Professor Mom

Two very interesting columns at Inside Higher Ed by Tedra Osell and Libby Gruner about keeping a tenure track job, while having kids.

A young woman came into my office last week to pick up a paper and I took the opportunity to grill her about her future plans. She said she was applying to graduate school for next year. My first instinct was to call her parents and make her stop, but that wasn't quite the professional thing to do. I limited my advice to write an "adequate" dissertation not a great dissertation, get done really, really quickly, and be up for the life of a vagabond. I wanted to say, "and do it all before you have kids", but I didn't. She didn't really look like she wanted to hear those sorts of things.

Libby and Tedra are both very pessimistic about taking anything but a traditional path in academia. They both say that you can't take time off. Adjunct work never turns into a tenure track position. (Well, I've heard of a few stories, but those stories may be urban legends.)

I've got a killer sore throat and have decided it best to let you all respond. There's been much written about the need for women (and parents) to have on and off ramps in the careers. Is this possible in academia? Is it possible in other careers?

Let me just note that the last time I volunteered at my kid's school, I talked to a pile of very smart women who were struggling unsuccessfully to get some sort of job that challenged them and enabled them to be home in time to do homework with their kids. Some were trying out entrepreneurial schemes. Others were being exploited by the school system as classroom aides ($12,000 per year; 8:30-3:10; no breaks). A whole lot of wasted talent.

UPDATE:Spillover conversation and related posts at GeekyMom, Professing Mama, Profgrrrl,

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53 thoughts on “Professor Mom

  1. Here are a few suggestions:
    1. “Don’t take a teaching job intending to finish your dissertation on the job. You’ll need that time for other stuff.”
    2. “Make sure that you finish before your funding runs out and you have three kids.”
    3. “Don’t take loans. If God intended you to have a PhD, he would have provided funding.”
    4. “Don’t buy a house as a graduate student.”

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  2. Thank God you didnt say, “Do it before you have kids” because it’s not your position to assume that she’ll have kids (I just read an interesting 11D 2004 blog on 2nd rate lives of child free couples and the ‘necessity’ of having children v. it being an option)

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  3. Well, I didn’t follow Amy P’s 1-3 advice. Are there really grad students that buy houses?
    No, I wouldn’t really say that, jen. But I was thinking it. Did we really say that childfree couples have second rate lives? I do think that kids are, for most people, not an option, but a necessity.

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  4. I bought a house as a grad student. And had my husband not hated his job, we would have owned it for five years. We didn’t make a huge amount of money off of it, but it was worth it.
    Why, why are men not having this conversation? Why is there not a pool of men at school who are looking for flexible jobs? Even the most enlightened men don’t seem to see that their unwillingness to pitch in more on the kid or house front is problematic. And I know, sometimes it’s inability, as men work 4 million hours a week. While there’s a lot of pressure for women to keep up with the house, to help the kids with homework, etc., there seems to be little pressure for men to do so.
    I think I could go on, but I have to get the kids ready for school.

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  5. Also running to get the kids and myself out of the house…
    The guys seem to know that there are no flexible jobs. I asked my husband if I got my dream job, could he work PT to pick up the slack at home? He said that he would be fired instantly for that and he cited two examples of women who had arranged to have flexible work schedules and then six months later they were cut from their jobs.
    I do like the way that Tedra ended her article. It’s sort of where my mind is lately, too. Your job is not your life.

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  6. I respectfully disagree with Jen’s suggestions (sorry). For those of us attending CUNY, Graduate School there was no such thing as “full funding.” Now I could argue that God wanted me to attend grad school at CUNY, since that’s where I was accepted. In any event, despite having an enormous amount student I’m not stressed or phased by this. People take out loans of law and med school, why not a Ph.D.? (Just because the return is slightly lower, shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent.)
    On a related note, when is the right time to have children? Studies show that fewer women obtain tenure when they have children. Sad, sad, sad…

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  7. Graduate students (particularly couples and families) do often buy houses, especially in economically depressed areas with cheap housing. It’s really tempting when rent is cheaper than a mortgage. (And up until a year or so ago, parents of undergraduates were buying them houses and condos to live in during college.)
    I had a long chat with a member of a graduate student couple last year about the house they were renting. It’s a lovely old house but has leaky roof and weird plumbing issues. The landlord was a graduate student who had left town, and he just didn’t have the financial werewithal to fix it.

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  8. Amen, Toni. (I really, really have to quickly prep for class, but I was thinking a lot about our grad school experience as i was driving to work.) Toni and I and my husband all went to the same grad school. We had no funding. I got by without too many loans, because I worked between 20-35 hours a week at a research center and did adjunct work, in addition to a full course load. Steve and Toni had to take out a lot more loans and adjunct a ton. But, Toni, didn’t it slow us down? If I didn’t have to work so much, I would have finished earlier. I would have been able to first get the t-t job and then have the kids. I think we received an excellent education; I am much better prepared to teach than most graduates from other programs. And the emphasis on a broad education means that I’m much smarter. But the lack of funding really did fuck us up a bit. However, I do think that women w/kids are a bit screwed in academia whatever institution they come from.

