A friend of mine posted this article to his Facebook page, and I thought it well worth pointing your attention to it. Researchers at University of California, Berkley surveyed over 8,000 doctoral students from the UC System about their career, family and life plans. Unsurprisingly perhaps, they found that “major research universities may be losing some of the most talented tenure-track academics before they even arrive. In the eyes of many doctoral students, the academic fast track has a bad reputation–one of unrelenting work hours that allow little or no room for a satisfying family life.” I felt reading this study was really really validating. More notes below the fold, although reading the article is probably your best use of your time.
What is so valuable about this study to me is that it is a reflection of how I have felt about tenure-track, but reflected by a huge study size. For example:
- By the time they graduate, the percentage of men and women who want to be employed on tenure-track at a research institution has gone down — 45% to 36% of men, and 39% to 27% of women.
- Less than half of men and 29% of women think that research-intensive universities are family-friendly places for one’s career.
- Most doctoral students don’t think they can have and raise kids while getting their degree, with 54% of women (compared to 36% of men) feel that being a graduate student is incompatible to having kids, considering the real limitations of ” the time demands of PhD programs; current household income level; the perceived stress of raising a child while a student; and concerns about the availability of affordable child care, housing, and health insurance.”
- Doctoral students — women and men — who are parents report putting their education on hold, or sacrificing things in their careers in order to be good parents.
- While doctoral students who aren’t parents spend 75+hours a week on t”hD work, employment, housework, and caregiving, mothers log a crushing hundred-plus hours a week in these activities (and fathers ninety hours)”.
The authors call for a new model for faculty life in academia, which I’m quoting lots of here for you:
We need new thinking and a new model to attract and retain the next generation in academia. If research universities want to attract and retain the best and brightest PhDs and encourage them to stay on the academic track, the administrative hierarchy (the president or chancellor), through the administration and faculty ranks, needs to take urgent notice of the ways in which the structure of academia at all levels is turning people away from the profession. Challenging some of the more common prevailing assumptions can be a way to start. These assumptions, and their possible antidotes, include the following:
- Assumption: Fast-track academia is typically either a fulltime or a no-time pursuit, particularly for those on fellowships or grants. Antidote: Men and women can shift to part-time status or temporarily elongate timelines over their academic lives without suffering career penalties.
- Assumption: The appropriate career trajectory for successful academics is linear and without breaks–from the doctoral years to postdoctoral experience to pretenure years to the attainment of the rank of full professor. Antidote: Many men and women will want or need to take time out temporarily from their academic lives for caregiving, and universities will support their reentry.
- Assumption: Academic “stars” are those who move through the ranks very quickly. Antidote: Academic “stars” are those who produce the most important or relevant work–faster is not necessarily better.
- Assumption: There is no good time to have children. Antidote: It is fine to have children at any point in the career path because a full array of resources exists to support academic parents.
- Assumption: Having children, particularly for women, is often equated with less seriousness and drive. Antidote: There is no stigma associated with having children, nor are there negative career consequences, and the culture is broadly supportive of academics who do have children.
- Assumption: All talented doctoral students should want to become professors on the academic fast track. Antidote: Venues exist to evaluate objectively and discuss different career and life paths in and outside academia–all are accepted.
- Assumption: Work-life balance and family friendliness are not typically promoted as important values by academic administrators and faculty. Antidote: Family-friendly policies are promoted, campuswide conferences are held to support work-life balance for all academics, department chairs are trained on the issues, and faculty mentor doctoral students.
Amen. On a personal note, I don’t know how all y’all out there do it — ScienceWoman, and acmegirl and Isis and Tinkering Theorist and Janet and Dr Mom and FSP and ScienceMama and Twice and the guys too and everyone else in my googlereader who I should link to to give some link love but can’t ’cause I have to go to a meeting.
Speaking of which, I should go do that. But reading others’ online stories, even stories of difficulties, I still find encouraging. At least I’m not alone out there trying to figure this job/life thing out. At least there’s not some big secret out there that everyone else knows already of which I’m just oblivious.
And eventually, hopefully enough of us will get tenure to be able to start making departmental, college, and university environments that make use of all those antidotes listed above.