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September 20, 2005


Mark Trodden

Nice post Caolionn,

I don't see myself being a parent, but can see the difficulties for women who want to be and face the pressures that most of us men don't.

Over at Cosmic Variance we've been having a thread about related issues (although the initial topic addressed wasn't the same as the one you raised).

I've been enjoying the blog - nice work!



Dear Caolionn,


Rather than start my own diatribe against this NYT article I figured I would just augment yours--I hate that an article like this makes it to the front page of the New York Times, and I hate that the article has the audacity to quote a college student about "the difference between kids who did have their mother stay at home and those who didn't". I have plenty of friends who stay home full time with their kids who do not think I'm a bad mother for being a physicist full time, and at the same time I do not pretend for a second that I have the harder job!

And while I'm at it, I'll add that I hate the fact that no one thinks my husband is a worse father for being a full-time physicist, and I hate that he actually could just laugh at the article when he read it instead of feeling attacked and wanting to defend the honor of his children.

Thanks for venting first--I needed that!



For my wife and me, this is always something that is sort of looming over us. We are both starting our professional carreers now, and we are always thinking about how we should time the "baby" (who I have been calling "Hilbert" for years now to indicate that s/he only really exists in an abstract space until we put him/her into the coordinate representation).

Let me just say that in my department--chemistry--there have been no fewer than four babies born to actual assistant professors (i.e. women ones) or husbands (professors who are men) in the last year (in one case both, since they are both professors here).

So the bottom line is: when thinking about where you apply and take your professorial position, you might want to take attitudes towards baby-making into the equation.


Nice post, Caolionn. I totally subscribe what Debbie said. I was shocked by the statement in the article that female students going to these Ivy league colleges "are likely to marry men who will make enough money to give them a real choice about whether to be full-time mothers..." . Does this mean that women work only for "economic necessity"?
When I was 20, It never came to my mind that one day I would stop working for raising children. Not even when, much later, I had a baby, even if of course I had to make compromizes, somehow. But "scaling back" professional plans before knowing what will happen in their lives, that is crazy!
I found extremely depressing what Laura Wexler said: " Women have been given full-time working career opportunities and encouragement with no social changes to support it".
Of course I can see this is (partially) true, but each one of us makes "society", and each one of us must pretend these social changes, not just "accept things how they are".


Hey Caolionn, I am off topic now. I just didn't find a better place to put it. I just want to share a picture with you at: http://cow-gone-mad.blogspot.com/2005/09/here-just-because-i-know-her-blog-she.html
Cheers, Helge


Mark: Honestly, I am a little envious of your decision not to have kids (having read about it on CV). Damn it that I should be compelled to breed.

Debbie & Sandra: I am just happy to see that it can be done. There are not that many examples in physics for those of us who have yet to start a family.

Kevin: I like the use of Hilbert. I would be happy to seek out such institutions, but usually you don't know until you're in it. And is it ever a good idea to go into a job interview asking about the baby-making environment?


Sad to say, every woman I know who graduated from Caltech with me quit their job when they had a child. (Granted it's still early, so my sample size is less than 10 people.) Some of them had Master's and PhDs which they worked very hard for. It shocks me, but as I start thinking about it, I am not sure what I'll do. I love my job, but I might just not be brave enough to try to do both full-time. I know I'd feel guilty all the time and annoyed by my husband not feeling guilty. But that's my own damn fault.

It is a personal choice, but yeah, honestly, I think working and raising a family *is* harder than just doing one or the other and people should get props for that.

I do hate the tone of the article and the students quoted in there. They're kids. They have no idea how life is going to turn out for them. And my mom worked full time and we turned out just fine, thankyouverymuch.

I personally think those girls making statements like that are actually very harmful to women getting equal treatment in elite academic institutions. One of the primary arguments for not letting women undergrads in at Caltech (until 1974) was that it would be "wasting" a spot on someone who was just going to get married and have babies and quit school/work right after college. And honestly, I can see the logic behind that, though having smarter people be parents is definitely a good thing too.

But I don't think women are "equal enough" yet that articles like this won't hurt our already tenuous situation. Can't believe it's front page. Boo.

And Kevin, the Hilbert baby is just awesome. I love geek jokes.

Jesper Dalberg

Much as I admire the attempt made by the feminist movement to alleviate the burden of singular parenting, I still think we are quite far from the world they imagine.

My understanding of women on a personal level is quite limited. I am single, but I have 7 sisters and I am a clear 5 on the enneagram (!). Perhaps my most external view of the goings on inside relationships is an advantage, because I don't naturally relate things to my own experiences, which forces me to take a more objective view.

Women have a need for kids that consumes them from the time they reach puberty till menopause. Men only have this need periodically during specific periods of calm in their lives. In fact men are quite worried about having kids most of the time.

That difference can not be washed out of men or women over the cause of af few years, however reasonable and logical doing so would seem to society as a whole. The feminist movement was the start of it, but it will take decades imo to get where we want to go.

That difference is why Sam is not lying awake at night.

The trouble is that we want it all. We want to be happy all the time, we want to have kids AND a career, and security and a new shiny car a nice house and and and...

We feel like if we don't have it all, we can't be happy. We couldn't be more wrong. Happiness is born in your own heart, and grow when you give.

