I recently provided a cover blurb for the new book Professor Mommy: Finding Work-Family Balance in Academia. Written by Bowdoin professors Rachel Connelly and Kristen Ghodsee, the book covers how to navigate various stages of an academic career while maintaining a full personal life.
There are certain lines that I disagree with, such as “Don’t plan to be as productive during your pregnancy or during the six months after the birth of your child as you usually are. There may be things that you can do during that time, but original writing is probably not a reasonable expectation.” But this may just be more personal experience. I wrote the manuscripts of both 168 Hours and All the Money in the World (off to copy-editing this week!) while pregnant. And there are plenty of parts I really do like, such as their admonition that women who don’t want to pursue a career in academia (with all its perks and challenges) not blame that solely on motherhood. Connelly has four children and Ghodsee spent much of her career as a single mother, and they got tenure.
I also liked their very specific instructions on what to include in a tenure dossier. This is not just good advice for women academics, but for anyone in any field. If you want to make it in a competitive field, you need to figure out the metrics that matter, and focus on them. Spending extra hours grading papers is probably not going to be rewarded. Having one “perfect” review published is not as good as 4-5 really solid good ones. You have to do some committee assignments, but be smart about seeking out the ones where you can contribute and where your hard work will be rewarded. Have lots of irons in the fire, because some slow-moving peer reviewers will sit on your papers for years. Figure out what kind of research gets published, and do that kind of research.
Women (and men) who succeed in academia focus on what matters. This was most humorously apparent in an obstacle Connelly and Ghodsee encountered while writing this book. They sent out surveys to lots of academics who were also mothers, intending to get data on their experiences. “However, of the formal surveys that we sent out, we only received eleven completed responses,” they write.
It turns out that women focused on the metrics that matter don’t spend precious time filling out random surveys. Perhaps too bad from the perspective of those of us who like new data, but understandable all the same!