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  9. Toni Macaroni,
    I don’t think that was Jen–I’m the guilty party.
    My husband applied to graduate school before I met him. One of the graduate schools he got accepted to offered him a $5,000-a-year stipend (to live in an expensive major metropolitan area). He wrote back to the nice people, saying that while their program in philosophy was excellent, a philosopher also needs to eat every day. He went to a better program in a less expensive city, got a three-year Canadian government stipend of $16,000 a year, then a $10,000 USD teaching assistant-ship for two years, and we lived happily ever after.

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  10. I’m going to play a tune you have heard before: very few people can do a decent job with their kids as the primary or 1/2-equal-share parent and in addition clamber up the greasy pole of a hotshit academic (or law, or journo, or medicine) career. This is not amenable to any easy fix: the person who either does not have rug rats or whose partner is the primary caregiver of those little charmers is going to be better able to go into the lab at midnight to watch the scintillator or inject the rats, or to take the one-day-on, one-day-off surgery residency, etc.
    On the Toni M question: when to have kids? it seems to me that people hiring want nice, fresh degrees. So you are better off to have the kids with a bachelor’s degree or as a college dropout, then go back and get the degree you want to get a job with when they get into kindergarten. Now, who has the intestinal fortitude to jump off the train then? It’s hard, and takes self-confidence. But I think it will lead to more success – and less infertility hell, of trying to make babies when you are 37 and things don’t work as well anymore.

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  11. My husband had this conversation, at least with me. We met in grad school and when the time came, he became career-secondary (I finished my diss first). He followed me to my job and has been the “wife” in many ways while I “climbed the ladder.” I wish there had been a lattice in place for both of us–it would have been healthier for the whole family.
    I am pessimistic, based on what I’ve seen, but as soon as I posted the link to my piece on my facebook page I heard from two folks who are building their own lattices, and I thought of another one myself. In some ways I am trying it myself–I’m certainly moving more horizontally now that I’ve got tenure, rather than continuing to climb. But I do think that as long as we think of tenure as a single “track” it will be hard to move around in that early stage. Before it (during and before grad school) and after it things are more flexible. And those who are forging non-traditional paths for themselves–ie, forgoing tenure–may be doing the smartest/best thing of all. I hope so.

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  12. Interesting question, when to have kids. My experience has been that people who take a long break before going to college are sometimes viewed with suspicion in the workplace. For example having kids young is viewed as working class, it’s just that simple. I have seen many a gifted woman who had her first child at 20 who are left to rot in the admin pool. The sense of it seems to be that anyone with half a brain would know how to not get pregnant at 19. But that’s ascribing more rational thought than I think is really present.
    Note that you can take time off as long as you’re engaged in profoundly middle-class activities, such as studying opera or traveling abroad. I’m not saying it’s fair, just saying it’s a reality.
    I would argue that the best time to have kids is not at a fixed point in your life but at a certain point in the *economy*. Now is a *great* time to have kids — no one will question a gap in your resume at this point in time. The same was true in 2002, and you can tell by the baby boom just entering kindergarten now.
    (We’ve all noticed, I’m sure, that this once again totally ignores the systemic problem that disadvantages any caregiver. Sorry — I don’t have a tidy answer to that.)

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  13. Why, why are men not having this conversation? Why is there not a pool of men at school who are looking for flexible jobs?
    There is. It’s something I think about a lot, and many of my friends do as well. But the problem is that you pay a huge price (in pay and in security) for flexible jobs, and it’s very hard to find one that supports a family.

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  14. I sent a brilliant woman student off to a top-five grad school a couple of years ago.
    I did make sure I told her that damn it, she was just as good as the asshole guys she was going to run into there.
    I thought hard about telling her that if she wanted kids in the long run, that it’d be better to think now about _when_ she wanted that to happen, and that it would be awfully hard to have it happen post-grad-school, pre-tenure.
    But I didn’t. We had a purely professional relationship — e.g., I have no idea whether she liked boys or girls — and it seemed like what she got to see of my personal life, e.g. dragging husband and infant to conferences and nursing wherever necessary, and how hard that was even after tenure, would speak for itself.
    (What definitely doesn’t speak for itself is the IVF nightmare — since what shows is just the kid. Women really need to know that there’s a good chance that it will get much harder to have kids in their late thirties — and grad school stipends are just not going to cover freezing eggs.)

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  15. There is a stimulating career and has been one for women who want to be home from work when their children are home from school. It is being a school teacher. Better pay, better benefits, better security, better hours, better retirement than teaching at a college but maybe not as much prestige. It is in need of highly intelligent, reflective and dedicated people. It requires much vision, research, expertise and deliberation. I made the choice reluctantly wanting to be an engineer but as a single mother it enabled me to raise my children. I have been grateful I was forced into it. Sure there are teachers who open a manual and pass out worksheets but the field doesn’t need them. If we are going to provide our children with a future, we need quality instruction and that requires thoughtful and insightful decision making by the instructor. You can have it all in public school teaching.

