Chained to the kitchen sink…

By Legal Eagle

Via Larvatus Prodeo, I became aware of KRudd’s latest gem – a PhD is an “excuse for not having kids”. (What is it with the political leaders in our country at the moment?)

Nina Funnell, a thirty something researcher, attended a function where Kevin Rudd spoke on an ageing population. Her story follows:

I was at a function where Kevin Rudd was giving the keynote address. He talked about the ”crisis” of Australia’s ageing population and the various economic challenges we will face as a result.

Arguments were made about superannuation and the strain on healthcare. But there was a deeper message: young people (women in particular) are failing in their civic duty to reproduce. Apparently, gen Y is to blame for the inverted population pyramid.

There were hundreds of people in the room but only a handful under 30. As one of the under 30-crowd, I shuffled nervously, hoping no one would recognise me – and my empty womb – as the deeply unpatriotic and traitorous felons that we are.

After Rudd came off stage, he spoke to me and the few other under-30s (we had congregated for strength in numbers). He extended his points about the problems with the ageing population and the financial problems gen Y will incur when the baby boomers become pensioners.

At that point one of my friends introduced me, dropping in that I am completing a PhD. At this, Rudd rolled his eyes and in a terse voice lacking any sense of irony remarked that is the “excuse” that “all” young women are using nowadays to avoid starting families. Since then I’ve come up with numerous one-line retorts, but in the moment I just froze in shock. (my emphasis added)

Well. Where do I even start with this one?

First: I am living proof that one can have children and do a full time PhD. I wouldn’t recommend it as the sanest course, though. My 15-month-old son shredded three articles that I’d left within reach the other day. This almost reduced me to tears. Luckily the shredding was repairable with sticky tape.

I’ve only been able to manage doing a PhD with lots of help from my husband, my parents, my parents-in-law and lots of encouragement from my friends when I think about chucking it in yet again.

As a PhD related aside, I think the light is visible at the end of the tunnel – I’m trying to write Chapter 7 at the moment, which leaves only Chapter 8 (the conclusion) to go. And then I have to tidy it all up and make sure I’ve read and referenced everything I ought to have. Sigh. I think my family and friends will sigh a huge sigh of relief when the darn thing is over… Not as big as my relief, however.

Anyway, that was my knee jerk response. But, presuming KRudd’s comment was serious and not a joke gone seriously awry: why did KRudd see a PhD as an excuse not to have children? Why ought women to have children if they don’t want to? Personally, I love children. I have always loved children. It’s no surprise that I have two children. But I recognise that not all women are like me. Some women I know do not want to have children. And you know what? That’s fine. If they don’t want kids, it’s better that they don’t have them. A mother who resents her children is not going to be a happy woman, and nor will the kids be happy either.

Some people I know do want children, but they haven’t met a suitable partner. So they throw themselves into their work or their study. And then there are some people who desperately want children, have a partner, and are unable to have children for fertility reasons. Or there are people who are in same-sex relationships who want kids, and obviously it’s a bit more difficult there than if you’re in a heterosexual relationship.

Why is it always the woman’s fault? Why is it that women who choose not to have children are regarded as selfish or “offering excuses”, while men who make the same choice are not regarded as selfish? Why should a woman not devote herself to career if she wants to? The good ol’ double standard strikes again.

There’s a whole raft of reasons why women (and men) don’t have kids. And you know what? That’s fine. That’s part of being a liberal democracy – you leave it up to people to decide what they want to do. The point is that women shouldn’t be made to feel guilt about their choices (which may be made for a variety of reasons and no one should second guess what their reasoning is). If the PM did indeed mutter this comment seriously, I feel pretty disappointed.

Update:

Deborah at In A Strange Land feels the same way about it as I do.

49 Comments

  1. Peter Patton
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    Conrad

    Smoking is legendary as a weight-loss method, maybe that is why the French are getting tubbier? 😉

  2. Patrick
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Bille, if you mean anything it appears that you must mean that other Australians don’t pay enough tax.

    But I can’t work out why anyone should want to pay your private school fees (almost never $30k pa, incidentally) – no-one pays them for the French, either, they just have much crapper schools with much poorer facilities, extremely limited sport, musical and other non-academic options and usually nary a patch of grass.

