Academic Spotlight
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Bowdoin Academics Show How To Have It All With 'Professor Mommy'

Story posted July 18, 2011


Women in academia often find themselves squeezed in their choices between family and career. Some perilously postpone having children in their grueling climb to secure tenure, others opt out of child-rearing altogether, still others settle for second-tier jobs to ease family-teaching pressures.

Two tenured Bowdoin College professors, economist Rachel Connelly and gender and women's studies scholar Kristen Ghodsee, have thrown out a rope to women scholars in hopes of helping them get a foothold in the slippery slopes of academia without having to forgo motherhood.

The pair has just written book enlivened by anecdotes and statistics that offers step-by-step guidance for women at all stages of their families and careers to help them successfully negotiate the "maternal wall" in academia.

Professor Mommy: Finding Work-Family Balance in Academia (Rowan Littlefield 2011) describes in thorny detail the personal costs that many women in academia face, yet offers savvy, encouraging strategies for juggling the demands of an academic career and motherhood.

"Young women who aspire to be scholars and mothers need to know what they are getting into ... Making it in academe is hard," they observe. "The time commitment is high, the job market is tight, and success depends a great deal on the sometimes capricious external assessments of one's work.

"All this means that a young female scholar who wants a family needs to think long and hard about her choice, understand as much as she can about the decision-making process, and use her time strategically. But in the end, we are strong boosters of the choice to be Professor Mommy -- doing both is well worth it!"

Among the tips the authors suggest:

* Research faculty policies to determine which kind of institution will best match your career-family goals.
* Seek out senior female colleagues who also are mothers as mentors.
* Consider carefully the timing of having children from the vantage of both age and career goals.
* Remember that research is your only portable form of wealth.
* Never underestimate the power of schmoozing.

The professors come by their advice-giving honestly. Between them, the internationally recognized scholars have five kids, five books, and more than 45 journal articles.

Connelly, Bowdoin's Bion R. Cram Professor of Economics, is the mother of four children who has spent her research time investigating the intersections between work and family life. Her most recent book is: Time Use of Mothers in the United States at the Turn of the 21st Century (W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 2010). She was among the pioneering female academics in the 1980s who helped to reshape Bowdoin's once all-male college faculty and student body.

"Women in academia are not only less likely to achieve tenure than their male counterparts, but they are also 50 percent less likely to be married, and if married, 144 percent more likely to be divorced than men on the tenure track."

Ghodsee is the John S. Osterweis Associate Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and was a single mother during the tenure process. An ethnographer who studies contemporary women's issues in Eastern Europe, she has received grants from the Fulbright Foundation and National Science Foundation and residential fellowships at Harvard University and the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. Her third book, Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism (Duke University Press, 2011) is coming out next month.

"The demands of teaching, research, professional service and institutional service can be overwhelming for women starting their academic careers, particularly if these years coincide with new motherhood," Ghodsee says, "Unfortunately, my own marriage was at least partially a casualty of the tenure track. This is a book to help young scholars get a sense of their priorities so they can achieve both professional and personal success."

"We wrote this book because we felt it was important for young women like our students to hear that it was possible to be in academia and have fulfilling family lives," agrees Connelly. "It's not an either-or choice anymore. The academy is full of women. Bowdoin, has a high percentage of women faculty members, many of them mothers. If you're smart about how you do it, it can be done."

In 2009, Bowdoin was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Award for Faculty Career Flexibility in recognition of leadership in developing best practices to recruit and retain tenured and tenure-track faculty throughout their careers. Today, faculty parents are entitled to tenure clock stopping paid parental leaves with the birth or adoption of a child.

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