Overcoming the “Baby Penalty” in Academia

This past semester, I received a fellowship at my university's Center for Success of Women Faculty. I was 7 months pregnant with my first child when taking my qualifying exams for my PhD, and 4 months pregnant with my second when I graduated. My academic life and my life as a mother have developed in parallel, and while I feel incredibly lucky to be in a career that allows me the flexibility to be with my children most of the time, the academic life is one that demands many hours of focused time, energy, and resources that parenting makes scarce. However, I have maintained a healthy research pipeline, attend several international conferences annually, and overall feel comfortable with my position as a scholar. However, do a quick Google search for "baby penalty" and you will see multiple articles and even books written about the tension between parenting (especially as a woman) and success as an academic. It can be, frankly, discouraging. This was the topic I pursued during my fellowship, and I wanted to share with you one of the articles I wrote. The full text is below.

Take a look into an undergraduate classroom today, and you are likely to see more women than men across majors of many disciplines. Women are entering college immediately after high school at higher rates than men, are more likely to graduate than men, and make up an even greater share of students who continue to graduate school. When looking at the ranks of academic employment, however, this trend reverses. In 2013, 48.8% of faculty of all ranks were women, increasing from 33.2% in 1987. Yet, women are much more likely than men to be working as adjunct or contingency faculty. In the United States, women hold only 37.5% of tenured positions. These rates plummet to an average of 3.7% when considering minority women. This disparity begins immediately after completion of the PhD. Men with children are 35% more likely to attain tenure-track jobs than women with children. This is not merely an issue of gender, as women without children have a 33% better chance of getting a tenure-track job than women with children. Additionally, men on the tenure-track with children are 20% more likely to be successful at the end of the tenure clock than their female counterparts. Among the faculty who do get tenured, while 70% of the men are married with children, only 44% of tenured women have children. This is not only an issue in the United States. Data from countries around the world show similar trends in the faculty ranks. The message is clear. While many different cultural and economic factors influence the role of women in institutions of higher education globally, one factor is constant- women with children are most likely to report difficulty in getting tenure-track positions, achieving tenure, and advancing to full professor status.

With the exception of colleges focused on teaching, success in attaining tenure is primarily a factor of research, in the form of writing and publishing peer-reviewed journal articles (2-3 annually depending on the department), but also contributing to books, submitting to and winning grants, presenting at conferences and lectures, and otherwise engaging in the academic community, from writing newspaper or magazine articles to promotion of a social media presence. Service and teaching are also required parts of tenure, but the one where most parents of both genders report the most difficulty is research. Completing a research project takes a high level of time, energy, and resources, and sometimes field work is required that can take an academic away from home for weeks or months at a time. With children, especially if both parents are working or an academic is a single parent, carving out this time for sustained focus and creativity can be difficult, as parenting is a 24/7 job that can wreck even the most well-intentioned schedule. A sudden fever or delayed babysitter can throw an entire day into disarray, a dynamic which does not lend itself well to hours of quiet contemplation and the pursuit of knowledge. Despite increasingly egalitarian relationships in the United States and in many other parts of the world, women are still considered the primary caretakers, not just of children, but of households. Women are much more likely to take on the “second shift,” the work of the home, which entails a constant running ticker of “Do we need more diapers?” and “Where did I put the field trip permission slip?” When also juggling IRB proposals, grant deadlines, a literature review for article 1 and the data analysis for article 2, grading, coauthors, preparing lectures, meeting students, and participating in committees, it can become a difficult balancing act, and what often falls to the back is the work of research. After all, if you have class next Monday, you must show up with a lecture prepared. The data analysis for your study? Well, that can wait another night. Maybe over the weekend. Maybe over winter break…

Research productivity is not accidental. If we do not have resources in the form of a mother-in-law who lives with you and helps with your children, for example, or the money to send school-aged children to camp in the summer, we must be extra diligent in the use of our most precious resource- our time. While we can’t make more of it, and we shouldn’t sacrifice our time sleeping or with our loved ones, we must ask ourselves the following:

