The Balancing Act: work and life in academia

Lightmary Flores

More important than the age old saying of “Your biological clock is ticking” is the stress that time and the standards of living have on those wishing to pursue an academic career. 

According to U.S. Census 2013 data, the average age of a doctorate degree graduate is 33. As a result, more men and women in academia prefer to wait until they have completed their doctorates to start a family. 

When Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish and Latino Studies Sonia Gonzalez was a second-year graduate student at Stanford in 2004, she witnessed the challenges of securing a job as a female in academia. Gonzalez recalls that her professor hid her pregnancy as long as she could after being told it would cost her a chance at obtaining tenure. 

“It is true that most women in research institutions are normally advised to wait to have children because publications are extremely important and you are not perceived as a “serious” scholar if you decide to have a baby before you are tenured,” said Gonzalez. “This professor was forced to make a choice; either stay at Stanford and take her chances or go to asecond-tier institution, where teaching, service, and research were weighed equally.”

Gonzalez acknowledged that teaching institutions have since developed more policies promoting family care with accommodations for mothers, such as a reduction in teaching hours. “Women in academia actually have more flexibility with their time and teaching schedule,” González said. “We have the luxury of being able to do some of our work from the comfort of our own homes. It’s a daily juggling of responsibilities, but at the end of the day, we love and enjoy our roles as scholars, instructors, and moms.”

As a first-generation college student and Latina, Gonzalez talked about the importance of education to female scholars providing a future for their families. 

“I would say that perhaps the best time to have a child is while you are in graduate school,” Gonzalez said. “Although you don’t have a lot of resources in terms of money, you have flexibility in your schedule, as you can take one or two semesters off. But, working at a family-friendly institution like Whittier College makes this kind of work really meaningful.”

In response to the stigma of women being the decision-makers of when to have to have families, Associate Professor of Sociology Department of Sociology Julie Collins-Dogrul negated the saying that family is a “woman’s issue.” To her communication is key between you and your partner about dual parenting early in the relationship. 

“It is important that both parents consider what changes they will make in their paid work life in order to share the un-paid labor of raising a family,” said Collins-Dogrul.  “If your partner has no plans to take any leave from work or make changes to their schedule, this means they expect you to ‘do it all.’ You might want to consider finding someone else to have children with.”

Collins-Dogrul noted her family as being a support system that has grounded and motivated her throughout her career. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “My kids help me stay real, meaning I know that there is more to life than work. They remind me of this every day. At the same time, I need to work outside the home. Our finances demand a second paycheck. I find personal fulfillment from working with students here at Whittier College.”

Although having a family might not be for everyone, immersing oneself through education allows one to have a better perspective on both work and family. 

As both Professor Gonzalez and Professor Collins-Dogrul suggested, infrastructural changes have to be made, such as State and Federal investments in childcare to alleviate the stress on families. 

The promotion of work-family policies for workers such as the parental leave policy, stopping the tenure clock, and reduced teaching loads, as Gonzalez suggested, would help support families. But the first step, as Professor Collins-Dogrul addressed, is to communicate and share family responsibilities.