Monday, June 11, 2007

Continued Disturbance About Motherhood, Price Of

My dear spouse wants to teach and do research: he wants it passionately. He loves it. He wants a job that also happens to be a career. His academic life is laid out, one, two, three: grad school, postdoc, faculty job. Minivan, 2.5 kids, publish, tenure. A straight path with (supposedly) no interruptions.

I want... to not be here.

So what does this have to do with my price of motherhood? In my ideal universe the Scientist household will be blessed with little ones and I will work part-time. What a lovely picture it makes. (Also, if I stayed home full-time, I would lose my mind.)

Except it probably won't happen that way. Statistically speaking, I will be unable to find a decent part-time job. Even if I do, the ratio of my earnings to either what I would earn full-time or to childcare costs will be a small, small number. And I certainly can't get a part-time job being a professor and running a lab. The straight path doesn't work well with childbearing, and it doesn't work well with less than 60-hour weeks. At least not in my field.

(Incidentally, a woman who was on the 'Beyond Bias and Barriers' panel spoke here a while ago. A professor in my department said 'But I cannot work part-time and run a lab. I cannot work even forty hours a week, not if I want tenure!' And the speaker said, 'Why not?' Because it is that way, but it doesn't have to be.)

The dilemma is about guilt. If I can't have what I want- intellectually satisfying work AND children- I don't want to play that game. If I have to pay a high price for motherhood, especially in the academic world, I don't want to be there. But maybe I should. If we, as women, don't fight the good fight to make it better for the next generation in science, are we at fault? If we choose to leave 'science', i.e. the work of a PI in academia, is it because we don't want it enough?

Or not.
"You can say we actively chose to leave the academic path, and some of us never gave it a backward glance. We chose, but it was a choice with a lot of push behind it. And we were all aware of how we were viewed by those who stayed on the path - those who were still in the pipeline. We had leaked out through our own fault... If we had been good enough to become professors, we would never have wanted to do anything else." (courtesy of the excellent Zuska)
Academia tells me that I should stay and make sacrifices for the greater good. I should see the barriers in front of me, and they should be overcome by the force of my desire to be professorial. I should compare what I want to what I can have in academia, and give up what I want. I should see the price of motherhood in academia and elsewhere, and pay it.

I know that this kind of system benefits no-one: not parents, not single people, and certainly not single parents. At the same time, I have never once heard a young man in my class say 'I don't know if I could have children and tenure.' As long as women are asked to pay such a high price, the percentage of women scientists will creep up ever so slowly.... just like it's doing now.