Thứ Sáu, 1 tháng 3, 2013

Life as a Professor

While there are inspirational success stories of women in STEM and computing who thrive on the tenure track, there are still many obstacles at home and at work for women pursuing academic careers. Below, we hear the voices of 20 women weigh in on the question “is 9 to 5 possible for a woman in academia?” We hear discussions about academia as a way of life (as opposed to a 9-5 gig that can be turned off) and whether or not flexible work hours offset the large time commitment of an academic job. We hear advice about managing time wisely and having children on the tenure track. And, we hear from those who took alternate routes (like entrepreneurship) after deciding against academia. In the words of one of our anonymous respondents, “There are so many things to consider with this whole academia thing – it’s no wonder so many women are wondering if it’s right for them. We have to keep talking about it and bringing the issues into the open!” In this spirit, we invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section. _______________________________________ Life as a Professor: edited by Stacy Branham published 14 February 2012 I began this conversation on the Systers mailing list after attending a session at the 2011 Grace Hopper Celebration covering work-life balance. I have attended sessions such as this before, and came across a concerning theme: balancing work and family for many women seems to consist of working very long days (albeit with flexible hours), carving out time for a family, and very rarely carving out time for themselves. This is the email I sent that launched the long and interesting conversation that is summarized in this post. I’m facing a bit of a crisis looking at my future career path. Life as a professor is not a 9-5 job. It’s a huge part of your life even when you aren’t in the classroom or lab. I don’t know how to be a professor and make it just a job. It’s part of your being. … Being a professor takes a lot of time. So do other jobs that require PhDs. It’s more than just grading papers (developing assignments, crafting your lessons,…) especially as you get comfortable with how you teach each course. But if you want to teach, you find a way to teach. And you find a way to do the research that interests you as well. I’m currently finishing my PhD and am on the academic job market. Being a professor has been my dream job throughout grad school – I love to teach and I love the idea of being able to direct my own research. But in the last few months I’ve heard a number of stories from women in the field that I find extremely discouraging. The main discouraging factor is a common theme I’ve noticed when women give advice on balancing work and family life. In general, I’ve heard from female faculty (especially pre-tenure) that the way they balance work and family is to work really hard all day, return home to a nice family dinner and an hour or so of spending time with them, and then work really hard into the night, too. This seems to come out to as much as 12 – 14 hours per day of work, presumably 5 days per week. Some of the women say that they steal hours to work on the weekends, too. In short: can I go into a tenure track faculty position and expect to be able to treat it like a 9 – 5 job? I know people who insist on no work on the weekends. I know someone who doesn’t arrive at school until noon. Someone else never has class after noon on Friday. Our department tries to give all faculty members a “no class” day in their weekly schedule; that’s great for research or collaboration off-campus. - Benicia I expect to have to work longer hours close to paper and grant deadlines; that seems normal in any job. But is there room for me to really have a life, complete with a hobby and/or children, outside of my work, not just a few guiltily stolen hours here and there? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I’m so grateful to have this community of women I can turn to for support! Opinions on this topic were quite divided, from women who feel that it’s impossible to be a professor on less than 60 hours of work, to those who feel it’s quite plausible to have a balanced life with work, family, and individual interests while being a professor. There were a number of clear themes that came from this discussion, which I will highlight here supported by anecdotes and advice from women who participated in the discussion. Academia as a Way of Life Many women pointed out that becoming a professor is more than just a day job that you can “turn off” after hours. That devoting oneself to teaching and research (a “life of the mind”) means that changes the way you act, and you can never truly turn off your academic brain. - Benicia ______________ I am a professor of computer science and have been one for more years than seem possible to me. For me it has been an outstanding life. Yes, it is hard work, but that, as I often say, is why they call it work. But, what satisfying work. To me, it is the only position that I can think of where you get up, look in the mirror and say, ” this is what we should do today.” and then you turn to yourself and do it. It is a wonderful job for self motivated individuals who see topics and tackle them. Being a faculty member provides you with influence. While you might not think you are influencing a student, you are. Being at the university is a form of influence, providing leadership for your students is influence, including them in your research is influence and many other things you do influence students. What a wonderful legacy to leave. I echo that you have