Motherhood in the academy

JEREMY DANG / AGGIE

Despite challenges, mothers in academia continue to thrive

A recent article in “The Scientific American” by professor Rebecca Calisi in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior at UC Davis brought to light many of the challenges mothers face while pursuing careers in academia. This article lead to a paper about resources that should be provided to new mothers at academic conferences to ensure that their careers aren’t hindered by the responsibilities of motherhood.

Studies show that one of the main reasons women leave academia is the perception that colleges and universities are not conducive to the growth and maintenance of a family. Whether it’s the lack of facilities at academic conferences or the lack of emotional support from their communities, being a new mom can become something to endure rather than something to enjoy.

One of the topics addressed in the paper is networking, primarily the time at which networking events are held. UC Davis could provide more support with regard to its childcare grant.

Most networking events, including those specifically for women in science, are in the evening. This should change,” said Alana Chin, a Ph.D. student at UC Davis. “The childcare grant is only $900 per quarter regardless of family size. This is very helpful, but the amount should increase. Social and networking events held by graduate groups are rarely family-friendly — this should change. On-campus, affordable, full-day childcare should be available to all students regardless of gender.”

A university could have a variety of networking events for women in academia, though they would be proven useless if women couldn’t make it to them because of family obligations. 75 percent of parents are on a social network and mothers especially use this as a way to offer and receive support. Establishing a conference-specific parent network would offer a more flexible form of networking, making it more accessible for working parents.

Another solution brought up by LeShelle May, a computer engineer who serves as a senior technical lead for CNN, is the idea of bringing human resources into the conversation.

“If you don’t link it to HR which is a part of the campus that can make a difference, what’s the purpose?” May said. “You’re preaching to the choir. So one of the bold ideas we’re thinking is an online toolkit that allows more strategic planning of what HR should do and the differences they should make.”

Professor Teresa Steele agreed that human resources taking action would also send a message of solidarity to working parents in academia.

“Expanding the travel grants would be helpful,” Steele said. “Just something to say, we acknowledge this as a concern and want to do our part to help support it would be helpful.”

 

 

Written by: Kriti Varghese — science@theaggie.org