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  16. I’m thinking we may need to rethink the field of higher education at the same time we rethink tracks vs. ladders vs lattices. Is the old model (expert specialized thinkers/researchers) really the model we need in the 21st century? Is there any value in it, or does it merely replicate an outdated system? If we change the model of higher ed, maybe we will by necessity make it more flexible for parents.

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  17. Sam–I do know some men think about flexible jobs and I think part of the problem is that women are more willing (and sometimes more able because they have spouses with better careers) to take the lower pay and lower prestige because they prioritize their family. I’m not saying men don’t, but “society” says it’s okay for women to put family first, but not okay for men. It’s complicated, I know.
    And carosgram, I think I would enjoy teaching public school, however, I have a Ph.D. and in order to teach public school, I’m required to get “certified” by taking at least a year’s worth of classes and taking a test. I just don’t have it in me to go to yet more school after 15 years of teaching experience, excellent evaluations, and a specialization in teaching with technology. To me, I should be able to walk into any public high school with my credentials and be offered a job, but no. I’m not qualified according to them.

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  18. God I hate this discussion and it’s endless never changing nature. Don’t know what to do about my hatred, though. I think the most we can do is to counsel/agitate for change among the sympathizers who have succeeded (both men & women who are tenured, but understand how this affects people).
    I do believe that there’s a way for academics to build on ramps — in the form of funded temporary positions for people who take time off. In fields in which there are post-doctoral fellowships, people have been experimenting with post-doc fellowships that are targeted at people who have taken time off. You still need to find a place, but that’s a lot easier if you come with money in the form of an on-ramp post-doc. One could presume the same sort of fellowship to pay temporary scholar/teachers. I think this is a reachable goal, and that it’s the thing I would agitate for, to experiment with whether it can bring women back into the field while still allowing for child bearing/child raising.
    (And, why don’t men obsess about this — it’s the dual edged sword. They don’t obsess because in the end, they see their primary responsibility as being the breadwinner. It’s an enormous responsibility, and most men don’t even consider anything that would disrupt that role. Women do, and then they end up with no job, reinforcing the man’s decision that they can’t even think about it.)

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  19. I usually lurk, but I’ll bite on this one.
    As my pseudonym suggests, I am a professor and a mama. I was nine months pregnant with my now five year old daughter when I took my candidacy exams; I defended my diss three days before her third birthday. Two weeks after I defended, my family moved for my job as a professor. I’m now in my third year of the same tenure-track job. I had another baby in April, a week after I turned 35. He will be my last child.
    My carpenter husband became a stay at home dad when we moved. That was our deal–he worked to help put me through school, and once I had a TT job, I would support the family financially. It has worked out pretty well so far for us. We’re not making much headway on our debt, which sucks, but in terms of our relationship and family life, his staying home has been a wonderful thing. It’s also been very helpful to my career.
    I am happy with my life. I feel like I hit the jackpot most days (most). I usually love my job, and it allows me the flexibity to spend time with my children when they’re awake and available and work while they sleep/go to school/play at a friend’s house. I’m one of the lucky ones, though; I have a TT job, and I have a supportive spouse who stays home with the kids.
    I was fully funded thorughout grad school, though I did end up with student loan and credit debt when BH was laid off for 10 months of a 24 month period. We owened a home for four of the seven years of grad school–it was cheaper than renting, and we established excellent credit.
    If you want children, have them. If you wait for the “right time,” it will never come. It is hard to have kids in grad school. It is hard to have kids pre-tenure. It is hard to have kids post-tenure, if for no other reason than you may very well have difficulty conceiving. I know too many academic women who have had that struggle.
    While I love my life, it’s not easy. The first couple weeks of this semester were awful; Pistola was struggling to adapt to kindergarten, and I missed Chico terribly. I cried every day and swore I was going to quit my job. I did this right after I had Pistola, too, so I remembered those feelings and didn’t let them scare me. I knew they would pass. They did. For me, having children has been worth any struggles I’ve had. The struggles pale in comparison to the joy I get from them. It’s sappy, but it’s true.
    In some ways, I would like to have another child, but one reason (among many) that I will not is that I don’t see how I can get tenure with another kid, and my feritiliy will be iffy at best post-tenure. I have a good work-life balance right now, and another child would throw it completely out of whack. So, no third child. I’m OK with that.

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  20. ” In any event, despite having an enormous amount student I’m not stressed or phased by this. People take out loans of law and med school, why not a Ph.D.? (Just because the return is slightly lower, shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent.) ”
    The problem with this logic is that the return isn’t just “slightly lower.” It’s much lower. Med school, in particular, pretty much guarantees employment at the end of it. It really is a professional degree (nursing, too, pretty much). You may not like your job, but you can have one. Law degrees aren’t quite so solid, but their better than Ph.D’s, which mean almost nothing, without the scholarly work that is attached to them (i.e. teaching and research).

