Have you ever wondered how becoming a parent might affect your career trajectory and that of your spouse or partner? Perhaps you have already started juggling the oft-competing responsibilities of parenthood, career, and partnership and are wondering how on earth others manage to make it through.
Whether you're already riding this particular raft over the rapids, standing on the bank and thinking about jumping in, or merely contemplating the view of the churning water from a (safe) distance, this month's feature offers both broad perspective and also well-informed advice.
The thing is, each couple--indeed, every individual--approaches the intensely private questions of whether and when to start a family from different directions, and each brings different--um--preconceptions. There are no "right" or "wrong" answers, only particular, personal answers that best address the desires, demands, and circumstances of one (or two) individual(s) ... or seem to. This, presumably, is why so many angst-filled (but whispered) conversations over tea or coffee in labs and hallways of research institutions all over the world address the challenging task of balancing family and career.
Starting this week and continuing through January 2004, Next Wave will publish a constellation of perspectives with a view toward informing you and others how scientists have approached--at various stages of their training, careers, and lives--the questions surrounding whether and when to start a family and how to fulfill family and job responsibilities, and keep them in balance. Our essayists, many of them up-and-coming scientists just like you, will discuss the pros and the cons; the impact, if any, of their decisions on their career trajectories; and the impact of their careers on their children and on family life.
In addition to a few of our regular columnists, a number of whom are parents themselves, we'll offer the opinions and perspectives of scientist-parents who are parts of two-scientist couples, scientist-parents whose partners are not engaged in science, academic scientist-parents, scientist-parents in industry, pending scientist-parents, and scientist-parents in families in which one or the other parent has chosen to suspend or curtail their professional aspirations.
In addition to sharing these personal perspectives, we'll also shine some light on broader topics, looking, for example, at how the overlap of peak childbearing years with what is typically the period of greatest productivity in a young scientist's career influences institutional (and national) practices and policies. We discuss issues like "stop-the-clock" tenure policies, awards for those returning to the scientific workforce after a break, conference childcare, and so on.
As many of you scientist-parents, wannabe scientist-parents, and/or otherwise interested parties out there may know, Next Wave has been covering the intersection of parenting and careers for some time, so in addition to offering some fresh advice and perspective, we're also taking this opportunity to assemble links to some of our earlier content in this domain.
The Individual Perspective: Advice and Commentary From Fellow Scientist-Parents
Reflected Glory: Life With a Nobelist Parent
Having a researcher for a parent can stimulate a young mind, but what happens when that parent becomes a scientific superstar? Giselle Weiss, in a story first appearing in Science magazine, profiles several children of Nobel-winning parents.
Learning From Role Models and Different Traditional Roles
Prior to reunification East Germany (but not West Germany) benefited from a state-supported child care system. Florian Raible and Kristin Tessmar-Raible grew up on different sides of the border and they discuss a future in which having a family and advancing dual research careers are both possible.
Five Children and a Fellowship
After putting his career on hold for 5 years to look after his five children, nuclear physicist Sami Kafala feels he is winning on all fronts thanks to a Daphne Jackson Fellowship.
Two High-Profile Careers, Two Kids, and a Marriage
Industrial research scientists Ruth McKernan and Gerry Dawson have two high-profile careers and two children. How do they cope?
Postdoc and Grad School Parents
Next Wave is all about scientists telling their own stories. And in this collection of reminiscences American grad students and postdocs share with U.S. editor Jim Austin their thoughts on balancing science and parenthood.
Tortoise with a Good Spouse
For chemistry professor Rachel Austin the keys to success in balancing career and family included a supportive spouse, sound time management, and a slow-but-steady approach to research productivity.
Having a Life - and a Job Search, Too
Our Tooling Up columnist Dave Jensen introduces two academic postdocs searching for industry jobs while also trying to be good parents.
Life-Work Balance. A Father Writes
Now a prominent group leader at Oxford, David Greaves offers some practical, "how to" advice to scientist parents based on his parenting experiences to date. According to his two children, who add a brief perspective of their own, his advice is worth taking.
Although her parenting philosophies have changed a little over the years, Kathryn Toy Knecht and her family have maintained a strong bond.
