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The three things I learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: on being a radical scholar

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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The kiddo is asleep for the night. My husband and I sit on kitchen countertops, facing each other.

“We should get back to work.”


We sit another moment, shoulders slumped, dark circles under our eyes.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get all these grants done,” he says.

“I don’t know how I’ll get all these manuscripts drafted,” I reply.

We sit some more. We talk some more. About how we can’t compete against people with kids but a stay at home spouse, about how we can’t compete against our peers without kids at all. He is in a department where people show up early and stay late. You can find a third of the faculty in the department at any given time on the weekends. I’m in a department where folks work from home as often as they work from the office, but they are still getting stuff done. And it feels like they are all getting more done than me.

Pile the ubiquitous Mommy Guilt on top of this, the culturally conditioned guilt that says not staying at home hurts my child despite the intellectual knowledge that good daycare, and the kind of quality investments I make with my daughter, are hugely beneficial, and there are few hours in my day to sleep.

We talk some more. Someone cries; it’s usually me. We head to the couch and pull out our laptops and work until our eyes blur the lines on the screen. Then we go to the bed. I fall asleep while my husband reads several articles on his tablet. I wake at five the next morning to go to work early.

This is the more raw side of my life, the harder side that blog readers and Twitter followers seldom see. But it has become harder to hide in the year of my third year review. I am at the halfway point between the start of my job and going up for tenure. And I wonder if this track I have fought so hard for, the one where I lead my life the way I feel is right and has the most impact, is the one that will earn me tenure, or earn me a handshake and a wave out the door.

* * *

It was in this frame of mind that I headed to the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women on September 22nd-23rd, feeling terrible at what a mess I was making of my wifely and motherly duties, and how I surely would never be able to get my act together enough to get tenure at the prestigious R1 institution where I am employed.

The conference did not lower my panic, or my tears, and judging by the other attendees, I was not alone. I heard a lot of women talk about how much they yearn for tenure, about their ambition to be a leader in their field, and then only minutes later their voices would break as they would finish, “But I am not a bad person if I don’t get tenure.” A lot of us talked about the babies we left at home to be there, the fights for lactation rooms, the women who pulled up the ladder behind them instead of reaching out a hand, the men who sneered at the idea that a conference for pre-tenure women was even necessary. And we talked about our allies, the men and women who had our backs, explicit mentors as well as the people we admired from afar.

The conference was transformative. I feel like those hundred or so women that I went to that conference with are my posse now, and it is exciting to imagine that in six to ten years, we could, all of us, be tenured. I felt supported and appreciated by the folks who ran the conference, and was simply amazed at the fierceness and brilliance of both the organizers and speakers (Katie Pope and Beverly Davenport Sypher now rank among my Favorite People Ever). I finally got to meet the great Alice Pawley, and was struck by her warmth, her intelligence, and her strength. I came away with several concrete ideas to improve my chances for tenure… and a lot of unease about this process that will not leave me until I hear final word, a few more years from now, about whether or not I get it.

So I want to share the three main points I learned. The first two are things I was taught last week, and the last is what I infer is necessary for us to change the way we understand tenure and promotion.

1. Bring your whole self to your job.

Dr. Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner gave the opening plenary talk, entitled “From Farm Labor to Academic Labor.” Dr. Turner was a farm worker and lived in a farm camp in California throughout her childhood. She gave a moving account of her own childhood experiences, her parents’ support of her love of reading, her life of “firsts” at her institutions – first tenured woman of color, first full professor woman of color, and embedded these personal experiences in a broader narrative about what this job asks of us.

Dr. Turner encouraged us to push against a job that forces us to “constantly abstract ourselves,” that we should bring our whole selves to the table because of what we offer but also because it makes us whole.

How many of us publicly admit the side of us that yearns for more childcare, but not also the side of us that yearns to turn off our computers and snuggle our kids for an afternoon? How many academics hide who they love, or what they love, for fear of not fitting in or not seeming serious? And no wonder; Dr. Turner describes academics of color in particular as being “guests in someone else’s house:”

“Like students of color in the university climate, guests have no history in the house they occupy. There are no photographs on the wall that reflect their image. Their paraphernalia, painting, scents and sounds do not appear in the house. There are many barriers for students who constantly occupy a guest status that keep them from doing their best work” (Turner 1994: 356).

I tend to bring what I think is my whole self, or most of it, to the table, but then a significant part of my brain is occupied by overthinking what I’ve done. What will they think of me if they hear I’m crazy about my kid? What will they think when they find I devote hours and hours to roller derby? That I have a blog? Are they judging me right now? And all those thoughts harm my interactions with colleagues, they limit my productivity, they mean that I only bring a fraction of the warmth and intelligence I’m capable of bringing to my job.

So no more. I’m bringing everything that I am to my job. This isn’t just about loving my kid, or being an athlete, or writing a blog, though it’s a start to fully embrace these things. This is about wanting to push the boundaries of how anthropologists and doctors think about female reproductive physiology. This is about the intersection of feminism and evolutionary biology. And this means that I need to more explicitly make this passion my primary scholarly interest.

2. Have a plan.

This point was largely inspired by a breakout session led by Dr. Mary Dankoski. In it, Dr. Dankoski asked us if we were the type of academic who lived by Plan A: did what we were asked to do and hoped we would have a rewarding fulfilling career while also meeting the promotion and tenure expectations, or Plan B: were proactive, developed a plan and negotiated responsibilities to be sure we will have vitality, find real meaning in our work, and meet promotion expectations.

You can probably guess which type most of us were, and which type Dankoski encouraged us to become. The Plan A academic says yes to most things because she is directionless and is trying to meet expectations, whereas the Plan B academic uses her personal values and interests to define and express her scholarly worth.

