Thursday, January 28, 2016

Can motherhood be an asset in academia?

I recently went on the job market. One job was an open position in "sociology or a related field." Another was a joint position in American Culture and Women's Studies (hello dream job!). My academic interests are specialized enough that I had to jump when I saw these opportunities.

I wonder if I will be penalized because I strayed from the orthodox path leading straight from graduate school into a full-time tenure-track position. I had one baby during my PhD and was pregnant with my second when I graduated. I began teaching part-time soon after my third was born, and I have continued to teach while I had my fourth. And let's not forget I've been lactating for over 9 years straight!

I have continued to publish, research, and attend conferences since I graduated, but those activities took place on top of raising four children full-time and teaching part-time. Without a full-time job to support research and publishing, I haven't been able to keep up the same pace as my tenure-track peers.

I'd like to think that my immersion in motherhood, breastfeeding, and maternity care activism would make me an attractive candidate, rather than disqualify me, since those activities are directly related to my academic specialties. But I can't be sure.

In Germany, though, the Technische Universität (TU) of Berlin has created post-doctoral fellowships that specifically favor mothers. Look at this excerpt from the fellowship reviewer guidelines:

All reviewers are asked to consider the individual living and working conditions of an applicant. Female researchers with diverse career paths and with non-academic knowledge and qualifications are expressly invited to apply for an IPODI Fellowship and we assume that a diverse personal, professional or scientific background may open up new perspectives and innovative approaches in research. Family-related career "breaks" as well as intersectoral mobility are therefore perceived as additional qualifications and should be considered positively within the selection process.

To read more about this program, visit Dr. Kristen Ghodsee's article "A fellowship program that favors mothers?"

Have you been penalized by--or helped by--your experience as a mother or parent? Does your workplace welcome women who have taken non-traditional career paths?

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