July 2007 (Vintage SciWo)
I will not be a foregone conclusion.
Sometimes I get depressed when I read the blogs of other women scientists – particularly when the topic of children vs. an academic career is the topic du jour. The short version is that many of us seem to think we have two choices: (1) Have a career and no children, or children we never see; or (2) Give up our plans for t-t/research academia in order to raise a family. That we can’t be both academic researchers and fantastic parents seems to be a foregone conclusion.
Well, I refuse to be a foregone conclusion.
In January, I was blessed with a wonderful daughter – a child that I had been aching for (and actively working toward) for years. I want to be an attached parent, one who knows what my child’s interests are and what she had for lunch. I want to be there for bedtimes, games of pat-a-cake (and later, catch), and school plays.
In April, I got a job offer for a tenure-track position at a research university. I’ve been preparing for such a job for as long as I can remember. I want to get tenure, be a good mentor to students, teach interesting classes, conduct funded, intriguing research, and be a good colleague.
I’m having an incredibly good year, and it pains me when people suggest that I’ll fail at one endeavor or the other. That I’ll miss years of mealtimes and never have a weekend off, or if I do take time to be with my family, that I’ll be unfunded, under-prepared, and untenurable.
That shouldn’t be true. And I won’t let such talk defeat me from the start.
I will work very hard and very efficiently at my job. I’ll pour my heart into grant proposals and syllabi. But I’ll also draw the line at some only-moderately-unreasonable number of hours per week (say, 50-60). It is equally important to me that I have the time to sing my daughter to sleep, make her mashed bananas for breakfast, and change the occasional poopy diaper.
If those things deny me tenure, then so be it. I will acknowledge that I could have done more, but defiantly reply that I shouldn’t have had to.
I will not be a foregone conclusion. I will be a productive assistant professor. I will be an awesome mother. Just you watch.
August 2015 (8 years, 1 month later)
I am not a foregone conclusion.
I haven’t accepted either choice.
I have sung my child to sleep, and I have earned grant money. I have taught 12 courses that I think were interesting, and I know what my daughter eats for lunch. I never mastered patty cake, and I once missed a school concert to go to a conference. I have sometimes been under-prepared, and I have often been sleep deprived. But within the parameters of my life, I have been a productive assistant professor and an awesome mother.
Eight years later, I not only have a fabulous daughter but a spunky baby son. Eight years later, I’m preparing my tenure portfolio for a better job than I started with. Those who know my portfolio and my institution say that I will get tenure. Eight years later, I am not a foregone conclusion.
The path here has not always been smooth. There was a separation, divorce, and an era of single parenting. There were periods when I cursed the time limitations of daycare schedules and a child who desperately needed my help to sleep. There were something like 21 rejections before I got my first grant funding, and I’ve stopped counting how many there have been in total. I’ve had students bail mid-program for a lucrative job offer, leaving me with unanalyzed data that I’ll never have time to work up and publish. I’ve been scooped and desk rejected. I went on the job market multiple times before I landed the job where I am now. I met a new partner – a really, really good one – and then had to navigate the two body problem. I miscarried and I experienced the deep unease that accompanies even a successful pregnancy after a loss.
But most of the time I’ve done just fine working at or below the “only-moderately-unreasonable” 50-60 hours per week I set as my limit in 2007. I even take a real vacation and work shorter days in the summer. I have worked very hard and reasonably efficiently at my job. I’ve poured my heart and soul into every aspect of it. I’ve published, gotten grant funding, taught classes, mentored students, and been involved in the professional community. I’ve met all of the requirements for tenure, and I’ve proven that professional failure was not a foregone conclusion.
The naysayers are wrong. I am a successful academic researcher and an active parent, and I am not the only one bucking the prophecies. As my future within the academy becomes more secure, I’ll be working even harder to support students and young faculty on their paths toward work-life success. I don’t want them to hear only defeatist talk, I want them to see a real-life model of “having it all.” I’ll never pretend it’s easy, just that it is achievable. And I’ll be working inside the system to make sure that’s true.
For eight years, my battle cry has been “I will not be a foregone conclusion.”
Now, I can change tense: “I am not a foregone conclusion.”