Related to Turner’s point about bringing your whole self to the job, Dankoski asked what we cared most about in order to create a career plan around it. She created a great handout to force us to write a Career Development Plan. The first step was to write on the following prompt:

“It is 5 years from today. If you were wildly successful in your work and personal life, what will you have achieved?”

It was powerful to hear women’s answers all around the room. They gave bold answers: to become a leader in their field, to embody social justice values, to raise a family, to be on the path to becoming a provost, to have several federally funded grants. Like many women, I have been chastised in the past for daring to say that I want to lead a big life. But here was only encouragement and excitement.

Next, we filled in a blank table on our handout. The rows were labeled Values, Passions, Strengths and Challenges, the columns labeled Professional and Personal. This gave me a sense of my strengths and where I should be focusing my scholarly attention. Why, if I am so passionate about changing sexism in science and medicine, am I not doing scholarly work on it? Part of identifying these issues is to help us get our strengths to “count” in a traditional tenure process (which I will get to later).

So, have a goal and make it a big one. Make a plan, ground it in your personal values. Dream big, form actionable steps towards those dreams, and put some thought into how your dreams and the mission of your institution intersect. Any time you can convince your employer that your dreams are good for them will make it easier to make them happen.

3. Be a radical.

At the conclusion of the first day, Dr. Sypher pointed out that simply getting one hundred women through the tenure process was a pretty darn radical act in and of itself. In many ways she is right. It is a radical thing for us to stick it out, when so many don’t. And honestly, thinking about all of the women I met last week getting tenure is something that is going to carry me through a number of rough days.

To be clear, it’s not that academia weeds out the weak. The research on attrition for women and people of color indicates it’s not that women who leave are not confident, or are weak, but that they know their self-worth and have decided they’d rather take their toys to another sandbox where they’ll actually be appreciated.

But those of us who insist on playing with our toys in the academic sandbox need to be radicals. And I do think a lot of the ways we need to be radical involves how we perform our job: we need to set boundaries so that we aren’t always doing the service work no one wants, we need to make our passions our scholarly interests in the face of some who would invalidate it, we need to perform our confidence in front of people who might undermine us. We need to get tenure.

But I think it also means reflecting critically on what it takes to get tenure, and whether the way it’s done is the way it should be done. There are two problems with the current criteria for tenure: they don’t reflect modern, interdisciplinary scholarship, and they don’t include metrics to evaluate influence and perspective beyond peer-reviewed publications.

More institutions are recognizing that interdisciplinary scholarship is a good thing, and some are even able to hire people with joint hires among the social sciences and ethnic studies, or biology and engineering. Yet these institutions that know they want their faculty to be twenty first century scholars use the same metrics to evaluate interdisciplinary scholars as they use to evaluate traditional ones. From conversations I had at the conference, they don’t know how to retain these scholars, or support them, and so many feel adrift, or don’t make it to tenure. And these faculty are very often from underrepresented groups – every one I met at the conference, in fact, was a woman of color.

Then there is the added issue of measuring influence and impact in a twenty first century society. At an R1 institution like mine, the criteria for tenure are to publish ten papers (thereabouts depending on the discipline, a book and some papers if you’re in the humanities), have teaching that doesn’t suck, and more or less pull your weight in terms of service. It doesn’t seem like much, until you consider the weeks, months and even years of work that go into each of those ten publications: writing and getting the grants (a near-impossible feat these days, with both NIH and NSF funding rates around 5%), advising the students, doing the research, analyzing it, hitting innumerable dead ends, drafting and revising, submitting and resubmitting. Publishing ten quality papers is hard work, and is in many ways a fine way to demonstrate one’s contribution to a field, perspective, and the beginning of one’s trajectory as a professor.

But are peer-reviewed publications, read and cited by only by a select group of those peers, the best way to assess influence and importance? They are certainly no longer the only way. My 2006 paper on iron-deficiency anemia and menstruation has been cited by six other papers; my 2011 blog post on this paper has been viewed tens of thousands of times and received almost sixty comments between its two postings. Some anthropology blogs have been responsible for starting entire new branches of the discipline, others show an applied side of anthropology that helps us see the impact of this field in our everyday lives; some ground their writing in a historical and evolutionary approach or move us with their perspective on war and poverty, where still others are not only influential, but regularly get more hits than the website for our main professional association. Some use their blog as a service to the discipline, and a newcomer is dispelling myths about milk (full disclosure: both of those blogs are by collaborators, kickass collaborators in fact). This is by no means an exhaustive list.

I’m not saying every academic needs to be interdisciplinary, or every academic needs a blog. But some of us are committed to thinking about scholarship in a different way, or being public intellectuals. We want to put time and effort into influencing our fields but also inspiring lay scientists and future academics. That is its own kind of professional impact.

So how does one be a radical when radical scholarship is hard to measure with current tenure criteria?

Be that radical anyway. Be the scholar you think you should be, bringing your whole self to the table, finding your passion and making it your scholarship, and having a plan that will help you become a leader in your field.

Every single female academic I have ever talked to about tenure has admitted to having a back-up plan. If I don’t get tenure, I’ll be okay because I can stay at home with the kids. I can go back to school. I can get back into my art. I can write. I can consult. If we’re going to all have these back-up plans (which, true to our impostor syndrome, are often better-defined than our actual plan to tenure) why not put it to good use? Live our lives, do our jobs the way we think they should be done, and try to get tenure that way. We already know what we’ll do if it doesn’t work.

And for goodness’ sake, don’t pull up the ladder behind you. That shit just ain’t cool.


p.s. For two important posts that deal with radical scholarship in a way specific to anthropology, read Daniel Lende’s and John Hawks’s posts over at Anthropologies.

