers who are women - the people I did a PhD with - either dropped out of academia, or are still postdocs (10 years!). If they happen to be lucky enough to have an academic job, they are part-time (looking after children) suffering discrimination by a largely male management, often with such a huge teaching and administration load, they wonder why they ever wanted to be an academic.

Some examples:
One of my peers (at another institute) has no fewer than 100 students she must give tutorials to each week, plus three lecture courses per semester. She works a 90+ hour week, does next to no research, and watches her colleagues around her get promoted because they have been successful in gaining funding.
Another peer (at a different institute) was given three lecture courses and a large departmental administrative load, 1 month after returning from maternity leave. Within a year, she was given another 3 lecture courses, making 6 plus the admin job. She only worked part-time. Her full-time (male) colleagues only had 4 lecture courses, or 2 plus an admin job. She actually told me she got pregnant the second time as she wanted out of her job.

I look at this situation and at every opportunity I try to correct it. But I can't, single handed, change an entire sector. What can be done?

GrimmaTheNome Sat 22-Jun-13 20:45:24

>So why do these very very bright women pick jobs which are paid about the same as acall centre person on the minimum wage?

Some women choose careers in academia because ... they want to help cure cancer (salaries in industry for scientists are sometimes even lower than academia btw so 'If academia pays enough great. If it doesn't do something else' doesn't work.). Or they want to discover a bit more about the cosmos. Or because they want to teach a future generation. Or because they are just so passionate about their subject that it is more valuable to them than mere money. Doing what you love part time or at a lower level than a man might achieve may still be more satisfactory than not following your dream and doing some job that xenia would consider well paid (there are vastly too few of those to go around bright women or men anyway, which is a fundamental problem) but which doesn't 'advance the sum of human knowledge'.

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.

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

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

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 21:59:15

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.

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

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik smile

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).

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.

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.

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 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?

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 23:22:25

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

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?

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!

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?

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!

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.

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.

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

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

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

Sorry - that was to Drdolittle.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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