    Also, French people pay approx 1/3rd of their salaries in other people’s superannuation and benefits, whereas we have possibly the best super system in the known world. To quote a (French) friend of mine: ‘Quit? Why? I certainly won’t have any retirement (pension) so I had better do all I can to die by 60‘ 🙂

    SL, I agree with the French on nuclear power. I think their views of multiculturalism are, whilst superficially appealing, in many ways woefully inadequate – otherwise, why does it work so much better in Australia than there? How did Le Pen get the second highest votes in a Presidential election? Why are so many outer suburbs in Paris/Marseille/Lyon other large urban areas so dangerous?

    As for smoking, the reforms Conrad is referring to amounted to basically banning it everywhere. No wonder it is declining (albeit from a very high base)!

  3. conrad
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    “I think their views of multiculturalism are, whilst superficially appealing, in many ways woefully inadequate – otherwise, why does it work so much better in Australia than there? How did Le Pen get the second highest votes in a Presidential election? Why are so many outer suburbs in Paris/Marseille/Lyon other large urban areas so dangerous?”

    This thread is getting side-tracked a lot (sorry), but I think the reason is pretty obvious. It’s because a reasonable proportion of the people we took in were highly skilled or came from ethnic groups that succeed everywhere. So for the most part, they never created any major problems for anyone (quite the opposite — just look at who the doctors are now in our hospitals!), and most people liked the culture they brought with them (that’s why Melbourne is the best city in Australia — because even poor Greeks and Italians have more taste than the English :). It’s true). Alternatively, France took in lots of poor people without the sort of characteristics Australia either took in deliberately or by accident. That included a massive group from Algeria that came all at once. It also included groups that are reasonably sexist (just look at the gender ratios in the immigrant bars in France!), and this no doubt contributed additional problems because it excluded half the population from being successful.

  4. billie
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Patrick why do you assume that I mean other Australian’s don’t pay enough tax. My family send their children to the traditional protestant private schools, university, pay private health insurance, make additional super contributions so that we can earn enough money to provide what the state won’t.

    From a productivity standpoint I believe that a more equitable society generates a higher GDP and allows more of its population to thrive.

    The Americas are the home of small government and low taxes which is fine if you are doing well but if you lose your job or become sick or can’t access a post-high school education you join the third of Americans living hand to mouth existences in poverty. Not shown on TV because Americans believe poor people deserve it.

  5. Nick Ferrett
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Getting back to the original post, much as I loath Rudd (how I do), I think it pretty unlikely that he could handle being married to such a successful woman if he didn’t have a decent attitude toward women. I suppose the other explanation is that he’s so focussed that he doesn’t care about his marriage, but that isn’t the feeling I get.

    The other thing is, for all the ridiculous and unctuous things he does say, it’s hard to conclude that this particular comment lacked any sense of irony. “All” young women are using the excuse of doing a PhD to avoid parenthood? He’s not a moron and he can’t really have meant it.

    The wider point raised leads me to say that one of our community’s great failures as it attempts to reform and achieve gender equality is to perpetuate the view that there is only one form of career success; one which involves commercial or professional achievement. It discounts child rearing as a valid career choice.

    That’s not to say that we should be teaching women to be happy with their lot. The point of validating child rearing as a career choice is to make anyone who chooses it, male or female, feel that they’ve done something worthwhile and be recognised (as opposed to patronised) for it.

  6. Posted February 17, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    As a gay man I like women
    .
    Not all gay men like women. The worst misogynists I’ve ever met are gay men. Just sayin’.
    .
    It discounts child rearing as a valid career choice.
    .
    It’s not a career. It’s a valid lifestyle choice. It’s a honourable way to spend your time, male or female. It’s not a career choice.
    .
    Sorry. I just don’t like the tendency to express all aspects of life in terms of the economy: social capital etc.

  7. Nick Ferrett
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Adrien, I’m not sure what your distinction between a career and a lifestyle choice is. To me, a lifestyle choice is choosing to live at the beach and commute to work or choosing to ride a bike to work. Not sure I would categorise the work involved in raising kids that way.