Kate Clancy About the Author: Dr. Kate Clancy is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois. She studies the evolutionary medicine of women’s reproductive physiology, and blogs about her field, the evolution of human behavior and issues for women in science. Find her comment policy here. Follow on Twitter @KateClancy.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. scicurious 11:21 am 10/7/2011

    Thanks so much for posting this! I think this is something that women (and men!) in all stages of academia could identify with and make use of.

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  2. 2. sckavassalis 11:25 am 10/7/2011

    This was really spot on. Seriously, thank you for writing this. I know so many women (and men) who really will see themselves in the above. I hope mentors out there take note, if they’ve never thought of this before…

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  3. 3. kclancy 11:41 am 10/7/2011

    Thanks so much, you two. I do hope this stuff is useful to men and women — I think some of it (i.e., impostor syndrome) is more frequent in women, but we can all benefit from making plans and taking ourselves more seriously.

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  4. 4. johnhawks 12:48 pm 10/7/2011

    The third year pre-tenure can be a great time. Assume you’ve spent your first three years getting to know your colleagues, coming to department seminars, and developing new courses — in other words, you haven’t done anything to shoot yourself in the foot as a colleague.

    Here’s my radical advice:

    1. Your need to have publications is an unlimited license to say no. Everyone in your profession understands that. You need no further excuse. You don’t even have to be nice about it. Just say no.

    2. Do not develop any more new courses until you have tenure. No matter what. See number 1.

    3. Every hour you spend grading is an hour you could have spent writing. See number 1.

    4. If anyone (your chair, your colleagues) think they have a valid exception to number 1, ask your chair if she would put it in writing that it will enhance your tenure package. Seriously. This should remind everyone of number 1.

    5. I hear everyone gasping at number 4. You’ve spent three years being nice. Your chair’s worst fear is that she will have to write a letter supporting your tenure case without enough publications. See number 1.

    6. A department where people are “in early and on weekends” makes exploitative demands on a spouse, regardless of whether he or she is an academic. If colleagues have unwritten expectations about long hours in the lab, see number 4. Your university WILL support you on this.

    Personally, I love my colleagues, and I like having friends in my department. But professionally, the only thing that affects your future salary will be how your record stacks up to other people at your career stage on the job market. Your career independence comes from publishing.

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  5. 5. kclancy 12:52 pm 10/7/2011

    Wonderful advice, John. This year, I have finally learned to say no. It’s only working half the time, which is why your advice here is great. I can get folks to put in writing why my saying yes will help me for tenure — if they can’t do that, I get to say no again.

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  6. 6. llparker 1:48 pm 10/7/2011

    I wish I could have been there! I’m at Purdue, 4th year into TT (with a year of tenure clock stoppage). I was out of town that day (for a family thing no less, hah) and couldn’t go to the conference. I hope I can go next year!!

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  7. 7. kclancy 2:31 pm 10/7/2011

    llparker, go next year for sure — I loved it and hope to be back next year. It was very practical and helpful!

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  8. 8. erinjprosser 2:33 pm 10/7/2011

    This is SUCH a great post. I am a post-doc who has been constantly thinking about alternative careers besides academics. While the tenure issue is far, far away right now, your post has at least got me thinking about continuing in the research world, but only if I’m passionate about my research area…which means I need to change my research area. Thanks for the inspirational post! You rock :)

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  9. 9. nswane 2:47 pm 10/7/2011

    This is a great post. I’m not in academia, but I have gone through the same struggles in my own scientific field. I’ve found it SO important to do all three of your recommendations. Thank you for a little validation :)

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  10. 10. kclancy 3:36 pm 10/7/2011

    erinjprosser — the conference was a huge wake-up call for me. Why aren’t I focusing on my primary passion? It has led to big changes in my own workflow and priorities. It’s a risk in some ways, but actually a shift that will likely lead to more and better publications.

    nswane, I’m so glad the post was validating for you! And I was hoping the post would move non-academics as well.

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  11. 11. Postulator 7:00 pm 10/7/2011

    Always remember that you should work to live, not the other way around. Work can be a passion, but it shouldn’t be your life.

    The modern world finds all sorts of ways to pressure people into putting work first, and it sounds like you’ve found a career that does that. Constantly question whether what you’re doing is for you or for someone else.

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  12. 12. j_real 10:44 pm 10/7/2011

    This speaks to broader issues of work/life balance in academia (and corporate and non-profit and so many walks of life where people take their careers personally). As a graduate student, I’ve had my struggles with future choices–knowing the competitive nature of the postdoc I would face, and the statistics of the job search beyond that… I’ve felt that I have too broad a love for life to allow my days to be defined so narrowly (and so stressfully). It’s sad to me that the inspiration of science is so lost among the rest.

    What resonated with me most was: “it’s not that women who leave are not confident, or are weak, but that they know their self-worth and have decided they’d rather take their toys to another sandbox where they’ll actually be appreciated,” and “Every single female academic I have ever talked to about tenure has admitted to having a back-up plan.”

    Your first 2 pieces of advice are ones I came to, just navigating grad school. I took to Twitter and scientific communication as hobbies/extracurriculars, and found that brought me back to the real love and inspiration of science that was for some time lost. However, maintaining these efforts has lead to a lot of hurdles and social pressure regarding proper use of time/focus… and all I’ve been able to think about is plan B or another sandbox. Your post does inspire me to “Be a radical anyway”–we’ll have to see where it all ends up.

    Thanks, @jrilstone/@j_real.

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  13. 13. kalikabali 12:27 am 10/8/2011

    I work in a non-academic research organisation and as a mother of a young child, and a researcher in an inter-disciplinary area, I can relate to everything in the post. Thanks for such an inspiring post, and letting me know that I am not the only one.