1. What are my goals? One of the most gratifying parts of academia is the ability to pursue many different ideas and objectives at once. You may be invited to contribute a book chapter or to speak at another institution. You may enjoy hosting a blog and promoting your research through social media or a personal website. Women are also more often asked to do service work or take on mentoring responsibilities than their male colleagues. However, that means it can be easy to lose sight of what we need to be doing, and for many of us, that is publishing journal articles. Articles can take years from inception to publication, and if we put them off or delay them to pursue too many other tangential projects, we may actually be drifting away from achieving our long-term goals that require deep planning and strategy. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? Is what you’re currently working on actively getting you closer to that goal? If not, maybe consider putting it aside until you have less on your plate, or until you work out a schedule that allows for more free time.

2. How am I spending my time? Are you zoning out on Facebook, trying to track down where exactly you left the most recent draft of your current paper, or reorganizing your pantry for the third time when you could or should be writing? Often, we have more time than we realize, but we either lose track of it with a mindless activity, don’t use the time we do have efficiently, or lull ourselves into a false sense of productivity by doing something that doesn’t really need to be done in that very moment. When looking for a tenure-track position or on the tenure-track, writing needs to be a go-to habit. We can get a good chunk of work done in a well planned 15-30 minute writing session. We don’t need the luxury of 3-4 uninterrupted hours to write, and for most parents, that’s just not going to happen very often. Have 30 minutes? Use the time to respond to as many comments as possible on a revise and resubmit, to read and annotate an article you’ve been putting off, or to revise that conclusion you weren’t thrilled with. Have only 10 minutes? Research the submission guidelines of a journal where you might want to submit your next article, brainstorm 4 or 5 possible titles for your article, or make a spreadsheet of upcoming conference deadlines for the next few years.

3. What kind of help can I enlist? We have to be realistic about our research output expectations considering our resources. Due to the nature of the academic job market, faculty must be open to moving away from their family or other social support system for a tenure-track position. Childcare is expensive, and considering that we may be teaching night or weekend classes, attending impromptu meetings or events, and traveling often for conferences or fieldwork, traditional childcare services don’t meet all of our needs anyway. If you are partnered, the support of your significant other is vital in allowing you research flexibility. Don’t hesitate to ask your partner to take over bedtime duties in the few weeks before a grant is due, or to do school drop-off in the morning if that’s your most productive period. If you have the resources, consider hiring someone to help with housework to clear your mind of some of your household duties, or even a mother’s helper to play with your children for an hour or two while you are at home working in another room. If you can’t afford to outsource some of your duties, don’t be shy about seeking assistance in other ways. Trade an hour or two of childcare with a fellow faculty member with children so you can get some time alone to work, or take up your neighbor on their offer to take your kids to the park after school. With a plan, even 15 or 20 minutes of focused work can serve as a very productive session.

Everybody’s path to success will vary, depending on their life circumstances. However, all of us are capable of ensuring that we are actively working towards our goals, making the best use of our time, and enlisting the help we need to succeed. I offer this advice with the caveat that it is also important not to lose sight of what else matters to us outside of our careers- our children, our other loved ones, hobbies, and self-care (sleeping well, eating well, and making time to relax). The better we use the precious time that we set aside for research, the more we allow ourselves to live guilt-free in the moments when our work should be the last thing on our minds. 


 From my visit to Petra in 2010.

From my visit to Petra in 2010.

Jordan is really an interesting place. A monarchy of the Middle East with crazy looking borders, completely surrounded by conflict on all sides, developing a national identity, a constant partner of the West, with a huge population of refugees (particularly Palestinian, Iraqi, and now Syrian), and internal economic and legitimacy issues. Aside from Petra, you never really hear it discussed as a tourist destination despite the deep history, food culture, and some gorgeous sites, including Roman ruins, access to the Dead Sea, and beach resorts. We've driven around the country a few times and the ruins and scenery are really quite something, and that's even before Petra blows your mind. I think that for all of these places that are so misunderstood from the outside, it is important to remember that there is beauty and life everywhere. The NYT recently did a piece about Amman from the tourist perspective that I thought was a valuable addition. Check it out here.

