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New Book Looks at Mothers in Academia

When Kirsten Isgro and colleague Mari Castaneda put the call out for personal stories from women in academia who were also mothers, they were overwhelmed by the response.

The best of the best of those responses wound up in their new book, “Mothers in Academia.”

“Although we have 19 chapters and 31 contributing authors, there were four times as many women interested in the project. The response demonstrated to us that, indeed, there was a very real need to make visible the realities of motherhood, which are often hidden in academic contexts,” said Isgro, assistant professor of communication at SUNY Plattsburgh.

The result is a book with chapters like, “How We Learned to Stop Worrying and to Enjoy Having It All,” “Academia or Bust: Feeding the Hungry Mouths of the University, Babies and Ourselves,” “To Tell or Not to Tell: Single Motherhood and the Academic Job Market,” and “Four Kids and a Dissertation: Queering the Balance Between Family and Academia.”

‘Learning in Academic Contexts’

The goal, Isgro said, was “to present different sides of motherhood for women working and learning in academic contexts.

Mothers face different challenges at different stages of their academic life, but the one constant is that gender shapes what it means to be a staff member, student or professor, Isgro said.

For instance, women graduate students who are also mothers “sometimes face the challenge of not being considered ‘serious students’ because they have parenting responsibilities, but men don’t necessarily face the same types of judgments,” Isgro said.

Adjuncts, Pre-Tenured Women Different Challenges

Adjuncts report an entirely different challenge: job security and the financial toll placed upon their families. And for pre-tenure women faculty with children, there is a strong expectation that research, teaching and service must be the priority in order to garner awards. This leaves them little time for family or self-care, maintain Isgro and Castaneda, an associate professor in communication at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“This is complicated even more should mothers in academia be single parents or tending to ill or dying children and/or parents,” Isgro said.

Both Isgro and Castaneda recognize and give credit to their own life partners, family and friends for helping them find the balance between motherhood and career.

Their Own Work-Home Challenges

“Over the years, our respective departments and administrators have also worked with us in order to accommodate our various family needs,” Isgro said. “Without the consistent and steadfast support of colleagues within our departments and across our academic institutions, it would be difficult to balance all the different components of our lives.”

While the book specifically discusses mothers in higher education, it is aimed at general readers who are interested in issues related to working parents and work-life balance, Isgro said.

“Our book adds to the broader discussion of women — and mothers — in the workforce.”

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