Full-time Scientist VS. Stay-at-home Mom

By Nan Pazdernik

Oh what an interesting dichotomy I have experienced in the last two weeks. On Oct. 11, I attended a conference in Indianapolis, IN sponsored by AWIS, or the Association for Women in Science, entitled “What Works Workshop”. The goal of the workshop is to increase professional skills, explore some of today’s workplace challenges, better understand scientific leadership characteristics and opportunities, and of course to network with other female scientists. AWIS asked me to present a session that addressed the issue of motherhood and science. The talk was probably one of the more difficult that I had ever prepared, because I just felt that I wasn’t an expert on combining motherhood and science, and in fact… who IS??? There isn’t really any scientific literature, and definitely very few charts and graphs to include. In fact, all I really used was Emily’s statistics showing that women are leaving the academic tracts.

I structured the discussion very loose, and began with a short introduction about how the Motherhood, Elephant in the Laboratory came to be. I then presented statistics that demonstrate how females who receive PhD’s are approximately half of all the PhD recipients, yet they are much underrepresented in tenure track positions. And I pointed out that the term “leaky pipeline” and the fact that all we chart are academic appointments really makes no sense. Many different careers paths are still valuable and important enough, that we should stop measuring our success against the academic tract. I ended the section by simply pointing out that many female scientists have many unique permutations between their work and their family.

Since the book was structured based on simply discussing everyone’s unique paths… I talked about my story, and how I am currently a full-time mother with a part-time scientific career. I talked about how I found myself as a stay-at-home mom, mainly due to my husband’s scientific career being more lucrative, and, his job being transferred to an area with no medical research, which coincided with birth of our first son. Then, everyone in attendance formed a circle so we could have a discussion. I simply wanted everyone to brainstorm about the following questions: (1) What essentials do we need in order to combine a scientific career with family, and (2) What are some current policies/attitudes that make work life conflict with family life.

The discussion was very good, although it took a while for everyone to open up. We had one mom-to-be in our discussion that was expecting her first baby. She disclosed that she was “moved to another position” as soon as she told her employer she was pregnant. We had a discussion about how she could try to open a dialogue about her expectations and her employer’s expectations about her job once the baby was born. But really just learning that another employer may be more friendly to her pregnancy, opened her eyes, and I really hope that she can find a way to work it out with her employer or to move to a more acceptable situation.

We also had a mother who proclaimed herself as a feminist, and expected her husband to take an equal role in raising the children. We had mothers whose children were grown which always offers a nice perspective, because they now have more time for their careers and their children turned out just fine. We covered different points… about childcare near the place of employment as well as at scientific meetings. One of the attendees was not allowed to bring a stroller into a poster session that she and her husband were attending together. They had to alternate when they could go to see posters so that one was available for childcare.

The final question was “How do we resolve these problems?”, and since time was short, I simply ended our discussion by pointing out that keeping the discussion going was one of the best ways. I asked everyone to go back to their employers. First identify the major issues, such as childcare or expectations for working weekends and nights. Then set realistic and obtainable goals to resolve any issues that are detrimental to women working and having a family. Set up committees or work with existing networks to find resolutions. But most of all, keep on talking!

So this meeting left me feeling very torn. I really felt out of place with the other female scientists, mainly from Eli Lilly, Roche, and Dow Agrosciences. Did I make a mistake taking myself out of the bench scientist world? Was the global Technology and Intellectual Capital Management leader for Dow Agrosciences really only 4 years older than me? She was talking about all the stages of career advancement, and here I am her age, and I haven’t been through any “advancement”. And so even though I co-wrote a textbook, and I am teaching nursing students anatomy and physiology, I didn’t feel like the same type of scientist. Wow!

