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Sharing Our Stories: Day 1 MITACoach Workshop

 

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Today is the first day of the MITACoach Workshop. A key component of the workshop, besides the workbook, curated readings, and flash consultation with me, is storytelling.

I started MITACoach as a way to help mothers working in the academy find support and community. As mothers and as academics there is a lot of pressure not to share our complex stories. The editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia write movingly about the many women faculty members who wanted to share their stories about being in the academy in this anthology, but who decided they couldn’t publish their experiences because they were afraid of the professional backlash. Today we’re starting to break that silence by telling about our experiences and so gaining community and and support.

I firmly believe that our academic institutions are better when everyone has a seat at the table. Feminist theories of knowledge production have demonstrated that we produce much more complete pictures of the world when we have researchers who come from a diversity of viewpoints. Retaining mothers in graduate school and as faculty members would be a huge step in the right direction, and one way to do that is to have our experiences validated.

MITACoach FAQ and Workshop Schedule

Why did you start offering these workshops? Mothering in the Academy (MITA) came out of my desire to find a support and community as a graduate student mom, having a second child on the tenure track, and then mentoring junior faculty parents after I got tenure. I noticed that the connections I made at conferences were vital to my success, although I couldn’t predict if I would meet other mother scholars at a particular conference. I received encouragement and support that really differed from that of friends in grad school or in my academic position, because we were able to offer each other outside perspectives on institutional problems. I even edited a book with Pegeen Reichert Powell after meeting her on a panel!

I decided to create my blog, open a coaching practice, and hold workshops in order to provide academic moms with consistent resources and a community outside of their current departments, much like I sporadically found at conferences.

I firmly believe that we need peer-mentors as role models to succeed.

The workshops especially are structured around the idea that mother scholars need a community to talk about their experiences and needs where they don’t need to have their “game faces” on. The workshops are deliberately kept small and framed as cohorts, with the hope that you’ll learn just as much from the participants as from me and the other seminar leaders. Each workshop will have a private Facebook group so that participants can keep in touch with each other.

MITACoach workshops will happen three times a year at critical moments to help mother scholars bridge work and family. Mid-summer to plan for the academic year, mid-fall to take stock of your work-life balance and plan for winter break, and mid-spring to plan for a productive and restful summer.

What happens in the workshop? In keeping with the busy schedules of academic moms, the workshop is designed for flexibility. You get a 30 minute flash strategy Skype or phone call with me, to be scheduled at your convenience during the month of July.

During the week of July 14th, there will be four conference call seminars on different topics. Each speaker will talk for about 20 minutes, and the rest of the seminar will be devoted to workshop participants’ questions. Don’t worry if you can’t make a specific call. All of the seminars will be available as mp3 files for you to review when you have time.

 

Jocelyn Stitt U of Michigan

Tuesday July 15th

2-3pm EST

Alison Piepmeier

College of Charleston

Wednesday July 16th

2-3pm EST

Michele Dunnum Mott Community College

Thursday July 17th

2-3pm EST

Laura Harrison

Minnesota State U

Friday July 18th

2-3pm EST

Academic Moms: How To Get What You Need from One of the Least Family Friendly Professions Professional Decision Making: A Single Mother and Department Chair’s Rubric to Avoid Superwoman Syndrome How I Survived and Thrived with a 4-4, Long Commute, Single Parenthood, & Remarriage Parenting Through Academic Career Transitions: Finding a Career While Keeping Your Sanity 

Finally, you’ll get a workbook designed to allow you to take action on what you’ve learned during the week and in your consultation with me.

You can find detailed information about the workshop and seminar leader bios here: https://mitacoach.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/mitacoach-mid-summer-workshop-starting-july-14/

 How do I enroll and what is the deadline? What happens next? You can enroll by clicking on the paypal button on mitacoach.wordpress.com website. The fee is 69$. Special Grad Student/Adjunct Rate $49. Or you can email me at mitacoach @gmail.com to send me a check. The deadline for the summer workshop is Sunday July 13th. After you enroll I’ll be in touch with a few questions so I can tailor the workshop to you, set up your flash consulting appointment, and send you your workbook. You’ll also get instructions in how to participate in the conference call and an invitation to the private Facebook group.

