September 15th, 2014

[cross-posted from the Literary Mama blog]

I am writing to announce that it is time for me to leave Literary Mama. Both my family life (caring both for my children and elderly parents) and work life (directing the Sustainable Arts Foundation with my husband) have grown much fuller these days and I no longer have the time I need or want to give to Literary Mama.

Literary Mama has given me a reliable structure, a supportive community, and a broad platform for my entire writing life as a mother: I started as an editorial assistant in Literary Reflections ten years ago, wrote a column for five years, and have now served as editor-in-chief for five years. Both of my books developed directly out of editorial conversations with contributors. It is hard for me to imagine life without Literary Mama as part of my days! I will miss the editorial staff and the broader LM network of readers and contributors profoundly, but I am looking forward to focusing more closely on fewer responsibilities.

Luckily, we have a deep editorial board, and women with the vision, energy, and commitment to lead LM. I have asked Katherine Barrett, Maria Scala, and Karna Converse to step up and I’m thrilled that they have agreed to serve in these positions: Maria will be LM’s new Editor-in-Chief, Karna will be the Managing Editor, and Katherine will define a new role as the site’s Publisher. They will maintain the same high standards Literary Mama has always been known for, and have plans for some great new improvements to the site. I am confident in their ability to lead LM, and am excited to see how the site will develop under their direction.

Thank you, readers and contributors, for your support over the years. Whether you’ve read an essay, shared a poem, or commented on a column: you are a key part of Literary Mama and you help make it the best writing community on the web. It’s been a privilege to lead the way these past five years, and I look forward to my new role as avid reader.

Posted in contributor news, Mama Ph.D. News, News, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Transitions

Fifth Anniversary Update: Alissa McElreath

January 21st, 2014

A recent trip home for the holidays reminded me again of how I am surrounded by people with Ph.D degrees; enough so that at gatherings of family on my side—siblings and spouses and all—the grandkids and I are always the only ones without one. I don’t think about that fact much these days—as much as I used to. I have an academic job, and am still teaching at the same institution where I taught at the time my essay, “That Mommy Thing,” was published in Mama, PhD. Only a few months after the publication of the book, I gave myself permission to formally cut the ties with my doctoral institution. It didn’t feel like giving up to me, the way I had once worried it might. Instead, I felt an immense sense of relief. I had been unable to write creatively for many years ever since beginning work on my dissertation. The frustration had been building up inside of me for a long time, and I resented any time I spent working on revisions to my dissertation chapters. I wanted to write again—really write—and to do it without the guilt. I think of giving up my dissertation as more of a surgical amputation—as if cutting off one limb would allow the other to grow strong and healthy. Writing my essay for Mama, PhD was an important step in the process of regaining my writing voice—or, to keep the metaphors consistent—flexing that creative writing muscle that had gone flabby from years of disuse.

Now, five years after the publication of Mama, PhD, much has changed in my writing life. I can boast a handful of published essays, two book-length manuscripts waiting for a home, and I continue to write and submit, as often as I can. Much in my mothering life has not changed. My husband and I still practice the art of tag-team parenting to maintain the work-life balance we’ve come to rely on, only now we’re juggling our thirteen-year old’s Battle of the Books after-school practices, and our almost ten-year old’s many extracurricular activities (Odyssey of the Mind! Girls on the Run! Gymnastics!). I still sometimes have to leave meetings early to snag a good spot in the carpool line, and I still white-knuckle it each semester when the teaching schedules are released, hoping that I’ve managed to hold onto the schedule I need to make it all work out. But I feel less alone—less like the odd one out, the mom colleague, the harried one with a drawer-full of play-doh and crayons in her office.

Of course I never did heed my colleague’s advice—dispensed so effortlessly at the front door of her house following a holiday party: Don’t get too caught up in that mommy thing. It’s much too late for that now (all these years later I am still firmly caught up in that mommy thing and in that teaching thing and also in that writing thing and, lately, in that running thing). But I have never forgotten her words, either; they continue to serve as a reminder that there is still much work to be done. At the time my essay was published I was the only faculty member in my department with young children. Today, there are two others—with children even younger than mine are now. Sometimes they even leave meetings before I do; sometimes they bring their kids to meetings, the way I used to. I feel like a veteran next to them. I try to be a mentor when I can, to pave the way a little smoother for them in the hopes that they will find that teaching thing and that mommy thing really can coexist; that professional satisfaction and job success in the academic world don’t have to come at a such a terrible cost.