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  21. I agree with most of the advice here, especially to not go into debt for graduate school. I went where the money was and it made a huge difference. I also think a lot of the kids question depends on discipline–it’s easier in the humanities than in the sciences, where face time in the lab is very important. I know people who had babies in grad school and they were super organized. If you have the support to do it, it works great.
    I actually adjuncted for 3 years after I defended; it didn’t turn into a full-time job, but my last year on the job market I got a t-t job offer at a teaching college. My husband was also able to support me while I adjuncted. I had a baby during my third year before tenure and it really didn’t affect my chances (am now tenured!). The big thing that I notice, in addition to it being my first priority to have a flexible job so I can stay home with my kids in the summer and pick them up after school, is how even to get a successful job in academia you have to move away from your family and friends. I love the town we live in and people are helpful, but it is hard having kids with no extended family to help out at all.
    Even if everything works out perfectly–defend the dissertation, have babies, get t-t job, get tenure–you will always be scrambling for childcare and babysitting just to go get your hair done or run errends. My husband and I have ONE night a year where we get to go to a hotel or have a mini-trip by ourselves.
    I guess my advice is that it can be done, but it will still be really hard and you probably shoudn’t count on it.

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  22. The point about funding can set some people on edge, because a good number of grad students don’t have assistance. Only the very elite school offer assistance, so to say that one shouldn’t accept an offer from a school w/no aid, reinforces the classism in academia.
    Miranda’s point that being mobile means not having extended family support was a real problem for me. I had a couple of very good offers at top notch schools that I had to turn down, because they were too far away and I wasn’t willing to raise kids alone. Also, I wasn’t sure that my husband could find work in those areas.
    Notice how many of the women w/t-t jobs have a husband who either stayed at home full time or had a flexible job. Again, this is possible in certain areas of the country. Here, one t-t job cannot support a family, cover mortgage, and pay a sizable student loan debt. The cost of living is too high.
    Yes, I think that some agitation is required. (Sorry, Libby, but I would like to see more agitation coming out of the PhD Mom column at Inside Higher Ed) Any reforms would have to start at the grad school level — higher funding, quicker graduation, mentoring. And temporary positions should never have restrictions about the number of years for employment. Adjuncts should be paid six times their current rates. Temporary employees should be considered first for any t-t positions. Universities need to change their mentality from one where the ideal candidate is a fresh faced boy right out of grad school. (It’s called sexism, people.) T-T employees have to join the fight and not turn a blind eye to the crap going on in their midst. They can’t write off adjunct work as “valuable experience.” There needs to be better mentoring.

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  23. (And, why don’t men obsess about this — it’s the dual edged sword. They don’t obsess because in the end, they see their primary responsibility as being the breadwinner. It’s an enormous responsibility, and most men don’t even consider anything that would disrupt that role. Women do, and then they end up with no job, reinforcing the man’s decision that they can’t even think about it.)
    My husband and I noticed an interesting phenomenon among the many academic/lucrative professionals couples we know. When she’s the professional (programmer, lawyer, doctor, etc.) and he’s the academic, his job obviously always comes first because he trained so long for it, jobs are harder to come by and you have to take what you can get, she can get a job anywhere, etc. But when he’s the professional and she’s the academic, his job obviously always comes first because he makes the money. So I’d add to Amy P’s excellent list: don’t marry a guy who is going to make every excuse to put you second.
    Anyway, the columns left me very underwhelmed. A former women’s studies professor and a children’s literature professor really have very little useful advice to offer a prospective student in a quantitative field.

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  24. Anyway, the columns left me very underwhelmed.
    Whoops, I just now noticed that one of the authors commented here. I should add that my comment was not a reflection on their writing — I’m sure their columns were excellent advice for humanities students — but of my general fatigue with the Chronicle and IHE’s overwhelming focus on the humanities.

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  25. “The point about funding can set some people on edge, because a good number of grad students don’t have assistance. Only the very elite school offer assistance, so to say that one shouldn’t accept an offer from a school w/no aid, reinforces the classism in academia.”
    We are counting teaching assistantships as funding, aren’t we?

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  26. “1) Any reforms would have to start at the grad school level — higher funding, quicker graduation, mentoring. 2) And temporary positions should never have restrictions about the number of years for employment. 3) Adjuncts should be paid six times their current rates. 4) Temporary employees should be considered first for any t-t positions.”
    Laura — this is the kind of wishlist that sounds like a non-starter, and gives universities the excuse not to do anything at all. I think we have to pick one thing, and agitate for it, and also tell universities how to do it and how to pay for it, and how it would lead to productive women returning to productivity after time outs.
    My choice is the on-ramp fellowship (but, that’s ’cause I see how it could work in my field). It would allow people to step off after graduate school or after a first post-doc, and then on-ramp back to a post doc, when they would prep to beomce competitive for a TT position. I would pay for it by taking a portion of existing fellowships and designating them as on-ramp fellowships for people who have taken time off for family circumstances (though we’d have to figure out how to define that).
    Of your list, which would you pick, and how would you pay for it?

