Career Coach

Career Coach
February 2, 2009

I'm away from school working on my thesis at another institution. I noticed the other day that there was a letter to the editor in the local newspaper where some guy was mis-paraphrasing the Pope mis-quoting the recent Benotti et al. pharmaceuticals in drinking water study to say that the Pill is giving all men girl cooties and destroying society and should be banned immediately, by his Highly Scientific Viewpoint. So I wrote a replying letter to the editor, politely, with inline references and just a little snark, to refute it line by line. I was shooting for the tone used in LTEs in Nature or Science. My letter was never published, and today there's another missive of anti-choice wingnuttery from the same person, a week later. Apparently our local editor has granted this person's oppinions pride of place on the editorial pages. I would be slightly less freaked out if this wasn't the local rag for a town dominated by a major research institution-we're supposed to be scientifically minded here.

January 25, 2009

Any advice if you have a crappy advisor? I am going for my PhD and although I thought I asked him some good questions, and received solid responses, in our interview, my advisor turns out that he is not a good mentor and not much of a help. He is mainly, at best, a time-suck with all the meetings he wants to make sure things are "going well" but doesn't actually want to help me with anything and gets petulant if I ask for help or advice. I don't know that many other people with a PhD so I thought I'd ask just in case you wanted to share some words of wisdom. I had a crappy master's advisor but that was two years and another year of not being around him, but writing while working full time. I finished though and it was worth it. Now the funding my new advisor said I'd have is virtually non-existent, he thinks the fact that I'm getting a stipend is enough for me to praise him daily and kiss his ass while running errands for him and taking care of all of his tech problems (i'm not doing that anymore). One semester and it's already an enormous headache. You can't get far in my field without a PhD. But I'm starting to get sick of the attitudes in my field...and yet I've been working towards this for 15 years so I have no idea what else I'd even do and it took me 4 years just to get in to a program.

January 11, 2009

Can't find a job? Don't go to grad school.

The economy's tanking! Should I give up looking for a job and just go to graduate school?

This seems to be the question of the moment, and everyone has an opinion. Few of the folks giving advice, though, are acknowledging a tough fact of life: as investments and state budgets dry up, so does education funding --which affects both admissions and employment.

If you're a social worker, or you work for a non-profit, or in human services, then yes: I believe a master's in social work or public policy or urban planning or what have you will probably help your advancement. If you're a scientist, then there are industry jobs waiting for you--although my sense is that you might be better off working in the field for a while before picking a subfield. If you're a teacher, then a master's in education can help you move into administration and the higher salaries that go with it. I suppose MBAs might be useful degrees, though I confess, academic-by-training that I am, I haven't really the foggiest notion, except that there seem to be an awful lot of boring middle management types with MBAs. If you want a solid, dull, respectable 9-5 job, become a dentist or a self-employed lawyer. (If you want to become partner in a huge firm, you might as well get a PhD and aim for a job at Harvard: you'll go crazy either way.)

December 8, 2008

Last week I promised to write about the “male” career model. I want to begin by reasserting my prior advice to young ambitious women, to “do whatchalike” and try not to worry. But it is apparently true, aas The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, that “women in academe, no matter how many hours they worked, reported fewer children than women in all other professional fields.”

According to 2000 census data, 52 percent of male professors have wives who work part time or not at all, while only 9 percent of female professors have partners who work less than full time.

Marriage rates reveal the same paradox. Of those professors who achieve tenure, 70 percent of men are married with children, compared with only 44 percent of women. But women win in the singles category: Twenty-six percent of tenured women are single without children, as compared with only 11 percent of tenured men.

On an individual level, one has to be willing to recognize one’s own human limitations, and to be optimistic enough to move forward, knowing that smart ambitious women really do have a lot of options and that if A doesn’t work out, B and C will come along, even if it’s impossible to imagine in advance what B or C might be.

As a group, however, the statistics are against us. Especially those of us in the humanities, and especially the humanities folks in fields (English, the modern languages, philosophy, classics. . . ) that don’t have an acknowledged parallel non-academic job track for PhD holders. And, as Libby Gruner points out, the NYT’s advice (to women) to think of careers as a “lattice” rather than a “ladder” doesn’t really apply to tenure-track academia. I do tend to agree with Dana Campbell that academia is changing. Sloooooowly.

November 30, 2008
(Also appears in Mama PhD)

A scientist/reader writes....

I urge you to show a bit more flexibility in your advice on the career/family bit. If the goal is a faculty position in the sciences, there is usually an interim postdoctoral stage. Postdoc can be a great time for maternity and infant bonding- whether you are headed for a research-intensive university or a liberal arts college.

November 23, 2008

I am a senior at the undergraduate level, and would very much like to be a professor someday. The difficulties involved in trying to balance motherhood with graduate studies or accomplishing tenure as a professor seem excessive. I was wondering about the feasibility of the idea of taking a few years off to raise children after completing a PhD but before applying for a professorship. Did you review any information in your research concerning that situation? Do you think it would be advantageous for me to be able to devote myself completely to school until I get the PhD, then devote myself completely to children until they are old enough to be in school, and then be able to enter a professorship without having to take maternity leave or be physically exhausted from childbirth? I am not sure if taking a few years off would be damaging to my chances of being accepted as a professor. I would hope that they would consider me in a positive light, as I would no longer have to take maternity leave, but I am afraid they would view my years of childrearing as inactive and wasteful at a time when I could have been publishing papers and conducting research.

Even so, family would be an extremely important part of my life. I do very much want to have children, and am trying to figure out the best way to balance being a good mother, a good student, having time with my children when they are very young (I would like to avoid child care if possible), being able to devote time and energy to my career to have a good chance at tenure, but still having children young enough so that I won't risk infertility. I would be very interested in the stories of people who chose to take time off after achieving a PhD to raise children but before becoming professors -- whether this is a positive or negative choice upon their careers.