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Top 3 Worst Questions to ask an Academic Mom

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Today Show host Matt Laurer’s interview questions. An essay I wrote about Tom Cruise’s meltdown about postpartum depression with Matt Laurer was published in Mediating Moms: Mothers in Popular Culture.

images  Now, Lauer has provided me with new material in the wake of his interview with GM CEO Mary Barra where he asked if Barra could be a good mother and CEO. As you might imagine, internet outrage ensued. This got me thinking – what are the worst questions you can ask a faculty mother? Let’s roll the dice and talk about some of the most uncomfortable questions I’ve been asked. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments section.

 #1 How do you do it all?

For the record, I think asking successful parents what solutions they’ve come up with to manage home and work can be the basis of a really rich and insightful conversation. In fact, this is the basis of the MITACoach workshop starting on July 14, where you can hear from 4 different academic moms about strategies they have come up with for managing their teaching, research and home life. Michele Dunnum is going to talk about the work she loves as a professor at a community college, commuting, and being a divorced (now remarried) mom of a son. Alison Piepmeier brings her perspectives as the chair of a department, a public intellectual around feminism and disability, a person with seizures, and the single mom of her daughter who has Down Syndrome. Laura Harrison is pregnant with her second child and will share her survival strategies as someone who was recently on the job market who is now on the tenure track with a demanding research agenda. I’ll be talking about how the insights of mothering studies can be used by mother scholars, as well as my own best insights on having an academic career and a family. I fully believe that you can have a joyful career as a staff or faculty member and a happy home life – you just need to know where to find mentoring!

But…when this question gets asked by colleagues in disbelief, it really gets to me. It suggests having a full time demanding career and children is so difficulty that we’re foolhardy to even try. Or, that the responsibility for making our homes function lies solely with us. Coming from other academics, it implies that I’m not fully committed to my career. Ugh. I came up with a one-sentence answer that felt authentic to me, and just use that whenever this question comes up. I’ll be talking more about how to negotiate difficult conversations such as this one in the workshop.

 #2 Can you come to a meeting at 6:30 today?

Boy Howdy. Questions like this used to make me feel like I was going to have a panic attack. Since starting MITACoach I’ve heard from lots of academic moms about their difficult negotiations with childfree faculty in leadership positions. One mom told me that when she was an assistant professor, senior faculty scheduled a series of job candidate talks and meetings after 5 on weekdays. It hadn’t occurred to the senior faculty that childcare wouldn’t be available then. This is part of a continuing legacy in the academy of assuming that everyone has a wife at home ready to take care of children and running the household. Or simply the effect that many academics don’t have children and so don’t think about what extending the workday means. I finally just sat down with my chair and explained the logistics of my childcare arrangements. It’s like an 18 wheeler, I told her. I can turn it around, and arrange for more care, but I need a bit of notice. This smoothed the way for better communications about scheduling events.

 #3 How many kids do you have?

This happened to me recently. I was talking to a senior faculty member about moving and getting my kids registered for school. The conversation ground to a halt. “How many kids do you have?” She asked incredulously. Let’s pause over that for a minute. There are really no circumstances in which asking that question in an amazed tone is polite. Her question made me feel embarrassed and defensive. Which is interesting given that within American culture my family is completely normative. I’m a woman legally married to a man and we have two children. Within academia, though, female faculty members are less likely to have children than male faculty or their non-academic peers, such as doctors and lawyers.

For academics moms of color, this question can be even more insidious. Mothers of color experience the legacies of racism in the labeling of their sexuality and mothering choices as excessive or as in need of control. I’ve heard many stories from mothers of color who have been challenged by white colleagues about the number and spacing of their children, rather than being given support or recognition for their accomplishments. Despite publishing two monographs and gaining a prestigious fellowship to attend law school, Duchess Harris PhD/JD Associate Professor at Macalester College writes “I entered the tenure-track 15 years ago when I was five months pregnant. I have taken three parental leaves, which were all met with resentment.”

These are my top 3 most dreaded questions. What are yours? What response to do you make to them?