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  27. HA. You caught me on a day when I covered MLK and Malcolm X in class. My first thought is molotov cocktails.
    I think that there should be Affirmative action programs for women with children. Universities that do not maintain a certain quota of women with children on their faculty should lose federal funding. Lawsuits should be lodged against universities that discriminate against women with gaps on their resumes.
    Gaps on the resume do not mean lack of productivity. After the year I spent teaching a graduate school class at an Ivy League university for $3,000 per semester, I took off 2-1/2 years. In that time, I attend two conferences, did research that lead to 2 peer reviewed articles, kept up with the literature, mastered another branch of the literature, maintained a blog, and held the hand of an extreme frustrated mute 2-year old who screamed all day. I didn’t need an on ramp to ease me back to productivity. I just needed another few years of PT work, before I moved back to full time employment.
    There aren’t post-docs or grants for funding in my field. I would just improve the salaries and prestige of adjunct faculty, since this is where most of the women with kids end up.

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  28. I am coming to this from the perspective of someone with a non-terminal degree in a humanities field, who has spent the past five years adjuncting, and is hoping that next semester will be her last semester of adjuncting, ever.
    Why? Because I got a job teaching at a private high school, and absolutely love it. Laura(geekymom), if I were you I would look into any and all private high school opportunities in your area (email me if you want leads on placement orgs), because they will not require certification. I get to teach what I love, I have small classes with students who work hard, in excellent facilities, with supportive administration. I don’t research or publish academically anymore, but I do freelance writing when I choose to, and I am enjoying my life immensely. Also, I don’t have to agonize about the tenure-track rollercoaster, and I have time and flexibility to give to my family.

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  29. I think the upshot is that, for men and women, you give up a lot for academia. You give up productive years in your twenties going to school (not earning money or perhaps not reproducing either). A lot of people don’t make it to the defense. A lot of people don’t ever get a job. If you do get a t-t job, you have to (probably) move to some city (if you’re lucky) far away from family and friends. You give up money (I would make more teaching high school) and time and your extended family. If you have an academic spouse, you may have to give up the idea of living together in the same place for a significant amount of time. Now, if you’re a woman, you can add you may end up giving up your fertility or your chance at tenure because of work-life issues. You may not HAVE to give these things up, but many people do. I’m not sure the academic life is worth it. It all worked out for me, and I didn’t have to give everything up (I had kids and got tenure), but I couldn’t support my family on my salary. If I didn’t have a professional spouse, I’d be financially screwed.

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  30. I think that there should be Affirmative action programs for women with children. Universities that do not maintain a certain quota of women with children on their faculty should lose federal funding. Lawsuits should be lodged against universities that discriminate against women with gaps on their resumes.
    Molotov cocktails begin in the home.
    1) Any reforms would have to start at the grad school level — higher funding, quicker graduation, mentoring.
    Is turning out humanities PhDs even more quickly going to fix anything? I always liked Invisible Adjunct’s idea for the humanities: let more people into masters programs with more varied backgrounds as a proving ground, but let far, far fewer people into PhD programs. Even if you could magically transform 40% of the adjuncting jobs back into TT, wouldn’t the PhD glut still be astonishingly large and growing?

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  31. Some random responses to people along the way:
    One advantage law school has over grad school for going into debt is that it’s much shorter. When humanities PhD programs run 7-10 years, funding it through loans is not a good deal.
    And I am counting assistantships as funding – that’s what funded me through school. And like Laura, I think working slowed me down. While on the one hand teaching made me marketable for teaching jobs, it did nothing to make me marketable for research jobs (not to knock teaching jobs, but it’s a limitation).
    I think it’s stretching it a little to say that only elite schools offer assistance (is the Big 10 elite?); but the flip side of that is one might make an argument that it’s not worth going to grad school for a PhD unless you go to an elite school, assuming that you want an academic job when you finish (the big weakness here is that not all schools with highly-ranked individual programs are actually elite schools, but if you amend to “elite departments” it might work).
    I know one woman with kids who took time off after the PhD and ended up back on the academic career path, and she’s at a community college (I can’t even say she’s tenure-track, because there’s no tenure there). She spent some time as a SAHM, then worked at a private high school. I think she’s ended up at a place a bit like Tedra’s in that column – she’s very happy, but it’s not the way most people envision academic success (though they probably should).
    Ironically, she’d like to go back to teaching high school, and would like to teach in the public schools, but the certification is an obstacle – to get certified, she would have to take one of the courses she currently teaches. Seriously. No way to waive it.
    Finally (sorry to go on and on!): I’m pretty pessimistic about any chance to get back “on track” after getting “off track” for whatever reason. I left one position because of location and had to leave another because it was an abysmal fit, and feel like those things together completely screwed my chances of ending up in another t-t position. Teaching schools are wary because I left two teaching positions; research schools aren’t interested because I spent all my time teaching. I can’t blame them, because there are always shiny new people to hire who are willing to do anything and don’t yet have mistakes on their record. I just think that I and candidates like me still have a lot to offer. (And I don’t mean to sound bitter – this is just how it looks to me. Which is why I left.)