Fifth Anniversary Update: Judith Sanders

January 15th, 2014

Recently I stopped being a Mama, PhD. Sort of. I was immersed in mothering a teen–the orthodontist appointments, the sorting of rapidly-outgrown winter clothes, the appetizing balanced dinner to nourish the growing bones, the transport to a distant friend’s house, the mental planning of Talks about Life which my child would never tolerate–when suddenly my child was off on a plane to a distant college and I was rattling around a house that seemed much too big. And, in a sense, a life. The empty nest phase–You know it’s coming, but when you are in the thick of day-to-day mothering, you are too absorbed to look up; you haven’t the energy to imagine that it will ever end. But, with luck, it does. You fold back into yourself–you stop having so much of your being located externally in the child–and that reactivated the ache, for me, of the amputated academic career. Temporarily. I’d found a niche teaching prep school–and was eventually fortunate enough to find a half-time position in a warm and supportive school, where I felt respected and had autonomy to teach as I thought best. So while I’m not exactly using all the training that went into getting a PhD, I’m immersed in the subject that still thrills me. Without the consuming activities of daily mothering, I again have some time to read and write, though the rewards are purely personal, not institutional, and certainly not monetary. I have no desire at this point to move to some uncongenial new locale for an academic job or put up with departmental politics or meet the standard but crushing demands of teaching 4/4 to big classes of under-prepared students while publishing and administering. So the Mama, PhD, contradictions, the split between mothering and professing, are receding. Both passions shaped my life, and the current situation mingles the legacy of the enrichment both brought and the sacrifices the duality entailed. But by now it’s a comfortable place to be. I count my blessings and am satisfied with the tally.

Fifth Anniversary Update: Natalie Weaver

January 6th, 2014

1) What’s changed for you (or not) since the book’s publication?

The most important thing that happened to me since the book was published is the birth of my second child, Nathan. Now I have two sons (4 & 8), who keep me very busy. I have also managed to publish three academic books: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). I also have self-published two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life (CreateSpace) and Baby’s First Latin (Booksurge). In terms of career development, I applied for promotion and tenure when I was pregnant with my second child. While only a few weeks old, I carried my new baby in a sling into my tenure meeting with my dean and academic vice president. He was nursing when they told me I had been advanced. Now, five years since Mama, PhD was published, I am again building a portfolio, this time to apply for full professor rank. I chair two departments at Ursuline College, and I am the newly elected secretary for the Catholic Theological Society of America. In between running the kids to school, Tae Kwon Do, and swim lessons, I am also writing my fourth academic book ~ Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).

2) How do you see things changing (or not) for women in higher ed?

Well, sadly, I do not think things have changed much in a very long time. In my own experience, I marvel not at my ability to work professionally but at the fact that I have done so while being a full-time, round-the-clock mom. My husband and I (along with our third full-time caregiver – my own mom) have an attachment style of parenting, so the kids are almost always with us. They travel with me to work conferences; they sit in the office while I write; they are driven to and from school each day; I pack every lunch; I volunteer with the PTO; and so on. I have learned more as a mom about love, compassion, service, sacrifice, endurance, time-management, leadership, conflict resolution, and so on than I have in any other context. These things are critical to my field, Catholic theology, which is sorrowfully still dominated by patriarchal ideologies and male professionals (clerics, scholars, etc.). So, when male colleagues, especially clerics, for example, publish a book or write a new class, they have not done so under the extraordinary circumstances of nursing a child through surgery or the more routine tasks of unceasingly caring for the daily needs of a family (food purchase and preparation, laundering uniforms, baking for school parties, driving to sports tournaments, brushing teeth, and helping with long division problems). The greater accomplishment, in my opinion, is the achievement of the mother who has done these vital tasks for her dependents while still producing scholarly work. Yet, in my experience, the woman’s excellence and multi-layered commitments are viewed with suspicion ~ for, how could good scholarship come of such splintered focus? Better to trust the old, safe, pristine model of scholarship not done on the soccer field. I think men are an easier hire for theology departments. I know men are paid better. And, some men, especially clerics, have greater opportunities because of their roles within the Church that in turn serve to advance their academic work in ways from which women (because they are women) cannot benefit. As much as I would like this to be otherwise, the change is slow if and where it happens at all.

