Search Results for "work-life balance"

Jun 14 2010

The work-life balance minefield.

That all said, as a woman in science, it is sometimes disheartening to almost never hear an article suggest that a woman in science discuss household duties with her partner and split them evenly. The author of your article makes the statement that women bear the burden of household labor, but until scientists begin to tell other scientists that this isn't right, women are going to continue to leave academic science for fear of not being able to "balance" work and family.

You can be right and be practical at the same time. These need not be mutually exclusive. I also think that you need not choose between achieving tenure and advocating for social justice. And, until you stop choosing, the pipeline is going to continue to leak like a sieve.

--Isis the Scientist, "A Response on Men, Women, Housework, and Science"

I feel compelled to add, as I have written in many blog-post comments over the last few days, that I deeply respect the value and autonomy of individual relationships -- and this, too, is an important part of this calculation. Asking a woman to do more because she is a woman is never fair. But personal relationships are not appropriate places for philosophers or career advisers to lurk. It's up to each couple -- not me, not feminist critics, not tradition -- to negotiate housekeeping, childcare, or other domestic responsibilities, and the other aspects of personal relationships. The goal is for those choices to be freely made and not coerced. So men, and women: It's up to you and your partner to set the terms, but please make sure those decisions are made as freely as can be achieved.

--Jim Austin, "A Special Message for Men: Do Your Share"

While a robust internet discussion about careers and home-life and gendered division of labor has been going on, I have been sitting on the sidelines. (And baking cupcakes and making other necessary preparations for the joint birthday party we hosted for the Free-Ride offspring this past weekend. Plus wondering if this is the year that the social judgment will be spoken aloud, whether by someone outside the family or by one of the sprogs: "How is it that you can make them share a party like that rather than giving each of them a distinct birthday party close to their actual month and day of birth?" How indeed.)

It's not that I don't know something about trying to combine a career with family and obligations outside that career (although balance is not the right word to describe that kind of task). But it is hard to speak of these experiences without someone feeling as if my "is" is intended to have the force of an "ought".

And that jump is pretty hard not to make, given that one thing that girls and women in American society are socialized to do pretty darn reliably is to judge other girls and women (and, of course, to judge themselves as girls or women). Is there a downside to a particular option? We will find it, even if it is just hypothetical. (And laboring under the burden of hypothetical downsides can be its very own downside.) We can speak about what works for us individually, but do so with the awareness that it might stop working, at which point we have to figure out some other option.

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Jun 06 2008

Work-life balance: not seeing integration as intrusion.

For the June edition of Scientiae, Zuska notes:

Taking up space in the world is a Bad Thing for women to do. We waste a lot of energy and time worrying about whether or not we are taking up too much space. ...
How do you want to take up space? How do you want to let yourself sprawl, in your professional or personal life?

In the wake of the letter informing me that I had been awarded tenure, I've been thinking about sprawl and containment a lot.

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Mar 19 2014

Job offer negotiations and relationships with our future colleagues.

Many pixels have already been devoted to discussing the case of W, the philosophy job candidate who says her job offer was rescinded after she inquired with the department making the offer about what adjustments in start-date, salary, new teaching preps per year, pre-tenure sabbatical, and maternity leave might be possible. Rather than indicating which requests were just not possible, the department's response to the inquiry withdrew the offer of employment entirely with the justification that the items about which W asked indicated "an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered."

In case you've been glued to your grading instead of the internet, The Philosophy Smoker has a nice round-up of the commentary. It's worth noting too that some have expressed doubts that this try to negotiate/lose the offer scenario could really have happened as described. Whether it did or not, I think this is a good opportunity to examine the relationship at the center of negotiations between a hiring department and a job candidate -- namely, the relationship between future colleagues.

When an academic department is conducting a job search, it is trying to hire someone to address the department's needs. These needs may include teaching particular courses, developing new curriculum, advising students, spreading out committee work, contributing to a department culture that supports good pedagogy, productive research, and so forth. The specific needs of a department and the specific culture its members create are very much connected to facts on the ground -- whether it is part of a college or university that is teaching-focused or research-focused, how willing the administration is to release funds to the department, how many students the department serves, how many faculty members there are to take on the shared work.

Search committees looking for a good "fit" between job candidates and the faculty position they are trying to fill seek not only candidates who can address the department's needs but also candidates who show some grasp of those needs, some awareness of (or at least interest in) the facts on the ground that constrain how those needs can be met. If the department's primary need is for a new faculty member to teach a significant part of the curriculum and the candidate asks to be excused from all pre-tenure teaching duties, that would probably indicate that the candidate didn't grok the department's needs and might not be able to contribute enthusiastically to meeting them.