The Universal Parent
Do parenting practices differ in households where one or both parents are scientists? MiSciNet editor Robin Arnette takes a look at the young Harmych family and discovers that approaches to parenting are similar, regardless of the parents' professions.
Next Wave's Yours Transferredly columnist Phil Dee steps out of the lab to offer constructive commentary on the delights (and otherwise) of Daddyhood.
Follow Your Heart: A 5-Year Journey in Science and Parenthood
The arrival of her first child in the middle of an academic postdoc in a foreign country prompted Petra Schrotz to ask--and answer--some tough questions regarding her subsequent career path, deliberations that have led to a challenging and rewarding position in a small biotech company in Denmark.
Been There; Done That! Why Students Need Professors' Perspective on Family Issues
After bucking her mother's advice to remain childless, Donna Nelson, a committed and successful academic chemist, urges that any scientist thinking about becoming a parent should seek the counsel of their more experienced colleagues.
On Becoming a Parent
University of British Columbia PhD student Helmut Kae and his partner are eagerly anticipating the impending birth of their first child--but Kae is also mulling over the impact that becoming a father is likely to have on his short- and long-term career objectives.
Mixing Motherhood and Science
In an article reposted from Physics World, Gillian Gehring argues that--by contrast to opinions expressed by some prominent female scientists--it is possible for women to be good physicists and raise families. But she also argues that we need to make it easier.
The Bigger Picture--Parenting and Policy
At Duke University, writes Emil Chuck, a group of postdocs, faculty, staff, and students are working to create a supportive community for working parents.
Combining Parenthood and a Career in Germany - A Foreigner's (Survival) Guide
As Next Wave's corresponding editor Anne Forde reports, obtaining rewarding jobs is just half the battle for scientist-parents taking up positions in Germany.
Academic Work and Family Responsibility: A Balancing Act
Balancing work and family is a great challenge for young scientists--especially women--who also choose to have children. Portia Cole and John Curtis, staffers at the American Association of University Professors, write about the association's efforts to help institutions and scholars maintain an effective, if precarious, balance.
Scandinavia's Parental Policies--Pluses or Minuses?
The Scandinavian countries are often seen as paragons of virtue when it comes to gender equality and support for parenthood. Ingela Björk investigates the practices and policies in Sweden to see whether myth really coincides with reality.
Previously in Next Wave
Next Wave's Postdoc Network has examined the ways in which becoming parents particularly affects postdoc professional development--and what institutions and postdocs themselves can do to ease the effort to balance competing responsibilities.
It's hard enough balancing parenthood and career when you've got a partner to help carry the load. For single scientist-parents, the challenge is even greater. In the past, we've heard from a young scientist who became a single mother after a grad school divorce, and about Germany's efforts to establish funding programs to support single-parent scientists. Ramit Mehr has also shared her (hopefully) unique experiences as a widow with two young children.
Most programs designed to support scientists seeking to reenter the workforce after a career break made necessary by parenthood or the need to care for one's own parents are targeted toward women. Next Wave's May 1997 feature profiled several women who'd taken advantage of such programs or found other ways to reenter the workforce, including Margaret Rayman, who wrote about the UK's Daphne Jackson Trust fellowships.
These programs help to highlight the fact that the burden of parenthood tends to fall disproportionately on women, and many of the reports and analysis that deal with parents focus on the mothers. Next Wave, naturally, has covered these reports, including the UK Department of Trade and Industry's 2002 report on the disappearance of women from the workforce, which highlighted the role that reentry awards might play in redressing the balance.
And in a number of one-off articles, Next Wave has, variously, offered an impassioned ode to the joys of part-time research, and a combined parenting/career travelogue from British researcher Simon Morely, who is grateful for the chance to have had his cake and eaten it, too.
Finally, in last year's dual-career couples feature we focused not so much on parenthood, but on couplehood--that is, what it takes to enjoy a fulfilling partnership while also pursuing demanding careers. Presuming that, in most cases, couplehood is a prerequisite for parenthood, we thought you might appreciate a link to that feature, too.
Crispin Taylor is Executive Director of the American Society of Plant Biologists. At the time this article was written, he was editorial director of Science’s Next Wave.
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