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  14. 14. mhaak 12:30 pm 10/8/2011

    I find this topic quite interesting. Why do we as women always think we can “have it all”? We make choices in our lives, we have to choose what is most important to us and excel at that. I resent your views of your childless female colleagues… do you not realize the sacrifices they have made by realizing we can’t “have it all” and choosing to not have children? Everyone has hardships in getting to where they are. If as a female you want to be treated as an equal, you can’t also ask for special treatment when you feel you would like it. Sorry if this all sounds harsh, but it’s honest. My Radical advice: you can’t have it all. choose, prioritize and focus.

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  15. 15. Anne Jefferson 12:52 pm 10/8/2011

    Generally, I think this is a great post, Kate and it really makes me wish I could have gone to the conference.

    But here’s my beef with the advice about merging “extra-curricular” passions with work — it simply doesn’t work for some fields of science. I’m passionate about my daughter and about women’s rights, but I’m a watershed hydrologist, and I really, really like my existing research focus. Bringing my whole self to work, means what exactly? Sure, I can mention my kid in class and make sure to feature women-authored papers in the reading lists, etc. but I’m not going to radically refocus my research onto how kids interact with streams or women-led stream clean-ups, because that’s not what I’m trained in, nor what truly interests me about how the earth works.

    It seems like when people talk about merging passions with work, they invariably use the examples of women researching women’s issues, minorities focusing on studies about their ethnic group, and mothers shifting to studying something-related to kids. To me, that sort of advice seems to carry the somewhat-sinister undertone that women/minorities/mothers should stick to where their “natural interests” lie and that if I don’t somehow bring my family into my work that I’m “doin’ it wrong.” I just want to be able to do fascinating, impersonal science while at work, and be a great person (not having to represent science all the time) when I’m not at work.

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  16. 16. sabrina.agarwal 3:45 pm 10/8/2011

    As a very recently tenured biological anthropologist at UC Berkeley, I can relate to all of what you have said. I was able to get tenure while sticking to true to my academic passions and trying (perhaps inadvertently) to be a “radical”. But it was not easy – and most days the ordeal of tenure makes me want to put the fear in my graduate students to heed John Hawks’ wise advice that publishing is your only way to career independence. The reality is that the magical 10 peer-reviewed papers (or book and some papers) is down-right difficult and/or impossible for the tenure-track engaged parent. More importantly, the exclusive focus on traditional peer-reviewed publishing discounts the merit of investing significant time into teaching and mentorship that many of us at R1 institutions feel equally passionate and devoted to nurturing, and does not address the issue of quality of publication vs. sheer quantity (this is relevant to all academics that are interested in being radical scholars and have cultivated influence and importance in their work as you describe). What I have learned is that the key to getting tenure your own way is to surround yourself with great mentors that can act not only allies, but can continue to support and inspire you through the process of getting tenure. I was lucky to have these. My very capable and promising female graduate student recently asked me why any female academic in her right mind, including herself, would seek a TT job at an RI institution given all these issues. Women should not be scared away from obtaining a job at a top research institute – instead we need to change the rules of the sandbox. Realizing there are so many young and admirable scientists in the field like you seeking to change the rules makes me happy and hopeful this will happen.

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  17. 17. mariam_durrani 3:54 pm 10/8/2011

    I appreciated your article, and just wanted to point out another aspect to this concern, the lives of graduate students who are also mothers and fathers. Being a mother and a 3rd-year joint PhD student, I can attest to many of the same concerns as you expressed, but I’m also worried about finishing the work I’ve dedicated the last 3 years to. I’m worried about funding, childcare, where we will live in 2 years when my daughter starts school. Of course, like anyone, I can go on, but I wanted to raise the issue of how faculty and administration sometimes will say they support you, but there are no structures or spaces to get this support. It’s basically that you are on your own and if you survive, people will be very impressed, but if you don’t, they’ll understand it was due to certain “circumstances.” I guess what I’m saying is that as a graduate student of color, I certainly feel like a guest in the academy. If I survive, I’ll be okay (maybe), but if I don’t, well, I guess I was just a guest to begin with.

    Also, thanks for writing about the conference. I hope to attend next year.

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  18. 18. kclancy 4:42 pm 10/8/2011

    mhaak, where exactly was I asking to “have it all?” And where, oh where, was I asking for “special treatment.” Special treatment in the form of what? I am still needing to do the exact same things to get tenure as anyone else.

    Anne, I’m sorry you feel that way about the post. I can see how it would seem that what I am promoting is that women should do more women-focused work, since what I already study is women’s health. But my advice was to “make your passion your scholarly interest.” For me, my passion and scholarly interest intersect naturally around women — I already study the endometrium. But I think you make an important point that one’s “passion” shouldn’t be conflated with one’s identity.

    sabrina.agarwal, first, congrats on getting tenure! I hope to join you one day. And the point you bring up around mentorship makes me think about a recent Harvard Business Review article I read about the myths of the leaky pipeline. What it said was that women have no lack of “mentors,” but those mentors are more junior than men’s mentors and so cannot serve as “sponsors,” people who actively promote (help write papers or grants, recommend them for positions, etc) rather than just advise or support.

    mariam_durrani, I certainly agree. Addressing grad student issues would take another post, if not several. And for both grad students and faculty, the idea of “support” really does tend to be just an idea. There are few institutional structures in place to provide concrete support.

