Graduate Students, Parenthood, and the R1 Fishbowl

I just finished reading Kate Bahn’s post “When Grad School Eats Up Your Good Years” at Chronicle Vitae about the opportunity costs of being a mother and an academic. Bahn is a graduate student at the New School, and comes to the conclusion that combining motherhood and a career as an academic is simply too hard. Since she wants to have children she writes that she isn’t going to pursue an academic career. Bahn sees few role models in her field of economics and astutely notes the many institutionalized forms of discrimination that mothers experience. While I’m always glad to see younger scholars writing about motherhood and intellectual life, I came away from this essay incredibly frustrated.

As you all know, I’m all about working to name and change structures of discrimination within the academy. But Bahn’s post mostly made me angry for two reasons. First, Bahn repeats intensive mothering ideologies that it is just too hard to be a mother and do intellectual work. Decades of foundational mothering studies scholars, including Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Andrea O’Reilly, Sara Ruddick, Patricia Hill Collins, Fiona Green, Pegeen Reichert Powell, Sara Blaffer Hrdy, Elizabeth Podnieks and many many others have shown us that not only is it possible to think and mother, but that our scholarship is enhanced through our experience as mothers. Special shoutout to Elizabeth Podniek. Her edited collection Mediating Moms: Mothers in Popular Culture, to which I contributed an essay, was awarded the Outstanding Scholarship Prize (2012-2013) by the Women’s and Gender Studies Association, part of Canada’s Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Or as I call it, a fork in the eye of the idea that you can’t produce significant scholarship and have children.

Bahn’s essay highlights the importance for graduate students of not getting trapped in the feedback loop of senior professors at your R1. Faculty who came of age in a different time are not, in my opinion, the best people to talk to about the realties of the job market and choices available to faculty today.  First of all, at the at the conference I just attended I talked many women who have successfully combined motherhood and academic careers. And guess what? We have tenure and we’re on hiring committees. Second, the majority of jobs are not at elite research universities. Asking a professor who has spent their life within the peculiar strictures of an R1 for family planning advice is misguided. What I wish is that graduate students like Bahn might get out of the R1 fishbowl and talk to the majority of faculty members teaching at community colleges, regional state universities, and community colleges. We might have a different story to tell about intellectual labor and mothering.

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Schadenfreude, or the Girlfriends’ Guide Author is Getting a Divorce

I know this doesn’t say much for my spiritual advancement, but I had a wicked little moment of schadenfruede when I found out rather belatedly that Vicki Iovine was getting a divorce. You see, as a new mom in early 2001 there weren’t a lot of feminist mothering sources. The wave of feminist critiques of attachment parenting and regressive family values were still to be published. Mothering blogs weren’t yet a thing. I wouldn’t discover Brain, Child, in its first radical and spiky incarnation until later that year. I gave subscriptions to that lifeline of a magazine as baby shower presents for a decade until it changed hands. But in the aftermath of new motherhood, I had a copy of The Girlfriend’s Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood. 

The top three things I remember from that book, and her previous one on pregnancy were:

• diuretics to take the morning you were going to see your OB-GYN to try to maintain the fiction you weren’t growing a person inside of you and the importance of dressing so you looked cute for your presumably male doctor

• how to make a pot of homemade low calorie soup and only eat that in order to lose the baby weight

• that my kitchen would not be as spotless as before I needed to make my peace with that

This was not very good advice for a graduate student mom trying to finish her dissertation with a new baby. Iovine’s book made me feel like I was doing motherhood wrong. I couldn’t understand how her advice was supposed to improve my life, and I was incredulous that her ideas of childcare and marriage were still relevant in the 21st century.

So you can imagine why I felt a certain pleasure that the image Iovine had presented of her flawless marriage as a mom with four kids didn’t turn out so well for her in the long run. In her Huffington Post essay, Iovine said she wanted a relationship with someone who had her back, unlike her ex-husband. She sure didn’t have my back as a new mom.

Then I remembered that a lot of Iovine’s advice to please men through our appearance and housekeeping reflects time honored advice women give other women to survive in male dominated societies. So even though her advice was crappy and toxic, I’ve decided to forgive her, and hope that she has some real girlfriends, with some feminist perspectives, that have her back through her divorce.

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Thursday Thought – Tips for Transitioning into Summer

Thursday Thought - Tips for Transitioning into Summer

In parenting lingo, “transition” refers to times when we ask our kids to switch gears from one activity to the next, like ending a playdate so that you can go home. Transitions for my kids often meant tantrums. “No leave the park!” my two year old would scream, alerting everyone to my wonderful parenting skills.

We’re also making some big transitions in the academic year. So if you’re feeling tantrumy (that should be a word), you’re not alone. Just at the point when many of us are most tired, we’re asked to recalibrate our routine. Some of us are making the transition from teaching to focusing more in our research, administrative tasks, or syllabi redesign during the summer. Others are ending winter term classes and gearing up for their spring/summer teaching. If you have kids, especially those too old for daycare, the transition from school to camps or at home child care is just around the corner, which can be trying for everyone.

In the coming weeks I’ll be talking more about strategies for a peaceful transition to the summer months. For now, here are three tips for managing this transitional time. Rejuvenate, Reprioritize, and Reflect will be central themes of our June Workshop aimed at helping you make the most of your summer and early fall.