Now, I just have to contrast this conference to my last weekend. I attended the Southern Illinois retreat for La Leche League leaders. What a different experience. The goals for the retreat were simply to discuss what we like about helping moms learn to breastfeed, what we found the most challenging, and what problems/questions/concerns we have. No business suits, no formal attitudes, simply a discussion. We introduced ourselves and talked about how many children we have and how old. I brought my 21 month old daughter, and no one cared when she cried or was disruptive. [Dad had to come to the AWIS conference and watch her and my son’s while I attended the meeting.] I made a bracelet to wear while my daughter spread beads all over the floor. But here is the interesting discussion we had… It is a long standing unwritten policy that you cannot apply for leadership if you work outside the home. Some exceptions are made, but usually to moms that work only part-time or have their children so close during the day that they have very little separation. Now I am working part-time, and this is okay because I became a Leader before I worked outside the home. We had a long discussion on whether or not someone with a career can apply to be a La Leche League Leader. So I really don’t fit the mold of the typical La Leche League leader either. I work part-time, and I like it. I think that separation between me and my daughter has been extremely good for our relationship. I love being at home with my kids and I love my adjunct position. I love writing. So…

I guess to summarize I just feel like I am out of place in both worlds. Not quite a full-time stay at home mom… not quite a career scientist. Hmmm…split personality or balance? Wonder how I should categorize it.

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31 Responses to “Full-time Scientist VS. Stay-at-home Mom”


  1. 1 Tracy W November 5, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    You’ve captured what we’re all talking about – that’s great! I agree that the ideal situation is a part-time job, but those are hard to find! How did you create/find such a position? I think mothers would be much more productive/efficient with PT positions, since they would have time for their family and time to FOCUS on accomplishing tasks at work. My undergrad alumni has recurring comments about an ivy league degree used to become a stay-at-home mom.

    BTW, I have a MS, a 4 yo and 1yo twins and work FT. Needless-to-say, I’m tired and I have trouble focusing on most things. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone.

  2. 2 npazder November 5, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Working part-time with my daughter and two very active sons is probably all I could handle at this point. I feel so crazy trying to remember all the stuff that has to get done or attended to that I would not be very effective at all working full-time. Of course I feel like I should still move into the full-time position, because it would “look” better.

    As for finding/creating my part-time positions, they are a combination of luck and hard work. I really happened upon the opportunity to co-write a textbook with a professor at Southern Illinois University. I had met the textbook’s graphic artist and simply told her about my background (we met through La Leche League, and my oldest son is the same age as her child). When Dr. Clark needed help on the project, she recommended me. I am very thankful for her reference, and would love to return the favor. If you ever need anyone to make figures for anything… let me know.

    As for working as an adjunct, I originally applied to the local community college for a tenure-track position. It was a long-shot, and would have been difficult to move into a full-time position at that point, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work so close to home, and only work for 9 mo out of the year. The perfect position for someone who values the time I get with my kids. I didn’t have any teaching experience, so never got the full-time position, yet they did call and ask if I would work as an adjunct. They asked me to teach Anatomy and Physiology which is a rigorous course (even at a community college). I really have clicked with the other faculty there, and hope that I can go to full-time in the next few years. I am sure it will depend on whether or not they can justify expanding the department with the new economic woes.

    BTW, I do not get paid very well for either positions, and am still waiting on receiving the royalties for the textbook. So, I am really not working enough pay any bills. I wish that there was some way to work part-time and still feel like what you are doing is important enough to make some money. Anyone else feel this way?

    Nan Pazdernik

  3. 3 Emily November 11, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    I’m not sure what you meant – that it’d be great to find paying part-time jobs that are as interesting as some of the lesser paying but gratifying work? I do feel that way, if that’s what you meant. I know I can certainly find work to pay bills, but it’s not the kind of consulting or teaching work that I’d want. I feel selfish sometimes – I’ve had the opportunity to do some really interesting work with an ever evolving cast of characters, and when it comes to consulting or teaching I’ve been able to pick and choose what interests me, but the checks I deposit in my name are pretty small! On the other hand, though many would consider this a throw-back, my contribution to the household is in keeping it together, well stocked and running (from place to place usually.)

    I too just considered a FT faculty position, sending in an application thinking “what the heck,” and since it’s local “it’s my responsability to apply for whatever comes my way,” but in reality I’m not sure I’m ready to give up freelancing – and, I also mentioned that to the department chair, soooo I don’t think I’ll have any tough decisions coming up anyway!

    As I wrote in the book when there are projects to be done it’s great – it’s those times in between that aren’t so great.

    All that’s to say that it would be great if there were more faculty part-time jobs (I’d jump at the chance if there were any here,) or other part-time jobs that used the skills I’ve developed over the years and paid well. Maybe sometime soon those in a position to hire will realize that part-time doesn’t mean a part-time commitment to the science or the project, just the time.