  8. conrad
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    “You don’t get paid for it, and there’s no progression or promotion or anything like that,”

    Yes there is. If you did a good job, your kids will still love you in your old age! Lots of families don’t make it that far (like mine!), so you can progress from helping with feeding, nappys etc. to good kids.

  9. Posted February 17, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] said re kids “It’s not a career choice.”

    Ummm. It certainly makes you make career choices. Hmmm… jobs with lots of travel… bigger bucks… or a job where I could work 10:00 to 16:00 at the office, then put in a few more hours at night when kids are settled? And a compassionate boss who understands single parents need unscheduled time off when kids are sick?

    [email protected] “I’d call it damn hard work, actually.”

    Yep. And I’ve got to start all over again with 9 days notice. Daughter and grandson moving in… and my daughter’s arm is still pretty useless a year after a car accident. Thought I’d got over the having-to-deal-with-toddlers-all-week-without-a-days-respite a couple of decades back… Glad I had my daughter mid twenties! Dunno how older dads have the energy.

    Which brings me back to a point in LE’s original post. Why didn’t KRudd roll the eyes and joke (or not) about parental age in a gender-neutral way? DNA methylation over time in parents over time affects the kid (as we are now STARTING to discover), and it’s looking like epigenetic damage in fathers is more consequential in their kids than epigenetic damage in mothers, at least for some things (why there are age limits on donors of sperm for reproductive use). So it looks like there’s MORE reason for men to start families earlier,(again, glad I had my daughter mid twenties!), so if he WAS making comments about age of parents, if he was better informed, and wanting to make it gender-specific, the males would be the more logical target.

    As for the hypothesis that a thesis lets you “flex”… no such luck if it’s based on lab or field work… test-tubes that need changing in the middle of the night are just as demanding as nappies that need changing (although at least you know in advance, and maybe you have a partner who can look after things while you go back to the lab). At least most thesis supervisors are more forgiving of what hours you work than most employers, I’d imagine.

    Oh, and for those who don’t know… I was a single custodial dad working full-time. At least I was able to work with my infant daughter in a sling, and I only had 1 to deal with on my own.

  10. Posted February 17, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    This thread is getting side-tracked a lot (sorry), but I think the reason is pretty obvious. It’s because a reasonable proportion of the people we took in were highly skilled or came from ethnic groups that succeed everywhere. So for the most part, they never created any major problems for anyone (quite the opposite — just look at who the doctors are now in our hospitals!), and most people liked the culture they brought with them (that’s why Melbourne is the best city in Australia — because even poor Greeks and Italians have more taste than the English . It’s true). Alternatively, France took in lots of poor people without the sort of characteristics Australia either took in deliberately or by accident. That included a massive group from Algeria that came all at once. It also included groups that are reasonably sexist (just look at the gender ratios in the immigrant bars in France!), and this no doubt contributed additional problems because it excluded half the population from being successful.

    This sums it up in a nutshell, I think, and is consistent with what French friends and rellos have told me. They wish they had our Chinese, Italians, Greeks and Vietnamese (especially the latter, who often speak excellent French).

    It is not PC to admit it, but all immigrants are not equal.

  11. Posted February 17, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] said “Although at least the test tubes don’t throw tantrum”

    Depends what you’re cooking in them. Sometimes overcooking can leading to an explosion.

  12. Posted February 17, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] As a gay man, I am really against leaders inspiring large majorities against small minorities. Your Jewish friends may have a similar perspective.

    [email protected] Oh yes, Oz has been much cleverer than the French–or Europeans generally–in these matters. The one partial exception (Mal-Frunction PM bringing in all those Muslim Lebanese in one wallop and letting them congregate in Oz’s most socially divided city) being the exception that proves the point.

    [email protected] Sadly, there are misogynist gay men. Pathetic dears that they are.

    On an irony of history note, now that women can control their fertility far more precisely than in the past, misogyny tends to be its own reward because if you discourage part-time/casual work, intermittent careers and the odd house-husband, then it raises the cost of having children, and so they have fewer of them. (Catholic Europe–excepting secularist France–and Japan being cases in point). The biggest drop in fertility rates ever recorded is apparently contemporary Iran: why would women bring daughters into the world of the mullahs?