However, a new faculty hire is not like a wireless learning-delivery device. A new faculty hire is a human who, in the course of helping to achieve the shared goals of the department, can be legitimately expected to pursue goals of her own.

Some of these individual goals ought to be goals shared by the department hiring the job candidate, chief among them creating conditions in which the new hire can contribute to meeting the department's needs in a sustainable way over the long term. One of the big advantages here for the department is that creating such conditions can help obviate the need for another faculty search, a time- and labor-intensive process in the best of circumstances.

When you've gone through the trouble of a search, you don't want to hire a candidate who'll end up leaving in a few years for a job somewhere else that she perceives as a better fit for her needs. Neither do you want to hire someone who you'll have to replace in six or seven years because she cannot do what she needs to do to get tenured.

Ideally, you want a job candidate who has been reflective about what she may need to be able to do a good job meeting the department's needs and meeting her own needs -- including being able to establish her case for retention, tenure, and promotion.

A job candidate who hash't given this thought may put herself in situations where she cannot do an adequate job meeting the department's needs -- or where she can meet those needs, but only by courting burnout or ignoring other tasks she needs to do to get tenured.

This is a place where the case of W suggests to me a candidate who demonstrated thoughtfulness about how to support a department's teaching mission in a sustainable way. In a small department, faculty members each need to do significant teaching to cover the curriculum. But preparing a course that works well with the actual population of students to be taught benefits tremendously from feedback from those actual students and modification in response to that feedback. W inquired whether it was possible to cap her new course preps at three per year for the first three years. Preparing three new courses per year requires substantial labor in itself. Road-testing them to make sure they meet the students' needs as well in practice as in imagination is the kind of thing that ensures the prepared courses really are serving the needs of the department offering them. As well, limiting new preps while the new hire is getting immersed in the culture of the department is a reasonable way not to spread her too thin.

It may be that facts on the ground mean that the new hire will need to have more new course preps than this or else the department's needs will not be met. But for a candidate to recognize the labor involved in doing the job right should be an advantage, not a disadvantage, in meeting those needs.

The dance between search committees and candidates is complicated and emotionally fraught, each side trying to evaluate "fit" on the basis of necessarily incomplete information since many questions are only answered when the new hire actually succeeds or doesn't in meeting the particular needs in the particular circumstances. In the absence of a perfectly accurate view of the future, evaluating how well a candidate fills particular curricular needs, understands and can support the mission of the department, and will be able to pursue their individual goals (with respect to pedagogy, scholarship, professional development, work-life balance) in this environment requires honest communication on both sides.

Candidates should be honest about their long-range aspirations and should not pretend to be a good fit for a position if they are not. Search committees should be expansive in their recognition of the plurality of individual goals that probably fit with the department's needs. Both sides should understand that job candidates are frequently in a moment where they are legitimately poised between -- and open to -- different professional environments and trajectories, different people they could become within their professions.

It's suboptimal for a department when a candidate pretends to be a good fit and accepts a job merely to stave off unemployment until her dream job somewhere else comes along. By the same token, it's suboptimal for a candidate when a department cares only for its own needs rather than taking the candidate's individual needs into account.

A job candidate is not a mere means to fulfill your department's ends. Buyer's market or not, a job candidate should not be treated as a supplicant deserving of punishment for asking questions in good faith. A job candidate is your potential colleague. A job candidate to whom an offer of employment has been extended should be treated as your future colleague.

Punishing your future colleague for asking what kind of support is available for her professional endeavors (including her professional endeavors that directly address needs your department hopes to meet by hiring her) suggests there is something badly wrong with your understanding of your relationship with that future colleague. It suggests that you are OK with using her, and it probably doesn't bode well for your relationship with any new colleagues you manage to hire.

Whatever the facts on the ground may be, exploiting members of your professional community as mere means rather than recognizing them as legitimate ends in themselves is bad behavior -- the kind of behavior job candidates should not expect from hiring departments. If that's the relationship you expect to enact with your new faculty hire, you should at least have the decency to spell this out when you make an offer so job candidates will have no illusions about what it is you're offering.

(Crossposted at Academe Blog)

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Aug 03 2010

Is having it all impossible?

One of the things I'm liking a lot about this new community at Scientopia is the fact that it has helped me find some cool new blogs that I might not have found in the vastness of the blogosphere. (It's not the blogosphere's fault -- it's just that there's so much out there, and there are all these other things people keep wanting me to do besides just reading blogs.)