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  32. I’m not in academia, but I am a part-time worker with a “Manager” title at a professional services firm. I am in a job-share and I haven’t found that it has killed my career in the slightest.
    Is it perfect? No. I certainly don’t make the $$$ I would if I were 100% focused on my career. But it is working out great for both me and my company. I’ll trade money for flexibility any day.
    My dad is a professor and I’ve noticed that universities don’t always seem as progressive as corporations. Why is that, do you think?
    Left to my own devices, I would assume that an organization like a university would be filled with brilliant, progressive minds who would value people above all else. Am I wrong about that?

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  33. There’s a cute boy in the carrel next to yours. He has beautiful blue eyes and wavy hair and he shares your interest in Joe McCarthy, Alben Barkley, Henry Wallace, and the Strom Thurmond Dixiecrat candidacy. He has read about Manzanar and the people who got rich looting the possessions the Nisei left behind and has opinions. DO NOT GO OUT WITH THAT BOY, DO NOT MARRY HIM NO NO NO HE IS POISON FOR YOU find yourself a nice civil engineer or a children’s librarian. Maybe a podiatrist. Do not partner with an academic, particularly in your field.

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  34. “I think it’s stretching it a little to say that only elite schools offer assistance (is the Big 10 elite?); but the flip side of that is one might make an argument that it’s not worth going to grad school for a PhD unless you go to an elite school, assuming that you want an academic job when you finish (the big weakness here is that not all schools with highly-ranked individual programs are actually elite schools, but if you amend to “elite departments” it might work).”
    My husband’s department isn’t on the Leiter report for philosophy grad schools (which lists the 53 top programs for the US), but it still has grad students and manages to support them for five years and get them jobs further down the food chain. It is an interesting question, how far down the academic food-chain can you ethically run a graduate program?

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  35. K. Yes, you are wrong about that.
    Laura — I think the advice about not taking out loans is basically a good one. It may well reinforce the classism in academia, but as an individual potential grad student you are trying to make a choice that is rational for yourself, not to reform academia. In the humanities and social sciences getting a PhD adds nothing to your earning power (a quick MA does), especially if you have are hard working and talented in which case there are lots of well paid careers that would reward you during those years you sweat on the PhD.
    I agree, though, that having children is not optional for most people; and that the career path in academia, in which you have nothing resembling job security till your mid-30s at earliest, is incredibly badly designed for women who want to have children(I think I got tenure at 34, but that was with 5 1/2 years on the PhD and only one 1-year job before getting a t-t job). A few female students have close enough relationships with me that we have talked in some detail about this problem (at least one is a sometime reader of 11D, so can feel free to pitch in) and I deliberately discuss these issues with students in a less personal way in class, because what is true of academia is only somewhat less true of other professions. One of the pieces of advice I would give to young women in general is that if you want to have a career that matters to you, and an enjoyable family life with children, some of the men you might otherwise consider marrying are not going to work out. Another is that whoever you marry, the time to start talking about these things is not when you are thinking of getting married, or thinking of having children, or after you’ve had them, but long before that. One problem, I think, is that young middle and upper middle class people, having grown up in small families, and with friends who have small families, have very little conception of how a life changes when one has a kid. One advantage of my toddler being a devil-child is that my girls will have a good sense of what it is really like.
    Several of my female colleagues have had babies pre-tenure recently, and while all of them feel pressure, I really doubt that any of them will have their tenure prospects affected by it (ie, they’ll all get tenure) and it does make me wonder whether the Berkeley study suggesting that having children harms women’s prospects for tenure but benefits men’s is still valid.
    That said, I think some sex-neutral policies re parenthood and tenure are problematic. Even the leaves; women use them to look after their kids (I did, too); men tend to use them to do more research. I’d be in favour of restricting leaves to women who do not yet have tenure, except in the case of male employees (whether or not they are on the tenure track) whose spouses are women who do not yet have tenure (and who, therefore, would benefit from having the other parent at home).
    My wife is not an academic. She did a Masters in her early twenties, and was disgusted by her discipline (rightly in my opinion), as well as believing that having kids early and enjoying them would be difficult while staying on track in an academic career. She became a teacher, as carosgram would have recommended. Her job is much more difficult and time-consuming than mine, and also much more valuable than mine, and in an exception to the rule stated above, it takes precedence over mine in the organisation of our lives. I (very)occasionally find that frustrating, and would find it very annoying indeed if it were just assumed that it should take precedence over mine (which, I know, is what a lot of women experience). That said, as Laura is probably the only person here who knows my academic work at all, I should add that spending every work night for many years debriefing with my wife about her job completely changed the kind of work I do, and she bears huge responsibility for whatever success I have in that area of my work.
    My job, however, pays the bills. But I got tenure when my first kid was 2.

