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Times Higher Education: 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 covered the new book of SMU sociologist Anne Lincoln in a Sept. 29 article “How work and family life conflict in the modern university.”

The book, Failing Families, Failing Science (NYU Press, 2016), is based on research Lincoln conducted with Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University. They examined how scientists face a conflict between work and family. The research is based on a survey of faculty members at the 20 top-ranked graduate programs in both physics and biology. The survey of 3,500 biologists and physicists included 184 in-depth interviews.

The study was funded under a grant of the Research on Science and Engineering program of the National Science Foundation to understand the lack of gender diversity in academic science.

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By Matthew Reisz
Times Higher Education

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.

“We started out the project interested in women’s experiences, and thought of men as just a comparison group,” says Elaine Howard Ecklund, professor of sociology at Rice University, who co-wrote the book with Anne E. Lincoln, assistant professor of sociology at Southern Methodist University. “We weren’t that interested in studying men. And we were completely wrong!”

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.

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By Margaret Allen

Senior research writer, SMU Public Affairs