In Theory/In Practice: On Choosing Children and the Academy

September 9th, 2009

Mama, PhD owes its existence in many ways to Literary Mama, the website through which coeditors Caroline and Elrena first met, and Lisa Harper’s contribution, In Theory/In Practice: On Choosing Children and the Academy, also originated in a Literary Mama conversation. Lisa had published an essay in Literary Reflections, the section of Literary Mama that Caroline was editing at the time, and our correspondence about that piece, Flying Home, led us to solicit a contribution for Mama, PhD.

Lisa’s essay appears in the fourth section of the book, Momifesto, in which writers consider changes the academy needs to make to become more family-friendly. Lisa describes her experience facing the academic job market after two years in a visiting professorship and realizing that, in order to have the life she wants–with a family and time for creative nonfiction writing–she needs to leave the “community I had always assumed would be my professional home.” She winds up in an adjunct teaching position, the kind of position that is typically considered the worst kind of temporary work for an academic. As Lisa writes:

“Conventional wisdom has it—and my earlier experience had certainly confirmed—that adjunct faculty serve as second-class citizens on most university campuses. Lower pay, the absence of benefits, the lack of job security, poor course assignments, and overwork are only the most pragmatic problems. Compounding these difficulties, in many institutions, part-timers are largely excluded from the life of the department, from administrative responsibilities (and, therefore, from administrative power), from the intellectual and collegial respect afforded their full-time colleagues, and from the possibilities for career advancement in their own and other institutions.

“But in my new program, I worked with a group of writers, almost all of whom served as adjunct faculty, who seemed genuinely to like one another, and who were happy to be teaching together. Although the practical, financial challenges of adjunct work remained, we also were largely freed from the administrative burdens that took time from the primary pleasures of writing and teaching. As part-timers, we were all equals. As part-timers, it was a given that we had families, occupations—in short, full lives—outside the academy. This fact was respected by all, including the students who had their own demanding lives outside of our program. Contrary to prevailing academic wisdom, here was a program that thrived because of—not in spite of—part-time labor. My colleagues and I talked about pedagogy, supported each others’ book releases, and traded manuscripts. We attended programwide readings and read each semester from our own works in progress. There was a clear, communal sense of purpose and a devotion to the art of teaching that equaled our primary calling to write. It was a rare find and a great freedom to be part of such a community.”

Today, Lisa “is still Adjunct Professor of Writing in the MFA Program at the University of San Francisco. She continues to juggle writing, teaching, and parenting with varied degrees of success. On some days, she eagerly anticipates September 2010 when her youngest will enter full day kindergarten. On other days, this fact makes her weep.”

You can find out more about Lisa’s projects–one of which is an anthology, coedited with Caroline, about what we eat and why it matters–over at her website.

Enter to win a copy of Mama, PhD!

August 26th, 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!

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Mama, PhD at UC Riverside

May 19th, 2009

A nice piece today in the Press-Enterprise about the women who organized our event at UC Riverside:

In 2006, Cassandra Vasquez, a UC Riverside graduate student researcher, was shocked she didn’t qualify for maternity leave and surprised how little information there was on campus for soon-to-be mothers.

When seeking advice, a university official told her to take academic leave — a move that would have cut her off from everything from her student housing to library privileges. Instead, she spent hours researching options.

She worked out a solution, thanks in part to an understanding adviser. It has allowed her to, first, care for her daughter, and second, continue studying wasps as an alternative to pesticides. She expects to graduate in a year.

Hoping future graduate students won’t go through a similar situation, Vasquez and fellow graduate student/mom Genet Tulgetske have organized a panel discussion Wednesday about parenthood and academia.

Click here to read the rest! And contact us at editors AT if you’d like us to come to your campus!

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Mama, PhD coming to UC Riverside

May 12th, 2009

I’m looking forward to speaking at UC Riverside next week with contributors Dana Campbell and Aeron Haynie; the local paper has written this article about the upcoming event:

“[The organizers] wrote letters to Chancellor Timothy White, Dean of Graduate Division Joseph Childers, the Graduate Student Council and the Graduate Council of the Academic Senate in an attempt to shed light on issues that student-parents face.

They have come up with numerous ideas and policies, ranging from a children’s section of the library, to various parental support systems and priority teaching assistant assignments.”

Click here to read the rest, and if you’re nearby, come see us at Riverside on the 20th!

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Mama, PhD on the radio!

May 4th, 2009

Recently, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Binnie Klein for her radio show on WPKN (Bridgeport); for those of you who weren’t able to listen live, click here to listen to the archive of the show online.

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The Career Coach Is In!

April 30th, 2009

Dr. Susan O’Doherty, a clinical psychologist, contributor to Mama, PhD, and author of Getting Unstuck without Coming Unglued: A Woman’s Guide to Unblocking Creativity is now answering questions on the Mama, PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed. Write her at with your questions about any aspect of parenting, graduate school, and pursuing a career in higher education.

University of Richmond Panel

April 23rd, 2009

Thanks to the technology folks at the University of Richmond, those of you who missed our recent reading and panel discussion can now watch it on YouTube. Jennifer Cognard-Black, Della Fenster, Caroline Grant, and Libby Gruner all read from their essays and answered questions. Check it out:

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Mama, PhD at UC Riverside!

April 22nd, 2009

May 20th, 3-6 PM
Room 367 of the HUB (Highlander Union Building, formerly known as the commons)
Join Dana Campbell, Caroline Grant and Aeron Haynie for a reading and panel discussion.

The presentation will be followed by pizza, book signing, and information booths on campus resources for parents (child development center, student health center insurance, counseling center, TA union, health insurance for children). Free child care with RSVP; please contact caroline AT mamaphd DOT com

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Mama, PhD in the Feminist Review

April 17th, 2009

The Feminist Review has published a short piece on Mama, PhD; check it out:

But make no mistake: this collection is an unequivocal critique of the infrastructure—or lack thereof—in place for women who want to explore their identities as both mothers and intellectuals. The joint essay “Nontraditional Academics” issues a call for women who leave the academy temporarily or permanently to pursue their interest in full-time motherhood to stop hiding and join forces to build a community and increase visibility. While Mama PhD is certainly aimed for women in academia—and the men, women, and children who love them—those readers interested in feminist issues in the world of work will also find this collection a compelling and provocative read.

Click here to read the rest!

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Mama, PhD on the radio!

March 15th, 2009

Tune in Thursday, March 19th, at 10:30 AM (EST) to listen to coeditor Caroline Grant speaking about Mama, PhD with radio host Binnie Klein on WPKN, or via iTunes’ Public Radio.

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