November 3, 2009

Work/Life Balance

Yesterday, I attended a talk sponsored by our Women in Archaeology colloquium series. Since I'm dissertating and only have 20 hours of work-week nanny time, I haven't gone to many on-campus functions this semester. I had high hopes that this talk would be about ways to balance a career in academia and a personal life. What I took away from the talk, though, was that: 1) I need to do more fieldwork to advance my career; and 2) I should do less committee and advising work (if I ever get a job, that is). The speaker's rationale was that tenure committees don't really care about the service side of anthropology and that, interestingly, it is the female professors who tend to take up the mantle of advising and outreach, which she implied is because of our nurture nature.

I actually like advising undergraduates and early graduate students. It's gratifying - and, I have to admit, flattering - when a student takes multiple classes with you and wants to model her future on what you've done. Since I had spectacularly bad advisors in college (one of whom told me I would never get into grad school in classics without an 800 verbal GRE score), I feel like advising is a sacred duty. I also like teaching. Sure, I'm a horrible public speaker and I'm always nervous the first week of classes, but once I get into a groove in the courses I love, like Osteo, Bioarch, and Forensics, I think I'm pretty good at teaching. I'm most effective on paper, which is how I've managed to get granting agencies to give me money, and that's a rewarding part of the job. But writing articles is definitely the hardest part, and is even harder now that I can't spend 12 hours a day for a week banging out a paper.

So I had hoped that the talk yesterday would give me some direction as a hyphenate: ABD-on-the-job-market-anthropologist-with-an-infant. Not to disparage the speaker, but her talk, on why she was 60 and still an associate professor, only vaguely touched on gender and didn't talk about a family balance, as she never married and had no kids. On the contrary, her advice to do more fieldwork is hard to follow with a young family. As departments like mine take graduate students who usually have an MA or life experience, and the average time to PhD is an additional 10 years, the majority of us are going to gain partners and families in grad school. Which means we (well, possibly more women than men, as we have more pressing issues of biology to deal with) have families when we start the tenure clock... if we can even find a job in this economy. It's not an asset for a woman to have a husband and kids when she's looking for an academic job, and if I get interviews, I won't mention the fact that I have both. (Of course, it's not hard to find out these facts, as I also don't feel that I should specifically hide who I am.)

My ideal job would be one in which I could ease into an academic role that so far I've only really taken on part-time (one class taught a semester, one research project focused on, small grants applied for, a student or two to advise). And, of course, I'd like a job where I won't miss out entirely on my daughter's formative years, because part of being an anthropologist is being interested in humans and their development. Academia needs to be more family-friendly, for both women and men, but the only way it's going to change is from within. Which means I need to find a job at a department that recognizes that all the experiences in my life make me a well-rounded anthropologist rather than worrying that they will lead to the demise of my career.

My mother-in-law asked me, perhaps facetiously, whether my being an anthropologist was nature or nurture. Probably a little bit of both, as a kernel of interest in dinosaurs and ancient Greeks grew into full-blown anthropology geekery with encouragement from my never-staid, boundaries-pushing parents. A large part of my work involves nurturing an anthropological perspective in the next generation... not only in undergraduates, but also in my daughter. That, to me, is a good work/life balance.


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