Sunday, November 7, 2010

weekly accountability: Oct 31-Nov 6

My writing goals for this week were to finish the conclusions on the conference paper I'm turning into a journal article, edit the whole paper, get the bibliography, tables, and graphs whipped into shape, and send it out to my co-authors. I hoped to start outline changes to the next paper.

I did not meet my writing goals. Why? Well, I lost most of Monday when Boo Too came down with a fever and couldn't go to daycare, so Dr. Mr. Palimpsest and I had to stay home with him, handing him off between classes. He doesn't have any other signs of sickness, so we think it may have been a teething fever. He's been fussy/demanding all week. Then I lost most of my productive time Friday because our daycare provider took the day off. I also had two non-standard meetings that ate up precious time, and Excruciating Faculty Committee has asked me to draft a report, further eroding my writing time. I'm going to go out on a feminist limb here and categorically state that being a mother really does make me less of a researcher. I think it makes me a better person overall, and my awareness/experience of reproduction may even make me a better archaeologist in terms of the quality of my work, but it sure doesn't help my productivity much. Anyway, I got the conclusions finished and edited most of the paper, but it's not yet in any condition to send out to my co-authors.

My writing goals for next week are to get the paper sent out to my co-authors, then outline and begin the changes to the next paper. I also need to finish the draft of the report for Excruciating Faculty Committee.


  1. You bring up a few issues that are so integral to my thoughts about having children, and how many children, so I wanted to follow up.

    First, does being a parent make you a better person? That is probably up to each individual case! I think I am a much better person and member of a larger community than I was several years ago, better able to give. I am also older, and not depressed right now. In the meantime I have suffered very hard losses and also had wonderful things come to me. Also--and not insignificantly--I started out as a really shockingly self-centered person. So sure, caring for someone else in this way helped me learn more empathy and generosity, but I suspect a lot of people don't need this particular kick in the pants, or they find it through some other path.

    Second, does being a parent make you less of a researcher? Very tricky question, and one that makes many of us nervous!! It's probably best to think about this over the course of your entire intellectual career. In the long run, I feel strongly that it does not. It is frustrating that a job search or tenure decision takes a snapshot, often at your most vulnerable moment. . .

  2. FYI: I admire and appreciate your honesty on the productivity and time issue. . . not admitting this happens doesn't make it go away.

  3. I agree, this is probably varies significantly from person to person, so I shouldn't generalize. Now that I am a mother, I, too, feel like I'm less self-centered, more empathetic, and more capable of understanding the needs of families of all types. As a family, we've dealt with a lot of difficulties over the last few years, and I think we've come a long way toward a greater understanding of ourselves and others. I can't imagine this is true for everyone, though. I do wonder if my tendency toward introversion is one of the reasons that parenting has worked profound changes in my personality and outlook. It's hard to be a mother and always inward-focused! I'm also a strongly goal-oriented, type-A personality, and I think a lot of mothers learn that they can either bang their heads repeatedly against the brick wall of their toddler's psyches, or they can just accept that the journey matters more than the destination, at least outside of daycare hours. Since academics (stereotypically) are more introverted and tend to be type-A personalities, perhaps this is a frequent situation in academia, but not necessarily outside of it.

    As for being less of a researcher: I must admit I put a lot (a LOT) less time into my research right now than I did before my kids were born. I manage to keep up with teaching duties, and meet most of my basic deadlines, but my publication level has dropped off since I had kids. I hope it will go back up when they're a little older, but at the moment, as you say, I have to face the fact that my job search materials and tenure portfolio reflect a definite nadir in productivity.

    Overall, though, I agree being a parent makes me a better researcher in the long run. Archaeology was dominated for a very long time by white men. Now there are a lot of white women, but most of my mentors didn't have children. Our graduate program had a huge number of strong female faculty, only a couple of whom had children. If a diversity of races and genders is valued within any academic enterprise, for the different perspectives they bring to the table, then surely we should value a diversity of experiences, as well, including the very human experience of bearing and nurturing children. Are children really invisible in the archaeological record, or did it just never occurred to most archaeologists to look for them?

  4. What percentage of the childless female faculty WANTED children? I think that is a more telling number (although hard to figure out unless you know them well enough).

  5. That is a good question. I only knew a few of them well enough to know their honest opinion. It's such a private matter, most people are pretty reserved about it. I know at least two of the faculty members would have preferred to have children, and one was childless by choice. Other than that, I can't say.

    Dr. Mr. Palimpsest attended a conference where the subject of reproductive choice was relevant. The presenters asked the audience how many of the women had children. He said there were some 20 women there (all PhDs), most in their late 40s-50s. Only one of them had kids. Obviously, some may have wished they did have children, but at the same time, surely a good number of those women were childless by choice. That generation of female PhDs did wonders to break down the barriers for the rest of us, but they set up an expectation that we would give up almost anything, including reproduction, for our careers.

    I know I'm less productive now than I used to be, but I chose that path with open eyes. I think the field will benefit if everyone learns to respect that choice! Note, I don't think that means we should just give all mothers a "get out of probation free" card, but I do think we should cast a wider net when considering productivity.

  6. I don't think it's having children that reduces research productivity-- it's that most women don't have a "traditional wife" at home. Think about how much easier it would be to balance teaching, research and fun with the kids if someone else was doing all the shopping, cooking, cleaning, nursing of the sick, etc... But many of our spouses don't want to be stay-at-homes either, and/or we can't afford it. To me, this isn't specifically a women's issue any more, I doubt most male faculty are really any better off.

  7. Absolutely, men face the same problems!

    Still, I think that even in this enlightened day and age, most women still do a lot more of the housework and childcare than their male partners (if they have one). In that way, most male faculty are better off, because they do have someone who takes primary responsibility for the kids, housework, laundry, cooking, etc. I was lucky that my husband was home with our daughter for three years, but it was incredibly hard on everyone, and ultimately didn't work out. I think he wouldn't argue if I said that I do more of the housework and childcare than he does (by choice!), but I also work more hours. It's just the way things are. He's been losing a lot of hours to renovating our house and working on non-academic projects.

    I tend in this blog to talk about mothers and female faculty members, but your point is well taken - a lot of male faculty members and fathers face the same problems. I just don't like to speak for them, but maybe I should. We had a department meeting a while back where one of our female faculty brought up some family leave issues, and she was very angry that only women would speak up in her support. Maybe I need to start speaking up in support of husbands and fathers, too!

  8. Speaking of nursing of the sick: I'm writing in with my own weekly accountability report. I didn't make it!! O. got sent home sick Friday and Monday (by all appearances he had recovered over the weekend, I swear) and is home today. I'm sick too. No conference for us this past weekend, and no finished paper to hand out to colleagues at said conference.

    So there is the time you PLANNED to spend with your children, and then the time you planned to spend at work but suddenly can't (and it's not the kind of time off you can really enjoy). If everyone could just stay healthy, wouldn't parenting be much easier in terms of scheduling? Right, I have absolutely no solutions. I feel breastmilk was advertised as the magic pill I seek, but the kiddo still picked up germs.

    Goals for this week: get this paper (Article #1) to colleagues for final review; start grant pre-application. I got three more days. --MB

  9. Sorry to hear things have been so tough! Hope you're feeling better soon!

    As for breastmilk - Boo Too still gets about 90% of his calories from nursing, and he's getting sick constantly. Bunny was mostly on formula by 6 months, and she hardly ever got sick. Guess which one started daycare at 3 months, and which one started at 16 months?