  13. Posted February 17, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Bugger, that should be ‘large majorities against small minorities”.

    [Admin: fixed]

  14. Posted February 17, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    There’s another thing going on, too, at least in Italy. Childcare in Italy is handled at the commune or regionale level. When I lived and worked in Umbria, I discovered a region that had excellent childcare provision, but very low take-up. Various Italians (both male and female) explained that they would prefer the mother to stay home with their children until they start school, and that as this choice was not being facilitated, they would rather not. It was clear that these decisions were being driven by women, too.

    I suspect you will find horses for courses based on different countries: in secular France (even Jefferson and Franklin discussed the liberated women of the French salons, so it has been around for a while) a policy that makes child-care cheap drives up the birthrate. In Italy (and, I suspect, Spain), income splitting (where the income is split between the worker and non-worker and taxed at a much lower level) would be far more effective at achieving the same thing. It may not be in accordance with preferred feminist ‘outcomes’, but it would facilitate choice, which is at the heart of liberal politics.

  15. Posted February 18, 2010 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    SL: Useful detail. Still, in other words, policy was not being driven by what women actually wanted …

  16. Posted February 18, 2010 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    If my male supervisor had ever presumed to give me advice about whether or not to continue trying for a baby while doing my phd – or to choose between the candidature and the possibility of a child – I would have told him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business, for his own good as well as for mine.

    As it happens we tried all through my candidature and have had no success yet, meanwhile my slender chances continue to decline with every month that passes.

    If I’d been advised to wait until after the PhD was finished, that would have set me back a minimum of three years on the dealing with infertility process. That’s not a responsibility any PhD supervisor in his or her right mind should contemplate taking on, completion rate be damned.

  17. Patrick
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Well, SL, I am not so sure. That great chunk of Algerians that France got at once included a hell of a lot who spoke great French, and included a lot of educated and skilled Algerians. They can’t have been on non-racial grounds ‘worse’ than our first waves of wogs, vietnamese and chinese.

    I think it is at least as much that not all host nations are equal.

  18. Posted February 19, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Patrick: but they were a large group from the same background which maximises the chances of difficulties. Moreover, there were pre-existing difficulties and antipathies from being a fraught former colony. And the Muslim identity-secularist state/culturally Christian thing does not help either.

    But I would agree that France also made some major mistakes, starting with their disastrous labour market regulation.

  19. Posted February 20, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] How much of the high French birthrate is their Muslim minority? Answer: we do not know because the French refuse to collect such statistics. So the point only holds if “mainstream” Frenchwomen are indeed having higher fertility.

  20. conrad
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    [email protected] How much of the high French birthrate is their Muslim minority?”

    Based on my eyeballs, my bet is a fair bit, although perhaps that’s partially due to the area I work/visit each year (i.e., not Paris where things might be different!). It’s also certainly the case that people have a different attitude to kids vs. other places in Europe. They’re a bit like something you inevitably have, versus something where you make 100 calculations about before having them, even the first (say, like Germany, not that I have much experience there).

  21. Peter Patton
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    The relative birth rates among different ethnicities raises another really significant uniqueness about Australian multiculturalism: the high rate of inter-ethnic/cultural marriage.

    This is one area where Pauline was dramatically wrong. She complained that Asian immigrants ‘don’t assimilate’. But Australia is full of ‘Asians’ who married non-Asians, whether Anglos, Aborigines, Greeks, Italians, and so on. Similarly, the rate of inter-marriage between Aborigines and non-Aborigines is extremely high.

    I have seen data that confirm – what also seems intuitively correct – the relatively low, very low, rate of Muslims marrying ‘outsiders.’ Maybe, hopefully, that the next generation of Muslims might become more comfortable in their ‘Australian/French’ skin and embrace the melting pot.

  22. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    If my male supervisor had ever presumed to give me advice about whether or not to continue trying for a baby while doing my phd – or to choose between the candidature and the possibility of a child – I would have told him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business, for his own good as well as for mine.

