I have been trying to post for several days on the topic of children and graduate school, which has generated a lot of discussion, starting at BitchPhD and including posts at Academom, Geeky Mom and Mama(e) in Translation.

The topic has been on my mind because I’m getting to an age where I will have to really worry about fertility issues if I don’t have a baby soon.

Maybe I’m just lucky because I feel like many grad students in my program, men and women, have children. As a female grad student I feel a little left out because so many students I know have been having babies. Big Ag U. is certainly not ivy league, but some programs are particularly well regarded, and yet it doesn’t seem to unusual for grad students to be having children.

I do think that most men who are famous academics now have had the support of a ‘traditional’ wife. Too bad I can’t get myself a wife! I want someone to to the house work and take care of the children while I’m busy being brilliant. Unfortunately, statistics (if you can trust them) show that female grad students are actually disadvantaged by having a partner and children while male grad students who are married and have children actually do as well or better.

I chose carefully to work in a field and with professors who will take my life outside of academia seriously, but not everyone is so lucky. I think you just have to keep pushing for fair treatment and make sure that you do what you can to support other women with children. No one in a competitive career is voluntarily going to change things to make room for women with children. We have to push for what we want.

Beyond the particular issue of women and childcare, I’m surprised at how little discussion there has been of whether more hours of work really result in a higher volume of research or a higher quality of research. It is typical of Americans to think that working more hours makes us more productive, but if we look at our system in comparison to other industrialized countries that is not necessarily true. If you are doing any sort of creative work (including science) your brain will need time to recharge. Maybe some people are able to obsessively focus on work for long hours and remain productive, but even among very intelligent people, that is probably not the rule.

My feeling is that I need to take my own career as seriously as my husband’s. I can’t afford to take on all the childcare or housework duties because I have no guarantee that my husband will be able to support us. This is not a criticism of him, just a sign of the times. Beorn and I have to share responsibility for both work and home life because there is not guarantee that either of us will be able to find a lucrative job. Right now we are both students, who knows which of us will be able to find a job with family health coverage. So I have to demand that he do his fair share of the work, there is no other way.

I’m not willing to work some soul sucking 9-5 so that I can get “enough” money to have a family. Is the situation in corporate America really any better? Most people I know who work outside of academia consistently work more than 40 hours per week.

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Amendment: Another great post on this topic comes from Dr. Free-Ride, who says, “Not that I wouldn’t like a wife to take care of at least some of the family stuff. Indeed, my better half and I are willing to economize by sharing a wife if we can find one.”

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