What we really should be doing is to hate a little less, and stop being so afraid all the time.


who's the new baby? the one's grandchild is a modem, er, model... (BNF-010)


Jesper - What do you mean by this statement:

Women have a need for kids that consumes them from the time they reach puberty till menopause.

That seems like a huge generalization. I haven't been "needing" kids since puberty. I don't "need" them now, though I'll probably have one at some point.

And I re-read my comment. I don't hate the students quoted in the story. I hate their attitudes, and the obvious bias of the article in both the students and professors quoted.

At my company all new dads get 4 weeks of paid paternity leave, with an option to take 2 more months unpaid. Every single dad I know has taken the 4 weeks and spent that time bonding with their kid and even being the primary caregiver. I think we're moving in the right direction of alleviating the burden on moms doing all the kid work. So it may not be the perfect world feminists want, but we're definitely getting there.


Anandi: I completely agree. I think raising kids is a very difficult job, probably more so than working as a post-doc. But I also like my job and I worry if I leave it for too long to raise kids, I won't be able to come back to it. And the "wasting" spot aspect is brutal. I know of one woman who denied a fellowship for that reason (in the '70s). It should be noted that she managed to continue working and raise two children at the same time. But if enough women drop out, it undermines the ones that stay.

Jesper: The desire for a kid is not all-consuming. I would like kids at some point and I would like to have them before I worry about IVF, etc. As a result, the planning is non-trivial. You are also right, I would like it all. But who is to say once I have kids maybe I won't want it all anymore? But I would like the option and I would like a societal support system if I choose both. As Anandi mentioned we are not totally there yet, but we have certainly progressed.

Jesper Dalberg

Anandi: What I mean by women "needing" kids, is that from early age girls instinct drive them towards a nurturing behaviour, whereas boys dont seem to care at all about that stuff. Girls play with barbie, girls go all gogogaga when a baby enters the room. Boys just continue to play with their toys. So what I mean is the problem of trying to adjust instinctive behavior pattern, it's not as easy as we would like it to be.

Caolionn: I know the need is not all-consuming, nothing in our lives really is if you think about it. I understand your problem as a woman with what looks to be a terrific carreer ahead of you. All I'm saying that on a broader scale, not much can fundamentally be done about it, sadly.

I agree with both of you that we are moving in the right direction, I just think we will have to use genomtech to get there as fast as we want to. But that is a more general view of mine, our minds are moving to fast for our instincts to keep up.

My guess is that guys will exibit caveman-like behaviour for a long long time to come. Even in a female dominated utopia.


not really, how about a transgender retired general?


Jesper: I almost made it all the way through your last post, but suddenly felt consumed by the need to grunt, scratch, and teach my son to break things.

Mark Trodden

Hi Caolionn,

For what it's worth, my institution/department is very supportive (I think). I see Assistant Profs having kids and getting tenure and doing well, although i'm not trying to suggest that it isn't very demanding. So if you ended up applying to us, you wouldn't need to ask :)


Nice thread. Caolionn-- I'm a grad student in GPS at Caltech, w/ husband and 15-month old daughter. A great antidote to the NY Times article: Working Mother Magazine-- sounds cheesy but we all need some inspiration sometimes! They have their attitude in the right place. My favorite was "11 Reasons Why I Love Being a Working Mother", including skills that you learn as a mother that make you a better employee (conflict resolution!!). Want to note also, I worked in industry for 2 years and in general industry is way more supportive of families, both for moms and dads, than academia. Why? Just a culture thing. When I got pregnant (was at my old company then), my boss (who with his wife had just had a baby a year prior) gave me the best advice: don't try to set in stone now what you'll want to do after the baby's born-- some women who are sure they'll want to go right back to work find that they find taking care of their baby more rewarding; and some women who think they'd want to stay home end up wanting to go back to work. What I ended up doing was great: took 6 weeks of paid maternity leave, another 2 weeks of FMLA time, then came back part-time for the next 2 months until I left to come to Caltech, but used the rest of my FMLA time to stay at full-time status so I kept the same benefits. Was told that if I had wanted to stay, I could basically set my own hours per week b/c I was such a valued employee. The part-time stint was the best, my husband (who was doing a postdoc at the time) watched baby in the mornings while I was at the office, and at lunchtime we switched. Hadn't anticipated that we could do this but it worked out. My point is this: when can we ever plan the perfect life? When has anyone ever been able to? What about wars, natural disasters, severe economic hardships, illnesses... We can only decide what are the most important things we want out of life, and then maneuver to make it work. :) PS-- I bet your boyfriend thinks about kids more than you give him credit for (or will within 5 years). All the dads I know are positively doting fathers, including those at Caltech.


Thanks for comment, Margaret. I am a little surprised that industry was so flexible. It is nice to hear that. I also love that there is a magazine called "Working Mother". I am totally subscribing to that once I have kids. And major kudos for doing grad school with a baby, you are a better woman than I!

Joe Bolte

For those who are interested, this post has just been linked from Cosmic Variance http://cosmicvariance.com/2005/11/10/should-she-or-shouldnt-she/, where discussion on this issue continues.

I really like this blog.


Thanks, Joe.

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