    This is a very strange attitude. In my experience students approach me for advice – not that they always take it, but that is another issue. Furthermore you’ll find that the rules and regulations require staff and students to consult each other over matters relating to the PhD and to the successful completion of the thesis. An aggressive and hostile relationship does not bode well for either the student or the supervisor.

  23. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    LE – it is a tough problem. I’m not denying that. I would have thought it always best to keep your supervisor (in both a work and a study sense) in the loop. This is especially the case when undergoing traumatic private life events. To the extent that supervisors are in the loop they are able to offer support and understanding that might otherwise be lacking. Now I’m not suggesting that people have no privacy in their lives, but I’m suggesting that circumstances that have the potential to adversely impact upon your work or study life should be discussed with supervisors. I’m always banging on about cooperation under the divisision of labour, now the more cooperation there is the greater the gains from trade.

  24. conrad
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    “This is especially the case when undergoing traumatic private life events.”

    I agree. The problem is that if you don’t, and you have an annoying supervisor (which is often the student’s fault — if they are historically slack, then supervisors may try and get them through via a regimented “what have you done in the last two weeks method”) then they will still be annoying, which can lead to resentment despite the supervisor doing their job. The same is true of all the compliance stuff. If no-one knows about the problems, then you can get kicked out without as much consideration as you should get.

  25. Tatyana
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I must say I’m with Laura on this one: I’d never tell my supervisor, or my boss for that matter, if I was undergoing fertility treatment. I’d certainly inform them, very generally, if I had personal or health reasons which were affecting the quality and the progress of my work, but I’d expect them to keep the relationship professional. I’d be appalled if my male supervisor tried to advise me about when I should have children, or how I should plan them during my candidature. I’d also be surprised if university regulations allowed this kind of ‘briefing’. I think if someone attempted to offer me that kind of induction into the PhD experience in the early stage of the candidature, or before enrollment, I I’d be very likely to have second thoughts about whether that person was really suitable for the job. Sure, it’s great to have a supportive supervisor who can understand your concerns and guide you through the torturous research and writing process, but I wouldn’t want them to overstep the personal/professional mark. Many women choose to do postgraduate study while having children, or while they are raising children, because in most instances a week of study is more forgiving on the young family than long work hours. I’ve really enjoyed writing a thesis while raising two children.

  26. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    I’d also be surprised if university regulations allowed this kind of ‘briefing’.

    From my employers guidelines for responsibility of supervisors

    Encourage and support a candidate’s career aspirations and planning and help them develop the personal and professional capabilities that will enhance their career options

    From the responsibility of candidates

    Discuss and agree with supervisor leave plans and seek recommendations on the application for leave.

    But I do take your point Tatyana, if you don’t trust your supervisor to have your interests and concerns at heart you shouldn’t study with them. I’m just surprised that some many in this thread have an inherent hostility to the advice and experience that supervisors can offer.

  27. Tatyana
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    These, to me, are two very different things:

    a. “Encourage and support a candidate’s career aspirations and planning and help them develop the personal and professional capabilities that will enhance their career options.”

    b. “To the extent that students pay attention to my advise I always suggest they have their babies first or complete their thesis before having a family.”

    Quote a. is broad and generic advice. Quote b. seems to assume a level of authority that I think most women nowadays would find unacceptable. It seems to me to overstep the boundaries of a professional supervisor-student relationship, and assumes that the best outcome for the female student is achieved if the student does not have a baby while doing a PhD. I don’t think that a supervisor’s role is to tell a woman when or whether she should have children, or to openly express their opinion on the matter. Compounded with the fact that this is usually an older male academic in a position of authority and power advising a younger woman about very personal choices, it seems extremely problematic, and potentially quite confronting.

    This is not about whether a student trusts that a supervisor has their interests at heart (a student should expect that the supervisor will do their job professionally), it’s just that a supervisor’s role is not to express opinions or offer advice about personal matters and choices. I think the same principles apply to most work situations. Of course, there are many problems facing women who undertake postgraduate study and who decide to also manage pregnancies and/or other children, but universities are quite supportive environments, offering many flexible options, clearly regulated by university policies that support the balancing of family and study.