3) What would you like to see happen for women in higher ed in the next 5 years?

I am still conflicted over the fundamental issue of a woman’s personhood that underlies every question of a woman’s work. We cannot both do and not do at the same time. We cannot both experience the joy of professional accomplishment and the freedom of no professional responsibility at the same time. We cannot both mother and be free of the work and worry of mothering at the same time. We choose one, or the other, or both at different times, or both at the same time, and then, we live with our choices. In my case, I could and can do less from a professional point of view. It wouldn’t ruin me at this point to slow down. But, instead, I started taking some classes again in classical Hebrew, and I am thinking about getting another degree. I can’t blame my school or the Church or my family or the universe for my sense of feeling simultaneously driven and overwhelmed. My husband and I are talking about a third child, but I also have some extensive travel plans on the horizon. So, we have to choose what to do and when, and the fact of a choice itself is not inherently unfair even if the consequences are weighty for me/us. These things are somewhat beyond institutional repair. A school cannot mend a mother’s broken heart when she returns to class for the first time after having her baby.

But, her school can pay her fairly and give her (and her male colleagues) generous family leave time around the birth and care of children. While many things cannot be fixed, pay and time can be adjusted to be equal for men and women and also considerate of the tasks of parenting in matters of promotion and tenure. And, if not equal pay, I would at least love to see schools required to disclose their salary schedules so women could actually see by how much they are under-compensated across the board.

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Fifth Anniversary Update: Rosemarie Emanuele

December 15th, 2013

I found the request for essays for Mama, PhD when I was searching for information on how to balance the life of a professor with that of a mother. I was hoping to design a workable maternity leave program for my college, one that, unlike the current use of medical leave, would include new fathers as well as adoptive parents. In the back of my mind, I thought that designing such a program would help me achieve the rank of full professor. I never did find the answer, but instead found my essay published in Mama, PhD.

Five years later, I am still in search of a good answer to the maternity leave issue, but even with this need unmet, I am now a full professor with a daughter who is now a pre-teen. What is more, I am now a regular blogger for the Mama, Ph.D. column in Inside Higher Ed. While I have, for some time, been a math professor by day and an economist by night, I now consider myself to be somewhat of a part-time writer, too. Being published in that book opened options for me that I previously did not know existed.

Five years ago, most of us would not have known what a “MOOC” was, nor would many of us have given a second thought to the plight of our adjunct professors among us, or the large amount of debt that some of our students take on to earn their degrees. The academic would has changed greatly in these past five years, but many of the challenges for women remain. The tenure clock still strikes women at the heart of their child-bearing years, and many women still find themselves making compromises with their careers in order to find a balance between being an academic and being a mother. I would like to see academic institutions evolve in the coming years to better support parents of both genders who want to contribute as academics and also do their best as parents. In addition, I hope that some of the issues that seem to bring “disruption” to academia help us all evolve into a part of the economy that can best use the talents and skills of all of those working in this sector.

The Broad Experience: Podcast on Women in Academia

November 18th, 2013

“You have to be able to concentrate and that requires a lot of time free from any other thoughts. And that means you can’t be thinking about taking the kids to the doctor, you can’t be thinking about how dirty the house is.” – Aeron Haynie

“Who do you report an assault to when it’s your boss? What do you do when that’s the person who raped you?…and when you finally talk to HR they say you’re a graduate student, you’re not technically an employee, so they can’t help you.” – Kate Clancy

Ashley Milne-Tyte recently interviewed Mama, PhD contributor Aeron Haynie and others about the challenges of being a woman — and especially being a mother — in academia. Click here to listen to the podcast!

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Offbeat Mama on Mama, PhD

May 8th, 2012

We love this recent post on Offbeat Mama, in which she compares Mama, PhD to a bible for academic women and writes, “Motherhood is, in a way, the most visceral and physical act of rebellion against academia that I have committed.”