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  19. 19. ejwillingham 7:03 pm 10/8/2011

    “I find this topic quite interesting. Why do we as women always think we can “have it all”? We make choices in our lives, we have to choose what is most important to us and excel at that. I resent your views of your childless female colleagues… do you not realize the sacrifices they have made by realizing we can’t “have it all” and choosing to not have children? Everyone has hardships in getting to where they are. If as a female you want to be treated as an equal, you can’t also ask for special treatment when you feel you would like it. Sorry if this all sounds harsh, but it’s honest. My Radical advice: you can’t have iat all. choose, prioritize and focus.”

    Why is this only about women? Family-work balance isn’t only a woman thing, but it appears to be up to women to ask for it. It’s not about asking for too much; it’s about asking for what’s right. We’re in the middle of what I hope is a seismic shift in attitudes regarding parenting and work balance for both men and women, but women — because of existing cultural roles and expectations/lack thereof — are necessarily at the vanguard of shifting that balance.

    It makes no sense to say, “If as a female you want to be treated as an equal.” It’s “as a human being, you want to be treated as an equal.” Period. I’ve known many women in academe who have not had children, and I’ve never gotten the impression from them that they felt they’d sacrificed something as women in not doing so. Would anyone ever assume that a childless man in academe “sacrificed” anything by opting not to have children? Again, this is “as a human being, you want to be treated as an equal.”

    Your advice isn’t radical. It’s common. It happens to be good, sound advice. The thing is, the “choice” you seem to offer is for women only, to have or not to have children and a career, not to try to “have it all.” That “all” isn’t a zero sum game of offspring on the one hand and work on the other, with the two sides gnawing against each other. It’s what underlies those two aspects — the social expectations and social supports or lack thereof — that are the determinants of how possible they are. Nothing needs to change about women’s electing to have both a career and children. What does need to change are the constructs underlying them and supporting or not supporting them, and that change should apply for both men and women who want to “have it all.”

    For the record, I was formerly a biologist on the tenure track whose research had nothing to do with children or women’s studies. I left not because I had children but because I had children with special needs. I did make a choice and was lucky enough to be able to continue with a life’s passion–writing and editing science–while framing that work around what my children needed. The thing is, that shouldn’t be a matter of luck. It should be institutional in an enlightened society.

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  20. 20. michelekjones 7:45 pm 10/8/2011

    mhaak, I too am a female academic without children, but I do not share your viewpoint. While I respect an honest discussion about this, dredging up the tired arguments that pit mothers vs. childless women doesn’t help any of us. I would ask you to consider a few things before you fall back on that refrain.

    1. The author of the post did not ask for “special treatment.” I think you projected that on her. She gave an honest anecdote about her life to illustrate the challenges that many tenure-seeking women face. I know many women in academia who have children, and I’ve never known any of them to ask for special treatment.

    Parents do, however, ask for respect for the fact that they have obligations, responsibilities and activities beyond their careers. Shouldn’t we all ask for that? If my parents or siblings are ill or injured, shouldn’t I be able to care for them and still have my career? Shouldn’t you be able to spend a Saturday afternoon doing something fun just as a parent spends that afternoon at his or her child’s soccer game? When a working mother asks that her employer respect her life as a parent, you and I should back her up because she’s indirectly fighting for our rights to manage our personal lives as we see fit.

    2. No one should have to choose to forgo a family to pursue a career. Few men faced this decision in previous generations. Men have always “had it all” – family and career – because women have traditionally carried the bulk of the childrearing responsibilities. With that uneven workload at home, of course many women felt they couldn’t have both and had to choose. But, if you’ll excuse the blunt, simple statement, THAT’S NOT FAIR. Please don’t advocate that women should accept this injustice by choosing to sacrifice family entirely for career or vice versa. As the division of responsibilities within families evens out as it should, having family and career means challenges for both women and men, and academia needs to address that.

    Now, if a woman chooses to not have children because she truly doesn’t want children, that’s her prerogative. Don’t play the martyr. In those cases, it’s not a sacrifice and there’s no reason to resent those who make different decisions.

    3. You said to “choose, prioritize and focus.” Holy, crap, have you SEEN what academic moms do? There were three single moms and one married mom in my grad school cohort and they put me to shame with their productivity. I can only speculate about the reasons (that speculation includes a bit of self-criticism), but I’ve noticed that mothers have some mad multitasking and time-management skills. Watch and learn from them. You will resent less and respect a lot more.

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  21. 21. mhaak 12:44 pm 10/9/2011

    I think some of my intention didn’t get across as I kept my posting brief.

    by “having it all” what I am referring to is this tendency to want to have the children, the career, and the lifestyle. There is no way around this, the more you dedicate to one, the less you can dedicate to the others. If/when I ever decide to have children (I should note, I have a PhD, am an adjunct prof, own a business, and have been married for 5 years), I realize that my career as a scientist and business owner will suffer. (or alternatively, my efforts in child raising would suffer)

    the “special treatment” I refer to is this: if you colleagues all need to work evenings and weekends to achieve there tenure, why shouldn’t you have to? (i realize she is, I am just making a point here). The author mentions a few times that they “can’t keep up” to their colleagues with stay at home spouses or no children. Well, then why should she get the same treatment at with workplace through awarding of tenure if she isn’t able to make the same commitments? I know this isn’t going to go over well, but please realize I am just making this argument as a “devil’s advocate” and from the position of an employer. Do you expect the employer to factor in that you have children and therefore not expect the same time commitment? That hardly seems fair to your colleagues. (not to mention comments like:”the fights for lactation rooms” definitely are request for special treatment)

    My “Radical” advice obviously isn’t meant to be radical at all. It is common sense, and sometimes that must prevail, even though it is not nearly so interesting as “radical” advice.