1) Rejuvenate
If you’re like me, you might have a bunch of stuff, both personal and professional, that you’ve put on the back burner until the semester is over. My best advice is that these things can take wait a bit longer. If you can, try to take at least a day where you’re not being goal oriented to let your brain relax. It’s even better if you can put aside a couple of days to restart a gentle exercise program if that has gone by the wayside, get a massage, or spend time with friends. Binge tv watch. Nap. If this seems indulgent, it’s not. You’ve been working hard and you need a break. Full stop.

2) Reflect

If you do have fewer teaching responsibilities, this can be a good time to reflect on what has gone well in the past year, and what hasn’t with your teaching and research. I like to keep a single Word document where I list ideas for future classes and what I wouldn’t do again. I also sometimes use the reviewing function of word to mark up my syllabi with notes about reordering texts, or revising assignments.

3) Reprioritize
Once your brain is rested, think about August 30th. What would you need to have accomplished by then for you to feel good about your summer? What experiences do you want to have with your family? What work would you need to do in the next 10-12 weeks? Most importantly, what can you realistically do during this time period so you don’t end up mad at yourself? For example, drafting a journal article and teaching one class is probably realistic if you have a lot of child care. If you want to spend more time with your kids this summer, then adjust your productivity goals accordingly.

 

Senior Scholar Support of the Day

Sandra Pouchet Paquet is Professor Emerita of Caribbean Studies and English Literature at the University of Miami. She immigrated from Trinidad to the United States in the 1960s to pursue higher education. Paquet’s entire interview in the Caribbean studies literary journal Small Axe Salon is worth reading for her insight into what it meant to be a woman of color and a mother in the academy at a time when there were few of either.

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Sandra Paquet: Ever since leaving the Caribbean, my life has been work and family. Having family was terribly important to me. I [didn’t] care if people said, “Oh, you’re into babies now.”

SG: People said that?

SPP: “Yes. My uncle Carl would say, “You have to decide, Sandra, whether you are going to pursue an education and a professional life, or settle down and have a family. You can’t do both.” But I never envisioned life, once I met Basil, without children. Once I got started, I never envisioned giving up my own academic career, either. There’s no person I’m more sympathetic to than a student who is pregnant and trying to finish her dissertation. You just have to be very patient and prepare for the fact that it sets you back, so age-wise you won’t wonder what happened to you later on. You make choices because they’re important to you, and you need to have a ready answer to others’ questions [about them]. It wasn’t one or the other [for me]; I had to have both. I thought that made me a feminist.

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MITACoach Interview Series- “Contented Post-Ac”

I’m thrilled to be kicking off my interview series today. I’m going to be asking my interviewees six questions about their graduate training, thoughts about their career, and some individual identity and work/life balance questions. I’ve also asked them to write a short professional bio. If you are interested in being interviewed as part of this series please contact me at drjfs71 at gmail dot com. Just as a reminder, you can read more about my academic qualifications, affiliations, and interests here. In other words, I will follow standard academic protocol for maintaining anonymity and will email you exactly what the post will contain before I post it.

My first interviewee has requested to remain anonymous, so I’ll be calling this person Contented Post-Ac. CP-Ac graduated with a PhD from an elite humanities program in the Midwest in the last decade, spent seven years on the job market, and now has a #postac career as a tutor. Contented Post-Ac is a mixed race, heterosexual woman. One of the most striking things about Contented Post-Ac’s experiences is the ways in which her “lack” of a partner or children was seen as advantageous to career advancement by other grad students and faculty in her department, while she was simultaneously discouraged from co-ordinating departmental activities that could give her a sense of community and belonging at her university.

Short professional bio as written by Contented Post-Ac

I graduated with a PhD from an R1, elite humanities program in the Midwest. Following graduation, I worked as a tutor for a large education company and also as an adjunct at a private liberal arts university in the South while publishing and pursuing the TT job search for four years. I then became a university administrator and adjunct at another R1 university while still searching for TT positions. I finally gave up on my academic job search after seven years and now tutor and train tutors for a living. I am hoping to start a consulting business within a year.

1) Why did you decide to pursue a PhD? What was your training like?  Continue reading

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Feminist Studies in Action

Feminist Studies in Action

I’m thrilled that my roundtable, “Mothering, Love, and Labor: New Feminist Perspectives,” was accepted at NWSA – it will be an amazing overview of visionary ideas about mothering and labor with Magda Pecsenye, Elizabeth Bruno, Kirsti K. Cole, Roksana Badruddoja, Melissa Purdue, and me presenting.

I’m just as excited that my panel, “Caribbean Feminisms: Decolonizing Postcolonial Spaces” was accepted with April Mayes, Elena Machado Sáez, Dana M. Linda and me again, presenting. Congrats to everyone for proposing such great papers!

Why is the Academic Pipeline Leaking, and Does that Make You a Drip?

One of the persistent problems with gaining gender equality in academia is the leaky pipeline. The leaky pipeline describes the phenomenon where women make up significant numbers of PhD candidates, but there are progressively smaller percentages of women assistant professors, then associate professors, then full professors. Fewer women full professors mean that there are fewer female deans, provosts and presidents of colleges and universities. A failure to recruit and retain female faculty on the tenure track means that there will be a gender imbalance in terms of university leadership. The leaky pipeline has also been used to describe a similar issue with the recruitment and retention of faculty of color, who are also found in decreasing levels in higher university appointments.

Mary Ann Mason calls this the “pyramid problem,” and directly relates it to female faculty having children: “There are far fewer women than men at the top of the academic hierarchy; those women are paid somewhat less than men, and they are much less likely then men to have had children.” Citing the AAUP’s 2006 gender-equity indicators report, Mason catalogs startling statistics about women in our profession. Continue reading