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How work and family life conflict in the modern university Academic science still operates on assumptions that have failed to catch up with the realities of today’s family lives, argue scholars

Times Higher Education

Originally Posted: September 29, 2016

A new book explores how to “expand the family-friendliness of academic science”.

Failing Families, Failing Science: Work-Family Conflict in Academic Science is based on a survey of close to 3,500 biologists and physicists in top American universities, followed up by 184 in-depth interviews.

Although she points out that “there is much more of a ‘motherhood penalty’ than a ‘fatherhood penalty’” for those forging academic careers, today’s “young men are a lot more like women than older men in the importance they place on family life and the tensions they felt in combining it with a research career”.

Unfortunately, the book suggests, academic science (and particularly male-dominated disciplines such as physics) is still in thrall to the image of “the ideal scientist” – in essence an utterly single-minded “man with a supportive wife who takes care of all his personal matters” – and the notion that, as a source of “ultimate objective truth”, science is “the sort of activity that is worth putting everything else on hold to pursue”.

Failing Families, Failing Science includes many striking testimonies of what this means for individuals.

One woman recalls her boss saying to her: “Oh, yes, you’re giving birth next week, and…you know, just don’t do anything, we’ll do everything. But can you write this grant and we’ll submit it in a month?” Another reports “hid[ing] the fact that she had chil­dren [during evaluations for promotion] in order to guard against ‘motherhood discrimination’”. A man describes having to choose between picking up a sick daughter and completing a proposal likely to bring in “hundreds of thousands of dollars”. READ MORE