to find your own style and path. You will no doubt work hard on anything you do, so pick the position that gives you joy. Yes, balancing work, life, family, self is demanding but if you are engaged in what you love, you can do it. - Clea ______________ although I strongly believe that you cannot do a good job of an academic position without putting a lot more than 40 hours a week, I do believe that it’s one of most rewarding and important jobs there is. - Delphine Does Flexibility Outweigh the Time Commitment? One clear benefit that academia offers over other career paths is the flexible hours. Setting your own hours is incredibly useful when it comes to work-life balance, especially if there are children involved. It gives parents the freedom to drop kids off at daycare or pick them up from school, and it’s often easy to work from home with unusual hours. But does that flexibility outweigh the time commitment? These women weigh in with their opinions on the matter: ______________ Is it worth it? That’s a personal decision — for me, the answer is yes. I make my own schedule, do what I want, and take most of the summer off to be with my kids now (I decided that success is when your kids ask you why other people have to work during the summer — I managed to squeeze in the two days of work I do do during the summer so seamlessly that she didn’t really realize I was working). I’ve also had to turn things down — I refuse to travel as much as my peers do. I also spent 4 years traveling with small children, dragging them to conferences and such. I kind of look back on it fondly, but it wasn’t easy (nor was it cheap). Were I not a Mom, I’d probably have really thrown myself for some more administrative positions on campus (there were a couple of dean openings, that I half-heartedly kind of considered, but decided the personal sacrifice wasn’t worth really pursuing). - Gemma ______________ I’ve worked in industry and I’ve worked in academia. I always joke that industry jobs are half the hours and twice the pay – what’s not to love about them? However, there is also a lot to love about academia too, and I find myself back in that world now, regularly working 7 days a week while juggling 3 small kids. No, being a professor, even at a teaching oriented school, is NOT a 9 to 5 job!! But it can be flexible and interesting. - Hina ______________ although professorial life is time-consuming and challenging, it is flexible. I found myself about to do things with my kids that I would have had a harder time managing in a 9-5 job. I worked a lot, and I had to figure out how to make sure that some of my home-time was family time, not working-at-home time, but the flexibility meant a lot. - Delphine ______________ As for the balance angle, I feel like being an instructor (as a faculty member), while obviously hard work, would result in fewer pressures relating to running a research program. It seems that many instructors don’t work during the summer either (contract instructors in our department teach all the summer courses), which would be great for family, doing a bit of research on my own, or undertaking a small entrepreneurial pursuit. - Inês Wise Time Management All women agreed that time management is the key to successful work-life balance. Here are some of the strategies that women offered that have worked (or not worked) for them. In my experience, it’s very difficult to emphasize work, spouse, and kids all at the same time. You have to find an arrangement that works for you, and that’s where good time management helps. ______________ I didn’t ever have a 40 hour week. My husband has also always been passionate about his work, so we spent a lot of time working side by side in our office at home (pre-kids). We had dinner together most evenings; we made sure to have “date night” every week; we had a few favorite TV shows we tracked and watched regularly, and we periodically had social evenings with friends. So it wasn’t the “something different every night” that I did when I was in my 20′s, but it was a pretty full, well-rounded life. Post-kids things get complicated, but we still managed. So, what’s the secret? It’s mostly common sense — make the most of the time you have to do work. You can easily become a slave to your inbox and the web. I can easily waste 2 hours without even realizing it (I’m on sabbatical at the moment, so I allow myself that luxury on occasion). You can’t let that happen — you really have to make the most of your work time. That means thinking very strategically about what you say yes to and what you say no to. It means recruiting good students and making sure they are successful. It means that you don’t get to just hang out with colleagues and students (I used to be able to do this a lot more in my pre-kid days, but I just don’t get to do it now). It means being pretty laser focused on exactly what you have to do and when you have to do it. But mostly it has to do with scheduling — you have to pick what external activities are important to you and schedule them — make those appointments every bit as real and unmovable as meetings with your Dean. - Fia ______________ In my experience, 70 percent of tenure track women with kids are completely frazzled and work like heck 24/7. 