Read the whole post here.

Engineering Motherhood

October 4th, 2009

Jennifer Eyre White was another writer on our wish list. Elrena and I both loved her very funny Literary Mama column, Degrees of Freedom, and I had been lucky enough to meet her a few times and exchange work with her  in a small writing group. But we had to talk her into contributing, not because she was so busy (though she was) or because we couldn’t pay much for her contribution (though we couldn’t) but because she wasn’t sure her contribution would fit the book. Jennifer was a “non-traditional student,”a woman who tried five different high schools before finally dropping out at seventeen; “I spent most of my time,” she writes, “working for an ice-cream store, drinking beer, wearing trampy clothes, and making bad dating choices.”

But after a couple years of fairly mindless dead-end work, she decided she needed a change:

“It was then that I decided to become an electrical engineer, convinced it would be my ticket out of intellectual petrifaction. Choosing electrical engineering wasn’t a well-informed decision; in spite of having an engineer dad, I’d never actually figured out what engineers did. My dad didn’t talk about his job, and my own observation was that mostly what he did was tinker on his Corvettes. … I assumed that if I got an engineering degree, I too would learn the secrets of working on cars. I now know that this particular goal would have been better served by an auto-shop class.”

The goal might not have been expertly considered, but the journey certainly was, and Jennifer’s essay describes her careful route, via community college (where she met her husband), then a junior transfer to UCLA for her degree in electrical engineering, then a spreadsheet-organized plan to be a grad student mom:

“As I’d hoped, being a mother and a graduate student turned out to be a great combination. I had plenty of time with Riley, and enough time away. I did brain things, and I did mom things. If she was sick and I needed to be home with her, no one cared that I didn’t show up for class; I never had to call in sick or apologize for missing a big meeting. I didn’t have to hoard my vacation and sick days like a candy bar on a desert island. I didn’t have to worry whether my co-workers (or my boss) thought I was a flake. Later on, when I tried juggling an engineering career with one, then two, then three kids, I realized just how much harder it was to be a working mom than to be a student mom.”

Today, Jennifer writes, “Your email. . . made me want to tell you how writing my Mama PhD essay has affected me.  As you know I was a fighter plane and sports car groupie long before I became an engineer, and if I’d had a clue what I was doing I should have chosen to become a mechanical engineer rather than an electrical engineer (EE’s don’t take classes in stuff like aerodynamics since we’re too busy studying circuits and semiconductor physics and that sort of thing).

“Writing my essay for Mama PhD reminded me of my original love of overpowered machinery and it made me sad that I never learned about the stuff that interested me — so I recently registered for an online class in airfoil design. I’m happy to report that, unlike when I was in grad school in the mid 90’s, lots of excellent engineering schools have online grad-level courses now. This is great for people who work and also, of course, for moms!

“The only question is whether I can remember the prerequisite material fast enough to keep up. It’s slightly terrifying. Oh, and writing the essay also made me really want to go back to driving a ferocious sports car rather than a minivan.  Still working on that one.

Some time later, Jennifer sent me another update, demonstrating how flexible working student moms need to be: “I switched classes from Airfoil Theory to Dynamics because of a work conflict (well, not only did I switch classes, I switched colleges, since I needed a later start date).  I’m really excited. But I know I will be severely overwhelmed.”

Jennifer is one of several contributors to the book who do not hold PhDs — some of them are still working on the degree; some are deciding whether to finish it; some, like Jennifer, never wanted that particular degree, or needed it to pursue a career in their chosen field. But all their stories shed light on the challenges of combining motherhood and academic work, and we’re happy Jennifer’s story is in the book. And now we’ll look forward to seeing her airplane designs.

Posted in Mama Ph.D. News, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Engineering Motherhood

Enter Today to Win Mama, PhD!

September 25th, 2009


My friend and fellow mama-writer, one of the most savvy internet book marketing women I know, Christina Katz, is once again running her Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway where she gives away one book or magazine subscription every day in September. On September 25th, I’m delighted that Mama, PhD will be included in a trio of anthologies edited by Literary Mama editors Shari MacDonald Strong and Amy Hudock.