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  36. K, you’re wrong.
    Harry, yes, the advice about not going to school w/out assistance is probably fair. I don’t want to go into all the problems with my grad school on the blog, but the lack of aid was just one problem. I have thought about writing a tell-all article for the NYT on this topic, but I worry that some innocent people would get hurt in the process.
    I think a lot of women get weeded out even before they get the t-t job. Those numbers have never been quantified. A lot of women have kids while working on their dissertations and are never able to go on the market.
    And to be totally fair, a lot of the problems that women face, men face, too. I have a friend who just accepted a job down in Southern VA. He drives home to Northern NJ every weekend to be with his pregnant wife and his 2 year old son. 15 hour drive.
    I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in a few months. It most likely won’t be academia. I have a few plans that hopefully will build on the PhD and not involve totally starting over.

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  37. but surely you know that tedra osell is Bitch Phd? with that knowledge, I read the article differently from you. read her blog (actually, i see that you do) for the details about her chocies — frankly, they seemed mostly economic.

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  38. Thanks for the advice 11D readers.I guess I’m pretty screwed–lots of loan debt, and I’m late 30s. Well, the good news is that the bad economy might work to my favor. (Hooray?) I’ve been thinking about this and how I might structure my next two years, so I don’t have to hold off on tenure. Oeuf…

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  39. I have a lot of thoughts about this post, but I just wanted to post an encouraging story.
    I finished my degree 3 job cycles before I got my current TT job at a flagship R1. For those 2 years between degree and job I had one single semester of adjunct work. Otherwise I was writing job applications and tutoring inner city kids and temping for Google.
    I interviewed 7 months pregnant, the job was a great fit, I negotiated child care at the University day care as part of my package and here I am. Right now, it seems doable. Maybe tomorrow it won’t. My husband does not yet have his dream job, but we’re hopeful.
    And, seriously, not taking out any loans while in graduate school is what made all of this possible. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I’d had to work full time to pay back loans, or if we couldn’t afford day care because we were paying back loans. I truly think students should wait another year and get make their application stronger if they are not offered a position without full, cost-of-living funding. Period. (People in my program, however, took out loans on top of their full funding, too, so…)

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  40. “Thanks for the advice 11D readers.I guess I’m pretty screwed–lots of loan debt, and I’m late 30s. Well, the good news is that the bad economy might work to my favor. (Hooray?) I’ve been thinking about this and how I might structure my next two years, so I don’t have to hold off on tenure. Oeuf…”
    You’ve got the job, which is great. The really stinky scenarios are if you don’t get the job, don’t finish the degree, the debt is twice your yearly income, etc.
    I was talking to my husband last night, proposing a new model of tuition payment–the student doesn’t pay or owe a but the school gets a cut of the ex-student’s gross salary for a certain length of time. I was proposing 10% for 10 years, although it sounds like it would need to be somewhat higher than that.

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  41. Amy P: depends on the school. A better way of doing it is to have the Federal Government pay the whole lot in return for a lifetime tax increment. This would constitute a large upfront cost if lots of people bought in, but the return would come quickly after school.

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  42. How about something like the PIK program (the one where the government paid farmers to idle land)? There is an oversupply of Ph.D.s in the humanities and other areas. So, the government should pay universities to cut graduate programs (and maybe pay newish universities to go back to being colleges). Since I’m one of those who thinks that being educated means a certain well-roundedness, payment could be contingent on keeping or increasing undergraduate course requirements in the humanities.

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  43. harry b,
    I’m not super serious as to the mechanics, but what I was getting at is that colleges and other institutions (cooking schools, etc) should have a stake in how their graduates do with their paper, to help bring some sort of equilibrium between college costs and the financial payoff associated with a diploma. There’s such a mismatch between the cost of certain programs and the salaries associated with them (MFAs, cooking schools, social work, early childhood development, etc.). We’ve talked about this stuff lots already here, but I think it bears repeating, especially since unsustainable tuition levels may become a big issue as the current economic downturn continues.
    I’m on principle against spreading expenses thinly over a long period of time, since it seems to have the effect of making prices balloon. (480 low, low monthly payments!) I’d go so far as to say that the 30-year mortgage loan was not a good idea. I don’t think there’s any item that one should be paying more than 20 years for, certainly not for a college education that will be largely obsolete by that time.