  28. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Tatyana – I don’t disagree that people should have professional relationships but that does not mean that supervisors shouldn’t take an interest in the welbeing of their students. Your statement that university rules don’t cover this is quite false as I have demonstrated. At the same time those rules also mandate the kind of professionalism that you expect. I expect that too.

    If you read LE’s comment immediately above you will see exactly what happens in practice. I have never heard of a supervisor be they male or female telling a student they cannot have a baby when they want. Maybe that happens in Arts faculties, I don’t know.

    This becomes very important when students, thinking like LE don’t take enough leave of absence time and get hit down the track with completion time problems. Students can find their scholarships run out 6 months too early, and/or get hit with fees.

  29. conrad
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    “it’s just that a supervisor’s role is not to express opinions or offer advice about personal matters and choices”

    Maybe your supervisor is a robot, but when you know/help someone for years on end, life just doesn’t work like that. Indeed, sometimes students give us advice. I’ve had “you smell at the end of the day when you wear that t-shirt in that fabric (true — don’t wear that really thin fabric they make running gear out of in the tropics!), “why don’t you take your girlfriend something nice for her birthday” etc.

    Similarly, a lot of rules universities use (which are essentially given to them by the government) do impinge upon your personal life. For example, if the government said it would stop funding PhDs after students have been going for 5 years, no matter what the circumstances (which would then no doubt be enacted by most universities), then students need to know this, because it would stop them getting booted out. I know where I work there are absolute cut-off deadlines, and pretending that these don’t exist because they might interfere with someone’s personal goals isn’t very productive.

  30. Tatyana
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I agree with you, Conrad: being aware of deadlines and leave provisions is very important. And, of course, supervisors are not robots and students develop a close working relationship with their supervisors, and that’s rewarding for both parties. But it is a work relationship, of sorts, and postgraduates are adults. If you feel things are going well when your student is comfortable to tell you that you smell, well, that’s great. I’d probably have to tell you too if the room was not properly ventilated, but I might just feel a bit uneasy about it. And sure, why not tell them about your personal circumstances, your girlfriend, their boyfriend, and offer each other the sort of advice colleagues give each other when they collaborate together on a project. We’re all human.

    What prompted me to comment was Sinclair’s remark, where he mentions that he advises his students to have babies first before commencing their PhDs, or to wait until they submit their thesis. This, in fact, may be very sound advice, as far as completion rates, future career prospects, care for their physical wellbeing etc are concerned. But, the point is: you can’t tell your students if or when they should have babies, it’s inappropriate, it encroaches on personal matters, it can rarely be done well, even if it’s meant well. Maybe you can say that it’s not an easy choice, if a female student happens to tell you that she is thinking of conceiving, say 12 months into her PhD (I imagine this to be an unlikely scenario), but you’d have to be careful not to discourage them. I can’t imagine a situation where you’d say it at the start of the project: ‘By the way, if you’re considering having babies, here’s what I think …’ Of course, the issue of leave, scholarship management and completion will inevitably be very important, among other things. I just don’t think that it’s supervisor’s business to tell a female student how she should manage her fertility.

    Can a woman do a PhD and have children? I’d be inclined to say definitely yes. It’s difficult, but it’s doable. I’d even say it’s more doable than combining work with children in some industries, and the experience can be quite satisfying. The statistics on PhD completion rates for women with children are pretty grim, but there are many encouraging examples of women who have successfully, with a lot of support, advanced their careers while also having children.

    In my experience, I found that the combination of study and children is far more favourable than spending long unforgiving hours in the office. The flexibility of a working week in a university environment, once the domestic/study boundaries have been well established, have caused me far less stress than a full-time job in an industry dominated by long working hours and non-negotiable deadlines.

    The author of this blog is juggling a PhD with young children. It’s quite inspiring to see that.

  31. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    But, the point is: you can’t tell your students if or when they should have babies, it’s inappropriate, it encroaches on personal matters, it can rarely be done well, even if it’s meant well.

    While I agree with this, I’m wondering what the practical consequencs are. The next a student asks me about having a family while doing her PhD, should I say, ‘it’s inappropriate for me to comment on that’ in violation of the expectations of my employer and perhaps to the disappointment of the person seeking my advice?

