Sciwo finds her voice again? (#scimom and related)

I swore to myself I wasn’t going to start my own blog again…but I keep writing these epic length comments on other people’s posts. So maybe I should at least collect them all in one place.)

It all started with this Pub-Style Science conversation on the topic of #scimom. As a scientist and a mother who has given some thought as to how to make it all work, I decided to join the conversation.

I’m in the hat and the google effects glasses.

It was an interesting conversation and I think some great points were made by all of the participants, and boy did we hit a topic of interest in the twitter and blogosphere.

Before I knew it, the posts were coming in. And I was commenting. So here’s a clip show of the places I stuck my thoughts in writing in the last 48 hours or so:

It started with Isis and the subject of the 50/50 split of domestic responsibilities not necessarily being realistic.

I interpreted the 50/50 comment a bit differently. I thought what Mark was saying is that each partner may think he/she is contributing to 50% of the home/child care, but since each partner is likely to have a different mental list of what’s necessary around the house/with the kids (and how much effort it takes to achieve those things), that it may take two partners each contributing >50% of their own list to get to 100% of what has to be done.

For example, it takes a tremendous amount of energy and time simply to set up and keep track of things like dentist appointments, car tune-ups, ballet classes, furnace tune-ups, parent-teacher conferences, etc. If one partner is doing all of those logistical things, the other partner may not even realize how much time and energy goes into that part of the domestic work and therefore undercount its worth. This can lead to situations where the other partner, who hypothetically does all the lawn maintenance and household repairs, feels like s/he is doing more than 50% of the work. But really maybe the two partners are each doing 50% of the work, they just imagine the work universe as composed of different things.

So only if each partner went into it with the attitude of “I’ll take on 60+% of the work” does everything get done (and in a reasonably equitable way).

Then, Dr 24 hours and I made nice to each other over our sparring on single people’s need for work-life balance.

Hey dr24hours, thanks for joining us last night. I think we absolutely agree — no one should be expected to work more than 40ish hours per week in order to maintain a career in science. That way the playing field comes closer to evening out for parents/caregivers with time limitations and everyone gets to enjoy their life-outside-work-hours. And non-parents certainly should be expected to “make up” time not worked by others.

Honestly, if we could just start by acknowledging that most academic science jobs are really 2-3 people worth of workload, that would be a huge step.

Maybe my comment about the need to normalize a 40 hour work week for scientist is pretty radical. But if you think about it, it would both solve a lot of the burnout and create more jobs for all those newly minted PhDs we churn out of our graduate programs.

Then things got really heated when DrugMonkey took the stage with his interpretation of the 50/50 split concept (similar to mine) and his rationalization of uneven splits (not similar to mine).

I agree with the first ~40% of your post, and had made the same comment on Isis’s post on pub science:

So, you can take the part where you say that only men are going to point this out and shove it.

As far as the idea that women can see career as something to be build around children (which are the central tenet), but men see it the reverse…there are a startling number of counter-examples to that trend…even if you ignore (as you do) the situations where there isn’t enough economic maneuverability for either partner to drop out of a career. So to me there’s a lot of your biases coming through in the latter half-ish of the post.

I find it very interesting that in the dozens of comments on that post, most of the recognizably women commenters echoed my concerns with the last half of the post, while the recognizably male comenters seemed, in general, to affirm their support of the first half.   I could (and maybe will) write a stand-alone post about why I think gender essentializing the notion of whether a career is a necessity is a really lame idea.

Odyssey took to task my comment about how I wished there were clear tenure expectations. Basically he thinks its not just about CYA for a department wishing to get rid of a jerk with a good publication record, but also a way to throw a lifeline to a marginal candidate with promise. Plus, it would just be too dang hard. This is what I commented:

I’m the one that made the comment about clarity of tenure criteria, so I’ll pipe up now. I’m far enough along in my career, that I can appreciate what you are saying, about how flexibility is necessary.

But here’s what motivated my comment: When I started my first TT position, I had a 6 month old on my hip at the welcome gathering at the start of the academic year. At some point in the evening, I asked the only other pre-tenure woman in the department, what do I need to do to get tenure here? Her reply: “I don’t know. I just work as hard as I possibly can and hope that’s enough.” That scared the bejeezus out of me, especially coming from someone who was prolific, who’s work was well-regarded, and who was open to me in her decision to delay children until after tenure. It seemed incredibly unlikely to me that I, with the baby, would be able to work to her level and yet she was still uncertain about her tenure prospects.

Over the next 2-3 years, no one would give me straight out answers about the publication, funding, and teaching success I would need to keep my job. So I continued to live in fear. (This sounds like MThomasson’s situation btw).

Eventually I figured out that I was out-producing most of my colleagues and I wasn’t just good enough to get tenure, but I was good enough to get tenure at a better university. So I left. But in the mean time, my quality of life and even, at times, my health suffered. Oh, and that stellar woman colleague, she nearly got screwed in her tenure process. (And, no, she’s not a chump or a jerk. Just a woman. In a very male department and field.)

I think a document spelling out departmental standards for productivity would be an excellent idea, and I think you could write one with enough flexibility to CYA if needed. And I certainly don’t think it’s too much to ask for a chair or senior colleague to be able to say that X, Y, and Z are the general expectations. Communication of expectations could prevent needlessly scaring the shit out of junior faculty and might allow them to make the decisions they need to about their own work-life balance. Sure, the internet is a great source of general advice on tenure, but as you point out it’s incredibly field and university context dependent. What’s necessary in biomedical sciences has no relevance to what’s required in my field, and even generally knowing what a friend needed to do at a brand-name university doesn’t translate to what I need to do in mine.

Spelling out expectations is one of the ways that we can knock down barriers to women, POC, and anybody without the network of mentors to tell white men what’s needed. It also might dampen the burnout and stress that give rise to these so many of these #scimom themes in the first place.


I think that last comment is a post in and of itself, so I better stop now.

Except to say… we’ve been having these conversations for at least 9 years that I’ve been tracking and I’ve seen very little real-world progress in that time. (A wise woman in my circle says its more like 20 with little progress.) It gets frustrating after a while to feel like we are talking in circles and its part of why I haven’t wanted to start blogging again. Maybe if we started acting like scientists and dug into the existing literature on things like “are moms less productive than non-parents on the tenure track?”, we could do a better job of framing hypotheses, figuring out which additional data are needed, collecting that data and then making concrete recommendations to our universities, professional societies, and funding agencies.


3 thoughts on “Sciwo finds her voice again? (#scimom and related)

  1. Pingback: Friday links: profs don’t retire, republishing open-access articles, and more | Dynamic Ecology

  2. Pingback: Wrapping Up #scimom and Announcing #glamgame for Sept 10, 2013 | Pub-Style Science

  3. Pingback: Doing a PhD in half the time | Tenure, She Wrote

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