    I do hope that you can achieve your tenure, from reading your blogs it appears that you do work very hard and contribute to the scientific community. My post is not meant to be solely directed to the author of the blog, but to generate discussion and have others try to look at the various sides of the issue (i.e., not just the parent/professor, but at the fairness to the colleagues who have made their own sacrifices and work around the clock, and to the employer who needs to consider a number of different aspects – and should someone’s family life really be considered in that decision?)

    Thanks for the discussion

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  22. 22. kclancy 4:12 pm 10/9/2011

    mhaak, I still find your point of view astoundingly simpleminded. Since when do any of us have to accept that this job requires working days, nights, weekends, and everything in between, parents or not? Why should any job require this of us? How is this healthy for any adult? As others have pointed out above me in the comments, achieving ten quality papers before tenure (not to mention, usually they want you to land at least one major federal grant) is very hard. But how is this, exactly, the mark of a tenurable scholar? How did this become the criteria for tenure, and why? Did we arrive at this idea based on evidence that this is the best way to determine the worth of a scientist? Or have the criteria just gotten ramped up more and more as the pool of applicants has grown and the number of tenure-track positions diminished?

    The reality is, taking a devil’s advocate position, or claiming the position you’re taking is that of a devil’s advocate, is a way of copping out of owning your opinion. If you think the way work should be is that people need to sacrifice all of their other desires and dreams to be good at it, feel free to live that way. But perpetuating that all-or-nothing perception is what drives many folks — most of them women and people of color — out of academia. It’s the folks who get fed this idea in grad school, but are smart enough to know that that produces a soul-sucking job, who decide to take their toys to another sandbox. I would rather change the parameters of the sandbox and keep more interesting people in it, and put some real thinking into what it would take for us to produce quality scholarship.

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  23. 23. mhaak 4:58 pm 10/9/2011

    Kclancy, you are getting into a completely different discussion. The article wasn’t about whether the requirements for tenure were appropriate, but about the difficulties achieving this while being a mother.

    What I am pointing out in my posts isn’t necessarily my opinion, but rather, several different sides to an otherwise one-sided discussion. Trying to round things out a bit.

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  24. 24. wasserme 6:31 pm 10/9/2011

    Thanks for a really interesting post. I wanted to just add a note of concern, though, about the kind of the tracks A and B discussed here. When I first read this I thought–awesome! I am so plan B! Then I asked my boyfriend which one I was, and he said, ‘you’re track A, but you really think you’re track B’. A very defensive discussion followed at the end of which I decided that, while they might be heuristically helpful, these categories might be slightly deranged.

    My reasoning is this: academic departments are, like any audience that evaluates you (students, peers, your family) fantastically complex. Virtually every person there seems to thinks their likes and dislikes are normative and projects them onto the rest of the audience, or failing that, some allies they can identify within it. My students, for instance, typically assume their opinions are just universal, even while they anxiously complain (or acclaim me) to others outside the classroom in the hopes of re-affirming their opinions of my success or failure. When it works it’s because I succeed at organizing their often wildly divergent likes and dislikes so that everyone emerges feeling, mysteriously, that they had a good time. They don’t typically appreciate vast cultural difference between types of institution or how radically different groups behave because of odd and changing dynamics among highly idiosyncratic participants. To succeed, I basically have to be a politician of a certain sort.

    To me, academics departments are similar but there is more at stake and they are much more generationally diverse. I like many things about my older colleagues, for instance, but I often find myself feeling that (outside of specific intellectual positions we can agree on) they’re as alien to me as I am to them. On the other hand, they are also less likely to compete with me, or at least compete with me in different ways. It’s not pleasant, but I find it helpful to think of academic departments as minefields of insecurities and resentments. My constant post-interaction neurotic inner-monologues (replayed potentially endlessly) aren’t that fun for me but I suspect that they do some really important and helpful work in trying to understand a complex and quite unstable set of relationships. I have concerns that imaging some utopian future where no one is insecure isn’t necessarily that helpful (and is potentially an exercise in narcissistic idealism). Plan B is great but to the extent that Plan A vs. Plan B can be crafted into, ‘one is either a suck-up/sell-out or a radical with a bullhorn’ just doesn’t allow for enough nuance. In my experience, when it comes to department politics, nuance is everything. That often means deferral, strategic cooperation, and suppression along with all the good and interesting and healthy stuff that makes any of this worth doing.

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  25. 25. ejwillingham 7:59 pm 10/9/2011

    “Kclancy, you are getting into a completely different discussion. The article wasn’t about whether the requirements for tenure were appropriate, but about the difficulties achieving this while being a mother.”

    If I’m not mistaken, this post opened with an anecdote that involved two parents, both in a similar situation, one male, one female, both finding what they were doing difficult given that they also are both parents and partners. It segues into a discussion of women because, well, its focus is a conference for women on the tenure track. The distinction between men and women here is the “mommy guilt” the author references, which is a social construct that needs to be hammered down and ground into dust.

    Unsaid but present is also the new version of “daddy guilt” in which men also have new expectations to meet as fathers even as they also retain their role as providers. Regardless, the issues under discussion here apply to any couple with children when both partners work, and I’d infer that Kate Clancy had that in mind when she opened the piece with that anecdote, which by the way is a direct illustration of why the requirements for tenure in terms of 100-hour work weeks are inappropriate. Even the first comments reflect that these issues apply to both men and women.

    Almost statement in your initial comment is an “I” statement in which you offer a personal opinion, including advice you claim as your own.

    This post and the ensuing discussion have been so multifaceted that I can’t see how we’re reading the same thing if you consider it one sided.

