Potential new threads - Child Care

S. Boomer sarai at u.washington.edu
Mon Oct 27 12:24:21 EST 1997

Hi Mary and others,

I agree with Mary that child care is an ongoing issue, one that will
continue to be problematic and hindering to women in any career.

I feel a little guilt-ridden of late because I have never wanted children
(though everyone can laugh a little and say I'm only 30 and don't know

The thing is, though, that throughout my graduate career, I watched more
than a handful of women - colleagues, professors, and friends - drop out
of the field or lose their career paths over family issues.  Right now,
having just gotten a job, I even feel this strange guilt because I have
been watching a very close women friend (who is a post-doc in the lab
where I trained) struggle with juggling immense pressures of a new baby
with trying to find her first real position (after 5 years of

A few years ago, she and I went to this talk given by a woman geochemist
who was talking about how she made all her career moves, got the dream
tenure job, etc. etc. and she literally said - oh, being a woman is no
problem... the top applicants for the position I eventually got were all
women... the thing was that the other two had families... one literally
showed up with her newborn who was sick and couldn't interview well.  Both
of us (my friend, the new mom, and I) were a little incensed... but that
is the case it seems.

And now it feels like deja vu for me because I have landed the nice tenure
position and my friend, despite all the incredible post-doc work and
papers, is battling employment issues while her daughter, now just over a
year, goes through cold after cold and gets pulled out of daycare at least
once a week for serious illness.  

Of course, the eternal question is - well, where is the man and what is he
doing?  This is a dual working couple - they each take off about equal
time when emergency issues come up... but a post-doc schedule will always
be more flexible than a 9-5 type job.  

For me, the question of child care and family exists on many levels:  I
want to see the people I care for and respect scientifically (like this
dear friend) succeed at what they have built their lives around in the
context of family.  I am also selfish, too - even though I don't want a
family, I want the equivalent at other levels:  I want a life.  Just
because someone doesn't want family doesn't mean they ONLY want career. 

The fast-track scientific career path, as it currently exists, is
difficult for maintaining extracurricular interests at many levels.  Right
now, in the throes of my first year in small college academics, I can see
a time when I will have that - but only because I am not fast-track
research anymore... when I have ironed out all my courses and gotten my
undergrad. research going. 

I guess that is the question...there have been many changes in higher
research institutes regarding tenure/child/family... but I don't see them
as working... Case in point, UW has a semi-independent Howard Hughes
supported division (I won't say the dept.)  As of 1995, they literally had
NO formal written policy in place regarding family issues.  That's when
one prominent female (who had opted to have a child) started her tenure
process and asked for a delay due to having a child (which was policy for
nearly all UW tenure processes). She eventually left without tenure
because there was no support among her colleagues, all male (most of whom
have wives with children). 

Yes - child care is a problem.  It is a problem with tenure, getting a
job, maintaining a job.  It is also an ethical problem in science, as far
as I am concerned.  But, sadly, is an ethical reflection of society and
societal values regarding women... and children (make no mistake, I am not
lumping these two groups together - though their historical association is
interesting given what I just said).


More information about the Womenbio mailing list