Everyone agrees that postgraduate, postdoctoral and other early career researchers struggle with reconciling the geographical demands of their careers with personal and family life. A lot has been said (informally over a drink or during conference coffee breaks) and written (on blogs and in academic journals) about the fact that the current academic system is unkind and detrimental to researchers’ families, relationships, childbearing decisions, parenting, other care responsibilities, and mental health. Everyone (including myself) has a bunch of criticisms and reasons why the institutional conditions in academic employment are not optimal. But in terms of what these optimal institutional conditions are, can, or ought to be, there is no agreement! I find it fascinating how much opinions on this can differ. Here are two articles I read recently. I struggle to disagree with both. And yet, they have opposite arguments. The first one argues that in Germany mothers are pushed out of the labour market because of societal expectations to be “perfect mothers”, and in comparison, in France mothers are far more relaxed, they trust the state childcare services more, and return to work much earlier instead of “devoting themselves wholly to their offspring”. The article is not specifically about academia, but I have heard similar sentiments expressed by some of my interviewees in Germany who, for example, felt excluded and unrespected by their colleagues after one or two maternity leaves. The second article praises Austria’s system (which is similar to the German one) and says that it enabled the author to combine work and family life.
Article 1 (in German):“Es wird ein Mutterkult betrieben”
I guess all should be read in context. The second article (the one which praises Austria’s Mutterschutz law) is written by an American researcher who has been exposed to a much less kind system (to me it sounds unthinkable that in the US there is NO paid leave for new mothers AT ALL). However, it is very important to notice also the hidden injuries of the more protective German (and Austrian) system, pointed out in the first article by an author who has experienced motherhood and work in both Germany and France.
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A few related articles about Germany:
Gender Inequality in British and German Universities, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, Volume 37, Issue 5, 2007
Academic career structure in Germany (online resource)
Gender Inequality in German Academia and Strategies for Change, 2001 (free PDF)
FRAUEN IN DER WISSENSCHAFT: Wo sind sie bloß?, Die Zeit, 13/2014
Attitudes to gender equality issues in British and German academia (in English, free PDF)
Paths to Career and Success for Women in Science, 2014 (Google book)
Here’s an interesting interview with PhD student in Die Zeit (my translation)
“CAROLA DOERR, 29, gained her PhD from Saarland University and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics.
A wrong decision
Will I wake up some day and just know it for sure? Do I want to work in science or in industry? This decision gave me stomach ache for a long time while I was doing my PhD. I had previously spent two years working for McKinsey who then funded my PhD. My topic was random algorithms. In addition, I held a post at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics [Computer Science] in Saarbrücken and a grant from Google. I never had to worry about money. But I asked myself: Which lifestyle is right for me? Which goes better with family?After submitting my PhD, I first worked part time at McKinsey and the Max Planck Institute, because I still couldn’t make a decision. At some point, however, I realised that it would be difficult to reconcile the lifestyle of a consultant with my desire to have children. At the Max Planck Institute, already two colleagues had children. I asked the director how he assessed my chances for a permanent position in science. He was quite confident . These were three signals for me. Now I live in Paris and work at the Pierre-and-Marie-Curie-University. I have a permanent research job and I can decide freely how much teaching I want to do. My husband is a professor at another university in Paris. Our daughter is seven months old.“
If you read German, here is the full article with five more stories by PhD students in other subjects: