Academic Parenting 101: parental leave erosion

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

Academics are generally pretty lucky when it comes to parental leave- at least on paper. Many universities provide more leave than the minimum required by governments (so more than nothing in the US), yet there are several aspects of our careers that cause parental leave erosion. I should say from the outset that I had a generally supportive and positive experience while on leave last year, but I’ve also found several sources of leave erosion. *I acknowledge that there are many different types of parents taking parental leave, and I’m mainly drawing on my experience, or those of close friends in the field. I’d love to hear other experiences.

1. Pre-leave ‘make up’ work: This is a typical scenario: parents learn they are expecting, figure out when they are taking leave, and start working overtime to get ‘extra’ things done before the leave. In some ways this is understandable; it makes sense to want to wrap things up, tick things off a list etc before baby arrives. However, the idea that we need to work extra hard so that the parental leave doesn’t ‘put us behind’ or give some kind of disadvantage places unrealistic expectations on parents. Doing more work before your leave also means you (and your colleagues) treat your parental leave as a reshuffling of work, rather than time away from work. This kind of extra stress is the last thing that parents-to-be need, especially since pregnancy can be really terrible. You might be flat on your back trying to hold down any type of sustenance rather than writing your opus in the 8th month- and that’s ok. Parents don’t need to ‘earn’ their leave- and working extra, taking on extra roles etc before baby arrives means you donate time to the university and treat the arrival of the baby as the ‘finish line’ rather than the starting gate.

2. Parental leave free labor: I blame sabbaticals for this. While on sabbatical staff that are ‘away’ are still expected to respond to emails (even if it is slowly) and somewhat maintain their visibility and roles in the department. But parental leave is, and should be, different: parents take it because they have a new baby, not because they are focusing more of their attention to one aspect of their job. Also, most parental leave involves a pay reduction- so from a purely economic sense, parents are not getting paid to do their job anymore, they are paid to be parents, on leave. But that’s not reality. Most parents on leave end up responding to emails, doing copy edits on articles/books that are in the publication pipeline, writing reference letters, providing annual reports to funders, giving advice or feedback to grad students, and maybe even reviewing. These are tasks that one is almost obliged to do in order to sustain a minimum lifeline as an academic, but it is UNPAID LABOR. Continue reading Academic Parenting 101: parental leave erosion

Why I Don’t Participate at Political Science Rumors

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

Over the last week we’ve had an excellent post by Cynthia Weber on queer theory and the forms of academic disciplining and bullying that take place on the website Political Science Rumors, as well as a interesting (and surprisingly convincing) piece by Steve Saidman on why he participates on the website. At first thought, the question of whether to participate on PLSI rumors or not seems pretty simple to me. In fact, a better question might be, ‘why would anyone bother with such a largely negative shit-storm, make-you-feel-bad-about-humanity and the field zone?’ However, on second thought, there are a few specific reasons why I avoid the site:

1. I think I know who the average ‘user’ is, and I don’t think I have much to learn from them. With the exception of Steve Saidman and a few other visitors- who have a genuine intention of a positive exchange with others in the field- based on the types of comments I have read, I assume (like others) that the average poster on this site is an unemployed/underemployed graduate student from an elite university who is pissed off that people like me (with my ‘terrible pedigree’ and my poor choice of feminism as a ‘specialization’) have jobs and a voice in the field (cue the trash comments). Why would I want to listen to this cohort speculate on job candidates, or my work (or anything else)?

2. It sets low career goals. I know not everyone in political science dreams of contributing to world peace (more on this in a forthcoming post), but surely there is more to our careers than journal rankings and how we ‘rate’ against others? In the comments sections to Weber’s recent post, there is discussion about the damage we might do to students if we are not honest about their career prospects if they choose ‘sub-fields’ like queer theory. Obviously, most PhD students don’t want to end up unemployed, and providing realistic information about the job market is essential- but individuals should be encouraged to choose their research topics because they are interested in answering questions they deem important, or that will make some sort of contribution (the fact that it sounds corny to want to contribute positively to society/our field is depressing).

3. It is not an effective source of information. If you want to know who has been short listed for a job, where to publish an article, which university to go to for particular specializations etc THIS IS NOT THE BEST PLACE TO GET THE INFO.

Continue reading Why I Don’t Participate at Political Science Rumors