Balancing motherhood, academia tenuous route, professors say

Log Cabin Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Professors and students at the University of Central Arkansas tackled a tough subject Monday, questioning ways women are often forced to choose between raising children and pursuing an academic route.

Focusing on the book, "Mama PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life," the group presented the view that it is possible though difficult to do both.

The idea for the conference came from two English professors, Mary Ruth Marotte and Paige Reynolds, two tenure-track women who also raise children of their own.

Marotte said "Mama PhD" took a good look at how even 21st-century women are finding it hard to focus on both the academic world and their family.

"That's what the book does so brilliantly, to give voices to women who often feel silent," she said.

Aeron Haynie, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, headlined the conference, speaking about her personal experience of balancing a career with motherhood. The mother of 4-year-old Sophie, Haynie wrote one essay detailing her struggle of pursuing a career goals with her ticking biological clock.

She read from her essay, "Motherhood After Tenure: Confessions of a Late Bloomer," which is one of the several pieces included in "Mama Phd."

"Having a child radically disrupts a woman's academic life," she said.

For instance, she pointed out how while she was attending graduate school, she noticed men becoming fathers and still earning their degrees. On the other hand, "I noticed women having babies and not finishing," she said.

To emphasize how difficult it is to balance the two, Haynie pointed out a pyramid she constructed, detailing the percentages of women teaching in part-time positions, community colleges, four-year schools and the Ivy Leagues.

"Guess what had the smallest percentage of women? The elite, Ivy League universities," she said.

Haynie said the reason for the large number of women teaching part-time was because of the flexibility to both teach and raise a family.

"I think that flexibility is wonderful, but you have to remind yourself that you still have to fit in those 40-60 hours a week," Haynie said. "So it's a wonderful luxury but you still have to pick out a place where you can put all that work," she said.

Reynolds spoke about the problem of being in graduate school but having a family at the same time, pointing out how she became pregnant with her daughter shortly before finishing graduate school.

"I had been the kind of star student in my department, and I thought they'd think, 'Well, she had potential,'" she said.

While nobody treated her that way, she pointed out how the book showed the negative side.

"One of the things that these essays indicate is the difficulty of bringing anything personal into this trajectory," she said.

Haynie listed other factors facing the motherhood/academia paradox, including the financial debate, as women generally have lower-paying jobs, leading them to be the stay-at-home parent.

"Sometimes you just have to negotiate how ambitious you are," she said.

(Staff writer Jerrica Ryan can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 505-1266. Send us your news at

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