For example, check out Sanitized for Your Protection, a blog about "academic life and all the adventures that accompany it" by Rebecca Montague. In a post today, On being Superwoman, she writes about the challenges of the work-life balance thing, and notes that some of the advice one gets from eminent scientists is just not that encouraging. Specifically, an essay by Lynn Margulis struck her as more of a kick in the pants than a helping hand. Rebecca writes:

In the essay, Margulis discusses her roles as a mother and wife, and how they’ve conflicted with her scientific career. She relates this to the movie “The Red Shoes”, where a prima ballerina feels forced to choose between her life as a dancer and the man she loves. Margulis opined:

At age 15 I was certain that the ballerina died because of a silly antiquated convention that insisted that it is impossible for any woman to maintain both family and career. I am equally sure now that the people of her generation who insisted on either marriage or career were correct, just as those of our generation who perpetuate the myth of the superwoman who simultaneously can do it all–husband, children, and professional career–are wrong.

...

I disagree with her blanket statement that no one can “do it all”—plenty of scientists can and do combine success in their career with very happy home lives, raising well-adjusted children within supportive partnerships. Are they the exceptions that prove the rule? ... But there are definitely days when I feel like I can’t handle it, and that despite knowing intellectually that it’s impossible to be a SuperEverything all the time and something’s gotta give…and I wonder sometimes, amongst the stress couched in chocolate wrappers and stacks of papers, if she wasn’t on to something.

While I don't want to pretend that balance is brutally hard, I can't help but wonder if part of our problem is setting the definition of "success" too high. The thing that's done the most to reduce my parenting-partnering-work stress is to become comfortable with the idea that "good enough" (rather than perfect) really is good enough for most contexts. Sure, this means Casa Free-Ride has more dust bunnies than it might otherwise, but I'm comfortable letting that go if I can spend more time with my kids and my better half, and if I can get papers graded without staying up until 3 AM.

At the same time, I don't think the burden of lowering standards ought to rest solely on the people trying to combine career, partner, family, and whatever else. It's really hard to assert, "This is sufficiently good parenting/housekeeping/devotion to my relationships," in the face of a whole society that sets the bar several notches higher (or in the face of a differing view of what would be sufficient, for example, from the people with whom you are in those relationships). It's even harder to confidently assert, "This is sufficiently good teaching/research productivity/service," when your retention-tenure-promotions committees have the final say on what's sufficient (and where they may care not a whit that you are concerned to have a life outside of work).

Sometimes having multiple facets to our lives becomes impossible because we insist on trying to live up to unrealistic standards for each of those facets. Sometimes it becomes impossible because other people, or organizations, or societal structures, impose those unrealistic standards upon us. Working on the problem from both ends seems to me like the only hope if we want to make progress here.

Although judicious use of chocolate might help, too.

Anyway, go say hi to Rebecca and jump into the conversation on her blog.

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Jun 15 2010

The blogger's hypothetical imperatives.

In the midst of the ongoing conversation about managing career and housework and who knows what else (happening here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and likely some places I've missed), ScientistMother wondered about one of the blogospheric voices that wasn't taking an active role in the discussion. She mused in a comment at Isis's blog:

Do we ever get a post from DrugMonkey about how he does it? He has kids and a wife (who I think is a scientist) but he rarely talks about balance issues. I'm sure its been an issue. Until the MEN start talking about its not going to change.

When DrugMonkey demurred, she followed up with a post at her own blog:

You have stated on your blog that you believe that gender equality in science is a good thing. Yet you rarely talk about some of the balancing issues or the parental issues. I have the link up that shows you think its important. Yet outside of that post originally done 2 years ago, you don't talk about fatherhood or balancing fatherhood and partnerhood with science.

In the discussion in the comments following her post, ScientistMother quotes from the post from the DrugMonkey vault she has in mind:

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Apr 01 2009

Outing pseudonymous bloggers.

I've gotten word that another blogger who has been tracking IP addresses associated with comments (on his own blog and on the blogs of others) is preparing to blow the whistle on what he is inclined to view as sock-puppetry. I'm not sure how complete this blogger's information is, nor whether it is consistent with other conclusions besides the ones he is drawing.
But at this point, it might not matter that much. So I'm just going to go ahead and tell you what I know.

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Feb 25 2009

President Obama on education.

In last night's address to the joint session of Congress, President Obama said:

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.
In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity - it is a pre-requisite.
Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.
This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education - from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.
Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children's progress.
But we know that our schools don't just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.
It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country - and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country - Senator Edward Kennedy.
These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.