  32. conrad
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    “If a female student happens to tell you that she is thinking of conceiving, say 12 months into her PhD (I imagine this to be an unlikely scenario)”

    Not where I work! It’s like a little baby factory (we have lots of students from about 25-40, most of whom are female). This isn’t such a problem because taking time out to have kids isn’t considered a very big fuss if people are even moderately sensible about it (e.g., don’t do it when you are collecting data from an organization that might only let you do it once), so no-one really cares. Indeed, it’s so little bother, we almost always find out about it in the 6 monthly review sessions the students have where they give a presentation about what they will be doing in the next time step. So I’m surprised Sincs worries about that in economics, which I would have thought would have been similar, although that may be due to his university rules vs. mine.

  33. Posted February 24, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Y’know L’eagle I’ve wanted to make a comment here but I try and avoid conventional commiseration if I can. I did, however, look for an online Get Well card. But they’re all naff.

    I can only say that you’ve been sick a bit lately, which happens. Given the stress it’s expected. I reckon getting out of the city if you can would be the best. It’s a toxic sump.

  34. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Conrad – taking a leave of absence isn’t normally a problem. One instance I’ve had was with convincing the student to actually take leave. When I was dean I advised students to take more than just 6 months (the minimum amount). The other problem we have is that the uni works on semester time and from census date to census date, while research students work in calandar time and babies don’t care about government determined census dates. I don’t know if it has changed in recent times, but there is also a maximum amount of leave that can be taken in a candidature and the uni administrators have really clamped down on submission times.

  35. conrad
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    “I don’t know if it has changed in recent times, but there is also a maximum amount of leave that can be taken in a candidature and the uni administrators have really clamped down on submission times.”

    Yes, this is the case where I work (which is why I mentioned that these things are really up to the government whose rules the universities essentially implement) — although I’d be interested to see whether anyone would really follow that through with, say, someone that had 3 kids whilst doing their PhD. Seems like it might be law-suit central to me.

    There are problems with faculty rules also. Where I work, on the workload model that is used (which I think never gets completed anyway), they won’t give you any time to supervise someone if they have hung around too long (4.5? 5 years?) — I know this happens at a few places, and is supposed to encourage the staff to encourage the students. Now, most people that are supervisors with these sorts of people aren’t going to drop them if they think they will finish soon. However, if a supervisor leaves (which is common enough), then there is a student that essentially no-one will want, which means they often get left with people resentful of it because they are forced to supervise them or people that arn’t very good (e.g., have never published anything in their lives, and probably don’t know what the thesis is about). My bet is the non-completion rate of these guys would be exceptionally high since the university is basically trying to get rid of them.

  36. Alicia
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Being a mother is the hardest job in the world and the most rewarding, infuriating, dispiriting and creative. What more could you want?

    You don’t need to physically leave the city, as toxic as cities may sometimes seem to be. We in Australia are lucky enough mostly to live near a patch of green or even gosh a sliver of bush or much more. And there’s always the shape-shifting, inconstant clouds, a perennially overlooked fount of spiritual solace, sensual nourishment, and existential, intellectual joy.

  37. Posted February 24, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Adrien!
    .
    Anytime sister. 🙂

  38. Alicia
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    LE, the fact not even the sight or sound of birds in the inner city just blows me away.

    I’ve always lived in the inner city or as currently, a little bit out and regardless the wildlife that co-habits with us is a total blast.

    Birds, all sorts of birds from all over the world fly at eye level and nest or feed in close proximity and possums, foxes, frilly tailed lizards, bats and even rare bandicoots flit in and out of my environs.

  39. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Conrad – we have the uni withdraw support for students who go over-time, so the school must pay fees and whatnot for the student. Whether the supervison time in the workload is dropped, I don’t know. In my school that doesn’t matter much because a PhD student is only allocated one hour per week – so after years of ‘doing the right thing’ I have cut back my supervision and now only have two students. I’ve told the reources director I’d rather teach classes where you get sufficient time allocation and won’t be taking on more research students until the work plan better reflects the work effort.

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