Did we have it all and lose it?

mtbrown at geocities.com mtbrown at geocities.com
Sat Aug 29 12:02:11 EST 1998

In article <Pine.WNT.3.96.980824104809.-406915I-100000 at Guinevere.unm.edu>,
  Linnea Ista <lkista at unm.edu> wrote:

> We will continue to struggle with these questions as long as the notion
> prevails that the greatest tragedy that can happen to a woman is that she
> didn't have the opportunity to be a mother.

Unlike many of the posters in this thread, I didn't really feel this pressure
to have kids because I knew all along that that's what I wanted to do.
Instead, I felt the flip side of that pressure--that I was being a poor
scientist and a career failure because I chose to have a family. From many
who had "made it" in academia, I received both subtle and overt commentary on
my failure or couched in less negative terms, their "disappointment" in me.
The censure most frequently came either from older men who had wives that had
taken on the bulk of the responsibilities for raising their kids or from
career-only women who had chosen not to have families or even spouses for the
sakes of their "high- powered" science careers. The people who have been most
supportive or at least neutral about my choice to have kids despite the
promise of my Ph.D. are younger, have spouses who have careers, or are
outside of the research-focused component of the academic science world, e.g.
those in industry or at teaching- oriented undergraduate institutions. I
worked in the biotech industry before my current academic position, and it
was very common to have kids at that company, just no big deal. It wasn't
assumed that if you had a child, you would be less productive or less serious
about your job or career. Similarly, I think the censurers don't get the fact
that if you have a professional spouse, there are two jobs in the marriage to
worry about. I think some of these "super- scientists" would have me jettison
my marriage for the sake of science. I would like to see broader support and
less censure for scientists who choose non- academic routes and
non-traditional careers. Right now I work part-time as a consultant in
addition to my fulltime research position, and may end up going with the
freelance work in a more serious way that would involve leaving research (it
sure pays a lot better). When I tell grad students and postdocs about my
consulting work, they are quite interested and I can see those wheels
spinning in their brains, "Hey, maybe I should leave the rat race and do
something like this." Those in the establishment react to my "other" career
as if I am quite odd, wasting my time on worthless pursuits, and an
inconsequential failure.

Like the situation with the super-moms clamoring that all women should be
like them and have kids and devote every minute to them, the
"super-scientists" need to be tuned out if one is to have any satisfaction
with one's chosen path. Who are those people to say what is best for me?

Megan Brown

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