December 31, 2008

Kids who read are happy kids

Posted in Books at 6:58 pm by Erin

So, about a month ago I said I would participate in the Mother Talk blog tour for Read Kiddo Read.

And then, amongst finals and grades and concerts and holidays, I promptly forgot that I was supposed to do it.  Ahem.

But I am finally getting to it, because I REALLY like this website.  It's written by James Patterson and gives all sorts of ideas and books for kids to read.  They're separated by ages and subject, and are a fantastic resource.  I was looking through it and found a million books to add to our reading lists, either to get from the library or to buy.  I especially like that there are links that will take you to a library finder, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc to find the book in one of those locations. 

At the bottom of each page is a section about "If you love this book, then try…" and a selection of others within the same age range.  That's a nice touch, since I'm always looking for books for my kids.  As a mom of two boys, I love the "Almost Can't-Miss Sure Shot Books for Boys" link at the top of the main page also.  My boys are, thankfully, book lovers.  We read to them all the time.  With P, it might be genetic–I'm the daughter of a library director.  With K, it was definitely a nurture thing.  He didn't have any interest in books when he came home, and now always wants to take one to bed with him.  I want to make sure that we've nurtured this love of books in both of our kids.  Several of the books on the list are ones we have already read and enjoyed; I look forward to reading the rest of them!

As if this wasn't enough, there is also a community section that links to blogs and groups of people who like to read.  There is a ton of information on there.  It looks a little sparsely populated right now, though hopefully that will improve as more people find this great site.

The only real suggestion/improvement I would have for the site is to have MORE books in each section!  Right now, there are only about 6 or 7 in each one and I can think of millions more.  I would love to see a section where users could suggest books to put on the site and possibly even write the reviews for the book. 

August 20, 2008

Mama PhD

Posted in Books at 6:47 am by Erin

I’m a reviewer for Mama PhD, by Elrena Evans and Caroline Grant, for MotherTalk!  It’s my first book review, so bear with me.

Mama_PhD_Image I requested to be a reviewer for the book because, as you all know, I’m a mama with a Ph.D.  Since the book was a compilation about women with PhDs who work in academia, I felt it was particularly relevant to my own career choice.  I thought that it would be a celebration of the accomplishments of women in academia, one of those books on how a woman can “have it all” with both career and family.  Since I made the decision to forego the typical post-doc-second-post-doc-tenure-track-junior-faculty-at-research-university pathway, instead choosing to go to a straight teaching career at a junior college, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it.


Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t one of those books at all.  It was a very open, sometimes brutally frank, look at the academy and essentially how it fails women who want to also have a family.  And yes, some of the contributors talk about how it also fails men who want to have a family—but they also make the point that men are not responsible for the physical demands of both pregnancy, birth, and nursing a baby.


Many of the essays made me feel very…well, vindicated in my career choice is probably the best way to say it.  There were no essays by women who’d chosen the career track that I’ve taken.  All of those who went along the path to a tenured-faculty position in the “publish or perish” atmosphere of most schools felt that they were torn between the demands of their careers and those of their families.  I don’t particularly feel this way.  Since I am not prepared to be a full-time stay at home mom, and we need my health insurance, I often brag that I feel like I have the best job in the world.  My schedule is great and has some flexibility; I have winter break, spring break, all legal holidays, and 3 months off during the summer.  I spend 4+ months each year with my kids full time, yet I also work full time.  I have a career that I love, that challenges me, and that provides what we need financially (since J also works—it wouldn’t be much otherwise).


Clearly, it’s not perfect—we had to travel to get K over spring break or else would have had to wait until May.  I didn’t get any time off when he came home, having to be back at work on Monday after returning from Ethiopia on Friday, but the book made obvious that what I had believed was true about academia certainly seems to be the case.  I had a glimpse of it in graduate school, and still see some of it from my ex-advisor to this day.  The essays in Mama PhD really reminded me why I am glad I chose the career that I wanted.


However, there were a couple of essays that almost made me wish I’d gone the research faculty route.  One by Della Fenster, who is a math professor at the University of Richmond (my undergrad school), spoke of the speaking and travel opportunities for those who are in the research track.  I love to travel and love attending conferences, and wish I had more opportunity to do that.  (FWIW, I also loved U of R and the faculty there is what inspired me to go into teaching.)  At a junior college, we have very limited travel funds.  We go to conferences, but they tend to be smaller and often local.  We don’t get invited to speak many places.  It’s an opportunity that I wish I had; still, I don’t think I would trade the demands of that track for the life that I get to have.

I would have liked a couple of essays from women who went the path that I’ve taken.  The fact that not a single contributor worked at a junior college in a tenure-track position was disappointing.  Those who work at research universities look down on those in my job (we’re often seen as those who couldn’t hack it in research), and I think a few essays on what a junior college has to offer a Mama with a PhD would have been helpful.  It’s not a path that many people with PhDs even consider, and yet it’s one that I think many would find quite fulfilling.


I think this book should be required reading for any woman going into any sort of graduate education program.  And their partners.  When I started grad school, I naively thought that it would be supportive and flexible when I had my children (who we intended to conceive while in grad school); after all, my petri dishes of cells didn’t care what time I did an experiment.  I figured J and I would flex a lot of hours to limit our child’s daycare.  To some extent, we were able to do that.  I didn’t cut back on hours once he was born, I just went in a lot earlier and left earlier.  But I hadn’t realized that my boss, as well as other faculty, saw me leaving at 3 p.m. and thought I was “just a mom” and would never finish the program.  They didn’t see the hours that I was there between 5:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., so those hours didn’t really count.  And even though my productivity actually increased, since I was more efficient with the time I did have there, it wasn’t seen as equivalent to other graduate students in my lab.  That experience made me realize that I didn’t want to be like them anymore.


I wonder if I would have even tried to have a child while in graduate school if I’d read this book.  Whether I would have or not, I certainly would have been more prepared for what to expect.  I went from the “Golden Grad Student” in my lab, because of my input and productivity, to “just a mom” because I’d given birth.  It was a harsh realization.  Having read this book, it seems that what I experienced is pretty much the standard.  There is clearly a need for change within the academy, but it doesn’t seem high on the list of priorities for research universities.  Talented, highly educated women are moving away from this career choice because it punishes us for wanting to have a family.  And that's simply wrong.