Motherhood and Doctorate

My daughter playing with my periodic table notebook

As you already know, I had my daughter during my PhD. In particular, I delivered my baby in September 2019 and my thesis was due in December. Since the moment I was pregnant I couldn’t enter the lab, so I couldn’t perform any more experiments.

It was not a big deal, since I already had many data and I already published two articles (one as first author). During my pregnancy I wrote two other papers and started writing the introduction of the dissertation.

In Italy pregnant women have to right to maternity leave for 5 months, 2 before and 3 after the baby’s birth. So, I started my maternity leave in July and came back in December. Therefore, I was allowed to submit my thesis in May 2020.

My path balancing motherhood and the writing of the thesis was documented on my Instagram account (@scicommforeveryone). There, I found an amazing community of other Women in STEM, some of them with children. So, I became curios about the impact of motherhood on academic career and looked up for papers on this topic.

Here, is what I found.

Lutter and Schröder studied the effects of parenthood on publications of academics. Results show that, while becoming a father, does not affect publication rate; becoming a mother has a huge impact on publication records. One interesting result indicates that lower-performing women suffer greatly in terms of productivity after pregnancy, while women, who have been granted academic awards, can manage better the dual role of mother and scholar.

Kulp studied the effect of motherhood on the likelihood of attaining a tenure-track position in the USA. Data show that women who had children during graduate school are less likely to become professor. Gender gaps include not only pay gap, but also promotion potential, job status and mobility possibility. Paski and collaborators came to similar conclusions: women tends to leave academic career when the earn the PhD and to delay motherhood for better career opportunities.

All these data confirm what women in academia (in an almost all other fields) already knew: gender gap is a thing and we are still far away to equality. Society wants women to have children, but then they are not supported and they struggle to reach their own potential.

Of course, a lot of women decide not to have children or to prioritize career over motherhood. Freedom means that women can do what they want with their body and their life.

In my humble opinion, and based on my personal experience, it is never the right time to have children. We often want to wait until we finish our degree, until we have a well-paid job, until we have a big house, or for whatever reason. Most of the women I know, myself included, are overachiever, there will always be a new goal to achieve. I didn’t program my pregnancy, but I absolutely loved the fact that it “arrived” during my last year of PhD.

Becoming a mother made me a better scholar. I became more focused, more goal-oriented, I managed my time better (I wrote my thesis while my daughter was asleep) and I reduced my procrastination time.

Society is not on our side (yet), but we can help and support each other on any decision we take with our own body, career and life.

We are stronger, together!

References:

Lutter and Schröder, “Is There a Motherhood Penalty in Academia? The Gendered Effect of Children on Academic Publications”, 2019, https://www.econstor.eu/handle/10419/192949

Kulp, “The Effects of Parenthood During Graduate School on PhD Recipients’ Paths to the Professoriate: A Focus on Motherhood”, 2016, https://doi.org/10.1002/he.20211

Paski et al., “The Timing of Motherhood While Earning a PhD in Engineering”, 2016, https://doi.org/10.28945/3544

Published by Martina Bodner

Biotechnologist, PhD Candidate in Food Chemistry, Science Teacher, STEM and autism advocate, mother.

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