Although some encouraging changes (or at least awarenesses, which are necessary precursors to changes) seem to be afoot, this is sadly just ‘the way things are’ in STEM fields. I had both of my kids in graduate school, and I was a freakish anomaly for doing so. Part of it was my unusual financial stability–I was lucky enough to have a gainfully employed partner to supplement my meager grad student stipend–but part of it was that it’s just not done. My first pregnancy was seen by at least some members of my department (and I know this because they openly told me so) as a sign that I wasn’t ‘serious about my career’, that I was just taking up space in a lab and clearly wouldn’t be doing anything meaningful with my PhD (assuming I could find time around all that icky maternal bonding to finish it, that is). My second pregnancy pretty much solidified all that. It was an isolating and occasionally humiliating condition.
I got my PhD in 2003, so one might hope that things have changed a bit since then. My current position is as a ‘second tier’, non-tenure track postdoctoral research associate, informally called a ‘super postdoc’ or ‘permadoc’. I’ve been here long enough to see several cycles of graduate students as well as more ‘top tier’ postdocs come and go. It is still quite rare for women scientists in training to have children. Slightly more common (within that slice of rarity) for postdocs vs. grad students. It’s undeniably difficult to stay on the tenure track as a trainee with kids without rock solid domestic support, to say nothing of the difficulty in achieving the heights outlined in this article once a tenure-track position is obtained.
I guess now that men are facing the same kinds of hard choices that generations of professionally minded women have dealt with, there’s a hope that the definition of how to achieve excellence and stature in a STEM field will expand somewhat. There are some rigid logical boundaries in place, however. It does take a certain number of consecutive hours to do things, e.g. Scientific discovery already moves slowly. It slows down even more when you have to leave early to take a kid to soccer practice, etc. Only a privileged few are situated to navigate these limitations and stay on the top tier. The rest of us, when faced with the option, have to choose a different path.
I don’t mean to sound like I regret having a family. I adore my children and I’m pleased with the balance between work and family that I’ve been able to strike. But I think it’s still fair to be candid that such choices are still reality. “Having it all” is a myth for many definitions of “all”. That is the bare truth of it.