Preparing for Classes

Our semester starts on Monday, and I have a four course load this term- three sections of one class/one section of another, about 450 students total, three fully online/one hybrid (no new course preps). Although I have taught these courses multiple times, I always like to keep the courses fresh and interesting, for my own sake as well as the student's. I also take extra care to prepare for the lectures, which I am planning on supplementing with guest speakers for most class meetings this term. As I work on this, I thought I'd share my thoughts about how I prep for a new semester and save myself time later on in the semester when every spare second reserved for grading is much needed.

Hunger as a Weapon of War

I've been working on a paper about food security and food aid in the Palestinian Territories for almost 3 years (it's just about ready for submission). In the time since I've started this paper, which was my first real entry into the field of food security, the literature in the area of weaponizing food and hunger has significantly expanded, in large part due to the sieges and images of starvation from conflicts in Syria and Yemen. It is clear that ensuring the wide scale suffering of civilian populations is a powerful mechanism in pressuring adversaries for regimes who have no regard for human rights. By placing blockades on incoming goods and destroying infrastructure such as bakeries, farms, and food production factories, denying food is a relatively simple and effective tool, as well as inhumane and in violation of international law.

This morning I came across an article by the executive director of the World Food Programme entitled "Hunger as a Weapon of War."

Palestinian Culture- The Soaps of Nablus

I've addressed this in a previous post, but one of the (many) tragedies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the loss of traditional Palestinian culture in the discourse of the Middle East. In my experience, when people hear "Palestine," the first thing that comes to mind is usually war-related. I get it. This is what the news covers out of that region- this is what people hear. 

Which is why I am always so excited to find a great article about an aspect of Palestinian life that is not related to the conflict, even if it is, like everything else in Palestine, touched by it. This is one I am particularly partial to as a native of Nablus- the traditional olive oil soap production.

Conference Series- Presenting (part 1 of 3)

I just returned from a great few days at the International Studies Association Annual Convention in Atlanta. I had the opportunity to present at two sessions, serve as a discussant on a panel, and, of course, be in the audience for many, many other sessions and events. As a junior scholar, it's a great opportunity to meet people whose work you admire, learn about topics that aren't the focus of your specific research, and, in general, exchange ideas with others (and get your work challenged, which I think is really important). Before my first large conference as a graduate student several years ago, I was a bit intimidated, but have since found how to make conferences work to my advantage, especially the national ones that require a lot of time and energy (and often, yes, money). Over the next few weeks, I'll compile my advice based on these experiences for a three-part series depending on your role (presenter, discussant/chair, and general attendee). I hope they can help other junior scholars who may find themselves unsure of what to expect.

Jumping on the Tenure-Track Track

As some of you may know, I graduated with my PhD last May. Yay! Since then, dozens of recruiters from extremely prestigious universities have been banging at my door, offering me tenure-track positions with extensive benefits packages. 

Okay, maybe not.

Developing a Brand New Class

For the past several semesters, the primary class I was teaching was a well-established course in our department that had long been a requirement for students in several majors. When I started, I was able to ask professors that had already been teaching the class what types of assessments they used, what types of issues they ran into, and even to see examples of their syllabi and online course structures.

This semester, I have the honor of teaching a brand new class. Brand new to the department, to the university, and thus, to me. This class will be required for all new students entering the major, and so it is important to introduce them to some overarching concepts without overwhelming them with information that is too advanced for their place in the program. I've spent the past month or so working intensely on crafting a syllabus, arranging guest speakers, and preparing assignments, and I have compiled some tips based on this experience. 

Palestine Culture Under Occupation

If Palestine is in the news, it usually means something bad has happened. Just today, the news exploded when Israeli settlers burned down a house in a village outside Nablus- with the occupants, including a 4 year old child and an 18 month old, inside. The 18 month old was killed. The attack and the graffiti left at the scene left no question as to the motive of the attackers- terrorism and "revenge." Another senseless tragedy, another injustice, with no end in sight. The Palestinian story continues to play out in the international mediascape as an unsolvable tragedy.

