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a semester of silence (& a baby)

Megan Betz

This is approximately 1/6 of the reading I'll be doing over the next few months for comprehensive exams. 

This is approximately 1/6 of the reading I'll be doing over the next few months for comprehensive exams. 

I am back to the blog after a full semester's absence. Today, final grades have all been submitted. All meetings have wrapped up. My summer research assistant position starts. And the windows in my house are open, letting a post-rain cool & bird song fill the living room. I am six months pregnant, due at the end of August--just as the new semester is set to start.

This semester, I needed quiet. I needed to let go of all nonessential tasks. I spent the first 20 weeks of my pregnancy rather sick, struggling to stay afloat in my course load. It was a struggle, & my department has handled the news with more compassion, support, & excitement than I ever could have anticipated. Academia isn't historically a female-friendly (let alone parent-friendly) environment. And that's among faculty. Add in the still present dynamic in many department of infantilizing graduate students, & the idea of a "student" having a child seems preposterous. We are often seen, through the student label, as children ourselves." 

Back in 2012, Curt Rice (odd that even this post was written by a male) wrote a piece for The Guardian looking at why women leave academia. By way of summary, I give you two excerpts:

  • Young women scientists leave academia in far greater numbers than men for three reasons. During their time as PhD candidates, large numbers of women conclude that (i) the characteristics of academic careers are unappealing, (ii) the impediments they will encounter are disproportionate, and (iii) the sacrifices they will have to make are great.
  • Both men and women PhD candidates come to realize that a string of post-docs is part of a career path, and they see that this can require frequent moves and a lack of security about future employment. Women are more negatively affected than men by the competitiveness in this stage of an academic career and their concerns about competitiveness are fueled, they say, by a relative lack of self-confidence.

I don't know what my future with academia will be, but I know that there are department supportive of their graduate students & supportive of women who choose to have children. I've landed in one of the best. I know that I'll demand respect as a woman, a parent, an individual--in addition to as an academic. I know that I'm comfortable not being the loudest voice in a field, if that means sacrificing other aspects of life that are important to me. I know I refuse to lose one aspect of my identity--be it motherhood or academia--because the norms of the other aspect won't accommodate it. 

I'm entering a period of my life that will be the most sleep-deprived, time-constrained, anxiety-inducing, book-heavy yet. There is a lot up in the air. Fortunately, my future in graduate school is not one of them, & there are years to figure out the rest. For now, I'm thankful that I've learned to give myself space & silence to adjust to things; I'm thankful for a department that's working with me, & for summer work that lets me be home in this growing body; I'm thankful for a department that shows our discipline what an equitable work environment is. I'm thankful for the kiddie pool that's on it's way to me & the elastic waist in everything I own that will make reading for comprehensive exams in the summer heat just a bit more comfortable.