30 percent seem to have found that magic balance and can make it all work for them without stress. The 30 percent all seem to somehow negotiate deals so they are not teaching the semester their kids are little, or never say yes to boring but time-consuming committees, etc. Somehow, they make the whole situation work for them. But this is also very dependent on your particular department. Also, you can be in one category for years, and suddenly find yourself frazzled, or vice versa. - Janka ______________ I saw faculty (both male and female), especially my MS and PhD advisors in two very different schools (in terms of ranking, size) to work really long hours and accepted this as a norm :( When I started my PhD, my current advisor was an assistant professor and half way through my PhD he received tenure. But I didn’t see any noticeable difference in his workload. As I am really interested in Academia but also want to have a nice balanced family life, I started looking for advice on how I can have both. I have attended time-management sessions, joined work-life balance life coaching groups, and so on. It takes a lot of careful planning and good time management, but it can be done (I hope). - Kumbie ______________ However, one woman weighed in with her opinion that even though time management is clearly important, it might not be enough. She suggested that no amount of time management can reduce the number of hours you are required to work, it just makes it a bit easier. My perspective (from what academia looks like in the UK) is that it’s not a 9-5 job. Having worked in standard academic computing jobs in two UK universities, in both departments it was the case that to do the job properly required many more hours than 40 per week. In semester time, I found that it often required 60-80 hours per week. Out of semester time, less, but you need the out-of-semester time to try and recover from semester. I struggled with the workload for many years. In attempts to make the job manageable, some people would try and push the blame back onto me: “Don’t have too high standards”, “You need to manage your time better”. But I checked that my standards weren’t more than were expected; I learnt several time-management techniques, which certainly helped, but didn’t reduce the overall workload. I wrote some software to automate some tasks; this helped up to a point but somewhat backfired when the software is too useful and then you have more work updating/maintaining it. The problem was that once you set aside the not-so-important parts of the job and just concentrated on the core parts for teaching and research, there was simply too much to do. I found there were 3 options for coping with too much of the important work: you can either not do some of the work, you can do some shoddily, or you can spend extra time doing it. … I think that good time management practices are *crucial* but may not be enough if there is over all too much work to do, as compared to your/the university’s standards of what is “good enough”. Ruthlessly cutting down on time-waster activities is important; if you are obliged to attend some boring meeting at which you know your presence doesn’t contribute much, then take a research paper with you and read that instead of the minutes of the last meeting! - Lotte Having Kids Any discussion about work-life balance will end up focusing quite a bit on when to have children and how to take the time to care for them while maintaining your career. I have heard a variety of opinions on the topic of when to have kids – some women suggest having kids after receiving tenure if it’s at all possible, while others say that there’s no ideal time to have children and to let it happen when it happens. On a personal note, I was an academic in the first part of my career. I agree that it wasn’t a 9-5 job. But as for the decision regarding having kids … I had my two within the first five years of my PhD (e.g., pre-tenure). When to have kids is a very personal decision. For me (us), having kids then was the right decision. It cost some in my career, but I have never been sorry about the choice. - Manon ______________ I think it is critical for you to define what you want out of work. I know that before having kids work was so much fun that I would do 10-11 hour days…. and work hard on getting my work recognized and getting promotions. I now have two kids and have found that I need to be VERY organized to be equally productive in 9 to 10 hour days. I try to keep my weekends free but that is always not possible especially if I am trying to finish something … I have a colleague who decided to coast (versus going on an upward trajectory) for a few years while she focused on her family and kids. She is happy with that…. I think you need to define what makes you happy and find the balance. - Nao ______________ Colleges and universities are better at giving faculty a semester off for research or to have a baby because there is talent and a system in place to fill temporary teaching positions. I made the mistake of putting off having children and then could not. Women physicians I know recommend having one before you are 29. - Olivia ______________ I have my first baby on the way, due at Christmas, and will probably want a second. But I hope to have the second when I have a real, stable job, which can happen a lot sooner if I don’t go the professor route (no post-doc needed, etc.). Maybe there are some instructors here who can tell me that my outlook on this path is a little too rosy. ;) - Inês ______________ - Polina Choosing Against Academia Perhaps the most interesting part of the conversation to me was tales of women deciding that they don’t want to go into academia due to the perceived number of hours that professors are required to put in. For some time now I’ve decided that I actually don’t want to be a professor proper despite working on my PhD, and this is one of the reasons (but not the only one). Instead I want to focus on teaching and/or