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  44. Siobhan, no worries–I didn’t take your comment personally. There are some scientists and a mathematician at the Mama, PhD blog as well–today’s post takes this issue up again from a different angle.
    But, Laura, you’re right, our postings are too often personal rather than structural. I know for me part of that is my field–I’m in literature and writing, I’m not a researcher in this field, so I just tell stories. Maybe we should look for a blogger with a research interest in the area?
    I like the idea of affirmative action for women with children, though in my own department that wouldn’t be necessary. All the tenured/tenure-track women in my department are parents or step-parents, and we are close to half the faculty in the tenure stream. But, of course, we’re not a tier one university. I want to think more about on-ramps, too. I’d like to see us thinking more creatively about that.
    Off to check out the rest of the conversation, and I’ll try to come back to it in my next blog post, too.

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  45. One of the pieces of advice I would give to young women in general is that if you want to have a career that matters to you, and an enjoyable family life with children, some of the men you might otherwise consider marrying are not going to work out.
    Harry, this made me laugh, as did dave’s comment. I have you telling me to stay away from philosophers (and by the looks of it so far, not a problem), but I have my mom asking me (somewhat frequently) if there are any cute guys in my department. Sigh.
    I talked about it with another student (of yours) once and I while I was wondering when it would work to have kids, she told me that that might not be the way to think about it. If I really want kids, have them, and figure the career stuff out later. It matters, then, how much I’ll care about my career, I guess (which I honestly can’t gauge, though I’m assuming it would be less than having a family). But a bigger problem might be that while in grad school you have much less time to even think about dating…and that pushes having kids even further down the road…

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  46. Toni Macaroni:
    I didn’t care too much for Amy’s suggestion that we avoid taking out loans (I think the stuff about God was tongue-in-cheek, or so I hope). I couldn’t have survived grad school without taking out loans. Wasn’t so much a matter of partial funding as a matter of making ends meet while living off of, no joke, 13K/year in *Seattle* (the next San Francisco, cost-of-living-wise).
    So now I do have debt, but I also have a tenure-track job. My dream job (although taking up surfing while adjuncting *does sound nice). And if I didn’t get this t-t job, I’m sure, with my doctorate and my ‘soft skills set’, I could get a job that pays as much or even (perhaps likely) more (once the recession subsides).
    In other words, I’d say that be OK or at least willing to take out some amount of loan (if there are any right now) and think of it as an investment. I invested in me and that feels OK, monthly payment notwithstanding.

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  47. I also want to add that we just bought a house — it’s tiny, but it’s ours — and even if my partner lost his adjunct job, we’d be able to make the payments (and we live a city where house prices are slightly above the national average). We’re also paying for pre-school (one kid). In other words, even with student loan debt, I’m making ends meet (even managing to save money) *and* I have the job I wanted to get in the first place. Could have something to do with the fact that neither of us have credit card debt, but…
    So while I agree with virtually everybody here that *ideally* you should avoid loans (in any situation, even non-academic ones), I am living proof that people with student loan debts are not drowning in it. Granted, we’re not making the maximum monthly payments, but our interest rate is fixed at just below 4%, so we’re doing OK.
    Finally, as a product of the working-class (there were no college trust funds for this sister), I really cringe when people start foreclosing on dreams before thinking about how, for some of us, we had to borrow to get where we are.
    Sorry for the ramble.

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  48. I don’t know if you should absolutely avoid taking out loans, but would say that shouldn’t go to graduate school in the humanities or social science without support that would at least give you a good chance of avoiding the need for loans. My undergrad advisers gave me two pieces of advice when I said I was looking at grad school.
    1. Don’t go anywhere without funding.
    2. Don’t worry about a great dissertation, just a completed one.
    I managed to follow the first recommendation, but not the second.
    However, I think it is getting harder to live on a stipend. My uncle went to the same university as I did (different departments), but 30 years earlier. His support was enough to make payments on a new car while still affording a one bedroom apartment. I got by because I had a paid-off car and roommates.

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  49. “I couldn’t have survived grad school without taking out loans. Wasn’t so much a matter of partial funding as a matter of making ends meet while living off of, no joke, 13K/year in *Seattle* (the next San Francisco, cost-of-living-wise).”
    13k is theoretically full-funding, so topping it off a bit with credit is not nearly as objectionable as going $15k in debt a year eight years in a row.
    And while I remember it, for you guys upthread, a lot of doctors struggle with their student loans (and debt generally), so “doctors take out big loans!” isn’t a great argument. I was just skimming a Money Magazine article (“Young Doctors in Debt”) about a young medical couple with $500k in student loans between them.
    http://money.cnn.com/2007/11/16/pf/young_doctors.moneymag/index.htm

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  50. Here’s one — I actually considered taking a job at a really CRAPPY university, where I knew no one would ever push me really hard to be productive so that I could sneak out early and go to parent-teacher conferences and the like. I have an Ivy-league PH.d. and really TRIED to be happy working at a community college, but it just wasn’t possible. SO now I’m back on the treadmill at the fancy-schmancy university, wondering if I’ll be able to hang. I don’t remember LInda Hirschman broaching the idea of lowering your standards as a viable option — but maybe I missed that part.

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