Thank you very much,

This is certainly going to fall under "pointless advice" because inevitably the best laid plans of mice and ambitious young women gang aft agley. I speak from experience: many were my plans, as an ambitious young woman, about how I was going to combine marriage and a PhD and children and so on. Some of the planning was helpful and some of it turned out well, but a lot of things--including me!--didn't quite turn out According to Plan.

October 26, 2008

just ran across your blog today and it immediately caught my attention. I think you may be able to offer some valuable advice. I am 29 with two children (2 ½ and 14 months), a full-time job (though only 9 months), and an MS degree. However, the thought of a PhD keeps creeping back into my radar and there is a program in the local area. I have been out in the workforce for 5 years, but I am at a small, private university. There's probably more to the story, but I guess I'm wondering if it's possible to manage a PhD workload with two children. Obviously, I'd be giving up my position, but I feel like I've reached as far as I can with only a Master's. And what do I love? Teaching. Currently, my job is more administrative, an endless list of committees, and working with students on an individual basis.

I'm just looking for advice from someone who's been there, done that, and is now at the other end.


Kristi A. from Michigan

I'm going to assume that you're married and that, with two kids and a theoretically employed husband, you're not too mobile? In which case my first question is going to be, have you applied for teaching jobs at community colleges? Because at least on paper, you're qualified to teach at a cc, and you could do that immediately, without five more years of education.

October 12, 2008

Dear all,

This is the first time I come to this site. I have a question, and wasn't sure how to start a new thread. So I hope it is OK that I post here.

I am a 30 year old female PhD student, and I will graduate next year. My husband and I plan to have two children in the next 4-5 years. And I would like to take a leave for a year for each kid, which accumulates to 2 years.(For medical reasons, I don't want to wait till late 30s to have children.)

My question is should I apply for academia? Is my plan compatible with academia? Can I have two kids before getting tenure, and taking one year off for each kid? I am in science, so I can easily go into industry. Family life is more important to me than career.

Thanks so much in advance for any advice you may give me!!

Hell yes you should apply! Academia needs more women (and men) like you--people who know straight up what their priorities are, and aren't so cowed by "the job market" that they're ready to feel grateful for anything that comes their way. With confidence like that you'd probably be an awesome interview and a strong candidate.

October 6, 2008

"Dr. K." asks: As an incipient Mama Ph.D., I’d like to know how parenthood affects your pedagogy. If anyone has had a before- and after-baby teaching career, aside from issues like daycare and fatigue, I’d be grateful if you could tell me how it changes a person as a teacher.

Awesome question. The most immediate effect, I think, is that I am *much* more aware of, and sensitive to, the needs and challenges of students with children of their own. Those "no cell phones in class" statements on the syllabus? I bring mine in, and leave it on, in case my son's school needs to call, and I know that some of my students are in the same boat. And for all I know, other students have reasons for leaving their phones on too. So instead of "no phones," I tell them, turn your ringers down and if you have to answer the phone, please step out of the room while you do so. Missing class because of sickness or babysitting problems? It happens. Here's the work you missed; please check with a friend to look at their notes.

It also, I think, makes me better at thinking about my students' educational backgrounds, the gaps they may or may not have, and the fact that they have different learning styles. My son? Bright, believes everything's negotiable, and in the wrong school environment might very well be labelled a "behavior problem." Other kids in his class, where I've done some volunteering? I can see them getting discouraged at the age of six, getting the message that they're "not good at school," checking out to protect their egos.

September 21, 2008

I taught for several years at a state school of fairly low rank and then taught at a very diverse urban public university, which I loved. Now I teach at a fancy liberal arts college on occasion, which has been great, but it doesn't quite thrill me. I feel like I'm not really teaching them much of anything or it doesn't really matter because they're gonna make it no matter what. At Urban Public U., students cried when I left.

I'm about to quit my job in all likelihood. It makes me cry on a weekly basis. The reasons for the tears are pretty complicated, mixed up with my own sadness and disappointment that this gig did not work out and with the cruelty and insane politics I find myself on the receiving end of. The stories I could tell. So I don't know what I'm going to do next. I'm toying with doing some consulting and actually have done some of this work already and could get more pretty easily. I have ideas I want to write about and I still like teaching so I'm applying for faculty jobs, but, like you, I'm limited geographically. And, quite honestly, I want some life balance. I'm working about 60 hours/week right now with job plus research. The laundry is not getting done; homework slides; you know the drill. Oh, and there's the TMJ and headache issues. So do you think adjuncting, if you're doing it as a true part-time job instead of with the hope of gaining a tenure-track job, is viable? Would you ever see yourself back on the tenure-track? I'm interested in CC jobs, but the t-t ones I've seen are 5-5 and I just don't think I could swing that. Anyway, I'd love to see you write about adjuncting in a positive way. In what ways could it not be exploitive? I'm thinking of Marc Bousquet. Would he think it's bad always? It seems the perfect solution for a parent who wants to teach and be a part of academe but doesn't want a full-time gig. I can't even find a part-time gig in the Ed Tech field. Is is bad to want to work part-time? Why do I feel guilty about that?

You feel guilty for much the same reason mothers often feel guilty over whatever choices they make on the work/life continuum, for the same reason we feel guilty if we buy ziplock bags instead of biodegradable cellulose baggies, for the same reason educated whites often feel guilty about racism: because we live in a world that's convinced us that all social problems somehow boil down to our Personal Choices. And you feel guilty for the same reason academics everywhere feel guilty and anxious over academia: because so many of us have internalized the idea of our own powerlessness and dependence on the almighty Job Market.


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