work in industry (probably not even research labs). I’ve also considered the entrepreneurship thing, but am hesitant for the same balance-related reasons. - Quintana ______________ I got my PhD almost 6 years back…. During the last year I also helped my department in the search for new faculty members. When I saw the political bickering going on in the room during the faculty selection process, I vowed I did not want to be part of it and started looking at industry jobs. - Nao ______________ I went to grad school in the firm belief that I was going to become a professor, and like you, I was a bit appalled when I got there and discovered the amount of time the pre-tenure professors were putting in. I knew that I wanted multiple children, so I started my family in grad school, and finished my Ph.D., (with two young children). I then decided that, for me, I could not put in the 60-90 hour weeks that pre-tenure professors were doing, and still raise my children with the time and attention I felt they needed/deserved. So I went into industry (and had my third and last child). My thinking at the time was that if I went into a research lab and continued to do research and publish papers, I could get back into academia later on, when my children were older. 12 years later, I am still in industry. While I still mildly regret not being able to become a professor (and I haven’t completely given up hope of maybe doing some kind of teaching in the future), I am sure that in my case I made the right decision. I’ve had a hard enough time being the kind of mom I want to be in industry; I couldn’t have made it in academia. - Polina ______________ I found that the teaching aspect of the job was more than a full-time job, during semester and in the weeks leading up to semester and after semester what with examinations to deal with. Research had to be fitted in in “spare time”, around the teaching, as the teaching deadlines were usually more imminent and numerous. There were larger blocks of time available for research in the summer, but it’s hard to keep your nose to the grindstone when you’re exhausted by the 60+hr weeks during the semester. I loved the work; I was good at the teaching and enjoyed the creative aspects of designing courses and assignments for students; I really enjoyed the research too, and compared to the time I managed to squeeze out for research, was productive and produced several good papers. But I am not a single-focus person; I don’t have children but I have interests outside academia and was barely getting to spend any time on them. All the work took its toll, and I was very stressed from work, mostly from the work overload. I got counseling for the stress, which was useful as a reality check but didn’t make the workload go away. I went part-time 3 years ago, which did reduce the amount of work, initially, but events conspired to result in still having a high workload even though on paper it looked smaller. Also by that point the stress had taken its toll and my capacity to work longer hours was much reduced. Over the past decade I developed two chronic auto-immune diseases, for which stress raises the risk of. One disease is no problem managing, I take a pill, but the other requires some careful lifestyle management, and I just couldn’t do this and have an academic job. So I left, and I’m now unemployed, recovering, before looking around for a new career. From my perspective it just seems a huge waste – when you have someone who is conscientious and good at teaching and research, that person should be a valuable employee – you don’t want to heap work on them until they collapse or leave. There ought to be checks and balances on workloads so that an academic can do a decent job on both teaching and research, including the core aspects of those roles and a little time left over for productive optional extras, in an average of 40hrs per week. - Lotte Alternatives to Academia But if you don’t go to academia, where else can you go? Many women suggested going to industry research or government labs, and then moving over to academia at a later career stage, perhaps after having kids. However, there were more than a few women who said they did this and then never looked back! Here are some of the suggestions and advice given for going to a non-academic career path, and how that has impacted their work-life balance. For maximum flexibility, keep yourself on an academic track that has practical applications. Choose your research direction with one eye towards potential profit and try to keep at least a toe in the industry with consulting gigs. That will keep your options wide open. - Gemma ______________ The women who, as a group, did best went to places like AT&T research or other industry basic research labs for years right out of grad school where they could concentrate on research and kids, without having to do all the teaching and service. They then went over to academia at higher rank, (usually tenured) with kids of middle school or college age. There are only some research labs where you can do this: they are the ones whose researchers are publishing in the same academic conferences and journals as the professors. … The only pitfall if you want that path is to make sure you get some academic teaching experience– each spent at least a semester, or even a year teaching real college courses as guest faculty and made sure they had bona fide teaching credentials when it came time to switch over to academia. Without that experience, they wouldn’t have been hired. - Janka ______________ Someone asked what alternatives other PhD’s are considering. I’m about