Since I was puzzled by why I could not find information about pregnancy in the graduate school, time has passed. Voila, now you see the topic of academics raising families all the time. (Or maybe I entered that phase of life at which Facebook friends post a related article every day.) Most notably, Mary Ann Mason, Marc Goulden, and Nicholas H. Wolfinger have written a book, Do Babies Matter?: Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, which gives bad news to the women who plan to have children in their early academic careers. (Ok, to admit it, I haven’t read the book yet but read this article “In the Ivory Tower, Men Only: For men, having children is a career advantage. For women, it’s a career killer” written by Mason.) Unfortunately, the difficulty of having children while trying to succeed as an academic is structural. I hope the book will spread awareness. At the same time, if it is a systematic problem, we should contribute to the resolution by more openly sharing our experiences.
Good news is more personal. Probably because I’m in the field of humanities, I have not yet met discrimination as a young mother in getting grants, fellowships, and job positions. I even said I would spend the dissertation write-up grant to hire a caregiver, and I got it. My partner and I made a decision that we would be upfront about having a child during job interviews. (This was inevitable for me because I needed to pump breast milk during campus visits). I also see how the phenomenon that the book seems to point out–women with children are at the low tier in academia, not climbing up the ladder–can happen by choice. I myself opted for postdoc fellowships when offered more-than-decent (or excellent, in my view) tenure-track positions. This was mainly for our personal preference for continuing adventurous experiences by moving to different parts of the world as long as we can. But it is true that doing a few years of postdoc and delaying serious engagement with teaching becomes an attractive choice for those with very young children. While doing that, I can also see, many women, especially facing the structural obstacles and pressure, would realize that life is bigger than academia. That, in and of itself, is an enlightenment for these individuals from my perspective. But it is a loss for academia, for sure.
So, how do I feel about pursuing my academic career? I had a lot of time thinking about it the past two years. In the end, I like my work. It’s as simple as that. Don’t I feel a lot of pressure? Yes, I do. And as my partner witnesses, I am sometimes stressed out about the future. But it is important that I find my own optimal balance and stick to it.