Of all the injustices perpetrated among Palestinian society, this is one of the most insidious. Of course, the settlements, the occupation, the corruption, it's all bad. But I feel that part of why it is so easy to repeat the "Palestinians are terrorists" trope is because for many, this is simply all they hear about our culture, our lives.

Knowing Gaza

Despite (or perhaps because of) our ability to access a seemingly infinite amount of information today, I feel that we are also losing our collective ability to put events into historical context. The news is constantly refreshing in order to give us the most up-to-date, the most outrageous, the most click-worthy. Unfortunately, this does not always correspond with pieces that are long, constructed, and contain relevant context.

While there are lots of areas where this is counter-productive, even dangerous (modern politics comes to mind), one place where I think this is particularly important, especially now, as we remember the one year anniversary of Operation Protective Edge, is Gaza. It's almost as if Gaza's history has been erased prior to the election of Hamas in 2006, and it seems to be accepted that all of Gaza's current problems (the siege, the constant bombardment, the poverty, etc.) have stemmed from there. Ultimately, as with most modern crises, the roots are much deeper and more complex than that. 

Noura Erakat, one of the foremost contemporary Palestinian voices and scholars, brings light to this important history in a recent piece titled, cynically, "Israel Will Invade Gaza Again- the Only Question is How Soon." She provides a rich description of how the situation in Gaza got to where it is today, from long before Hamas ever entered the picture. I learned a lot, and it's an engaging read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this conflict, or in historical context in general. 

In Defense of an Interdisciplinary Education

As a recent PhD recipient, I am well aware of the terrifying statistics of the job market; the traditional path of "PhD straight into tenure track academic career" is no longer the standard, but the exception. Many highly qualified PhDs spend years on the job market, adjuncting or acting as an instructor on temporary contract, until the right TT job pops up. Many leave academia altogether, either by choice (they don't want to work in academia to begin with), or by necessity (you can't feed a family on an adjunct's salary and schedule forever). Of course, the statistics fluctuate depending on your degree; common wisdom tells us STEM fields are in high demand, while humanities/arts PhDs may only be able to find a dozen TT jobs per year to apply to, all of which are extremely competitive.

What does "Unity" mean in Palestine?

To say the least, Palestine has a lot of external problems. Many of them are being exposed like never before, and the international discourse on Israel/Palestine has shifted in the past few years, particularly following last summer's devastation in Gaza. Unfortunately, Palestine has a lot of internal problems too, and as any Palestinian will tell you, they generally start with their own government.

Should you Teach an Online Class?

A couple of weeks ago, I told you the factors that I think make a student more likely to be successful in an online class. But just as some students think that the skill set for taking an online class is the same as a traditional class, some instructors think they can just directly adapt a traditional class and class policies from a traditional class to an online class. Having taught both, I can attest that this is not the case. While online classes can offer you more flexibility (you can go on vacation or to a conference, get sick, have more time at home, etc.), I certainly would not say that teaching an online class is any easier than a traditional class. In fact, some aspects of it are more difficult. So are you ready to teach an online class?

Should you Take an Online Class?

Tomorrow, my summer 2015 classes begin. This semester, I'm teaching 3 classes- 2 fully online, 1 mixed mode/hybrid. I've completely revamped my curricula since last semester, based on some student feedback (I solicit student feedback a lot, and occasionally there are some real gems of wisdom that I incorporate into future semesters). I'm trying to make the curriculum more relevant to what students see themselves doing after they graduate (I have a lot of seniors in my classes), because, sadly (depending on your perspective), I've found that students respond best to assignments that they see a potential practical application for, and not assignments that are a bit more abstract and focus more on critical thinking. I still incorporate a good bit of the latter, of course, because I feel like I'd be doing my students a disservice if I didn't, but I hope that if I help students connect more with the course overall, they will be more receptive to the assessments that are less directly career-oriented.

However, another topic always comes to mind at the beginning of each semester, especially as discussions of the future of college persist in the culture.

“Every day, I’m like a piece of wood, I can’t sleep, my hands are clenched in a fist.”