I'm generally heartened by these remarks, but of course, I have some thoughts of my own to add.

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Jul 26 2006

What, exactly, is meant by 'a life'?

In light of some of the comments on my ongoing series of posts on trying to combine a family and an academic career, I think a few clarifications may be in order:

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Mar 01 2012

Pursuing your goals in a world with other people.

Apropos of the discussion here, I offer some general thoughts on pursuing partner, career, family, or other aims one deems important:

  1. Knowing what you want can be handy. Among other things, it can help you identify when you've found it. If you have no idea what you want, recognizing it when you have it can be harder.
  2. On the other hand, being able to specify exactly what you want is not a guarantee that you can or will attain it. It could be, for example, that your desired simultaneous combination of partner-career-family-other aims does not exist.
  3. Hypothetical people that meet all our desiderata may be easier to get along with in our imagination than are actual flesh-and-blood people who embody those desiderata. Happily, it often turns out that actual flesh-and-blood people who significantly depart from some of the desiderata we set a priori are wonderful to be with.
  4. It's possible that there's something creepy about choosing a life partner on the basis of an a priori list of criteria (as opposed to, say, getting to know hir and deciding zie is a person whose companionship you value), especially if those criteria tend to specify services that imagined life partner will provide in advancing your aims. It kind of sets you up to be a self-serving creep who doesn't care about your partner's needs or aspirations.
  5. If your aims matter to you -- if they're really worth pursuing -- sometimes this requires that you sacrifice other aims.
  6. If you, personally, are unwilling to sacrifice aim X to pursue aim Y, that probably means that, push come to shove, you value aim X more. That's fine -- but it might be a good idea to make your peace with the possibility that you can't have both X and Y.
  7. If you really, really want to pursue aim Y without abandoning your pursuit of aim X, you might have to adjust your expectations about the level of attainment that will be possible. (Depending on values of X and Y here, this might involve ratcheting down career aspirations to something slightly less competitive, lucrative, prestigious, and/or time-consuming, scaling back on the projected number of your progeny, ratcheting down your expectations for a spotless home, what have you.)
  8. On the other hand, if you really, really want to pursue aim Y without abandoning your pursuit of aim X and you therefore make it someone else's job to pick up the slack on one of these two goals, it strikes me that you ought to make damn sure that this someone else (a) values the goal you are asking hir to pursue on your behalf and (b) that zie is not being forced thereby to abandon the pursuit of some other goal that zie values more.
  9. This is a good moment to remember Kant's insight that treating others as mere means to advance your goals rather than recognizing them an setters of their own goals is thoroughly assy behavior.
  10. In some circumstances, the least exploitative way to achieve the goal that matters to you but not so much that you'll sacrifice pursuit of your other goals to attain it is to pay someone else to do it. After all, money can be exchanged for goods and services, which might make it useful to the person whose assistance you are getting in pursuing some of hir goals.
  11. Institutions that stack the deck in favor of some classes of people being expected to sacrifice their own aims in order to accommodate (or actively support) other classes of people in the pursuit of their goals suck big bags of crap.
  12. When you recognize that institutional structures support your pursuit of your goals by limiting the options of others to pursue their goals, it would be a real show of humanity (and of not being an entitled ass) to do what you can to increase the potential for those other people to pursue their goals. It would also be cool to examine the institutional structures that stack the deck and figure out how to start dismantling them. (If you need a self-interested reason to do this, consider that fate may conspire to make you care greatly for the happiness and well-being of someone on the short end of this institutional structural stick.)
  13. In an environment where some people's goals are presumed to matter more than others (because of what class they are in rather than anything to do with the particulars of their goals), or where certain goals are judged in advance to be more appropriate (or "natural") to members of some classes of people, it is hard as hell to identify "freely chosen goals" that are actually free of the influence of various institutional structures. But, people who don't live in vacuums can't set goals that don't assume the persistence of certain features of our background environment.
  14. Sometimes taking your own goals seriously may require imagining -- even working for -- the non-persistence of certain features of our background environment. This may also be required to take seriously the goals and aspirations of other people who matter to you. It doesn't mean changing those features will be easy, but few goals worth pursuing are.

I hope I can be forgiven the Xs and Ys in the discussion here, as I think what's at stake ranges far beyond the traditional work/life balance issues about how to divvy up housework and parenting, whose career advancement to prioritize, et cetera. I think it cuts to the core of treating other people as fully human.

And, for some reason, it seems an awful lot like politicians, policy makers, and pundits are having a harder time with that lately than they should be. It feels like the rest of us have to pick up some of that slack.

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