    I’ll go ahead and introduce a new “side” to the discussion: Something that I also infer here (and know can so often be the case) is that partners in this situation have a hard time making time for *each other*. Spending your evenings side by side bleary eyed over laptops must necessarily mean less time spent on that partnership that brought you together and made you parents in the first place. That can lead to fraying of all kinds of family fabric. Academia, if you can’t be the leader in understanding, establishing, and supporting the importance of work-life balance…who can?

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  26. 26. kclancy 9:30 pm 10/9/2011

    What Emily (ejwillingham) said.

    wasserme, thanks for your comment, and I think you raise an important point. There are a lot of ways in which we have to perform in our departments that are context-dependent… I guess I just think we have to perform A even if we’re B underneath. I think before this conference I was someone who thought she was B but really was A. I hate the thought of important work not getting done, so I said yes to every single piece of service that came my way. I have slowly learned that part of protecting my time and getting tenure is making sure to not establish myself as the person who will always pick up the mop, yet I know I cannot aggressively be the non-mopper either. So I agree, there is nuance, there is a fine line, and the plans A and B are simplistic. But in science that’s always the fun of things: you start out with a simple model and then it gets interesting when reality deviates from that model.

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  27. 27. JasonAntrosio 9:34 pm 10/9/2011

    Thank you for this post. I’m late to the comments, but would like to second what ejwillingham says above, which rings very true. I’ve recently posted about something awry across academia and the working world, Everybody’s working through the weekend.

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  28. 28. verreauxi 8:04 am 10/10/2011

    “But are peer-reviewed publications, read and cited by only by a select group of those peers, the best way to assess influence and importance? They are certainly no longer the only way. My 2006 paper on iron-deficiency anemia and menstruation has been cited by six other papers; my 2011 blog post on this paper has been viewed tens of thousands of times and received almost sixty comments between its two postings.”

    This is an interesting observation, but it depends on what you mean by “influence” and “importance.” If the goal is to assess your “influence and importance” as a scientist–someone who does scientific research–then I feel that blogs are not a very good way at all to assess this. And your primary scientific products–peer-reviewed publications–are a better way (not a flawless way, however).

    But if you mean that your efforts in blogging about science are a good way to assess your “influence and importance” as a member of an academic community more generally, then I think you’re probably right.

    I suspect, operationally, tenure committees would view blog posts as a category of “service”, not “research”, especially at a R1 university. I can’t envision a solid method for assessing blog posts as a part of a research component. No doubt, I’m sure they help one’s research in a lot of ways (e.g., untangling thoughts, getting feedback via comments, etc.), but given the vast disparity in blogs as well as the disparity in posts within the same blog, it would be pretty difficult to assess the influence and importance of one’s ability to do science (not just write about it) from a blog post. In the current system, you’ll be judged on research (measured by grants/publications), teaching, and service. This latter category, like the Insectivora, has been the default waste-basket category for very important things that don’t fit into the fairly circumscribed definitions of research and teaching. For me, however, I’d rather make a case to make service more important for tenure rather than expand the criteria used to judge research to include things like blogging. It is also possible that I have misinterpreted what you are trying to convey in the above quote.

    rich lawler

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  29. 29. kclancy 8:58 am 10/10/2011

    Thanks for your comment, Rich. I don’t know that I clearly identified what I think the tenure criteria should change into either, just that I’m not wholly satisfied with where it is right now. I do think the simplest thing would be to increase how much service “counts” towards tenure, because of blogging and related kinds of engagement, but also because our own administrative tasks as faculty are increasing. Jason Antrosio wrote a great post about this the other day:

    But at some institutions (I wouldn’t actually say my own) part of the criteria for tenure is a broad sense that you are supposed to have “impact,” that you are “talked about” within your field. That’s where peer-reviewed publications are somewhat unsatisfying. I think they should make up the majority of how we determine this, sure, but I also know there are a number of problems with peer review that require authors to have a good network and good mentorship/sponsorship to be published quickly. Sometimes people doing things that are new don’t have that safety net, and so can’t get published in the big journals, and therefore have lower impact in a traditional sense. But in a diverse department, where you’re the only one who does your type of work, how can your colleagues evaluate if what you’re doing is interesting if you are underpublished or not always published in the hottest journals?

    And I agree with several other points — for me, one of the most beneficial aspects of blogging is that it forces me to write regularly and it helps me disentangle my thoughts. And that’s even though I usually avoid writing directly on my own research. It also helps me clear up and reflect on experiences like this conference. But I can’t deny that the blog has also helped me get speaking engagements that I wouldn’t otherwise be getting as a junior faculty member.

    Anyway, thanks again. I always appreciate when you come by.

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  30. 30. ewanmcnay 1:41 pm 10/11/2011

    “Unsaid but present is also the new version of “daddy guilt” in which men also have new expectations to meet as fathers even as they also retain their role as providers. Regardless, the issues under discussion here apply to any couple with children when both partners work, and I’d infer that Kate Clancy had that in mind when she opened the piece with that anecdote…”

    Daddy guilt? No kiddin’. Both ways – I feel guilty that I can and do take time to go swimming/visit my elder son’s class/enjoy the sunshine, because I could (“should, should” say the voices!) be working. And it’s hell on a relationship: the hours being demanded of my (PhD, senior industry-employed) wife have recently expanded to 70+ on-site every week, and *someone* has to pick up the slack – so I do, because the consequences are less acute, and that generates anger and resentment. Worse: at work it is often assumed that I have a spouse to do ‘home stuff’ and hence should be at work, which seems to be associated with my being male.

    “… which by the way is a direct illustration of why the requirements for tenure in terms of 100-hour work weeks are inappropriate. Even the first comments reflect that these issues apply to both men and women.”