While the world is undoubtedly full of tragedy and despair, it can be easy to be jaded by all the bad news. With videos of ISIS beheadings in Syria and police shootings in the US easily accessible and available; with yet another Middle Eastern country being bombed (and this time, primarily by its neighbors); with mass murders throughout Africa barely registering in international news, it's easy to become desensitized. You simply can't feel it all- you would suffocate from all the pain. At some point, it becomes just another sad news story to mull over on your way to work.

But some things, well, they just get to you.

Successfully Defending your Dissertation- Some Tips Based on my Experience

For the past few years, since completing my coursework, I've seen a definite (but faint) light at the end of the PhD tunnel. Over the dissertation writing process, there were some great peaks, but also some tense valleys. I was slated to travel to the West Bank to collect my data right in the midst of the 2014 Gaza War, and concerns mounted that I wouldn't be able to cross Jordan's Allenby Bridge into the West Bank. When I finally got my data, test after test essentially rejected most of my hypotheses. There were a lot of stressful times, and moments I certainly thought, "Well, I guess I could just be a student forever..."

Why I (Hesitantly) Support Recognition

In the past month, several European nations have been debating (non-binding) votes to recognize the State of Palestine. They started in Sweden, followed by a symbolic vote in FranceAustralia and Belgium are considering similar votes. Granted, these votes are non-binding/symbolic, and most importantly, the situation on the ground hasn't changed, and it's unlikely these votes will do much to change them. Prominent journalists such as Ali Abunimah actually denounce the proclamations, saying they "...may have good intentions in the minds of many, but...I believe that recognizing such a "state" is harmful to the rights of most Palestinians."

I have mixed feelings about these declarations myself.

Developing my Research: Part 2

Man, it's been a while! I hit a little bump in the data analysis of my dissertation data, and have since had to kind of revamp the literature review, and somehow the weeks just flew. But I'm back!

Way back in April, I wrote part 1 of what was intended to be a 2 part series about developing my research focus, specifically my dissertation topic. I planned on updating part 2 in the early summer, but then, well, the world fell apart.

As Conflict Wears on in Gaza, Some Sources to Check Out

The New York Times- Room for Debate: Can the U.S. still be a leader in the Middle East?

This piece features several short essays by scholars arguing various points of how the U.S. either can or cannot be an honest broker for Middle East peace. My personal favorite was that of human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, which argues that the U.S. cannot possibly act as a neutral mediator when supplying Israel with billions of dollars a year in aid and arms. Regardless of your viewpoint, there are seven different essays that are certain to cause you to question your assumptions.

The Charlie Rose Show: A Discussion About Palestinians and their Leadership

Wouldn't you know, a show about Palestinians that actually features the voices of Palestinians! Charlie talks with several guests, including Rula Jebreal and Yousef Munayyer, about the current dynamics in Palestinian politics, Israel's current government, and the oft-ignored issue at the true core of this conflict (spoiler: it's the occupation). Don't assume that because these are all Arab voices, there won't be debate- in fact, it offers a very nuanced look from different perspectives of Palestinian thought. It's about 40 minutes, but it's well worth your time.


I've also gotten some great feedback about my previous post about my experience of the occupation. I'll continue to post more in that series, but if you're interested in some other perspectives and pictures about life in the occupied West Bank, I recommend:

Mondoweiss: Welcome to the status quo- a tour of the occupation

This piece offers a great firsthand account of the sheer structural integration of the occupation into the everyday lives of Palestinians. From checkpoints, to the wall, to settlements, the author really reinforces the fact that the occupation is EVERYWHERE, impacting every aspect of Palestinian's lives.

Teju Cole Twitter (@tejucole): Occupied (Collection of Photos)

Writer Teju Cole went on a trip to the West Bank in early June of this year, and took a series of very powerful photos that do a great job in illustrating everyday life in Palestine under the backdrop of the occupation. From Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jerusalem, to Nablus and Ramallah, this a great photo series with simple, straightforward captions that allow you to come to your own conclusion about the images.

If there's anything of interest you've come across online, please feel free to comment on this post or leave me a note @ConflictedBlog on Twitter.