I've been having a great time reading my favorite women scientist blogs ( Dr. Shellie, YoungFemaleScientist, Post Doc ergo Propter Doc, Dr. Mom, and Science+Professor+Woman=Me), and following their experiences and thoughts about the trials and tribulations of being a scientist and sometimes a mother at the same time. I've been reflecting a lot on my current academic position as my yearly review is coming up with my chairman and I'm not really sure what to expect. Our original agreement was to offer me a temporary, part-time research associate faculty position for "a few years" in order for me to have the time to take care of some of my daughter's medical needs. (for any new readers, my husband was the recruit they were after but they had to create a position for me if they wanted him to come!).
I am appreciative of my Institute's willingness to invent this type of position for me because I think I'm the only one in existence here. Upon my hiring, the benefits people couldn't produce a benefits book that explained my particular situation and what types of coverage I had. I think they made it up as they went along. My favorite moment was when they told me I wasn't "eligible" to be supplied with lab coats because of my part time status. Fortunately, half way through trying to explain to me why that was, even though I was going to be doing research in the laboratory, the woman stopped mid-sentence and said, "Now that's just dumb, even Visiting Scientists get lab coats. We'll sign you up for your lab coats"!
But now that I've been working for over a year, I've seen some downfalls to this particular situation. First, despite your part time status, the unwritten expectations are actually still the same - get your work funded, get an R01. With only a technician in the lab full time and me in the lab part time, that's a pretty unreachable goal. Even more so now with the funding levels below 10%. Second, even though I've been assigned an administrative assistant, my part time status makes me a bit of an afterthought. I get these resentful looks whenever I walk down to ask for something. Third, full time faculty get a generous PDA (personal development allowance) which they can use for conference travel, books, computer purchases, etc. I guess I expected that I might get some amount, maybe half? But I actually get nothing. So how am I expected to travel to conferences and join important associations, to keep myself viable in this interim position?
Well, my impending review has got me thinking about what types of "out of the ordinary" positions could be fashioned for women in science, especially during the "small children years"? Based on my experience, and despite it's downfalls, the ability to be "part time" for a short period has been invaluable. Wouldn't it be useful if a temporary "part time" status was available to mothers (or fathers) following the end of traditional maternity leave? This would allow women to stay competitive in their science but still have the flexibility to work fewer hours for a short period of time. Even I've experienced the constant sicknesses that come with moving children from "in home" care to "daycare". Of course, a part time position would require a sacrifice on the part of the scientist as they would have a smaller salary, but it would lessen the financial burden on the department for that period of time which might make them more supportive towards this type of arrangement. I wonder if women would take advantage of this type of opportunity in addition to suspending the tenure clock for a year?
Does anyone have any other ideas about creating unique academic situations that might help maintain women in the sciences through the difficult early childrearing years? I'd love to hear them.