    On the other hand, I dunno; my average work week has never been 100 hrs, or anything close, for anything other than a grant-deadline week. (There certainly *is* an issue, potentially, on tenure requirements that hits especially close to home right now: I just came up for tenure with an R01, several other grants, the best teaching ratings in the dept and possibly the college, recent research-mentor and service awards, and something around 40 first-rank papers; and got a negative vote from one committee that may be fatal. But I don’t think that if I had worked 100 hrs/week things would have been different, really!)

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  31. 31. kclancy 2:20 pm 10/11/2011

    Ewan, I’m glad you commented. And I do think you raise a number of interesting points about how men and women are viewed in the workplace, as well as the consequences of these kinds of stressful jobs for the other spouse.

    I have never worked a 100-hour week, not even before a grant deadline. 70 to 80, yes, but never 100.

    And I hope that single negative vote isn’t fatal for you (urgh, department politics, a whole other set of tenure criteria). That would be ridiculous given the CV you just outlined. Best of luck!

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  32. 32. ewanmcnay 3:24 pm 10/11/2011

    Actually, the dept and college were both unanimous in favour, as expected. The university-level committee did a _bunch_ of really odd things (like, ignore the teaching ratings because they didn’t like the form used, when the same form had been used for the past many candidates without issue; and state that they would not abide by the in-writing hiring agreement that coming up now was expected and time at faculty level in the previous position would be taken into account)… but it may well still be fatal. Oy veh. Too tired to stress that much.

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  33. 33. Tractorthoughts 4:01 pm 10/11/2011

    I am a professor emeritus and a former dean of the arts and sciences at a private university. I have mentored and evaluated numerous young academics. I am also an interdisciplinary scholar. Kate, your thoughts are right on and raise serious issues not just with women and scholars of color but of the institution of higher education itself. The tenure process at most institutions and in general is a dehumanizing experience which faculty members have not only acquiesced to but have willing participated in. It is a system which only rarely produces knowledge important to the welfare of humankind. It’s cause is the university administrators who are solely focused on achieving prestige for their institutions. It is akin to corporations solely focused on profit.

    I for one think that one of the major goals for universities should be to help young people better understand and appreciate the world in which they now live and how they can shape a better future for themselves and humanity. Although these sentiments are often in their mission statements, you would be hard pressed to discern that in their actions.

    Of course, a search for knowledge, truth and meaning is also extremely important. Unfortunately, I have observed that much research is designed to get published in journals that are read by only a few like-minded academics.

    As a result, my advice to getting tenure is to play the game (if you can) for that is what it is. Once you get tenure, then follow your passion. My wife (one of the most brilliant people I know) is one of those who could not play the game and left academia for another very successful careers. I think that academia is by far the worse off for not being a place where caring human beings who are lovers, wives, husbands and parents are nourished and encouraged as whole human beings.

    And finally, once you have achieved tenure, don’t simply give up and participate in an inhuman institution but be a force for positive change. Be radical!

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  34. 34. Girlpostdoc 5:06 pm 10/21/2011

    Thank you for sharing your insights from the conference.

    I have two related points to make. First although I didn’t read all the comments, the consensus seems to be that success relies on your ability to “publish publish publish,” at any stage of the academic career. Not really that surprising.

    A second point is that explicit mentorship matters. I like how Dr. Turner described academics of color as “guests in someone else’s house” because it is so true.

    Those that succeed in academia often cite that they were lucky to have mentors who champion their science and abilities. These mentors did this not just by cheerleading, but by inviting their mentees to participate as co-authors on publications. If however, you are viewed as a temporary guest (and thus not part of the ‘fold’), then colleagues and supervisors don’t think to invite you to co-author a project.

    Given this type of unconscious bias, differential academic success is a likely outcome.

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  35. 35. novema 3:52 pm 10/25/2011

    I’m so glad that you posted about this conference. I’m a Purdue graduate student who was also at the conference, and Dr. Dankoski’s words about planning your career around your passion really hit home for me. I’ve always been passionate about environmental issues, and initially, I thought that becoming a great academic scientist was one way to contribute. I study climate change though, and I know of so many talented and well-respected profs who each publish dozens of scholarly articles every year on climate change, and yet, there are still debates on campus about whether there is a scientific consensus on climate change — even professors at Purdue write editorials about how climate change doesn’t exist. It’s disheartening to see so little real world change happen despite all the excellent scholarly work that goes on, which is making me rethink the academic route.

    I can definitely relate to your analogy about women taking their toys to another sandbox. Although in my case, I think it’s more that the change I want to affect needs to happen outside of academia, not that academia has not appreciated me or been supportive of who I am. I also feel that there are many important leaky pipelines that need to be fixed — in the corporate world and in our government — and the advice I’ve gotten from the conference would definitely apply in those areas too.

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  36. 36. tjfernandez 5:19 pm 04/4/2012

    Sort of thread Necromancy, but oh well.

    Being as I am proof of it, I support the idea that this blog can be beneficial for readers far outside of the immediately obvious demographic. I was quick to continue reading after your private, personal, and memoir like introduction. The willingness to share a vulnerable side of you moved me to keep reading as I felt we were almost having a one on one conversation. I am an undergrad in Philosophy and Mathematics, so thinking about tenure at this point certainly could qualify as dreaming big. None the less, I related to parts of your blog. I strongly agree with Dr. Turner’s words about being a guest in someone else’s house. Her example of there being no photographs on the wall to reflect our image reverberated powerfully with me. I am in a department that is almost completely composed of white males and while that usually does not bother me, it would be so nice to see another person of color somewhere. I personally feel it takes a great amount of courage and strength to bring your whole self to your job (I know I couldn’t do it), especially sharing hobbies that others may find weird or outside of the norm. So I commend you on all of that. Thanks for posting. Also, very interesting to see internet mannerisms on SA. Great stuff.

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