Since I wrote the post about interviewing where I discussed whether one should talk about one’s family or not during an interview… I’ve been thinking a lot about this… and about role models, about how having career and family differs for men and women, about my own experience. It feels so odd to talk about this publicly- but people who know me well know that my family is extremely important to me.
If you have read the ‘about me’ tab- you probably realize that I have quite a complicated academic and personal history. That short paragraph looks so tidy on the page- but believe me, it wasn’t like that in real life. I always tried to go forward with the idea of keeping my options open- not closing any doors unnecessarily. Fortunately, I have some wonderful mentors… but I, like so many young women in academia, completely lacked role models. Role models that were women that had children before tenure, and then got tenure… and moved up the ranks. I had an N of 0 in my graduate department and in my field…, and seeing is believing- so it didn’t look good.
What was going through my mind as I was finishing my Ph.D…. academic career or not? I’m going to be perfectly straight with you… academic career NOT. I think this was a combination of at least three factors. First, I was unbelievably burned out on bench science toward the end of graduate school. What’s to say about this- it happens to some, and it was exhausting to me. The two female grad students that had graduated from the lab before me- were both struggling with their postdocs- and they didn’t have children….
Second, my older daughter was born during my final year of graduate school. Was this planned? Maybe. As well as you can ever plan anything like this… Did I think at the time about how this might negatively impact my career over the long term? Not really. I suppose at the time I thought that the chances of me having an academic career were so remote, that the joy of starting a family didn’t feel like it was interfering with anything. But I am going to be brutally honest with you here- I don’t think I would have let my career- even an academic career stop me from moving forward with this part of my life.
Third, no role models- so I couldn’t imagine how someone like me, a woman and with a baby at this early stage- could make it as an academic scientist. It just seemed like this career was off limits to me. I couldn’t envision myself doing this job.
After I finished my Ph.D. I had two years of veterinary school left to finish before I had to make some decisions about the direction of my career. These two years brought their own share of difficulty, (4th year of vet school can be back breaking, and with a small child and DrMrA just starting out in his first faculty position), but they gave me time to reevaluate a few things about myself, my skills, my training and my goals. The timing of this break was actually very fortunate- and seeing the time ahead when a fusion of my basic science training and my clinical training would be synergistic was highly motivating.
Up there I said that I felt odd talking publicly about this- but maybe if I share these experiences with you- and you are struggling through some of the same decisions… you will be able to envision yourself doing this. Seeing is believing… right?
Just FYI- Dr. Free Ride over at Adventures in Ethics and Science wrote a series about academic career and family some time ago which I have only just come upon ( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4…), and Candid Engineer has a recent post about her thoughts about choosing an academic career.