halfway through my PhD and I work for the federal government in the US. I’m pursuing my PhD because it has always been a goal of mine and I enjoy research. … . I plan to stay with the government where having a PhD is seen as an accomplishment and does give a boost to credibility. … [In my current government position] I work more than 40 hours a week but not 12 hours a day. There are always spurts but in general I have a good work/life balance. If I didn’t there would be no way I could pursue my PhD and work full time! I have done the start-up thing in my early 40′s – great experience but never again. That kind of schedule is not for me. I have also worked in industry where I could make more money but again just not worth some of the hours they want. The government is my compromise — I still make a good salary, have nice benefits and decent amount of time off, and I’m doing interesting and challenging work. Another non-professor option is to work as a research engineer at a university — so still in academia but not with the long hours of a professor and no teaching load. I also did this and very much enjoyed that — being on a university campus is very inspiring and motivating. One final option if you still want to teach and be in academia is to work for a small teaching college. In that situation — you teach at least 4 classes a semester and do your research in the summer or also request a semester or year off from teaching when you have a major research project. I know profs that are very happy with that arrangement and it allowed for separation of concerns and thus concentration on teaching or research and also allowed for a decent work/life balance. - Rowena Other Interesting Things People Said Another factor to consider is the two-body problem. It’s hard from the university’s perspective, i.e., losing good candidates to a school that does a better job of helping the spouse find a position, as my spouse’s department often does. It’s easier for us because he has tenure and I’m the one with the flexible job, working in industry, not an academic. Adjunct positions have similar flexibility. - Olivia ______________ A university is a great environment for children growing up. My father taught chemistry at [a large state university]. On Saturdays he would go to the lab and take one of us older kids along. He would set us up at a bench with a Bunson burner, rubber hose and glass tubing scraps, to blow glass bubbles. Of course no one could do this today, in these days of OSHA, etc. The upshot was that when I got to organic chemistry lab in college I could make a capillary tube with the best of them. I also remember [my father’s] faculty picnic each fall – an ox roast. My husband’s department has advanced math programs for secondary school students, with many faculty children participating. - Olivia ______________ There are so many things to consider with this whole academia thing – it’s no wonder so many women are wondering if it’s right for them. We have to keep talking about it and bringing the issues into the open! :) - Inês ______________ My advisor used to say that you work the hours you want to work in academia. If you don’t get tenure because of it, then, it’s not the job for you anyway. Really, the worst that can happen to you is you lose your job/decide you want to change jobs. That happens all the time anyway, it’s not the end of the world. There really are pluses and minuses to both teaching and industrial work (I am in an industrial research lab, which I must say I really, really enjoy). But there are lots of overlaps as well. You have service-equivalent things in industry sometimes (big-wig would like you to help out with charts he wants of your work to even bigger-wig). Sometimes you want to recruit for a lab at universities or do outreach. There is politicking in both university and industrial settings. To me, I think the bigger thing can be finding the right fit. My coworkers are so awesome…I’d probably prefer a teaching job in a happy, functional, supportive department over an industrial job in a crappy office with mean people, and vice versa. Don’t forget that aspect to life, it’s not always a clean cleave between industry and academia. - Sunyoung ______________ Something else: it’s crucial to negotiate your offer at your first faculty position. Many people don’t know, but you can negotiate startup money to pay grad students, lighter teaching load the first 2 years– both these things can be much more important to women than more salary. - Triana Resources and Other Links Finally, the thread introduced a lot of other resources on the topic of work-life balance. These are links to articles and other resources for further reading. Pensions Dispute Gives Academics Work-Life Balance (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/nov/07/academics-pensions-dispute) – This article in The Guardian from November 2011 discusses the impact on work-life balance arising from a contract dispute that has forced many lecturers to work to their contracted 35 hour week. Many of these lecturers, especially young women, are finding their stress levels reduced, and are enjoying spending time with their families. CRA-W Resources for Graduate Students (http://cra-w.org/Graduate) – The Computing Research Association Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) offers workshops and online resources for women interested in research careers. Many of these workshops include panels covering work-life balance from the perspective of women in universities, teaching colleges, industry, and research labs.

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