Our books — Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life; The Maternal Is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change; and Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined–will be up for giveaway on September 25th. To see a complete list of what you can win, visit Christina’s Writer Mama blog. You can enter every day if you want, so bookmark her site and visit again and again. Good luck!

Posted in Mama Ph.D. News | Comments Off on Enter Today to Win Mama, PhD!

Free to Be. . . Mom and Me: Finding My Complicated Truth as an Academic Daughter

September 14th, 2009

Megan Pincus Kajitani was writing a series of articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education when Miriam Peskowitz (one of our wish-list writers) introduced us. We read her work and knew we wanted her wise, compassionate voice in the collection.

We were surprised by her story, because we didn’t realize that Megan was an academic daughter herself! As she writes in her essay:

“A PhD in accounting, my mother has gone from popular professor at one major business school to highly respected department chair in another, was thoroughly present for me and my brother growing up, and has a happy, thirty-seven-year marriage to my father, who is also an academic. She defies the studies I have cited in my Chronicle of Higher Education columns on the challenges of career/family balance in academia—studies that show women on the tenure track are less likely to have as many children as they want, and to make their marriages work, than tenured men or nontenured women. Several of my academic mentors fit the studies’ disheartening description. But my mom pretty much has it all.”

“My mother never pressured me to have an academic career like hers, and she never pressured me to get married or have babies. In fact, her pressure actually came in the form of subtly urging me not to marry young (even though she did and got “lucky,” as she calls it). The only outright requests she ever made of me were that I not become a cheerleader and I not pursue a career in acting, my adolescent fantasy. The cheerleader request was for obvious reasons from a 1970s feminist mother (and is a request I plan to pass down to my own daughter), and the acting because, living south of Hollywood, we knew many talented but starving actors, and CPA Mom didn’t like the odds. Other than that, she just told me to do what made me happy.”

Megan did enter a PhD program, as she describes in her essay, and then decidesdto leave — a decision that opened a pathway to a new career as an academic adviser and then a freelance writer and editor.

After publishing her essay in Mama, PhD, Megan contributed to the Mama, PhD blog on Inside Higher Ed, writing a weekly advice column, The Career Coach Is In. Today, she writes, “I’ve continued to evolve as a freelancer since Mama, PhD came out. After leaping at the great opportunity to be a personal story editor for Miriam Peskowitz on her chapters of The Daring Book for Girls, I remembered just how much I love editing books (one of my pre-academia jobs). So I jumped a the next opportunity, to edit the 4th edition of the teacher-training bestseller, The First Days of School, by Harry and Rosemary Wong, and then got to work with Miriam again on The Double-Daring Book for Girls. I am finding book editing to fit very well with mothering for me, and I now have three more book editing projects in the works. My writing these days comes when the mood strikes, as did the essay about my first pregnancy that Mothering Magazine published last fall.

“On the personal side, I’ve greatly enjoyed the ability to be present at home for my daughter Senna, who was just six months old when I wrote my Mama, PhD essay. She is now three-and-a-half and a thriving, precocious and imaginative child. She also happens to have multiple, life-threatening food allergies, which has had a big impact on our life, and helps me see all the more clearly why being home with her is right for me. I helped launch a small, allergy-safe co-op preschool group starting this fall, and when she hits kindergarten age I will begin homeschooling her, with the great back-up of my husband Alex, who was named 2009 California Teacher of the Year last winter. Senna now also has a younger brother, Kallan Joseph, who was born in January at home in a beautifully smooth water birth. I had similar third-trimester complications with Kallan’s pregnancy, so once again I was thankful to be working on my own time at home, which I found a lot less stressful than trying to commute and unsuccessfully to negotiate a job-share as I was during my first pregnancy.

“In short, I feel as if everything for me is happening as it should, and I’m thankful for the flexibility I have to make choices about my family and work life. I don’t see myself returning to academia any time in the foreseeable future, although I continue to correspond with many academic friends and, even though I am not officially career counseling anymore, I always answer the emails I still get from PhD students struggling with their career decisions. I’ve also helped a lot of friends with their resumes!”

We’re not surprised–and we’re very happy–to hear Megan sounding so peaceful and content with how she has managed life since leaving academia. You can find out more about Megan and her work at her website,

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