  4. 4 Alice Aspen March November 22, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Great blog, discussions, vulnerability, reality, feelings herein expressed…
    This is an international issue which needs to be high on our agenda right now— we’ve got mega contributions to make to our world as women and we need to create a workplace which recognizes that and the also that as mothers we bring in future generations/resources and their contributions through their childhood development….

    Sometimes, it’s more important to be a stay-at-home Mom than to be on the career track, continually. You also need some “tanking-up” time as a Mom, wife, etc…Give yourself some slack, ladies — I am now -so I’ve been told by a Zimbabwee healer – “an elder, who you best you listen to!!!
    I am also a grandmother, mother of three sons, an international speaker/writer!!!
    My expertise is about attention – the full spectrum, so your blog interests me much.
    Keep it up…..
    aam

  5. 5 SBela November 23, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    A running, constant dialogue about how to incorporate family needs in everyday working-world science is what women/ mothers in science are in need of! I find this issue is consistently one of the major elements that categorizes the “brand” of scientist in our lab, unfortunately. Really enjoyed your post- and in regard to your comment about feeling “out of place in both worlds,” I’d like to kindly
    encourage you to embrace the feeling of having the BEST of both worlds…from my own perspective, I truly feel that variety is what provides that essential balance in life.

  6. 6 amylundberg March 4, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Homebased jobs is exactly perfect for moms who would like to balance family and their jobs as well. There are many stay-at-home moms who have proved to the virtual world to be great women magnets.

  7. 7 wendi March 19, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    ohhhhhh I am so pleased to know that I am not alone. I have been a FT history professor for 5 years. My book is not done and I don’t even know if I want to finish it. I am tired. I have a husband and two boys (8 and 4) and I live for my winter breaks and summers. I feel so torn between dissapointing myself as a professor and failing as a mother/wife. I had my whole life planned out — get married, finish PHD, and have kids. The problem is I nevere imagined what it would be like to try to juggle it all. I thought being a FT professor and mom would be easy. Oh how wrong I was. At this point I want off the crazy roller coaster. I am not a superwoman.

  8. 8 The Science Dilettante March 25, 2009 at 2:07 am

    After struggling emotionally with my motherhood/science career decisions it’s nice to know that my choice is a good one for me. Lately I had been kind of ‘put down’ for choosing to be a part-time academic because I wish to focus on raising my son (he is only turning 1 in 3 weeks). The people I work with are very supportive, but a previous supervisor felt I was ‘doing the wrong thing’ career wise because I have gone part-time and focussed on teaching as this is not so time-intensive as research. Eventually I will get back into the fray when my son is older but for now, what I am doing feels right.
    Wendi, who commented above me – I know just how you feel. In the end I slowed down and went part-time – while we are managing to pay all bills we’re not living in luxury – but we are a lot happier!

  9. 9 Personal Injury Claims April 1, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Nice blog stay – at – home moms are really tough, your have really got your point accross with this blog.

  10. 10 mommymakingmoney lei June 16, 2009 at 9:39 am

    there are few things stay at home mom should be proud of, its the way you do it, you can still keep in touch with your friends more than anybody else,also, you can get in touch with your creative side.finding time for yourself is impotant

  11. 11 Mark "Work At Home Jobs For Moms" Heras October 4, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Well, i think time management is important with this kind of situation. We have a saing that if you want, you can find a way.. if not, you have a reason. But, we should know what to prioritize, and for me, Family is the most important of all.

  12. 12 Emily R. January 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    So glad to read this blog. I have a PhD in molecular bio. and I have three kids and recently decided to be a full time mom. It is nice to know others are struggling with the same issues. I have been thinking about trying to do some science work from home but I have no idea where to even start looking. Any suggestions?

    • 13 Emily January 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Hi Emily,

      I can only speak from my experience because everyone’s is so different — in part depending on the field. But I’d say stay active in science and up to date. So key is maintaining a connection with an institution (locally, or your alma mater etc.) so that you’ve got access to the journals and literature that you need. Then maintain some visibility – are there papers you can write? Reviews? Even a blog if that keeps you going – summarizing the literature or whatever is of interest – so that when you are ready you can point a potential employer to those things.

      As for work at home – I think it really depends. I’ve been fortunate as a toxicologist that there is a need for consultants or subcontractors. All work that I can do from home. Is there the same kind of thing in the science that is of most interest to you? Etc.

      Or teaching. At least when the kids were really young, I taught one class a semester at night. I considered it a little vacation (…it was great to get out and just talk science with students!)

      Also, let people know you are looking and keep in touch with your science network. Drop an email. Let them know you’re out there – and looking for work from home etc.

      Hope that helps. I’m no expert, and though I’ve keep busy and my head in science the caveat (in my case) is that it’s no way to make a living — but that hasn’t been my goal. Fortunately I have a partner with job and benefits – and so have been able to work and keep active this way.

  13. 14 Stay At Home Scientist Mom April 5, 2012 at 6:07 am

    Hello,
    I am in the same boat and feeling the same way as many of you scientist moms out there. Finding a part-time job has been weighing heavily on my mind since my kids started school full-time. I was so sure back then I was doing the right thing when I left my pretty lucrative career as a chemist to be a SAHM but now, I am wishing I had tried harder to work out something part-time with my former employer. Financially, we are doing OK and I probably don’t need to work, but I do miss having a career in science. I have an M.S. degree in Chem and oftentimes, I feel like I am capable of so much more and that I am not making the most out of my degree. It has been hard finding part-time work in science. I have looked into tutoring jobs but they require after school commitment. I need a morning job when my kids are in school. Anyone have any other ideas for part-time work? It is depressing at times when I start to feel that I may never work again especially when I know for sure I could never go full time again.

    • 15 Emily April 19, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      Hi SAHM, do you have any local colleges or community colleges who might be looking for instructors or lab-instructors? Sometimes they offer night classes so that might work (I did that for a year, taught at night – was like a night out when the kids were little!) How about consulting agencies? You may want to look around, some actually like part-timers (don’t have to pay benefits) and often those kinds of jobs can be done from afar (like review work etc.) You may want to check out the AAAS site for young scientists and for jobs. They have a very good and broad site. http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/.

      Hope some of this helps. I do know how you feel – I’ve been there (just about every two or three years it seems), but I think if you chip away at it, you’ll find something!

      • 16 Stay At Home Scientist Mom April 19, 2012 at 6:54 pm

        Thank you, Emily! I have been looking into community colleges for chem instructor openings but so far nothing available yet. Are there any consulting agency sites that you know of? Any websites I can search for review work? That would be an ideal job for a SAHM. I am in CA. I also have experience in formulations, drug and cosmetic. I will check out the AAAS site. Thanks!

    • 17 npazder April 22, 2012 at 10:04 pm

      Don’t think you will never work again! I know how you probably feel, since I spent almost 10 years as a SAHM. Surprisingly,I have successfully moved back into the research world after such a long hiatus. I was able to rejoin a lab doing basic research, but this was not an advertised opportunity. I just decided to research the various professors at the university, and sent an e-mail to one doing interesting research. Although he was not hiring, he passed my CV off to another professor that was, and I was offered a post-doctoral position. Although this opportunity is not part-time, I am happy to move back into my career. I would suggest trying to network… you never know what is available! There could be someone wanting someone to work part-time, but won’t advertise an official opening. You just might be the perfect fit!

  14. 18 Exhausted faculty October 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Hello, I have a tenured position at a research 1 university. Between managing work and 2 kids (5 and 2 yr) I feel drained and never seem to have time to relax. Yeah they say a job like mine has flexibility but with so much to do grants, publications, teaching, advising….how do you manage it all. Its not all bad though with people appreciating the good work but are there ways to go part time? I would love to watch my kids grow and enjoy my time with them.

    • 19 Emily December 8, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      Hi, sorry just saw this now! I was just discussing this with a professor at UMass, who went through all of this years ago. I think it would take some willingness of research university admin to think about how they could offer and benefit from part-time faculty. What that would look like, and whether it would be permanent, for a few years etc. Or if there is a way to set up job-sharing between two faculty who are colleagues, not necessarily partners. But, that all said I am an outsider to academia and so it’s easy for me to dream up ideas. The reality of them is something else. Sorry I can’t offer more. Good luck!

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  1. 1 What I’ve been waiting for…serious discussion of motherhood and science « Raising Smart Girls Trackback on January 14, 2009 at 3:58 pm
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